Volume 50 Number 92
                    Produced: Wed Jan  4  6:05:55 EST 2006

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Avodah Zara (4)
         [Nathan Lamm, Akiva Miller, David Charlap, Ben Katz]
clothing for Tefillah
         [Harry Weiss]
Contradictory chumras
         [Frank Silbermann]
Forbidden Thoughts
         [Tzvi Stein]
Rabbi Greenberg's view
         [Ari Trachtenberg]
Rabbi Steve Greenberg
         [Leah S. Gordon]
Sun revolves around Earth
         [Ari Trachtenberg]


From: Nathan Lamm <nelamm18@...>
Date: Tue, 3 Jan 2006 07:00:25 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Avodah Zara

Martin Stern writes, concerning Avodah Zara, "Apart from the knowledge
of its meaninglessness, the primary motivation of non-Jews was deemed
the same."

Is that right? If you don't know an idol is meaningless, shouldn't we
presume that you're worshipping it because you actually believe in it?
What if we know of idolatrous practices that do *not* involve sexual

Above all, isn't intent to worship other gods required to be liable for
the sin? Doesn't this get everyone off the hook?

I guess the simplest answer is that Hashem describes Himself as being
"jealous." I leave it to those more learned than I to explain this.

Nachum Lamm

From: Akiva Miller <kennethgmiller@...>
Date: Tue, 3 Jan 2006 13:57:26 GMT
Subject: Re: Avodah Zara

David Curwin writes:

>Avoda Zara is often portrayed as the antithesis of Judaism. But I've
>recently wondered - what exactly is the Torah's problem with it? Is it
>simply nonsense - there's only one God, and therefore to believe in an
>other gods is foolish? In other words, is Avoda Zara equivalent to
>believing the sun revolves around the earth?
>On the other hand, it often appears that the practice of Avoda Zara is
>not just nonsense, but immoral. The Torah often discusses the immoral
>practices of the Egyptians and Canaanites, but the Avoda Zara of all
>peoples is forbidden. In fact, it is one of the 7 Noachide laws. But
>while the rest seem to be based around morality, what is inherently
>immoral about Avoda Zara? Was a Native American 600 years ago or a
>Chinese citizen 1000 years immoral simply because he practiced Avoda

I've thought about this many times. I don't have a full answer yet, but
maybe we can develop one together.

Consider this: Of the 613 mitzvos, 610 can be temporarily suspended by
anyone for a genuine life-or-death emergency. Two of the other three can
be temporarily suspended by a Prophet in an emergency "Horaas
Shaah". (Many use this to explain how Esther was able to have relations
with Achashverosh *voluntarily*.)

But Avodah Zara cannot be suspended under any circumstances
whatsoever. It is difficult for me to see how mere foolishness would be
so severely prohibited. There must be a deeper explanation.

My suggestion: Treason. I understand that in most governments and
cultures, treason is the most serious of all crimes, because it
undermines the entire government authority, and thus places all of its
citizens in jeopardy. Avodah Zara is the ultimate treason, because it
undermines the Highest Authority.

This is the message of this prohibition: When someone prays to an idol,
he is not merely foolish, but he is a traitor of the worst kind.

This is a difficult concept for us, who live in a generation which tends
to view religion as a mere set of rituals. Perhaps this lesson will help
us reaffirm our allegiance to HaShem.

Akiva Miller

From: David Charlap <shamino@...>
Date: Tue, 03 Jan 2006 10:24:55 -0500
Subject: Re: Avodah Zara

David Curwin wrote:
[See above]

I've understood it differently.  Avoda zara is an act of rebellion
against God.  By engaging in these practices, you are telling the world
that God has no authority and that His words can be safely ignored.

This is the spiritual equivalent of staging a coup against a government.

As for how this would affect foreign people that never had the Torah, I
don't think it matters.  If you accept the Torah's story of creation,
all these cultures are descendant from Noach, and therefore knew the
truth at one point.  If they chose to ignore the laws they were given,
it doesn't absolve them of anything.

Of course, one could claim that people born and raised in a culture of
immorality are not responsible because the Noachide laws were abandoned
many generations prior, but I think that's drifting into a different

And, of course, this reasoning collapses if you don't believe all these
cultures were descendants from Noach - but then you're also denying the
Torah, which makes that line of argument inappropriate for a list that
assumes the correctness of the Torah.

-- David

From: Ben Katz <bkatz@...>
Date: Tue, 03 Jan 2006 10:19:11 -0600
Subject: Re: Avodah Zara

>From: David Curwin <tobyndave@...>
[See above]

         I think this is a very thorny issue.  We all know extremely
moral atheists and idolators (eg Hindu's, most of whom are not
monotheists, even in a loose, Christian sense).  And the Rabbis
undoubetedly knew many moral Romans.  Nevertheless, I believe the
Rabbi's problem with idolatry is that if there is no absolute arbiter of
morality, then your morality is no better than mine.  So, I believe that
according to Chazal, there is a greater potential for immorality if on
eis an idol worshipper, and thus it is treated harshly (to say the

Ben Z. Katz, M.D.
Children's Memorial Hospital, Division of Infectious Diseases
2300 Children's Plaza, Box # 20, Chicago, IL 60614
e-mail: <bkatz@...>


From: Harry Weiss <hjweiss@...>
Date: Tue, 03 Jan 2006 13:12:56 -0800
Subject: Re: clothing for Tefillah

>From: Rabbi R. Bulka <rbulka@...>
>We are before God, but our dress surely does not reflect that. How many
>people really dress up to daven? We need to stress such levush as a
>basic necessity of standing before God. A hat from the neck up, and
>shlump from the neck down, is simply not appropriate.

We learn in the gemearra about people who are litterally daving on tree
tops while they are working.  There are discussions about what they
should say or delete so not to take away from the time they owe their
employer.  No where is there any discussion of them changing to special
clothing to daven.

People go to shul and daven on their way to work.  A painter or garbage
collector will not wear a three piece suit to daven and to work.  A
lawyer will dress diffently than a maintenance worker.  Not all Jews are
lawyers and doctors (even though that may be the view of fund raisers ).
We need to learn zecus on those who come to daven before going to work
rather than saying that they should not daven because they do not
reflect being before G-d.


From: Frank Silbermann <fs@...>
Date: Tue, 3 Jan 2006 09:40:52 -0600 (CST)
Subject:  Contradictory chumras

There is an old joke where someone asks a rabbi whether it is
permissible to smoke while praying.  "Certainly not!"  was the answer.
Later, when asked whether it was permissible to pray while smoking, the
rabbi replied, "Of course!  Anytime is a good time to pray!"

The issue of dress for devening reminds me of this joke.

While growing up, I was taught that Orthodox and Conservative Jews put
on a yarmulkah to pray or recite a bracha.  Later, I learned that it had
become the practice of the Orthodox to wear a yarmulkah all the time, so
as to be always ready to recite a prayer or bracha.

Now I'm told that I should wear something distinctive when I daven.
That's what the yarmulkah was for!!!!

I cannot dress ready to pray or recite a bracha at all times, -- and
then dress differently when planning to recite a prayer or bracha!
These two pieties contradict each other.  Trying to observe them both
will only result in a vicious cycle in which I am constantly adding new
clothes for prayer and then adopting them to my work-a-day style.

Or is that the intent?

Frank Silbermann	Memphis, Tennessee


From: Tzvi Stein <Tzvi.Stein@...>
Date: Tue, 03 Jan 2006 20:21:06 -0500
Subject: Re: Forbidden Thoughts

I remember back in my yeshiva days that it was an urgent concern of mine
that I control my thoughts.  I was under the impression that every time
I had a sexual thought I was doing a serious aveira.  I remember going
to my rebbes at the time but I'm kind of hazy at what they told me.

I has a similar concern about looking at girls, which I also took to the
rebbes.  I vaguely remember there being a distinction drawn between
"staring", "seeing" and "glimpsing".  It was all rather complicated, and
it could be that the "thought" issue was similar (i.e. "fleeting"
thought, vs.  "obsessive" thought).

I have since stopped worrying about these things, not because I have
improved my self-control, or because I have fully resolved the halachic
issues, but mostly due to a general mellowing.  I still would be
interested if anyone has any more concrete halachic insights.


From: Ari Trachtenberg <trachten@...>
Date: Tue, 03 Jan 2006 11:26:08 -0500
Subject: Re: Rabbi Greenberg's view

> From: Daniel Nachman <lhavdil@...>
> However, Greenberg is very careful to state that he is aware that this
> reading is not the traditional one, and that halacha is formed by a
> consensus of poskim rather than from re-interpretations of the Torah.
> He is very clear that al pi halacha the act under discussion is
> prohibited d'oraita.  At least, that is the position of his book; I've
> never heard him speak.

I have not read Rabbi Greenberg's book, mostly because I could not get
past the lascivious cover picture, seemingly designed to sell on the
basis of the stereotype of homosexual promiscuity.

However, I have heard Rabbi Greenberg speak, and I specifically asked
him, publicly, about the permissibility of male homosexual relations.
His response was something to the effect of "No Orthodox rabbi today
would tell you that this is permitted".  I am certain that he considered
himself within the set of Orthodox rabbis, but I also understood the
word "today" as being an important part of his statement, thus implying
that he hoped it would change in the future.

Ari Trachtenberg,                                      Boston University
http://people.bu.edu/trachten                    mailto:<trachten@...>


From: Leah S. Gordon <leah@...>
Date: Tue, 03 Jan 2006 16:30:46 -0800
Subject: Rabbi Steve Greenberg

I am quite upset by the lashon hara that I've read in recent Mail.Jewish
issues about Rabbi Steve Greenberg.  Whatever people may think of his
politics, I have rarely met as gentle, kind, and sweet a man (let alone
a rabbi) as is R. Greenberg.  I know first-hand of many people who were
brought back to a frum life because of his teaching and influence.  Not
everyone is going to respond to fire-and-brimstone attitudes, and
R. Greenberg offers a different approach.  He frequently teaches/learns
in campus environments where Jewish kids are 'testing' and need to hear
a variety of voices.

Furthermore, in response to the statement that R. Greenberg "claims to
represent the frum GL community," I think that this is false.  I have
read as much as I can (all?) of R. Greenberg's public writings, and I
have never seen him claim to represent the whole community.

R. Greenberg was the mesader-kedushin for my husband and me when we
married in 1994 (before all this brouhaha started, many years before he
'came out').  He was not only respectful and wonderful to us as a
couple, but he showed only the highest reverence for Torah and
traditional marriage.  And, to those who think he is too 'rebellious,'
he did not let me do any feminist tinkering with the ceremony, much as I
would have liked to be allowed to do so.  In spite of his strict
adherence to the wedding halakhot, he was so understanding and *nice*
about every concern that we had...well, that was just so important to me
at the time, and was instrumental in keeping me from rejecting Orthodoxy

I do not have the academic background to judge the merits of ideas such
as commitment ceremonies or ger-toshav, etc.  But I have the modern
awareness to know that these are at least as worthwhile topics for
Rabbis to consider as are 'hechsher on cigarettes' or 'acquiring a
concubine' (!!).

--Leah S. R. Gordon


From: Ari Trachtenberg <trachten@...>
Date: Tue, 03 Jan 2006 11:14:37 -0500
Subject: Re: Sun revolves around Earth

>From: David Curwin <tobyndave@...>
> In other words, is Avoda Zara equivalent to
> believing the sun revolves around the earth?

I hope you'll excuse me for pouncing on such a seemingly trivial point,
but it has historically been the source of significant theological
acrimony.  The sun does, in fact, revolve around the earth, albeit in a
very strange, erratic orbit.  Thus, it is only mathematically simpler
(but no more correct) to say that the earth revolves around the sun (in
an ellipse).

Ari Trachtenberg,                                      Boston University
http://people.bu.edu/trachten                    mailto:<trachten@...>


End of Volume 50 Issue 92