Volume 51 Number 39
                    Produced: Wed Mar  1  4:45:47 EST 2006

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Assurances re Valentines
         [Leah S. Gordon]
Change in Kashrut policy
         [Shmuel Himelstein]
How to Pasken (Decide) a question
         [Avi Feldblum]
Talmud mss CD
         [Yisrael Dubitsky]
Valentine's Day and New Year's Day
         [Orrin Tilevitz]


From: Leah S. Gordon <leah@...>
Date: Tue, 28 Feb 2006 05:46:27 -0800
Subject: Assurances re Valentines

>I can assure Leah S Gordon that the Gaon Rav Rabinovitch does not speak
>rhetoric when dealing with fundamental issues like those celebrations
>based in avoda zara.
>Rabbi Meir Wise

With all due respect to Rabbis Wise and Rabinovitch, this assurance does
not mean very much in the face of evidence to the contrary.  Please
provide a source that "Valentine's Day celebrations are the worst kind
of avodah zara," as literal halakha with back-up from the usual sources.

-Leah S. R. Gordon


From: Shmuel Himelstein <himels@...>
Date: Wed, 01 Mar 2006 10:13:59 +0200
Subject: Change in Kashrut policy

Up to now, the Kashrut policy of all Israel's city rabbinates has been
an "all or nothing" approuch, whereby if one branch of a certain chain
could not receive a Hechsher, none of the other branches would receive
it either. Thus, for example, since one branch of the "Aroma" coffee
shop chain in Jerusalem is open on Shabbat, none of the others (even
though they are closed on Shabbat) could receive a Hechsher.

This rule, though, is based on cities. For example, while McDonalds in
Jerusalem is not kosher (open on Shabbat, cheeseburgers, etc.), the one
in Mevaseret Tziyon (10 minutes outside Jerusalem, but under a different
city rabbinate) does have a Hechsher.

Now for the change: In Tel Aviv, where none of the McDonalds branches
had a Hechsher until now, Chief Rabbi (and former Israeli Chief Rabbi)
Rav Yisrael Lau has granted a Hechsher to two of these branches. To
distinguish them from the others (all of which have a red decor), these
two have a blue decor throughout, and are marked Kosher in big letters.

Maybe this will spread to Jerusalem, so that we can enjoy Aroma coffee in
Jerusalem, without having to drive to Mevaseret Tziyon to do so.

Shmuel Himelstein


From: Avi Feldblum <feldblum@...>
Date: Tue, 28 Feb 2006 06:56:50 -0500
Subject: How to Pasken (Decide) a question

Reading through Russel's posting on this topic has highlighted for me
some of the very fundimental differences between his thought and my
understanding of the Halachic process. I do not in any way claim to be a
posek, but my grandfather zt"l was, and we spoke at times on the
process.  In addition, both in terms of my learning and speaking with my
father z"l, I have developed a concept of how I understand psak to
work. I will try and clarify how it differs from what Russel wrote
(v51n33) and would be interested to hear from others.

> But Meylekh could have asked "So what...Rambam is only one Rishon" to
> which I would respond that deciding law is not a numbers game. Rambam in
> COURTS (Sanhedrin) Either Chapter 9,10 Par 1 clearly states that we
> count the NUMBER of reasons not the number of opinions. So 10 people who
> cite one verse can AND SHOULD be overruled by 2 people citing 2 verses
> since the 2, not the 10, have the majority. In other words it is part of
> the halachic process to EXPLAIN in terms of Verses and halachic concepts
> the decision.
> [Snip]
> So let me summarize: The three biblical sources--golden calf; Moab, end
> of Yisro--support the idea FORMULATED by Maimonides that
> Idolatry=Physical Representation whether with Jew or Non-Jew. Of course
> when i state it this way it SOUNDS like I looked for a position that
> supported what was interesting--not so! It is intrinsic to the halachic
> process to defend each rishon and only then count opinions.
> I am not saying there are no other opinions. But, and this is where I
> must criticize Meylekh it is his halachic responsibility to show a) What
> it is other rishonim are stating and b) To show how these other rishonim
> deal with the texts I mentioned. Only then do we have an admissable
> viewpoint.
> And suppose Meylekh cant defend it. I believe proper halachic response
> is to decide in favor of the rishon whose reasons are understood and to
> leave it as "in need of investigation." I don't believe the FACT that a
> rishon said something and therefore had to have a reason is IN AND OF
> ITSELF sufficient reason to decide that way.

I have not yet reviewed the Rambam that Russell has quoted, but the
above description does not correspond to they way I understand the
halachic process works. I remember to this day the statement my
grandfather zt"l made to me: We do not pasken based on a gemarah, nor
based on a Rambam.  To properly pasken halacha, we must examine how that
gemarah and Rambam etc were dealt with over the entire Responsa history.

We may have a rishon who brought down 100 reasons that we view as
completely compelling. However if the Mechaber and the Ramah pasken
differently, and their psak is upheld in the writings of the later
poskim, that rison, with all his wonderful reasons falls by the wayside.

As to Russell's statement that it is required for us to show how the
rishon would deal with the texts that Russell brought in support, I think
that the proper response is in actuality the opposite. I am fully willing
to take as a given that any text Russell can bring, the rishon (or other
posek) is likely to know as well. If in spite of the existance of those
texts, the rishon paskens as he does, is proof that Russell's
interpretation of the texts is not as compelling as he thinks.

The last paragraph quoted above most strongly illustrates the difference
between us. Russell claims the proper halachic response is to pasken
based on the rishon whose "reasons are understood". While it may be
slightly different from what Meylekh said, it seems to me that Russell
is deciding halacha by what makes sense to him, by what reasons he
understands. That is not what I understand the proper approach to be.
Yes, we need to fully understand the basic mishnaic and amoraic texts
that deal with the issue at hand, then trace the way it was dealt with
in the rishonim and finally codified in the major halachic
codifications, starting with Rambam, Tur and Shulchan Aruch. Then, one
needs to see how it was dealt with in the post shulchan aruch responsa
literature. Based on that one can come to a psak halacha.

There is also the element of Limud Torah. From as aspect of limud torah,
the focus is on understanding the reasons behind each rishon's (or
acharon's) psak. Here we would focus on why one choose to accept certain
texts or earlier sources and another chose a different text or other
earlier sources. Here we discuss which reasons we understand and do not
understand, which ones we think are more or less compelling etc. But the
shakla v'tarya of the beit medrash is not the shu"t of the responsa
literature. The same person could give a shiur which may come to the
conclusion that the compelling reasoning is that of rishon A, yet the
same individual when writing a halachic responsa, may come to the
opposite conclusion halacha l'maaseh, based on the chain of previous

Avi Feldblum


From: Yisrael Dubitsky <Yidubitsky@...>
Date: Tue, 28 Feb 2006 14:34:13 -0500
Subject: Talmud mss CD

M-J readers will be interested to learn that the newest version of the
Talmud mss CD (known as the "Lieberman CD" or the "Sol and Evelyn
Henkind Talmud Text Databank"), is now available. The newest version,
using the Bar Ilan Responsa interface, includes transcriptions of all
known mss of Talmud, including Cairo Genizah fragments at JTS, Cambridge
and Oxford as well as scans of various mss (NOT those available via
JNUL) of Talmud and Mishnah. It normally sells for $750 but for a
limited time if five (5) individuals get together they can each buy it
for $500 (please mention my name when ordering though. No, I do not get
a cut, it's for statistical purposes only). See here

Yisrael Dubitsky 


From: Orrin Tilevitz <tilevitzo@...>
Date: Mon, 27 Feb 2006 08:55:37 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Valentine's Day and New Year's Day

Joel Rich writes
>I celebrate and try to scrupulously observe any day off from work.

There is a joke that I heard almost 40 years ago and that probably was
recycled then.  Egyptian President Nasser asks his seers "when will I
die?"  They reply, "You will die on a Jewish holiday."  "How do you
know?"  "Because any day that you die will be a Jewish holiday."

Joel and I do not disagree on this point; any day my boss closes the
office is a holiday worth observing and celebrating, Jan. 1 and, for that
matter, Dec. 25 included. The problem is the word "celebrate". I
"celebrate" these days as days off but I associate no ritual,
religious or otherwise, with them unique to these days.  Joel asks <In
the US does anyone (even non-Jews) "celebrate" new year in any meaningful
way?>  No, if "meaningful" is in the sense of a religious service.  But
even aside from the drunken revelry, people routinely mark Jan. 1 as the
beginning of a "new" year: newspapers have reflections on the previous
year and speculations on what the "new" year will bring; and people
wish each other a "happy new year" - and at least some people seem to
mean it.  That's pretty "meaningful." So they are "celebrating" and
"observing" it not merely as a day off, but as the beginning of
something new.  And that's the problem: for us, it isn't; there is no
more difference to us between Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 than between March 2 and
March 3  We believe that Rosh Hashana is our new year - or one of them,
but none of the others is Jan. 1.  If we "observe" or "celebrate"
Jan. 1 as the start of a "new" year in any way (as opposed to merely as
a day off), we are taking something away from our own holiday, and I
don't think we may do that.

Neither Valentine's Day nor Thanksgiving presents that sort of
conflict.  Valentine's Day marks love between people of the opposite
sex, and Thanksgiving marks, if anything, hakarat hatov, specifically to
the America.  Both are values wholly consonant with Jewish values.  (On a
similar point, an elderly holocaust survivor approached my father in shul
on Memorial Day and expressed wonderment that Jews would be observing
it.  My father, who fought for the U.S. in WWII, told him that had it not
been for U.S. soldiers whose dea th was marked on Memorial Day, the
holocaust survivor would not have been.)

(Incidentally, as Rabbi Broyde pointed out to me off-line, Rav Moshe
Feinstein's responsum at Even Ha'ezer 2:13 does not say that one may
"celebrate" New Years Day (or Thanksgiving) in the sense of joining in
the festivities.  The responsum says only that scheduling a simcha for
that day is not forbidden because of mar'it ayin, unlike Christmas.
This does not imply that the act to which the forbidden act is similar
is permitted, any more than the evident lack of a prohibition, on the
grounds of mar'it ayin, on eating fake ham means that one may eat real
ham.  It follows that the responsum is no proof that chocolate-giving on
Valentine's Day is permissible.)

Janice Gelb writes:

> The fact is that the world operates on a secular calendar so even
> observant Jews deal with the secular year . . . Merely noting that the
> secular year is changing and that one hopes that the new year
> beginning is a good one, or even having a party to mark the occasion,
> doesn't remotely approach the level of involvement in Rosh
> Hashana. . . . If one is invited to or wants to host a mannerly
> celebration marking the turning of the secular year, I fail to see why
> the fact that others celebrate to excess should forbid the practice.

I have no problem with recognizing the existence of a calendrical
change; I do not wait until Jan. 2 to change the date on checks.  But a
calendrical event is not what's being celebrated; people normally don't
throw quadrennial (or tetracentennial) Feb. 29 parties.  It's precisely
the notion that Jan. 1 represents something new, whatever the "level of
involvement", that I find problematic.

> I have to wonder about the New Years celebrations in your neighborhood!

Far wide of the mark.  My neighborhood is predominantly frum Jews, frum
Moslems, Hindus (who may or may not be monotheistic), and practitioners
of religions I've probably never heard of, none of whom observe Jan. 1
as anything more than a day off.

> Among my friends and neighbors, I have rarely been to or heard of a
> New Years Eve celebration that descended into general debauchery or
> serious drunkenness.  . . .  If one is invited to or wants to host a
> mannerly celebration marking the turning of the secular year, I fail
> to see why the fact that others celebrate to excess should forbid the
> practice.

"Rarely" and "serious drunkenness".  Well, the holiday party (pre-New
Year's eve) of one firm I worked for was moved from mid-week to Friday
night because employees were too hung over to come to work the next day.
But true, nobody died.  And a partner at another well-known firm I
worked for came home drunk after the firm's holiday party, fell down a
flight of stairs, and died, but he did not die at the party.  And you
can read the newspapers about drunken drivers and traffic fatalities on
New Year's eve.  Or, attend a performance of Die Fledermaus, which is
set, and normally performed, on New Year's Eve, and whose plot revolves
around drunken confusion among husbands and wives.  The opera is so
popular precisely because it mirrors, if exaggerates, reality.  The
point is that derech avodato, the ritual of the day, is drinking -
frequently to excess -, which is not something we should be doing simply
because the goyim are doing it; and this drinking does not mark anything
that we, as Jews, ought to mark.


End of Volume 51 Issue 39