Volume 55 Number 26
                    Produced: Wed Aug  1  6:58:02 EDT 2007

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Authorship of the Zohar
         [Joseph Ginzberg]
Becoming less observant
         [Stu Pilichowski]
Finances and Judaism
         [Bill Bernstein]
Healing/Protective Power of Sacred Texts (4)
         [Orrin Tilevitz, Yisrael Medad, Eitan Fiorino, Alex
Kohen and medical school
         [Dr. Josh Backon]


From: Joseph Ginzberg <jgbiz120@...>
Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2007 13:04:03 -0400
Subject: Authorship of the Zohar

>I disagree on several accounts. WHO wrote the Zohar is a function of
>what the ZOHAR says. If you dont understand it you can see it as saying
>symbolic things which are irrelevant then refute its authorship. That is
>most unscientific.
>On the other hand we might spend a little time viewing some of the
>exegesii of the Zohar.

Am I missing something here?

If I wrote a long book on string theory without having a full and 
appropriate CV somehow attached, would any competent person read it?

The small ads in the back of magazines are full of books offering solutions 
to the worlds greatest problems, all written by people with no credentials- 
and all ignored by intelligent people.

If the Zohar was actually written by Rashbi, it could be taken as divinely 
inspired and given a certain weight. (I understand that Chabad actually 
rules, in cases where the Talmud and Zohar contradict, like the Zohar) If it 
was a much later forgery by a brilliant but degenerate gambler, not so much.

Why is that faulty logic?

Yossi Ginzberg

(BTW, re "scanning" the holy letters of the Zohar- In his introduction
to the Zohar, Dr Berg presents this as an option, without really giving
any cogent reasoning.  Likewise, he sidesteps the issue of authorship.
For anyone who questions the Berg operations' legitimacy as a Jewish
organization, I strongly recommend reading the introductions he and his
son wrote to the Zohar. They display ignorance of both Judaism and


From: Stu Pilichowski <cshmuel@...>
Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2007 05:52:07 +0000
Subject: Becoming less observant

The recent article in the Sunday NY Times magazine by Noah Feldman has
caused a bit of an uproar in the community. To summarize, Mr. Feldman, a
modern Orthodox jew, educated at least through yeshiva high school and
continued learning even while at Oxford, was also a baal koreh, - in
short a frum yid; he then intermarries. (He's upset that the jewish
community no longer "recognizes" him.)

What bothers me about this issue is not Mr. Feldman's personal gripe,
but rather how does someone as brilliant and accomplished an Orthodox
Jew as Noah Feldman allow himself to intermarry; to begin down that

More generally speaking, why do modern Orthodox / dati leumi Jews become
less observant? Is this happening more in Israel - where many dati leumi
live in closed/insular communities and the freedom they experience once
they leave home is too much a temptation?

Does our chinuch not educate towards why ritual mitzvot are so important
as opposed to the bayn adom lachaveiro (man to man) mitzvot which are
seemingly more ethics and morals and easy to observe from a societal
point of view.

Your thoughts please . . . .

Stuart Pilichowski
Mevaseret Zion, Israel


From: Bill Bernstein <billbernstein@...>
Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2007 08:06:45 -0500
Subject: Re: Finances and Judaism

In MJ #22 Anonymous writes about his/her financial situation.  I had to
re-read it to see what the actual question was, namely "how do most
people manage this."

Recently I visited a major Jewish community.  What I saw meshes pretty
well with what Anonymous describes.  Very expensive houses, large
numbers of children, and high tuition rates make for a lifestyle that
requires a high income.

Looking at Anonymous' situation, he is spending about $50,000/yr in
tuition and I figure about $45,000/year in mortgage plus taxes and
insurance.  One would probably have to add another $40,000 for
automobiles, insurance, food, utilities, etc (and I suspect I am
estimating very low).  That means Anonymous is spending $135,000 a year,
after tax, which means he/she would need a gross income well in excess
of $200,000 just to break even.

I noticed in this major Jewish community that many of the houses were
not well maintained.  I surmised from this that the pressure of making
ends meet is enormous, and must put a lot of stress on relationships.
This stress is enhanced if one considers that if anything happens to
either working spouse to interrupt this income, the result will be
disaster.  I cannot see the utility of this kind of lifestyle in aiding
Jewish spirtual development.  When one is pressed for time and living on
the edge, how can he think about anything else?

For myself, I moved to a less expensive neigborhood and bought a house
with a very small mortgage (about $300/mo).  We drive older, paid for
cars.  With no restaurants available, we never eat out.  Our shul is
located in the basement of a strip mall and dues reached the outrageous
amount of $1,000/year.  Yes, we don't have minyan every day.  Yes, it
takes a lot of self-motivation to maintain an Orthodox life.  My son is
homeschooled and doing pretty well with it.

As for living in a big community with day schools etc available, I do
not know how an average person manages it.  I suspect the answer is
poorly.  I am happy the subject has come up because I see it as a major
challenge in American Jewish life.  Perhaps some further thought on the
topic is in order.

Bill Bernstein
Nashville TN.


From: Orrin Tilevitz <tilevitzo@...>
Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2007 07:10:38 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Healing/Protective Power of Sacred Texts

<"Abracadabra"... a phrase that suggestions creating something to Harry
Potter's "Avader-cadavera" (suggesting a cadaver)>

Actually, the killing curse in Harry Potter is "Avada Kedavra"; in
Aramaic "avada" is "to make", and I suspect Ms. Rowling knew that.

From: Yisrael Medad <ybmedad@...>
Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2007 21:00:33 +0300
Subject: Healing/Protective Power of Sacred Texts

I enjoyed Alex Herrera's submission and may you always merit good health.

But you left out certain books that are to be placed near or under the
pillows of those needing a bit extra, whether a specific book or other.

I guess it all started with the Copper Snakes Moses had to raise up
(Bamidbar 21)


From: Eitan Fiorino <AFiorino@...>
Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2007 09:54:19 -0400
Subject: RE: Healing/Protective Power of Sacred Texts

> From: Alex Herrera <odat@...>
> [snip]
> So... do Jews see such texts as having healing or protective powers?
> Apparently so. When I was very ill, my wife was worried so 
> she had all the mezuzah scrolls in the house changed. I told 
> her this wasn't necessary, but no matter what I said, she 
> would not hear me. She changed them all. I got better. No 
> doubt she will think that the changing of the scrolls was the 
> thing that did "the trick". I cannot prove that it did not. 
> What I can say is that I prayed for healing and that healing 
> came. But I also cannot deny that I probably would have 
> healed in any case. Although my wife was terribly worried, I was not.

For those interested in this topic see Joshua Trachtenberg's Jewish
Magic and Superstition and Ephraim Kanarfogel's Peering Throught the
Lattices.  Many rishonim clearly believed in the power of both amulets
and the incantation of texts to offer protection from various dangers as
well as other benefits.  Such beliefs were common, if not axiomatic, in
the medieval world.

Where would we be without the Rambam?


From: Alex Heppenheimer <aheppenh@...>
Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2007 13:06:00 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: Healing/Protective Power of Sacred Texts

In MJ 55:23, Alex Herrera wrote:

>So... do Jews see such texts as having healing or protective powers?
>Apparently so. When I was very ill, my wife was worried so she had all
>the mezuzah scrolls in the house changed. I told her this wasn't
>necessary, but no matter what I said, she would not hear me. She
>changed them all. I got better. No doubt she will think that the
>changing of the scrolls was the thing that did "the trick". I cannot
>prove that it did not. What I can say is that I prayed for healing and
>that healing came. But I also cannot deny that I probably would have
>healed in any case. Although my wife was terribly worried, I was not.

Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De'ah 285:1) does state that "one who is careful
with [the mitzvah of mezuzah], their life and the lives of their
children will be lengthened." It's true that Rambam (Hil. Mezuzah 5:4)
decries the idea that the mezuzah is "something that confers benefit in
the vanities of the world," but this is following on a discussion of the
(incorrect) practice of actually treating the mezuzah like an amulet, by
adding things such as names of angels or of G-d to the text on the inner
side of the mezuzah parchment. But presumably he wouldn't disagree with
the idea, mentioned in several places in the Gemara (for example,
Shabbos 23b and 32b), that proper fulfillment of this mitzvah - without
adding anything of our own invention - is a conduit for Divine
blessings. (And of course there's also the well-known story with Onkelos
(Avodah Zarah 11a), that G-d "stands guard" over a house with a

So the real question is whether the existing mezuzos were kosher. If
they were, then it might be fair to say that changing them wouldn't have
made a difference - though even then, it's possible that being concerned
enough to replace them (not knowing whether they were good or not)
brings about a reciprocal response from G-d.


>I remember a particular rabbi suggesting that the reason Hurricane
>Katrina did so much damage in New Orleans was because the residents did
>not study enough Torah. I never heard a direct quote, but I wondered
>whether the rabbi thought that Torah study had a protective power. When
>we read of Abraham haggling with G-d about saving Sodom for the sake of
>ten good men, if there had been ten good men, what would they have been
>doing that would have been good enough to merit protection? It is
>obvious they weren't studying Torah.  There was no Torah given yet. Lot
>apparently merited protection, but what good thing was he doing that the
>others were not? It wasn't Torah study. It wasn't a text that was
>protecting him.

The Gemara (Sotah 21a) has a discussion about the power of Torah
vs. that of mitzvos, regarding protection (in Aramaic, "magna") from
physical suffering, and rescue ("matzla") from being tempted to
sin. There are various opinions there about the conditions in which each
of these is operative - one of the criteria is whether the person is
actually engaged at the moment in Torah study or mitzvah observance. It
seems undisputed, though, that Torah study undertaken for the right
reasons (or at least not as a weapon against others, the classic case of
this being King David's enemies Doeg and Achitophel) has a protective
effect. And that's all talking about an individual's Torah study or
mitzvah observance; the same actions undertaken by a group of people are
an exponential "force multiplier" for good (see Rashi to Leviticus

As for Lot and the putative good men of Sodom:

Long before the revelation at Sinai, people were studying Torah. We
find, for example, that "Yeshivos never ceased from among our
forefathers" (Yoma 28b), and that the enslaved Jews in Egypt studied
Torah on Shabbos (Shemos Rabbah 5:18). Elsewhere (Avodah Zarah 9a), too,
the Gemara refers to the "two thousand years of Torah" as having begun
when Avraham was 52 years old, which is 47 years before the destruction
of Sodom. So it's not impossible that the good deeds that Avraham was
asking G-d to consider in Sodom's favor might have included Torah study.

At that time, though, there was a Divine decree in effect that the
spiritual and physical worlds should be completely disjoint (Shemos
Rabbah 12:3), a decree which was lifted only with the giving of the
Torah, when "G-d descended upon Mount Sinai" (Exodus 19:20). So
actually, neither Torah study nor mitzvah observance had the same
spiritual effect that they do now. If nevertheless G-d was prepared to
accept their good deeds to save Sodom from destruction, then that would
have been a special kindness on His part.


>OK... is the Zohar Torah? Don't get me started. The word "Torah" is used
>by folks generally to mean any study that involves religious texts or
>ideas. In that sense, the Zohar is Torah. But it is not normative. I
>treat it as midrash... important lessons to learn, but the text does not
>make specific demands on me as the Torah does.

Think of it this way: the revealed Torah tells us _what_ to do and what
not to do. The esoteric Torah, such as the Zohar and other works based
on it (including works of Chassidus and mussar), explain _why_ to do or
not to do - i.e., the effects that our actions have in the spiritual
realms (and from there, in turn, to their outgrowths in our physical
world). That knowledge should bring one to greater enthusiasm in Torah
study and mitzvah observance.

I like to think of the difference as similar to that between an owner's
manual for a car (which tells you how often to change the oil, what this
or that warning light means, etc.) and a mechanic's manual (which tells
how all of the parts are assembled, and gives you insight into, for
example, what will actually happen within the engine if you don't change
the oil or follow the warning light).

Kol tuv,


From: Dr. Josh Backon <backon@...>
Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2007 11:03:33 +0300
Subject: Re: Kohen and medical school

>Two respondents in MailJewish 55:21 discuss Kohanim and medical
>school. It seems to me that each of these postings contained an error:
>a) "If a Cohen did come in contact with a corpse or cadaver he isn't
>permitted to *duchen* [nesiyat kapayim] nor is he entitled to get an
>aliya to the Torah as a Cohen."
>I believe that is only the case if a Kohen killed someone, and even then
>this is not a categorical ruling. Otherwise, 99+% of all Kohanim could
>not receive the Kohen Aliyah.

Sigh ....

I quoted the Nishmat Avraham Orach Chayim 128 # 8 who brings as his
sources the Chatam Sofer YD 338, Mahari Aszad 47, Ktav Sofer OC 17, and
Shearim Metzuyanim b'Halacha 101 s"k 17.  Only if the doctor who is a
Cohen does tshuva (and refrains from further contact with a corpse) is
he permitted to duchen (which is explicit in Orach Chayim 128:41 "nitma
l'meit she'eino m'shiva meitei mitzva PASSUL min ha'duchan v'chol
ma'alot ha'kehuna AD SHE'YASHUV v'yekabel shelo yitama ohd l'meitim".

Dr. Josh Backon


End of Volume 55 Issue 26