Volume 55 Number 57
                    Produced: Thu Aug 30  6:31:40 EDT 2007

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Are You A Manhig Yisrael?  A One-Item Test
         [Jay F Shachter]
"Bad Monkeys"
         [Akiva Miller]
Brachos from Rabbis
         [Fay Berger]
Hebrew as a language
         [Idelle Rudman]
Limudei Kodesh B'Ivrit
         [Ari Trachtenberg]
Wake-Up Calls and Brachahs (2)
         [Shlomo Argamon, Daniel Geretz]


From: Jay F Shachter <jay@...>
Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2007 18:52:16 -0600 (CDT)
Subject: Are You A Manhig Yisrael?  A One-Item Test

In mail.jewish v55n56, the following item appeared:
> From: Martin Edelstein <edelstei@...>
> What does returning to roots mean?  I am concerned about the
> grandchildren of a cousin whose daughter converted to Catholicism.  They
> are not likely to be bal teshuvah.  The best that I can hope for is that
> they marry a nice Reform Jewish boy or girl.  Is that enough, or am I
> silly to ask the question?  Can I make the ketubah?  How do they get a
> Jewish name?

A few years ago, during one of my increasingly rare trips to New York,
while I was having lunch with my erstwhile editor, Yaaqov Elman, he
should live and be well, he posed the following hypothetical to me:

  Suppose you have a friend -- a man -- Jewish, but not religiously
  observant.  You have a choice between matching him up with one of two
  different women: a nonreligious Jewess, i.e., a woman who will almost
  certainly never go to the miqveh, or a non-Jewish woman.  Which woman
  do you choose?

I did a quick mental calculation, in the manner of Tom Swift, except
that I did not pull out the pocket slide rule, since I no longer carry
one.  To have sexual relations with a Jewish woman who has never gone to
the miqveh involves both parties in a violation of Leviticus 20:18, and
subjects both parties to the punishment of "karet".  This word can be
translated by the English word "excision", and although we don't quite
know exactly what manner of excision is meant, our tradition tells us
that crimes punishable by karet are serious crimes, comparable in
magnitude to crimes that carry the death penalty.  On the other hand, to
have sexual relations with a non-Jewish woman is, at the very worst,
only an "'issur lav".  This term denotes a prohibition for which no
specific punishment is mentioned in the Torah, and it is a kind of crime
which can be translated freely but quite accurately by the English word
"misdemeanor".  And that is only, as I said, at the very worst.  If the
non-Jewish woman is not a Canaanite, and in any event if the sexual
relations are not done "lshem 'ishut" -- meaning, in a marital context
-- intellectual honesty compels us to admit (though the unlearned in the
audience may be surprised to hear it) that there is probably no
Scriptural prohibition whatsoever (moreover, it is quite likely that
there would never be relations "lshem 'ishut" if these people conform to
the prevailing American morés, which mandate an extended period of
concubinage before marriage may take place).  And the non-Jewish woman,
in any event, is completely innocent even Rabbinically, since non-Jews
have no obligation to prevent Jews from sinning.  The same reasoning
applies if the friend is a Jewess and you have to choose between
matching her up with a non-practicing Jew or a non-Jew, since a woman
who has never gone to the miqveh does not violate Leviticus 20:18 by
having sexual relations with a non-Jew, and the non-Jew is completely
innocent in any event.  But it will be clear in a few minutes why this
hypothetical question involves a male friend, not a female one.

The verbosity of the previous paragraph notwithstanding, I carried out
these mental calculations with lightning speed, and after performing my
lightning-fast calculations I gave my esteemed colleague the results:
that it is better to match up your friend with the non-Jewish mate than
with the Jewish one.

"According to Rav Yaaqov Kamenetsky," my colleague Yaaqov Elman,
yibbadel lxayyim, immediately replied, "you are a talmid xakham, but you
are not a manhig yisrael".

"Talmid xakham", literally, "student of a sage", is a Hebrew idiom
denoting a scholar; "manhig yisrael" is Hebrew for "a leader of Israel".
Apparently this was a hypothetical question that Rav Yaaqov Kamanetsky
used to pose rhetorically to illustrate the difference between the two
categories.  Unquestionably a calculus of relative severity of
prohibitions compels the answer that it is better to match your friend
with the non-Jew; but Rav Yaaqov Kamenetsky apparently held that a
calculus of severity of prohibitions is not where the manhig yisrael
stops.  The manhig yisrael is more concerned with the following
calculus, in the words of my esteemed colleague: "If your friend marries
a nonreligious Jewess, maybe they will do teshuva.  Maybe their children
will do teshuva.  They are not lost.  If your friend marries the
non-Jewish woman, he is lost, and his children certainly will be lost."

If this is Rav Yaaqov Kamanetsky's position, though, I question it.
We're supposed to decide halakha with our heads, not with our viscera,
and we're supposed to obey the dictates of our intellect no matter what
our viscera have to say about them.  We are Jews, we have a legal
methodology, and we believe that our conduct should be subject to our
intellect, because, being Jews, we trust our disciplined intellects more
than we trust our viscera.  And if Rav Yaaqov Kamenetsky really wants us
to match up our Jewish friends with nonobservant Jewish mates, what
would he say about a slightly different example -- what if this
hypothetical Jewish woman is legally married to another man?  If you're
willing to subject your male friend to the punishment of excision, well
hey, why not subject him to death by strangulation, while you're at it?
I posed this question to Yaaqov Elman by electronic mail after I
returned home to Chicago, and he replied that, although he could
obviously not speak for the late Rav Yaaqov Kamenetsky, it seemed to him
that the same logic would still apply, and that Rav Yaaqov Kamenetsky
would tell you to match up your friend with the married woman, which is
really not much worse than a woman who has never gone to the miqveh.  I
don't think I agree with that.  And I am not eager to be confronted in
the next world by a friend whom I caused to violate an 'issur karet
thousands of times during his lifetime, when I could have chosen to
subject him to no Scriptural prohibition whatsoever.  What will I be
able to say to him?

So, getting back to the posting by Martin Edelstein that started this
whole essay, perhaps the best that you can hope for is not that they
marry a nice Reform Jewish boy or girl.  Perhaps the best that you can
hope for is that they will marry non-Jews.

Jay F. ("Yaakov") Shachter


From: Akiva Miller <kennethgmiller@...>
Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2007 13:08:56 GMT
Subject: Re: "Bad Monkeys"

Chi Halevi quotes Paul Di Filippo:
> ... let's alter the experiment a little and assume that all the
> potential victims are "irredeemably evil." Suddenly the equation
> changes. Wiping out five baddies is the higher good, right?

The critical factors in this situation are: (1) the potential victims
*are* evil, (2) they are *irredeemably* evil, and (3) we *know* that
they are irredeemably evil.

Given these factors as the starting point, it is clear that the question
does not deal in reality, but in fantasy or science fiction.

But that's okay. It's only a starting point for the thought experiment.

> There are interesting Jewish takes on this, I'm sure. ...
> Anyone care to comment?

My suggestion is that this is EXACTLY like the case of executing a
Rebellious Son -- which, by the way, is clearly understood by Chazal as
being as "thought experiment", intended for the lessons it teaches us,
rather than as practical halacha.

Akiva Miller


From: <JuniperViv@...> (Fay Berger)
Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2007 18:05:57 EDT
Subject: Re: Brachos from Rabbis

My late husband A'H was studying in the Lakewood Yeshiva, in the
evening.He was called to the US Army during the Korean War.He went to
Reb Aharon Cutler ZATZAL for a "bracha".Reb Aharon told him that in the
army he would have a great deal of time to study Torah.He didn't give
"brachos."The study is the "bracha."My late husband A'H took "seforim"
to Fort Belvoir, VA.He was given a desk job for his entire stay in the
army.He had plenty of time to "learn"and was not sent to Korea.

Fay Berger


From: Idelle Rudman <idellerudman@...>
Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2007 04:04:51 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Hebrew as a language

I have been following the discussion concerning the issue of learning
Modern Hebrew.  Within this "conversation" there arose the issue of
"learning", and as part of the latter discusson, the ability to read
seforim related to "learning."

The ability to speak modern Hebrew, especially if one is in Israel, is
wonderful.  However, modern conversational Hebrew often takes terms from
Tanakh, Mishna, etc., and changes the usage.  Ergo, there is often the
need to return to the source in order to find the correct definition in
order to "learn."  However, if one has mastered modern Hebrew, then the
tools to understand the sources are readily available.  So modern Hebrew
is a conduit, even if not pronounced in the current mode, to "learning"

As a librarian where Jewish studies was a focus, I purchased and used
many translations.  "Translation is interpretation."  If one relies on
translation, the information is third-hand.  There is the original, the
translation, and the interpretation of this translation.  This is easily
seen if one reads the ArtScroll interpretation of Tanakh, and compares
it with "The Living Tree," by R. Aryeh Kaplan, zts"l.

The Ramban stated the principle that the whole Hebrew aleph bet is
kadosh, every letter of the Torah in combination, comprises the name of
Ha-Shem.  Therefore, the language of Mikrah is holy.  To misread it,
mispronounce by not using proper dikduk principles, and misinterpret it,
is a contradiction of its' holiness.

If one accepts the above principle of the Ramban, and his da'at Torah is
the basis of much of the writings of the generations of parshanim,
chachamim, chassidim, and lamdanim who succeeded him, then there is no
question that correct Hebrew is necessary.  If the conduit to this is
learning modern conversational Hebrew, then use it as a tool to go
forward in limmud.  If one contravenes the priniples of the Ramban by
trying to mimic the language usageof the world of our
great-grandparents, then one is contravening the words of a Rishon.

Idelle Rudman


From: Ari Trachtenberg <trachten@...>
Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2007 10:36:23 -0400
Subject: Re: Limudei Kodesh B'Ivrit

Avi Feldblum wrote:
> A relative who had a similar education to Ira tells a story about his
> first visit to Eretz Yisrael.  Fresh off the plane, he gets into a taxi
> and tells the driver "Ani Roytzeh Laleches el HaKosel" (I want to go to
> the kotel - In Ashkenazic nusach).  The taxi driver refused to speak to
> him in Hebrew and insisted on speaking in English...

Maybe because he is actually telling the driver that he would like to
*walk* to the kotel (in which case he really doesn't need the taxi).


From: Shlomo Argamon <argamon@...>
Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2007 06:53:07 -0500
Subject: Re: Wake-Up Calls and Brachahs

Apropos this discussion, I heard last week from R. Michel Twersky in
Milwaukee the story that one time a man came to the Kotzker Rebbe and
asked for a bracha that his children would be talmidei chachamim.  The
Kotzker refused.  When the man asked why, the Kotzker replied: "If I
give you such a bracha, your children will grow up and ask for brachot
for *their* children to be talmidei chachamim.  You want your children
to be talmidei chachmim?  Go and learn!"


From: Daniel Geretz <danny@...>
Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2007 09:55:50 -0400
Subject: Wake-Up Calls and Brachahs

Hillel Markowitz makes an important point that I assumed in my post but
did not spell out:

> BTW the idea of the "wakeup call" is not that the occurrence happened
> in order to be a particular wake up call, but that we should regard it
> as a wake up call in our particular circumstance.  Thus, the story of
> the 4 year old drowning would mean different things to different
> people.  Each person should regard it as a wake up call to change in
> whatever way *he* (or she) requires.

This same point was also made by the original poster (S. Wise) in a
private e-mail to me.

I agree that "wake up calls" are in the eye of the beholder, and are a
personal matter (as is Teshuva.)  In other words, I can't go to Reuven
and assert that incident x ought to be a "wake up call" for him, any
more than I can make a decision for Reuven what sins he has committed
for which he ought to be doing teshuva.

IOW, all things that happen to us in life are "learning opportunities"
*for us* if we are willing to make them so.


End of Volume 55 Issue 57