Volume 55 Number 75
                    Produced: Wed Sep 12  5:04:21 EDT 2007

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

the Baal Shem Tov and learning Talmud (was: Uman)
         [Alex Heppenheimer]
Da'as Torah (2)
         [Harlan Braude, Dr. Ben Katz]
da'as Torah vs. "instinct"
         [Ben Katz]
         [Yisrael Medad]
Halachic reasoning vs. reward/punishment calculations
         [Joseph Kaplan]
Issur Karet
         [Immanuel Burton]
The Shmitta Controversy: Digitized Historical Documents
         [Elhanan Adler]
         [Ben Katz]


From: Alex Heppenheimer <aheppenh@...>
Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2007 07:22:28 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: the Baal Shem Tov and learning Talmud (was: Uman)

In MJ 55:71, Yossi Ginzberg wrote:

>Eitans failure to be shocked at the Besht's allegedly having denigrated
>the learning of Talmud and his comment that he would have expected this,
>are to me also surprising.  While we all know the generics of the
>dispute between the chassidim and the original misnagdim, I think that
>most have assumed it to be a emphasis issue, rather than an actual open
>statement that learning Talmud is bad for you.
>I always understood it that in the same way that today Chabad can
>discount all the wackiness of individual shlichim by saying that it's
>not "official policy", chassidism discounts the fact that many/ most
>individuals do not emphasize Talmud by saying that that stance is not
>official. Per the Tzavaas Harivash however, that's incorrect and it IS
>in fact official.
>In that case, the Gra's position becomes far more understandable, and it
>in fact becomes difficult to understand how anyone (especially Rabbi's)
>dared to take the side of the chassidim.  That would indicate a sea
>change, not just in the attitude towards D'veikus, the time of prayer,
>and "lesser" halacha, it means a totally radical restructuring of one's
>approach to Torah study, one of the major pillars of the religion.

The fact, though, that prominent talmidei chachamim (R' Dov Ber of
Mezeritch, R' Pinchas Horowitz [the "Haflaah"], R' Shneur Zalman of
Liadi, etc.) did "dare to take the side of the chassidim" and even to
become chassidim, and later rebbes, themselves, should immediately alert
us that this understanding of the statement in Tzava'as HaRivash is

And indeed, that's not what it says at all. The Hebrew text of Tzava'as
HaRivash is available online at
http://www.hebrewbooks.org/root/data/pdfs/SC/tzavatharivash.pdf, and the
relevant passage is on page 5 lines 23ff.; it's too long to comfortably
transliterate. The English translation, at
http://www.chabad.org/library/article.htm/aid/145450/jewish/29.html and

    "When you study, pause briefly every hour to attach yourself unto
    [God], may He be blessed. Even so, you must study.

    "In the midst of study it is impossible to cleave unto God, blessed
    be He. Nonetheless one must study because the Torah furbishes the
    soul and is "a Tree of Life to those who hold fast to it."
    (Proverbs 3:18) If you do not study, your deveikut will cease.

    "Ponder the fact that you cannot cleave [unto God] when sleeping or
    when your mind "falls". The time of Torah-study is then certainly
    not inferior to those conditions. Nonetheless, you must consider at
    all times attachment to the blessed Creator, as stated above.

    "When conversing think of nothing but attachment to the Creator,
    blessed is He. When studying Torah, however, you must concentrate on
    the subject studied, and by virtue thereof you will be properly
    attached to Godliness.

    You must always be occupied with Torah, for it is "a Tree of Life
    to those who hold fast to it" (Proverbs 3:18). When but conversing
    and relying on the deveikut, however, be very careful not to lapse
    occasionally from the deveikut."

See also the translator's notes on those two pages.

Even without any notes, can these statements be fairly understood as
saying that Torah study is, G-d forbid, unimportant? If so, then the
same would have to apply to statements from the Gemara, such as "Whoever
says he has only Torah, does not even have Torah" (Yevamos 109b,
cf. Mishnah Berurah, Shaar HaTziyun 615:6), and that the destruction of
the Beis HaMikdash was due to failure to recite a blessing on the Torah
(Nedarim 81a).

Rather, the Baal Shem Tov (or his redactor) is simply telling us that
Torah study can't be done in such a way that one forgets about its Giver
and sees it as just an intellectual exercise. And indeed, thanks to the
efforts of the leaders of the Chassidic and Mussar movements, this idea
has become the norm among religious Jewry, and all yeshivos set aside
time for learning chassidus or mussar.

Kesivah vachasimah tovah and a good sweet year,


From: Harlan Braude <hbraude@...>
Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2007 18:44:07 -0400
Subject: Re: Da'as Torah

I came across an interesting definition of Da'as Torah in Rabbi Abraham
Twerski's book "Dear Rabbi, Dear Doctor, Volume 2", page 79:

"I have studied psychology, and it is possible that my thinking may have
been influenced by my secular studies. Even if I had adequate Torah
knowledge, I could not be considered daas Torah because I have been
subject to concepts that did not derive from Torah. Therefore, daas
Torah is a talmid chacham who was never influenced by anything other
than Torah."

In the brief article that this quote comes from, Rabbi Twerski explains
his reasoning in greater detail.

From: Dr. Ben Katz <bkatz@...>
Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2007 09:55:29 -0500
Subject: Re: Da'as Torah

         The problem for those who believe in "daas Torah" is that those
very rabbis were by and large, wrong about the 2 momentous decisions
facing 20th century Jewry:

1. whether to stay in Europe
2. Whether to support Zionism

one again - ketivah vachatimah tova lekulchem  


From: Ben Katz <bkatz@...>
Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2007 09:39:20 -0500
Subject: Re: da'as Torah vs. "instinct"

>From: David Riceman <driceman@...>
>  From: Carl Singer <casinger@...>
> > There is something called "natural law" -- by which, for example, most
> > people, regardless of their religious views might conclude that
> > killing children is WRONG.  Thus with or without Torah many (most?)
> > people would come to this same conclusion (and presumably act
> > accordingly.)
>The existence of natural law is a machloketh rishonim [argument among
>medieval Jewish scholars] - Rambam [Maimonides] in the introduction to
>Perek Helek [Chapter [[of Mishnah beginning with the word]] "Portion"]
>says its a foolish notion, and Sa'adiah in Emunoth V'Deoth [Opinions and
>Beliefs] accepts it - as well as an argument among philosophers; as far
>as I know nowadays only neo-Thomists [I'll let the moderator translate
>that one] accept it.

         Mr. Riceman is correct, but I will add that as with many
arguments, halacha is likely not the major underlying reason for the
dispute.  Thomas Aquinas was a Christian philosopher (heavily dependent
on Maimonidean thinking, as it turns out, but not in this case).
Christians rejected the "Old" Testament.  But then what about all of the
ethical obligations therein?  Thus Aquinas (I believe he was the first
in this context, but I could be mistaken) conceived of the notion of
natural law - ie you don't need a Divine lawgiver to tell you not to
steal or murder.  For Rambam, however, who believed that all laws have a
purpose (his distinction of chok and mishpat are between laws whose
reasons are OBVIOUS vs. those that are not, rather than laws that have a
reason and those that do not), the very idea of natural law is
abhorrent; perhaps he was familiar with some of the Christian
implications of the doctrine as well.  As to why Sadia accepted the
notion, I have no idea. As far as I know, many Jewish philosophers
follow Rambam, while many Christian philosophers (the "neo-Thomists"
Mr. Riceman refers to above) believe in natural law.

         ketiva vachatimah tova lekulchem! 


From: Yisrael Medad <ybmedad@...>
Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2007 22:47:25 +0300
Subject: Denigration

This statement : "the Besht's allegedly having denigrated the learning
of Talmud" should be historically modified.  It was Yaakov Yosef of
Polaney (Toldot Yaakov Yosef) who set off the fireworks of denigration
of Rabbinic/Talmudic learning.

Yisrael Medad


From: Joseph Kaplan <penkap@...>
Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2007 21:10:10 -0400
Subject: Halachic reasoning vs. reward/punishment calculations

Daniel Wells is, of course allowed his opinion on the issue of
introducing two single unobservant Jews, although not only does my "gut"
tell me he's wrong, but the many other posts, quoting serious sources,
which disagree with his analysis are quite convincing to me.  But that's
OK since disagreement is part and parcel of halacha.  What I do not
think is OK, however, are statements that the person who introduces two
non-observant Jews "surely will be held accountable for each illicit
cohabitation throughout their married life."  Personally, I think the
person making such an introduction will get a gold star in the Big Book
upstairs (which will turn platinum if the couple becomes observant).
But that's only what I think; I don't know that this will "surely"
happen since I'm not God's accountant.  Likewise, Daniel doesn't know
who will be "surely" held accountable for what.  Thus, in light of the
fact that leading talmedei chachamim/poskim like R. Ya'akov Kaminetsky
and R. Moshe Feinstein both said that such introductions were proper, a
bit less dogmatism and certainty on "accountability" on Daniel's part
would be, I think, more appropriate.

Joseph Kaplan


From: Immanuel Burton <iburton@...>
Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2007 10:58:27 +0100
Subject: Issur Karet

In Mail.Jewish v55n65, Daniel Geretz wrote:

> My totally uninformed opinion on the matter is that issur karet
> is morechamur - Bet-Din administered capital punishment effects,
> in a sense, a "kaparah" (atonement) for the sin.  An issur karet,
> on the other hand, has no means to effect kaparah.  (Both of these
> meant in the sense where one does not do teshuva and therefore 
> the punishment is coerced on the sinner.)

I was taught that karet is less severe than capital punishment carried
out by a Beth Din, on the grounds that there is no possibility
whatsoever for teshuvah - the sentence is carried out immediately it is
passed.  Someone who has incurred a penalty of karet, however, has the
opportunity to do teshuva so long as the penalty has not yet been

An additional indication that capital punishment is more severe comes
from the Al Chait sequence recited on Yom Kippur.  The sequence ends
with listing the various forms of punishment for which one could be
liable, e.g. "For the sins for which are liable to lashes".  This list
is arranged in ascending order of severity of punishment, and karet is
listed before Bet-Din administered capital punishment.

Shanah Tovah to all.

Immanuel Burton.


From: <elhanan@...> (Elhanan Adler)
Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2007 11:40:43 +0300 (GMT+0300)
Subject: The Shmitta Controversy: Digitized Historical Documents

Since the renewal of Jewish farming in Eretz Israel in the late 19th
century, the question of observing the sabbatical "shmitta" year has
been a recurring and unresolved halachic topic. Rabbinic opinions have
been, and still are, divided between those who recommend formally
selling Jewish owned agricultural lands for a year to non-Jews ("heter
ha-mechira") and those who require not working the fields, marketing of
alternate non-Jewish produce, and financially supporting the farmers

The Jewish National and University Library Collection includes many
broadsides and other original documents relating to this controversy.

In commemoration of the shmitta year 5768 beginning now, the Library's
David and Fela Shapell Family Digitization Project is pleased to make a
selection of these digitized documents available for viewing at:


The site is in Hebrew.

ketivah va-hatimah tovah.
Elhanan Adler
Deputy Director for Information Technology
Jewish National and University Library
Email: <elhanan@...>, elhanana@savion.huji.ac.il


From: Ben Katz <bkatz@...>
Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2007 09:49:57 -0500
Subject: Re: Uman

>From: Joseph Ginzberg <jgbiz120@...>
>Some comments on the comments to my post:
>Eitans failure to be shocked at the Besht's allegedly having denigrated
>the learning of Talmud and his comment that he would have expected
>this, are to me also surprising.  While we all know the generics of the
>dispute between the chassidim and the original misnagdim, I think that
>most have assumed it to be a emphasis issue, rather than an actual open
>statement that learning Talmud is bad for you.

         Chasidut was at least perceived as, if not in actuality was, a
rebellion against rabbinic authority to a large extent; that is why it
elicited such vitriolic responses from the leading rabbinic figures of
the time, such as the Vilna Gaon.  The same tone is used in
anti-chasidic polemics as was used a century later against the
Reformers, to my reading.  I have always wanted to see a study comparing
the 2 movementsand the rabbinic responses to them (any sociology PhD
students out there?); my non-expert take is that because Chasidim were
ultimately seen as Jews who took religion seriously (and because with
time, new things tend to become more acceptable), that Chasidim were
"accepted back" into the observant fold, unlike what happened with the
Reform movement.

again, ketivah vachatimah tova lekulchem, lemishpactechem ulekol kehal
adat yisrael


End of Volume 55 Issue 75