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27
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Birthday Wishes and Support for Congressman Reichert on his visit to Israel

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Rep. Dave Reichert, serving his fifth term in the 8th Congressional District in the State of Washington, is currently visiting Israel.  In honor of his birthday this coming Thursday, I wrote the following letter to him; it will be delivered to him during his trip.  EB will continue to proudly support politicians from both parties who openly declare their support for the State of Israel.  We were delighted to co-sponsor the Derek Kilmer talk at Herzl on August 13th and look forward to our continued alliances with members of Congress. 

Birthday Wishes to Rep. Reichert:

http://ravron.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/rep-reichert-birthday-wishes-1.pdf

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26
Aug
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Rabbi's New Office Hours

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As of this week, Rabbi Meyers' new office hours are as follows:

Sundays 11 am - noon
Mondays 1- 3 pm
Wednesdays and Thursdays 1-3:30 pm
Fridays 1:00-3:00 pm

 

 

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12
Aug
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Special Shiur for Women Sept. 1st

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A number of women throughout the Greater Seattle Jewish community have already received a Paperless Post invite to the upcoming Sept. 1st shiur entitled "Rosh Hashana: Coming Home". The organizers of the new program - to be unveiled on Sept. 1st - want to let all the women of the community know that they are all invited to attend, and can RSVP to the email address on the attached invite.  (We had a limited number of email addresses and therefore could not send an invitation to everyone!

midrashainvite

 

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09
Aug
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Halacha: Taking Care of One's Health

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By special request, here is a link to the first in a series of articles about the halachic obligation to take care of your health.  It's by Rabbi Asher Bush and was published by the RCA in 2006:

http://www.rabbis.org/pdfs/Prohibition_Smoking.pdf

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05
Aug
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PT II of "What Makes Me Orthodox?"

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I want to thank everyone who took part in our discussion of Torah Min Hashamayim at EB this past Shabbat.  I trust that the session was a fair overview of the background and context of the Zev Farber saga and that our community has a better feel for the personalities and interrelationships in the Modern Orthodox community that is now responding to Dr. Farber's posts. It is by no coincidence that the bulk of the critique of his comments is now being posted on the Moreorthodoxy blog, which has been the social media resource used most effectively by Chovevei Torah and the International Rabbinic Fellowship, with which Dr. Farber is closely identified.  The first major post was by Ben Elton, a student at YCT and the most recent one by Rabbi Yitzchak Blau, a prominent Talmid Hacham and Jewish educator.  Rabbi Blau, ordained by YU and squarely in the Centrist/Rav Soloveitchik camp, has been praised by the blog's readers for his eloquent and restrained response to Dr. Farber's posts. You can read what he has to say by clicking on http://morethodoxy.org/2013/08/05/guest-post-by-rav-yitzhak-blau-the-documentary-hypothesis-and-orthodox-judaism/

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02
Aug
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Can One Refute the Bible Critics?

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In preparation for the Shabbat Fundamentals class, it would be a great idea to do some background reading on modern responses to Biblical criticism, from a Torah perspective. In yesterday's blog post, I noted the work of the team of scholars at Yeshivat Har Etzion, whose work is influenced heavily by the approach of Rav Mordechai Breuer. To understand Rav Breuer's perspective - and how we can maintain a complete faith in the Divine origin of Torah while not ignoring the issues raised by Bible critics, take some time to read the article below by Rabbi Chaim Navon of Yeshivat Har Etzion....RM

Biblical Criticism - by Rav Chaim Navon

Biblical criticism is a critical-scientific approach to the study of the Bible that clashes with some of the fundamental tenets of traditional believing Jews. Its foundations were laid in the nineteenth century by German Protestant biblical scholars. It is based on the assumption that Scripture is not a homogenous work, but rather a collection of diverse documents that were compiled into a single book by a later editor. As for the works of the Prophets and the Hagiographa, the clash between biblical criticism and our approach is relatively mild: even the claim that the book of Yeshaya was composed by not one, but two prophets does not critically undermine the foundations of our faith. The sharpest clash involves the five books of the Torah.

According to the proponents of biblical criticism, the five books of the Torah are a compilation of four documents – J, E, P, and D. The diverse documents can most easily be distinguished on the basis of the various Divine names found in Scripture; proponents of this approach attribute each different name to a different document. They also speak of repetitions and redundancies, stylistic changes, and contradictions between different sources. The classic example put forward by the biblical scholars is the redundancy found in chapters 1 and 2 of the book of Bereishit. In these chapters, Scripture refers to God by different names: "E-lokim" and "Hashem E-lokim." Moreover, the creation of the world is described twice with significant discrepancies between the two descriptions. We shall list the most prominent differences between the two accounts of creation:

1. In chap. 1, the creation is planned and executed in an orderly and structured manner, from the simple to the complex. In chap. 2, such order is missing, and at each step along the way there is renewed "deliberation" regarding what seems necessary at that particular point.

2. In chap. 1, man is created last. In chap. 2, he is created first.

3. In chap. 1, man and woman are created together. In chap. 2, woman is created only after both man and God feel her absence.

3. In chap. 1, man is blessed that he should "be fruitful and multiply." In chap. 2, he is charged with a moral mission ("to till it and to keep it") and bound by a prohibition (not to eat from the tree of knowledge).[1]

4. In chap. 1, man is created in the image of God; in chap. 2, emphasis is placed on the two contradictory elements of which he is composed – spirit and matter.

As was stated above, the proponents of biblical criticism viewed all these differences as proof for their heretical approach that Scripture is composed of diverse sources that were joined together by a later redactor.

How are we to deal with biblical criticism? Should we ignore it or wrestle with its proofs? Can we perhaps reinterpret some of its arguments so that they can fit into our spiritual world?

In our discussion of this topic we shall extensively cite from contemporary authorities who have debated these questions.

IGNORING BIBLICAL CRITICISM

Some Jewish authorities have argued that there is no need whatsoever to wrestle with the Documentary Hypothesis. Biblical criticism is nonsense, as well as heresy, and the only fitting way to deal with it is to ignore it. This is the way the vast majority of the charedi world has dealt with the issue. Let us open with the words of Rabbi Zvi Tau, who finely summarizes this approach:

One who does not believe in the Divine origin and sublimity of the words, that they all flow from Divine truth that is infinite, absolute and eternal – one who lacks this faith will not understand the holy Scriptures whatsoever. All of his analyses, all of his investigations, all of his theories, and all of his "discoveries" fall into the category of nonsense…

When all these ideas are missing, when humility and self-effacement are lacking, when these elements are absent, come the scholars – Jews or gentiles, it makes no difference - and search through the holy Scriptures. They raise objections, they erase, they distort, and they emend; they suggest theories, they demonstrate creativity, they present novel ideas – what is all this to us? How are we connected to them? We occupy ourselves in the truth of the Torah, we engage ourselves in the holiness of the Torah. One who lacks both the beginning and the end – there is no point in talking to him at all! (Rabbi Zvi Tau, Tzadik Be-emunato Yichye, pp. 10, 19)

There are, however, many who criticize this approach. My friend, Rabbi Amnon Bazak, has raised two weighty arguments against this mode of thinking. Firstly, even people who lack all fear of God, and even gentiles, may have the capacity to propose meaningful interpretations of the Torah. God Himself testifies in the Torah: "For this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, who shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nations is a wise and understanding people" (Devarim 4:6). Rambam, in his introduction to chapter "Chelek," objects to a certain position, arguing that it contradicts reason, and will therefore not bring the gentiles to recognize the greatness of the Torah, but rather to scorn it. Hence, that position cannot possibly be correct. If gentiles have no understanding whatsoever when it comes to the Torah, why should we consider their opinions? We see then that we cannot simply reject what the gentiles have to say, without hearing them out and giving their words serious consideration. And furthermore, even if we categorically assume that gentiles are totally void of wisdom and understanding when it comes to understanding Scripture, how are we to relate to the problems that they raise? How are we to answer the questions that they ask? Rabbi Bazak argues that it is wrong to assume that a non-believer cannot suggest persuasive interpretations of the Torah; hence, he cannot be disregarded. He further argues that in any event, over and beyond the metaphysical questions, we must deal with the difficulties raised by the proponents of biblical criticism in and of themselves.[2]

Many others raise educational considerations: the refusal to recognize the arguments of biblical criticism is liable to be interpreted by certain students as evasion and cowardice. Students who will become exposed to biblical criticism at some later point in their lives may feel that their teachers had been afraid to deal with it because they lacked convincing answers.

LOCALIZED REJECTION

Some have attempted to confront biblical criticism by rejecting its specific arguments one by one. Prominent representatives of this approach include the German Rabbis, like Rabbi David Zvi Hoffmann, who went through the Torah, section by section, trying to prove the mistakes of biblical criticism. Professor Umberto Cassuto adopted this approach as well. We shall cite a characteristic selection from his work, in which he attacks the foundations of biblical criticism:

Permit me to illustrate my argument with a story. Let us imagine that a certain author writes a biography of his father, who was a notable savant, an academician. We shall assume that in this book the writer gives us a multi-faceted picture of his father, describing his private life at home, his relations with his students at college and his scientific work…. Doubtless when the author proceeds to write his work, in the passages describing his father's life within the family circle, he refers to him as "Father"… In the sections that portray him in the circle of his students at the university, he uses the designation by which he was generally known in that circle, "the professor."… Let us now picture to ourselves that centuries or millennia later a scholar will declare: Since I observe that the hero of the work is called in some places "Father" and in others "the professor," it follows that we have here fragments culled from different writers, and the dissimilarity between the narrative and scientific sections corroborates this. (U. Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis, pp.57-58)

Cassuto argues that the differences between different sections of the Torah, with respect to the divine names, style, and content, stem from the fact that they describe different aspects of the relationship between God and man and the world. Obviously, a general assertion like this does not suffice, and Cassuto wrestles in each section with biblical criticism's arguments regarding redundancies and contradictions. Traditional Jews may not find all of Cassuto's ideas acceptable, but he has done a great service in demonstrating how flimsy are the foundations upon which biblical criticism sometimes rests.

THE THEORY OF MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES

Rabbi Mordechai Breuer has approached the problem in an entirely different spirit. Rabbi Breuer has argued that we can accept the exegetical conclusions of biblical criticism, without accepting their theological corollaries. His approach, the approach of "multiple perspectives," has had a profound effect on Torah study in our generation:

That simple exegesis, which sees the Torah as one consecutive structure, without contradictions and uniform in style, has been irretrievably contradicted and rejected. The Torah's division into "sources" to which "were added" "interpretive comments" and "editorial supplements," is an irrefutable truth, which jumps out at the student, against his will, according to all linguistic standards and "the plain interpretations of Scripture that present themselves anew each day." All the forced harmonistic resolutions cannot stand up to the inner truth of the ingenious work of Wellhausen[3] and his colleagues. As midgets before a giant, as collectors of crumbs beneath the table of a wealthy man, so stand Cassuto and his colleagues, when they disagree with the school of biblical criticism…

Come and see the glorious wreath of the Torah, go and ponder the glory and splendor of its pages: they go and slowly spread out, page by page, each in its unique channel – and you find before you living expressions of that Divine quality that crosses generations: the trait of the Tetragrammaton, the trait of the name ofE-lokim, and the trait of the name of E-l Shad-dai – hidden traits that embrace all the worlds and bestow their bounty on high and below… So too the contradictions in the Torah are but imaginary contradictions regarding the ways of God's providence!

Now, then, is it any wonder that the pages of the Torah clash, and the human intellect finds it difficult to reconcile the contradictions? Does not God's providence in the world – the visible expression of God's traits and holy names – does it not, as it were, clash with and contradict itself, God forbid, in the eyes of man and according to his human understanding? If the Holy One, blessed be He, embraces both justice and mercy, both lovingkindness and might, if He appears to Israel as an old man in a yeshiva and also as a young man at war, as merciful and gracious, and also as zealous and vindictive – how then can it be imagined that His Torah – all the letters of which constitute His holy names – will go forward in peace and calm, as a single continuum that settles in the heart of all?…

Were all the sages of the east and the west to assemble and seek a solution to the contradictions between the first two chapters of the book of Bereishit, they would not come up with even a broken shard. (Rabbi M. Breuer, "Emuna u-Mada Befarshanut ha-Mikra," De'ot 11)

Rabbi Breuer argues that the Torah's accounts of certain events and mitzvot are indeed repetitious or even contradictory. But we are dealing here not with different "sources," but with different "perspectives." God intentionally wrote the Torah in such a manner that every event and mitzva is described from multiple perspectives. This is because the world is complex and complicated; in order to correctly describe it, different aspects must be emphasized. Rabbi Breuer accepts many of the interpretive analyses of modern biblical scholarship, but he rejects its historical assumptions, arguing that this type of exegesis is fully reconcilable with the belief in the revelation of the Torah to Moshe at Sinai.

Rabbi Breuer appreciates the special value of the Torah having been written from multiple perspectives:

Had He given us a homogenous book that could also have been written by a single person, such a book would have been appropriate for children who on any given issue are capable of seeing only a single truth. This, however, was not the intention of the Lawgiver. He wanted to give us a book appropriate for adults, who understand that every issue has multiple perspectives, and also contradictory truths, each one constituting truth, though only partial and one-sided truth. It is only the combination of such truths that gives expression to the absolute truth. (Rabbi M. Breuer, "Bikoret ha-Mikra veha-Emuna Betorah min ha-Shamayim," Daf Kesher #864)

Rabbi Breuer summarizes his approach as follows:

There is only one way to confront the heresy of biblical criticism. Neither ignoring it nor fighting against it will work. Rather, we must follow the path outlined by the author of Or ha-Chayyim: We must "set our eyes" on the kernel of truth that is mixed into the falsehoods of the biblical critics… We must remove the slander from their mouths and restore the truth to its borders. For all their words are absolute truth, according to their assumptions. And therefore, with a change of form, they could become true even according to our assumptions. (Rabbi M. Breuer, "Torat ha-Te'udot shel Ba'al Sha'agat Arye," Megadim II, pp. 21-22)

To illustrate the approach, let us examine the manner in which Rabbi Breuer explains the differences between the two stories of creation, chapters one and two of the book ofBereishit:

The world that was created with the name E-lokim was given over to the rule of the laws of nature… For that reason the plant world preceded the creation of the animal kingdom, and the creation of the animals preceded the creation of man. For this would have had to be the order of the fashioning of these creatures had they developed on their own according to the laws of nature. Similarly, it is understandable that man and woman were created as one, for nature concerns itself exclusively with the preservation of species, and the preservation of the human species depends upon the partnership of man and woman.

In contrast, the world that was created with the Tetragrammaton is the world in which God reveals Himself, and which God Himself conducts in accordance with His will. This is a world that has meaning; it was created so that God would rejoice in it and in His creations. For this reason it was never absolutely handed over to the laws of blind nature. Accordingly, the creation of man preceded the creation of the plants and animals; for God has no desire in any of His other creations, but in man alone. Similarly, it is understandable that man was created before woman. For woman did not come to this world solely to ensure the preservation of the human species; woman was created so that man would rejoice in her, love her as he does himself, and find in her a help-mate in life. This could only be achieved, if he first suffered from solitude. (Rabbi M. Breuer, Pirkei Bereishit, p. 13)

Rabbi Breuer argues that the two accounts of creation give expression to the two aspects of God's providence in the world: the aspect of E-lokim and the aspect of the Tetragrammaton. The one emphasizes nature, while the second stresses God's direct revelation. It is interesting to note that Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik proposed a similar explanation of the differences between the first and second chapters of Bereishit:

We all know that the Bible offers two accounts of the creation of man. We are also aware of the theory suggested by Bible critics attributing these two accounts to two different traditions and sources. Of course, since we do unreservedly accept the unity and integrity of the Scriptures and their divine character, we reject this hypothesis which is based, like many other Biblico-critical theories, on literary categories invented by modern man, ignoring completely the eidetic-noetic content of the biblical story. It is, of course, true, that the two accounts of the creation of man differ considerably. This incongruity was not discovered by the bible critics. Our sages of old were aware of it. However, the answer lies not in an alleged dual tradition but in dual man, not in an imaginary contradiction between two versions but in a real contradiction in the nature of man. The two accounts deal with two Adams, two men, two fathers of mankind, two types, two representatives of humanity, and it is no wonder that they are not identical. (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, "The Lonely Man of Faith," Tradition VII [1964], no. 1, p. 10)[4]

Rabbi Soloveitchik does not present his position as a systematic refutation of biblical criticism. On the previous page, he declares that he had never been troubled by the theories of biblical criticism. He presents his explanation as an interpretation of Scripture that will increase understanding, and not as part of a systematic confrontation of biblical criticism. In any event, his approach is very similar to that of Rabbi Breuer on this specific point. This is how Rabbi Soloveitchik explains the two descriptions of creation:

Chapter 1 describes the world of nature, led by E-lokim ("the master of cosmic forces"), the pinnacle of which is man. Here man is a creature with a developed natural awareness, one who was created "in the image of God" (which Rabbi Soloveitchik identifies with conquest, dominion and creativity). However, he lives an external and superficial life (and presumably does not see himself as separate from nature that surrounds him).

Chapter two describes a spiritual-moral world: here man is created first, because from a spiritual perspective the entire world was created for him. He is conscious of his existence and his uniqueness: he is lonely, without a wife, aware of the possibility of death ("for on the day that you eat of it you shall surely die"), though he is not necessarily going to die (before the sin). He is given missions and commands. This man is self-aware and utterly lonely. God tries to provide him with a helpmate from the animal world. But man does not find a mate from among the animals, and so God creates woman from a rib taken from man. This is the creation story of chapter two. The account is organized thematically, and not according to scientific-natural classification; hence, it is also structurally less ordered. It is upon these differences that Rabbi Soloveitchik builds a grand philosophical structure, which we cannot present here in greater detail.

Many have criticized Rabbi Breuer and his approach. I shall cite here the words of my dear friend, Rabbi Mosheh Lichtenstein, who has noted the weak points in Rabbi Breuer's approach, without resorting to name calling or demagoguery.[5] First, Rabbi M. Lichtenstein raises doubts about Rabbi Breuer's argument that biblical criticism's conclusions are irrefutable scientific facts. Scientific findings should not be accepted blindly, for science often changes its basic conceptions. Moreover, a distinction must be made between the natural sciences and the humanities. In the natural sciences, we sometimes find absolute proofs; if a rocket ship is sent to the moon, and it reaches its objective, it is reasonable to assume that the technological principles on which the development of the rocket ship was based are in fact correct. But how can one prove a theory in the humanities? We must be careful not to adopt theories that in another hundred years will be proven to be false.

Rabbi M. Lichtenstein argues further that we are not concerned here merely with scientific imprecision, but with fundamental presumptions that have lead biblical scholars to erroneous conclusions. Every theory is based on a certain world outlook. For example, biblical critics rely on the assumption that if a prophet describes an event that took place not during his lifetime, but in the future, we must be dealing with a later source. It for this reason, for example, that the biblical critics attribute the book of Yeshaya to two different authors. If, on the other hand, we believe that the spirit of God rested upon the prophets, we should not be surprised that it was in their power to see into the future.

In addition to the doubts that may be raised regarding the validity of biblical criticism, we must analyze the exegetical and spiritual implications of the theory of perspectives. Rabbi M. Lichtenstein points out that the world presented according to Rabbi Breuer's approach is a world of sharp contrasts and contradictions, requiring the discovery of some factor that can reconcile the differences. It is not by chance that in his introduction to "Pirkei Mo'adot," Rabbi Breuer resorts to concepts borrowed from the world of Kabbala in order to find a basis and support for an outlook built on such sharp tensions and such dramatic balance between them. It should be noted that many of Rabbi Breuer's followers argue that there is no need to make use of a kabbalistic model.[6] An additional criticism is that Rabbi Breuer's approach entirely abandons the traditional commentaries to the Torah, inventing a totally new exegetical approach. Besides this, the very assumption that God would present Scripture in such a manner that conceals such a basic principle is problematic. Did God want to fool us? Why was Scripture composed in such a confusing and misleading manner?

As Rabbi M. Lichtenstein has noted, the theory of perspectives may be accepted in certain cases, where it is clear that a particular story is being told twice, as in the creation accounts, regarding which even Rabbi Soloveitchik took a similar approach. Rabbi Breuer, however, argues that his approach should be applied in all cases. He even attributes different parts of the same verse to different perspectives, in a manner that is not at all self-evident to the simple reader.

In conclusion, many have noted the educational dangers posed by the very confrontation with biblical criticism. Most of Rabbi Breuer's critics have emphasized this point. It should, however, be pointed out here that an educational danger may also be found at the other extreme – the total ignoring of and refusal to confront biblical criticism. It may, perhaps, be unnecessary to adopt one systematic approach. There are places where we should ignore certain arguments posed by the biblical critics; elsewhere, we should confront them on the local level; and in other places, we should adopt the theory of perspectives proposed by Rabbi Breuer. We are not required to obligate ourselves from the outset to any one particular approach.

FOOTNOTES

[1] The prohibition against eating from the tree of knowledge is not at all similar to the restriction imposed upon man to partake only of the vegetable world, appearing in chapter 1. That instruction is not formulated as a prohibition ("You shall not eat meat"), but as a positive directive ("I have given you every herb bearing seed"). It stands to reason that man of chapter 1 did not relate to this command as an externally imposed prohibition, in the way that we relate to cannibalism. We seem to be dealing here with an ordering of the ecological system, and nothing more.

[2] Rabbi A. Bazak, "Yesharim Darkhei Hashem," Daf Kesher Letalmidei Yeshivat Har Etzion, #845, archived at:

http://www.etzion.org.il/dk/1to899/845mamar.htm.

[3] One of the most important biblical critics.

[4] See also Rabbi Soloveitchik's book "Family Redeemed," chapter 1.

[5] Rabbi Mosheh Lichtenstein, "Achat Diber E-lokim," Daf Kesher #851, http://www.etzion.org.il/dk/1to899/851mamar.htm. Rabbi Breuer's response can be found at:

http://www.etzion.org.il/dk/1to899/864mamar.htm.

[6] See, for example, Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, "Achat Diber E-lokim," Daf Kesher #863,

http://www.etzion.org.il/dk/1to899/863mamar.htm.

(Translated by David Strauss)

 

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01
Aug
0

Hazzan Nuna Trains as Mohel

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HOW I BECAME A MOHEL

By Hazzan Yogev Nuna

Since the time of our forefather Abraham, the act of circumcision has served as the physical symbol of the covenant between Hashem and the Jewish people. The honor of playing an integral part in the entering of a newborn child into the covenant of Abraham has always held great appeal to me. Several years ago a good friend from my Yeshiva days in Bnei Brak had told me of his father, Rav Yehuda Giat, who trained mohelim, shochtim (kosher butchers) and sofrim (scribes). Little did I know back then that I would one day become one of his father's students.

Rabbi Giat is a master teacher who is sought out by students from around the world. He is a man constantly on the move, traveling as far as Argentina and Brazil to train students. A certificate of being a qualified mohel by Rabbi Giat is accepted and recognized by Jewish religious authorities worldwide as a superb endorsement of skill and expertise.

As the less demanding summer months approached this year, the opportunity arose that would make my dream a reality. The synagogue leadership endorsed this endeavor and a group of kind and generous individuals offered to lead tefila and read sefer in my absence.  My long ago connection to his son undoubtedly played a role in Rabbi Giat's willingness to accommodate my short training window.

I left for Israel in early June, looking forward to the intensive course of study I would soon be undertaking. Upon my arrival on a Sunday I contacted Rabbi Giat to find out when I could begin. Rabbi Giat informed me that he was currently in Russia training students but would be back late Tuesday evening. The 65 year old Rabbi told me to be at his house at 9:30am Wednesday morning to begin my studies. I knew that Rabbi Giat held himself to a grueling schedule that would sideline a man half his age, usually rising for prayers before sunrise and working and teaching until 11pm each night. Nevertheless his willingness to start my training so soon after his lengthy journey caught me by surprise.

But there I was at Rav Giat's home at 9:30 am Wednesday morning. Not one for small talk, my teacher proclaimed "you will perform your first mila at 2:00pm, if all goes well you will perform your second at 4:00pm." My jaw barely had time to drop before the Rabbi began to prepare me for my debut. We dove into the laws of circumcision, how to perform the procedure, how to use the utensils, how to treat the wound and how to follow up.

Just as promised at 2:00 pm I was performing my first mila.  it looked to me like I had performed the task well but the final arbiter would be my teacher, he looked up at me and said, "Your next mila will be at 4:00 pm", I had indeed done well. I was later asked if I was nervous and the truth is I had no time to be nervous. Although my first mila was on a Jewish child, my second would be on a Muslim baby. Muslims also perform circumcision on their children and it turns out, at least in Israel, they prefer having it performed by a Jewish mohel over a co-religionist or a physician. Again the Rabbi told me I had done "very well".

And so it went for each day I was there, a nonstop schedule of performing circumcisions with intensive classes and training in between. I recall one occasion while on our way to Tel Aviv to perform a circumcision that Rabbi Giat stopped at a farm. Rabbi Giat was training several of his students in shechita at the farm and asked for my assistance. I was told to hold the wings of a plump and feisty turkey while the butcher completed his task. I am told that a turkey cannot fly, but this feisty fowl did all he could to dispel that stereotype. His huge wings flailed, tossing me to and fro as I struggled to keep the bird still while trying to maintain my dignity. Even though Rabbi Giat is a man of few words, his look of displeasure informed me that at least for now I should stick with circumcisions and Hazzanut.

There is no specific timeframe for the length of the course of study, you are done when Rav Giat says you are done.   I was aware that some prepare for as long as six weeks before being awarded their certificate of completion. I had been studying and practicing from morning to night for three weeks when Rabbi Giat announced that I was ready. I was presented with my Certificate as a qualified mohel signed and presented to me by Rav Giat.

One of our community's prior mohels is Rabbi Salomon Cohen-Scali, our synagogue's esteemed former Rabbi. Rabbi Cohen-Scali happened to be in Seattle last week to perform a wedding. We chatted about our mutual profession and I mentioned that I had been trained and certified by the famed Rabbi Giat. Rabbi Cohen-Scali's mouth spread into a wide smile as he exclaimed that some thirty years earlier he too had received his own training and certification from none other than Rabbi Yehuda Giat!

Please share with your friends and family that I am now a fully certified mohel and am available to perform circumcisions. I may be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or at 206-660-8481.

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01
Aug
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What Makes Me Orthodox?

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This is a question that I have been asking myself a lot more lately, especially over the past week....Allow me to explain:

During our Fundamentals classes after Kiddush at EB, we have tackled some challenging issues: Army Exemptions for Yeshiva students, the Orthodox Jewish response to homosexuality, the origins and parameters of the concept of "Tikkun Olam" and other such matters. I have made an exerted effort to raise questions that I feel are pertinent to modern Jewish life and to clarify, both through key sources and through a give-and-take with the community, what an Orthodox Jewish approach might be.
Over the past week, there has been an explosion of articles, blog posts, responses and official statements on the topic of the Divine authorship of the Torah.

The idea that multiple human authors co-edited the Torah was made famous by Julius Wellhausen in the late 1880's. It caught on at different rates in the Reform and Conservative movements, and is the subject of much modern debate, most recently in exchanges between Richard Friedman and James Kugel.....

My interest in the topic over the years has dissipated with my increasing exposure to to the depth of study possible in Tanach, the forte of Yeshivat Har Etzion and the Tanach Study Center. With people like R. Yoel Bin Nun and R. Menachem Leibtag at the helm, the profundity of Chumash and Navi has been masterfully exposed -- to the delight of students of Torah the world over. In fact, many of the Chumash shiurim I give on Shabbat afternoon during the "Perasha Insights" slot draw on the brilliant scholarship developing at Yeshivat Har Etzion.

You may ask: "How does studying Torah in the above fashion lessen my interest in Biblical criticism"? My answer: The beautiful literary and thematic weave that emerges when Chumash is studied with a confidence in both its singular authorship and varied and nuanced messages satiates both the spirit AND the intellect.

Meet Rabbi Zev Farber: (from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah website): "A native of Miami, Florida, Zev has a B.A. in psychology from Touro College, an M.A. in Jewish History from Hebrew University, and most recently a Ph.D. in Jewish Religious Cultures from Emory University, where he focused on Hebrew Bible..... In addition to his yoreh yoreh, he received his dayanut (yadin yadin) also from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in 2010.Zev is a founding board member of the IRF (International Rabbinic Fellowship) and serves as the coordinator for their Va'ad Giyyur.'

On a website called "thetorah.com" Rabbi Farber recently wrote some strong words regarding the Divine origins and authenticity of the Torah. His words seem to echo the approach of many Bible critics. The upshot is that a prominent modern Orthodox rabbi (albeit not serving a congregation per se) seems to have deviated radically from the classical Jewish belief of "Torah Min Hashamayim" - Torah from Heaven. This could potentially have him declared a heretic according to Jewish law. A very serious charge.

Yesterday, the IRF, of which Farber is a member, coordinating its conversion program, released the following statement:  
IRF Confirms Commitment to Torah Min Hashamayim

In light of the recent spirited and important discussions in the community, the International Rabbinic Fellowship takes this opportunity to reaffirm its unwavering commitment to the principle of Torah Min Hashamyim within the parameters outlined by classical Rishonim, Aharonim and contemporary Orthodox rabbinic scholars. We regard this principle as the linchpin of halakhic observance and as an indispensable element of Orthodox Judaism.

Today, the Rabbinical Council of America (to which I belong) issued a more involved statement that I posted on facebook and that can be found here: http://www.rabbis.org/news/article.cfm?id=105768 Now, the passage causing most of the stir can be found on thetorah.com http://thetorah.com/torah-history-judaism-part-3/ Rabbi Avraham Gordimer, of the RCA, wrote a detailed critique of Farber here: http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2013/07/26/belief-in-torah-min-ha-shamayim-damage-control-by-yct/ This discussion has prompted additional posts by R Efrem Goldberg of Boca Raton. His article can be found here:
 http://torahmusings.com/2013/07/the-most-important-discussion/ Rabbi Goldberg suggests that the obsession with Farber's statement is far less pressing to Orthodox Jewish communal life than are a myriad of other problems. 

On Wednesday evening, Rabbi Gidon Rothstein wrote an eloquent rebuttal to Rabbi Goldberg on that same blog; it can be found here: http://torahmusings.com/2013/07/three-practical-ways-bad-theology-hurts-us/ Rabbi Rothstein maintains that theology is that from which all else sprouts, and that the maladies of modern Orthodox Jewish life in America perhaps stem from a tangential connection to the theological underpinnings of Torah and Mitzvot.

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Just Previewed the Film

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I was planning on seeing the film for the first time tomorrow, but - as is probably appropriate as the one running the program - I decided to preview the film, Hitler's Children.  I'm not going to write a review, but just want to express my feelings that this is a very important film, one that had to be made; one reviewer even noted that it's surprising that it had not been made until now! The German children, grandchildren, and nieces of Hitler's henchmen speak eloquently and defiantly; overall, the film (1hr 23 minutes) offers a fresh glimpse not only into their lives, but into the lives of German teenagers and young adults who experience their respective stories.  Seating is limited to about 75 people tomorrow at 6:15, and it's "First contact, first served!".  I can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

RM

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Times of Israel article for Erev Tisha Be'av

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A special thank you to Julie Ben Simon for calling my attention to today's op-ed in the Times of Israel - a timely message for Erev Tisha Be'av...

http://www.timesofisrael.com/before-we-all-burn-in-hell/#.UeQMW8z7tms.email

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Tikkun Olam Article - in advance of this Shabbat's class

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This week's Fundamentals topic is "Tikkun Olam: Challenges and Parameters". I encourage you to read the following piece and come ready to share your views: http://ravron.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/ginsburgto.pdf

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Additional Articles on Judaism and Homosexuality

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Shmuel Herzfeld's "Chanukah Drasha" http://www.ostns.org/files/December%2015,%202012%20-%20Same%20Sex%20Marriage%20in%20America.pdf

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein's comments - cited by Herzfeld http://pagesoffaith.wordpress.com/2012/12/02/perspective-on-homosexuals/

Rav Aharon Feldman's article on Homosexuality  http://haravaharonfeldmanarticle.weebly.com/

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Rabbi Lamm's 1974 Article on Judaism and Homosexuality

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As part of our Fundamentals series on Heterosexuality and Homosexuality from a Torah Perspective, Rabbi Norman Lamm's 1974 article is a good reference point - RM

Judaism and the Modern Attitude to Homosexuality
Author / Contributor :: Lamm, Dr. Norman -
 

Dr. Norman Lamm presently serves as President of Yeshiva University. 
(Posted January 2002) 
Originally appeared Encyclopedia Judaica Yearbook 1974, pg. 197 et, al 

Popular wisdom has it that our society is wildly hedonistic, with the breakdown of family life, rampant immorality, and the world, led by the United States, in the throes of a sexual revolution. The impetus of this latest revolution is such that new ground is constantly being broken, while bold deviations barely noticed one year are glaringly more evident the year following and become the norm for the "younger generation" the year after that.

Some sex researchers accept this portrait of a steady deterioration in sex inhibitions and of increasing permissiveness. Opposed to them are the "debunkers" who hold that this view is mere fantasy and that, while there may have been a significant leap in verbal sophistication, there has probably been only a short hop in actual behavior. They point to statistics which confirm that now, as in Kinsey's day, there has been no reported increase in sexual frequencies along with alleged de-inhibition to rhetoric and dress. The "sexual revolution" is, for them, largely a myth. Yet others maintain that there is in Western society a permanent revolution against moral standards, but that the form and style of the revolt keeps changing.

 

The determination of which view is correct will have to be left to the sociologists and statisticians -or, better, to historians of the future who will have the benefit of hindsight. But certain facts are quite clear. First, the complaint that moral restraints are crumbling has a two or three thousand year history in Jewish tradition and in continuous history of Western civilization. Second, there has been a decided increase at least in the area of sexual attitudes, speech, and expectations, if not in practice. Third, such social and psychological phenomena must sooner or later beget changes in mores and conduct. And finally, it is indisputable that most current attitudes are profoundly at variance with traditional Jewish views on sex and sex morality.

Of all the current sexual fashions, the one most notable for its militancy, and which most conspicuously requires illumination from the sources of Jewish tradition, is that of sexual deviancy. This refers primarily to homosexuality, male or female, along with a host of other phenomena such as transvestism and transexualism. They all form part of the newly approved theory of idiosyncratic character of sexuality. Homosexuals have demanded acceptance in society, and this demand has taken various forms -from a plea that they should not be liable to criminal prosecution, to a demand that they should not be subjected to social sanctions, and then to a strident assertion that they represent an "alternative life-style" no less legitimate that "straight heterosexuality. The various forms of homosexual apologetics appear largely in contemporary literature and theater, as well as in the daily press. In the United States, "gay" activists have become increasingly and progressively more vocal and militant. 

Legal Position

Homosexuals have, indeed, been suppressed by the law. For instance, the Emperor Valentinian, in 390 C.E., decreed that pederasty be punished by burning at the stake. The sixth-century Code of Justinian ordained that homosexuals be tortured, mutilated, paraded in public, and executed. A thousand years later, Gibbon said of the penalty the Code decreed that "pederasty became the crime of those to whom no crime could be imputed". In more modern times, however, the Napoleonic Code declared consensual homosexuality legal in France. A century ago, anti-homosexual laws were repealed in Belgium and Holland. In this century, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland followed suit and, more recently, Czechoslovakia and England. The most severe laws in the West are found in the United States, where they come under the jurisdiction of the various states and are known by a variety of names, usually as "sodomy laws". Punishment may range from light fines to five or more years in prison (in some cases even life imprisonment), indeterminate detention to a mental hospital, and even to compulsory sterilization. Moreover, homosexuals are, in various states, barred from licensed professions, from many professional societies, from teaching, and from the civil service -to mention only a few of the sanctions encountered by the known homosexual.

More recently, a new tendency has been developing in the United States and elsewhere with regard to homosexuals. Thus, in 1969, the National Institute of Mental Health issued a majority report advocating that adult consensual homosexuality be declared legal. The American Civil Liberties Union concurred. Earlier, Illinois had done so in 1962, and in 1971 the state of Connecticut revised its laws accordingly. Yet despite the increasing legal and social tolerance of deviance, basic feelings toward homosexuals have not really changed. The most obvious example is France, where although legal restraints were abandoned over 150 years ago, the homosexual of today continues to live in shame and secrecy.

Statistics

Statistically, the proportion the proportion of homosexuals in society does not seem to have changed much since Professor Kinsey's day (his book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, was published in 1948, and his volume on the human female in 1953). Kinsey's studies revealed that hard-core male homosexuals constituted about 4-6% of the population: 10% experienced "problem" behavior during a part of their lives. One man out of three indulges in some form of homosexual behavior from puberty until his early twenties. The dimensions of the problem become quite overwhelming when it is realized that, according to these figures, of 200 million people in the United States some ten million will become or are predominant or exclusive homosexuals, and over 25 million will have at least a few years of significant homosexual experience.

The New Permissiveness

The most dramatic change in our attitudes to homosexuality has taken place in the new mass adolescent subculture -the first such in history- where it is part of the whole new outlook on sexual restraints in general. It is here that the fashionable Sexual Left has had its greatest success on a wide scale, appealing especially to the rejection of Western traditions of sex roles and sex typing. A number of different streams feed into this ideological reservoir from which the new sympathy for homosexuality flows. Freud and his disciples began the modern protest against traditional restraints, and blamed the guilt that follows transgression for the neuroses that plague man. Many psychoanalysts began to overemphasize the importance of sexuality in human life, and this ultimately gave birth to a kind of sexual messianism. Thus, in our own day Wilhelm Reich identifies sexual energy as "vital energy per se" and, in conformity with his Marxist ideology, seeks to harmonize Marx and Freud. For Reich and his followers, the sexual revolution is a machina ultima for the whole Leninist liberation in all spheres of life and society. Rebellion against restrictive moral codes has become, for them, not merely a way to hedonism but a form of sexual mysticism: orgasm is seem not only as the pleasurable climatic release of internal sexual pressure, but as a means to individual creativity and insight as well as to the reconstruction and liberation of society. Finally, the emphasis on freedom and sexual autonomy derives from the Sartrean version of Kant's view of human autonomy.

It is in this atmosphere that pro-deviationist sentiments have proliferated, reaching into many strata of society. Significantly, religious groups have joined the sociologists and ideologists of deviance to affirm what has been called "man's birthright of unbounded ambisexuality." A number of Protestant churches in America, and an occasional Catholic clergyman, have plead for more sympathetic attitudes toward homosexuals. Following the new Christian permissiveness espoused in Sex and Morality (1966), the report of a working party of the British Council of Churches, a group of American Episcopalian clergymen in November 1967 concluded that homosexual acts ought not to be considered wrong, per se. A homosexual relationship is, they implied, no different from a heterosexual marriage: but must be judged by one criterion -"whether it is intended to foster a permanent relation of love." Jewish apologists for deviationism have been prominent in the Gay Liberation movement and have not hesitated to advocate their position in American journals and in the press. Christian groups began to emerge which catered to a homosexual clientele, and Jews were not too far behind. This latest Jewish exemplification of the principle of wie es sich christelt, so juedelt es sich will be discussed at the end of this essay.

Homosexual militants are satisfied neither with a "mental health" approach nor with demanding civil rights. They are clear in insisting on society's recognition of sexual deviance as an "alternative lifestyle," morally legitimate and socially acceptable.
Such are the basic facts and theories of the current advocacy of sexual deviance. What is the classical Jewish attitude to sodomy, and what suggestions may be made to develop a Jewish approach to the complex problem of the homosexual in contemporary society?

Biblical View

The Bible prohibits homosexual intercourse and labels it an abomination: "Thou shalt not lie with a man as one lies with a woman: it is an abomination" (Lev. 18:22). Capital punishment is ordained for both transgressors in Lev. 20:13. In the first passage, sodomy is linked with buggery, and in the second with incest and buggery. (There is considerable terminological confusion with regard to these words. We shall here use "sodomy" as a synonym for homosexuality and "buggery" for sexual relations with animals.)

The city of Sodom had the questionable honor of lending its name to homosexuality because of the notorious attempt at homosexual rape, when the entire population -"both young and old, all the people from every quarter"- surrounded the home of Lot, the nephew of Abraham, and demanded that he surrender his guests to them "that we may know them" (Gen. 19:5). The decimation of the tribe of Benjamin resulted from the notorious incident, recorded in Judges 19, of a group of Benjamites in Gibeah who sought to commit homosexual rape.

Scholars have identified the kadesh proscribed by the Torah (Deut. 23:18) as a ritual male homosexual prostitute. This form of healthen cult penetrated Judea from the Canaanite surroundings in the period of the early monarchy. So Rehoboam, probably under the influence of his Ammonite mother, tolerated this cultic sodomy during his reign (I Kings 14:24). His grandson Asa tried to cleanse the Temple in Jerusalem of the practice (I Kings 15:12), as did his great-grandson Jehoshaphat. But it was not until the days of Josiah and the vigorous reforms he introduced that the kadesh was finally removed from the Temple and the land (II Kings 23:7). The Talmund too (Sanhedrin, 24b) holds that the kadesh was a homosexual functionary. (However, it is possible that the term also alludes to a heterosexual male prostitute. Thus, in II kings 23:7, women are described as weaving garments for the idols in the batei ha-kedeshim (houses of the kadesh): the presence of women may imply that the kadesh was not necessarily homosexual. The Talmudic opinion identifying the kadesh as a homosexual prostitute may be only an asmakhta. Moreover, there are other opinions in Talmudic literature as to the meaning of the verse: see Onkelos, Lev. 23:18, and Nachmanides and Torah Temimah, ad loc.)

Talmudic Approach

Rabbinic exegesis of the Bible finds several other homosexual references in the scriptural narratives. The generation of Noah was condemned to eradication by the Flood because they had sunk so low morally that, according to Midrashic teaching, they wrote out formal marriage contracts for sodomy and buggery -a possible cryptic reference to such practices in the Rome of Nero and Hadrian (Lev. R. 18:13).

Of Ham, the son of Noah, we are told that "he saw the nakedness of his father" and told his two brothers (Gen. 9:22). Why should this act have warranted the harsh imprecation hurled at Ham by his father? The Rabbis offer two answers: one, that the text implied that Ham castrated Noah: second, that the Biblical expression is an idiom for homosexual intercourse (see Rashi, ad loc.). On the scriptural story of Potiphar's purchase of Joseph as a slave (Gen. 39:1), the Talmund comments that he acquired him for homosexual purposes, but that a miracle occurred and God sent the angel Gabriel to castrate Potiphar (Sotah 13b).

Post-Biblical literature records remarkably few incidents of homosexuality. Herod's son Alexander, according to Josephus (Wars, I, 24:7), had homosexual contact with a young eunuch. Very few reports of homosexuality have come to us from the Talmudic era (TJ Sanhedrin 6:6, 23c: Jos. Ant., 15:25-30).

The incidence of sodomy among Jews is interestingly reflected in the Halakhah on mishkav zakhur (the Talmudic term for homosexuality: the Bible uses various terms- thus the same term in Num. 31:17 and 35 refers to heterosexual intercourse by a woman, whereas the expression for male homosexual intercourse in Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 is mishkevei ishah). The Mishnah teaches that R. Judah forbade two bachelors from sleeping under the same blanket, for fear that this would lead to homosexual temptation (Kiddushin 4:14). However, the Sages permitted it (ibid.) because homosexuality was so rare among Jews that such preventive legislation was considered unnecessary (Kiddushin 82a). This latter view is codified as Halakhah by Malmonides (Yad, Issurei Bi'ah 22:2). Some 400 years later R. Joseph Caro , who did not codify the law against sodomy proper, nevertheless cautioned against being alone with another male because of the lewdness prevalent "in our times" (Even ha-Ezer 24). About a hundred years later, R. Joel Sirkes reverted to the original ruling, and suspended the prohibition because such obscene acts were unheard of amongst Polish Jewry (Bayit Hadash to Tur, Even ha-Ezer 24). Indeed, a distinguished contemporary of R. Joseph Caro, R. Solomon Luria, went even further and declared homosexuality so very rare that, if one refrains from sharing a blanket with another male as a special act of piety, one is guilty of self-righteous pride or religious snobbism (for the above and additional authorities, see Ozar ha-Posekim, IX, 236-238).

Responsa

As is to be expected, the responsa literature is also very scant in discussions of homosexuality. One of the few such responsa is by the late R. Abraham Isaac Ha-Kohen Kook, when he was still the rabbi of Jaffa. In 1912 he was asked about a ritual slaughterer who had come under suspicion of homosexuality. After weighing all aspects of the case, R. Kook dismissed the charges against the accused, considering them unsupported hearsay. Furthermore, he maintained the man might have repented and therefore could not be subject to sanctions at the present time.

The very scarcity of halakhic deliberations on homosexuality, and the quite explicit insistence of various halakhic authorities, provide sufficient evidence of the relative absence of this practice among Jews from ancient times down to the present. Indeed, Prof. Kinsey found that, while religion was usually an influence of secondary importance on the number of homosexual as well as heterosexual acts by males. Orthodox Jews proved an exception, homosexuality being phenomenally rare among them.

Jewish laws treated the female homosexual more leniently than the male. It considered lesbianism as issur, an ordinary religious violation, rather than arayot, a specifically sexual infraction, regarded much more severely than issur. R. Huna held that lesbianism is the equivalent of harlotry and disqualified the woman from marrying a priest. The Halakhah is, however, more lenient, and decides that while the act is prohibited, the lesbian is not punished and is permitted to marry a priest (Sifra 9:8: Shab. 65a: Yev. 76a). However, the transgression does warrant disciplinary flagellation (Maimonides, Yad, Issurei Bi'ah 21:8). The less punitive attitude of the Halakhah to the female homosexual than to the male does not reflect any intrinsic judgment on one as opposed to the other, but is rather the result of a halakhic technicality: there is no explicit Biblical proscription of lesbianism, and the act does not entail genital intercourse (Maimonides, loc. cit.).

The Halakhah holds that the ban on homosexuality applies universally, to non-Jew as well as to Jew (Sanh 58a: Maimonides, Melakhim 9:5, 6). It is one of the six instances of arayot (sexual transgressions) forbidden to the Noachide (Maimonides, ibid).

Most halakhic authorities - such as Rashba and Ritba - agree with Maimonides. A minority opinion holds that pederasty and buggery are "ordinary" prohibitions rather than arayot - specifically sexual infractions which demand that one submit to martyrdom rather than violate the law - but the Jerusalem Talmud supports the majority opinion. (See D. M. Krozer, Devar Ha-Melekh, I, 22, 23 (1962), who also suggests that Maimonides may support a distinction whereby the "male" or active homosexual partner is held in violation of arayot whereas the passive or "female" partner transgresses issur, an ordinary prohibition.)

Reasons of Prohibition

Why does the Torah forbids homosexuality? Bearing in mind that reasons proferred for the various commandments are not to be accepted as determinative, but as human efforts to explain immutable divine law, the rabbis of the Talmud and later Talmudists did offer a number of illuminating rationales for the law.

As stated, the Torah condemns homosexuality as to'evah, an abomination. The Talmud records the interpretation of Bar Kapparah who, in a play on words, defined to'evah as to'eh attah bah. "You are going astray because of it" (Nedarim 51a). The exact meaning of this passage is unclear, and various explanations have been put forward.

The Pesikta (Zutarta) explains the statement of Bar Kapparah as referring to the impossibility of such a sexual resulting in procreation. One of the major functions (if not the major purpose) of sexuality is reproduction, and this reason for man's sexual endowment is frustrated by mishkav zakhur (so too Sefer ha-Hinnukh, no. 209).

Another interpretation is that of the Tosafot and R. Asher ben Jehiel (in their commentaries to Ned. 51a) which applies the "going astray" or wandering to the homosexual's abandoning his wife. In other words, the abomination consists of the danger that a married man with homosexual tendencies may disrupt his family life in order to indulge his perversions. Saadiah Gaon holds the rational basis of most of the Bible's moral legislation to be the preservation of the family structure (Emunot ve-De'ot 3:1: cf. Yoma 9a). (This argument assumes contemporary cogency in the light of the avowed aim of some gay militants to destroy the family, which they consider an "oppressive institution.")

A third explanation is given by a modern scholar, Rabbi Baruch Ha-Levi Epstein (Torah Temimah to Lev. 18:22), who emphasizes the unnaturalness of the homosexual liaison: "You are going astray from the foundations of the creation." Mishkav zakhur defies the very structure of the anatomy of the sexes, which quite obviously was designed for heterosexual relationships.

It may be, however, that the very variety of interpretations of to'evah points to a far more fundamental meaning, namely, that an act characterized as an "abomination" is prima facie disgusting and cannot be further defined or explained. Certain acts are considered to'evah by the Torah, and there the matter rests. It is, as it were, a visceral reaction, an intuitive disqualification of the act, and we run the risk of distorting the Biblical judgment if we rationalize it. To'evah constitutes a category of objectionableness sui generis: it is a primary phenomenon. (This lends additional force to Rabbi David Z. Hoffmann's contention that to'evah is used by the Torah to indicate the repulsiveness of a proscribed act, no matter how much it may be in vogue among advanced and sophisticated cultures: see his Sefer Va-yikra, II, p. 54.).

Jewish Attitudes

It is on the basis of the above that an effort must be made to formulate a Jewish response to the problems of homosexuality in the conditions under which most Jews live today, namely, those of free and democratic societies and, with the exception of Israel, non-Jewish lands and traditions.

Four general approaches may be adopted:1) Repressive: No leniency toward the homosexual, lest the moral fiber of the rest of society be weakened.2) Practical: Dispense with imprisonment and all forms of social harassment, for eminently practical and prudent reasons.3) Permissive: The same as the above, but for the ideological reasons, viz., the acceptance of homosexuality as a legitimate alternative "lifestyle"4) Psychological: Homosexuality, in at least some forms, should be recognized as a disease and this recognition must determine our attitude toward the homosexual.
Let us consider each of these critically.

Repressive Attitude

Exponents of the most stringent approach hold that pederasts are the vanguard of moral malaise, especially in our society. For on thing, they are dangerous to children. According to a recent work, one third of the homosexuals in the study were seduced in their adolescence by adults. It is best for society that they be imprisoned, and if our present penal institutions are faulty, let them be improved. Homosexuals should certainly not be permitted to function as teachers, group leaders, rabbis, or in any other capacity where they might be models for, and come into close contact with, young people. Homosexuality must not be excused as a sickness. A sane society assumes that its members have free choice, and are therefore responsible for their conduct. Sex offenders, including homosexuals, according to another recent study, operate "at a primate level with the philosophy that necessity is the mother of improvisation." As Jews who believe that the Torah legislated certain moral laws for all mankind, it is incumbent upon us to encourage all societies, including non-Jewish ones, to implement the Noachide laws. And since, according to the halakhah, homosexuality is prohibited to Noachides as well as to Jews, we must seek to strengthen the moral quality of society by encouraging more restrictive laws against homosexuals. Moreover, if we are loyal to the teachings of Judaism, we cannot distinguish between "victimless" crimes and crimes of violence. Hence, if our concern for the murder, racial oppression, or robbery, we must do no less with regard to sodomy.

This argument is, however, weak on a number of grounds. Practically, it fails to take into cognizance the number of homosexuals of all categories, which, as we have pointed out, is vast. We cannot possibly imprison all offenders, and it is a manifest miscarriage of justice to vent our spleen only on the few unfortunates who are caught by the police. It is inconsistent because there has been no comparable outcry for harsh sentencing of other transgressors of sexual morality, such as those who indulge in adultery or incest. To take consistency to its logical conclusion, this hard line on homosexuality should not stop with imprisonment but demand the death sentence, as is Biblically prescribed. And why not the same death sentence for blasphemy, eating a limb torn from a live animal, idolatry, robbery -all of which are Noachide commandments? And why not capital punishment for Sabbath transgressors in the State of Israel? Why should the pederast be singled out for opprobrium and be made an object lesson while all others escape?

Those who might seriously consider such logically consistent, but socially destructive, strategies had best think back to the fate of that Dominican reformer, the monk Girolamo Savonarola, who in 15th-century Florence undertook a fanatical campaign against vice and all suspected of venal sin, with emphasis on pederasty. The society of that time and place, much like ours, could stand vast improvement. But too much medicine in too strong doses was the monk's prescription, whereupon the population rioted and the zealot was hanged.

Finally, there is indeed some halakhic warrant for distinguishing between violent and victimless (or consensual and non-consensual) crimes. Thus, the Talmud permits a passer-by to kill a man in pursuit of another man or of a woman when the pursuer is attempting homosexual or heterosexual rape, as the case may be, whereas this is not permitted in the case of a transgressor pursuing an animal to commit buggery or on his way to worship an idol or to violate the Sabbath, (Sanh. 8:7, and v. Rashi to Sanh. 73a, s.v. al ha-behemah).

Practical Attitude

The practical approach is completely pragmatic and attempts to steer clear of any ideology in its judgments and recommendations. It is, according to its advocates, eminently reasonable. Criminal laws requiring punishment for homosexuals are simply unenforceable in society at the present day. We have previously cited the statistics on the extremely high incidence of pederasty in our society. Kinsey once said of the many sexual acts outlawed by the various states, that, were they all enforced, some 95% of men in the United States would be in jail. Furthermore, the special prejudice of law enforcement authorities against homosexuals - rarely does one hear of police entrapment or of jail sentences for non-violent heterosexuals - breeds a grave injustice: namely, it is an invitation to blackmail. The law concerning sodomy has been called "the blackmailer's charter." It is universally agreed that prison does little to help the homosexual rid himself of his peculiarity. Certainly, the failure of rehabilitation ought to be of concern to civilized men. But even if it is not, and the crime be considered so serious that incarceration is deemed advisable even in the absence of any real chances of rehabilitation, the casual pederast almost always leaves prison as a confirmed criminal. He has been denied the company of women and forced into society of those whose sexual expression is almost always channeled to pederasty. The casual pederast has become a habitual one: his homosexuality has now been ingrained in him. Is society any safer for having taken an errant man and, in the course of a few years, for having taught him to transform his deviancy into a hard and fast perversion, then turning him loose on the community? Finally, from a Jewish point of view, since it is obviously impossible for us to impose the death penalty for sodomy, we may as well act on purely practical grounds and do away with all legislation and punishment in this area of personal conduct.

This reasoning is tempting precisely because it focuses directly on the problem and is free of any ideological commitments. But the problem with it is that it is too smooth, too easy. By the same reasoning one might, in a reductio ad absurdum do away with all laws on income tax evasion, or forgive, and dispense with all punishment of Nazi murders. Furthermore, the last element leaves us with a novel view of the Halakhah: if it cannot be implemented in its entirely, it ought to be abandoned completely. Surely the Noachide laws, perhaps above all others, place us under clear moral imperatives, over and above purely penological instructions? The very practicality of this position leaves it open to the charge of evading the very real moral issues, and for Jews the halakhic principles, entailed in any discussion of homosexuality.

Permissive Attitude

The ideological advocacy of a completely permissive attitude toward consensual homosexuality and the acceptance of its moral legitimacy is, of course, the "in" fashion in sophisticated liberal circles. Legally, it holds that deviancy is none of the law's business; the homosexual's civil rights are as sacred as those of any other "minority group." From the psychological angle, sexuality must be emancipated from the fetters of guilt induced by religion and code-morality, and its idiosyncratic nature must be confirmed.

Gay Liberationists aver that the usual "straight" attitude toward homosexuality is based on three fallacies or myths: that homosexuality is an illness; that it is unnatural; and that it is immoral. They argue that it cannot be considered an illness, because so many people have been shown to practice it. It is not unnatural, because its alleged unnaturalness derives from the impossibility of sodomy leading to reproduction, whereas our overpopulated society no longer needs to breed workers, soldiers, farmers, or hunters. And it is not immoral, first, because morality is relative, and secondly, because moral behavior is that characterized by "selfless, loving concern."

Now, we are here concerned with the sexual problem as such, and not with homosexuality as a symbol of the whole contemporary ideological polemic against restraint and tradition. Homosexuality is too important - and too agonizing - a human problem to allow it to be exploited for political aims or entertainment or shock value.

The bland assumption that pederasty cannot be considered an illness because of the large number of people who have or express homosexual tendencies cannot stand up under criticism. No less an authority than Freud taught that a whole civilization can be neurotic. Erich Fromm appeals for the establishment of The Sane Society - because ours is not. If the majority of a nation are struck down by typhoid fever, does this condition, by so curious a calculus of semantics, become healthy? Whether or not homosexuality can be considered an illness is a serious question, and it does depend on one's definition of health and illness. But mere statistics are certainly not the coup de grâce to the psychological argument, which will be discussed shortly.

The validation of gay life as "natural" on the basis of changing social and economic conditions is an act of verbal obfuscation. Even if we were to concur with the widely held feeling that the world's population is dangerously large, and that Zero Population Growth is now a desideratum, the anatomical fact remains unchanged: the generative organs are structured for generation. If the words "natural" and "unnatural" have any meaning at all, they must be rooted in the unchanging reality of man's sexual apparatus rather than in his ephmeral social configurations.

Militant feminists along with the gay activists react vigorously against the implication that natural structure implies the naturalness or unnaturalness of certain acts, but this very view has recently been confirmed by one of the most informed writers on the subject. "It is already pretty safe to infer from laboratory research and ethological parallels that male and female are wired in ways that relate to our traditional sex roles... Freud dramatically said that anatomy is destiny. Scientists who shudder at the dramatic, no matter how accurate, could rephrase this: anatomy is functional, body functions have profound psychological meanings to people, and anatomy and function are often socially elaborated" (Arno Karlen, Sexuality and Homosexuality, p. 501).

The moral issues lead us into the quagmire of perennial philosophical disquisitions of a fundamental nature. In a way, this facilitates the problem for one seeking a Jewish view. Judaism does not accept the kind of thoroughgoing relativism used to justify the gay life as merely an alternate lifestyle And while the question of human autonomy is certainly worthy of consideration in the area of sexuality, one must beware of the consequences of taking the argument to its logical extreme. Judaism clearly cherishes holiness as a greater value than either freedom or health. Furthermore, if every individual's autonomy leads us to lend moral legitimacy to any form of sexual expression he may desire, we must be ready to pull the blanket of this moral validity over almost the whole catalogue of perversion described by Krafft-Ebing, and then, by the legerdemain of granting civil rights to the morally non-objectionable, permit the advocates of buggery, fetishism, or whatever to proselytize in public. In that case, why not in the school system? And if consent is obtained before the death of one partner, why not necrophilia or cannibalism? Surely, if we declare pederasty to be merely idiosyncratic and not an "abomination," what right have we to condemn sexually motivated cannibalism - merely because most people would react with revulsion and disgust?

"Loving, selfless concern" and "meaningful personal relationships" - the great slogans of the New Morality and the exponents of situation ethics - have become the litany of sodomy in our times. Simple logic should permit us to use the same criteria for excusing adultery or any other act heretofore held to be immoral: and indeed, that is just what has been done, and it has received the sanction not only of liberals and humanists, but of certain religionists as well. "Love," "fulfillment," "exploitative," "meaningful" - the list itself sounds like a lexicon of emotionally charged terms drawn at random from the disparate sources of both Christian and psychologically-orientated agnostic circles. Logically, we must ask the next question: what moral depravities can not be excused by the sole criterion of "warm, meaningful human relations" or "fulfillment," the newest semantic heirs to "love"?

Love, fulfillment, and happiness can also be attained in incestuous contacts -and certainly in polygamous relationships. Is there nothing at all left that is "sinful," "unnatural," or "immoral" if it is practiced "between two consenting adults?" For religious groups to aver that a homosexual relationship should be judged by the same criteria as a heterosexual one - i.e., "whether it is intended to foster a permanent relationship of love" - is to abandon the last claim of representing the "Judeo-Christian tradition."

I have elsewhere essayed a criticism of the situationalists, their use of the term "love," and their objections to traditional morality as exemplified by the Halakhah as "mere legalism" (see my Faith and Doubt, chapter IX, p. 249 ff). Situationalists, such as Joseph Fletcher, have especially attacked "pilpolistic Rabbis" for remaining entangled in the coils of statutory and legalistic hairsplitting. Among the other things this typically Christian polemic reveals is an ignorance of the nature of Halakhah and its place in Judaism, which never held that law was totality of life, pleaded again and again for supererogatory conduct, recognized that individuals may be disadvantaged by the law, and which strove to rectify what could be rectified without abandoning the large majority to legal and moral chaos simply because of the discomfiture of the few.

Clearly, while Judaism needs no defense or apology in regard to its esteem for neighborly love and compassion for the individual sufferer, it cannot possibly abide a wholesale dismissal of its most basic moral principles on the grounds that those subject to its judgments find them repressive. All laws are repressive to some extent -they repress illegal activities- and all morality is concerned with changing man and improving him and his society. Homosexuality imposes on one an intolerable burden of differentness, of absurdity, and of loneliness, but the Biblical commandment outlawing pederasty cannot be put aside solely on the basis of sympathy for the victim of these feelings. Morality, too, is an element which each of us, given his sensuality, his own idiosyncracies, and his immoral proclivities, must take into serious consideration before acting out his impulses.

Psychological Attitudes

Several years ago I recommended that Jews regard homosexual deviance as a pathology, thus reconciling the insights of Jewish tradition with the exigencies of contemporary life and scientific information, such as it is, on the nature of homosexuality (Jewish Life, Jan-Feb. 1968). The remarks that follow are an expansion and modification of that position, together with some new data and notions.

The proposal that homosexuality be viewed as an illness will immediately be denied by three groups of people. Gay militants object to this view as an instance of heterosexual condescension. Evelyn Hooker and her group of psychologists maintain that homosexuals are no more pathological in their personality structures than heterosexuals. And psychiatrists Thomas Szasz in the U.S. and Ronald Laing in England reject all traditional ideas of mental sickness and health as tools of social repressiveness or, at best, narrow conventionalism. While granting that there are indeed unfortunate instances where the category of mental disease is exploited for social or political reasons, we part company with all three groups and assume that there are significant number of pederasts and lesbians who, by the criteria accepted by most psychologists and psychiatrists, can indeed be termed pathological. Thus, for instance, Dr. Albert Ellis, an ardent advocate of the right to deviancy, denies there is such a thing as a well-adjusted homosexual. In an interview, he has stated that whereas he used to believe that most homosexuals were neurotic, he is now convinced that about 50% are borderline psychotics, that the usual fixed male homosexual is a severe phobic, and that lesbians are even more disturbed than male homosexuals (see Karlem, op. cit., p. 223ff.).

No single cause of homosexuality has been established. In all probability, it is based on a conglomeration of a number of factors. There is overwhelming evidence that the condition is developmental, not constitutional. Despite all efforts to discover something genetic in homosexuality, no proof has been adduced, and researchers incline more and more to reject the Freudian concept of fundamental human biological bisexuality and its corollary of homosexual latency. It is now widely believed that homosexuality is the result of a whole family constellation. The passive, dependent, phobic male homosexual is usually the product of an aggressive, covertly seductive mother who is overly rigid and puritanical with her son - thus forcing him into a bond where he is sexually aroused, yet forbidden to express himself in any heterosexual way - and of a father who is absent, remote, emotionally detached, or hostile (I. Bieber et al. Homosexuality, 1962).

Can the homosexual be cured? There is a tradition of therapeutic pessimism that goes back to Freud but a number of psychoanalysis, including Freud's daughter Anna, have reported successes in treating homosexuals as any other phobics (in this case, fear of the female genitals). It is generally accepted that about a third of all homosexuals can be completely cured: behavioral therapists report an even larger number of cures.

Of course, one cannot say categorically that all homosexuals are sick - any more than one can casually define all thieves as kleptomaniacs. In order to develop a reasonable Jewish approach to the problem and to seek in the concept of illness some mitigating factor, it is necessary first to establish the main types of homosexuals. Dr. Judd Marmor speaks of four categories. "Genuine homosexuality" is based on strong preferential erotic feelings for members of the same sex. "Transitory homosexual behavior" occurs among adolescents who would prefer heterosexual experiences but are denied such opportunities because of the social, cultural, or psychological reasons. "Situational homosexual exchanges" are characteristic of prisoners, soldiers and others who are heterosexual but are denied access to women for long periods of time. "Transitory and opportunistic homosexuality" is that of delinquent young men who permit themselves to be used by pederasts in order to make money or win other favors, although their primary erotic interests are exclusively heterosexual. To these may be added, for purposes of our analysis, two other types. The first category, that of genuine homosexuals, me be said to comprehend two sub-categories: those who experience their condition as one of duress or uncontrollable passion which they would rid themselves of if they could, and those who transform their idiosyncrasy into an ideology, i.e., the gay militants who assert the legitimacy and validity of homosexuality as an alternative way to heterosexuality. The sixth category is based on what Dr. Rollo May has called "the New Puritanism", the peculiarly modern notion that one must experience all sexual pleasures, whether or not one feels inclined to them, as if the failure to taste every cup passed at the sumptuous banquet of carnal life means that one has not truly lived. Thus, we have transitory homosexual behavior not of adolescents, but of adults who feel that: they must "try everything" at least once or more than once in their lives.

A Possible Halakhic Solution

This rubric will now permit us to apply the notion of disease (and, from the halakhic point of view, of its opposite, moral culpability) to the various types of sodomy. Clearly, genuine homosexuality experienced under duress (Hebrew: ones) most obviously lends itself to being termed pathological especially where dysfunction appears in other aspects of personality. Opportunistic homosexuality, ideological homosexuality, and transitory adult homosexuality are at the other end of the spectrum, and appear most reprehensible. As for the intermediate categories, while they cannot be called illness, they do have a greater claim on our sympathy than the three types mentioned above.

In formulating the notion of homosexuality as a disease, we are not asserting the formal halakhic definition of mental illness as mental incompetence, as described in TB Hag. 3b, 4a, and elsewhere. Furthermore, the categorization of a prohibited sex act as ones (duress) because of uncontrolled passions is valid, in a technical halakhic sense, only for a married woman who was ravished and who, in the course of the act, became a willing participant. The Halakhah decides with Rava, against the father of Samuel, that her consent is considered duress because of the passions aroused in her (Ket, 51b). However, this holds true only if the act was initially entered into under physical compulsion (Kesef Mishneh to Yad, Sanh. 20:3). Moreover, the claim of compulsion by one's erotic passions is not valid for a male, for any erection is considered a token of his willingness (Yev, 53b; Maimonides, Yad, Sanh, 20:3). In the case of a male who was forced to cohabit with a woman forbidden to him, some authorities consider him guilty and punishable, while others hold him guilty but not subject to punishment by the courts (Tos., Yev, 53b; Hinnukh, 556; Kesef Mishneh, loc. cit.: Maggid Mishneh to Issurei Bi´ah, 1:9). Where a male is sexually aroused in a permissible manner, as to begin coitus with his wife and is then forced to conclude the act with another woman, most authorities exonerate him (Rabad and Maggid Mishned, to Issurei Bi´ah, in loc). If, now, the warped family background of the genuine homosexual is considered ones, the homosexual act may possibly lay claim to some mitigation by the Halakhah. (However, see Minhat Hinnukh, 556, end; and M. Feinstein, Iggerot Moshe (1973) on YD, no. 59, who holds, in a different context, that any pleasure derived from a forbidden act performed under duress increases the level of prohibition. This was anticipated by R. Joseph Engel, Atvan de-Oraita, 24). These latter sources indicate the difficulty of exonerating sexual transgressors because of psycho-pathological reasons under the technical rules of the Halakhah.

However, in the absence of a Sanhedrin and since it is impossible to implement the whole halakhic penal system, including capital punishment, such strict applications are unnecessary. What we are attempting is to develop guidelines, based on the Halakhah, which will allow contemporary Jews to orient themselves to the current problems of homosexuality in a manner articulating with the most fundamental insights of the Halakhah in a general sense, and consistent with the broadest world-view that the halakhic commitment instills in its followers. Thus, the aggadic statement that "no man sins unless he is overcome by a spirit of madness" (Sot. 3a) is not an operative halakhic rule, but does offer guidance on public policy and individual pastoral compassion. So in the present case, the formal halakhic strictures do not in any case apply nowadays, and it is our contention that the aggadic principle must lead us to seek out the mitigating halakhic elements so as to guide us in our orientation to homosexuals who, by the standards of modern psychology, may be regarded as acting under compulsion.

To apply the Halakhah strictly in this case is obviously impossible; to ignore it entirely is undesirable, and tantamount to regarding Halakhah as a purely abstract, legalistic system which can safely be dismissed where its norms and prescriptions do not allow full formal implementation. Admittedly, the method is not rigorous, and leaves room to varying interpretations as well as exegetical abuse, but it is the best we can do.

Hence there are types of homosexuality that do not warrant any special considerateness, because the notion of ones or duress (i.e., disease) in no way applies. Where the category of mental illness does apply, the act itself remains to´evah (an abomination), but the fact of illness lays upon us the obligation of pastoral compassion, psychological understanding, and social sympathy. In these sense, homosexuality is no different from any other social or anti-halakhic act, where it is legitimate to distinguish between the objective itself including its social and moral consequences, and the mentality and inner development of the person who perpetrates the act. For instance, if a man murders in a cold and calculating fashion for reasons of profit, the act is criminal and the transgressor is criminal. If, however, a psychotic murders, the transgressor is diseased rather than criminal, but the objective act itself remains a criminal one. The courts may therefore treat the perpetrator of the crime as they would a patient, with all the concomitant compassion and concern for therapy, without condoning the act as being morally neutral. To use halakhic terminology, the objective crime remains a ma´aseh averah, whereas a person who transgresses is considered innocent on the grounds of ones. In such case, the transgressor is spared the full legal consequences of his culpable act, although the degree to which he may be held responsible varies from case to case.

An example of a criminal act that is treated with compassion by the Halakhah, which in practice considers the act pathological rather than criminal, is suicide. Technically, the suicide or attempted suicide is in violation of the law. The Halakhah denies to the suicide the honor of a eulogy, the rending of the garments by relatives or witnesses to the death, and (according to Maimonides) insist that the relatives are not to observe the usual mourning period for the suicide. Yet, in the course of time, the tendency has been to remove the stigma from the suicide on the basis of mental disease. Thus, halakhic scholars do not apply the technical category of intentional (la-da´at) suicide to one who did not clearly demonstrate before performing the act, that he knew what he was doing and was of sound mind, to the extent that there was no hiatus between the act of self-destruction and actual death. If these conditions are not present, we assume that it was an insane act or that between the act and death he experienced pangs of contrition and is therefore repentant, hence excused before the law. There is even one opinion which exonerates the suicide unless he received adequate warning (hatra´ah) before performing the act, and responded in a manner indicating that he was fully aware of what he was doing and that he was lucid (J.M Tykocinski, Gesher ha-Hayyim, I, ch. 25, and Encyclopaedia Judaica, 15:490).

Admittedly, there are differences between the two cases: pederasty is clearly a severe violation of Biblical law, whereas the stricture against suicide is derived exegetically from a verse in the Genesis. Nevertheless, the principle operative in the one is applicable to the other: where one can attribute an act to mental illness, it is done out of simple humanitarian considerations.

The suicide analogy should not, of course, lead one to conclude that there are grounds for a blanket exculpation of homosexuality as mental illness. Not all forms of homosexuality can be so termed, as indicated above, and the act itself remains an "abomination". With few exceptions, most people do not ordinarily propose that suicide be considered an acceptable and legitimate alternative to the rigors of daily life. No sane and moral person sits passively and watches a fellow man attempt suicide because he "understands" him and because it has been decided that suicide is a "morally neutral" act. By the same token, in orienting ourselves to certain types of homosexuals as patients rather than criminals, we do not condone the act but attempt to help the homosexual. Under no circumstances can Judaism suffer homosexuality to become respectable. Were society to give its open or even tacit approval to homosexuality, it would invite more aggressiveness on the part of adult pederasts toward young people. Indeed, in the currently permissive atmosphere, the Jewish view would summon us to the semantic courage of referring to homosexuality not as "deviance" with the implication of moral neutrality and non-judgmental idiosyncrasy, but as "perversion" - a less clinical and more old-fashioned word, perhaps, but one that is more in keeping with the Biblical to´evah.

Yet, having passed this moral judgment, we cannot in the name of Judaism necessarily demand that we strive for the harshest possible punishment. Even where it was halakhically feasible to execute capital punishment, we have a tradition of leniency. Thus, R. Akiva and R. Tarfon declared that had they lived during the time of the Sanhedrin, they never would have executed a man. Although the Halakhah does not decide in their favor (Mak., end of ch. I), it was rare indeed that the death penalty was actually imposed. Usually, the Biblically mandated penalty was regarded as an index of the severity of the transgression, and the actual execution was avoided by strict insistence upon all technical requirements - such al hatra´ah (forewarning the potential criminal) and rigorous cross-examination of witnesses, etc. In the same spirit, we are not bound to press for the most punitive policy toward contemporary lawbreakers. We are required to lead them to rehabilitation (teshuva). The Halakhah sees no contradiction between condemning a man to death and exercising compassion, even love, toward him (Sanh. 52a). Even a man on the way to his execution was encouraged to repent (Sanh. 6:2). In the absence of a death penalty, the tradition of teshuva and pastoral compassion to the sinner continues.

I do not find any warrant in the Jewish tradition for insisting on prison sentences for homosexuals. The singling-out of homosexuals as victims of society's righteous indignation is patently unfair. In Western history, anti-homosexual crusades have too often been marked by cruelty, destruction, and bigotry. Imprisonment in modern times has proven to be extremely haphazard. The number of homosexuals unfortunate enough to be apprehended is infinitesimal as compared to the number of known homosexuals; estimates vary from one to 300.000 to one to 6.000.000!. For homosexuals to be singled out for special punishment while all the rest of society indulges itself in every other form of sexual malfeasance (using the definitions of Halakhah, not the New Morality) is a species of double-standard morality that the spirit of Halakhah cannot abide. Thus, the Mishnah declares that the "scroll of the suspected adulteress" (megillat sotah) - whereby a wife suspected of adultery was forced to undergo the test of "bitter waters" - was cancelled when the Sages became aware of the ever-larger number of adulterers in general (Sot. 9:9). The Talmud bases this decision on an aversion to the double standard: if the husband is himself an adulterer, the "bitter waters" will have no effect on his wife, even though she too be guilty of the offense (Sot. 47b). By the same token, a society in which heterosexual immorality is not conspicuously absent has no moral right to sit in stern judgment and mete out harsh penalties to homosexuals.

Furthermore, sending a homosexual to prison is counterproductive if punishment is to contain any element of rehabilitation or teshuva. It has rightly been compared to sending an alcoholic to a distillery. The Talmud records that the Sanhedrin was unwilling to apply the full force of the law where punishment had lost its quality of deterrence; thus, 40 (or four) years before the destruction of the Temple, the Sanhedrin voluntarily left the precincts of the Temple so as not to be able, technically, to impose the death sentence, because it had noticed the increasing rate of homicide (Sanh. 41a, and elsewhere).

There is nothing in the Jewish law's letter or spirit that should incline us toward advocacy of imprisonment for homosexuals. The Halakhah did not, by and large, encourage the denial of freedom as a recommended form of punishment. Flogging is, from a certain perspective, far less cruel and far more enlightened. Since capital punishment is out of the question, and since incarceration is not an advisable substitute, we are left with one absolute minimum: strong disapproval of the proscribed act. But we are not bound to any specific penological instrument that has no basis in Jewish law or tradition.

How shall this disapproval be expressed? It has been suggested that, since homosexuality will never attain acceptance anyway, society can afford to be humane. As long as violence and the seduction of children are not involved, it would best to abandon all laws on homosexuality and leave it to the inevitable social sanctions to control, informally,what can be controlled.

However, this approach is not consonant with Jewish tradition. The repeal of anti-homosexual laws implies the removal of the stigma from homosexuality, and this diminution of social censure weakens society in its training of the young toward acceptable patterns of conduct. The absence of adequate social reproach may well encourage the expression of homosexual tendencies by those in whom they might otherwise be suppressed. Law itself has an educative function, and the repeal of laws, no matter how justifiable such repeal may be from one point of view, does have the effect of signaling the acceptability of greater permissiveness.

Some New Proposals

Perhaps all that has been said above can best be expressed in the proposals that follow.

First, society and government must recognize the distinctions between the various categories enumerated earlier in this essay. We must offer medical and psychological assistance to those whose homosexuality is an expression of pathology, who recognize it as such, and are willing to seek help. We must be no less generous to the homosexual than to the drug addict, to whom the government extends various forms of therapy upon request.

Second, jail sentences must be abolished for all homosexuals, save those who are guilty of violence, seduction of the young, or public solicitation.

Third, the laws must remain on the books, but by mutual consent of judiciary and police, be unenforced. This approximates to what lawyers call "the chilling effect", and is the nearest one can come to the category so well known in the Halakhah, whereby strong disapproval is expressed by affirming a halakhic prohibition, yet no punishment is mandated. It is a category that bridges the gap between morality and law. In a society where homosexuality is so rampant, and where incarceration is so counterproductive, the hortatory approach may well be a way of formalizing society's revulsion while avoiding the pitfalls in our accepted penology.

For the Jewish community as such, the same principles, derived from the tradition, may serve as guidelines. Judaism allows for no compromise in its abhorrence of sodomy, but encourages both compassion and efforts at rehabilitation. Certainly, there must be no acceptance of separate Jewish homosexual societies, such as - or specially - synagogues set aside as homosexual congregations. The first such "gay synagogue", apparently, was the "Beth Chayim Chadashim" in Los Angeles. Spawned by that city's Metropolitan Community Church in March 1972, the founding group constituted itself as a Reform congregation with the help of the Pacific Southwest Council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations some time in early 1973. Thereafter, similar groups surfaced in New York City and elsewhere. The original group meets on Friday evenings in the Leo Baeck Temple and is searching for a rabbi - who must himself be "gay". The membership sees itself as justified by "the Philosophy of Reform Judaism". The Temple president declared that God is "more concerned in our finding a sense of peace in which to make a better world, than He is in whom someone sleeps with" (cited in "Judaism and Homosexuality" C.C.A.R. Journal, summer 1973, p. 38; five articles in this issue of the Reform group's rabbinic journal are devoted to the same theme, and most of them approve of the Gay Synagogue).

But such reasoning is specious, to say the least. Regular congregations and other Jewish groups should not hesitate to accord hospitality and membership, on an individual basis, to those "visible" homosexuals who qualify for the category of the ill. Homosexuals are no less in violation of Jewish norms than Sabbath desecrators or those who disregard the laws of kashrut. But to assent to the organization of separate "gay" groups under Jewish auspices makes no more sense, Jewishly, than to suffer the formation of synagogues that care exclusively to idol worshipers, adulterers, gossipers, tax evaders, or Sabbath violators. Indeed, it makes less sense, because it provides, under religious auspices, a ready-made clientele from which the homosexual can more easily choose his partners.

In remaining true to the sources of Jewish tradition. Jews are commanded to avoid the madness that seizes society at various times and in many forms, while yet retaining a moral composure and psychological equilibrium sufficient to exercise that combination of discipline and charity that is the hallmark of Judaism.

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Dov Lipman Front and Center at RCA Convention

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I am writing to you from Manhattan as I prepare to return to Seattle tomorrow. The Rabbinical Council of America convention that I had the good fortune to attend focused on a number of key issues concerning the Jewish community both nationally and internationally. The issue of child abuse in the Jewish and broader community was a central focus as were issues in Jewish education and the need for community rabbis to be more involved in the local Jewish day schools. Internationally, one of the candidates for the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Rabbi David Stav, spoke to the convention body about changes he sees as crucial to the future of the Jewish identity of the State of Israel, prime among them the issue of marriage and conversion in Israel.


A few weeks ago, we had a "Fundamentals" class on the drafting of Yeshiva Students into the IDF and those same students' place in Israeli society. Rabbi Dov Lipman of Yesh Atid, delivered the keynote address on Sunday night; a counter to Lipman was journaliast Jonathan Rosenblum, speaking on Monday. These two men presented very impassioned positions on the topic, but with what I thought, was a great deal of common ground and overlap between the perspectives. Rabbi Lipman, who has been vilifed in certain circles, spoke before the convention with Rabbi Daniel Korobkin of Toronto, and much of what he said at the convention, he recorded in this interview, which has been posted on YouTube. I encourage you to watch the interview - and feel free to let me know what you think.
See you this week - Rabbi Meyers

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Population Projections for Israel in 2035

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A colleague of mine pointed out a very recent publication by the CBS in Israel; in it, Jewish population in Israel is expected to increase signficantly throughout the next 22 years, to 2035.  The balance of Jews vs. other populations is of special interest.

Click on http://www1.cbs.gov.il/hodaot2013n/01_13_170t12.pdf to see the chart summarizing the study - RM

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Tisha Be’Av: Mourning Through “Bitul Torah”

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Learning Curtailed
The traditional three-week mourning period marking the process of the destruction of our two Batei Mikdash (Holy Temples) culminates in probably the most difficult day, both spiritually and physically, of the Jewish year. On Tisha Be’Av, the Jew is bidden to internalize the great national tragedy of the Temples’ destruction by adhering to the same restrictions as a person who, God forbid, suffers the loss of a close relative. To this end, the Shulchan Arukh rules that on Tisha Be’Av it is forbidden “to wash, anoint oneself, wear leather shoes, and have intimate relations. It is also forbidden to read from the Tanach (Torah, Nevi’im, Ketuvim) and to learn Mishna, Midrash, Talmud – including both halachic and allegoric passages.”

Why the prohibition on learning? Basing himself on the Talmud, Rabbi Yosef Karo cites the verse in Tehilim (19:9): “The statutes of God are upright, rejoicing the heart…” Since Tisha B’Av is a day of immense sadness, it is inappropriate to experience the joy that comes with learning Torah.
In his commentary on Tehilim, Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezrah notes that the Hebrew term for the “statutes of [God]” employed by the above verse is “pekudei” – and that this word shares the root of the term “pikadon”. A “pikadon” is an object entrusted by one to another, generally for purposes of safekeeping. “They [the mitzvot of the Torah] are present in potential within the soul of everyone obligated in commandments,” Ibn Ezrah explains. “God entrusted [the mitzvot to us by placing them] in [our] hearts.”

Pre-Natal Classes
The concept that all of Torah is embedded deep within every Jew is a famous theme of the early Talmudic period. In Yalkut Shimoni (Bereishit Ch. 38), for instance, the sage Shmuel states that while in his mother’s womb, the fetus is taught the entire Torah. Upon birth, an angel appears, strikes the baby on his mouth, and causes him to forget all of his learning. (A lengthier version of the same theme appears in Talmud, Tractate Nidda 30b)

According to the commentary Akeidat Yitzchak, the midrash is effectively saying that from the very earliest stages of his development, the Jew has the potential to achieve a high degree of spiritual perfection, the kind gained through knowledge of Torah. “Nevertheless,” explains Akeidat Yitzchak, “this potential may never be actualized. It depends on the degree of effort and toil invested in learning.” These pre-natal Torah lessons, he adds, also help explain the conclusion of the midrash: At birth, the baby takes an oath, committing himself to be a Tzaddik (righteous person) and not a Rasha (wicked person). Although the child has forgotten his learning, says the Akeidat Yitzchak, he can confidently take the oath, since Torah absorbed by him in the womb creates within him a predisposition towards righteousness.

That said, what is the connection drawn in the verse in Tehilim between the concept of Torah as a “pikadon” in our hearts, and the simcha – or joy – experienced by us during Torah study? The joy of learning Torah stems from the Jew’s rediscovery of the Torah he internalized prior to birth, the Torah entrusted to him, the Torah that until now, has been lying dormant in his heart and mind, waiting to be given new life. This is the kind of exciting spiritual experience denied the Jew on Tisha Be’Av.

Hazal – our sages of blessed memory – understood that in the course of time, it would be increasingly difficult for Jews to comprehend what was actually lost with the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash. The longer the exile, the harder it would be to appreciate the significance of the korbanot (sacrifices) or, for example, the Avoda (service) of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur. One thing that would remain with the Jews throughout the Galut, however, is the Torah. Hazal understood that the committed learner of Torah would feel a great sense of loss and intense sadness when denied the opportunity, for even a 24-hour period, to pursue his daily, lifelong task of rediscovering his Torah.

Applying the Lesson
Many of us may now be asking ourselves: “This kind of halacha may have an impact on seasoned Talmidei Hahamim – great Torah scholars, but what about the majority of us who are simply not on such a lofty spiritual level? How are we to relate to the prohibition of learning Torah on Tisha B’av?” The western concept that says everyone is entitled to monthly, weekly, even daily allotments of leisure time has taken its spiritual toll on us all. As hard as a person studies at yeshiva, if he grew up in a popular culture that values spending hours in front of the television watching football, relaxing on week-long Caribbean luxury cruises etc. – it’s a real challenge for even this dedicated yeshiva student to truly internalize the pain of being denied the ability to learn Torah for the 24-hour period of Tisha B’Av!

A possible approach to this dilemma may be found in the hashkafa, or conceptual outlook, conveyed by the halacha: The reason Torah is denied to us on Tisha Be’Av is so that we feel a loss, a sense of mourning, on that day. Torah learning engenders joy because, as explained earlier, it is a process wherein the Jew rediscovers the gift bestowed upon him prior to birth. When the Torah scholar is held back from engaging in this process of self-actualization, he feels a vacuum in his life, he feels denied.

It may very well be that our sages wished to convey this hashkafa even to those of us who cannot yet totally internalize this sense of loss. In other words, the very formulation of a halacha which declares that, in order to feel a sense of mourning, one just refrain from learning on Tisha Be’Av – is, in and of itself a powerful Torah message! With this halacha, our sages are not simply instructing us to refrain from learning on Tisha Be’Av – they are simultaneously impressing upon us the need to view Torah learning as fundamental to our own personal happiness, our sense of self-fulfillment as Jews.

The Fervent Learner: Role Model or Transgressor?
The Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Mo’ed Katan, rules that, despite the prohibition of Torah learning during the week of Aveilut (mourning), “if he (the mourner) was fervent in his need to learn Torah, it is permissible.” The same leniency would seemingly apply to Tisha Be’Av, as well, since its prohibition of Torah learning is modeled on the laws of mourning. Rabbi Yosef Karo, after quoting this Talmudic source in his work, “Beit Yosef”, concludes: “But the poskim (rabbinic decisors) did not record [this leniency].” It was not accepted in normative halacha.

However, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef – in his monumental work of responsa, “Yabiah Omer” – writes that he did succeed in tracking down one noted (lone) posek, the Shibolei Haleket, who adopts the leniency, and permits particular fervent Torah learners to learn as usual during Aveilut. Rabbi Yosef thereupon cites an anecdote (initially recorded in Sefer Binayahu, Berachot 24) that illustrates an application of the principle of the very devoted Torah scholar. “A particular scholar had such a wondrous drive to learn Torah, that when he became a mourner, he continued to secretly immerse himself in Torah. His colleagues reproved him for doing so, [reminding him] that a mourner is forbidden from learning Torah. His response: ‘I know that I am transgressing the words of the sages, and that I will surely receive my punishment for this on Judgement Day, but I am prepared to suffer the consequences and to gladly accept my punishment, because I simply cannot hold myself back, I cannot tolerate the anguish I feel from Bitul Torah – that is as difficult for me as death itself.”

Certainly, the above story presents a serious philosophical problem for the religious Jew. Normative halacha rejects such an approach: namely, knowingly committing even a rabbinic transgression, while declaring that one is willing to “suffer the consequences.” Such an attitude undercuts the very authority of halacha itself! Of what value is the Torah study of such a person if he does not put his study into practice? And yet, this story is cited in a reputable halachic work, and repeated by the most prolific and prominent Sephardic halachic authority of our day, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef!

Halacha recognizes the principle of “Oness, Rachmana Patrei” – one is not held responsible for situations beyond one’s control. A typical example of this rule: I am stuck in a traffic jam and arrive too late to pray with a minyan. Since I allotted plenty of time to reach the synagogue, I am not held responsible for missing Minha with a minyan.

The scholar in the earlier story was similarly, not in control. So much was Torah a part of his essence that the halachic imperative for him to stop learning was like commanding him not to breathe!

This Tisha Be’Av, when we refrain from our daily routine of Torah study, let us try to internalize the loss of Torah on a personal level – and from there move to an awareness of the loss on a national level, the loss of our Bt Hamikdash.
And may our mourning soon turn to joy.

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EB’s Tisha Be’av How-to-Mourn Primer

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Halachot Pertaining to the weeks before Tisha Be'av, and the week of Tisha Be'av

Whereas Ashkenazic custom is not to get a haircut or shave for the entire three weeks between the 17th of Tamuz and the ninth of Av, Sephardic custom is to permit this during the first part of the three weeks, until the week of Tisha Be’av. What does this translate to? The week of Tisha Be’av this year – from Saturday night, July 13th until Tuesday night, July 16th, one is not allowed to shave or cut hair. Rav Ovadia Yosef notes that the prohibition to shave ends immediately on July 16th when the fast is over (9:32 pm). Some Sephardim, along with all Ashkenazim, wait until midday on the 10th of Av (July 17th this year) to shave or cut hair.


Another major halacha for the week of Tisha Be’av relates to laundry and wearing freshly laundered clothing. Mirroring the laws of private mourning, we are not allowed to wash clothes, even if we want to wear them after Tisha Be’av. The prohibition of wearing freshly laundered clothing can be “lightened” somewhat by deciding what you are going to wear from Saturday night till Tuesday night, and by Friday July 12th, wearing each of these garments for a half hour or so. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef notes that this can even be done on Shabbat, and is not an issue of “preparing from Shabbat to the week day.” What does this accomplish? It reclassifies the clothes you wear during the week of Tisha Be’av as “already having been worn”. They are no longer considered “freshly laundered”. Clothing of children under the age of three, that quickly becomes dirty (I know this from experience!) can be laundered even during the week of Tisha Be’av.

Parallel to the laws of private mourning, we are restricted from washing or bathing in hot water during the week of Tisha Be’av. This contrasts with Ashkenazic custom, where this restriction is in force from Sunday night July 7th, ie Rosh Hodesh Av.

A long standing custom – rooted in the Rambam’s version of the Jerusalem Talmud – is to refrain from eating meat and drinking wine during this period of time. Regarding this, there are three customs: a) from the 17th of Tamuz; b) from Rosh Hodesh Av; c) the week of Tisha Be’av. Even Ashkenazic custom is strict only from Rosh Hodesh Av. Although the custom in Jerusalem, according to Rav Ovadia Yosef, is to be strict on this from Rosh Hodesh, it is acceptable to refrain only during the week of Tisha Be’av, and this seems to be the common Sephardic custom outside of Jerusalem. Even those adhering to a more stringent view – eat meat and drink wine on Shabbat.

Poultry and chicken soup and the like are considered “meat” as far as this custom goes. The custom is based on the fact that it was during this period that the “korbanot”/ sacrifices and wine libations in the Bet Hamikdash ceased.  It's Ashkenazic custom and the custom of some Sephardim to continue refraining from meat and wine until mid-day on the tenth of Av (Wednesday July 17th @ around 1:15 pm). For Sephardim, washing and doing laundry is permitted as soon at the fast is over.

Shabbat Hazon: The Shabbat of July 12 & 13th
The Shabbat prior to Tisha Be’av is called “Shabbat Hazon” - the Shabbat of foretelling – as we read the Haftara portion from the prophecy of Isaiah (1:1-27), as the final of the “three of affliction,” readings. Isaiah does not lament because the Bet HaMikdash (The Temple) was destroyed; rather he laments over the underlying causes of that destruction. It’s not enough to bemoan the great loss suffered by our people with the destruction of our Land, Jerusalem and the Mikdash. We must use our mourning as a way of initiating an examination of our present-day feelings, thoughts and deeds. What have we done to eliminate the attitudes and practices that thousands of years ago sent our ancestors into exile – not once, but twice? (courtesy of ou.org)

Erev Tisha Be'av - Monday, July 15th
An important custom on Erev Tisha Be’eav – Monday afternoon – is the “Seuda Hamafseket” – the final meal before the fast. It is a simple meal whose focus is the somber, mournful mood prior to the fast. It consists of one cooked dish. Eggs or lentils are commonly eaten at this meal. Many people wash Netilat Yadayim, say Hamotzi and eat a bread roll as part of the meal. One should sit in a low place, such as a pillow on the floor, during the Seuda.

Once the fast starts at sunset on Monday evening July 15th (9:02 pm) one should not eat, drink, wash, anoint oneself, wear leather shoes, or have marital relations.

Washing in both cold and hot water is forbidden on Tisha Be’av. It is of course permitted to “spot clean” dirt that has adhered to your hands or another part of your body in the course of Tisha Be’av. Ritual washing of the hands, such as the morning Netilat Yadayim, cannot extend beyond one’s knuckles.

It is also forbidden to learn Torah “as usual” on Tisha Be’av, since Torah study is joyful. Sources that deal with the destruction of the Temple, such as the accounts of the Destruction in the Talmud, commentaries on “Eicha” – the book of Lamentations, and the like, can be learned on Tisha Be’av. For a more thorough discussion of the prohibition of learning Torah on Tisha Be’av and its philosophical basis, see my article called “Mourning Through Bitul Torah” @ http://ezrabessaroth.net/leadership/rabbi-s-blog/entry/tisha-be-av-mourning-through-bitul-torah Even pregnant and nursing women, who generally do not fast on the rabbinic fast days, do fast on Tisha Be’av. There are of course exceptions and anyone curious about their own halachic obligation should contact me by email or on my cell @ 206-948-8244

Elderly people who feel too weak to fast, and whose doctor advises that they eat, are permitted to eat on Tisha Be’av. Children are not required to fast until they are Bnai or Bnot Mitzvah (13 for boys and 12 for girls). However, to educate them about the nature of the day, we do not give children treats like ice cream, chocolate, etc.

One is not allowed to sit in a regular chair on Tisha Be’av until midday Tuesday July 16th (1:15 pm). We do not greet each other on Tisha Be’av, in the same manner that one does not greet a mourner. How do we respond to someone who may not know this custom and who greets you anyway? Answer back softly….

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06
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Statement from the Orthodox Union and RCA on Reporting Child Abuse

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Jun 6, 2013 -- The Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America reaffirm that any individual with firsthand knowledge or reasonable basis to suspect child abuse or endangerment, or the sale of illegal drugs, has a religious obligation to promptly share that information with secular law enforcement. Further, those deemed “mandated reporters” under secular law must obey their state’s reporting requirements.

Lives can be ruined or ended by unreported child abuse or endangerment, or drug sales, as we are too often tragically reminded. The Torah’s statement in Leviticus 19:16, “Do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed," obligates every member of the community to do all in one's power to prevent harm to others.


Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, President of the RCA, and Rabbi Mark Dratch, Executive Vice President, received the following letter from Rabbi Israel Belsky, confirming his position reporting to civil authorities in matters of child abuse.

 belsky letter

 

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More Sources on Drafting Yeshiva Students

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Here is another article representing Rav Zevin's view on the topic: http://www.traditiononline.org/news/originals/Volume%2021/No.%204/R.%20Shelomo%20Yosef.pdf and for Hebrew readers, see R. Waldenburg's view in http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=20825&st=&pgnum=81

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Cohen Article on Torah Perspective on Army Service

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Rabbi Alfred S. Cohen

 

Rabbi, Young Israel of Canarsie; Rebbe, Yeshiva University High School for Boy
Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society - No. XXIII, Spring 1992, Pesach 5752

 

 

Since the founding of the State of Israel, the need for defense has been the highest priority of the community. Due to the overwhelming needs for security, virtually all able bodied men and many women - serve in the army for a period of a few years and then for additional service for decades thereafter.

 

However, when the state was created, the then Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, came to an agreement with leaders of the religious parties, whereby 400 yeshiva students were to be exempted from military service so that they might continue the Torah studies without interruption. After the government lifted restrictions on the establishment of new yeshivot, the number began to mount steadily. According to current figures1 18,400 yeshiva students were exempted from military service in 1988. Between 1976 and 1986, the proportion of yeshiva students out of the total population of 18 year olds more than doubled from 2.5 to 5.3 percent, as the government steadily lifted the ceiling on how many students could acquire the exemption.

 

The exemption of boys and men involved in learning Torah from serving in the army has at times aroused much resentment. It is a practice which has been, and continues to be, challenged, not only by secular Jews but even by many observant and dedicated Jews, even by some who benefit from the exemption.

 

We are dealing here with a very emotional issue. The families of soldiers who daily risk their lives are far from tolerant when they see yeshiva students strolling casually through the streets. There is anger, too, at the rabbis who instruct their students in the yeshiva to stand at attention on Yom Hazikaron2 to honor the fallen war heroes - but at the same time teach their students not even to consider serving in the army. And there is frustration and bitterness in the yeshiva homes as well, where people live in privation all their lives in order to dedicate themselves to the ideal of learning Torah, and yet have to bear the contempt of their fellow citizens.

 

The present study will explore this issue, hopefully from a dispassionate and objective position. It is our intention to identify the sources from Jewish tradition which support the practice, as well as those which seem to question the validity of exempting one group from military service. Our aim is an halachic exposition, without recourse to emotional arguments; our intention is to clarify the halachic sources, as the basis for formulating an intelligent position.

 

Before we consider what role, if any, yeshiva students ought to take in the army, it would be appropriate to consider what Judaism has to say about war - whether it is ever right for any Jew, not only a yeshiva student, to serve in the army.

 

Jewish thought views war with great trepidation, not as a glorious adventure.3 War is a scourge: lives are lost, families disrupted. When the Jewish Commonwealth existed, the decision to go to war was never undertaken lightly, no matter how pressing the situation might appear to be. Even when war was necessary or defensive, it retained a negative connotation. Thus, when King David expressed his desire to build a House of G-d, Hashemrejected the plan: "Much blood have you spilled, and great wars have you waged, [therefore] you shall not build a House for My Name."4

 

The rejection of King David is most surprising, in view of the fact that he had dedicated his life to freeing his people form the perpetual onslaughts of their inimical neighbors. His wars had been wars of defense, of retaliation, of prevention, wars of Mitzvah if you will. Nevertheless, a certain opprobrium clung to them.

 

But Judaism does not condemn war entirely, for there are times when it is inescapable or necessary.5 And although taking someone's life is murder, Judaism does not consider war as murder; there are times when people are justified in going to war, such as when they are attacked or to take revenge for a previous injury.6 While it is true that the Torah commands "when you draw near to a city to battle with her, [first] you must call to her to make peace,"7 the Maharal is of the opinion that the rule applies only when they have not done anything to the people of Israel, but if they have done something, such as "they pressured them to do some abomination, then it is permissible to take revenge upon them."8

 

Hundreds of years later, the N'tziv echoes the view of Maharal, that at times war is permissible and warranted:9

 

When is the person punished? At a time when it is proper for him to act with brotherly love, but this is not true during wartime, and it is a time to change... and there is no punishment for this at all, because thus was the world established, as we see in Tractate Shevuot - and even a king of Israel is permitted to wage an optional war.

In Orach Chaim10the Ramo even extends this permission to wage war to such time as the enemy has not yet attacked but only wants to attack the Jews. V'afilu lo bau adayin ela rotzim lavo. Such a preemptive strike is permitted even on the Sabbath.

Cognizant of the reality that sometimes war is the necessary option, despite its negative connotation, the halacha recognizes different types of war.11

 

  1. milchemet mitzvah - a war to conquer the land of Israel, such as those waged by Joshua when the Jews entered the Land. Another such war is the battle to eradicated Amalek. These wars may be initiated without the mandate of the Beth Din, simply at the instigation of the king, who has the license to draft the people into his army at his discretion.
  2. milchemet reshut - a war fought to expand the boundaries of Israel; this could be done only with the approval of the Beth Din of Seventy. An example is wars fought by King David.
  3. Wars to reduce the heathen influence12 so that they will not attack the Jews. Some scholars consider such wars as mandated (mitzvah) but others consider them optional. The Rambam13 rules that these wars are obligatory, "And which is a mandated war? .. to help Israel from an enemy who might come upon them."
  4. An additional category has been suggested - a war to instill fear and respect into the nations, so that they will not even consider attacking the Jews.14

 

Behavior in Wartime: The Moral Imperative

The Jewish attitude towards war is singular. Unlike other cultures, we do not glorify the strength, vigor, and triumphs of war so much as we realize the tremendous moral dangers which lurk in the war zone. It is not our tradition, however, to be tolerant of the immorality and depravity which typically are rampant in an army camp, but rather to seize the opportunity to grow spiritually even from such a situation.

Despite the exigencies of war, the Torah teaches us to maintain our high moral code: when a soldier falls in battle, he must be buried individually, not in a mass grave.15 Even though the soldier has the responsibility of fighting, we urge him to study Torah whenever he has free time.16 And if battle is necessary on the Sabbath, all booty of that day is dedicated to G-d.17 Even when serving in a non-Jewish army, the Jewish soldier is expected to observe whatever mitzvot are possible.18 Even while out on the front, the Jewish soldier must light at least one light each night of Chanukah, if he can;19 although he is permitted if necessary to eat before his morning prayer, nevertheless he is expected to pray daily.20

 

The overriding concern of Judaism is not to sanction the immorality which is prevalent in an army situation, which has not abated appreciably with the passage of millennia. Even today, after thousands of years of civilization, rape, mayhem, looting are daily concomitants of war, and stealing and eating non-kosher foods might be considered only minor infractions.21 It is precisely in such a situation that the Torah admonishes the Jewish soldier. "When you go to war against your enemy, beware of all evil things..."22 That is the time when a person must be most careful in performing mitzvot. Rather than suspend the laws and observances, it is then that a person must be most careful in following the minutiae of the Torah. Thus, it is our philosophy that learning Torah and praying with true concentration are outstanding weapons for the Jewish people to employ in their quest for victory. More mitzvot, more dedication to Torah, will bring us more protection from above.23

 

This belief, that purity of thought and deed and dedication to the ideals of Torah are the true strength of the Jewish people and the source of any victory they might enjoy, is the core of the argument that the yeshiva scholar is doing his share for the protection of the nation through his dedicated learning in the Beit Midrash. As the N'tziv points out (Devarim 31:1), the troops used to give a share of the spoils to the Torah scholars, in recognition of the fact that their learning Torah had kept the soldiers and the people safe.

 

If observance of mitzvot is so crucial that a minimum standard is not abrogated even for the soldier, doesn't it stand to reason, argue many, that those who are intensely involved in observing all the mitzvot of Torah, who spend all their hours involved in Torah, are surely adding to the protection of the nation just as are the armaments and tanks?

 

What role are the citizens supposed to play during a war? Are all equally obligated to serve on the battlefield? Are there distinctions to be made, exemptions to excuse certain people? Some answer emphatically "no", but others contend that the answer might be "maybe" or "yes." Kelal Yisrael is made up of diverse people, with many contributions to be made. An orchestra achieves its fulfillment when each of the musicians contributes his unique talent; so, too, the Jewish people are not monolithic. Different people can and should contribute to the welfare and security of the nation in different ways.

 

One of the Sages of the Yavneh is quoted as reflecting, "I am a man, and my friend is a man; my work is in the city, and my friend's work is in the field. This goes to show that one complements the other, and no one person can or ought to do all the jobs."24

 

Is such a differentiation defensible in the case of military service? Can a class of people legitimately claim that, as a group, they are serving a different, equally vital, need for the salvation of the community? On these grounds should they be exempted from military duty in order to fulfill their unique role in national security?25

 

Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, felt strongly that students in the yeshiva should not be called to the front, for in their batei midrash, through learning Torah, they were assuring the spiritual welfare of the nation, and ultimately, we rely on our spiritual superiority to save us, not on our military might. Others have also strongly maintained that the z'chut of learning Torah is a more effective and more important shield for the Jewish community than military service.26

 

Others, however, scoff at such an argument. "Will you send your brother to war, and yourselves sit at home?" rails Rav Zevin, in his call to yeshiva students to take up arms equally with their secular brothers. "Is your blood redder than theirs?" he wants to know. Yeshiva lives and families are being threatened the same as everyone else's, and he feels no person can excuse himself from the fray. He cites rabbinic dicta that in times of war, "all go out to fight, even the bridegroom from his chamber and the bride from her chuppah."27

 

Exemption

Already in the Torah, there is indication that not all the Jews participated actively in the actual fighting:

 

 

Ach et shevet Levi lo tifkod v'et rosham lo tisa

 

But the tribe of Levi you shall not count [in the military census], nor number their heads.28

 

 

The entire tribe of Levi was excluded from active warfare, and therefore there was no need to include them in the military census.29 Rambam rules that the tribe of Levi did not inherit a portion of the land, "because they were separated for one task - to serve [in the Temple] and to teach His righteous ways... therefore they were separated from the ways of the world, and they do not wage war as do the other Israelites."30

 

But then Rambam adds,

 

 

 

V'lo shevet Levi bilvad, ela kol ish v'ish mikol baei haolam asher nadva rucho oto v'hevino midaato.

 

Not only the tribe of Levi, but any individual whose spirit moves him to... separate himself to stand before G-d and to serve him, to know Him.. and he removes from his neck the yoke of considerations which most people see, behold this person becomes most holy.

 

Jewish thinking recognizes and respect those individuals who reject the pursuit of material goods as their goal and dedicate themselves instead to a higher ideal. Such a person should not be called up even for defense of the country.31 The source for this practice long predates the Rambam: the Gemara (Nedarim 32a) criticizes Avraham Avinu for having roused the scholars in his entourage and pressed them into joining his troop which gave chase against the four kings who had raided the land. Similarly, the Gemara in Sotah 10a concludes that King Asa was punished by heaven for conscripting Torah scholars into his army.32

Most nations do not have universal conscription. People understand that not everyone is suited for the battlefield, or that some people should be doing something else. When America had the draft, clergy were excluded, students in the universities were deferred, and others in sensitive positions excused. Can no justification be found for excusing yeshiva students from serving in the Israeli army?33

 

However, all exemptions advocated by the rabbis seem to be predicated on the assumption that the Jewish army would be victorious without the missing troops; but, if there exists the possibility of their being overcome in battle, all agree that no one can be excused, all must rush out to battle. "And it is a mitzvah for all Israelites who can, to come and go out to aid their brothers who are under siege."34 35 This proviso, obviously, is not a minor issue in the current debate, and we will discuss it more fully further on.36

 

Alternative Service

No one should imagine that those who were traditionally excused from active duty during war went on vacation instead. On the contrary, everyone was expected to do his or her share in saving the community, but it was recognized that there were a variety of necessary tasks to be performed. Those exempted from active duty were duly expected to serve in some other capacity.

Historically, there is evidence that Torah scholars who were excused from fighting used to accompany the troops to the front and learn and teach Torah there.37 It is hard to imagine a more uplifting practice than thousands of soldiers encamped and equipped for war, each with a man next to him learning the Torah or reciting the Shema. Yet the difficulties inherent in such a relationship are quite evident, and ultimately the practice had to be stopped.

 

Who Should Be Exempt

When the State of Israel was first established, the number of men learning full time in yeshivot was small; the agreement that yeshiva students would be exempt from military service caused little concern. Today, thank G-d, the situation is quite different in the yeshivot, which are packed with students. As their numbers grow, so do the deferments - and the protests. An added factor is that in Israel many men remain yeshiva students for life, such that military deferment becomes de facto permanent exemption. Under these circumstances, should all yeshiva students be exempt from army duty?

In his monograph against exempting yeshiva men from the draft,38 Rav Zevin rejects the contention that it is more important for them to be learning than fighting. He asks, if everyone were learning in yeshivot, "would we allow our enemies to ravage our land and kill our people without taking up arms to defend ourselves?" And he points to the halacha which teaches that all must go out in case of attack - even a bridegroom from his chamber and bride from under her chuppah. Certainly it should apply to rabbinic students as well! How can one imagine it is right, he asks, to let others die for him rather than protect his own life and family?

 

Aside from the question of whether it is right to let others bear all the burden of physical defense, there are those who maintain that an exemption from military service based on the individual's involvement with Torah learning can apply only to the relatively few who truly disassociate themselves from all worldly concerns and do nothing but learn Torah. This definition, according to Rav Aharon Lichtenstein would disqualify very many yeshiva people from their present exempt status.39

 

Finally, even if we grant that the Rambam's statement does imply a categorical dispensation in purely halachic terms, it remains of little practical significance. We have yet to examine just to whom it applies. A levi [sic] is defined genealogically. Those who are equated with him, however, literally or symbolically, are defined by spiritual qualities; and for these the Rambam sets a very high standard indeed. He present an idealized portrait of a selfless, atemporal, almost ethereal person - one whose spirit and intelligence have led him to divest himself of all worldly concerns and who has devoted himself "to stand before God, to serve Him, to worship Him, to know God; and he walks aright as the Lord has made him and he has cast off from his neck the yoke of the many considerations which men have sought." To how large a segment of the Torah community - or, a fortiori, of any community - does this lofty typology apply? To two percent? Five Percent? Can anyone... confront a mirror and tell himself that he ought not to go to the army because he is kodesh kodashim, sanctum sanctorum, in the Rambam's terms? Can anyone with even a touch of vanity or a concern for kavod contend this? Lest I be misunderstood, let me state clearly that I have no quarrel with economic aspiration or with normal human foibles per se. again, least of all do I wish to single out b'nei yeshivot for undeserved moral censure. I do feel, however, that those who would single themselves out for saintliness should examine their credentials by the proper standard

Despite this harsh appraisal of the unworthiness of present day yeshiva scholars to claim exemption from community obligations, it appears that actually it was a widespread practice to excuse Torah scholars from many of the levies put upon all others. Nor were they generally expected to withdraw totally from the ordinary pursuits of most people. The common custom in Jewish communities was indeed to consider the Torah scholar as a person who, because of his holy dedication to Torah, should not be expected to shoulder the same burdens as ordinary citizens.

In truth, the question of military exemptions is adumbrated in similar debates over the centuries. There, however, the issue was generally a different kind of community service, involving payment of taxes levied by the government on the entire Jewish settlement. Back in the 15th century, R. Isserlein, author of Terumat Hadeshen, had to address the problem of taxes which the government demanded from the Jewish community as a unit. There is a long halachic tradition exempting rabbis and Torah scholars from having to pay community taxes, and of course, every individual excused from paying a share meant that the share of the others was that much bigger. The author of Terumat Hadeshen appears reluctant to grant widespread exemption from community taxes.40

 

 

 

Omnam hehamon am einam sovrim klal liftor shum talmid chacham ela im ken yoshev b'rosh yeshiva v'af ze davka b'ostreich... v'haya kim'at minhag pashut sh'lo lechayev bemas harav hayoshev b'yeshiva b'rosh... aval b'gvul d'bnei Rinus kimdume li shelo hayu nohagin liftor talmid chacham... mishum detzarich dikduk yafe sheyachzor tamid letalmudo k'sheyifne me'asakav v'ein nizharin ha'idna.

 

However, ordinary people do not have any wish at all to exempt any Torah scholar unless he serves as the head of a yeshiva, and this is true only in Austria...and it is virtually a common practice not to require the Rabbi who serves as the head of the yeshiva to pay the tax. But it appears to me that in the provinces near the Rhine, it was not the practice to exempt Torah scholars... since it requires that he be very careful about returning always to his studies as soon as he is finished with his business...

 

But more than a century later, the Shach does not equivocate when he rules that anyone who makes the study of Torah his major concern, taking time out only to earn the requisites for supporting his family, is exempt from community tax.40

Similarly the Rambam rules:

 

 

 

V'ein cholkin bein shehu tofes yeshiva oh lo rak shehu muchzak ketalmid chacham b'doro...beinyan liftor mimas ein medakdekim baze rak sheyihyeh muchzak letalmid chacham

 

And it makes no difference whether he runs a yeshiva or not, only that he be known as a Torah scholar in his generation, ...as for exempting him from the tax, we are not overly particular about this, only that he should be accepted as a Torah scholar.42

 

Perusal of these halachic sources provides a basis for exempting certain individuals from obligations which all other members of the community have to shoulder. Some rabbinic authorities interpret this rule quite broadly, while others give it a narrow scope.

In pleading for a change in the present system of exempting all yeshiva students from the draft, Rav Zevin seeks to find a middle ground. He notes that "a practical fear has been expressed, that if the students go to war, all the yeshivot will become depleted" and who knows what will happen then to the study of Torah in Israel? Therefore, he urges that "a mutually agreeable accommodation" be arranged, whereby the principle of the importance of Torah study would be established without, however, applying it universally.43 The Hesder yeshivot seem to be a direct response to this plea, and we will discuss them shortly.

 

Saving Lives - or Learning Torah

A talmudic statement seems to give tremendous support to the position that yeshiva students should not join the army. "Rabbi Yosef said, 'learning Torah is greater than saving lives.'" (Megillah 16b). This talmudic text is often cited as evidence that maintaining the spiritual welfare of the nation is more important than maintaining its physical security. However, assuming that the Gemara considers learning Torah to be preferable to saving lives might be a simplistic conclusion. A great wealth of Torah literature leads one to conclude that many major Torah authorities did not take this statement literally.

In the Shulchan Aruch44 we find the following rule:

 

"It is permissible to take money from the Torah fund in order to pay... the ruler, since it is for saving lives."

The ruling is based on a responsum of the Rosh to the effect that it is proper to divert even a large group from learning Torah in order to save lives. How could the Rosh render a ruling contrary to the Talmud? Numerous scholars have grappled with this difficulty,45 and we shall look at some of their answers.

There are those who contend that the text in Megillah is aggadic in nature; wherever the aggada disagrees with the rules of halacha, it is halacha which takes precedence. Thus, the overarching rule of pikuach nefesh, doing virtually anything in order to save a life, applies in this case as well. Furthermore, it is not possible to take a statement concerning the life of one individual and use it to justify a situation in which the entire Jewish community is threatened. On the contrary, we are confident that G-d will never allow the entire Jewish community to be annihilated, and succor will come to them somehow. In such a situation, it is more important to learn Torah. There is no such assurance of divine intervention, however, for an individual; thus, when one person is in danger, it is surely mandatory to save his life. But for the group, we can rely on G-d's providence.

 

In resolving the question of apparent contradiction, the Perisha rules that if there are others who can undertake to save lives, it is preferable for those who can, to study Torah.46 However, if there are no others, then the rule of pikuach nefesh takes precedence. Another solution suggested by the Perisha is that in a situation where it is not possible to do both - save lives and learn Torah as well - then learning Torah takes precedence. However, in the case discussed in the halachic text, even though some of the money would go to pay off the governor, some would still be left over to provide for leaning Torah, albeit not in great comfort.47

 

The persistent lack of clarity in resolving the issue makes it apparent that, the importance of learning Torah notwithstanding, it cannot be the only consideration in determining normative Jewish practice. Our rabbis have introduced many other factors which at times may mitigate the primacy of the mitzvah of learning Torah.

 

Rabbis Don't Need Protection

In Bava Bathra 7b, the Talmud discusses the need for building walls around a settlement. Since walls are for communal protection, all residents have to share in the cost of erecting them. However, the Gemara rules that Torah scholars are exempt from this expense, since they are protected by virtue of the Torah they learn. Can this talmudic exemption be compared to an exemption from the military draft?

Although the above statement, unlike the one in Megillah, is not aggadic - it is actually codified in the Shulchan Aruch48 - nevertheless, it is not cited by the proponents of exemption as proof for their position. On the contrary, the rabbis opposed to exempting yeshiva students seize on this statement to argue that yeshiva students themselves don't believe that the Torah shields them enough!49

 

When actual lives are at stake, may we rely on miracles? In 1929 at Hebron... didn't young students of the yeshiva, whose holiness shone like stars in the sky, fall before the malicious enemy? Please, did these martyrs need protection or not?... If you understand that the scholars need protection in relatively peaceful times and are exempt from building the protective walls, what consequence has this when compared to a life-and-death struggle, a war which is a mitzvah and in which all are obligated? The defense authorities ordered everyone to cover all windows as protection against shattering glass in case of an air raid. Would anyone think that some rabbis will not do so, claiming, "Rabbis do not need protection?" ...Why did rabbis leave areas under enemy fire along with the rest of the general population? Why did they not rely on this maxim?

Rav Lichtenstein, too, does not accept the dictum:

It may be stated... that such a claim (that since rabbis "don't need protection" they should be exempt form military service) raises a very serious moral issue. Can anyone whose life is not otherwise patterned after this degree of trust and bitahon argues for exemption on this ground? Is it possible to worry about one's economic future - in evident disregard of Rabbi Eliezer's statement that "whoever has bread in his basket and says 'What shall I eat tomorrow?' is but of little faith" - and yet not enter the army because one is presumably safe without it?50

 

Effect on Others

No one lives in a vacuum. A person not only has to do that which is right for himself, he has to factor into his decision how his actions may affect the group. This is brought out by the N'tziv in his study of Scripture: The tribes of Gad and Reuven addressed Joshua as he prepared to commence the conquest of Canaan, urging him to be strong, and they would fight along with him. Although they had already taken as their inheritance the provinces conquered by Moshe in his lifetime, they had promised that they would fight along with the other Jews until all the land had been conquered, only then returning to settle in their own fields. Now that he was preparing for his campaign of conquest, they renewed their pledge: "Whoever rebels against your word and does not heed what you say, whatever you command, will be put to death. Only, be strong and persevere."

Isn't that somewhat excessive? Should a person really be put to death for failure to obey Joshua? But the N'tziv explains that the tribes of Reuven and Gad realized that if they failed to join the impending battles, it would have a devastating effect on the rest of the Jews. Perhaps these others would be overcome by fear or panic when they saw part of the army dropping out. Thus, had the two tribes failed to live up to their commitment, they might have fatally weakened the people's resolve. Therefore "be strong and persevere," kill anyone who stands in your way, if that is necessary to strengthen the nation.

 

Also concerned with the effect exemption of a large group may have on others. Rav Waldenberg cites the Abarbanel51 that Deborah joined in the battle against Sisera, even though she didn't want to, only to placate Barak, the general of the troops. She did it only "because the Jews then were scared and frightened of the army of Sisera and his chariots and his hordes... [and she went along] in order to strengthen the hearts of the Jewish people when they would see the Prophetess with them." (Note that Deborah may even have been transgressing a biblical command - it is forbidden for women to wear armor - in order to raise the spirits of the soldiers.)

 

Perhaps this factor, too, has to be taken into account - the effect it has on the soldiers and on their families when certain people, for whatever reason, do not share in the common burden and are exempt from the danger and the sacrifice it entails.

 

Chilul Hashem

Possibly the greatest sin in Judaism is Chilul Hashem - desecration of the Name, which includes anything which lessens the respect and devotion of people for G-d and His Torah. Every sin can be forgiven, other than this one.52 On the other hand, the very greatest act a person can ever hope to achieve is Kiddush Hashem, the exact opposite of Chilul Hashem. Most mitzvot of the Torah can be violated in order to effect a Kiddush Hashem, the Book of Samuel (II 21:3-10) records a dreadful vengeance that the Gibeonites exacted from the Jewish people: God had sent a plague upon the Jews to punish them for King Saul's having put some Gibeonites to death. The only strategem which would placate the Gibeonites and halt the plague was to kill a number of King Saul's descendants, which King David reluctantly agreed to do, at the instruction of the Prophet. But then, instead of burying them immediately as Jewish law requires, the bodies were left hanging on trees for months. How could he allow this to happen? The Gamara answers:

It is better that a letter should be eradicated from the Torah so that the name of Heaven will be sanctified in public. For passersby would ask, "What is the nature of those men [hanging]? [and they would be told] "they are sons of the king," "and what did they do [to warrant such a horrible punishment]?" "They violated the rights of aliens" [and then the passersby would exclaim] "Certainly there can be no nation more worthy for us to become attached to than this one, for if this is how they treat princes [who did wrong to foreigners - i.e., the Gibeonites] how much more so will they be strict with ordinary people!"53

This is the greatest Kiddush Hashem - when people seeing our deeds are overcome with awe and respect for the justice and goodness of our behavior, which is predicated on the Torah's teachings. Kiddush Hashemremains the highest priority of the Jew. Even today, Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen warns, before engaging in a war or military foray, we should stop to consider whether the nations of the world might judge our deeds negatively, thus causing a Chilul Hashem.

So, too, Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffman relies heavily on the prohibition of Chilul Hashem when considering whether a Jew living in a gentile country may evade the draft. His ruling is that even if the Jew knows that service in the army will inevitably entail desecration of Shabbat and other laws, he is still not permitted to avoid his civic duty.

 

Is it valid to apply this line of reasoning to the question of yeshiva students serving in the Israeli army? Some say yes, while others disagree. After all, one can only cause a Chilul Hashem if he is doing something wrong. But if a person acts in accordance with what is right and yet others react negatively, it can be argued that that is not his responsibility.54 However, this disagrees with what the Gemara expressly says - that a person has to be careful about the impression he is making, even when he is doing the right thing.55 others maintain that such a delicate evaluation can be made only by a person of great stature and importance in the community, not by ordinary people, who need be concerned primarily that their behavior is in itself unimpeachable.

 

It is difficult to pin down an answer to the question whether the Orthodox Yeshiva community has to be concerned that the policy which exempts their sons form army duty is well-received by the secular Israeli public. For those who see the policy as arousing much animosity, resentment, and contempt for those who study Torah, it is indeed a terrible Chilul Hashem. For those with a different vantage point, the fact that their policy is subject to misinterpretation should not deter people dedicated to learning Torah from following this pursuit. Just because people do not appreciate their dedication, should that stop the inspired individuals from dedicating their lives to a high ideal?

 

It is easy to see that both intellectual and emotional arguments can be raised for either point of view, as well as halachic ones. But one truth is indisputable - when the nations of the world see Jews fighting among themselves, that is surely a Chilul Hashem.56

 

The Hesder Yeshiva

The controversy about drafting yeshiva men for the army has roiled Israeli society for decades. Partly in response to the strong emotions engendered by the situation, there arose the institution of the Hesder yeshiva, where young men alternate months of learning Torah with months of active duty in the army. Many sincerely dedicated Torah students feel very strongly that, living in Israel, they want to participate in the defense of their country and their lives. At the same time, they realize that if they leave their yeshiva for two years while they serve in the army, the chances are slim that many of them will return. The Hesder yeshiva seeks to bridge the gap and indeed fills a very important role. The proponents of the Hesder yeshiva, however, do not see themselves as a compromise but rather as the right way to go.

We advocate it because we are convinced that, given our circumstances - would that they were better - military service is a mitzvah, and a most important one at that. Without impugning the patriotism or ethical posture of those who think otherwise, we feel that for the overwhelming majority of b'nei Torah, defense is a moral imperative.57

There are any number of good reasons for the creation of the Hesder system. First of all, it is considered important that during the formative post-high school years, the ben torah should be firmly rooted in a Torah climate. Furthermore, many sincerely religious people consider it their ethical and halachic imperative to defend the State of Israel, even if only for the reason that they themselves live there. Lastly, in view of the military needs of this small nation, every able-bodied person should be trained for defense, even if only as part of the reserves.58

The Hesder yeshiva is grounded in necessity, not in choice. It does not glorify militarism, but views army training as the necessary response to the critical political and military situation of the Jewish state.

 

Although this might seem like the perfect solution to the dilemma many in the yeshiva world do not agree. They argue, and many scholars in other fields would agree, that there is nothing equivalent to a person's being able to devote himself entirely only to study, without interruption or distraction. Our rabbis observed in their pithy style: "The Torah cannot be acquired except by someone who is ready to sacrifice his entire existence for it".59

 

Volunteering

Since the Torah specifically did not want certain people to go to war, does that mean that a person in the exempt category is not permitted to volunteer? Could an individual kohen or levi choose to serve in the army? Is exemption a privilege or a disqualification?

Rav Waldenberg cites numerous sources which, in his view, adequately prove that any individual Levite who was so moved was able to serve in the armed forces. His opinion is in agreement with that of the author of Birkei Yosef60 who contends that although exempt, one may indeed volunteer. He cites a text in Kiddushin which questions whether a kohen who encountered a captive woman in battle would be permitted to marry her (under the conditions laid out in the Torah, in perashat ki teitzeh). How could a kohen even be in a position to take an enemy woman captive, if he could not have volunteered to fight? Obviously, counters Birkei Yosef, he could enlist.61

 

The question of volunteering is quite a serious one - may a person put himself in a life-threatening situation if he doesn't have to?62 Rav Waldenberg cites a novel proof63 that if a person feels his death may bring salvation to the entire group, it is permitted: The Gemara in Ta'anit 10b praises Lulianus and Pappus, who gave their lives rather than permit a wholesale slaughter of the Jewish community. We know, says Rav Waldenberg, that a person who dies unnecessarily is considered equivalent to a suicide, culpable for his own murder.64 Yet the Gemara praises the two who sacrificed themselves. We must conclude that dying to save many others is a heroic and highly commendable act.

 

A Non-Jewish Army

What we have said so far applies almost entirely to the situation of a Jew serving in a Jewish army. In a final note, let us turn to the question of a Jew's serving in a non-Jewish army. This is a relatively modern question, for until they were given civil equality, usually some time in the 19th century, Jews were generally not allowed to serve in the army. The Chafetz Chaim wrote a small monograph, Machane Yisrael, addressed to those who were called upon to serve, in which he seeks above all else to strengthen the Jewish commitment of those who are about to undertake this difficult assignment.

Forced to follow the directives of his non-Jewish superiors, the Jew, who will be unable to observe many mitzvot, is nevertheless encouraged to do as much as he can and always to continue to struggle to observe the Torah. The Chafetz Chaim encourages and prods the soldier, no matter how difficult his situation, to trust in G-d. In a homily, he shows that when a person gives another person a gift, to hold for him, if the recipient misuses the gift, the donor will want to take it back. Not so with the Ribono shel Olam; even if a person misuses the precious gift of life, G-d does not want to take it back.65 At all times, concludes the Chafetz Chaim, remember that you are still the child of G-d.66 The Chafetz Chaim advises the soldier not to look for chumrot (stringent interpretations of the Jewish law);67 on the other hand, he urges the soldier not to worry if gentiles make fun of his Jewish practices,68 and to continue to study Torah whenever possible. He further reminds the soldiers that every mitzvah is important,70 and that his yetzer hora will continually try to impede his performance of mitzvot.71. He urges the soldier to be willing to expend considerable sums in order to return home as often as possible.72 And if he finds that his uniform contains shatnes, he must make every effort to correct it as soon as possible.73

 

If all these precautions are necessary in a gentile army, how much more so do they apply in a Jewish one!

 

COMMENTS:

1. Jerusalem Post, 9/12/88 
2. Techumin 4 p. 125. 
3. For a complete discussion of the question whether there is any obligation for a person to place himself in danger in order to save another person from certain death, see Choshen Mishpat 426 and Aruch Hashulchan Pitchei Teshuva, ibid. 
For a discussion if there is an obligation to put oneself in danger to save the Jewish community, see Mishnah Makkot 11a, Or Sameach Hilchot Rotzeach 7-8, Meshech Chochma Perashat Shemot, Mishpat Kohen of Rav Kook, 142-144. See also Rav Shlomo Zevin in Talmud Torah Vesherut Latzava
4. Divrei Hayammim I, 22. See also Rav Shlomo Zevin in Talmud Torah Vesherut Latzava. 
5. For the Jewish position on non-Jews engaging in war, see Teshuvot Chatam Sofer 14-19, Devar Avraham 1-11, and Zera Avraham 24. 
6. Gur Aryeh, Bereishit 34:13. See Hilchot Medina II, Shaar I (written by Rav Eliezer Waldenberg, author of Tzitz Eliezer) 1; see Hilchot Medinah III, Shaar 4, for an analysis of the role of the minority and majority. 
7. Devarim 20:10-11. 
8. Bereishit 32:9. See Torah Umedinah 8-7, Mishpat Kohen 143, and Tzitz Eliezer 12-57 for other differences that apply during a war. 
9. Ha'amek Davar Bereishit 9-5, Devarim 20-8; for a discussion to whom property captured in war belongs, see Or Hahalacha p. 18. 
10. Or Hachayim 329:6. See Or Sameach, Deut. 5-5, who uses the same argument in favor of giving Shimshon to the Philistines even though he was not liable to be put to death. 
11. Rambam, Melachim 5-1. See also Rambam and Ramban end of Hosafot to Taaseh, that the Urim Vetumim are also necessary for all wars. 
12. Mishnah Sotah 44b. 
13. Melachim 5-1. 
14. We do not mean that the attack has started and the war is on, for then all agree this is a milchemet mitzvah; see Meiri, Sotah 43b; also Aruch Hashulchan, He'atid, Hilchot Melachim 74-4. See however, Chazon Ish Or Hachaim 114-2, who does in fact say "who has already come against them." 
15. Jerusalem Talmud Eruvim 1-10. 
16. Megillah 3a. See Machane Yisrael, Chapters 12 and 14. 
17. Tzitz Eliezer 3-9, p. 42. 
18. Machane Yisrael, chapters 2 and 3. 
19. Ibid. p. 165. 
20. Ibid. p. 30. 
21. Ramban, Perashat Ki Teizei. However, see Sefer Hachinuch 566 and also Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 2-6. 
22. Devarim 23:10; also Shabbat 64. 
23. Hachayil Vehachosen p. 99, who interprets the verse (Devarim 6-17) "shamor tishmerun" (you shall surely observe the mitzvot of Hashem) as a directive that in times of war extra care must be taken in the performance of mitzvot. The same is found on p. 160 (Devarim 23-15) "Because the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp to save you, and your camp must be holy, no unholy thing should be seen amongst you." On p. 115, the author maintains that even what one thinks is the purpose of the war is important. One should think that he is fighting for the sake of the group or because G-d so commanded, but not because he is desirous of booty. And surely it is wrong for him to think that "my strength and the might of my hand" win the victory. See p. 89. 
24. Techumin 7, p. 332. 
25. Sanhedrin 42a. If not for his ancestor David's having studied Torah, Asa would not have been successful in the wars he waged. 
26. Rav Waldenberg and Rav Kook. 
27. Tradition, Fall 1985, p. 52. It is interesting that in the book he wrote about war, Rav Zevin does not raise this topic at all. One can only wonder why it was omitted, and then published as a separate article. 
28. Bamidbar 1:49. 
29. Rashbam, Bamidbar 1-39. However, see Hilchot Medinah, II, Perek 3, #2, and Sifre to Matot 31:4. We have not included as a source for this position the statement found in Sifre to perashat Matot: "le-hotzi shevet levi," since the correctness of the text is questionable. Some would read "le-havi shevet levi" which, of course, renders the exact opposite meaning. Moreover, even if the first version, excluding the tribe of Levi, is correct, it can be argued that this directive applies only to the war against Midian referred to in the biblical text and cannot be expanded to apply to all war situations. 
30. Rambam, Hilchot Shemittah 6:2 and 13:12 
31. See Hilchot Medinah II, Shaar 3, Perek 4, for a source for the Rambam and whether this applies to milchemet mitzvah or only to a milchemet reshut. 
32. See Hilchot Medinah II, page 60, #7. See the exchange between Rav Waldenberg and Rav Schlesinger in Hilchot Medinah III, perek 6. 
33. Tzitz Eliezer II, 24, rules that a person who is exempt from taxes because of his status, nevertheless retains all the rights of a paying member of society. 
34. Rambam Shabbat 2-23. Tzitz Eliezer 8, 3, par. 9, #3 and 4. 
35. This ruling is not universally accepted; see Kol Mevaser 1-47, and Chazon Ish Or Hachaim, Eruvim Lekutin 6,3, who disagrees on this point. 
36. Chazon Ish, Avoda Zara 23:3. 
37. Hachayil Vehachosen p. 74-5. 
38. Tradition, Fall 1981, p. 53. 
39. Aharon Lichtenstein, Tradition, Fall 1985, p. 212. See his footnote 30. 
40. She'elot Uteshuvot #342. 
41. Yoreh Deah 243 #7, Hagahot Maimuni; Tefilla 12 #7 
42. Ibid. 243-2. See Keter Ephraim, Tel Aviv 5727, pp. 172-4. Tzitz Eliezer II 25. 
43. Tradition, Fall 1981. 
44. Shulchan Aruch YD 251-14. 
45. Miluim Y.D. Ibid. 
46. Ibid. 
47. Techumin 7, p. 339. Also Techumin I, p. 371. 
48. Yoreh Deah 243-2. The Chatam Sofer Bava Bathra would apply the exemption only to situations where the protection is from theft, however, when lives are in danger, this principle would not be relevant. 
49. Tradition Fall 1985, p. 54. See footnote 25, Techumin I, p. 371. 
50. Tradition, Fall 1981, p. 209. 
51. Hilchot Medinah II, p. 70. 
52. Yoma 87a. 
53. Yevamot 79a. 
54. Techumin 7, p. 333. 
55. Yoma 87a. 
56. Machane Yisrael p. 197. 
57. Tradition, 1981 p. 202. See letter of Rav Shach, Part IV, #320, where he writes that the Hesder yeshivas have diminished the stature and scope of the yeshiva. 
58. Ibid. 
59. Berachot 43. 
60. Even Haezer #6, quoted by Rav Zevin, Or Hahalacha p. 28. 
61. A disagreement exists between the view of Pirkei Avot, chapter 5, (Machzor Vitry) and Siftei Chachamim to Bamidbar 4. 
62. Sotah 44b. In Kol Mevaser, Rabbi Roth writes "I was very much surprised about this, for where do we find that we force someone to endanger his life for the sake of a mitzvah? 
63. Sheiltot, Perashat Ve'etchanan 142. The N'tziv quotes other instances where this approach is applicable. 
64. Hilchot Medinah, II, perek 5. Rav Waldenberg offers many proofs that the concept is already found in the writings of the Rishonim. The same conclusion is found in Mishpat Kohen Responsum 142-4, Note 31; inTechumin p. 162; Shevut Yaakov II 117; Nodah Biyehudah Tanina Yoreh Deah 161
65. Even if volunteering is permitted for the Jewish army, there is some debate whether one may opt to join a non-Jewish militia. In this century, R. David Hoffman (Or Hachaim 42-43) considered it the obligation of every citizen, including Jews, to participate in the army. Even if one can get deferment for 2 or 3 years, R. Hoffman opposes it and says one should enlist right away. 
In a handbook for army chaplains Responsa to Chaplains, published by the Jewish Welfare Board, p. 19, the Chafetz Chaim is quoted as writing in Machane Yisrael that "it is a great sin to evade army service." However, this writer was not able to find that statement anywhere in the book of the Chafetz Chaim. Not only that, but at the end of the "Introduction," the Chafetz Chaim writes that only if one's life is in danger may he transgress the Sabbath. 
On the other hand, Imrei Eish (Responsum 52) was quite comfortable with the prevalent custom in Eastern Europe (and in America) during the nineteenth century, of hiring someone to serve in the army in one's stead. Mostposkim (See Nodah Biyehudah Tanina, YD, 74) hold that once a person has been drafted, no substitute should be sent, and surely no Jewish committee should ever be set up to decide which Jewish boys are t be conscripted. The only method they approve is a lottery. 
Pitchei Teshuva Y.D. 157-13. This, too, is contrary to the JWB, who maintain that since military service is a mitzvah, recruitment to the chaplaincy is perfectly acceptable. 
66. Machane Yisrael, "Introduction." 
67. Ibid p. 10. 
68. Ibid, and also in "introduction." 
69. Ibid, p. 57. 
70. Ibid, Chapter 12. 
71. Ibid, chapter 18. 
72. Ibid. 
73. Ibid, p. 167.

 


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