A Review of Shabbat, The Right Way

May 31, 2012

by Gil Student

Shabbat: The Right Way

Shabbat: The Right Way

The application of Shabbat laws to contemporary circumstances is no simple task. So much of daily life has changed over the past century, not least of which is the blossoming of electronic technology, that the rabbinic discussions are dizzying to the untrained. Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen has selected topics on the laws of Shabbat, explaining simply and concisely the different opinions on the issues and offering practical conclusions. The book is not comprehensive, but instead focuses on highlights throughout the twenty-five-hour Shabbat period. He chooses some basic but interesting topics such as the details of Kiddush—the proper way to fill and hold the cup, whether to stand or sit, and more—and complex subjects such as showering on Shabbat and dancing at a sheva berachot. Rabbi Cohen is at his best when presenting the views of great authorities on the issues of the day. His clarity of language and thinking make him an excellent conduit of the halachic decisors of our day.

The original article appeared in the Jewish Action and can be viewed here.


Two New Books on Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

May 30, 2012

by Professor Oscar Mohl

The OU Press has brought out two very significant books on the thought of the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. The first is by one of the Rav’s illustrious students, Professor Gerald Blidstein, a recipient of the Israel Prize in Jewish Thought, a fellow of Israel’s National Academy of Sciences, and professor emeritus in the department of Jewish thought at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheva, Israel. The second is by Rabbi Reuven Ziegler, a member of the editorial team bringing out the series MeOtzar HoRav: Selected Writings of Rabbi Joseph B. S’oloveitchik published by the Toras HoRav Foundation.

Professor Blidstein takes up major themes in the Rav’s writings, exploring whether the Rav really was a Religious-Zionist thinker, his position as a communal leader reflected in his published letters on public affairs, and his willingness to explore topics like marriage as well as mourning and death. He introduces these penetrating and insightful essays with a personal description of what it meant to be a student of the Rav decades ago:

Most students trembled, I think, not only for fear – Read the rest of this entry »


On Changes in Jewish Liturgy: Options and Limitations

May 28, 2012

by Gil Student

Rabbi Daniel Sperber, professor of Talmud at Bar-Ilan University, rose to fame with the publication of his widely acclaimed and award-winning eight-volume study of Jewish customs, Minhagei Yisrael. One would expect a researcher of customs to defend and preserve them. This makes his recent book, On Changes in Jewish Liturgy: Options and Limitations, all the more surprising. With a complete command of prayerbook manuscripts and liturgical history, and somewhat less impressive analysis of halachic sources, Rabbi Sperber permits, coming close to advocating, changing blessings and prayers to wordings that are more inclusive of females. Specifically, he allows for the recitation of “Who has made me an Israelite” in the Morning Blessings rather than the standard “Who has not made me a woman” and the incorporation of the names of the Matriarchs alongside the Patriarchs at the beginning of the Amidah prayer. Permission for these deviations is quite extraordinary within the Orthodox community. I leave to rabbis greater than I the evaluation of whether the changes permitted in this book belong in the Orthodox community.

The original review appeared in the Jewish Action and can be viewed here.


Hearing Text Speak to You Personally

May 24, 2012

by Batya Yaniger 

What I’m about to describe is a learning experience that I believe is different from typical analytical study but also different from using the text in the service of my own agenda. It has something to do with hearing the text speak to me personally, in the same sense that logotherapy posits that reality is speaking to us personally – challenging us, evoking our will to meaning, eliciting our strengths and calling us out of hiding to become who we are meant to be. Similarly the text is one such reality. Study is an intimate encounter.

In fact for a Jewish person reading Jewish texts God’s personal call should come through even more strongly than the call coming through the reality of life. By being so intent on analyzing the text I believe we are missing that call! This is why it’s so important to me to formulate this process.

Here’s what one such learning experience was like:

A new book has just come out titled Stages of Spiritual Growth: Resolving the Tension Between Self-expression and Submission to Divine Will, by Batya Gallant. Although I know I always say this about every book, I feel this book is particularly suited to chevruta(study partner) study.

One day I was reading and contemplating the chapter on gevurah (to predominate/prevail) with a friend. The author describes the spiritual process towards a healthy relationship towards authority and how our preconceived ideas about submitting to authority can make us feel diminished and disempowered…

As we studied the book we went through a process of Read the rest of this entry »


Tefila On Demand

May 22, 2012

by Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen

As to whether Tefila is a request or a demand, the following related article published this month in my latest book, Jewish Prayer: The Right Way, Resolving Halachic Dilemmas (Urim Publications) suggests at times it may be a demand. (See pp.21-22)

Different Approaches To Prayer

Question: Are there different mindsets and approaches to prayer?

Response: Yes.The following response was culled from a taped shiur of HaRav HaGoan R. Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik,(ZL) Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva University which was recorded over fifty years ago at Congregation Moriah in Manhattan, NY.

The Talmud (Berachot 34b) reports the following:

Rav Gamliel’s son was ill. To pray for his son’s recovery, Rav Gamliel sent two Torah scholars to Rav Chanina ben Dosa. Upon viewing the scholars approach, Rav Chanina went up to his attic and solely prayed for recovery. When they came before Rav Chanina, he informed them that the sick person was already cured. Subsequently, the scholars were able to substantiate not only the cure but also the time the cure took place.

Some issues of concern. Why did Rav Gamliel send two students? Why not one? Why the necessity to send Torah scholars? Also, why did not Rav Chanina wait for the scholars to formally make the request?

Subequently, Rav Chanina ben Dosa became a student of Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai. Once Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai’s son was ill and Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai asked his student, Rav Chanina to pray for his ill son. Rav Chanina ben Dosa put his head down by his knees and prayed and cured the illness.

At issue is the rationale for Rav Chanina’s bizarre mode of prayer.Why did he put his head down by his legs? What message did such a prayer impart? Read the rest of this entry »


History and Fiction

May 20, 2012

by Mordechai Nisan

I remember seeing Yehuda in the library at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. We would exchange greetings, and he would plunge into his reading.  I didn’t know that he was working on a labor of love – a book about Herod.

The story of Herod and the era associated with him is cut from the historical cloth of three primary dates: in 167 BCE the Hasmoneans [Maccabees] fought their way to Jewish independence from under Greek Hellenic rule and the Jewish state arose again; in 63 BCE the Roman Empire quashed Jewish independence; in 47 BCE Herod of Idumean and Nabatean parentage became the governor of the Galilee and then King of Judea in 37 BCE until his death in the year 4.

Herod, as Yehuda’s book grippingly describes, “had to be king.” He was driven by a passion for power and used any and all methods deemed necessary in his view – murdering his own sons, causing the death of his wife, killing rabbis of the Sanhedrin, slaughtering Jews – in order to rule Judea even under Roman authority. His regime was based on terror and cruelty, intrigue and plunder, while yet adorning the country with the rudiments of Greek culture and Roman construction. He built – rather enlarged – the Temple in Jerusalem, the port of Caesarea, roads and theatres, gymnasia and fortresses. One of them, Herodion where he is buried, bears his name until today. Read the rest of this entry »


Chapter 3 from Covenantal Imperatives: Essays by Walter S. Wurzburger on Jewish Law, Thought and Community

May 17, 2012

Essay excerpt by Walter S. Wurzburger,
edited by Eliezer L. Jacobs and Shalom Carmy

Covenantal Imperatives

Darkhei Shalom1 (on account of the ways of peace) represents a maxim which is frequently invoked in Talmudic literature as justification for a variety of rabbinic ordinances designed to supplement or modify biblical legislation. The range of subjects where the application of this rule has exerted a pronounced impact is rather extensive. But for fairly obvious reasons, it was primarily in areas where the utilization of this principle has affected relationships to the non-Jewish world that the analysis of its meaning and significance has evoked the greatest interest.

The basic question that must be faced is whether the enactments prompted by concern for darkhei shalom should be regarded as expediency measures dictated by the enlightened self-interest of the Jewish community or whether we are dealing in these cases with a supreme ethical principle which transcends purely pragmatic considerations.

Historically, divergent views have been presented on this question. On the one hand, Christian writers, bent as they are on demonstrating the alleged superiority of Christian universalism over Jewish particularism, tend to relegate darkhei shalom to the level of a purely prudential device aiming at facilitating coexistence with the non-Jewish world.

In what appears to be an overreaction precipitated by apologetic fervor, an array of prominent scholars such as Professors Hoffman, Lazarus, and

Lauterbach categorically reject any suggestion that darkhei shalom was intended solely as a device to protect the stability and security of the Jewish community. The ordinances promulgated to advance the “ways of peace,” they argue, were inspired not by purely pragmatic considerations of enlightened self-interest, but rather by lofty ethical principles.

One of the most crucial arguments advanced in support of the thesis that the “ways of peace” represent an overriding ethical principle, and do not merely reflect considerations of expediency, is based upon a Talmudic passage.2

The Babylonian Talmud states that the entire Torah reflects “the ways of peace,” as it is written, “Its ways are the ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.”3It has been argued, that if, “the ways of peace” represent an all pervasive distinguishing feature of the entire Torah, how could such a prominent characteristic be relegated to the purely pragmatic level. What is overlooked in this argument is Read the rest of this entry »