Rabbi Simcha Krauss, who fought for women’s rights in Orthodoxy, dies at 85

Shira Hanau, Times of Israel

Krauss remembered as a ‘gentle giant’ who wielded his years of study and experience as pulpit rabbi and teacher of Talmud to free ‘chained women,’ support women’s prayer groups

JTA — Rabbi Simcha Krauss, a leading figure of Modern Orthodox Judaism who was a forceful advocate for women’s rights within Orthodoxy, died Thursday at 85.

Krauss’s efforts, which included creating a rabbinical court to support women whose husbands refused to divorce them, frequently earned him scorn from traditionalists within Orthodoxy. But many others saw him as a “gentle giant” who wielded his years of study and experience to fight for women’s rights in Jewish law.

Krauss was born in Romania and came to the United States in 1948. He attended City College in New York, earned a master’s degree from the New School and later taught political science at St. Louis University and Utica College of Syracuse University.

Coming from a long line of rabbis, Krauss studied at Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, where he received his rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner in 1963, and later studied with the Modern Orthodox luminary Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. Krauss served as a congregational rabbi for decades, first in Utica, New York, and later in St. Louis and in the Hillcrest neighborhood of Queens, where he led the Young Israel of Hillcrest for 25 years.

During his years in Queens, Krauss taught Talmud at Yeshiva University and began to get more involved in issues related to the role of women in Orthodoxy. In the 1990s, he began supporting the practice of women’s prayer groups, in which women gathered to worship together without men and often to read from the Torah together, a ritual traditionally only performed by men in Orthodox communities.

Israel Redeemed – New Review

David M. Weinberg, The Jerusalem Post

“Israel Redeemed: Inspiration for the Jewish Festivals, by Dov Begon (Urim), is a religious Zionist publication par excellence, focusing on Independence Day, Jerusalem Day, Remembrance Day, and more. Rabbi Begon is the founder and long-time head of Machon Meir, a yeshiva for ba’alei teshuva in Jerusalem. 

He has mentored thousands of Israelis, and yet no book of his speeches and writings has been published until now, in any language.”

Ani Ledodi – New Review

חננאל רוס, מקור ראשון

ללמוד על זוגיות וקושי דרך חדר הטיפולים

הדרך להקמת משפחה וליציבות הקשר הזוגי עוברת לעיתים שינויים וטלטלות. ספר מאת מטפלים מיניים, המיועד לציבור הדתי, מציע אינטימיות קשובה באופן ישיר ובהיר

בשנים האחרונות מתקיים בציבור הדתי־לאומי שיח פורה וענף על מיניות, ובמסגרתו נכתבים ספרים המבקשים לענות על צרכים העולים מהשטח. הספר “אני לדודי” נכתב בידי שני מחברים מנוסים ובעלי שם בעולם הטיפול המיני, ד”ר דוד ריבנר וטלי רוזנבאום, והוא מוגדר כ”מדריך להעשרת האינטימיות לזוגות נשואים”. השימוש במילה “אינטימיות” ולא ב”מיניות”, אינו מקרי. ההלכה היהודית, ובעקבותיה ספר זה, מדריכים לגשת אל המיניות כחלק מאינטימיות רחבה.

מיד לאחר הפתיחה, העוסקת באותה אינטימיות רחבה, ניתן מקום להלכה היהודית ולאופן שבו הלכות “טהרת המשפחה” מייצרות מסגרות שונות שמשפיעות על החיים המיניים והזוגיים. ההלכה מלווה את הספר לכל אורכו, ואף שהוא מציג אפשרויות שעשויות להיתפס כשייכות לצד הליברלי, המחברים מציעים לכל קורא להתייעץ עם הרב שלו, כדי שבחירותיו יתאימו להשקפת עולמו ולאורח חייו הכללי. אוסיף כי במקרים רבים קשה לנחש מה רבנים יפסקו, וכי בתחום זה קיימים לא פעם פערים בין אמירות המושמעות לציבור הרחב, ובין תשובות הניתנות באופן אישי.

אחת האיכויות שיש לזקוף לטובת הספר הוא הקיצור. במעט יותר ממאה עמודים, המחולקים לפרקים קצרים, מצויות התייחסויות למגוון נושאים, הזדמנויות ואתגרים הכרוכים בנישואים ארוכי שנים ובחיי משפחה. הפרקים מתאפיינים בהתייחסות ממוקדת, פרקטית, ישירה ותמציתית לנושאים חשובים. מכיוון שרבים מהנושאים עשויים להיות רגישים וטעונים, הקיצור מסייע לצלוח אותם ולאפשר לדבר עליהם.

תפיסה מרכזית שמובעת בספר היא ש”מין אמור להיות מקום של חיבור ושל חוויית עונג, ולא משהו שיש ‘לבצע'” (עמ’ 23). זו עמדה שאינה פשוטה לכולם, מכיוון ש”לזוגות רבים מדי, מין הוא מוכוון מטרה. ממש בהתחלה, במקום להתמקד בהנאה ובחיבור, מעודדים זוגות צעירים, לצערנו הרב, ‘להצליח’ לקיים יחסי מין” (19). עצם השימוש במונחים כמו הצלחה וכישלון משייך את המיניות לסרגל מדידה הישגי, הממוקם בשדה תחרותי ואובייקטיבי שבו המיניות משמשת כאבן בוחן. לעומת זאת, המקום האינטימי שאליו מציעים המחברים להיכנס מזמין למפגש משוחרר בהרבה, שבו עצם הקרבה והשותפות הם העיקר, ולא מספרים ומדדים שונים.

כשם שבני אדם משתנים לאורך התבגרותם ומסלול חייהם, גם המפגשים המיניים מושפעים מגורמים רבים כמו משפחה, ילדים, הריונות ולידות, מקצוע, מחלות, הזדקנות ושלל עניינים אחרים. משום כך מוקדשים פרקים לאירועים שונים לאורך החיים. המעבר להורות למשל, מצריך התארגנות מחדש של מי שעד לפני רגע היו זוג וכעת הם גם הורים לתינוק עם צרכים ודרישות משלו. שינויים דורשים מחשבה מחודשת, וזוגות שלא מתאימים את עצמם למציאות החדשה ומניחים כי עולם כמנהגו נוהג וכי המיניות שלהם לא תושפע משינויים אחרים, צפויים למצוא עצמם מתוסכלים.

מכיוון שמיניות מושפעת מגורמים רבים, הספר שוזר התייחסות מפורשת לאנטומיה, להורמונים ולהיבטים נפשיים שעשויים להשפיע על הזוג בזמנים שונים. הניסיון לשלב את המרכיבים השונים של הגוף והנפש אל תוך מכלול של זוגיות מינית הוא מבורך, ופותח פתח להבנה של המיניות כחלק ממארג החיים.

הספר נוקט לשון מפורשת מאוד ואף מכיל איורים הנוגעים למבנה איברי המין ודרכים לקיום יחסים. הבחירה באיורים מציגה מצד אחד את הרצון להיות בהירים וברורים, ומצד שני צנועים ככל האפשר ולא ליצור גירויים מפורטים בצורה מיותרת. בכל נושא שמדברים עליו באופן כללי ובשפה עמומה, משלמים מחירים של חוסר הבנה ובלבול. לכן הבחירה בבהירות ישירה עשויה לעזור לרבים. החשיבות של הישירות עולה ביתר שאת כאשר מתחשבים בחשיפה המרובה למיניות באמצעי תקשורת שונים, המציגים את המיניות בצורה שאינה תואמת למציאות. חשוב אפוא שיהיו מודלים חלופיים וברורים למיניות זוגית מיטיבה.

שילוב נוסף שהמחברים עורכים הוא התייחסות לגברים ולנשים. הם מכירים בהבדלים הפיזיולוגיים הקיימים בין גברים לנשים, ובדרכים השונות שלהם לבטא עניינים מיניים שונים. גם בנושאים כמו השפעות הלידה, שבהם האישה ניצבת במרכז, הם מתייחסים לתגובות שכיחות של גברים ופורשים תמונה עשירה שכוללת את הגבר והאישה כאחד.

דרך חדר הטיפולים, המחברים התוודעו אל זוגות רבים ואל קשייהם. מכיוון שהספר נכתב על ידי אנשי טיפול, ניתן בו מקום משמעותי לקשיים ולמהמורות שבדרך, אך כדאי לזכור שקשיים רבים אומנם עשויים להתגלות אבל ממש לא מוכרחים. אין לי ספק שבעבור רבים, “אני לדודי” יוכל להעניק הבנה ויציבות, ותפילת המחברים לחבר בין בני זוג ולהעצים את הקרבה ביניהם תתגשם.

Shomer Emunim – New Review

 Rabbi Chayim Lando, The Jewish Press

Opening The Door To True Understanding Of Kabbalah

“Why translate a sefer on Kabbalah into English?” is a common question posed when people see Rabbi Avinoam Fraenkel’s translation of Shomer Emunim: The Introduction to Kabbalah. He has already addressed this question at length in a blog post (at seforimblog.com), but I would like to address one point on which he touches.

Someone close to me is a member of the Off-the-Derech-In-the-Closet society. A few years ago he asked me to join an online group that discussed and debated certain issues and it quickly became clear to me that many of the questions about fundamentals of Yiddishkeit that were being posed could easily be answered from the perspective of Kabbalah and Chassidus. However, when I shared these answers, they were immediately rejected as I was presenting a perspective of Judaism that was not the one the discussion participants were rejecting. To keep them in the fold of Torah would require defending Judaism from within the framework in which they had been raised, not to suggest an alternative framework which was not the Yiddishkeit they knew. And while some conceded to me that if these ideas had been presented to them years before, it may have prevented them from abandoning their emunah, at this point they had no desire to have their belief rekindled.

I believe that exposure to many of the concepts of Kabbalah would quell the questions of many of our youngsters and quench their thirst for something more spiritual. These matters are not, generally, being taught in yeshivos and girls’ schools, and for those who are wondering or seeking, there are slim pickings. The seforim that are in Hebrew are often beyond the capacity of your average teenager to understand, and those that are in English are, for the most part, distortions of Kabbalah. There is no shoel u’mashiv in the bais medrash to whom one can pose questions about Kabbalah, and most would probably fear that if they were to publicize their explorations of Kabbalah they would be reprimanded.

It doesn’t get easier when you are older. I began to study Kabbalah in my forties and for years I sought a clear and comprehensive introductory work; it doesn’t exist in any language. Rabbi Fraenkel has performed a great service with his Kabbalah Overview that follows his translation of Shomer Emunim. In it, he takes the reader step-by-step through the basic concepts of Kabbalah, and then some. The footnotes of the Overview contain a wealth of references to a wide variety of classic sifrei Kabbalah and are, alone, well worth the price of admission. I would strongly urge him to translate the Overview, as well as the notes on the Shomer Emunim itself, into Hebrew for those who are not familiar with English. One example of a clear and excellent introduction is his discussion about the different kelipot which I found to be the most straightforward discussion of the topic that I have ever seen. His repeated emphasis that different spiritual worlds and sefirot are not changes within reality but changes in perspective is a fundamental concept that cannot be overstated.

The Shomer Emunim itself is known as one of the classic works on Kabbalah and utilizes the dialogue method to present a dialogue between a skeptic towards Kabbalah and a knowledgeable friend. Within the dialogue topics such as the authenticity of Kabbalah and the need to study Kabbalah, as well as numerous concepts, are explained.

Translations of any sort, even if they are not of sifrei Kabbalah, are fraught with challenges. The impossibility of combining fidelity to the original with comprehensibility in the translation is well documented. It appears to me that generally speaking the translator chose clarity over fidelity, a choice with which I would agree. Inevitably, in reading through the translation I came upon places where I questioned the choice of translation, and this reminded me that we must always keep in mind that a translation is, by definition, an interpretation. For this reason, I would strongly encourage any readers who are familiar with Hebrew text to be glancing at both the original and translation to understand for themselves which elements of the translation are literally what the author wrote, what is interpretation, and what may possibly be understood differently. This is probably a good idea when reading any translation in which one has familiarity with both the source language as well as the translation.

In one instance that the author offered a long footnote as to why he chose to translate a particular word very differently from its actual meaning, I felt that his change blunted the point of the Shomer Emunim. In a few other instances I felt that the translation was incorrect; however, in no case did I discern that any translation choice with which I would disagree changed the meaning of the text in a substantial way.

As I have studied Kabbalah for a number of years it is unclear to me if the clarity that I found in the translation and Kabbalah Overview was a factor of my own knowledge, or if it would be similarly clear to a relative beginner. That said, considering how much distorted Kabbalah material is available in English, it is a breath of fresh air to see such a tour de forcethat has the potential to open the eyes of many and offer some refreshment to frustrated souls seeking something more.

Continue reading “Shomer Emunim – New Review”

Aruch Hashulchan in English -New Review

Rabbi Micha Berger, The Jewish Press

Reconsidering The Aruch HaShulchan: How Rav Y.M. Epstein’s Masterwork Invites You Into a Generational Discussion

Moments before I was to walk down to the chuppah, my rebbe, Rav Dovid Lifshitz, zt”l, the Suvalker Rav, sat with me for a few moments as we waited for a piece of paper to become ash to put on my head. Rav Dovid asked me if I owned an Aruch HaShulchan. I said yes, I had gotten one for my bar mitzvah and asked why he asked. Rav Dovid said my home should have one, because it is the guide to halacha that is most similar to what my ancestors, who were also from Suvalk, had practiced.

That seed eventually grew into a fascination with Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein’s code to halacha.

Any exploration of the Aruch HaShulchan must first consider this question: Is halacha a set of rules that we follow or the system by which we reach those rulings?

For example, what is the proper beracha to make on falafel balls? Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer 7:29) notes two opinions. A falafel ball is made of coarsely-ground chickpeas, that are spiced, and outher ingredients added as binders, and then fried.

It is therefore a judgment call: Is a falafel ball a way of serving chickpeas, and therefore the beracha should be Ha’adama; or is it sufficiently far removed to be considered its own thing – a thing that happens to have chickpeas as an ingredient – and one should say Shehakol?

The question then becomes, does the word halacha refer to whichever one’s rabbi rules is the appropriate beracha? Or does it mean that entire discussion, that we should be connected to the lines of reasoning that produced those options? After all, it is the discussion that gives us those choices, which explains how either of these two options would be “more correct” than choosing to say Ha’eitz or Mezonos.

A Brief History of Halachic Development

In the 11th century, the Rif compiled his Sefer HaHalachos, where he collected the Gemara’s rulings, cutting out all the dialogue and disputes along the way to get there. But that is not what is commonly studied. We didn’t replace learning Gemara with just looking at his rulings. And it is Daf Yomi, not Daily Rif, that has become such a phenomenon across the Orthodox Jewish community and beyond.

That the inter-generational dialogue itself is critical to what halacha is became a major issue as the Shulchan Aruch gained the prominence as the code of Jewish law that it holds today. Several notable contemporaries of the author of the Shulchan Aruch, Rav Yosef Karo, objected to the very idea of codification.

The Maharsha and Maharal both repeated the Gemara’s warning that one who rules from a code without studying the Talmud and understanding the underlying reasoning were “destroyers of the world” (Chiddushei Aggados to Sota 22a; Netiv Hatorah, ch. 15).

The Maharshal attacked his contemporary rabbis for using the Shulchan Aruch to do just that, and then feign a background in the material that they really lack. In addition, he was concerned that any code would have its own competing interpretations, so that rather than adding clarity to the halacha, a code would inevitably become the source of more disputes. (See his introduction to Bava Kama and first Introduction to Chulin.)

Rav Yoel Sirkis was famous as the author of the Bayis Chadash – the “Bach” – a commentary on the Tur, which itself was an earlier code. Yet he too warns that knowing only specific rulings is insufficient, and that the Shulchan Aruch’s lack of explanations (particularly about monetary law) makes it of limited value. (Shu”t HaBach, Responsum #80)

In the end, what saves the Shulchan Aruch from this critique is that it is acknowledged as primarily being a summary of the reasonings that Rav Karo had already laid down in his earlier, more-detailed commentary of the Tur, called Beis Yosef (with some minor exceptions.) And when Rav Moshe Isserles’s (the Rema’s) glosses of Ashkenazic rulings were added to the text, they derived from his commentary on the Tur, Darkei Moshe. Commentaries on their work were soon added to what became the standard page of Shulchan Aruch – by the Shach, the Taz, the Magen Avraham, and so on. The Shulchan Aruch didn’t end up replacing the dialogue; rather it became a landmark in the middle of its flow.

Which brings us to the late 19th century, when Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein started publishing a series of pamphlets on the Shulchan Aruch. Starting with the section on monetary law called Choshen Mishpat and finally concluding with the more familiar Orach Chaim (laws of daily living) in 1904 or so. Because Rav Karo’s code is called “Shulchan Aruch,” literally, “The Set Table” (and the Rema’s additions called the “Mapah” – “the Tablecloth”), Rabbi Epstein called his work “Aruch HaShulchan” – “Setting the Table.”

Eventually these booklets were published in volumes, covering nearly all of the Shulchan Aruch. Originally each volume still had the page numbering of the original booklets, so that in the middle of the volume it would start again with page 1. And some of the booklets covering Yoreh Dei’ah (laws of issur and heter) were missing. Modern editions have clearer print, normal page numbering, and the booklet on Nedarim was since found and incorporated. The process of writing and publication took over 30 years.

The purpose of the Aruch HaShulchan is to bring you into the discussion. Not only to give you a set of rulings, but to take the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch, and both explain their origins in the Gemara – both Bavli and Yerushalmi – and then to explain their development since the Shulchan Aruch and Rema through to his day. With a primary focus on the rulings followed in his community in Lithuania and often other East European communities.

The Aruch HaShulchan always had the role of a primary source of halacha for many poskim and roshei yeshiva. Although we must note that in most circles, the Mishnah Berurah, written by the beloved Chofetz Chaim has eclipsed it. What carried the day was likely two particular supporters of the Mishna Berurah, who were formative communal voices in the two largest Jewish communities. Rav Aharon Kotler, one of the primary voices in the development of the observant community in the United States, was often seen carrying his Mishnah Berurah. He would even pick the volume he was holding up when photographed to make sure it was included in the picture. And in Israel, it is reported that the Chazon Ish on more than one occasion praised the Mishnah Berurah as being “near prophetic,” “the final decisor,” and other superlatives.

Meanwhile, as we said, many other poskim disagreed. One notable supporter of the Aruch HaShulchan was Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, the forefront American halachic authority in the generation before Rav Moshe Feinstein. (Rav Moshe, too, is reported to have called the Aruch HaShulchan the “posek acharon,” the final halachic decisor.)

According to Rav Henkin’s grandson, Rav Yehuda Herzl Henkin (in Benei Banim, vol. II, pg. 31), this was primarily for three reasons: (1) it covers all four sections of the Shulchan Aruch, whereas the Mishnah Berurah only analyzes Orach Chaim; (2) the volumes on Orach Chaim in Aruch HaShulchan quote the Mishnah Berurah, indicating that he was aware of the position and took it into account, which qualifies it for the rule “halacha k’basrai – the halacha is like the later authority; (3) most importantly, the Aruch HaShulchan uses accepted practice as a data point, while the Mishnah Berurah is more exclusively concerned with the precedent found in texts.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the Aruch HaShulchan. A notable first light of this trend was a book started by Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin’s son, Rav Eitam Henkin. His work on Rav Epstein and the Aruch HaShulchan was interrupted when he and his wife Na’amah were murdered by a Hamas sniper while driving in the Shomron in 2015. He was just 31, and they left behind four children, who were all in the van at the time.

What we have of his work – carrying on his rabbinic family’s attachment to the Aruch HaShulchan – was published posthumously in Hebrew as Ta’aroch Lefanai Shulchan (“Set a Table Before Me,” a line from the poem, Tehillim 23:5; it was published by Maggid Press in 2019). It was supposed to cover Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein’s life, his thought, and an analysis of the methodology of the Aruch HaShulchan. Of those goals, only the biography and a discussion of his extended family is complete. The book also contains some analysis of Rabbi Epstein’s relationships with both Religious Zionism and the Mussar movement. The second part, which was not completed, deals with the Aruch HaShulchan, its history and publication, its methodology, and how it compares to other such works, such as the Mishnah Berurah.

One note, though, in contrast to his illustrious great-grandfather, Rav Eitam was not convinced that Rav Epstein had access to the majority of the Mishnah Berurah at the time he wrote on Orach Chaim. The younger Rabbi Henkin researched the times the Mishnah Berurah and Aruch HaShulchan cite each other and found that Rav Epstein quotes only volumes one and three of the Mishnah Berurah, which were the first two the Chofetz Chaim published. Recall that there was often a long delay between writing and publication, so publication dates are no guide.

Modern Interest in the Aruch HaShulchan

Rabbi Michael J. Broyde and Rabbi Shlomo C. Pill recently published a book with a similar kind of analysis as that begun by Rav Eitam Henkin, titled Setting the Table: An Introduction to the Jurisprudence of Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein’s Arukh HaShulchan (Academic Studies Press, 2021). In fact, their book acknowledges their use of Rav Eitam’s prior work, and is dedicated to his memory.

Rabbi Broyde is also a professor, and Rabbi Pill, an attorney. Both are affiliated with Emory University where they teach and research Law, Legal Philosophy and how they interact with ethics and religion. So, in addition to their background in Torah, their work in the law gives them particular skill and experience at analyzing the Aruch HaShulchan’s methodology.

Setting the Table is written in three sections: The first gives a history of the codification of Jewish law, the Aruch HaShulchan’s place in that history, and comparing the models used by the Aruch HaShulchan and the Mishnah Berurah. The second outlines 10 methodological principles that recur in the Aruch HaShulchan. And the third section substantiates their claims about the methodology used with analyses of no less than 204 (!) different se’ifim (paragraphs of rulings), and how these principles play out in each.

The book divides these principles into four categories:

(1) Rav Yechiel Michel felt the primary sources of halacha are the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. So the first set of principles Rabbis Broyde and Pill identify are ways to define the halachic standard based on understandings of the Talmuds.

(2) When the halachic standard cannot be determined from the Gemara, the Aruch HaShulchan used rules to compensate (such as turning to primary sources like the Rambam or Rav Yosef Karo; following rules like “a doubt in Torah law should be decided stringently,” etc…)

(3) The third set of principles are ways of balancing the halachic standard with practices commended by rejected opinions, religious, social or mystical motivations – as long as the halachic standard is met.

And category (4) are principles Rabbi Epstein used to incorporate pragmatic concerns to produce his final ruling, taking into account the accepted minhag, current circumstances, and the limitations of people facing real life situations; as the Gemara says, “The Torah was not given to the ministering angels” (Yoma 30a).

Personally, I would have given the role of accepted practice a more prominent place, along with turning to authoritative texts as ways to rule when the Gemara admits no one clear position. For example, the Aruch HaShulchan repeatedly likens the common acceptance of a position to a bas kol, a voice from heaven, declaring their acceptability (such as in the cases of: Rashi tefillinOrach Chaim 35:3; When to say “Tal U’matar,” 117:4; Ashkenazim not duchaning daily outside of Israel: 128:64; Community eruvin: 345:18). In addition, the fact that a practice continued for generations without rabbinic objection is silent evidence that there is a theoretical rationale that simply didn’t make it into print.

Coinciding with this scholarly focus on the Aruch HaShulchan has been a resurgence in popular interest in the sefer. A daily “Aruch HaShulchan Yomi” schedule was launched on Shavuos 2020. Hundreds of people are spending 15 to 20 minutes a day studying Orach Chaim and the more pragmatic portions of Yoreh Dei’a. The program takes somewhat over four years to complete, and studies the halachos of daily life, Shabbos and holidays, kashrus in the kitchen, and interpersonal mitzvos like honoring one’s parents, visiting the sick and aveilus. A link to the day’s Aruch HaShulchan is available on Sefaria’s calendar page at http://www.sefaria.org/calendars.

Additionally, Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer offers a daily shiur, available on YouTube (shortened link: bit.ly/ahsYomiShiur). And I maintain a general collection of tools, including a printable schedule (links can be found at aishdas.org/ahs-yomi).

Urim Publications just undertook translating the Aruch HaShulchan. The first volume, covering a section of the Laws of Shabbos (ch. 252-292), was just published, edited by Rabbi Ilan Segal. Their plans are to complete Orach Chaim and then the other three sections. The translation allows English speakers to spend more time thinking about the content than the language. For example, Rav Epstein translates into Yiddish terms like the names of kinds of food or items of clothing, as well as often unfamiliar items from the cultures of Israel and Babylonia in Chazal’s day. Having these words available in English will be a great aid.

The verse in VaYeilech (Devarim 31:19) states, “Now, write for yourselves es divrei hashirah hazos – the words of this song – and teach it to the Children of Israel….” Chazal (Sanhedrin 21b and elsewhere) understand this shirah, this song, to refer to the Torah. In what way is the Torah like a song? In his introduction to Aruch HaShulchan, Rav Esptein observes that while a single melodic line is beautiful, when many instruments play together, there is a special beauty. Torah opinions have the property that “these and those are the words of the Living G-d.” The Torah has many voices saying different things, but they come together with the elegance of a symphony.

Studying Aruch HaShulchan is immersing yourself into the kind of thinking that produces the halachos, helping you understand why there is a range of correct rulings. Maybe, ultimately, there are two right answers to the proper beracha to make on a falafel ball. All these events that in the past several years have explicated Rav Epstein of Novhardok’s methodology and are continuing to bring it to an ever-growing number of people is exciting. We are being given a chance to gain a feel for why we have to honor the precedent not only of past authorities, but of common practice. We are re-engaging with halacha as a possession of the eternal Jewish people, not as a set of facts and rulings, but as a continuity of music, every tradition and opinion a harmony.

Continue reading “Aruch Hashulchan in English -New Review”

 New Review: Student’s Companion to The Guide of the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides

Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, Tradition Online

“…the Guide remains a closed book to so many students of Torah because of its daunting but necessary prerequisite knowledge of Aristotelian philosophy. How does someone begin on the long road of tackling the Guide? Fortunately, there’s no shortage of commentary and analysis…. Recognizing, however, that many of these works may be inaccessible to the average reader, because of language and/or scholastic barriers, the latest entry by Dr. Ben Zion Katz, Student’s Companion to the Guide of the Perplexed, is a welcome addition. 

Continue reading ” New Review: Student’s Companion to The Guide of the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides”

Kaddish: Women’s Voices – new review

Yitzchak Blau, Times of Israel

Women in Shul

Synagogue design, construction, and reconstruction often engender debate over the placement of the women’s section. Should the women’s section be a balcony, a slightly elevated platform, or on the same floor level as the men? What size mechitza works best?  Communities also often debate policies concerning women’s recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish. Though the two issues are certainly distinct, they overlap somewhat regarding whether the community perceives and portrays shul as essentially a place where men pray or as a center of worship for the entire community. A noteworthy book which recently came to my attention enhances our examination of the two issues.

Kaddish: Women’s Voices (edited by Michal Smart and Barbara Ashkenas, Urim Publications, 2013), is a collection of essays by women writing about their experiences reciting Kaddish for deceased relatives.  The voices expressed do not convey some radical agenda to overthrow the patriarchy. Rather, we encounter women understandably eager to personally honor a beloved relative or struggling to come to religious terms with their tragic loss. Such women deserve our sympathy and support.

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Aruch Hashulchan – New Review

Rabbi Ari Enkin, Torah Book Reviews

I am completely blown away by the English Aruch HaShulchan that was just published by Urim Publications. This outstanding volume covers chapters 242-292 of Orach Chaim, the laws of Shabbat. Specifically, these chapters primarily discuss preparing for the arrival of Shabbat, Jewish/Non-Jews partnerships, preparing the stove/oven for Shabbat (shehiya, chazara, and hatmanan), kiddush, the Shabbat meals, and more.

For those less familiar, the Aruch Hashulchan is a code of law written by Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein (1829–1908). The Aruch Hashulchan is incredibly unique in that before discussing the relevant halachot of each chapter, it first cited the relevant Talmudic passages and the view of the Rishonim. Most such Rishonim are only accessible to the advanced student of halacha. With this English translation, the world of the Rif, Rosh, Rambam, Ran, Ravan, Rabbeinu Chananel, and more, are now at the fingertips of English speakers. Priceless!

Continue reading “Aruch Hashulchan – New Review”

Was Yosef on the Spectrum – new review

Asaf Bar Lev

Taking the reader turn by turn and demonstrating the parallels between Yosef’s behavior and common behaviors of those on the autistic spectrum. Never declaring he is, while allowing the reader to learn more about autism.

I found this book intriguing and read it over the weekend. Was Yosef actually on the spectrum? I guess that is a question that will stay with me for a while. I don’t believe that reading through the weekly portions coming up will be able to be the same as before I read this book. A true mind opener!