Monthly Archives: June 2008

Discussion on Facebook: TIDE

R'YGB has started an interesting group on Facebook entitled "TIDE".  There is a discussion thread that I have created entitled "What is included in the rubric of Derech Eretz". Here is a snapshot of the conversation so far.

As an aside, if any of the readers of this blog would like to add me on Facebook, please feel free to do so. Just send me a message saying you are are a reader of my blog. Respond to this thread here, or online on the Facebook group.

Rael wrote:

In contrast to the time of R’Hirsch whose world was permeated by humanistic poetry, philosophy and art (ie Friedrich Schiller) , content which could be included in a torah framework, I struggle to define what should / could be included in DE today.

In a world inundated by erotic imagery, foul language and unrestrictive morals, what can the contemporary world of culture contribute to a torah lifestyle?

A couple of questions to elicit some debate:

1)What room does contemporary music, film and literature have in a torah lifestyle. What are the criteria for inclusion?

2) In the marketplace of commerce and ideas, where woman and men are equal contributors, how can a torah lifestyle allow for the inevitable interaction between the sexes and the halachic difficulties (think kol isha, erva, etc)

Looking forward to some responses

Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer wrote 9 hours ago:

I'm also looking forward to see responses. These are core issues.

Rael wrote:

From Rabbi Danziger's review of R'Elias translation of the 19 Letters

Concerning the danger of exposure to today's permissive culture, the point of Rabbi Elias is well-taken, but is the solution "isolating oneself", as he suggests? Today, real isolation is not pssible. We are face wit ha situation "where there is no alternate road" (leak darka acharisa) and its resultant oness (unavoidable exposure), as explained in Bava Basra 57B. To quote Rav Breuer again "Rav Hirsch and the proponents of his ideology were fully aware that their approach to Jewish education and professional training would also claim victims. They regretted this deeply, but they saw no other way… How many victims may have been claimed by the rejection of the Torah im Derech Eretz ideology? Every system claims victims.

Rabbi Elias suggest that we isolate ourselves and "forgot about any mission to the nations" as though the Torah im Derech Eretz ideology invented that mission. Hashem imposed that mission on us when he gave us his Torah. "I… have set thee… for a light of the nations" (Isaiah 42:6) is not something that we may choose to forget. It is the Divine definition of the place of the Torah people in the world.

Moreover, the "Torah only" isolation that Rabbi Elias suggests as a means of solving problems caused by Torah im Derech Ertetz creates problems of its own. Isolation limits our skills of communication and our opportunities for Kiddush Hashem as representatives of Torah Judaism. "Torah Only" isolation also result in economic problems that give rise to other religious dilemmas no less severe than those faced by the adherents of Torah im Derech Eretz.

Rael wrote:

My takeout from the above is that world we live in demands unfortunate concessions. Some of these concessions require exposure to licentiousness. I think some halachic guidlines are in order here.

Trivial example: Can we read the daily newspaper when every second page is full of half naked celebrities or crude advertisements?

Can one use Facebook when the same advertising problems occur?

What of the halacha (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 152:8 that states, "He who gazes, even at the small finger of a woman in order to enjoy its sight, commits a very grave sin."?)

These issues may be trivial, but if you think through it clearly, this issue is one of the major impediments to engagement of the world of DE. It is also one of the prime reasons for such vehement opposition to this approach bizman hazeh.

Can we truly blame people for wanting to "hide in noahs ark"?

In honour of Gimmel Tammuz

Korach and John Lennon

Korach and John Lennon
The Father of Spiritual Anarchy
By Yosef Y. Jacobson
Wise or Boorish?
Every folly has its kernel of truth. Every idea has a spark, a “melody.” It is just that you may be singing the right song at the wrong time, or conversely, the right song at the wrong time.
This is true concerning the tragic mutiny of Korach, described in this week’s Torah portion (Korach, Numbers chapter 16), the man who staged a rebellion against Moses and Aron, chosen by the Almighty to serve respectfully as the Prophet and as the High Priest of Israel?
“Korah was clever,” the rabbis declare, “so why did he commit such a folly”? The Rabbis were wondering, what propelled the wise Korach to declare war against Moses and Aron.
Their question is intriguing. How did the rabbis know that Korach was clever? Never has this person or his wisdom been mentioned in the Torah before? Whence the certainty that Korach was a wise man?
The answer, of course, is that the rabbis discerned the wisdom of Korach from this very incident. The very mutiny of Korach against the authority of Moses and Aron, demonstrate profound perception.
But why? On the surface, the mutiny seems to be a symptom of good old jealousy, of an unbridled ego craving power and fame.
No Distinctions
Korach challenged the authority of Moses and Aron, and the very structure of the community of Israel as ordained by G-d. But the principle behind his arguments was profound, and on one level, the ambition that fired his deeds was laudable.
“The entire community is holy,” argued Korach to Moses and Aaron in this week’s portion, “and G-d is within them. Why do you exalt yourselves above the community of G-d?”
These are powerful words. They resonate to many a mind. G-d is within each and every person. Why does anybody consider themselves spiritually superior to anybody else? Holiness, truth, grace, depth, integrity and transcendence are imbedded in each and every heart; the light of G-d can be found within me and within you. Within every pulsating heart flows the spiritual light, so why is Moses telling people what G-d wants? Why is Aron serving as the exclusive High Priest of G-d?
Why does a Jew need Moses to teach him the word of G-d and Aaron to perform the service in the Holy Temple in his stead, when he himself possesses a soul that is a spark of the divine flame? Why can’t he realize his relationship with G-d on his own, without teachers, leaders and priests in his spiritual life?
Korach is the father of spiritual anarchy. Korach argues against all forms of spiritual authority and leadership, and against any proscribed role in the spiritual community. Korach aspires to create a society free from distinctions, borders and categories. We are all divine, and hence we are all one.
Imagine there was no Moses, no Aron, no Sanctuary, no Kohanites, Levites or Israelites, and no religious authorities too… And the Jews would live as one.
And then from the Jews, Korach believed, the holistic energy-flow would travel to all mankind. And the world would live as one.
Korach’s message – let us confess — touches a deep cord in us. There is something about his vision that resonated deeply in our hearts. This is because Korach was dead right (which is why the Torah wants us to know about his ideology.)
But he was also dead wrong.
From Unity to Multiplicity and Back
We all come from one source. All of us originate in the “womb” of G-d, so to speak, where we are indeed singular. Before creation, there was only undefined unity. There were no borders, definitions or distinctions. No heaven, no earth and no countries. No teachers and students. All of us were submerged in the singular unity of the Endless Light.
On our deepest level, we crave to recreate this wholesomeness in our lives. We yearn for our egos to melt away in the singularity of existence. Remember the sense of ecstasy you felt in the good old times sitting with your friends in middle of the night, playing the music. There was no you or I; only the music.
Each of us, in our own way, pines to go back to that pre-creation paradigm of unity. We want to imagine that were never created.
But created we were…
The idea that all souls are the same was Korach’s mistake, and it is one of the mistakes of modern new-age spirituality. We are so used to thinking that definitions create barriers, and barriers cause hatred. We are convinced that to be spiritual means to have no borders.
But creation was the act of making borders. From unity came multiplicity. From a single undefined G-d, came an infinitely complex and diverse universe. Diversity is sown into the very fabric of existence. No two flakes of snow are alike; no two people are alike. There are tens of millions of different species of plants and animals in our world. And there are the inherent divisions between people, such as male and female, body and soul, and the specific divisions into nations, cultures and individuals.
Why did G-d create multiplicity? Because the deepest unity is the unity found within diversity. If we are all the same, unity is no achievement. In origin and essence, all is one. But an even deeper unity is achieved when differentiations and demarcations are imposed upon the primordial oneness, and its component parts are each given a distinct role in creations symphonious expression of the singular essence of its Creator. Like notes in a ballad, each of us represents a unique and distinct note, and together we recreate the symphony, not by singing the same note, but by expressing our individual note as an indispensible part of the song.
For the unity of humankind we need one G-d; but for G-d's unity to be complete we need human diversity, each individual fulfilling his or her role in existence, sharing with others their unique contribution, and learning from others the wisdom they lack on their own.
This is true on a political and sociological level as well. Many people believe that worldwide anarchy could lead to worldwide peace. Anarchy is certainly possible, but it is never peaceful, because conflict in the world is not the result of the division of our planet into countries and cultures. Conflict is the result of the truth that there exist inherent difference between peoples and then these difference compete, conflict is born. Therefore, our role as humans is not to deny that there are distinctions, but rather to create those types of borders and boundaries that will foster respect, unity and love within the inherent diversity of mankind.
The Chabad school of Jewish spirituality takes it a step deeper.
G-d can’t be defined by unity or by multiplicity. Just as He transcends plurality, He also transcends unity. Therefore, it is only through the fusion of unity and multiplicity – through a place which transcends both of them — that we can connect to the true undefined essence of G-d.
If you choose unity and “worship” it, you are clinging to one aspect of G-. Conversely, if you embrace the ethos multiplicity, you are acknowledging another aspect of G-d. Only in the fusion of the two, only in discovering the unity within multiplicity, and the multiplicity within the unity, do you touch the undefined essence of G-d, which transcends and integrates all-ness and oneness, where nothingness and something-ness are one.
Swallowed and Consumed
Korach and his colleagues were swallowed by the earth. The 250 leaders of Israel that joined his mutiny were consumed by a flame. This is a psychological description of what happened to many an idealist who attempted to live by Lennon’s Imagine and imagination. It occurred to a whole generation of young passionate and beautiful Americans who worshipped and romanticized unity at the expense of all forms of authority, borders and distinctions.
The harsh, competitive reality of earth “swallowed” up much of their young idealism and selflessness. Their passion ascended in the flames of time, as they themselves were absorbed by the self-serving and egocentric demands of planet earth. From beneath the crust of the earth we can still recognize stretched out arms, silently asking the question, what happened to all of the love?
(This essay is based on an address by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1957 and 1971, published in Likkutei Sichot, vol. 18 pp. 202-211).

A great portrait of the Netziv

(hat tip:

Is this the end of Torah im Derech Eretz?

Controversial moments at Rav S R Hirsch memorial celebration.

Great post on the attitude of the Zealot

Along the lines of my post Anecdote with a deep message

See the original post here on the Daat Torah website and also read the the comments made.

Anonymous commented on my post "Do protests corrupt our society – or strengthen i…":
I had written:

The Shomer Emunim Rebbe told me that if a person enjoys being a kanoi – he is not allowed to be one. It is not a game for excitement.

Anonymous commented:

Except from my experience on the ground in Yerushalayim, most of the people who protest are the ones who "enjoy" it.

There are very very few who protest who actually don't draw enjoyment/excitement from it.

Put it this way, I would hazard to say (hazard as no statistics, just based on views on the ground) that a larger percentage of people who view themselves kanoim are doing it for the wrong reasons (i.e. enjoyin it) then those who go to co-ed jewish schools (as most simply think its the best school for their children, albiet they might be mistaken).

And this even in small cases, not major ones like have provoked this discussion.

For example, I was waiting with my mother in the outskirts of bnei brak once for a bus. There were some chareidim, but as it was on the outskirts it wasn't really a chareidi area, and a chiloni soldier came with what I assume was his girlfriend. They held each other and kissed. An older woman scolded them harshly. However, it wasn't just scolding, there was an air of superiority, of being happy to scold them, of getting pleasure from it, as well as affirmations from the chareidim around her.

Another example is a someone in the Mir had an issue with his baal dira, that the landlord wanted to kick them out to raise rent. R. Finkel said it was assur what the baal dira was doing. So a friend, who enjoys being a protester/nudnik was the one who stood outside when prospective renters came and told all of them "The Rosh Yeshiva says its assur". I'm not particularly arguing that this is a kanoi case and hence is wrong, I just bring it as an example of enjoying, and that the people who would tend to protest loudly are the ones who gain enjoyment on some level from it. I personally think the RY is well aware of this, and hence why the sign was up in the Mir not to protest (I also tend to think that talmidim in the Mir have the best opportunity to learn middot when compared against the other major chareidi yeshivot).

At the end of the day, I really don't think you are sensitive enough to the facts on the street and what actually happens and how the majority actually feel.

Essential Reading: From Renewal to Responsibility

Everything by Chief Rabbi Jonathon Sacks is a must read, but I found this article "From Renewal to Responsibility " to be profound and enlightening.

Here are some  great quotes from that article:

There is a passage in the Torah that deserves our greatest attention. "When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no mishap (negef) will come on them when you number them" (Ex. 30:12). This is a strange verse. It suggests that it is dangerous to count Jews.

Many centuries later, ignoring this warning, King David took a census of the people, and disaster struck the nation. To this day, we do not needlessly count Jews, even to calculate whether there is a minyan in the synagogue. Our custom is to take a verse with ten words, and use that instead. Why is it dangerous to count Jews?

The classic commentators give many answers. I want to suggest another. Why do nations take censuses? Why do they count their numbers? To estimate their strength – military, political, or economic. Behind the ancient practice of counting populations is the assumption that there is strength in numbers. The larger the people, the stronger it is. That is why it is dangerous to count Jews. If we ever came to believe that there is strength in numbers we would, God forbid, give way to despair. For four thousand years the strength of the Jewish people has never lain in numbers. In ancient Israel, our ancestors were a small nation surrounded by mighty empires: Mesopotamia, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. In the Diaspora, throughout the centuries and continents, Jews were a minority without rights or power. Jewish strength did not lie in numbers.


In 1991, soon after I became Chief Rabbi, I was invited to a dinner to explain my vision of Jewish renewal. Present at the gathering was a distinguished judge, Sir Peter Taylor, later to become Lord Chief Justice and who died tragically young. I will never forget what he said to me after I had finished my remarks. "I like your vision, and I wish you success. But what will you do with a wicked old sinner like me?" I could not let the comment pass.

"A wicked old sinner? You have spent your life administering justice. You have brought great honour to the law – and law is a fundamental Jewish value. Not by accident are so many Jews lawyers, for we believe that when God revealed Himself to mankind He did so in the form of laws. Not only is this the basis of Judaism. We believe it is the basis of humanity as a whole. The administration of justice is one of the seven Noahide commands. So, says the Talmud, kol dayan shedan din emet le-amitato, ‘Any judge who delivers a just verdict becomes a partner with the Holy One, blessed be He, in the work of creation.’ How then can you call yourself a wicked old sinner?" He blushed and said that was the nicest thing anyone had ever said of him.