Monthly Archives: May 2010

Mussar lesson with Tom & Jerry

Relevant Sources: 

– He would also say: Those who are born will die, and the dead will live. The living will be judged, to learn, to teach and to comprehend that He is G-d, He is the former, He is the creator, He is the comprehender, He is the judge, He is the witness, He is the plaintiff, and He will judge. Blessed is He, for before Him there is no wrong, no forgetting, no favoritism, and no taking of bribes; know, that everything is according to the reckoning. Let not your heart convince you that the grave is your escape; for against your will you are formed, against your will you are born, against your will you live, against your will you die, and against your will you are destined to give a judgement and accounting before the king, king of all kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. (Pirkei Avot 4:22)

– Sins committed against other people, including hurting someone's feelings. Yom Kippur does not atone for these sins until the perpetrator gains forgiveness from the victim himself. (Orach Chaim 606:1)  

Halacha, the arts and the depth of human experience

[This is a modified version of an email I recently wrote. I look forward to comments]

Rabbi Aryeh Klapper recently wrote the following in his  article "Fostering Modern Torah Leadership"

"Many Modern Orthodox Jews find spiritual inspiration and deep meaning in Shakespeare and Milton, but believe that halakha forbids reading all Christian religious works or works with erotic components".  

This comment is the impetus for writing this post. Something I have struggled with for quite some time is how to reconcile my religious practice and the beauty of the arts and literature. As an example movies, good ones with substance and meaning will express the full gamut of human experience. Human experience from time immemorial has included profanity, violence, sexual expression and coarse humour.  The Torah itself is aware of this; the book of Genesis is a very X-rated anthology of rape, incest, sex, murder, etc. Shir Hashirim is unabashedly erotic and many discussions in the Talmud do not leave much to the imagination.

Yet if that is the case, why do we find such a condescending attitude to expressions of human creativity? What can be said to the following secondary sources that essentially forbid all secular literature, movies, theatres, sport — even music is only begrudgingly allowed. 

What does it say for Modern Orthodoxy and its adherents, on what grounds can its curriculum and societal norms be defended from a halachic perspective? I think Prof Allan Brill in his "Judaism in Culture: Beyond the Bifurcation of Torah and Madda" summed it up well with the following:

"Can one determine from the following three short halakhic statements which works of the vast fields of literature, philosophy, science, history, politics, and art, are permitted?

307: 16 Secular Poetry and parables, erotic literature such as Sefer Immanuel, and books of wars are forbidden to read on the Sabbath. Even on weekdays they are forbidden because [they are considered] a place of scoffers, and one violates not consciously turning to their idols, and [concerning] the erotic literature there is a furtherdecree of [following] the evil inclination. Those who write them, and copy them, and needless to say those who publish them cause the public to sin;

Note [of Rama]: There is to distinguish, that it is only forbidden to read secular and military matters. In the vernacular, but in Hebrew they are permitted.

307:17: It is forbidden to learn on Shabbat and Yom Tov except Torah, even books of wisdom are forbidden. There are those who permit it [works of wisdom]. Based on their reasoning it would also be permitted to look in an astrolabe on the Sabbath.

307:18: One can inquire from a demon those things permitted on weekdays.

Following the logic of practice, these halakhic statements, despite their binding legal status, do not describe the current practice in Modern Orthodoxy."

I look forward to some thoughtful comments and feedback on the above issue. Its a complicated topic, but one definitely worthy of discussion.

Oath to Sin (Part 2)

After writing up my post an Oath to Sin  (Part 1), I decided to formulate a question to Kollel Eretz Hemda in Israel. Here is their response.




Hi, I have got a couple of questions regarding the halachot of making an shevua in halacha.


1) If a person had to say in English "I promise …" would that make it a shevua? Does the persons intent or whether or not he wishes for it to be a shevua have an impact or is purely the terminology of language. (I have heard different opinions on this matter)


2) It seems that halachically speaking a person can make an oath to commit a sin and that oath would take effect. Two examples that illustrate that point to me are: Jepthah and his daughter ((Judges Chapter 11, verses 29 – 40) and a case brought by the Rambam (Hilchot Shavuot 5:17) where a person makes an oath to harm himself.These cases both seem very strange to me and quite frankly quite dangerous, how can these shevuoat take effect?


Letting my imigination run wild and going along the same theme, if a person would make an oath to treat a  irriligious jew like the din of an akum, would that shevua take effect? If he made a shevua to follow the halacha as paskened by the Rambam in hilchot mamrim chapter 3 of the obligation to kill the apikorus what that shevua take effect?


As mentioned, the above seems very strange and quite dangerous from a moral perspective, but yet it seems to me that such shevuat could take effect based on the above mentioned sources. Seems very dangerous to me, what are your thoughts on the matter?




One would receive lashes only for an oath in which one mentions the Divine Name. However,  even if one doesn’t mention the Divine Name or name referring to Hashem- it is still prohibited.

1.             One accepts an oath by uttering an expression that is used to mean an oath. There is no need for the dictionary definition to explain the words to be an oath. Rather, any word that one is accustomed to use in order to say that one has taken an oath is considered an oath.

From here it is derived that a mere promise isn’t within the framework of an oath. Similarly, an expression of ‘I promise’ isn’t an oath, but rather a promise.

2.             Hashem decided to give us power to effect the world. He allowed us free will, and gave us the power of speech, that has the added power toprohibit objects from ones use, and obligate one to do certain actions.

This power isn’t limited to doing good. That’s why it is possible to take an oath that is unethical or that causes evil to someone.

The reason why it is impossible to take an oath on a mitzvah is because that we have all sworn at Mt. Sinai to keep the mitzvoth, and an oath does not take effect on a [preexisting] oath, not because it is bad to sin. An oath therefore takes effect if a person has sworn to harm himself, since it isn’t explicitly mentioned in the Torah that it forbidden to injure oneself.

Regarding Yiftach, the commentators have already written that he was mistaken, and the vow did not take effect.

3.             In our times, the majority of Acharonim view Sabbath violators as Tinok She’nishba (literally- children taken into captivity, and therefore cannot be expected to know Halakhah. The term expresses that they cannot be liable for their sins), One who has sworn to kill a Sabbath desecrator (or to push him into a pit) is one who has sworn to perform a transgression. Therefore, the oath does not take effect.

With Torah Greetings from Israel

And Blessings from the Rabbis of Eretz Hemda