Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Essential Rav Soloveitchik - Online

I was very excited to see that Tradition (link) Journal has made the classic essays of Rav Soloveitchik available (in pdf format) online.

The articles (Catharsis, The Community, Redemption Prayer and Talmud Torah, Rebbetzin of Talne, Majesty and Humility) are all compelling reading and, to my mind, essential reading for any thinking modern Jew. The link is here. In addition, there is online access to Lonely Man of Faith. All excellent.

This is part of a a new policy of modernisation and accessibility to articles online, that Tradition has been undergoing over the past year or so. Their website constatnly has interesting links and information. Worth checking regularly. Kudos to the editor Rabbi Carmy and his online editor Rabbi Shlomo Brody. Keep 'em coming!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Thoughts on a Plane

Two reflections from aeroplanes - one positive, one negative - from my recent travels.

The first is reflected by this piece (link) regarding Pesach. One can really never know people from the outside. Sometimes, one finds such impressive characters in the most unsuspecting packages.

On the way to the U.S. I was sitting next to a chiloni family, going away for a month to the States as a "batmitzva trip" for their daughter. Dressed in sweats, they appeared as a well to do typical secular Israeli family - two kids - buying volumes of Duty Free etc. I was wondering in my mind as to whether they would even have a Seder and (rather cruelly) imagined that they were "escaping" Pesach and probably would not even see a Matza for the 7 days of Pesach.

Anyhow, they aroused my curiosity when as we took off, the mother read Tefillat Haderech with the daughter. But then, a few hours into the flight, the mother pulled out a Sefer Tehillim and read the entire section (about 20 perakim!) for that day! So I asked her whether she said Tehillim every day and why she does it.

She told me that she does try to say the Tehillim every day, and that "Zeh Tov LaNeshama!" But she added that it all started one Friday evening when her husband returned home after she had lit Shabbat candles. She asked him how he could have broken Shabbat! Anyhow, she said, since that day, they decided "lehitchazek" - to renew their Jewish intensity. Now, her husband goes to shul every Friday night and she recites Tehillim on a daily basis.

I was blown away! They slipped up once and look at the response! Look at the sense of Teshuva, self-change, of introspection and renewed commitment. How many "frum" people engage in such Cheshbon Nefesh?! It was a true example to me. And I cannot imagine that this family will NOT be celebrating Pesach. So, we have to be more generous, less judgmental, more humble, less critical.

And a second thought. I wrote once before about my thoughts about Kashruth on planes (link). This time, I would like to reflect upon minyanim on planes.

On this trip, there were an enormous number of frum (male) passengers. I would estimate maybe 80 people who wanted to daven with a minyan. It was crazy. It inconveniences other passengers significantly. All the time , people are walking back and forwards through the aisles. It irritates the flight attendants. At the initial level, I don't get, when a flight leaves at 2:30 p.m., why people cannot daven Mincha before they get on the plane. Do they have to make a minyan davka in the air? (Is that closer to God?) But I davened with a minyan for Maariv. I saw the looks on people around us. We disturbed people trying to sleep, we irritated them by going up and down the aisle, we pushed them and crowded them. we annoyed the flight attendants because there were too may of us. all in all, it was wrong. and if you think I had any kavanna pressed into a tiny space and being aware of how many people I was upsetting, then you have to be kidding.

So shacharit, I davened in my seat. I am now convinced that it should be assur to daven betzibbur on the plane. It is a Hillul Hashem. It is stealing from peoples space and convenience and quiet; they have paid a great deal of money for a flight and want the little quiet, space etc. that they have. Gatherings of 20 men just don't have a place on a little plane. I really don't think that the value of Tefilla Betzibur outweighs Gezel, Onaah, Veahahvta Lereyacha Kamocha, etc.

(I am not used to long U.S. flights so I guess I haven't encountered this so much in the past!)

I have also been lead to understand that Rav Lichtenstein, and in the Haredi world, Rav Wosner both rule that one should simply daven in their seat. (This is also the upshot of the Mishnayot in Berachot that talk about davening on a boat or a donkey!!)
Anyway, from now on, I will be davening in my seat!

Moadim Lesimcha!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Reading During Pesach - Israel@60

I am currently composing a post for Israel@60. So much of what I have read has been quite morose or pessimistic. I am sure that many of you have been aware of the discussion about how much money to spend on the celebrations and indeed the sense is that Israelis are reluctant to celebrate. Well - with Kassam rockets falling daily and the failure of the war last year, it IS understandable!

So here is some reading to get you in the thick of the discussion! We can take these as our starting point, and hopefully after Pesach, I will write something on the topic. In the meantime, this is good reading for during Pesach!

NYTimes article (link) / The Atlantic Monthly (link) / Jewish Action - the OU magazine (link) ... Rav Blau and Prof. Kellner both have good pieces there.

On an upbeat note, the Chief Rabbi (R. Sacks) has a new CD out in honour of Israel's 60th. It is truly excellent. It goes through the history of Israel in song and text and explains just why Israel IS so remarkable and historic. The Chief Rabbi's Office in London has been inundated with praise for the CD. Many have said it has restored their confidence and faith in Israel!

Hear the CD online here!

Empty Seats and Extra Seats at the Pesach Seder

My wife asked me today what I think of the idea of leaving an empty place at the Seder table (link) for Gilad Shalit and the other soldiers in captivity. I must say that I think about them daily and their plight must be a terrible one and just as bad for their families.

Nonetheless my instint is that this is not a "Jewish" response. I do understand the sentiment of feeling in a more tangible manner at the Festival of Freedom, that there are Jews who are not free. And yet I am racking my brains to think of any parallel in our literature to something of this vein.

(If you can think of anything - please do post in the comments section!)

After a google search I do realise that this "Empty Chair" thing has been popular for many causes (link, link , link)

My instinct was that when we wish for something good to happen, for evil and torment to stop, we do mitzvot, we pray or give tzedaka or perform greater mitzvot. Rather than leave an empty chair at the Seder, maybe we should fill a few chairs at the Sder, inviting guests.

Did Yishayahu not tell us that : "Zion will be redeemed through Justice AND ITS CAPTIVES THROUGH TZEDAKA"

Remember the Rambam's comments?

"You shall rejoice on your festival.' Even though the Torah here is describing "simcha" in terms of the Chagiga sacrifice ... the celebration of the family is included too. For children, one buys food treats, for women one buys new clothes and jewellery - all in accordance with one's budget, and men eat meat and drink wine
... and when one eats one must include the stranger, the orphan and widow and all the poor who feel neglected. One who closes his front door, eating and drinking with the family, but does not feed the poor and the outcast letting them share his drink, this is not the "celebration of mitzva" (simchat mitzva) but rather a self fulfilling indulgent celebration."

So maybe we should ADD a chair for extra guests rather than an empty place at our tables.

Comments anybody?

Monday, April 07, 2008

A Yeshiva Shiur!

Cute video (a little long, and could do with a more upbeat soundtrack) and I have always wondered whther anyone listned when they make recordings of my shiurim! When I recorded shiurim for the VBM's KMTT I was always rather taken aback when people told me that they had actually listened to the shiur!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Arguing about The Hametz Law. Secular Revolution, or Judicial Meddling?

Haaretz's headline in Friday's newspaper read (link):

Secular Revolution! Hametz May Be Sold on Pesach!

Here is part of the article about the ruling:

Judge okays sale of leavened products during Passover
By Ofra Edelman

"Jerusalem Magistrate's Court Judge Tamar Bar-Asher Zaban ruled Wednesday that groceries, pizzerias and restaurants are permitted to sell chametz (leavened products, not eaten during Pesach) because they are not "public" places in which chametz is prohibited for sale by law. She struck down four indictments issued by the Jerusalem municipality against business owners for selling chametz last Passover..."the [matzot] bill, much like the law that was ultimately approved, does not prohibit the sale of chametz, but was meant only to 'prevent the display of bread, rolls and pitas in public.' That, therefore, is the purpose of the law. The law wasn't meant to interfere in the religious decree to eat matza, and wasn't meant to deal with chametz prohibitions as they are outlined in the halakha."

Now this is some pilpul! groceries and pizzerias do not DISPLAY Hametz and the law is to prevent its DISPLAY, but not consumption nor sale! Well I beg to differ.

The religious parties are already up in arms and Shas is threatening to leave the coalition. But I recommend that you read this response (link) by Rav Yuval Shero, who is, as usual, intelligent and sophisticated in locating the key problematic areas of this ruling.

To sum up, here are his points:

1. Rav Yuval disagrees in principle with the Hametz Law, stating that it is not the role of the Knesset to enforce Halakha but that Jewish practice has to emerge from within, as a matter of principle and commitment to a Jewish way of life.

2. Nonetheless, Rav Yuval is furious about the court ruling. But from an interesting angle. He says that if one wishes to revoke the Hametz Law, then the Knesset should do so. But this court ruling interepreted the Hametz Law in a revolutionary (and some would say, deliberately misleading) way to effectively subvert it and annul the law. This, says Rav Yuval is a big problem. Effectively the court has demonstrated that it imposes its political and civilian agenda upon the Knesset Laws, and once again this will reinforce the feeling of many Israelis that the Legal system in Israel is politicised and represents a secular world view. There could be nothing worse for the force of law in Israeli society!

Certainly an interesting response. However, there is no doubt that this is yet another manifestation of the growing polarity and sectarianisation of Israeli society. This will titally legitmise Hametz sale in many secular neighbourhoods, and will do nothing to draw Israelis together as a single culture with a unifying lifestyle and heritage.

Chag Kasher Vesameach!

Sderot Support

This is a great article (link) about how much support Sderot is eliciting from Jewry worldwide. Worth reading.