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24
Sep
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Simhat Torah Night at Ezzy Bezzy

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We are all looking forward to a fantastic Simhat Torah at Ezra Bessaroth!

This year, we are going to put into place a few additions/changes that will both engage all those who join us, and will ensure adherence to Halacha.

First, a note about a practice that is common in many synagogues, but that is on very shaky halachic footing, if any: that's drinking alchoholic beverages in the sanctuary during Simhat Torah services and Hakafot.

This is an issue for two reasons: there is a halacha that one may not eat or drink in a synagogue sanctuary, with the exception of the ritual consumption of wine for Kiddush and Birkat Milah etc. But the consumption of whiskey and other such drinks in the actual sanctuary is an (unwitting) affront to the Kedushat Bet HaKnesset/sanctity of the synagogue as a place of prayer.

Secondly, many people are accustomed to partake of these drinks without having said Kiddush first. Due to the extended dancing, people get thirsty and are anxious to quench their thirst.  Once the Hag has come in, halacha proscribes partaking of any food or drink prior to saying/hearing Kiddush.  The shot glasses of hard liquor, even if consumed outside of the sanctuary, are not appropriate for Kiddush at night, and Kiddush at night involves more than a beracha on your drink.

In addition, through the generosity of Ralph C. each year, we have terrific apples; those, too, should be consumed only after Kiddush. 

In order to make this Kiddush B'makom Seuda, there will be mezonot in two locations: outside the men's sanctuary exit and in the foyer outside of the women's sanctuary door.  One must eat a kezayit of mezonot to fulfill the obligation of "Makom Seuda"/the place of the "meal". This would be, say, three medium-sized whole grain crackers, etc.

In addition, women are welcome to dance in the foyer outside of the women's section during the Hakafot in the main sanctuary.  Any women interested in helping with the "Ruach"/spirit, should contact me Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday day to coordinate our efforts.

Between the third and fourth hakafa, I will be offering a 10-15 mini-shiur for women in the Midrash.

Simhat Torah morning, the Meyers clan is sponsoring the (now) annual ice cream sundae Kiddush in the foyer.  Be sure to avail yourselves of cookies/waffle cones to fulfil the obligation to eat mezonot for the Kiddush "seuda" during the day as well.

Below is a PDF copy of the teshuva/responsum on which the nighttime Simhat Torah Kiddush arrangement is based.  - Mo'adim LeSimcha!

Rabbi Meyers

simhat torah night kiddush.pdf 

 

 

מן י

 

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19
Sep
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Sukkah: A State of Mind

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An article I wrote some years ago for Yeshivat Darche Noam:

“Mitz’ta’er”: A Definition
The Talmud in Tractate Sukkah 25a cites the Amora, Rav, as declaring that a mourner is fully obligated in all of the mitzvot of the Torah (with the exception of one, based on a special verse.) Next, Rav states that a mourner must dwell in the Sukkah during the Festival of Sukkot. This second halacha prompts the Gemara to exclaim: “That’s obvious!” In other words – after Rav’s initial statement – obligating a mourner in all the mitzvot – why would we have thought that he would be exempt from the mitzvah of Sukkah?

Had Rav not stated this second halacha, answers the Gemara, we may have actually thought that a mourner is exempt from Sukkah. Why? A fundamental principle in Hilchot Sukkah is that one who is suffering from being in the Sukkah – a “mitz’ta’er” – is exempt from the mitzvah; we may have thus thought that a mourner, in his grief, falls into this category. According to the Gemara, Rav’s special stress on the mourner’s obligation to dwell in the Sukkah clarifies that the exemption of mitz’ta’er only applies to suffering that develops ” on its own”. The discomfort of the mourner in the Sukkah does not develop “on its own”; rather, the mourner, says the Gemara, “is bringing the suffering on himself, and he therefore has the obligation to place his mind at ease and calm down [to allow himself to live in the Sukkah.]”

Rashi explains that suffering that “develops on its own” relates to discomfort stemming from the Sukkah itself. Typical examples include: discomfort from the heat of the sun beating down on the Sukkah, the cold temperature in the Sukkah, or a bad odor emitted by the structure’s leafy “schach” roof. Since a mourner’s sensitivity is not directly related to the Sukkah’s temperature or odor, he must put himself at ease so that he can perform the mitzvah.

Why should a mourner find the Sukkah so difficult to tolerate? Rabbeinu Asher (“Rosh”) explains that such a person prefers the dark, secluded atmosphere of a house rather than the pleasant-open air atmosphere of the Sukkah. Far from being objectively unpleasant – the Sukkah is “too pleasant” an environment for the mourner! In other words, it’s the mourner’s delicate and unique emotional state that transforms the Sukkah into a troubling place.

Comparing Sukkah to Tefilin
Sukkah is not the only mitzvah in which the halacha stresses the mental/emotional situation of the Jew. The Gemara in Menachot (36b) rules that a person donning Tefilin must not take his mind off the mitzvah, and proves this by learning a “Kal V’chomer” from the requirement of the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) to mentally focus on his “Tzitz” headdress. Rambam codifies this ruling in his Mishna Torah, stating that a person in discomfort, or one whose mind is not at ease, is exempt from the mitzvah of Tefilin – since it is forbidden to become distracted from the Tefilin while donning them.

In response to the above halacha, Rabbeinu Manoach (cited by Kesef Mishna) states: Even though with all other mitzvot, we require a person to put his mind at ease and perform the mitzvah, Tefilin are different: it’s forbidden to wear them while mentally distracted. Kesef Mishna understands this comment as an implicit challenge on the Rambam: How can Rambam exempt a “mitz’ta’er” from Tefilin, if, after all, the Gemara in Sukkah states that such a person must calm down with the aim of fulfilling the mitzvah of Sukkah?!

To this challenge, Rabbeinu Manoach responds: The mitzvah of Tefilin is different: Since it is characterized by a special “distraction” prohibition, we don’t insist that he put his mind at ease. Why? As much as he calms himself down, he won’t escape the fact that there is a special prohibition of being distracted while donning Tefilin.

In other words, we cannot simply say in the case of Tefilin: “Let him calm down and perform the mitzvah.” Once a Jew has become preoccupied and distracted, the halacha is wary of permitting him to don the Tefilin ; the very real possibility exists that he will again lose his concentration. No such halachic prohibition – and therefore no such cautious approach – exists in the law of Sukkah.

A Second Approach
Another prominent scholar – R. Joel Sirkes in his work “Bayit Chadash” (Bach) – also grapples with the apparent contradiction in the halacha. In contrast to Rabbeinu Manoach’s approach, Bach understands the person in Rambam’s Tefilin scenario as being in a different mental state than the one in the Sukkah scenario: Rambam, notes Bach, is dealing with a person who is simply unable to put his mind at ease. Even if he succeeds at doing so for a moment, he quickly reverts to being a “mitz’ta’er”. He therefore never escapes the status of someone who is distracted and therefore exempt from Tefilin. In contrast, the “mitz’ta’er” of the Gemara in Sukkah is someone – whom – with sufficient effort, can calm down.

Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg (Responsa “Tzitz Eliezer”) notes that according to Bach – were the person in Rambam’s Tefilin scenario to ask whether he is obligated in Sukkah – we would tell him that he is not. This would be our answer to him, despite the fact that his discomfort does not stem from the heat of the Sukkah, nor the odor emitted by the schach.

At first glance, Bach’s approach seems to contradict the Gemara Sukkah (27a): “You must dwell in Sukkot for seven days” says the Torah. Given the principle that we must treat the Sukkah like our home for a week, we need only live in it as long as the it allows us similar conditions we are accustomed to in our homes. Since we would not live in a house that has a leaky roof, or an apartment that is uncomfortably cold – we are not expected to live in a Sukkah under cold or rainy conditions. A person whose discomfort stems mainly from his own mental or emotional state, and not from the Sukkah, however, is not exempt from the mitzvah to dwell in the Sukkah. (The Gemara quoted earlier, as explained by Rashi reinforces this.) How could Bach, then, suggest that a person unable to put his mind at ease – is exempt from both Tefilin and Sukkah? It is not the Sukkah, but his own mental state, that is standing in the way!

Tying it All Together
In order to understand Bach’s ruling, Rabbi Waldenberg notes that the question of what exempts a “mitz’ta’er” from Sukkah is a major disagreement between the Rishonim. Rashi, Rosh, and Mordechai all rule that a person is exempt from Sukkah only when the discomfort stems from the Sukkah itself. This is the view accepted by Remah in the Shulchan Aruch. The Maharik, in contrast, states that a “mitz’ta’er” is exempt from Sukkah even if the discomfort is mainly a product of his emotional state. Maharik cites our Gemara Sukkah (25a) – and notes that it was prepared to exempt the mourner as a “mitz’ta’er” – but required him instead to put his mind at ease and dwell in the Sukkah.

In other words, Maharik reads that Gemara differently than we suggested earlier: That “sugyah” did not intend to definitively rule out a mourner’s state of mind as a relevant factor in defining “mitz’ta’er”: It simply concluded that when the discomfort derives from the Sukkah itself, there’s not much the halacha can demand of the Jew: if the Sukkah is too hot or wet, then the conditions do not allow for the mitzvah of dwelling in the Sukkah to be fulfilled. If however, the mourner’s state of mind is the issue, the halacha asks him to try to “get a hold of himself” before availing himself of the exemption of “mitz’ta’er.” It follows, therefore, that both Maharik and Bach – confronted with a person who is unable to relax, would rule that that he is exempt from Sukkah in the same way as such a person is exempt from – and even forbidden to wear – Tefilin.

Rabbi Waldenberg suggests that underlying the contrasting approaches towards the Gemara – are two contrasting views of the source of the exemption of “mitz’ta’er”. The mainstream view – Rashi, Rosh, Mordechai, Remah – understands the verse “You must dwell in Sukkot for seven days” as the basis of the exemption; we must treat the Sukkah like our home for a week, we need only live in the Sukkah as long as it allows us similar conditions as a regular home. As noted earlier, one whose discomfort stems mainly from his own mental or emotional state, and not from the Sukkah, is not exempt from the mitzvah to dwell in the Sukkah.

The opposing view – that of Bach and Maharik – bases itself on the verse in Vayikra Chapter 23, which states that we must dwell in Sukkot “So that your generations [after you] know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in Sukkot when I took them out of the Land of Egypt.” This, says Bach explicitly – indicates that the Torah wants us to experience a special religious/historical awareness while dwelling in the Sukkah. A severe “mitz’ta’er” simply cannot attain this consciousness, and is therefore exempt. It’s irrelevant, according to this view, whether the unsettled state of mind is a result of the heat of the Sukkah, etc, or a personal state of anxiety not rooted in the Sukkah. This explanation helps explain, as well, why Bach equated between the two issues of Sukkah and of Tefilin. In Shmot Ch. 13, the Torah states that we must wear Tefilin “so that the Torah of God should remain on your lips.” Here, as in the mitzvah of Sukkah, a special awareness is required while performing the mitzvah. It is this special state of mind that exempts the “mitz’ta’er.”

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15
Sep
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A Purposeful Yom Kippur

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(My sermon at EB on Yom Kippur owed much to the ideas and words of both Rabbi Barry Kornblau and Rabbi Benjamin Blech.  Here is a written version of what I said on Yom Kippur)


questionmark"…It’s bad news. There are some very bad men on the plane. The men have a bomb and they have a knife. We've had no contact with the pilots, but the men have taken over the plane and have moved everyone to the back of the plane and left us here….I need to know something. One of the other passengers has talked to their spouse, and he said that they were crashing other planes into the World Trade Center. Is that true?…..Now, I need some advice - what to do? Should we, you know, we’re talking about attacking these men, what should I do?... OK, The others and myself have voted to attack the terrorists. I have my butter knife from breakfast.. I’m going to leave the phone here. Stay on the line, I’ll be back."

It is Yom Kippur today, but it is also three days after the 12th anniversary of 9-11.  This conversation I just read to you originated on an airplane on Sept. 11, 2001.  The plane was United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark, bound for San Francisco.

The man on the plane, on the phone with his wife ---  was a 31 year old Jewish man from New Jersey  by the name of Jeremy Glick. Along with three other people, Mark Bingham, Todd Beamer and Tom Burnett, Glick took on a leadership role in his decision to rush the hijackers. Their goal: To prevent an even greater tragedy. For their efforts, these passengers were given numerous posthumous awards.

The more I think about 9-11, the more I appreciate it as a Yom Hadin – as a Day of Judgment. It was a day of judgment for the American people, a day of judgment for all decent people – and certainly, a day of judgment for the passengers of those flights, including Flight 93.  

If you were to be asked, who, from the Torah's perspective, is the star of Yom Kippur?  In the days of the Bet Hamikdash, it was clearly the Kohen Gadol, High Priest.  He trains for seven days; He runs from task to task.  He immerses in the mikveh 5 times. He enters the Holy of Holies. He prays and confesses on behalf of the entire Jewish people.

But the Torah tells us of another co-star.  He escorts the Scapegoat from the Temple to the desert, where, mysteriously, his role is equally as important in helping the Jewish people atone for their sins.

The name the Torah gives to this person is איש עיתי- the “Ish Iti”.

The Talmud explains this term to mean, “the pre-designated man” - the man with an appointed purpose.  There’s another translation of his name, too: he was a “timely man”.   For him, every second counted: Back in the Temple Courtyard, the Kohen Gadol – the High Priest and everyone assembled took a break of about 4 hours in the middle of the day as they waited for him to complete his appointed task.

To make sure that he completed his task, he was even allowed to break the fast!  In fact, Sukkot came a little bit early for him: The mishna records how there were Sukkot throughout the miles and miles of desert, manned by volunteers, offering him OU- approved Oreo cookies and Gatorade to snack on.  According to the Gemara, not once in Jewish history did the “Ish Iti” ever take advantage of the Sukkot pit-stops, but the very knowledge that he could eat and drink if he wanted to was enough to calm him and energize him while he continued his mission.

Most Jews, when asked to sum up Yom Kippur, would naturally say that it’s the ultimate fast day.  As if the fast is the essence of the day.  Now, don’t get me wrong - fasting is central to Yom Kippur, and a person should not break the fast barring a life-threatening reason to do so.  But it’s fascinating that the Ish Iti – the co-star on whom much of the Atonement depended upon – himself – had the option of eating and drinking. 

Here we are, obligated to fast – and the person who is helping atone for our sins – gets to eat??!

I may be going out on a limb, but I am going to say it anyhow – the essence of Yom Kippur is NOT the fast.  The heart of Yom Kippur is the obligation to cultivate a sense of purpose in our lives. The goal, the agenda of the fast is to trigger us to reflect on and rethink our lives and reframe our purpose for being here.

On Flight 93, Jeremy Glick was the Jewish people’s representative, the Ish Iti of that moment. At the same time as he was filled with horror, he was infused with a sense of purpose; fate beckoned him to act. And, like the Ish Iti of the Torah, he did what he did to save the lives of others.

Rabbi Blech:

There was a study published last month in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers from UCLA and the University of North Carolina had volunteers fill out a questionnaire asking them if they felt satisfied with their lives, whether they considered themselves happy, and, if so, to identify the cause of their greatest joy. They follwed this up by looking at the underlying cellular mechanisms that affect mood and health or, more specifically, the gene-expression profiles for the volunteers’ white blood cells.

Genes direct the production of proteins which jump-start other processes that control much of the body’s immune response. And here was the shocker: Different forms of happiness were associated with very different gene expression profiles.

Researchers recognized  a distinct difference physiologically between two kinds of joy.

One is what we would call hedonistic. It’s the result of eating a great meal, enjoying a fine scotch, (drinking Fig Raki (!))... or experiencing physical intimacy. It’s the body’s reaction to self- gratification.

But there is different category of happiness for which we have the term "eudaemonic". It is rooted not in getting but in giving. It is the happiness that comes from the sense of fulfillment that accompanies living a life of higher purpose and service to others. It makes demands on the body and often stands in the way of physical enjoyment, but it succeeds on a higher level.

It is the joy felt by a surgeon physically drained after a grueling but successful 12-hour operation. It is the joy felt by the rescuer of a drowning child, weary to the point of exhaustion by his efforts but overwhelmed by the knowledge that he was instrumental in saving a life.

As the rabbi of this congregation I am going to add on: It is the joy felt by the Ladies Auxiliary after donating $30,000 to put new lights and paint in our sanctuary; by an EB member known for his expertise in building and construction for implementing the plan; the joy of one of illustrious co-Presidents in leading the reupholstering of our sanctuary. It is the joy of those who responded to his “ask”  It’s the joy of those members who bring in renowned speakers, sponsor Shabbatonim and Kiddushim on behalf of the congregation. It’s the joy of those who participate day in and day out, on Shabbat and Festivals in the Minyan and Torah learning at our Kehilla.  It’s also the joy of the founders of this congregation, who, though they have passed away from the physical world, are with us always – and who  labored tirelessly to create this very community. 

The researchers from the University of California and University of North Carolina determined which of the volunteers were happy as a result of hedonistic or eudaemonic reasons. To their amazement, those whose happiness was primarily based on consuming things and physical gratification “had surprisingly unhealthy profiles, with relatively high levels of biological markers known to promote increased inflammation throughout the body. Such inflammation has been linked to the development of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They also had relatively low levels of other markers that increase antibody production, to better fight off infections.”

And those whose happiness stemmed from acts of kindness, communal service, or commitment to a higher cause? They had profiles “that displayed augmented levels of anti-body- producing gene expression and lower levels of the pro-inflammatory expression.”

Stephen Cole, a professor of medicine at UCLA and senior author of the study, concluded that “our genes can tell the difference between a purpose-driven life and a life limited solely to the goal of self-indulgence, and goes so far as to reward the former and biologically express its disapproval for the latter."

Over the past few days, I had some conversations with some people who noted the parallel between the “afflictions” of Yom Kippur and the laws of Tisha Be’av.  On the surface of things – the days seem to have the same character, as expressed in the shared laws.  The difference is that Tisha Be’av is a day of mourning, and the restraints are geared to trigger mournful contemplation.  Yom Kippur, on the other hand, is a festival.  So how do we explain the imperative of refraining from food, drink and other pleasures? In line with the study we’ve been discussing, we Jews are withdrawing from self-indulgence to make the statement that we are people driven by a higher purpose! 

In fact, Rabbi Blech suggests that we reframe the Day of Atonement as the“Day of At-Onement”, the day in which we become one with God, “by heeding the still small voice of the pure soul that God has implanted within us, we achieve the greatest blessing of all-At-Onement with the deepest recesses of ourselves and the spark of Godliness within us.”

Each one of us can transform him or herself into an Ish Iti – a person with a purpose. As we continue our communal Tefilah on this Yom Kippur day, let each of us meditate on we are going to implement this imperative in our personal lives.

Tizku Leshanim Rabbot and Shabbat Shalom!

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13
Sep
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Pre-Yom Kippur Notes

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Just a reminder that the Seudah Hamafseket - the final meal before the fast - should start in plenty of time to have a meal before the fast.  Candlelighting in Seattle Friday night is 7:06 pm and Kal Nidre begins a 6:45 pm.  

Unlike the Seudah Hamafseket before Tisha Be'av - which is a mournful meal - eggs and lentils and sitting on the ground - the meal prior to Yom Kippur is a festive one. One should wear Shabbat/Hag clothing at the meal; the meal should feature rich foods typical of Shabbat and Festival meals. 

Since it is not Shabbat at the time of the meal, there is of course no Kiddush and no need for Lechem Mishne/(specifically) two loaves of bread.

See you at EB for Kal Nidre!

The Five "Afflictions" of Yom Kippur 

  • No eating/drinking
  • No washing past the knuckles
  • No perfumes/colognes
  • No leather shoes
  • No marital relations

 

 

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27
Aug
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Birthday Wishes and Support for Congressman Reichert on his visit to Israel

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Rep. Dave Reichert, serving his fifth term in the 8th Congressional District in the State of Washington, is currently visiting Israel.  In honor of his birthday this coming Thursday, I wrote the following letter to him; it will be delivered to him during his trip.  EB will continue to proudly support politicians from both parties who openly declare their support for the State of Israel.  We were delighted to co-sponsor the Derek Kilmer talk at Herzl on August 13th and look forward to our continued alliances with members of Congress. 

Birthday Wishes to Rep. Reichert:

http://ravron.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/rep-reichert-birthday-wishes-1.pdf

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26
Aug
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Rabbi's New Office Hours

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As of this week, Rabbi Meyers' new office hours are as follows:

Sundays 11 am - noon
Mondays 1- 3 pm
Wednesdays and Thursdays 1-3:30 pm
Fridays 1:00-3:00 pm

 

 

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12
Aug
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Special Shiur for Women Sept. 1st

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A number of women throughout the Greater Seattle Jewish community have already received a Paperless Post invite to the upcoming Sept. 1st shiur entitled "Rosh Hashana: Coming Home". The organizers of the new program - to be unveiled on Sept. 1st - want to let all the women of the community know that they are all invited to attend, and can RSVP to the email address on the attached invite.  (We had a limited number of email addresses and therefore could not send an invitation to everyone!

midrashainvite

 

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09
Aug
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Halacha: Taking Care of One's Health

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By special request, here is a link to the first in a series of articles about the halachic obligation to take care of your health.  It's by Rabbi Asher Bush and was published by the RCA in 2006:

http://www.rabbis.org/pdfs/Prohibition_Smoking.pdf

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05
Aug
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PT II of "What Makes Me Orthodox?"

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I want to thank everyone who took part in our discussion of Torah Min Hashamayim at EB this past Shabbat.  I trust that the session was a fair overview of the background and context of the Zev Farber saga and that our community has a better feel for the personalities and interrelationships in the Modern Orthodox community that is now responding to Dr. Farber's posts. It is by no coincidence that the bulk of the critique of his comments is now being posted on the Moreorthodoxy blog, which has been the social media resource used most effectively by Chovevei Torah and the International Rabbinic Fellowship, with which Dr. Farber is closely identified.  The first major post was by Ben Elton, a student at YCT and the most recent one by Rabbi Yitzchak Blau, a prominent Talmid Hacham and Jewish educator.  Rabbi Blau, ordained by YU and squarely in the Centrist/Rav Soloveitchik camp, has been praised by the blog's readers for his eloquent and restrained response to Dr. Farber's posts. You can read what he has to say by clicking on http://morethodoxy.org/2013/08/05/guest-post-by-rav-yitzhak-blau-the-documentary-hypothesis-and-orthodox-judaism/

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02
Aug
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Can One Refute the Bible Critics?

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In preparation for the Shabbat Fundamentals class, it would be a great idea to do some background reading on modern responses to Biblical criticism, from a Torah perspective. In yesterday's blog post, I noted the work of the team of scholars at Yeshivat Har Etzion, whose work is influenced heavily by the approach of Rav Mordechai Breuer. To understand Rav Breuer's perspective - and how we can maintain a complete faith in the Divine origin of Torah while not ignoring the issues raised by Bible critics, take some time to read the article below by Rabbi Chaim Navon of Yeshivat Har Etzion....RM

Biblical Criticism - by Rav Chaim Navon

Biblical criticism is a critical-scientific approach to the study of the Bible that clashes with some of the fundamental tenets of traditional believing Jews. Its foundations were laid in the nineteenth century by German Protestant biblical scholars. It is based on the assumption that Scripture is not a homogenous work, but rather a collection of diverse documents that were compiled into a single book by a later editor. As for the works of the Prophets and the Hagiographa, the clash between biblical criticism and our approach is relatively mild: even the claim that the book of Yeshaya was composed by not one, but two prophets does not critically undermine the foundations of our faith. The sharpest clash involves the five books of the Torah.

According to the proponents of biblical criticism, the five books of the Torah are a compilation of four documents – J, E, P, and D. The diverse documents can most easily be distinguished on the basis of the various Divine names found in Scripture; proponents of this approach attribute each different name to a different document. They also speak of repetitions and redundancies, stylistic changes, and contradictions between different sources. The classic example put forward by the biblical scholars is the redundancy found in chapters 1 and 2 of the book of Bereishit. In these chapters, Scripture refers to God by different names: "E-lokim" and "Hashem E-lokim." Moreover, the creation of the world is described twice with significant discrepancies between the two descriptions. We shall list the most prominent differences between the two accounts of creation:

1. In chap. 1, the creation is planned and executed in an orderly and structured manner, from the simple to the complex. In chap. 2, such order is missing, and at each step along the way there is renewed "deliberation" regarding what seems necessary at that particular point.

2. In chap. 1, man is created last. In chap. 2, he is created first.

3. In chap. 1, man and woman are created together. In chap. 2, woman is created only after both man and God feel her absence.

3. In chap. 1, man is blessed that he should "be fruitful and multiply." In chap. 2, he is charged with a moral mission ("to till it and to keep it") and bound by a prohibition (not to eat from the tree of knowledge).[1]

4. In chap. 1, man is created in the image of God; in chap. 2, emphasis is placed on the two contradictory elements of which he is composed – spirit and matter.

As was stated above, the proponents of biblical criticism viewed all these differences as proof for their heretical approach that Scripture is composed of diverse sources that were joined together by a later redactor.

How are we to deal with biblical criticism? Should we ignore it or wrestle with its proofs? Can we perhaps reinterpret some of its arguments so that they can fit into our spiritual world?

In our discussion of this topic we shall extensively cite from contemporary authorities who have debated these questions.

IGNORING BIBLICAL CRITICISM

Some Jewish authorities have argued that there is no need whatsoever to wrestle with the Documentary Hypothesis. Biblical criticism is nonsense, as well as heresy, and the only fitting way to deal with it is to ignore it. This is the way the vast majority of the charedi world has dealt with the issue. Let us open with the words of Rabbi Zvi Tau, who finely summarizes this approach:

One who does not believe in the Divine origin and sublimity of the words, that they all flow from Divine truth that is infinite, absolute and eternal – one who lacks this faith will not understand the holy Scriptures whatsoever. All of his analyses, all of his investigations, all of his theories, and all of his "discoveries" fall into the category of nonsense…

When all these ideas are missing, when humility and self-effacement are lacking, when these elements are absent, come the scholars – Jews or gentiles, it makes no difference - and search through the holy Scriptures. They raise objections, they erase, they distort, and they emend; they suggest theories, they demonstrate creativity, they present novel ideas – what is all this to us? How are we connected to them? We occupy ourselves in the truth of the Torah, we engage ourselves in the holiness of the Torah. One who lacks both the beginning and the end – there is no point in talking to him at all! (Rabbi Zvi Tau, Tzadik Be-emunato Yichye, pp. 10, 19)

There are, however, many who criticize this approach. My friend, Rabbi Amnon Bazak, has raised two weighty arguments against this mode of thinking. Firstly, even people who lack all fear of God, and even gentiles, may have the capacity to propose meaningful interpretations of the Torah. God Himself testifies in the Torah: "For this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, who shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nations is a wise and understanding people" (Devarim 4:6). Rambam, in his introduction to chapter "Chelek," objects to a certain position, arguing that it contradicts reason, and will therefore not bring the gentiles to recognize the greatness of the Torah, but rather to scorn it. Hence, that position cannot possibly be correct. If gentiles have no understanding whatsoever when it comes to the Torah, why should we consider their opinions? We see then that we cannot simply reject what the gentiles have to say, without hearing them out and giving their words serious consideration. And furthermore, even if we categorically assume that gentiles are totally void of wisdom and understanding when it comes to understanding Scripture, how are we to relate to the problems that they raise? How are we to answer the questions that they ask? Rabbi Bazak argues that it is wrong to assume that a non-believer cannot suggest persuasive interpretations of the Torah; hence, he cannot be disregarded. He further argues that in any event, over and beyond the metaphysical questions, we must deal with the difficulties raised by the proponents of biblical criticism in and of themselves.[2]

Many others raise educational considerations: the refusal to recognize the arguments of biblical criticism is liable to be interpreted by certain students as evasion and cowardice. Students who will become exposed to biblical criticism at some later point in their lives may feel that their teachers had been afraid to deal with it because they lacked convincing answers.

LOCALIZED REJECTION

Some have attempted to confront biblical criticism by rejecting its specific arguments one by one. Prominent representatives of this approach include the German Rabbis, like Rabbi David Zvi Hoffmann, who went through the Torah, section by section, trying to prove the mistakes of biblical criticism. Professor Umberto Cassuto adopted this approach as well. We shall cite a characteristic selection from his work, in which he attacks the foundations of biblical criticism:

Permit me to illustrate my argument with a story. Let us imagine that a certain author writes a biography of his father, who was a notable savant, an academician. We shall assume that in this book the writer gives us a multi-faceted picture of his father, describing his private life at home, his relations with his students at college and his scientific work…. Doubtless when the author proceeds to write his work, in the passages describing his father's life within the family circle, he refers to him as "Father"… In the sections that portray him in the circle of his students at the university, he uses the designation by which he was generally known in that circle, "the professor."… Let us now picture to ourselves that centuries or millennia later a scholar will declare: Since I observe that the hero of the work is called in some places "Father" and in others "the professor," it follows that we have here fragments culled from different writers, and the dissimilarity between the narrative and scientific sections corroborates this. (U. Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis, pp.57-58)

Cassuto argues that the differences between different sections of the Torah, with respect to the divine names, style, and content, stem from the fact that they describe different aspects of the relationship between God and man and the world. Obviously, a general assertion like this does not suffice, and Cassuto wrestles in each section with biblical criticism's arguments regarding redundancies and contradictions. Traditional Jews may not find all of Cassuto's ideas acceptable, but he has done a great service in demonstrating how flimsy are the foundations upon which biblical criticism sometimes rests.

THE THEORY OF MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES

Rabbi Mordechai Breuer has approached the problem in an entirely different spirit. Rabbi Breuer has argued that we can accept the exegetical conclusions of biblical criticism, without accepting their theological corollaries. His approach, the approach of "multiple perspectives," has had a profound effect on Torah study in our generation:

That simple exegesis, which sees the Torah as one consecutive structure, without contradictions and uniform in style, has been irretrievably contradicted and rejected. The Torah's division into "sources" to which "were added" "interpretive comments" and "editorial supplements," is an irrefutable truth, which jumps out at the student, against his will, according to all linguistic standards and "the plain interpretations of Scripture that present themselves anew each day." All the forced harmonistic resolutions cannot stand up to the inner truth of the ingenious work of Wellhausen[3] and his colleagues. As midgets before a giant, as collectors of crumbs beneath the table of a wealthy man, so stand Cassuto and his colleagues, when they disagree with the school of biblical criticism…

Come and see the glorious wreath of the Torah, go and ponder the glory and splendor of its pages: they go and slowly spread out, page by page, each in its unique channel – and you find before you living expressions of that Divine quality that crosses generations: the trait of the Tetragrammaton, the trait of the name ofE-lokim, and the trait of the name of E-l Shad-dai – hidden traits that embrace all the worlds and bestow their bounty on high and below… So too the contradictions in the Torah are but imaginary contradictions regarding the ways of God's providence!

Now, then, is it any wonder that the pages of the Torah clash, and the human intellect finds it difficult to reconcile the contradictions? Does not God's providence in the world – the visible expression of God's traits and holy names – does it not, as it were, clash with and contradict itself, God forbid, in the eyes of man and according to his human understanding? If the Holy One, blessed be He, embraces both justice and mercy, both lovingkindness and might, if He appears to Israel as an old man in a yeshiva and also as a young man at war, as merciful and gracious, and also as zealous and vindictive – how then can it be imagined that His Torah – all the letters of which constitute His holy names – will go forward in peace and calm, as a single continuum that settles in the heart of all?…

Were all the sages of the east and the west to assemble and seek a solution to the contradictions between the first two chapters of the book of Bereishit, they would not come up with even a broken shard. (Rabbi M. Breuer, "Emuna u-Mada Befarshanut ha-Mikra," De'ot 11)

Rabbi Breuer argues that the Torah's accounts of certain events and mitzvot are indeed repetitious or even contradictory. But we are dealing here not with different "sources," but with different "perspectives." God intentionally wrote the Torah in such a manner that every event and mitzva is described from multiple perspectives. This is because the world is complex and complicated; in order to correctly describe it, different aspects must be emphasized. Rabbi Breuer accepts many of the interpretive analyses of modern biblical scholarship, but he rejects its historical assumptions, arguing that this type of exegesis is fully reconcilable with the belief in the revelation of the Torah to Moshe at Sinai.

Rabbi Breuer appreciates the special value of the Torah having been written from multiple perspectives:

Had He given us a homogenous book that could also have been written by a single person, such a book would have been appropriate for children who on any given issue are capable of seeing only a single truth. This, however, was not the intention of the Lawgiver. He wanted to give us a book appropriate for adults, who understand that every issue has multiple perspectives, and also contradictory truths, each one constituting truth, though only partial and one-sided truth. It is only the combination of such truths that gives expression to the absolute truth. (Rabbi M. Breuer, "Bikoret ha-Mikra veha-Emuna Betorah min ha-Shamayim," Daf Kesher #864)

Rabbi Breuer summarizes his approach as follows:

There is only one way to confront the heresy of biblical criticism. Neither ignoring it nor fighting against it will work. Rather, we must follow the path outlined by the author of Or ha-Chayyim: We must "set our eyes" on the kernel of truth that is mixed into the falsehoods of the biblical critics… We must remove the slander from their mouths and restore the truth to its borders. For all their words are absolute truth, according to their assumptions. And therefore, with a change of form, they could become true even according to our assumptions. (Rabbi M. Breuer, "Torat ha-Te'udot shel Ba'al Sha'agat Arye," Megadim II, pp. 21-22)

To illustrate the approach, let us examine the manner in which Rabbi Breuer explains the differences between the two stories of creation, chapters one and two of the book ofBereishit:

The world that was created with the name E-lokim was given over to the rule of the laws of nature… For that reason the plant world preceded the creation of the animal kingdom, and the creation of the animals preceded the creation of man. For this would have had to be the order of the fashioning of these creatures had they developed on their own according to the laws of nature. Similarly, it is understandable that man and woman were created as one, for nature concerns itself exclusively with the preservation of species, and the preservation of the human species depends upon the partnership of man and woman.

In contrast, the world that was created with the Tetragrammaton is the world in which God reveals Himself, and which God Himself conducts in accordance with His will. This is a world that has meaning; it was created so that God would rejoice in it and in His creations. For this reason it was never absolutely handed over to the laws of blind nature. Accordingly, the creation of man preceded the creation of the plants and animals; for God has no desire in any of His other creations, but in man alone. Similarly, it is understandable that man was created before woman. For woman did not come to this world solely to ensure the preservation of the human species; woman was created so that man would rejoice in her, love her as he does himself, and find in her a help-mate in life. This could only be achieved, if he first suffered from solitude. (Rabbi M. Breuer, Pirkei Bereishit, p. 13)

Rabbi Breuer argues that the two accounts of creation give expression to the two aspects of God's providence in the world: the aspect of E-lokim and the aspect of the Tetragrammaton. The one emphasizes nature, while the second stresses God's direct revelation. It is interesting to note that Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik proposed a similar explanation of the differences between the first and second chapters of Bereishit:

We all know that the Bible offers two accounts of the creation of man. We are also aware of the theory suggested by Bible critics attributing these two accounts to two different traditions and sources. Of course, since we do unreservedly accept the unity and integrity of the Scriptures and their divine character, we reject this hypothesis which is based, like many other Biblico-critical theories, on literary categories invented by modern man, ignoring completely the eidetic-noetic content of the biblical story. It is, of course, true, that the two accounts of the creation of man differ considerably. This incongruity was not discovered by the bible critics. Our sages of old were aware of it. However, the answer lies not in an alleged dual tradition but in dual man, not in an imaginary contradiction between two versions but in a real contradiction in the nature of man. The two accounts deal with two Adams, two men, two fathers of mankind, two types, two representatives of humanity, and it is no wonder that they are not identical. (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, "The Lonely Man of Faith," Tradition VII [1964], no. 1, p. 10)[4]

Rabbi Soloveitchik does not present his position as a systematic refutation of biblical criticism. On the previous page, he declares that he had never been troubled by the theories of biblical criticism. He presents his explanation as an interpretation of Scripture that will increase understanding, and not as part of a systematic confrontation of biblical criticism. In any event, his approach is very similar to that of Rabbi Breuer on this specific point. This is how Rabbi Soloveitchik explains the two descriptions of creation:

Chapter 1 describes the world of nature, led by E-lokim ("the master of cosmic forces"), the pinnacle of which is man. Here man is a creature with a developed natural awareness, one who was created "in the image of God" (which Rabbi Soloveitchik identifies with conquest, dominion and creativity). However, he lives an external and superficial life (and presumably does not see himself as separate from nature that surrounds him).

Chapter two describes a spiritual-moral world: here man is created first, because from a spiritual perspective the entire world was created for him. He is conscious of his existence and his uniqueness: he is lonely, without a wife, aware of the possibility of death ("for on the day that you eat of it you shall surely die"), though he is not necessarily going to die (before the sin). He is given missions and commands. This man is self-aware and utterly lonely. God tries to provide him with a helpmate from the animal world. But man does not find a mate from among the animals, and so God creates woman from a rib taken from man. This is the creation story of chapter two. The account is organized thematically, and not according to scientific-natural classification; hence, it is also structurally less ordered. It is upon these differences that Rabbi Soloveitchik builds a grand philosophical structure, which we cannot present here in greater detail.

Many have criticized Rabbi Breuer and his approach. I shall cite here the words of my dear friend, Rabbi Mosheh Lichtenstein, who has noted the weak points in Rabbi Breuer's approach, without resorting to name calling or demagoguery.[5] First, Rabbi M. Lichtenstein raises doubts about Rabbi Breuer's argument that biblical criticism's conclusions are irrefutable scientific facts. Scientific findings should not be accepted blindly, for science often changes its basic conceptions. Moreover, a distinction must be made between the natural sciences and the humanities. In the natural sciences, we sometimes find absolute proofs; if a rocket ship is sent to the moon, and it reaches its objective, it is reasonable to assume that the technological principles on which the development of the rocket ship was based are in fact correct. But how can one prove a theory in the humanities? We must be careful not to adopt theories that in another hundred years will be proven to be false.

Rabbi M. Lichtenstein argues further that we are not concerned here merely with scientific imprecision, but with fundamental presumptions that have lead biblical scholars to erroneous conclusions. Every theory is based on a certain world outlook. For example, biblical critics rely on the assumption that if a prophet describes an event that took place not during his lifetime, but in the future, we must be dealing with a later source. It for this reason, for example, that the biblical critics attribute the book of Yeshaya to two different authors. If, on the other hand, we believe that the spirit of God rested upon the prophets, we should not be surprised that it was in their power to see into the future.

In addition to the doubts that may be raised regarding the validity of biblical criticism, we must analyze the exegetical and spiritual implications of the theory of perspectives. Rabbi M. Lichtenstein points out that the world presented according to Rabbi Breuer's approach is a world of sharp contrasts and contradictions, requiring the discovery of some factor that can reconcile the differences. It is not by chance that in his introduction to "Pirkei Mo'adot," Rabbi Breuer resorts to concepts borrowed from the world of Kabbala in order to find a basis and support for an outlook built on such sharp tensions and such dramatic balance between them. It should be noted that many of Rabbi Breuer's followers argue that there is no need to make use of a kabbalistic model.[6] An additional criticism is that Rabbi Breuer's approach entirely abandons the traditional commentaries to the Torah, inventing a totally new exegetical approach. Besides this, the very assumption that God would present Scripture in such a manner that conceals such a basic principle is problematic. Did God want to fool us? Why was Scripture composed in such a confusing and misleading manner?

As Rabbi M. Lichtenstein has noted, the theory of perspectives may be accepted in certain cases, where it is clear that a particular story is being told twice, as in the creation accounts, regarding which even Rabbi Soloveitchik took a similar approach. Rabbi Breuer, however, argues that his approach should be applied in all cases. He even attributes different parts of the same verse to different perspectives, in a manner that is not at all self-evident to the simple reader.

In conclusion, many have noted the educational dangers posed by the very confrontation with biblical criticism. Most of Rabbi Breuer's critics have emphasized this point. It should, however, be pointed out here that an educational danger may also be found at the other extreme – the total ignoring of and refusal to confront biblical criticism. It may, perhaps, be unnecessary to adopt one systematic approach. There are places where we should ignore certain arguments posed by the biblical critics; elsewhere, we should confront them on the local level; and in other places, we should adopt the theory of perspectives proposed by Rabbi Breuer. We are not required to obligate ourselves from the outset to any one particular approach.

FOOTNOTES

[1] The prohibition against eating from the tree of knowledge is not at all similar to the restriction imposed upon man to partake only of the vegetable world, appearing in chapter 1. That instruction is not formulated as a prohibition ("You shall not eat meat"), but as a positive directive ("I have given you every herb bearing seed"). It stands to reason that man of chapter 1 did not relate to this command as an externally imposed prohibition, in the way that we relate to cannibalism. We seem to be dealing here with an ordering of the ecological system, and nothing more.

[2] Rabbi A. Bazak, "Yesharim Darkhei Hashem," Daf Kesher Letalmidei Yeshivat Har Etzion, #845, archived at:

http://www.etzion.org.il/dk/1to899/845mamar.htm.

[3] One of the most important biblical critics.

[4] See also Rabbi Soloveitchik's book "Family Redeemed," chapter 1.

[5] Rabbi Mosheh Lichtenstein, "Achat Diber E-lokim," Daf Kesher #851, http://www.etzion.org.il/dk/1to899/851mamar.htm. Rabbi Breuer's response can be found at:

http://www.etzion.org.il/dk/1to899/864mamar.htm.

[6] See, for example, Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, "Achat Diber E-lokim," Daf Kesher #863,

http://www.etzion.org.il/dk/1to899/863mamar.htm.

(Translated by David Strauss)

 

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Hazzan Nuna Trains as Mohel

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HOW I BECAME A MOHEL

By Hazzan Yogev Nuna

Since the time of our forefather Abraham, the act of circumcision has served as the physical symbol of the covenant between Hashem and the Jewish people. The honor of playing an integral part in the entering of a newborn child into the covenant of Abraham has always held great appeal to me. Several years ago a good friend from my Yeshiva days in Bnei Brak had told me of his father, Rav Yehuda Giat, who trained mohelim, shochtim (kosher butchers) and sofrim (scribes). Little did I know back then that I would one day become one of his father's students.

Rabbi Giat is a master teacher who is sought out by students from around the world. He is a man constantly on the move, traveling as far as Argentina and Brazil to train students. A certificate of being a qualified mohel by Rabbi Giat is accepted and recognized by Jewish religious authorities worldwide as a superb endorsement of skill and expertise.

As the less demanding summer months approached this year, the opportunity arose that would make my dream a reality. The synagogue leadership endorsed this endeavor and a group of kind and generous individuals offered to lead tefila and read sefer in my absence.  My long ago connection to his son undoubtedly played a role in Rabbi Giat's willingness to accommodate my short training window.

I left for Israel in early June, looking forward to the intensive course of study I would soon be undertaking. Upon my arrival on a Sunday I contacted Rabbi Giat to find out when I could begin. Rabbi Giat informed me that he was currently in Russia training students but would be back late Tuesday evening. The 65 year old Rabbi told me to be at his house at 9:30am Wednesday morning to begin my studies. I knew that Rabbi Giat held himself to a grueling schedule that would sideline a man half his age, usually rising for prayers before sunrise and working and teaching until 11pm each night. Nevertheless his willingness to start my training so soon after his lengthy journey caught me by surprise.

But there I was at Rav Giat's home at 9:30 am Wednesday morning. Not one for small talk, my teacher proclaimed "you will perform your first mila at 2:00pm, if all goes well you will perform your second at 4:00pm." My jaw barely had time to drop before the Rabbi began to prepare me for my debut. We dove into the laws of circumcision, how to perform the procedure, how to use the utensils, how to treat the wound and how to follow up.

Just as promised at 2:00 pm I was performing my first mila.  it looked to me like I had performed the task well but the final arbiter would be my teacher, he looked up at me and said, "Your next mila will be at 4:00 pm", I had indeed done well. I was later asked if I was nervous and the truth is I had no time to be nervous. Although my first mila was on a Jewish child, my second would be on a Muslim baby. Muslims also perform circumcision on their children and it turns out, at least in Israel, they prefer having it performed by a Jewish mohel over a co-religionist or a physician. Again the Rabbi told me I had done "very well".

And so it went for each day I was there, a nonstop schedule of performing circumcisions with intensive classes and training in between. I recall one occasion while on our way to Tel Aviv to perform a circumcision that Rabbi Giat stopped at a farm. Rabbi Giat was training several of his students in shechita at the farm and asked for my assistance. I was told to hold the wings of a plump and feisty turkey while the butcher completed his task. I am told that a turkey cannot fly, but this feisty fowl did all he could to dispel that stereotype. His huge wings flailed, tossing me to and fro as I struggled to keep the bird still while trying to maintain my dignity. Even though Rabbi Giat is a man of few words, his look of displeasure informed me that at least for now I should stick with circumcisions and Hazzanut.

There is no specific timeframe for the length of the course of study, you are done when Rav Giat says you are done.   I was aware that some prepare for as long as six weeks before being awarded their certificate of completion. I had been studying and practicing from morning to night for three weeks when Rabbi Giat announced that I was ready. I was presented with my Certificate as a qualified mohel signed and presented to me by Rav Giat.

One of our community's prior mohels is Rabbi Salomon Cohen-Scali, our synagogue's esteemed former Rabbi. Rabbi Cohen-Scali happened to be in Seattle last week to perform a wedding. We chatted about our mutual profession and I mentioned that I had been trained and certified by the famed Rabbi Giat. Rabbi Cohen-Scali's mouth spread into a wide smile as he exclaimed that some thirty years earlier he too had received his own training and certification from none other than Rabbi Yehuda Giat!

Please share with your friends and family that I am now a fully certified mohel and am available to perform circumcisions. I may be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or at 206-660-8481.

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What Makes Me Orthodox?

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This is a question that I have been asking myself a lot more lately, especially over the past week....Allow me to explain:

During our Fundamentals classes after Kiddush at EB, we have tackled some challenging issues: Army Exemptions for Yeshiva students, the Orthodox Jewish response to homosexuality, the origins and parameters of the concept of "Tikkun Olam" and other such matters. I have made an exerted effort to raise questions that I feel are pertinent to modern Jewish life and to clarify, both through key sources and through a give-and-take with the community, what an Orthodox Jewish approach might be.
Over the past week, there has been an explosion of articles, blog posts, responses and official statements on the topic of the Divine authorship of the Torah.

The idea that multiple human authors co-edited the Torah was made famous by Julius Wellhausen in the late 1880's. It caught on at different rates in the Reform and Conservative movements, and is the subject of much modern debate, most recently in exchanges between Richard Friedman and James Kugel.....

My interest in the topic over the years has dissipated with my increasing exposure to to the depth of study possible in Tanach, the forte of Yeshivat Har Etzion and the Tanach Study Center. With people like R. Yoel Bin Nun and R. Menachem Leibtag at the helm, the profundity of Chumash and Navi has been masterfully exposed -- to the delight of students of Torah the world over. In fact, many of the Chumash shiurim I give on Shabbat afternoon during the "Perasha Insights" slot draw on the brilliant scholarship developing at Yeshivat Har Etzion.

You may ask: "How does studying Torah in the above fashion lessen my interest in Biblical criticism"? My answer: The beautiful literary and thematic weave that emerges when Chumash is studied with a confidence in both its singular authorship and varied and nuanced messages satiates both the spirit AND the intellect.

Meet Rabbi Zev Farber: (from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah website): "A native of Miami, Florida, Zev has a B.A. in psychology from Touro College, an M.A. in Jewish History from Hebrew University, and most recently a Ph.D. in Jewish Religious Cultures from Emory University, where he focused on Hebrew Bible..... In addition to his yoreh yoreh, he received his dayanut (yadin yadin) also from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in 2010.Zev is a founding board member of the IRF (International Rabbinic Fellowship) and serves as the coordinator for their Va'ad Giyyur.'

On a website called "thetorah.com" Rabbi Farber recently wrote some strong words regarding the Divine origins and authenticity of the Torah. His words seem to echo the approach of many Bible critics. The upshot is that a prominent modern Orthodox rabbi (albeit not serving a congregation per se) seems to have deviated radically from the classical Jewish belief of "Torah Min Hashamayim" - Torah from Heaven. This could potentially have him declared a heretic according to Jewish law. A very serious charge.

Yesterday, the IRF, of which Farber is a member, coordinating its conversion program, released the following statement:  
IRF Confirms Commitment to Torah Min Hashamayim

In light of the recent spirited and important discussions in the community, the International Rabbinic Fellowship takes this opportunity to reaffirm its unwavering commitment to the principle of Torah Min Hashamyim within the parameters outlined by classical Rishonim, Aharonim and contemporary Orthodox rabbinic scholars. We regard this principle as the linchpin of halakhic observance and as an indispensable element of Orthodox Judaism.

Today, the Rabbinical Council of America (to which I belong) issued a more involved statement that I posted on facebook and that can be found here: http://www.rabbis.org/news/article.cfm?id=105768 Now, the passage causing most of the stir can be found on thetorah.com http://thetorah.com/torah-history-judaism-part-3/ Rabbi Avraham Gordimer, of the RCA, wrote a detailed critique of Farber here: http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2013/07/26/belief-in-torah-min-ha-shamayim-damage-control-by-yct/ This discussion has prompted additional posts by R Efrem Goldberg of Boca Raton. His article can be found here:
 http://torahmusings.com/2013/07/the-most-important-discussion/ Rabbi Goldberg suggests that the obsession with Farber's statement is far less pressing to Orthodox Jewish communal life than are a myriad of other problems. 

On Wednesday evening, Rabbi Gidon Rothstein wrote an eloquent rebuttal to Rabbi Goldberg on that same blog; it can be found here: http://torahmusings.com/2013/07/three-practical-ways-bad-theology-hurts-us/ Rabbi Rothstein maintains that theology is that from which all else sprouts, and that the maladies of modern Orthodox Jewish life in America perhaps stem from a tangential connection to the theological underpinnings of Torah and Mitzvot.

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15
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Just Previewed the Film

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I was planning on seeing the film for the first time tomorrow, but - as is probably appropriate as the one running the program - I decided to preview the film, Hitler's Children.  I'm not going to write a review, but just want to express my feelings that this is a very important film, one that had to be made; one reviewer even noted that it's surprising that it had not been made until now! The German children, grandchildren, and nieces of Hitler's henchmen speak eloquently and defiantly; overall, the film (1hr 23 minutes) offers a fresh glimpse not only into their lives, but into the lives of German teenagers and young adults who experience their respective stories.  Seating is limited to about 75 people tomorrow at 6:15, and it's "First contact, first served!".  I can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

RM

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Times of Israel article for Erev Tisha Be'av

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A special thank you to Julie Ben Simon for calling my attention to today's op-ed in the Times of Israel - a timely message for Erev Tisha Be'av...

http://www.timesofisrael.com/before-we-all-burn-in-hell/#.UeQMW8z7tms.email

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08
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Tikkun Olam Article - in advance of this Shabbat's class

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This week's Fundamentals topic is "Tikkun Olam: Challenges and Parameters". I encourage you to read the following piece and come ready to share your views: http://ravron.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/ginsburgto.pdf

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05
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Additional Articles on Judaism and Homosexuality

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Shmuel Herzfeld's "Chanukah Drasha" http://www.ostns.org/files/December%2015,%202012%20-%20Same%20Sex%20Marriage%20in%20America.pdf

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein's comments - cited by Herzfeld http://pagesoffaith.wordpress.com/2012/12/02/perspective-on-homosexuals/

Rav Aharon Feldman's article on Homosexuality  http://haravaharonfeldmanarticle.weebly.com/

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Rabbi Lamm's 1974 Article on Judaism and Homosexuality

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As part of our Fundamentals series on Heterosexuality and Homosexuality from a Torah Perspective, Rabbi Norman Lamm's 1974 article is a good reference point - RM

Judaism and the Modern Attitude to Homosexuality
Author / Contributor :: Lamm, Dr. Norman -
 

Dr. Norman Lamm presently serves as President of Yeshiva University. 
(Posted January 2002) 
Originally appeared Encyclopedia Judaica Yearbook 1974, pg. 197 et, al 

Popular wisdom has it that our society is wildly hedonistic, with the breakdown of family life, rampant immorality, and the world, led by the United States, in the throes of a sexual revolution. The impetus of this latest revolution is such that new ground is constantly being broken, while bold deviations barely noticed one year are glaringly more evident the year following and become the norm for the "younger generation" the year after that.

Some sex researchers accept this portrait of a steady deterioration in sex inhibitions and of increasing permissiveness. Opposed to them are the "debunkers" who hold that this view is mere fantasy and that, while there may have been a significant leap in verbal sophistication, there has probably been only a short hop in actual behavior. They point to statistics which confirm that now, as in Kinsey's day, there has been no reported increase in sexual frequencies along with alleged de-inhibition to rhetoric and dress. The "sexual revolution" is, for them, largely a myth. Yet others maintain that there is in Western society a permanent revolution against moral standards, but that the form and style of the revolt keeps changing.

 

The determination of which view is correct will have to be left to the sociologists and statisticians -or, better, to historians of the future who will have the benefit of hindsight. But certain facts are quite clear. First, the complaint that moral restraints are crumbling has a two or three thousand year history in Jewish tradition and in continuous history of Western civilization. Second, there has been a decided increase at least in the area of sexual attitudes, speech, and expectations, if not in practice. Third, such social and psychological phenomena must sooner or later beget changes in mores and conduct. And finally, it is indisputable that most current attitudes are profoundly at variance with traditional Jewish views on sex and sex morality.

Of all the current sexual fashions, the one most notable for its militancy, and which most conspicuously requires illumination from the sources of Jewish tradition, is that of sexual deviancy. This refers primarily to homosexuality, male or female, along with a host of other phenomena such as transvestism and transexualism. They all form part of the newly approved theory of idiosyncratic character of sexuality. Homosexuals have demanded acceptance in society, and this demand has taken various forms -from a plea that they should not be liable to criminal prosecution, to a demand that they should not be subjected to social sanctions, and then to a strident assertion that they represent an "alternative life-style" no less legitimate that "straight heterosexuality. The various forms of homosexual apologetics appear largely in contemporary literature and theater, as well as in the daily press. In the United States, "gay" activists have become increasingly and progressively more vocal and militant. 

Legal Position

Homosexuals have, indeed, been suppressed by the law. For instance, the Emperor Valentinian, in 390 C.E., decreed that pederasty be punished by burning at the stake. The sixth-century Code of Justinian ordained that homosexuals be tortured, mutilated, paraded in public, and executed. A thousand years later, Gibbon said of the penalty the Code decreed that "pederasty became the crime of those to whom no crime could be imputed". In more modern times, however, the Napoleonic Code declared consensual homosexuality legal in France. A century ago, anti-homosexual laws were repealed in Belgium and Holland. In this century, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland followed suit and, more recently, Czechoslovakia and England. The most severe laws in the West are found in the United States, where they come under the jurisdiction of the various states and are known by a variety of names, usually as "sodomy laws". Punishment may range from light fines to five or more years in prison (in some cases even life imprisonment), indeterminate detention to a mental hospital, and even to compulsory sterilization. Moreover, homosexuals are, in various states, barred from licensed professions, from many professional societies, from teaching, and from the civil service -to mention only a few of the sanctions encountered by the known homosexual.

More recently, a new tendency has been developing in the United States and elsewhere with regard to homosexuals. Thus, in 1969, the National Institute of Mental Health issued a majority report advocating that adult consensual homosexuality be declared legal. The American Civil Liberties Union concurred. Earlier, Illinois had done so in 1962, and in 1971 the state of Connecticut revised its laws accordingly. Yet despite the increasing legal and social tolerance of deviance, basic feelings toward homosexuals have not really changed. The most obvious example is France, where although legal restraints were abandoned over 150 years ago, the homosexual of today continues to live in shame and secrecy.

Statistics

Statistically, the proportion the proportion of homosexuals in society does not seem to have changed much since Professor Kinsey's day (his book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, was published in 1948, and his volume on the human female in 1953). Kinsey's studies revealed that hard-core male homosexuals constituted about 4-6% of the population: 10% experienced "problem" behavior during a part of their lives. One man out of three indulges in some form of homosexual behavior from puberty until his early twenties. The dimensions of the problem become quite overwhelming when it is realized that, according to these figures, of 200 million people in the United States some ten million will become or are predominant or exclusive homosexuals, and over 25 million will have at least a few years of significant homosexual experience.

The New Permissiveness

The most dramatic change in our attitudes to homosexuality has taken place in the new mass adolescent subculture -the first such in history- where it is part of the whole new outlook on sexual restraints in general. It is here that the fashionable Sexual Left has had its greatest success on a wide scale, appealing especially to the rejection of Western traditions of sex roles and sex typing. A number of different streams feed into this ideological reservoir from which the new sympathy for homosexuality flows. Freud and his disciples began the modern protest against traditional restraints, and blamed the guilt that follows transgression for the neuroses that plague man. Many psychoanalysts began to overemphasize the importance of sexuality in human life, and this ultimately gave birth to a kind of sexual messianism. Thus, in our own day Wilhelm Reich identifies sexual energy as "vital energy per se" and, in conformity with his Marxist ideology, seeks to harmonize Marx and Freud. For Reich and his followers, the sexual revolution is a machina ultima for the whole Leninist liberation in all spheres of life and society. Rebellion against restrictive moral codes has become, for them, not merely a way to hedonism but a form of sexual mysticism: orgasm is seem not only as the pleasurable climatic release of internal sexual pressure, but as a means to individual creativity and insight as well as to the reconstruction and liberation of society. Finally, the emphasis on freedom and sexual autonomy derives from the Sartrean version of Kant's view of human autonomy.

It is in this atmosphere that pro-deviationist sentiments have proliferated, reaching into many strata of society. Significantly, religious groups have joined the sociologists and ideologists of deviance to affirm what has been called "man's birthright of unbounded ambisexuality." A number of Protestant churches in America, and an occasional Catholic clergyman, have plead for more sympathetic attitudes toward homosexuals. Following the new Christian permissiveness espoused in Sex and Morality (1966), the report of a working party of the British Council of Churches, a group of American Episcopalian clergymen in November 1967 concluded that homosexual acts ought not to be considered wrong, per se. A homosexual relationship is, they implied, no different from a heterosexual marriage: but must be judged by one criterion -"whether it is intended to foster a permanent relation of love." Jewish apologists for deviationism have been prominent in the Gay Liberation movement and have not hesitated to advocate their position in American journals and in the press. Christian groups began to emerge which catered to a homosexual clientele, and Jews were not too far behind. This latest Jewish exemplification of the principle of wie es sich christelt, so juedelt es sich will be discussed at the end of this essay.

Homosexual militants are satisfied neither with a "mental health" approach nor with demanding civil rights. They are clear in insisting on society's recognition of sexual deviance as an "alternative lifestyle," morally legitimate and socially acceptable.
Such are the basic facts and theories of the current advocacy of sexual deviance. What is the classical Jewish attitude to sodomy, and what suggestions may be made to develop a Jewish approach to the complex problem of the homosexual in contemporary society?

Biblical View

The Bible prohibits homosexual intercourse and labels it an abomination: "Thou shalt not lie with a man as one lies with a woman: it is an abomination" (Lev. 18:22). Capital punishment is ordained for both transgressors in Lev. 20:13. In the first passage, sodomy is linked with buggery, and in the second with incest and buggery. (There is considerable terminological confusion with regard to these words. We shall here use "sodomy" as a synonym for homosexuality and "buggery" for sexual relations with animals.)

The city of Sodom had the questionable honor of lending its name to homosexuality because of the notorious attempt at homosexual rape, when the entire population -"both young and old, all the people from every quarter"- surrounded the home of Lot, the nephew of Abraham, and demanded that he surrender his guests to them "that we may know them" (Gen. 19:5). The decimation of the tribe of Benjamin resulted from the notorious incident, recorded in Judges 19, of a group of Benjamites in Gibeah who sought to commit homosexual rape.

Scholars have identified the kadesh proscribed by the Torah (Deut. 23:18) as a ritual male homosexual prostitute. This form of healthen cult penetrated Judea from the Canaanite surroundings in the period of the early monarchy. So Rehoboam, probably under the influence of his Ammonite mother, tolerated this cultic sodomy during his reign (I Kings 14:24). His grandson Asa tried to cleanse the Temple in Jerusalem of the practice (I Kings 15:12), as did his great-grandson Jehoshaphat. But it was not until the days of Josiah and the vigorous reforms he introduced that the kadesh was finally removed from the Temple and the land (II Kings 23:7). The Talmund too (Sanhedrin, 24b) holds that the kadesh was a homosexual functionary. (However, it is possible that the term also alludes to a heterosexual male prostitute. Thus, in II kings 23:7, women are described as weaving garments for the idols in the batei ha-kedeshim (houses of the kadesh): the presence of women may imply that the kadesh was not necessarily homosexual. The Talmudic opinion identifying the kadesh as a homosexual prostitute may be only an asmakhta. Moreover, there are other opinions in Talmudic literature as to the meaning of the verse: see Onkelos, Lev. 23:18, and Nachmanides and Torah Temimah, ad loc.)

Talmudic Approach

Rabbinic exegesis of the Bible finds several other homosexual references in the scriptural narratives. The generation of Noah was condemned to eradication by the Flood because they had sunk so low morally that, according to Midrashic teaching, they wrote out formal marriage contracts for sodomy and buggery -a possible cryptic reference to such practices in the Rome of Nero and Hadrian (Lev. R. 18:13).

Of Ham, the son of Noah, we are told that "he saw the nakedness of his father" and told his two brothers (Gen. 9:22). Why should this act have warranted the harsh imprecation hurled at Ham by his father? The Rabbis offer two answers: one, that the text implied that Ham castrated Noah: second, that the Biblical expression is an idiom for homosexual intercourse (see Rashi, ad loc.). On the scriptural story of Potiphar's purchase of Joseph as a slave (Gen. 39:1), the Talmund comments that he acquired him for homosexual purposes, but that a miracle occurred and God sent the angel Gabriel to castrate Potiphar (Sotah 13b).

Post-Biblical literature records remarkably few incidents of homosexuality. Herod's son Alexander, according to Josephus (Wars, I, 24:7), had homosexual contact with a young eunuch. Very few reports of homosexuality have come to us from the Talmudic era (TJ Sanhedrin 6:6, 23c: Jos. Ant., 15:25-30).

The incidence of sodomy among Jews is interestingly reflected in the Halakhah on mishkav zakhur (the Talmudic term for homosexuality: the Bible uses various terms- thus the same term in Num. 31:17 and 35 refers to heterosexual intercourse by a woman, whereas the expression for male homosexual intercourse in Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 is mishkevei ishah). The Mishnah teaches that R. Judah forbade two bachelors from sleeping under the same blanket, for fear that this would lead to homosexual temptation (Kiddushin 4:14). However, the Sages permitted it (ibid.) because homosexuality was so rare among Jews that such preventive legislation was considered unnecessary (Kiddushin 82a). This latter view is codified as Halakhah by Malmonides (Yad, Issurei Bi'ah 22:2). Some 400 years later R. Joseph Caro , who did not codify the law against sodomy proper, nevertheless cautioned against being alone with another male because of the lewdness prevalent "in our times" (Even ha-Ezer 24). About a hundred years later, R. Joel Sirkes reverted to the original ruling, and suspended the prohibition because such obscene acts were unheard of amongst Polish Jewry (Bayit Hadash to Tur, Even ha-Ezer 24). Indeed, a distinguished contemporary of R. Joseph Caro, R. Solomon Luria, went even further and declared homosexuality so very rare that, if one refrains from sharing a blanket with another male as a special act of piety, one is guilty of self-righteous pride or religious snobbism (for the above and additional authorities, see Ozar ha-Posekim, IX, 236-238).

Responsa

As is to be expected, the responsa literature is also very scant in discussions of homosexuality. One of the few such responsa is by the late R. Abraham Isaac Ha-Kohen Kook, when he was still the rabbi of Jaffa. In 1912 he was asked about a ritual slaughterer who had come under suspicion of homosexuality. After weighing all aspects of the case, R. Kook dismissed the charges against the accused, considering them unsupported hearsay. Furthermore, he maintained the man might have repented and therefore could not be subject to sanctions at the present time.

The very scarcity of halakhic deliberations on homosexuality, and the quite explicit insistence of various halakhic authorities, provide sufficient evidence of the relative absence of this practice among Jews from ancient times down to the present. Indeed, Prof. Kinsey found that, while religion was usually an influence of secondary importance on the number of homosexual as well as heterosexual acts by males. Orthodox Jews proved an exception, homosexuality being phenomenally rare among them.

Jewish laws treated the female homosexual more leniently than the male. It considered lesbianism as issur, an ordinary religious violation, rather than arayot, a specifically sexual infraction, regarded much more severely than issur. R. Huna held that lesbianism is the equivalent of harlotry and disqualified the woman from marrying a priest. The Halakhah is, however, more lenient, and decides that while the act is prohibited, the lesbian is not punished and is permitted to marry a priest (Sifra 9:8: Shab. 65a: Yev. 76a). However, the transgression does warrant disciplinary flagellation (Maimonides, Yad, Issurei Bi'ah 21:8). The less punitive attitude of the Halakhah to the female homosexual than to the male does not reflect any intrinsic judgment on one as opposed to the other, but is rather the result of a halakhic technicality: there is no explicit Biblical proscription of lesbianism, and the act does not entail genital intercourse (Maimonides, loc. cit.).

The Halakhah holds that the ban on homosexuality applies universally, to non-Jew as well as to Jew (Sanh 58a: Maimonides, Melakhim 9:5, 6). It is one of the six instances of arayot (sexual transgressions) forbidden to the Noachide (Maimonides, ibid).

Most halakhic authorities - such as Rashba and Ritba - agree with Maimonides. A minority opinion holds that pederasty and buggery are "ordinary" prohibitions rather than arayot - specifically sexual infractions which demand that one submit to martyrdom rather than violate the law - but the Jerusalem Talmud supports the majority opinion. (See D. M. Krozer, Devar Ha-Melekh, I, 22, 23 (1962), who also suggests that Maimonides may support a distinction whereby the "male" or active homosexual partner is held in violation of arayot whereas the passive or "female" partner transgresses issur, an ordinary prohibition.)

Reasons of Prohibition

Why does the Torah forbids homosexuality? Bearing in mind that reasons proferred for the various commandments are not to be accepted as determinative, but as human efforts to explain immutable divine law, the rabbis of the Talmud and later Talmudists did offer a number of illuminating rationales for the law.

As stated, the Torah condemns homosexuality as to'evah, an abomination. The Talmud records the interpretation of Bar Kapparah who, in a play on words, defined to'evah as to'eh attah bah. "You are going astray because of it" (Nedarim 51a). The exact meaning of this passage is unclear, and various explanations have been put forward.

The Pesikta (Zutarta) explains the statement of Bar Kapparah as referring to the impossibility of such a sexual resulting in procreation. One of the major functions (if not the major purpose) of sexuality is reproduction, and this reason for man's sexual endowment is frustrated by mishkav zakhur (so too Sefer ha-Hinnukh, no. 209).

Another interpretation is that of the Tosafot and R. Asher ben Jehiel (in their commentaries to Ned. 51a) which applies the "going astray" or wandering to the homosexual's abandoning his wife. In other words, the abomination consists of the danger that a married man with homosexual tendencies may disrupt his family life in order to indulge his perversions. Saadiah Gaon holds the rational basis of most of the Bible's moral legislation to be the preservation of the family structure (Emunot ve-De'ot 3:1: cf. Yoma 9a). (This argument assumes contemporary cogency in the light of the avowed aim of some gay militants to destroy the family, which they consider an "oppressive institution.")

A third explanation is given by a modern scholar, Rabbi Baruch Ha-Levi Epstein (Torah Temimah to Lev. 18:22), who emphasizes the unnaturalness of the homosexual liaison: "You are going astray from the foundations of the creation." Mishkav zakhur defies the very structure of the anatomy of the sexes, which quite obviously was designed for heterosexual relationships.

It may be, however, that the very variety of interpretations of to'evah points to a far more fundamental meaning, namely, that an act characterized as an "abomination" is prima facie disgusting and cannot be further defined or explained. Certain acts are considered to'evah by the Torah, and there the matter rests. It is, as it were, a visceral reaction, an intuitive disqualification of the act, and we run the risk of distorting the Biblical judgment if we rationalize it. To'evah constitutes a category of objectionableness sui generis: it is a primary phenomenon. (This lends additional force to Rabbi David Z. Hoffmann's contention that to'evah is used by the Torah to indicate the repulsiveness of a proscribed act, no matter how much it may be in vogue among advanced and sophisticated cultures: see his Sefer Va-yikra, II, p. 54.).

Jewish Attitudes

It is on the basis of the above that an effort must be made to formulate a Jewish response to the problems of homosexuality in the conditions under which most Jews live today, namely, those of free and democratic societies and, with the exception of Israel, non-Jewish lands and traditions.

Four general approaches may be adopted:1) Repressive: No leniency toward the homosexual, lest the moral fiber of the rest of society be weakened.2) Practical: Dispense with imprisonment and all forms of social harassment, for eminently practical and prudent reasons.3) Permissive: The same as the above, but for the ideological reasons, viz., the acceptance of homosexuality as a legitimate alternative "lifestyle"4) Psychological: Homosexuality, in at least some forms, should be recognized as a disease and this recognition must determine our attitude toward the homosexual.
Let us consider each of these critically.

Repressive Attitude

Exponents of the most stringent approach hold that pederasts are the vanguard of moral malaise, especially in our society. For on thing, they are dangerous to children. According to a recent work, one third of the homosexuals in the study were seduced in their adolescence by adults. It is best for society that they be imprisoned, and if our present penal institutions are faulty, let them be improved. Homosexuals should certainly not be permitted to function as teachers, group leaders, rabbis, or in any other capacity where they might be models for, and come into close contact with, young people. Homosexuality must not be excused as a sickness. A sane society assumes that its members have free choice, and are therefore responsible for their conduct. Sex offenders, including homosexuals, according to another recent study, operate "at a primate level with the philosophy that necessity is the mother of improvisation." As Jews who believe that the Torah legislated certain moral laws for all mankind, it is incumbent upon us to encourage all societies, including non-Jewish ones, to implement the Noachide laws. And since, according to the halakhah, homosexuality is prohibited to Noachides as well as to Jews, we must seek to strengthen the moral quality of society by encouraging more restrictive laws against homosexuals. Moreover, if we are loyal to the teachings of Judaism, we cannot distinguish between "victimless" crimes and crimes of violence. Hence, if our concern for the murder, racial oppression, or robbery, we must do no less with regard to sodomy.

This argument is, however, weak on a number of grounds. Practically, it fails to take into cognizance the number of homosexuals of all categories, which, as we have pointed out, is vast. We cannot possibly imprison all offenders, and it is a manifest miscarriage of justice to vent our spleen only on the few unfortunates who are caught by the police. It is inconsistent because there has been no comparable outcry for harsh sentencing of other transgressors of sexual morality, such as those who indulge in adultery or incest. To take consistency to its logical conclusion, this hard line on homosexuality should not stop with imprisonment but demand the death sentence, as is Biblically prescribed. And why not the same death sentence for blasphemy, eating a limb torn from a live animal, idolatry, robbery -all of which are Noachide commandments? And why not capital punishment for Sabbath transgressors in the State of Israel? Why should the pederast be singled out for opprobrium and be made an object lesson while all others escape?

Those who might seriously consider such logically consistent, but socially destructive, strategies had best think back to the fate of that Dominican reformer, the monk Girolamo Savonarola, who in 15th-century Florence undertook a fanatical campaign against vice and all suspected of venal sin, with emphasis on pederasty. The society of that time and place, much like ours, could stand vast improvement. But too much medicine in too strong doses was the monk's prescription, whereupon the population rioted and the zealot was hanged.

Finally, there is indeed some halakhic warrant for distinguishing between violent and victimless (or consensual and non-consensual) crimes. Thus, the Talmud permits a passer-by to kill a man in pursuit of another man or of a woman when the pursuer is attempting homosexual or heterosexual rape, as the case may be, whereas this is not permitted in the case of a transgressor pursuing an animal to commit buggery or on his way to worship an idol or to violate the Sabbath, (Sanh. 8:7, and v. Rashi to Sanh. 73a, s.v. al ha-behemah).

Practical Attitude

The practical approach is completely pragmatic and attempts to steer clear of any ideology in its judgments and recommendations. It is, according to its advocates, eminently reasonable. Criminal laws requiring punishment for homosexuals are simply unenforceable in society at the present day. We have previously cited the statistics on the extremely high incidence of pederasty in our society. Kinsey once said of the many sexual acts outlawed by the various states, that, were they all enforced, some 95% of men in the United States would be in jail. Furthermore, the special prejudice of law enforcement authorities against homosexuals - rarely does one hear of police entrapment or of jail sentences for non-violent heterosexuals - breeds a grave injustice: namely, it is an invitation to blackmail. The law concerning sodomy has been called "the blackmailer's charter." It is universally agreed that prison does little to help the homosexual rid himself of his peculiarity. Certainly, the failure of rehabilitation ought to be of concern to civilized men. But even if it is not, and the crime be considered so serious that incarceration is deemed advisable even in the absence of any real chances of rehabilitation, the casual pederast almost always leaves prison as a confirmed criminal. He has been denied the company of women and forced into society of those whose sexual expression is almost always channeled to pederasty. The casual pederast has become a habitual one: his homosexuality has now been ingrained in him. Is society any safer for having taken an errant man and, in the course of a few years, for having taught him to transform his deviancy into a hard and fast perversion, then turning him loose on the community? Finally, from a Jewish point of view, since it is obviously impossible for us to impose the death penalty for sodomy, we may as well act on purely practical grounds and do away with all legislation and punishment in this area of personal conduct.

This reasoning is tempting precisely because it focuses directly on the problem and is free of any ideological commitments. But the problem with it is that it is too smooth, too easy. By the same reasoning one might, in a reductio ad absurdum do away with all laws on income tax evasion, or forgive, and dispense with all punishment of Nazi murders. Furthermore, the last element leaves us with a novel view of the Halakhah: if it cannot be implemented in its entirely, it ought to be abandoned completely. Surely the Noachide laws, perhaps above all others, place us under clear moral imperatives, over and above purely penological instructions? The very practicality of this position leaves it open to the charge of evading the very real moral issues, and for Jews the halakhic principles, entailed in any discussion of homosexuality.

Permissive Attitude

The ideological advocacy of a completely permissive attitude toward consensual homosexuality and the acceptance of its moral legitimacy is, of course, the "in" fashion in sophisticated liberal circles. Legally, it holds that deviancy is none of the law's business; the homosexual's civil rights are as sacred as those of any other "minority group." From the psychological angle, sexuality must be emancipated from the fetters of guilt induced by religion and code-morality, and its idiosyncratic nature must be confirmed.

Gay Liberationists aver that the usual "straight" attitude toward homosexuality is based on three fallacies or myths: that homosexuality is an illness; that it is unnatural; and that it is immoral. They argue that it cannot be considered an illness, because so many people have been shown to practice it. It is not unnatural, because its alleged unnaturalness derives from the impossibility of sodomy leading to reproduction, whereas our overpopulated society no longer needs to breed workers, soldiers, farmers, or hunters. And it is not immoral, first, because morality is relative, and secondly, because moral behavior is that characterized by "selfless, loving concern."

Now, we are here concerned with the sexual problem as such, and not with homosexuality as a symbol of the whole contemporary ideological polemic against restraint and tradition. Homosexuality is too important - and too agonizing - a human problem to allow it to be exploited for political aims or entertainment or shock value.

The bland assumption that pederasty cannot be considered an illness because of the large number of people who have or express homosexual tendencies cannot stand up under criticism. No less an authority than Freud taught that a whole civilization can be neurotic. Erich Fromm appeals for the establishment of The Sane Society - because ours is not. If the majority of a nation are struck down by typhoid fever, does this condition, by so curious a calculus of semantics, become healthy? Whether or not homosexuality can be considered an illness is a serious question, and it does depend on one's definition of health and illness. But mere statistics are certainly not the coup de grâce to the psychological argument, which will be discussed shortly.

The validation of gay life as "natural" on the basis of changing social and economic conditions is an act of verbal obfuscation. Even if we were to concur with the widely held feeling that the world's population is dangerously large, and that Zero Population Growth is now a desideratum, the anatomical fact remains unchanged: the generative organs are structured for generation. If the words "natural" and "unnatural" have any meaning at all, they must be rooted in the unchanging reality of man's sexual apparatus rather than in his ephmeral social configurations.

Militant feminists along with the gay activists react vigorously against the implication that natural structure implies the naturalness or unnaturalness of certain acts, but this very view has recently been confirmed by one of the most informed writers on the subject. "It is already pretty safe to infer from laboratory research and ethological parallels that male and female are wired in ways that relate to our traditional sex roles... Freud dramatically said that anatomy is destiny. Scientists who shudder at the dramatic, no matter how accurate, could rephrase this: anatomy is functional, body functions have profound psychological meanings to people, and anatomy and function are often socially elaborated" (Arno Karlen, Sexuality and Homosexuality, p. 501).

The moral issues lead us into the quagmire of perennial philosophical disquisitions of a fundamental nature. In a way, this facilitates the problem for one seeking a Jewish view. Judaism does not accept the kind of thoroughgoing relativism used to justify the gay life as merely an alternate lifestyle And while the question of human autonomy is certainly worthy of consideration in the area of sexuality, one must beware of the consequences of taking the argument to its logical extreme. Judaism clearly cherishes holiness as a greater value than either freedom or health. Furthermore, if every individual's autonomy leads us to lend moral legitimacy to any form of sexual expression he may desire, we must be ready to pull the blanket of this moral validity over almost the whole catalogue of perversion described by Krafft-Ebing, and then, by the legerdemain of granting civil rights to the morally non-objectionable, permit the advocates of buggery, fetishism, or whatever to proselytize in public. In that case, why not in the school system? And if consent is obtained before the death of one partner, why not necrophilia or cannibalism? Surely, if we declare pederasty to be merely idiosyncratic and not an "abomination," what right have we to condemn sexually motivated cannibalism - merely because most people would react with revulsion and disgust?

"Loving, selfless concern" and "meaningful personal relationships" - the great slogans of the New Morality and the exponents of situation ethics - have become the litany of sodomy in our times. Simple logic should permit us to use the same criteria for excusing adultery or any other act heretofore held to be immoral: and indeed, that is just what has been done, and it has received the sanction not only of liberals and humanists, but of certain religionists as well. "Love," "fulfillment," "exploitative," "meaningful" - the list itself sounds like a lexicon of emotionally charged terms drawn at random from the disparate sources of both Christian and psychologically-orientated agnostic circles. Logically, we must ask the next question: what moral depravities can not be excused by the sole criterion of "warm, meaningful human relations" or "fulfillment," the newest semantic heirs to "love"?

Love, fulfillment, and happiness can also be attained in incestuous contacts -and certainly in polygamous relationships. Is there nothing at all left that is "sinful," "unnatural," or "immoral" if it is practiced "between two consenting adults?" For religious groups to aver that a homosexual relationship should be judged by the same criteria as a heterosexual one - i.e., "whether it is intended to foster a permanent relationship of love" - is to abandon the last claim of representing the "Judeo-Christian tradition."

I have elsewhere essayed a criticism of the situationalists, their use of the term "love," and their objections to traditional morality as exemplified by the Halakhah as "mere legalism" (see my Faith and Doubt, chapter IX, p. 249 ff). Situationalists, such as Joseph Fletcher, have especially attacked "pilpolistic Rabbis" for remaining entangled in the coils of statutory and legalistic hairsplitting. Among the other things this typically Christian polemic reveals is an ignorance of the nature of Halakhah and its place in Judaism, which never held that law was totality of life, pleaded again and again for supererogatory conduct, recognized that individuals may be disadvantaged by the law, and which strove to rectify what could be rectified without abandoning the large majority to legal and moral chaos simply because of the discomfiture of the few.

Clearly, while Judaism needs no defense or apology in regard to its esteem for neighborly love and compassion for the individual sufferer, it cannot possibly abide a wholesale dismissal of its most basic moral principles on the grounds that those subject to its judgments find them repressive. All laws are repressive to some extent -they repress illegal activities- and all morality is concerned with changing man and improving him and his society. Homosexuality imposes on one an intolerable burden of differentness, of absurdity, and of loneliness, but the Biblical commandment outlawing pederasty cannot be put aside solely on the basis of sympathy for the victim of these feelings. Morality, too, is an element which each of us, given his sensuality, his own idiosyncracies, and his immoral proclivities, must take into serious consideration before acting out his impulses.

Psychological Attitudes

Several years ago I recommended that Jews regard homosexual deviance as a pathology, thus reconciling the insights of Jewish tradition with the exigencies of contemporary life and scientific information, such as it is, on the nature of homosexuality (Jewish Life, Jan-Feb. 1968). The remarks that follow are an expansion and modification of that position, together with some new data and notions.

The proposal that homosexuality be viewed as an illness will immediately be denied by three groups of people. Gay militants object to this view as an instance of heterosexual condescension. Evelyn Hooker and her group of psychologists maintain that homosexuals are no more pathological in their personality structures than heterosexuals. And psychiatrists Thomas Szasz in the U.S. and Ronald Laing in England reject all traditional ideas of mental sickness and health as tools of social repressiveness or, at best, narrow conventionalism. While granting that there are indeed unfortunate instances where the category of mental disease is exploited for social or political reasons, we part company with all three groups and assume that there are significant number of pederasts and lesbians who, by the criteria accepted by most psychologists and psychiatrists, can indeed be termed pathological. Thus, for instance, Dr. Albert Ellis, an ardent advocate of the right to deviancy, denies there is such a thing as a well-adjusted homosexual. In an interview, he has stated that whereas he used to believe that most homosexuals were neurotic, he is now convinced that about 50% are borderline psychotics, that the usual fixed male homosexual is a severe phobic, and that lesbians are even more disturbed than male homosexuals (see Karlem, op. cit., p. 223ff.).

No single cause of homosexuality has been established. In all probability, it is based on a conglomeration of a number of factors. There is overwhelming evidence that the condition is developmental, not constitutional. Despite all efforts to discover something genetic in homosexuality, no proof has been adduced, and researchers incline more and more to reject the Freudian concept of fundamental human biological bisexuality and its corollary of homosexual latency. It is now widely believed that homosexuality is the result of a whole family constellation. The passive, dependent, phobic male homosexual is usually the product of an aggressive, covertly seductive mother who is overly rigid and puritanical with her son - thus forcing him into a bond where he is sexually aroused, yet forbidden to express himself in any heterosexual way - and of a father who is absent, remote, emotionally detached, or hostile (I. Bieber et al. Homosexuality, 1962).

Can the homosexual be cured? There is a tradition of therapeutic pessimism that goes back to Freud but a number of psychoanalysis, including Freud's daughter Anna, have reported successes in treating homosexuals as any other phobics (in this case, fear of the female genitals). It is generally accepted that about a third of all homosexuals can be completely cured: behavioral therapists report an even larger number of cures.

Of course, one cannot say categorically that all homosexuals are sick - any more than one can casually define all thieves as kleptomaniacs. In order to develop a reasonable Jewish approach to the problem and to seek in the concept of illness some mitigating factor, it is necessary first to establish the main types of homosexuals. Dr. Judd Marmor speaks of four categories. "Genuine homosexuality" is based on strong preferential erotic feelings for members of the same sex. "Transitory homosexual behavior" occurs among adolescents who would prefer heterosexual experiences but are denied such opportunities because of the social, cultural, or psychological reasons. "Situational homosexual exchanges" are characteristic of prisoners, soldiers and others who are heterosexual but are denied access to women for long periods of time. "Transitory and opportunistic homosexuality" is that of delinquent young men who permit themselves to be used by pederasts in order to make money or win other favors, although their primary erotic interests are exclusively heterosexual. To these may be added, for purposes of our analysis, two other types. The first category, that of genuine homosexuals, me be said to comprehend two sub-categories: those who experience their condition as one of duress or uncontrollable passion which they would rid themselves of if they could, and those who transform their idiosyncrasy into an ideology, i.e., the gay militants who assert the legitimacy and validity of homosexuality as an alternative way to heterosexuality. The sixth category is based on what Dr. Rollo May has called "the New Puritanism", the peculiarly modern notion that one must experience all sexual pleasures, whether or not one feels inclined to them, as if the failure to taste every cup passed at the sumptuous banquet of carnal life means that one has not truly lived. Thus, we have transitory homosexual behavior not of adolescents, but of adults who feel that: they must "try everything" at least once or more than once in their lives.

A Possible Halakhic Solution

This rubric will now permit us to apply the notion of disease (and, from the halakhic point of view, of its opposite, moral culpability) to the various types of sodomy. Clearly, genuine homosexuality experienced under duress (Hebrew: ones) most obviously lends itself to being termed pathological especially where dysfunction appears in other aspects of personality. Opportunistic homosexuality, ideological homosexuality, and transitory adult homosexuality are at the other end of the spectrum, and appear most reprehensible. As for the intermediate categories, while they cannot be called illness, they do have a greater claim on our sympathy than the three types mentioned above.

In formulating the notion of homosexuality as a disease, we are not asserting the formal halakhic definition of mental illness as mental incompetence, as described in TB Hag. 3b, 4a, and elsewhere. Furthermore, the categorization of a prohibited sex act as ones (duress) because of uncontrolled passions is valid, in a technical halakhic sense, only for a married woman who was ravished and who, in the course of the act, became a willing participant. The Halakhah decides with Rava, against the father of Samuel, that her consent is considered duress because of the passions aroused in her (Ket, 51b). However, this holds true only if the act was initially entered into under physical compulsion (Kesef Mishneh to Yad, Sanh. 20:3). Moreover, the claim of compulsion by one's erotic passions is not valid for a male, for any erection is considered a token of his willingness (Yev, 53b; Maimonides, Yad, Sanh, 20:3). In the case of a male who was forced to cohabit with a woman forbidden to him, some authorities consider him guilty and punishable, while others hold him guilty but not subject to punishment by the courts (Tos., Yev, 53b; Hinnukh, 556; Kesef Mishneh, loc. cit.: Maggid Mishneh to Issurei Bi´ah, 1:9). Where a male is sexually aroused in a permissible manner, as to begin coitus with his wife and is then forced to conclude the act with another woman, most authorities exonerate him (Rabad and Maggid Mishned, to Issurei Bi´ah, in loc). If, now, the warped family background of the genuine homosexual is considered ones, the homosexual act may possibly lay claim to some mitigation by the Halakhah. (However, see Minhat Hinnukh, 556, end; and M. Feinstein, Iggerot Moshe (1973) on YD, no. 59, who holds, in a different context, that any pleasure derived from a forbidden act performed under duress increases the level of prohibition. This was anticipated by R. Joseph Engel, Atvan de-Oraita, 24). These latter sources indicate the difficulty of exonerating sexual transgressors because of psycho-pathological reasons under the technical rules of the Halakhah.

However, in the absence of a Sanhedrin and since it is impossible to implement the whole halakhic penal system, including capital punishment, such strict applications are unnecessary. What we are attempting is to develop guidelines, based on the Halakhah, which will allow contemporary Jews to orient themselves to the current problems of homosexuality in a manner articulating with the most fundamental insights of the Halakhah in a general sense, and consistent with the broadest world-view that the halakhic commitment instills in its followers. Thus, the aggadic statement that "no man sins unless he is overcome by a spirit of madness" (Sot. 3a) is not an operative halakhic rule, but does offer guidance on public policy and individual pastoral compassion. So in the present case, the formal halakhic strictures do not in any case apply nowadays, and it is our contention that the aggadic principle must lead us to seek out the mitigating halakhic elements so as to guide us in our orientation to homosexuals who, by the standards of modern psychology, may be regarded as acting under compulsion.

To apply the Halakhah strictly in this case is obviously impossible; to ignore it entirely is undesirable, and tantamount to regarding Halakhah as a purely abstract, legalistic system which can safely be dismissed where its norms and prescriptions do not allow full formal implementation. Admittedly, the method is not rigorous, and leaves room to varying interpretations as well as exegetical abuse, but it is the best we can do.

Hence there are types of homosexuality that do not warrant any special considerateness, because the notion of ones or duress (i.e., disease) in no way applies. Where the category of mental illness does apply, the act itself remains to´evah (an abomination), but the fact of illness lays upon us the obligation of pastoral compassion, psychological understanding, and social sympathy. In these sense, homosexuality is no different from any other social or anti-halakhic act, where it is legitimate to distinguish between the objective itself including its social and moral consequences, and the mentality and inner development of the person who perpetrates the act. For instance, if a man murders in a cold and calculating fashion for reasons of profit, the act is criminal and the transgressor is criminal. If, however, a psychotic murders, the transgressor is diseased rather than criminal, but the objective act itself remains a criminal one. The courts may therefore treat the perpetrator of the crime as they would a patient, with all the concomitant compassion and concern for therapy, without condoning the act as being morally neutral. To use halakhic terminology, the objective crime remains a ma´aseh averah, whereas a person who transgresses is considered innocent on the grounds of ones. In such case, the transgressor is spared the full legal consequences of his culpable act, although the degree to which he may be held responsible varies from case to case.

An example of a criminal act that is treated with compassion by the Halakhah, which in practice considers the act pathological rather than criminal, is suicide. Technically, the suicide or attempted suicide is in violation of the law. The Halakhah denies to the suicide the honor of a eulogy, the rending of the garments by relatives or witnesses to the death, and (according to Maimonides) insist that the relatives are not to observe the usual mourning period for the suicide. Yet, in the course of time, the tendency has been to remove the stigma from the suicide on the basis of mental disease. Thus, halakhic scholars do not apply the technical category of intentional (la-da´at) suicide to one who did not clearly demonstrate before performing the act, that he knew what he was doing and was of sound mind, to the extent that there was no hiatus between the act of self-destruction and actual death. If these conditions are not present, we assume that it was an insane act or that between the act and death he experienced pangs of contrition and is therefore repentant, hence excused before the law. There is even one opinion which exonerates the suicide unless he received adequate warning (hatra´ah) before performing the act, and responded in a manner indicating that he was fully aware of what he was doing and that he was lucid (J.M Tykocinski, Gesher ha-Hayyim, I, ch. 25, and Encyclopaedia Judaica, 15:490).

Admittedly, there are differences between the two cases: pederasty is clearly a severe violation of Biblical law, whereas the stricture against suicide is derived exegetically from a verse in the Genesis. Nevertheless, the principle operative in the one is applicable to the other: where one can attribute an act to mental illness, it is done out of simple humanitarian considerations.

The suicide analogy should not, of course, lead one to conclude that there are grounds for a blanket exculpation of homosexuality as mental illness. Not all forms of homosexuality can be so termed, as indicated above, and the act itself remains an "abomination". With few exceptions, most people do not ordinarily propose that suicide be considered an acceptable and legitimate alternative to the rigors of daily life. No sane and moral person sits passively and watches a fellow man attempt suicide because he "understands" him and because it has been decided that suicide is a "morally neutral" act. By the same token, in orienting ourselves to certain types of homosexuals as patients rather than criminals, we do not condone the act but attempt to help the homosexual. Under no circumstances can Judaism suffer homosexuality to become respectable. Were society to give its open or even tacit approval to homosexuality, it would invite more aggressiveness on the part of adult pederasts toward young people. Indeed, in the currently permissive atmosphere, the Jewish view would summon us to the semantic courage of referring to homosexuality not as "deviance" with the implication of moral neutrality and non-judgmental idiosyncrasy, but as "perversion" - a less clinical and more old-fashioned word, perhaps, but one that is more in keeping with the Biblical to´evah.

Yet, having passed this moral judgment, we cannot in the name of Judaism necessarily demand that we strive for the harshest possible punishment. Even where it was halakhically feasible to execute capital punishment, we have a tradition of leniency. Thus, R. Akiva and R. Tarfon declared that had they lived during the time of the Sanhedrin, they never would have executed a man. Although the Halakhah does not decide in their favor (Mak., end of ch. I), it was rare indeed that the death penalty was actually imposed. Usually, the Biblically mandated penalty was regarded as an index of the severity of the transgression, and the actual execution was avoided by strict insistence upon all technical requirements - such al hatra´ah (forewarning the potential criminal) and rigorous cross-examination of witnesses, etc. In the same spirit, we are not bound to press for the most punitive policy toward contemporary lawbreakers. We are required to lead them to rehabilitation (teshuva). The Halakhah sees no contradiction between condemning a man to death and exercising compassion, even love, toward him (Sanh. 52a). Even a man on the way to his execution was encouraged to repent (Sanh. 6:2). In the absence of a death penalty, the tradition of teshuva and pastoral compassion to the sinner continues.

I do not find any warrant in the Jewish tradition for insisting on prison sentences for homosexuals. The singling-out of homosexuals as victims of society's righteous indignation is patently unfair. In Western history, anti-homosexual crusades have too often been marked by cruelty, destruction, and bigotry. Imprisonment in modern times has proven to be extremely haphazard. The number of homosexuals unfortunate enough to be apprehended is infinitesimal as compared to the number of known homosexuals; estimates vary from one to 300.000 to one to 6.000.000!. For homosexuals to be singled out for special punishment while all the rest of society indulges itself in every other form of sexual malfeasance (using the definitions of Halakhah, not the New Morality) is a species of double-standard morality that the spirit of Halakhah cannot abide. Thus, the Mishnah declares that the "scroll of the suspected adulteress" (megillat sotah) - whereby a wife suspected of adultery was forced to undergo the test of "bitter waters" - was cancelled when the Sages became aware of the ever-larger number of adulterers in general (Sot. 9:9). The Talmud bases this decision on an aversion to the double standard: if the husband is himself an adulterer, the "bitter waters" will have no effect on his wife, even though she too be guilty of the offense (Sot. 47b). By the same token, a society in which heterosexual immorality is not conspicuously absent has no moral right to sit in stern judgment and mete out harsh penalties to homosexuals.

Furthermore, sending a homosexual to prison is counterproductive if punishment is to contain any element of rehabilitation or teshuva. It has rightly been compared to sending an alcoholic to a distillery. The Talmud records that the Sanhedrin was unwilling to apply the full force of the law where punishment had lost its quality of deterrence; thus, 40 (or four) years before the destruction of the Temple, the Sanhedrin voluntarily left the precincts of the Temple so as not to be able, technically, to impose the death sentence, because it had noticed the increasing rate of homicide (Sanh. 41a, and elsewhere).

There is nothing in the Jewish law's letter or spirit that should incline us toward advocacy of imprisonment for homosexuals. The Halakhah did not, by and large, encourage the denial of freedom as a recommended form of punishment. Flogging is, from a certain perspective, far less cruel and far more enlightened. Since capital punishment is out of the question, and since incarceration is not an advisable substitute, we are left with one absolute minimum: strong disapproval of the proscribed act. But we are not bound to any specific penological instrument that has no basis in Jewish law or tradition.

How shall this disapproval be expressed? It has been suggested that, since homosexuality will never attain acceptance anyway, society can afford to be humane. As long as violence and the seduction of children are not involved, it would best to abandon all laws on homosexuality and leave it to the inevitable social sanctions to control, informally,what can be controlled.

However, this approach is not consonant with Jewish tradition. The repeal of anti-homosexual laws implies the removal of the stigma from homosexuality, and this diminution of social censure weakens society in its training of the young toward acceptable patterns of conduct. The absence of adequate social reproach may well encourage the expression of homosexual tendencies by those in whom they might otherwise be suppressed. Law itself has an educative function, and the repeal of laws, no matter how justifiable such repeal may be from one point of view, does have the effect of signaling the acceptability of greater permissiveness.

Some New Proposals

Perhaps all that has been said above can best be expressed in the proposals that follow.

First, society and government must recognize the distinctions between the various categories enumerated earlier in this essay. We must offer medical and psychological assistance to those whose homosexuality is an expression of pathology, who recognize it as such, and are willing to seek help. We must be no less generous to the homosexual than to the drug addict, to whom the government extends various forms of therapy upon request.

Second, jail sentences must be abolished for all homosexuals, save those who are guilty of violence, seduction of the young, or public solicitation.

Third, the laws must remain on the books, but by mutual consent of judiciary and police, be unenforced. This approximates to what lawyers call "the chilling effect", and is the nearest one can come to the category so well known in the Halakhah, whereby strong disapproval is expressed by affirming a halakhic prohibition, yet no punishment is mandated. It is a category that bridges the gap between morality and law. In a society where homosexuality is so rampant, and where incarceration is so counterproductive, the hortatory approach may well be a way of formalizing society's revulsion while avoiding the pitfalls in our accepted penology.

For the Jewish community as such, the same principles, derived from the tradition, may serve as guidelines. Judaism allows for no compromise in its abhorrence of sodomy, but encourages both compassion and efforts at rehabilitation. Certainly, there must be no acceptance of separate Jewish homosexual societies, such as - or specially - synagogues set aside as homosexual congregations. The first such "gay synagogue", apparently, was the "Beth Chayim Chadashim" in Los Angeles. Spawned by that city's Metropolitan Community Church in March 1972, the founding group constituted itself as a Reform congregation with the help of the Pacific Southwest Council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations some time in early 1973. Thereafter, similar groups surfaced in New York City and elsewhere. The original group meets on Friday evenings in the Leo Baeck Temple and is searching for a rabbi - who must himself be "gay". The membership sees itself as justified by "the Philosophy of Reform Judaism". The Temple president declared that God is "more concerned in our finding a sense of peace in which to make a better world, than He is in whom someone sleeps with" (cited in "Judaism and Homosexuality" C.C.A.R. Journal, summer 1973, p. 38; five articles in this issue of the Reform group's rabbinic journal are devoted to the same theme, and most of them approve of the Gay Synagogue).

But such reasoning is specious, to say the least. Regular congregations and other Jewish groups should not hesitate to accord hospitality and membership, on an individual basis, to those "visible" homosexuals who qualify for the category of the ill. Homosexuals are no less in violation of Jewish norms than Sabbath desecrators or those who disregard the laws of kashrut. But to assent to the organization of separate "gay" groups under Jewish auspices makes no more sense, Jewishly, than to suffer the formation of synagogues that care exclusively to idol worshipers, adulterers, gossipers, tax evaders, or Sabbath violators. Indeed, it makes less sense, because it provides, under religious auspices, a ready-made clientele from which the homosexual can more easily choose his partners.

In remaining true to the sources of Jewish tradition. Jews are commanded to avoid the madness that seizes society at various times and in many forms, while yet retaining a moral composure and psychological equilibrium sufficient to exercise that combination of discipline and charity that is the hallmark of Judaism.

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Dov Lipman Front and Center at RCA Convention

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I am writing to you from Manhattan as I prepare to return to Seattle tomorrow. The Rabbinical Council of America convention that I had the good fortune to attend focused on a number of key issues concerning the Jewish community both nationally and internationally. The issue of child abuse in the Jewish and broader community was a central focus as were issues in Jewish education and the need for community rabbis to be more involved in the local Jewish day schools. Internationally, one of the candidates for the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Rabbi David Stav, spoke to the convention body about changes he sees as crucial to the future of the Jewish identity of the State of Israel, prime among them the issue of marriage and conversion in Israel.


A few weeks ago, we had a "Fundamentals" class on the drafting of Yeshiva Students into the IDF and those same students' place in Israeli society. Rabbi Dov Lipman of Yesh Atid, delivered the keynote address on Sunday night; a counter to Lipman was journaliast Jonathan Rosenblum, speaking on Monday. These two men presented very impassioned positions on the topic, but with what I thought, was a great deal of common ground and overlap between the perspectives. Rabbi Lipman, who has been vilifed in certain circles, spoke before the convention with Rabbi Daniel Korobkin of Toronto, and much of what he said at the convention, he recorded in this interview, which has been posted on YouTube. I encourage you to watch the interview - and feel free to let me know what you think.
See you this week - Rabbi Meyers

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Population Projections for Israel in 2035

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A colleague of mine pointed out a very recent publication by the CBS in Israel; in it, Jewish population in Israel is expected to increase signficantly throughout the next 22 years, to 2035.  The balance of Jews vs. other populations is of special interest.

Click on http://www1.cbs.gov.il/hodaot2013n/01_13_170t12.pdf to see the chart summarizing the study - RM

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Tisha Be’Av: Mourning Through “Bitul Torah”

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Learning Curtailed
The traditional three-week mourning period marking the process of the destruction of our two Batei Mikdash (Holy Temples) culminates in probably the most difficult day, both spiritually and physically, of the Jewish year. On Tisha Be’Av, the Jew is bidden to internalize the great national tragedy of the Temples’ destruction by adhering to the same restrictions as a person who, God forbid, suffers the loss of a close relative. To this end, the Shulchan Arukh rules that on Tisha Be’Av it is forbidden “to wash, anoint oneself, wear leather shoes, and have intimate relations. It is also forbidden to read from the Tanach (Torah, Nevi’im, Ketuvim) and to learn Mishna, Midrash, Talmud – including both halachic and allegoric passages.”

Why the prohibition on learning? Basing himself on the Talmud, Rabbi Yosef Karo cites the verse in Tehilim (19:9): “The statutes of God are upright, rejoicing the heart…” Since Tisha B’Av is a day of immense sadness, it is inappropriate to experience the joy that comes with learning Torah.
In his commentary on Tehilim, Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezrah notes that the Hebrew term for the “statutes of [God]” employed by the above verse is “pekudei” – and that this word shares the root of the term “pikadon”. A “pikadon” is an object entrusted by one to another, generally for purposes of safekeeping. “They [the mitzvot of the Torah] are present in potential within the soul of everyone obligated in commandments,” Ibn Ezrah explains. “God entrusted [the mitzvot to us by placing them] in [our] hearts.”

Pre-Natal Classes
The concept that all of Torah is embedded deep within every Jew is a famous theme of the early Talmudic period. In Yalkut Shimoni (Bereishit Ch. 38), for instance, the sage Shmuel states that while in his mother’s womb, the fetus is taught the entire Torah. Upon birth, an angel appears, strikes the baby on his mouth, and causes him to forget all of his learning. (A lengthier version of the same theme appears in Talmud, Tractate Nidda 30b)

According to the commentary Akeidat Yitzchak, the midrash is effectively saying that from the very earliest stages of his development, the Jew has the potential to achieve a high degree of spiritual perfection, the kind gained through knowledge of Torah. “Nevertheless,” explains Akeidat Yitzchak, “this potential may never be actualized. It depends on the degree of effort and toil invested in learning.” These pre-natal Torah lessons, he adds, also help explain the conclusion of the midrash: At birth, the baby takes an oath, committing himself to be a Tzaddik (righteous person) and not a Rasha (wicked person). Although the child has forgotten his learning, says the Akeidat Yitzchak, he can confidently take the oath, since Torah absorbed by him in the womb creates within him a predisposition towards righteousness.

That said, what is the connection drawn in the verse in Tehilim between the concept of Torah as a “pikadon” in our hearts, and the simcha – or joy – experienced by us during Torah study? The joy of learning Torah stems from the Jew’s rediscovery of the Torah he internalized prior to birth, the Torah entrusted to him, the Torah that until now, has been lying dormant in his heart and mind, waiting to be given new life. This is the kind of exciting spiritual experience denied the Jew on Tisha Be’Av.

Hazal – our sages of blessed memory – understood that in the course of time, it would be increasingly difficult for Jews to comprehend what was actually lost with the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash. The longer the exile, the harder it would be to appreciate the significance of the korbanot (sacrifices) or, for example, the Avoda (service) of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur. One thing that would remain with the Jews throughout the Galut, however, is the Torah. Hazal understood that the committed learner of Torah would feel a great sense of loss and intense sadness when denied the opportunity, for even a 24-hour period, to pursue his daily, lifelong task of rediscovering his Torah.

Applying the Lesson
Many of us may now be asking ourselves: “This kind of halacha may have an impact on seasoned Talmidei Hahamim – great Torah scholars, but what about the majority of us who are simply not on such a lofty spiritual level? How are we to relate to the prohibition of learning Torah on Tisha B’av?” The western concept that says everyone is entitled to monthly, weekly, even daily allotments of leisure time has taken its spiritual toll on us all. As hard as a person studies at yeshiva, if he grew up in a popular culture that values spending hours in front of the television watching football, relaxing on week-long Caribbean luxury cruises etc. – it’s a real challenge for even this dedicated yeshiva student to truly internalize the pain of being denied the ability to learn Torah for the 24-hour period of Tisha B’Av!

A possible approach to this dilemma may be found in the hashkafa, or conceptual outlook, conveyed by the halacha: The reason Torah is denied to us on Tisha Be’Av is so that we feel a loss, a sense of mourning, on that day. Torah learning engenders joy because, as explained earlier, it is a process wherein the Jew rediscovers the gift bestowed upon him prior to birth. When the Torah scholar is held back from engaging in this process of self-actualization, he feels a vacuum in his life, he feels denied.

It may very well be that our sages wished to convey this hashkafa even to those of us who cannot yet totally internalize this sense of loss. In other words, the very formulation of a halacha which declares that, in order to feel a sense of mourning, one just refrain from learning on Tisha Be’Av – is, in and of itself a powerful Torah message! With this halacha, our sages are not simply instructing us to refrain from learning on Tisha Be’Av – they are simultaneously impressing upon us the need to view Torah learning as fundamental to our own personal happiness, our sense of self-fulfillment as Jews.

The Fervent Learner: Role Model or Transgressor?
The Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Mo’ed Katan, rules that, despite the prohibition of Torah learning during the week of Aveilut (mourning), “if he (the mourner) was fervent in his need to learn Torah, it is permissible.” The same leniency would seemingly apply to Tisha Be’Av, as well, since its prohibition of Torah learning is modeled on the laws of mourning. Rabbi Yosef Karo, after quoting this Talmudic source in his work, “Beit Yosef”, concludes: “But the poskim (rabbinic decisors) did not record [this leniency].” It was not accepted in normative halacha.

However, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef – in his monumental work of responsa, “Yabiah Omer” – writes that he did succeed in tracking down one noted (lone) posek, the Shibolei Haleket, who adopts the leniency, and permits particular fervent Torah learners to learn as usual during Aveilut. Rabbi Yosef thereupon cites an anecdote (initially recorded in Sefer Binayahu, Berachot 24) that illustrates an application of the principle of the very devoted Torah scholar. “A particular scholar had such a wondrous drive to learn Torah, that when he became a mourner, he continued to secretly immerse himself in Torah. His colleagues reproved him for doing so, [reminding him] that a mourner is forbidden from learning Torah. His response: ‘I know that I am transgressing the words of the sages, and that I will surely receive my punishment for this on Judgement Day, but I am prepared to suffer the consequences and to gladly accept my punishment, because I simply cannot hold myself back, I cannot tolerate the anguish I feel from Bitul Torah – that is as difficult for me as death itself.”

Certainly, the above story presents a serious philosophical problem for the religious Jew. Normative halacha rejects such an approach: namely, knowingly committing even a rabbinic transgression, while declaring that one is willing to “suffer the consequences.” Such an attitude undercuts the very authority of halacha itself! Of what value is the Torah study of such a person if he does not put his study into practice? And yet, this story is cited in a reputable halachic work, and repeated by the most prolific and prominent Sephardic halachic authority of our day, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef!

Halacha recognizes the principle of “Oness, Rachmana Patrei” – one is not held responsible for situations beyond one’s control. A typical example of this rule: I am stuck in a traffic jam and arrive too late to pray with a minyan. Since I allotted plenty of time to reach the synagogue, I am not held responsible for missing Minha with a minyan.

The scholar in the earlier story was similarly, not in control. So much was Torah a part of his essence that the halachic imperative for him to stop learning was like commanding him not to breathe!

This Tisha Be’Av, when we refrain from our daily routine of Torah study, let us try to internalize the loss of Torah on a personal level – and from there move to an awareness of the loss on a national level, the loss of our Bt Hamikdash.
And may our mourning soon turn to joy.

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