Sunday, December 31, 2017

Not on a steed

בראשית מט:יא אסרי לגפן עירה ולשרקה בני אתנו כבס ביין לבשו ובדם־ענבים סותה

“He binds his foal to the vine, and his ass's colt to the choice vine-branch. He has washed his garment in wine, and his mantle in the blood of grapes.” (Genesis 49:11)

So Jacob visualises משיח (the Messiah I.L.), and how does he see him? He sees the saviour of mankind, the conqueror of nations, not on a steed, but on a young ass's foal. The "ass" is always used to represent peaceful well-being, peaceful national greatness, whereas "steed" is used to represent military might. Similarly the ass is chosen from all the "unclean", animals, to express by פטר חמור the dedication of all one's movable possessions. It is the animal that carries people at a leisurely pace and bears his packs and baggage for him. Thus the Jewish conception of the power of kings is not to be represented by horses. The Jewish Kings were prohibited by the Torah להרבות סוס. A Jewish King was also not to be chosen until after ירושה וישיבה, after the complete conquest and settlement in the land, expressly not primarily for military purposes, and it was just in that that the sin of the people lay in Samuel's time, that they demanded a king to lead them in the wars defending the land, as Samuel reproached them Ch. XII. 12.ותראו כי־נחש מלך בני־עמון בא עליכם ותאמרו לי לא כי־מלך ימלך עלינו וה' אלהיכם מלככם . That is why here the one real true king, saving Israel and mankind appears onבני אתונו ,עירו. Two points are stressed with this picture painted here of the future time. The king of mankind does not ride on a charger, but on an ass, so he comes as the King of Peace, and he ties up his animal to a vine. If one can tie an animal, and especially an עיר, the lively mettlesome young donkey, to a vine, it is a sign of an infinitely increased development in nature (the vine stem growing like that of a tree ), and in general of immense prosperity and abundance. Abundance in an infinitely increased blessing in the world or nature, and peace in the world of mankind are the two signs that always characterise this final age in the mouth of our prophets. As long as the animal of peace is not placed in its true worth, the leaders of men always represented on horseback, on chargers, and as long as one does not tie up one's animals to vines, for so long are we still a long way off from the promised regeneration of the world of nature and the world of Man.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the Pentateuch, Genesis 49:11  

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Problematic Term

Is the term Yekke pejorative? I think these days it has become a term of endearment. However, I'm not sure it was always that way.

Rav Schwab wrote, "We also refer to those yelidei Ashkenaz who, all of the sudden become ashamed of their traditions and their time-hallowed customs. Incidentally, we don't appreciate the poor attempts at humor that poke fun at their G-d fearing parents and grandparents as "Yekkes." The "Yekke" of today, like the "Pollack" of yesterday, belongs to the ugly pockmarks of a galus mentality, which became outdated some time ago. We are taught that "He who gives even one of his fellowmen a nasty by-name forfeits his portion in the world to come." Rav Schwab, Selected Essays p. 144.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

According to his disposition

"Capacity to earn a living and support himself. The attainments which are to fit the child for its future career must include also such knowledge and skill as will one day assure him the possibility of becoming self-supporting as you have been, also of forming a circle round himself and bringing into it possessions of his own, and, from this circle and with these possessions, of living a full life of justice and love; and so transmitting to the next generation what he has received from you. Therefore you have to take thought that your child will be provided with some business, some craft, some art, some profession, according to his disposition. All are equally worthy, provided they are honest and honourable." Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb 552

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Kenes for Chol Hamoed Pesach

Kehillos Ashkenaz of Bene Brak is planning a Kenes for Chol Hamoed Pesach, we would like it to be on a much larger scale than previously with some excellent speakers who will tell the world in the name of Gedolei Hador about how important our project is to pass on our Masorah to the next generation.

In addition WE would like to have Chazanim and choirs and orchestras who could represent varios Kehilos worldwide. If you know anyone who may be interested in helping us organize this by joining our Kenes Commitee please forward them this email so that they can contact

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The real inherited estate

"The Teaching which Moses commanded us" so runs the national creed which is to be the heritage of Israel from generation to generation. It is this Torah which is מורשה, the real inherited estate, not the Land and what if offers, the Teaching is the national Jewish heritage, land, and power are only the conditional consequences of this treasure." Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Commentary on Devarim 33:4 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Dr. Isaac Levy

Some months ago I was grateful to locate and be able to post a photo of Gertrude Hirschler, one of the primary translators of Rav Hirsch's writings. Which reader of Hirsch hasn't read her fine translations? It was great to see a photo of her.

And now, through the help of Mr. Robert Schleimer, formerly of Munk's synagogue in London, I have been able to locate the photo of the other great Hirsch translator Dr. Isaac Levy, first translator of the complete Hirsch commentary on Chumash. And here it is:

What a debt of gratitude we owe him for his epic translation of Hirsch's epic commentary on Chumash. And here's one of Dr. Levy's translations:

"If we understand these sentences of the תייכ aright, then the sentence which stands at their head: forewarns one not to take the following sentences to mean that one is completely to ignore and remain in ignorance of all knowledge and science which has been gained and nurtured by non-Jewish sources or which have no direct bearing on the knowledge to be gained by the study of the Torah. Inasmuch as what is commanded is: עשם עיקר ואל תעשם טפלה, the permission to occupy oneself also with other spheres of knowledge is assumed. Only, the knowledge of the Torah and the understanding we derive from it is to be our principle concern and to be regarded as having been given to us as the absolute and firmly established Truth. Only as accessory knowledge and in as far as they serve to truly help the study of the Torah and are subordinated as the טפל to the עיקר, are they to be studied. But the Torah and all its teachings must always remain that which we have received from Above and must be the yardstick by which we measure all the results obtained by other spheres of learning. Only that which is in accordance with the Truths of the Torah can remain true for us. All that we accept intellectually as well as all our actions must always be considered from the point of view of the Torah and be within the lines of the doctrines it teaches, so that we only accept and adopt  that which is in accordance with them, and do not adulterate the knowledge we draw our of the Torah with ideas which have developed form other and strange premises."

R' Hirsch, Chumash, Leviticus, 18:5, trans. Isaac Levy, Judaica Press.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Wisdom from the Gentiles: John Steinbeck

I always come back to Steinbeck who was of German, English, and Irish decent.

“And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good.”
John Steinbeck, East of Eden

“But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.”
John Steinbeck, East of Eden

“All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal.”
John Steinbeck

“To be alive at all is to have scars. ”
John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

“A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.”
John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

“I believe a strong woman may be stronger than a man, particularly if she happens to have love in her heart. I guess a loving woman is indestructible.”
John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


You might think that fear of Heaven nullifies the self. We say each morning, what is my power, what is my knowledge? Compared to that of Hashem, our power is nothing. But that's not all there is to self. As we strip away the identity of our power, we reveal a different self, a religious self. And we reveal this as well when we recognize the greatness of G-d. After all, we are created in His image. So as He grows in our awareness, our creation in His image grows. Fear of Heaven is accompanied by self-respect.

We need this self-respect to avoid sin. If a person sees himself as garbage, what's to stop him from acting like that? But if he is aware of his own dignity, then he has good reason not sin so as not to offend his own dignity. Dignity matters in halacha. If one spots a lost object in the sewer, he is not obligated to crawl into the sludge to get it. Dignity is not ego. Everyone is entitled to dignity. We say each morning, Who crowns man with tiferes. Rav Hirsch translates this as honor. One must keep this in mind as he engages musar teachings, as he hears of concepts like mesiras nefesh. All of it must be done with dignity. This is not the same as pursuing honor. A dignified person looks dignified even when dishonored. The mitzvos should give a man dignity and he'll need that dignity to pursue the mitzvos.

Along these lines we recognize that the physical always follows the spiritual and dignity is a kind of physicality. The Rambam says that a mitzvah pushes off Torah study. This is not a random requirement and not one to bemoan. As R' Avigdor Miller notes, mitzvos implant the message of Torah within us. This is why kiddush is accompanied by wine, to give the words of kiddush importance in our hearts. R' Yaakov Emden says that Torah not studied in order to be acted upon is not Torah study. We need mitzvos to give life to our Torah. Torah needs mitzvos just as mitzvos need Torah. So too, fear of Heaven is followed by dignity. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Yekke YK

I davened in the Ashkenaz shul in Beitar this Yom Kippur. I hadn't experienced a Yekke YK before and found some refreshing characteristics. First of all, the nigunim are cheerier. As someone put it, there's a bounciness to the Yekke davening. It's much less sad. Now maybe you like sad. That's fine. I prefer this. Along those lines, the Chazan never weeps, something I always found to be a bit too personal for the prayer leader to be doing. And the best surprise of all was the shamos at the end. Rather than shout, Hashem hu El-okim, the Chazan sings it, first quietly and then gradually louder, but never shouting. As my host said to me, a Yekke rav never shouts. It's undignified. Look there are different styles. Many people today crave emotional davening. It's the Carlebach generation. The Yekke davening seems to strive more for dignity and respect. I find it to be saner and a more productive religious experience.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Linked Article: Rabbi Shimon Schwab: Values and Views - Dr. Yitzchok Levine

"Several months ago – in the columns of December, January, February, and March – we dealt with the early life of Rav Shimon Schwab, zt”l, his studies in Telshe and Mir, his serving as a rabbi in Bavaria, his leaving Germany due to threats on his life by the Nazis, his escape to America, and his serving as rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in Baltimore from 1936 to 1958.

"In 1958 Rabbi Schwab was invited to join Rabbi Dr. Yoseph Breuer, zt”l, as associate rav of the German-Jewish community in Manhattan’s Washington Heights, Khal Adath Jeshurun. This community is widely regarded as the spiritual “continuation” of the pre-war Frankfurt kehilla."

continue reading Rabbi Shimon Schwab: Values and Views - Dr. Yitzchok Levine

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

linked post Hilda Silverman

Finally somebody with a conscience.

"Thank you so much for inviting me to give this lecture in memory of Hilda Silverman z’l, a dear friend, congregant, teacher and comrade.  Hilda, as many of you know, was a very passionate, articulate and relentless advocate for justice, particularly for Palestinians.  Passion for justice was core of her Jewish identity.  The Torah commands: Justice, Justice, shall you pursue! Hilda’s tireless pursuit of justice is reflected in the Torah’s repetition: Justice, (Yes!) Justice shall you pursue!
For Hilda, as for most liberal Jews, this commitment to justice was based not only on Jewish text but also in Jewish history, in the experience of Jews as victims of injustice.  We must never do to others what was done to us.  In the words of the Torah: “You shall not oppress the stranger for you know the soul of the stranger because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” For Hilda, solidarity with the oppressed, with those who are treated unjustly, was what it meant to be a Jew.
Hilda saw the discrimination and oppression of Palestinians was the most urgent and pressing moral Jewish issue.  Every day she challenged the high wall, a “Separation Barrier”, a “Mechitza” that many progressive and liberal American Jews involved in many different justice issues build around the issue of Palestinian human rights.  American Jews have a proud legacy of challenging discrimination in America in housing, education, voting rights and every form of human and civil rights, yet are often silent about the systematic denial of precisely these same rights to Palestinians by Israel.  (I wonder how many synagogue and family seders were held 10 days ago where rights for women, gays and lesbians, immigrants, the poor and many others were mentioned but not a word about the violation of Palestinian human rights.)" continue

Monday, August 28, 2017

A View Much Like that of Hirsch

Q. How do you answer someone that says religious woman are second class?

A. Religious women are A-1 class. There's nobody better than religious women. Now what about religious men? Also A-1. Certainly. We are not going to say women are better than men. They want to say they are second class compared to religious men? Look. With HaKodesh Baruch Hu there's no such thing. Everybody is judged on his merits. Like I mentioned before, a righteous Torah woman, a woman who is Orthodox, and is loyal to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and tries her best, can many times outdo the biggest tzadickim.

I gave you one example here, the Rebbetzin Kaplan who made a revolution in America, and she did more than any single Rosh Yeshiva did in America.

But even if you are not such a successful personality, in your own home, if you serve HaKadosh Baruch Hu with a pure heart and you try very hard, there's no question you can become great.

What do you want, you want to hold speeches? Speeches are not for women to hold in public. There's a reason for that. It's a biological reason. Can't be helped. Women can speak to women. But you can't become a Rosh Yeshiva if you are a woman. And don't bewail the fact that you can't become a Rav HaKollel, a chief Rabbi. There's a reason why women cannot do that. It's a technical reason.

Therefore, every person should utilize his opportunities. And women have opportunities to become great no less than anyone.

R' Avigdor Miller, I Created All of Them for You #491 1:13:45

Friday, August 18, 2017

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Breuer on Zionism

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Breuer on Zionism

"But more than the most radical reform, Jewish truth is threatened by the movement propagated under the name of Zionism, which, if given ever greater influence would, God forbid, only serve to prolong our Galuth. Yet there are numerous Yehudim who do not shrink back from joining this movement which displays the most sinister 'k'firo' on its banner in the hope to return the homeland under its leadership. --- When will the curse of 'bechia shel chinem' finally fade away? When will the truth of 'zu hakneses yisroel l'aretz' conquer all Jewish hearts? ('Chokhmo U'musar' volume 'Bamidbar-Devarim' p. 39-40. Felheim Publishers [Jerusalem New York 5737/ 1977]"

Monday, August 7, 2017

On Zionism

Israel should be one nation, an entire nation that should have no other foundation for its existence, survival, activity and significance other than this Torah. It is to see the realization and devoted observance of this God-given "fiery Law" as its one contribution in world history for the edifice of human salvation. What the Phoenicians sought to bring about with the keels of their ships, what the ancient Greeks sought to achieve with their chisels and what the ancient Romans sought to attain with their swords, Israel is to accomplish with its Torah. Nay more, Israel is a nation that became a nation only through and for the Torah, a nation that once owned a land and existed as a state only through and for the Torah, and which possessed that land and that statehood only as instruments for translating the Torah into living reality. This is why Israel was a people even before it possessed land and statehood; this, too, is why Israel survived as a people even after its land was destroyed and its statehood lost, and this is why it will survive as a nation as long as it does not lose this only מורשה, this sole foundation for its survival and significance. That is the kind of nation that Israel, that all of us, should be. 

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch "The Character of the Jewish Community," Collected Writings, Vol. VI, p. 35


It was not the land that Moses had been commanded to proclaim to his people at the outset of his mission as מורשה, as the inheritance they were to preserve (Ex. 6,8). The Law, to be translated into full reality upon that soil, was to be the true מורשה, the one true, everlasting inheritance, the one true center around which the nation and its leaders were to gather as one united community. Herein lay the goal and the destiny, the character and the significance of the people.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch "The Kehillah," Collected Writings, Vol. VI, p. 62

The Jewish Kehillah was a Kehillah already in the wilderness, and therein lies the unique character and the eternity of the community that is the Jewish people. Israel was a people and a community even before it was given political independence and a land of its own. That is why it was able to remain a people and a community also long after it had lost its land and independence and, in fact, had been completely absorbed into other political and national entities. For it is not a land and the independence derived from possessing a land of its own that makes Israel a people or a community. The element that welds Israel into one national entity is the Law of God, the mission assigned to the people of Israel by the Law they hold in common, a mission they must accomplish by united, concerted efforts. This is what fuses all the sons of Israel into one united whole; land and political independence are only means to help them accomplish this mission better and more completely:

He led His people to freedom with joy, 
And His chosen ones with jubilation. 
And caused them to conquer the territory of the nations, 
So that they might keep His Laws and uphold His 
teachings, Hallelujah! 

Psalms 105,43-45

Israel was not given the Law so that it might win political independence and national prosperity; rather, Israel was given political independence and national prosperity so that it might be able to observe the Law. תורה, the Law, remains the eternal, unchanging goal, the purpose of the national existence of the Jew. This purpose does not vary with the degree of independence or prosperity that the Jewish nation enjoys at any given time. Freedom makes it easier for Israel to observe the Law; prosperity enables the people of Israel to accomplish its mission more fully. Political pressure will make observance of the Law more difficult, and lack of independence will leave the fulfillment of Israel's mission incomplete. But all of Israel's apparent fate signifies only a greater or smaller allotment of means for accomplishing the mission assigned to it by the Law of God. Israel's mission as such remains unchanged, and hence also remains the one unchanging bond that unites the larger Kehillath Ya'akov as a whole, as well as each small Kehillah that exists only as a daughter branch of the great, total Kehillah. 

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch "The Kehillah," Collected Writings, Vol. VI, pp. 64-5


The land of the Divine Torah is there for the people who live in it. Its most valuable product, the purpose and goal of the whole of God's Blessing directed to it, is every human life nourished by it, through its means able to dedicate itself to making God's Torah into a realisation. The land is only given on the condition of every human life respected as being unassailably sacred to the Torah. One drop of innocent blood shed and no notice taken of it drops a stitch in the bond which connects the land with the nation and both with God. (see verses 33 and 34). This holding human life to be so sacred is to be made evident immediately on taking possession of the land in the division of it by instituting the arrangement which the Torah had already referred to in the fundamental laws of Torah social life. (Ex. XXI, 13). 

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch on Bamidbar 35:10


When Israel was still united in a common land they did not call themselves Am, one people, for the reason that one common soil bore them all. For, alone among all the peoples of the earth, the possession of the land and the ensuing organization of the State was for Israel not an end but a means to the better fulfilment of their Jewish duties. The Torah did not exist for the State, but the State for the Torah. And only the Torah, the idea of being joint bearers of a spiritual calling, fused the individuals into an association of human beings whose inner cohesiveness is reflected in the term (literally, society) and whose character in the wider sense as a nation is designated by the term גוי that is to say, a corporate body or a people.

And even later on, far away from her land, when Israel sees her visible bonds of nationhood broken, the dispersed Jews call themselves Am, one nation, not in remembrance of a land once jointly possessed, not looking towards the future when God, as His words through the prophets teach us, will once more have united them, but in the consciousness of being, in the present as in the past, bearers of an eternal idea, an eternal mission, and of a God-given destiny which, in Israel, overshadowed, and still overshadows, the existence of the State, and which therefore has survived the State's downfall. We mourn over the sin which brought about that downfall, we take to heart the harshness which we have encountered in our years of wandering as the chastisement of a father imposed on us for our improvement, and we mourn the lack of observance of the Torah which that ruin has brought about. Not in order to shine as a nation among nations do we raise our prayers and hopes for a reunion in our land, but in order to find a soil for the better fulfilment of our spiritual vocation in that reunion and in the land which was promised, and given, and again promised for our observance of the Torah. But this very vocation obliges us, until God shall call us back to the Holy Land, to live and to work as patriots wherever He has placed us, to collect all the physical, material and spiritual forces and all that is noble in Israel to further the weal of the nations which have given us shelter. It obliges us, further, to allow our longing for the far-offland to express itself only in mourning, in wishing and hoping; and only through the honest fulfilment of all Jewish duties to await the realization of this hope. But it forbids us to strive for the reunion or the possession of the land by any but spiritual means.' Our Sages say God imposed three vows when He sent Israel into the wilderness: (I) that the children ofIsrael shall never seek to re-establish their nation by themselves; (2) that they shall never be disloyal to the, nations which have given them shelter; (3) that these nations shall not oppress them excessively (Kethuboth, III, I). The fulfilment of the first two vows is confirmed in the pages of history; about the third, the nations concerned must judge themselves.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb 608


“When, during the reign of Hadrian, the uprising led by Bar Kochba proved a disastrous error, it became essential that the Jewish people be reminded for all times of another important fact; namely, that Israel must never again attempt to restore its national independence by its own power; it was to entrust its future as a nation solely to Divine Providence. Therefore when the nation, crushed by this new blow, had recovered its breath and hailed even the permission to give a decent burial to the hundreds of thousands who had fallen about Betar as the dawn of a better day, the sages who met at Yavneh added yet another blessing to the prayer for the restoration of Jerusalem. This fourth blessing is an acknowledgement that it has always been G-d and G-d alone Who has given us, and still gives us to this very day, that good in which we have had cause to rejoice; and that for future good, too, we may look to none other but G-d, and none besides Him." 

R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, Commentary to the Prayer Book, p. 703


There was a need to impress upon the mind of the Israelite who possessed freedom and land the value of the Torah. There was a need to proclaim to the State as a whole and to each individual in it: "The land which you own, the fields which bloom for you and the fruits which ripen for you--these are not your gods and your goods, these do not constitute you a nation nor are they the objects of your strivings as people and individuals. All these have been given to you for the sake of the Torah; for the sake of the Torah you possess them, and without the Torah you would lose them. All this land with its abundance of milk and honey, and all the rich and free national life which flourishes on it, are only a means and have only one object, namely, with this freedom and abundance to develop a communal, collective and individual life such as your God and Master has prescribed for you in the Torah." To impress on our minds and hearts this unconditional value of the Torah and the conditional value of all other possessions--this was the purpose of the ספירה of the days and weeks which  ואחד ב"ד וכל אחד , both the heads of the community and every individual in Israel מהחל חרמש בקמה had to count from the first setting of the sickle to the corn up to מתן תורה to the festival of the giving of the Law. 

In course of time Israel forgot this counting. It ceased to count up to its Torah and to see in the Torah the principal element in its national existence. It began to look for freedom and independence to its land and soil, to which it had the same right of possession as any other people to its own land. It imagined that it was entitled to count by its land, that it could dispense with the Torah and retain bread and soil, freedom and independence without the Torah, and "Judah's gods became as numerous as his cities". Then it lost land and soil, freedom and independence, saving nothing but the Torah up to which it counted no more in the land itself, and it wandered in strange lands for two thousand years. The seasons go round, the sun shines and the dew falls, but for the Jew no seeds sprout, no fields bloom, he no more puts the sickle to his own corn. And why? Because he wanted his activities to end with this sickle, and he was not willing to begin from this sickle to count to his Torah. From the time that he deified the sickle he lost the sickle! 

R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, "Iyar," Judaism Eternal, Vol. I, p. 80-1.


The Teaching which Moses commanded us" so runs the national creed which is to be the heritage of Israel from generation to generation. It is this Torah which is מורשה, the real inherited estate, not the Land and what if offers, the Teaching is the national Jewish heritage, land, and power are only the conditional consequences of this treasure.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Commentary on Devarim 33:4 

In 1864, Rav Hirsch wrote to Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer, founder of Chovevei Tzion: "My mind is too small to recognize the good and truth that will result, according to you, from your efforts in colonizing Eretz Yisroel. What you consider a mitzvah and a great obligation, does not seem so in my humble opinion. I have no knowledge of secret matters, and I see nothing better than to continue on the road paved by our fathers and predecessors, who made it their goal only to improve our Torah observance, and to look forward to the redemption, which might come any day, if we only listen to G-d's voice. They never approached redemption through the improvement of the Holy Land, only through the improvement of our hearts and deeds." (Shemesh Marpei, p. 211)

Near the end of his life in 1886, Rav Hirsch wrote to Rabbi Yaakov Lipshitz, personal secretary of Rabbi Yitzchok Elchonon Spector, “I was completely opposed to Rabbi Kalischer on this subject. More than three or four times he wrote to me and sent me his books and pressured me to take a leading role in his movement to settle Eretz Yisroel, until he finally came to me and accused me of delaying the redemption. And I asked him to leave me alone on this matter, for what they consider a great mitzvah is in my eyes no small sin, and therefore it is impossible to reach common ground.” (Shemesh Marpei, p. 216)



Sunday, August 6, 2017

Linked Article: How Did Our Current Haggadah Become the Standard?


"The discovery of the Cairo Genizah, the storehouse of medieval manuscripts and documents in the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat, Old Cairo, in the late nineteenth century has led to a virtual rediscovery of Jewish history during the Middle Ages. In fact, it has provided us with an enormous amount of information about our sacred literature, as well as illuminating the social and political history of Jews in the Middle East and Mediterranean basin. Some of the items found even related to Europe, such as very early writings in Yiddish. But one of the most significant gains was a deeper understanding of the history and literature of the geonim of Babylonia, as well as the text of our siddur and the Pesach Seder."

read more of How Did Our Current Haggadah Become the Standard?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Rabbi Leo Jung

"Rabbi Leo Jung (June 20, 1892 in Uherský BrodMoravia – December 19, 1987 in New York CityUnited States) was one of the major architects of American Orthodox Judaism.

"His father, Rabbi Dr. Meir Tzvi Jung held rabbinic post in Mannheim then was elected Rabbi of Uherský Brod in 1890. Rabbi Meir Tzvi Jung believed in the Torah im Derekh Eretz (Torah combined with worldly activity) philosophy of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. Later he moved to London. Rabbi Leo Jung's father founded schools in Uherský Brod, Cracow and London, where both religious and secular learning took place. In London, Rabbi Meir Tzvi Jung was a leader in Agudat Yisrael, and the Sinai Movement. The Sinai Movement was a movement in which young men would meet for the purpose of studying Talmud and socializing. At his death in June 1921, Rabbi Jung was the Chief Minister of the Federation of Synagogues in England, an appointment he had held since 1912."


Audio of Rabbi Jung

"...he was on the Executive Committee of the Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch Society, whose goal was to translate works by German Orthodox thinkers into English. These works became the core of the Feldheim publishing house."

Video at 3:50

Thursday, June 29, 2017

equally worthy

"The foremost distinguishing characteristic bestowed upon
man is his Divine image, his tzelem Elohim, which denotes
particular qualitative endowments, such as a moral sense, free
will, and intellect. Man partakes of these attributes within
human limitations, while God's representation of these qualities
is absolute. Maimonides embodied man's likeness to God pri-
marily in terms of his intellect (Guide 1: 1). This Divine gift was
given to both men and women. "And God created man with His
image. In the image of God, He created him; male and female
He created them" (Gen. 1:27).7 In their spiritual natures, they
were equally worthy."

R. Joseph Soloveitchik
(Man of Faith in the Modern World, p. 84).

“The Chumash in Bereishis says that when God created man בצלם אלקים ברא אתם . Man and woman were created in the Image of God. Equality was taken for granted. If two personae were created in the image of God, you cannot say one is superior to the other.” (The Rav Thinking Aloud on the Parsha, Sefer Bamidbar, pp. 142-3)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

It deifies no man

The Torah does not seek to portray our great men as perfectly ideal figures; it deifies no man. It says of no one: “Here you have the ideal; in this man the Divine assumes human form!” It does not set before us the life of any one person as the model from which we might learn what is good and right, what we must do and what we must refrain from doing. When the Torah wishes to put before us a model to emulate, it does not present a man, who is born of dust. Rather, God presents Himself as the model, saying: “Look upon Me! Emulate Me! Walk in My ways!” We are never to say: “This must be good and right, because so-and-so did it.” The Torah is not an “anthology of good deeds.” It relates events not because they are necessarily worthy of emulation, but because they took place. The Torah does not hide from us the faults, errors, and weaknesses of our great men, and this is precisely what gives its stories credibility. The knowledge given us of their faults and weaknesses does not detract from the stature of our great men; on the contrary, it adds to their stature and makes their life stories even more instructive. Had they been portrayed to us as shining models of perfection, flawless and unblemished, we would have assumed that they had been endowed with a higher nature, not given to us to attain. Had they been portrayed free of passions and inner conflicts, their virtues would have seemed to us as merely the consequence of their loftier nature, not acquired by personal merit, and certainly no model we could ever hope to emulate.

Rav S. R. Hirsch (Bereishis 12: 10-13)

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Mishnah - A Reading

Dorothy lived in Kansas a wind destroyed four came seeking home the rabbis say wisdom

This is how the Gemara might tell the story of the Wizard of Oz. This is not to say that the Gemara is a bad story teller but that it is not a story teller in the way we are used to. It is a notebook written in short hand. The rabbi is supposed to tell the full tale. The Gemara just reminds him of the barest elements of the story.

The Mishnah is even more succinct. Here's how it might describe the USA's constitutional system:

Three groups. One enacts, one judges, one wages war.

Is there more to the subject? I think there's a little more to say about a political-legal system that came to dominate the planet earth.

Let us not forget what we often forget that the Oral Torah was not supposed to be written down, so when the danger of losing it all due to exile necessitated redaction, the redaction was kept to a minimum. The Talmud is not a textbook. In our era of computer based publishing, it's pretty darn easy to put many words on a page, much easier even than in the movable type era, where is was incomparably easier than in the era of monks writing in long hand, which was easier still than in Mishnaic times where paper was a commodity. We are used to books spelling out every detail of a message. This is not how most Torah commentary was written over the centuries.

This means that a shiur cannot consist merely of reading from a text. However, that is exactly what some shiurim have become, particularly regular shiurim. Sometimes, you get the photocopy of sources which the speaker uses to patch together a lesson of some kind. That he reads the sources too quickly without telling you where to find them on the page is a separate problem of our problematic approach to Hebrew instruction. I have discussed that elsewhere. But the regular shiur, the kind we experience most of the time, is oftentimes a reading. Whether it be Daf HaYomi, Mishnah, Mishneh Berurah, Duties of the Heart, or Tanya, the "maggid shiur" just reads without offering much in the way of background, explanation, or insights.

For baal habatim attending an hour a week class, it's survivable, even though not edifying. For children in school it's soul murder. The boredom is crushing. The kids - boys in particular - go 8-5 in a crowded barren classroom listening to a reading of cryptic material. Some rebbes don't explain. It's almost as if doing anything but reading straight text is considered "goyish." when really reading straight from a text without adding anything is goyish. But mostly it's just ignorance.

Many rebbes today are not educators. Some are warm people but that doesn't make them interesting, doesn't mean they know how to teach. Teachers have to get into the minds of students. They need technique. Oftentimes, the best teachers were not the best at their subjects. Thus, they developed tricks for acquiring the material. The gifted student is often the worst teacher. A teacher, like anyone in any profession, needs skill.

This involves more than warmth and even caring. I think many of the more well meaning people in Jewish education or rabbinics have gone a little bananas with personal warmth, stories, and song. I once spent a Shabbos with a family that does kiruv at an elite university. I was shocked to see this very well meaning nice guy fail to share with the students any Torah at his Shabbos table. His whole angle was warmth, singing, and showing off his children in an attempt to advertise the joys of family life - as if non-frum people cannot have family life. Is he really going to compete with the world of secular entertainment with a few zmiros? What he needed to do was say something meaningful before these very bright and intellectually included college students.

Perhaps because Torah Jews, particularly the children, are a captive audience, some schools don't make an effort to be engaging. After all, you have no choice but to attend the school and they can always threaten you with gehennom, that catch all for religious motivation. The focus, particularly in Israel, seems to be more on gaining admission to school, ie the family winning over the school, rather than the school winning over the family or the student. Also, there is an assumption today, an arrogant one, that the yeshiva world conquered Reform, is sitting pretty, and can wow anyone with the magic of Torah. By magic of Torah I don't mean the magic of true Torah thought, but anything connected to Torah. A cold reading of a cryptic text will do. Just open the book and the magic just flies off the page. This is magical thinking and results in part from excessively mystical understandings of the effects of limud Torah.

What is the connection to Torah Im Derech Eretz? Just look at Rav Hirsch's writings, he makes ideas come alive. He doesn't just recite pasukim. The German approach is to focus on the world that we actually live in, not mysterious higher worlds. As Rav Hirsch wrote:
God's Law does not deal with things that are supernatural or not of this world; instead, it includes every aspect of a full life which can be lived here below. Therefore these laws are עדות, the testimony of God's truths for all our earthy relationships, and hence they are עדות, because they crown all our earthy affairs with the ornament of human nobility which find favor in the eyes of God. The prerequisite for the true fulfillment of God's laws is knowledge, as thorough as possible, of all the realities of human affairs on earth. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch on Tehillim 119:99)
I fear that the contemporary focus on the kabbalistic effects of limud Torah have produced an other worldly approach to it. This combined with our forgetting that the Oral Torah is Oral even when printed in books has resulted in some very poor educational practices, not by everyone obviously, but by too many.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sivan 24

Rav Hirsch was born on this day in 1808.

"God has dispersed Yisrael among the nations as עבד and שפחה, as "servant" and "handmaiden," to labor on behalf of God's great work on behalf of mankind. Yisrael is called "a servant" to indicate the arduous labor inherent in its outward position vis-à-vis the nations, and "a handmaiden" to denote the joyous fulfillment of its life's task within the sphere of its own homes, families and communities. For the proper discharge of both these tasks Yisrael needs extraordinary spiritual and moral talents and energy; and it is for these faculties that Yisrael looks up to God its God even as a "servant" and a "handmaiden" would look up to their Master." (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch on Tehillim 123, 2)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Criticism of German Orthodoxy

I never hold back when I see criticism of German Orthodoxy from any reliable source. From the book the Transformation, criticism of GO for bringing Zionism into the Agudah.

page 34:

page 35


page 36:


page: 38 

So the book goes on to say that with an imitation of style in place the Agudah took on other Mizrachi attitudes such immigration to the Holy Land not out of sheer desire to live in there but as part of an in-gathering of exiles, an idea promoted by Mizrachi in its package of notions that the modern secular state is part of the redemption. I can testify that I have observed this notion in the words and actions of many yeshivish people. However, one can see from Rav Hirsch's many comments on the subject of the Torah and the land, that land without Torah is pointless and dangerous, that there's no nation without Torah and no redemption with Moshiach or teshuvah.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Reclaiming the term צבא

"From twenty years old and upward, each one who goes forth into communal service in Yisrael." Bamidbar 1:3

"The term צבא in Scripture does not necessarily, or even primarily, denote an army, or service in an armed "host." In Numbers 4:3,  כל בא לצבא לעשות מלאכה באהל מועד ["each one who comes to communal service to do (sacred) work in the Tent of Appointed Meeting"]; ibid., Verse 23 'לצבא צבא לעבוד וגו ["who comes to perform communal service, to minister..."], and also elsewhere in Scripture, it refers to the service performed by the Levites in the Tabernacle. Verses 24 and 14 in Chapter 8, too, prove that צבא denotes any group of individuals united for communal service under the orders of a higher authority, or the service to be performed by such individuals. In the present verse, too, צבא need not necessarily have the connotation of armed service. Rather, it would denote anyone under obligation to come forth from his private life and perform communal services whenever this is needed; hence, anyone on whom the community can rely upon to attend to its interests...."

R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, Commentary on Bamidbar 1:3, The Chumash, Judaica Press, Translation by Gertrude Hirschler

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Jewish Virtual Library on Adass Jeshurun

"Adass Jeshurun, Adas Jisroal was originally the breakaway minority of Orthodox congregations in Germany in the mid-19th century. These congregations dissociated themselves on religious grounds from the unitary congregations established by state law in which the majority tended toward Reform Judaism.

"The main aim of this branch was to safeguard strict adherence to Jewish law. The Hebrew terms Adass (or Adat, Adath) Jeshurun and Adass Jisroel, meaning "congregation of Jeshurun" and "congregation of Israel," were chosen by these congregations to express their conviction that, even if in the minority, they were the "true Israel." The names were cherished for their socioreligious connotations by Orthodox groups in the West where Reform Judaism was widespread.

continue reading Jewish Virtual Library on Adass Jeshurun

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Health through Torah Living

As Mishlei (Proverbs 3:17) tells us about the Torah, “Its ways are ways of pleasantness.” And while the Torah commands us to proactively protect our health through natural means (“Guard yourself exceedingly - Deuteronomy 4:9-10), we recognize that Torah living itself is the best guardian of our physical health. Its observance brings about spiritual and physical pleasantness.

What follows here is a very small sampling of Torah teachings that address the correspondence between spiritual and physical health. They serve as a reminder that all of our necessary labors in the way of health and safety are but a histadalus (reasonable effort) and that our welfare resides ultimately in the Almighty’s loving-kindness and our pursuit of spiritual health through Torah living.

Our bitachon (trust) in Hashem is a prime guardian of physical health in part due to the peace of mind it gives us. Rav Avigdor Miller z’l spoke often about the toxic effects of worry and stress and the benefits of simple living. He interpreted literally the Mishnah (Avos 1:7) “I have found nothing better for the body than silence.” Silence can refer to the absence of worrisome and neurotic self-talk in our own heads, talk which induces sickness in many a person. Such silence is good for the body, ie. good for preserving health.

Sampling of Torah on the Connection Between Physical and Spiritual Health

Guard yourself and guard your soul very much. (Deuteronomy 4:9-10)

R. Judah son of R. Hiyya remarked: Come and see how the dispensation of mortals is not like that of the Holy One, blessed be He. In the dispensation of mortals, when a man administers a drug to a fellow it may be beneficial to one limb but injurious to another, but with the Holy One, blessed be He, it is not so. He gave a Torah to Israel and it is a drug of life for all his body, as it is said: And healing to all his flesh. (Eruvin 54a*)

R. Joshua b. Levi stated: If a man is on a journey and has no company let him, occupy himself with the study of the Torah, since it is said in Scripture: For they shall be a chaplet of grace. If he feels pains in his head, let him engage in the study of the Torah, since it is said: For they shall be a chaplet of grace unto thy head. If he feels pains in his throat let him engage in the study of the Torah, since it is said: And chains about thy neck. If he feels pains in his bowels, let him engage in the study of the Torah, since it is said: It shall be a healing to thy navel. If he feels pain in his bones, let him engage in the study of the Torah, since it is said: And marrow to thy bones. If he feels pain in all his body, let him engage in the study of the Torah, since it is said: And healing to all his flesh. (Eruvin 54a*)

Resh Lakish has said: The Holy One, blessed be He, does not smite Israel unless He has created for them a healing beforehand, as it says. “When I have healed Israel, then is the iniquity of Ephraim uncovered.” (Megillah 13b*)

The sages said in the name of Rav: it is forbidden to live in a city where there is no physician. (Jerusalem Talmud Kiddushin 4:12)

R Yose son of R. Bun said: it is forbidden to live in a city that does not have a vegetable garden. (Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 4:12)

R Eleazar said: honor your physician even before you need him. (Jerusalem Talmud Taanis 3:6)

The best of physicians go to Gehennom. (Kiddushin 82a) Some commentators take this to mean that the best physicians attribute their success purely to their own abilities and fail to connect the true source of healing and medical knowledge to Hashem. This arrogance leads to their spiritual fall.

When a man suffers pain, he should visit a physician. (Baba Kama 46b)

Three things sap a man’s strength: worry, travel, and sin. (Gittin 70a)

Heal us Hashem and we will be healed. Save us and we will be saved for you are our praise. Grant complete healing for all our afflictions because you are the Almighty King, Who is a faithful and merciful healer. Blessed are You Hashem, Healer of the sick of His nation Israel. (Shemoni Esrei, Siddur)

Physical health and well-being are part of the path to God, for it is impossible to understand or have any knowledge of the Creator when one is ill. Therefore one must avoid anything that may harm the body and one must develop healthful habits. (Rambam, Hilchos De'os 4:1)

Worrying that some particular thing should come about in this world is very improper….Such is not found in men with trust in Hashem. Worry hurts the heart and brings sickness to the body…. (Orchos HaTzadickim, Shaar HaDaagah, in Sefer Mitzvos HaBitachon 38)

Sorrow breaks, sadness unnerves, mourning consumes man; but cheerfulness of heart and joyful vivacity exalt, revive and strengthen man, and endow him with inner strength victoriously to brave the most crushing blows of external violence. (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Judaism Eternal, Vol. II, pp. 146-147)

Because to the Jew everything is religion, because the most painful change in his fortunes can but mean a new religious duty for him, and because he is ever passing from one religious experience to another, even the sorrows of life have lost their sting for him. He is beset by only one worry: the fear lest he fail to realize his duty in any situation in which he may find himself. This duty once recognized, he is serene and happy, and carries out with zest the duty which God demands of him. He is not disheartened because his powers are so insufficient, his understanding so limited, his scope so restricted. He stands where his God has placed him; the limits of his powers have been drawn by God. He stands at His service, delivers his work into His hands. His duty done, his daily task fulfilled, he is happy and content. The completion of his work is in any case in the hands of God. (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Judaism Eternal, Vol. II, pp. 149-150)

That is what makes Jewish life so full of happiness: “Shomer mitzvah lo yada davar rah - “He who keeps the commandments shall endure no evil thing.” (Ecclesiastes 8,5) He who conceives of his entire life as a Commandment knows no unhappiness and no evil. The word of God is unto him as the miraculous tree that sweetens the bitterest spring, as the miraculous staff that draws the water of life from the hardest rock, as the holy oil the dedicates and hallows all common, everyday things. (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Judaism Eternal, Vol. II, p. 149)

Do not say: If jealousy and lust and inordinate ambition and various other evils which are the product of living together in the world take man from his true task, I therefore wish to choose the exact opposite – namely, to renounce every bodily pleasure, flee from marriage, comfort and amenity and live a monk-like life. Even if you go upon that way, you are a sinner. Avoid only that which the law forbids. Use that which is permitted wisely for the strengthening and preservation of your body, so that it remains an efficient instrument for the fulfilling of your life’s mission. If you indulge in pleasure in this way, then your physical activities also become a service of God. But if your body is to remain a healthy instrument, avoid everything that might destroy it, and take up everything into your way of life which brings it health and strength. (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, 429)

The home is a prime source of disease. The family is one of the greatest sources of illness. Most heart attacks are occasioned not by a troublesome employee or customer or a business competitor, but by an altercation in the home. Anger, envy, anxiety, discouragement, resentment, hatred and sorrow bring actual physical suffering and serious illness….Most domestic difficulties are a result of the failure to follow the words: ‘I have found nothing better for the body than silence.’ (Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Career of Happiness, p.78)

The mother must frequently ask herself: What kind of home do I have? Is it a place that develops unhappy attitudes, resulting in sickness of the body and sickness of the soul, personal maladjustment, sadness, complaining and irritability? Or is it a sanctuary of cheerfulness, of liking everyone, where recrimination and useless nagging are never heard? (Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Career of Happiness, p.78)

Whatever is said of the wise mother is also true of the wise father, and even the wise child. (Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Career of Happiness, p. 67)

*Translation from Soncino Talmud

Suggested Reading on the Topics of Peace of Mind Through Balanced Torah Living and Health

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch
Judaism Eternal, Volume 2, Chapter IV: Jewish Serenity (pp. 145-154)
Horeb, 429, 459, 460, 428, 429

Rav Avigdor Miller
Career of Happiness, pp. 101-108
The Path of Life
Rejoice O’ Youth, 851-891
Rav Miller Speaks

Monday, June 12, 2017

Not the land

It was not the land that Moses had been commanded to proclaim to his people at the outset of his mission as מורשה, as the inheritance they were to preserve (Ex. 6,8). The Law, to be translated into full reality upon that soil, was to be the true מורשה, the one true, everlasting inheritance, the one true center around which the nation and its leaders were to gather as one united community. Herein lay the goal and the destiny, the character and the significance of the people.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch "The Kehillah," Collected Writings, Vol. VI, p. 62

Sunday, June 11, 2017

1908 Samson Raphael Hirsch – Jubilaums-Nummer Rare Publication

This item is for sale on Ebay. It appears to be a centennial publication in honor of Rav Hirsch's birth. Here are some of the photos from the Ebay ad. It includes this list of Hirsch's publications in German:

Jubilaums-Nummer means Anniversary number.