Sunday, September 30, 2018

Rabbi Avigdor Miller, “Exempt from the draft”

“Some people are proposing to take frum boys into the army in frum regiments. You should know that it’s a shtus. The army is made לכתחילה for the purpose of changing the minds of the boys in the army. It’s a statement they made long ago. It’s very long. And it’s only a trick that they are using now to deceive the frummah into entering the army. The truth is Am Yisroel has to keep out of the army. We have to maintain our privilege as all the countries give, rabbinical students are patur from the draft, exempt from the draft. Let’s continue to fight for it, and not to yield, and not to listen to the מסיתים ומדיחים who are talking about frum regiments for frum boys.”

(Rabbi Avigdor Miller, “Fortunate Are You,” Audio # E-253, 1:15:52)

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Rabbi Avigdor Miller on the Yom Kippur War

Q: Why did Hashem allow the Arabs to attack us on Yom Kippur?

A: Rabbi Levy is asking why Hashem allowed the Arabs to attack us on Yom Kippur. So I presume that there are two parts to this question. Why did Hashem allow them to attack us, and why did He allow them to attack us on Yom Kippur?

But first, I must make an ammendment to the question. The word "us" is not properly used. The Arabs didn't attack "us." The Arabs attacked the people in Eretz Yisroel.  And that's important to note. Because for certain purposes there are people in Eretz Yisroel who wish to create the impression that the Arabs are attacking the whole Jewish nation. But this is not true. Not that the Arabs love us so much - not at all - but the Arabs had no intention of attempting to destroy, chalilah, the Jewish People, as was falsely stated recently in one Hebrew kol koireh. It said אמרו לכו ונכחידם מגוי ולא יזכר שם ישראל עוד. That's what it said in the kol koireh and I don't understand that at all. At all! The Arabs didn't say that. If they wanted to destroy specifically the State of Israel we have to differentiate between their intentions. They didn't want to destroy, chalilah, the Am Yisroel.

Now, why did Hashem permit it? Hakodosh Boruch Hu permits many things that we don't like. But he understands more than we do, like the physician does. You go to the physician and sometimes he does a number of things that you'd prefer he wouldn't do. He pushes certain things down your throat or up the other end of you. And he makes various examinations that you might not like. But he does it because he has his good reasons. And Hakodosh Boruch Hu is the big Roifei. And therefore it היוסר גוים הלא יוכיח - "If He brings suffering upon the Nations, is He not showing something." המלמד אדם דעת - "Isn't He teaching Man understanding?"

So we must understand as well, that He certainly wishes to teach us, the Am Yisroel. Only that, if we had the foresight to learn from the misfortunes that happened to other nations then we could sometimes spare ourselves from undergoing these experiences. If we would study the yissurim that other people have, then it would be enough. But when we fail to learn from the yissurim of others then sometimes we ourselves have to suffer, chalilah.

     Now, let's say, had the people of the State of Israel learned from the sufferings that people underwent in the Vietnam War, or other wars, which are sent upon the Nations for the purpose of making the Am Yisroel afraid and causing us to do teshuva. That's what the Gemara says, אין פורענויות בא לעולם אלא בשביל ישראל No misfortune comes upon the world if not for the sake of Yisroel" (Yevamos 63a). Do you hear that? All misfortunes are only for the sake of our people. Even what comes upon the nations of the world. And Rashi says, כדי ליראם, in order to put a fear into them so that they should do teshuva.

     So if we would learn properly from the wars that the nations are undergoing then we could be spared those wars that hit closer to home. But when Hakodosh Boruch Hu sees that people don't learn sufficiently, so what does He do? He brings the lessons closer to home.

     And why did it happen on Yom Kippur? Because that is the day that they should have learned the most lessons. What day is more suited for teshuva? And therefore, when Hakodosh Boruch Hu sees that Yom Kippur is passing by and soon it will be over and it will be back to the old d'rachim in Medinas Yisroel - the same things that they did last year after Yom Kippur and the year before that after Yom Kippur - so therefore this year He added a little more vitamins in order that the lessons should be more potent. The purpose of all suffering is for teshuva and suffering on Yom Kippur is surely for teshuva.

Rav Avigdor Miller, TAPE # 382

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Contemporary Gadolim on Obligations and Exemptions in Positive Time-Bound Commandments

You'll Be to Me a Holy Nation

Contemporary Gadolim on Obligations and Exemptions in Positive Time-Bound Commandments

    Why are women exempt from certain commandments to which men are obligated? This question has fascinated some and troubled others. As with any conundrum, we turn to the great scholars of our era, our gadolim for answers. R’ Moshe Feinstein, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, R’ Joseph Soloveitchik, and R’ Avigdor Miller each approached the matter in similar fashion and stressed the general equality of holiness and spiritual worthiness of the two sexes and the differences in their respective roles and natures. Let’s have a look at their words.
    The positive time-bound commandments are a group of commandments that require positive action, such as putting on tefillin or sitting in a succah. One can contrast these from commandments that consist of refraining from action like theft or eating forbidden foods. Additionally, these actions are bound by time. Tefillin are worn only in the day-time during weekdays and not on yom tov. Recitation of the Shema is commanded only in the morning and at night. Contrast these with the commandments to engage in acts of chesed or to love God, positive activities that can be done at any time.
    While men are obligated to perform positive time-bound commandments, women are exempt from having to perform most of them; although for various reasons they are obligated in nearly as many, such as kiddush and matzah, as those in which they are exempt. In a letter discussing the exemption, (Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim IV #49) R’ Moshe Feinstein reminds us first and foremost that “The exemption of women from positive time-bound commandments is [a decree] from the Torah.” In other words, God decreed this exemption and the Talmud detailed the exegetical mechanism that memorializes it. The Gemara in Kiddushin that tells us that women are exempt from limud Torah because the verse says “teach it to your sons,” thus exempting daughters and females in general. As the verse commanding tefillin follows that of limud Torah, we extend the exemption to tefillin and to all mitzvos like it, namely ones involving positive action that are triggered by time-bound events. (Kiddushin 29b) The Talmud discusses the exemption only in technical terms.
    The positive time-bound commandments and its exemption for women fall into a group of commandments called chukim or decrees. While the imperative for observance of chukim is explicit, the personal and societal benefits are not. Other examples of chukim include shatnez, the prohibition against wearing a garment composed of wool and linen, and the Parah Adumah, the ceremony of the Red Hefer. These can be contrasted with mishpatim, or ordinances, a group of commandments with obvious personal and societal benefits. Examples of mishpatim include the prohibitions against theft, immorality, and blasphemy. R’ Joseph B. Soloveitchik described chukim as follows:

   Analyzing the Hok. Rashi cites a Rabbinic comment on the Parah Adumah rite: "It is a decree ordained by Me. You have no right to question it" (Num. 19:2). This suggests that the hok can be defined as an absolute norm and an ultimate command, demanding total submission without reservations. It is to be affirmed even if "Satan and the nations of the world taunt Israel," ridiculing its irrationality. The observant Jew accepts the Torah even as a patient follows the prescription of his doctor, taking complex medications and submitting to required surgical procedures. We may seek to understand and make all possible inquiries, but ultimately we accept it on faith. The Lord, Creator and Healer of all flesh, undoubtedly knows what is best for our bodies and souls as well as what is harmful to them. (Reflections of the Rav, p. 100)

Seemingly by design, chukim test us to accept the will of God and not demand reasons for everything He asks of us. We have myriad commandments with societal and personal purposes that are obvious or explained in the Torah. But at the heart of all commandments is the simple command from God. With chukim, this aspect of commandments is not obscured by any obvious reasons as people tend to think of them.
    However, we can attempt to surmise secondary reasons as long as we realize that they are secondary. R’ Feinstein explained as follows:

   And besides the reasons of the Torah which are unknown to regular people and to the great scholars, and we are required to believe that there are great reasons of Hashem who gave the Torah, [besides this], there are [non-ultimate] reasons revealed to everyone. [In the matter of the exemption of women from positive time-bound mitzvahs] the average woman is not wealthy and has responsibility to raise sons and daughters. This [task] is most important work for Hashem and His Torah and so Hashem made each species so that the woman should raise the offspring. Humans are no exception. The nature of women enables them to raise children. Along those lines, it [the burden] was made easier on the women by not requiring them to learn Torah and to perform positive time-bound mitzvahs.

    The reason of family duties, most notably the sanctified rearing of children was first offered by numerous Rishonim such as the Abudraham, the Ritva, and the Tosfos HaRid.
R’ Feinstein adds an important thought that should shed some light on the question of relative holiness or spirituality:

   You should know that all of this [the exemption of women from positive time-bound commandments] is not because women are on a lower level of holiness than are men. While obligation in commandments results strictly from one's having holiness, men and women, in that sense, are equal in holiness. All the verses in the Torah regarding holiness refer also to women. [This applies from] the beginning [with] the arrangement to receive the Torah [at Sinai]. "You'll be to me a treasure and you'll be to me a holy nation." Exodus 19:6. [The subject of this verse is all of the nation of Israel] as it says "house of Jacob" in referring to the women and "tell to the house of Israel" in referring to the men. Exodus 19:3.
   [The references to men and women in all verses regarding holiness extends also after Sinai with] "You'll be for me a people of holiness," parshas Mishpatim, "you'll be holy," parshas Shimini, "holy you'll be and you'll be holy," parshas Kedoshim, and "and a nation of holy people you are to Hashem" parshas Re’eh. Women also [as well as men] are referred to in every mention of holiness.
   Therefore women also include in their blessings the words "you have sanctified us with your commandments." [Women do this] even when performing commandments for which they are not obligated. [The exclusion of women from positive time-bound commandments] is a leniency made by Hashem for his own reasons and not because of any diminution [regarding the women] Heaven forbid.

In other words, commandments are imposed on people due to their holiness. Women, being equal to men in holiness with regard to mitzvos, have the necessary holiness, but the Torah had reasons to exempt them. We don’t say that they are exempt because of their holiness. We say that they have the holiness that would obligate them, but the Torah exempted them.
    This aligns with our general understanding of obligation in commandments. Cohanim have extra commandments yet we recognize Cohanim as having extra holiness. See Yevamos (5a) where Chazal use this approach to consider why the Torah contains a special verse commanding Cohanim with leprosy to shave their heads. The Kings of Israel, like David and Solomon, have extra commandments. Our great tzadickim take on a bigger religious burden than the rest of us. For example, I have a neighbor who as a child used to hold a book of mishnayos open for R’ Feinstein to read in between Torah readings at his yeshiva in the Lower East Side. R’ Feinstein, being greater than the rest of us, took on extra-mitzvah activity during that time when most people just wait for the next Torah reading. Rabbis often tell people, you are not ready to take on that chumrah, that stringency or that extra activity. As we grow in our religious lives, we take on more mitzvah related activity. So while mitzvos certainly train and better us, they train and better a pre-existing spirituality. As R' Feinstein explains in his commentary on Chumash:

The mitzvah of You shall be holy, which is followed by a recitation of several of the fundamental mitzvos, is not of the same type as the mitzvos that follow it. This mitzvah means that every Jew should realize that he is sanctified with the holiness of the Jew, and it is only because of that holiness that we were given the Torah and obligated to do the mitzvos. As I have often written, mitzvos cannot be fulfilled properly unless the doer has the holiness of the Jew. The Kohanim, who have additional mitzvos, must have the particular holiness of Kohanim. This is why we make a blessing before mitzvos and say, "Who has sanctified us with His mitzvos"; and Kohanim, before doing mitzvos that are limited to Kohanim, say, "Who has sanctified us with the sanctity of Aharon." The expression "Who has sanctified us with His mitzvos" should not be misunderstood as meaning that mitzvos are the source of the sanctity. It is self-understood that the sanctity the blessing refers to is the underlying sanctity of every Jew -- that which enables us to fulfill the mitzvos. (R' Moshe Feinstein, Darash Moshe, Volume II, p. 154, Vayikra, Kedoshim)

One sees this idea of obligation in commandments being imposed due to pre-existing ruchnius utilized by the Magen Avraham in his commentary Zi’es Ra’anan on Yalkut Shimoni, Shmuel 1:1 and the Maharal in Tiferes Israel 4 and 28 and Chidushei Agados, Makkos 23b. To paraphrase the Maharal, commandments connect us to God, but we must be fit for the connection. According to R’ Feinstein, women are equipped with the requisite holiness, but the Torah had reasons to exempt them.
    The Lubavitcher Rebbe, R’ Menachem Mendel Schneerson, took an approach similar to that of R’ Feinstein and elaborated on the dynamics of the exemption. He explained that men and women as generic groups have shared and differing tasks and that individuals have their own missions.

   We shall resolve this difficulty by first explaining why in general there are certain mitzvos which women are not obligated to carry out. It is not because women are inferior to men. It is because G-d has given each Jew a mission uniquely suited to the individual: A task for men and a separate task for women – and a mission common to both men and women. (Sichos in English, Iyar-Tammuz 5744, Vol. 21, pp. 69-72)

The exemption, which indicates neither inferiority nor superiority (or presumably he would have proposed the latter while refuting the former), allows these distinctive roles to take shape. The stress is on the differences between (not the ranking of) the two sexes and their respective roles. He continued:

   The relationship between men and women may be compared to the workings of a person’s body. All of a person’s limbs are part of the one body; yet each limb has a different function: the head – intellect, the heart – emotions, etc. Thus the body has two separate – but simultaneous – dimensions. On the one hand, all its limbs share the same life-force: the blood circulates to all its limbs, and only when circulation in all limbs is proper is the body healthy. Simultaneously, each limb has its own distinct character and function.
   Within the body of Jewry, the same two dimensions are operative. There are some aspects of Torah which men and women share equally. For example, the mitzvah, “Love your fellow as yourself.” Since this mitzvah is most important for the continuing health of Jewry – it is Jewry’s “life force” – it devolves upon men and women equally. Similarly, the mitzvah, “to know that there is a First Being” – knowledge, not just faith – is obligatory upon women as upon men.
   Simultaneously, there are aspects of Judaism in which men and women differ, with special missions given to a man and others to a woman. So that each can carry out his or her task fully, he or she is freed from other obligations. Although these other obligations are holy matters, the full and proper accomplishment of one’s special tasks demands that one be freed of these other obligations.
   For men to carry out their task for example, they are freed of duties such as rearing children from birth. To this end, G-d created the world such that a child, in his early years, needs and is dependent on his mother specifically.
   In similar fashion, women were freed of certain obligations so that they can devote themselves fully to their unique task. A child’s education in his early years, for example, is the mother’s responsibility, and to this end, women are freed from the obligation to fulfill certain mitzvos which men are duty-bound to do. Women are thus able to devote all their energies to their unique mission.

Women and men are each freed from the other group's tasks so that they can focus on the unique aspects of their respective purpose.
    So do women have no connection to the positive time-bound mitzvos? Are the mitzvos irrelevant to them? The Rebbe continued:

   In the above described relationship between men and women – that each is freed of certain duties so that they can properly carry out their primary mission – a wonderful element is introduced. Because G-d is whole and perfect, He implanted the trait of wholeness and perfection also in Torah and mitzvos. Thus, although women are not obligated to perform certain mitzvos, they can still attain the state of wholeness and perfection effected through fulfilling these mitzvos – although they do not actually perform them! How?
   Women are freed from performing mitzvos which are obligatory only at a specific time (e.g., tzitzis, which is obligatory only during the day). The AriZal writes concerning such mitzvos: “When the male performs the mitzvah, it is unnecessary that the woman should also do them separately, for she has already been included with him at the time when he does the mitzvah ... This is the meaning of our Sages’ statement, ‘One’s wife is as one’s body.’” Similarly, the Zohar says that a man (or woman) alone is “half a body.”
   In other words, when Torah frees a woman from certain mitzvos, it frees her only from doing them— so that she can devote her time and energies to her unique mission. The state of wholeness and perfection that is attained, and the reward that accrues, from these mitzvos, does pertain to women also — through her husband performing them.

So the woman is exempt so that she may take care of the family. But we do not say that she is disconnected from the mitzvah. She connects to it through her husband. And what about the unmarried woman? Says the Rebbe, “This applies even to a girl before she is married, through the fact that her destined partner in marriage performs the mitzvos she is not obligated to do. For just as a man and a woman are but “half a body” before marriage, and are whole only when married, so too their soul is whole only when they are together: that is, a man and wife have a single soul.”
    When asked about women and tefillin during the Q&A sessions of one of his famous Thursday night classes in Brooklyn, R’ Avigdor Miller gave an answer very similar to that of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He said as follows:

Every father puts on tzitzis and tefillin for all of his children and for his wife, too. There's no question that tzitzis and tefillin are the property of the Am Yisroel. But, more precisely, the family shares in all the mitzvos. So while he's putting on tzitzis and tefillin in the shul, let's say, and his wife is taking care of the children at home, somebody has to remain at home – he couldn't go to the synagogue if she weren't home. There's no question that it’s her tzitzis and her tefillin. That's the way to understand it. (Q&A: Thursday Nights with Rabbi Miller, pp. 189-190)

Once again we see that the married couple and even the family are one unit when it comes to their connection to tefillin and the positive time-bound commandments.
    The idea of connection to commandments to which one is not personally commanded is found in the commentary of R’ Moshe Trani (16th century), also known as the Mabit. The Gemara tells us that the 365 negative commandments correspond to the days of the year and the 248 positive commandments correspond to the organs and limbs of the body (Makkos 23b). This suggests that each person is commanded in the total of 613. However, no person is commanded in all 613 mitzvos. Cohanim have special mitzvos as do Leviim, kings, courts, men, and women. Many mitzvos are not applicable in golus.  The Sefer HaChinuch says that only 369 of the 613 are relevant to anyone today. (Sefer HaChinuch, HaErus HaMeChaver). Some mitzvos depend on circumstance. Cohanim are prohibited from mitzvos like attending to the dead.
    So how do we connect to all the 613 mitzvos? The Mabit says we do this by being willing to do anything the Torah asks of us (Mabit, Kiriyas Sefer, Hakdama, chapter 7). When an Israel says, I would do birchas cohanim if the Torah required me to, then he connects to the mitzvah of birchas cohanim; likewise, if a woman says I would wear tefillin daily if the Torah asked it of me. This is how she connects to tefillin. One connects to mitzvos incumbent on the courts by displaying respect for the courts.
    R’ Joseph B. Soloveitchik approached the topic of chukim in general in a manner reminiscent of the first part of R' Moshe Feinstein's letter. In a conversation with students on parshas Chukas, he discussed the pitfalls of looking for reasons for chukim and illustrates this with the matter of the disqualification of women as witnesses. He did not discuss positive time-bound mitzvos specifically, but his comments are applicable to our topic. He cited the Rambam in warning against mockery of the chukim even as a person inquires legitimately into Torah laws. The Rambam said that such mockery of chukim is worse than misappropriation of sanctified objects as the latter were originally secular objects such as wood that were set aside for holy purposes but the former are holy from the outset as established by the Almighty. R’ Soloveitchik points out that the Rambam's intent was not to promote observance of the laws as people in his day were observant but rather to warn against projection of secular ideas onto them. Such would constitute mockery of the chukim:

   What is the Rambam interested in? In our psychological, axiological approach towards chukim. Against ascribing lesser significance to chukim, or secularizing them. In other words, one must not interpret chukim in practical terms, and inject contemporary meaning in them.
   You'll ask me, what is the practical interpretation of chukim? If a rabbi tries to interpret ma'achalos assuros [forbidden food] in terms of hygiene and sanitation. Or taharas ha'mishpacha in terms of sexual psychology, as I once heard a rabbi say, that taharas ha'mishpacha contributes to family bliss, and actually taharas ha'mishpacha accomplishes the miracle that the whole married life is one long honeymoon. This is exactly what the Rambam meant should not be done. You don't accomplish anything by it. You don't achieve anything by it. Educated people, intelligent people, scientific minds, they cannot be so easily fooled. (The Rav Thinking Aloud on the Parsha, Sefer Bamidbar, pp. 156)

As brought earlier, Rabbi Soloveitchik said regarding chukim that “We may seek to understand and make all possible inquiries, but ultimately we accept it on faith.” Thus, when pursuing reasons, we must proceed very carefully and not fabricate reasons that actually lead to ridicule of the chukim either by our logic or by how far we push that logic. Over-simplification would seem to be a key danger.
    R' Soloveitchik explained elsewhere that the halakha is driven by technical constructs something like that of sophisticated scientific thought. In a conversation with students on parshas Korach, he noted that Aristotle's simplistic approach to science was built strictly on observation. In Aristotle's view, gravitational pull was the result of the weight of objects as that is what appears to the eye. Modern science, starting with Galileo and continuing through Newton and unto today, concludes the opposite, that weight is the result of gravitational pull. The former view is empirical and commonsense, the latter conceptual. Says R' Soloveitchik, “Newton discarded commonsense and approached the matter from the viewpoint of the esoteric, abstract, creative, conceptualizing logos.” He continues:

   This method of quantification was part of the greatest discovery in the annals of mankind. Of course, if we had been satisfied - not we, the seventeenth century - with Aristotlean physics, we couldn't climb now to the moon. Don't you think that halachah is also entitled to such a theoretical basis? We have, as I stated above, our unique logical and epistemological approach to halachah. Torah sheh b'al peh is not just a compilation of laws. It's more than that. Mathematics is more than just a corpus of equations. Ask any mathematician who is intelligent, what is math? He wouldn't tell you a corpus of equations. No physicist who understands physics will tell you that physics is a collection of natural laws or equations. Basically, science is a method. Mathematics is a method. It's a method of thinking, a unique logos. So is the Torah sheh-b'al peh. The laws and statutes are of utmost significance. However, if you discard the view that Torah sheh-b'al peh is a system of thought structures and unique logical categories which are accessible to the human mind only if the latter is willing to subject itself to a rigid and tough training, then you open up the floodgates and any ignoramus may claim authority the way Korach did. (The Rav Thinking Aloud on the Parsha, Sefer Bamidbar, pp. 141-2)

    According to R' Soloveitchik, this understanding of the Talmudic method helps us to understand the reason that women are disqualified from serving as witnesses. The disqualification is not a matter of lack of qualification in the axiological sense, ie. it says nothing about the value of women. It is the result of technical constructs. A melech or Jewish king is also disqualified from giving testimony. Says R' Soloveitchik:

If the melech ha'Moshiach were present at the wedding I also wouldn't invite him, because he is also disqualified to bear witness. Would we say all Jews are superior to the melech ha'Moshiach? A king is disqualified to bear witnesses mi'd'oraisa, like an isha. The king Messiah, or King David, or King Solomon, or Moshe Rabbeinu himself are disqualified to bear witness. And a wood-chopper, an ignorant person, a bor mi'd'oraisa is kashur l'eidus. (The Rav Thinking Aloud on the Parsha, Sefer Bamidbar, p. 143)

    R' Soloveitchik asked if anyone would conclude that the Messiah is inferior by virtue of his disqualification. He said, “If you operate with commonsense categories  - yes. Korach operated with commonsense categories, and he was right with his conclusion that if the whole robe is made of purple material it certainly should be exempt from tzitzis. But from the viewpoint of the exact, precise, unique halachic categories psul l'eidus is not indicative at all of the station of the woman in society, in the halachic community.” In other words, just as Aristotle was incorrect to use plain thinking to evaluate gravity, we would be incorrect to use such thinking to evaluate the disqualification of kings and women from giving testimony. It is not what it seems.
    So what is the station of the woman?  Like R’ Feinstein and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, R’ Soloveitchik stressed the differences in the roles for men and women and the general equality in their spiritual worthiness. Basing his comments on the creation of the first man and woman in God’s image, he says:

   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 primarily 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). In their spiritual natures, they were equally worthy. (Man of Faith in the Modern World, p. 84).

He said in his discussion of women and testimony, “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)
    R’ Soloveitchik finds equality as well in the potential for either sex to achieve prophecy.

The mere fact that among our prophets we find women to whom God has addressed Himself is clear proof that we never differentiated between the sexes axiologically. (Family Redeemed, pp. 71-2; Axiology = Philosophical theory of value)

    While equal in spiritual worth, their roles differ and so should their very sense of identity:

   Man and woman are both worthy of communing with God, the highest form of human perfection and self-fulfillment. However, the Halakhah has discriminated between axiological equality pertaining to their Divine essence and metaphysical uniformity at the level of the existential personal experience. Man and woman are different personae, endowed with singular qualities and assigned distinct missions in life...The contrast manifesting itself in tension and sympathy, in longing for and shying away from each other, and portraying a metaphysical cleavage in personal existence must not be eliminated.
   If the distinctive features of the bi-personalism are erased the blessed existential polarity out of which a rich, fruitful marriage is born is dispensed with, a tragic event of tremendous significance for the welfare of society. If the woman does not experience the particular and unique in her existential awareness, if the man fails to feel the paradoxical and strange in his being masculine, if both are not cognizant of the incommensurability of their ontic patterns, then this Gleichschaltung, this bringing into line, impoverishes marriage which was blessed by the Creator with richness and variety. The latter can only be attained if man and woman complete, not duplicate, each other.  (Family Redeemed, p. 72; Ontic = having real being, Gleichschaltung = the act, process, or policy of achieving rigid and total coordination and uniformity, Merriam-Webster)

According to R’ Soloveitchik, the success of marriage depends on our maintenance of gender distinctions in our identities.
    R’ Miller also spoke of the souls of men and women via the language of equality and explained that the reason for obligation in the positive time-bound commandments for men and exemption for women was to give each sex different paths to perfection. The starting point is the same. His comments appeared in several Thursday night Q&A sessions. As with R’ Feinstein and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the basic reason for the exemption is to allow the woman to engage in a life of chesed by taking care of the family.

As we know, men are commanded to perform mitzvos asei she'haz'man grama, time-bound mitzvos. Women, on the other hand, are not required to perform these mitzvos. What is the reason for this difference? The answer is that women have other important obligations to tend to, which exempt her from these commandments. A woman must know that she is a briah shel chessed, she has been created for the purpose of performing chessed. Being a wife and mother is a very significant role, and it requires her to be selfless and totally dedicated to performing chessed! It takes a woman's entire effort to succeed in being an efficient mother and wife. Investing her abilities in raising children is very time consuming but is a tremendous zechus for her! (Rabbi Avigdor Miller Speaks, p. 272)

    When asked, “Is there a difference between the neshamah of a man and a woman?” R’ Miller answered as follows:

   When it comes to the actual makeup of the neshamah there's no difference, whatsoever. But when it comes to a person's role in perfecting that neshamah, Hakadosh Baruch Hu has given each individual a different way and opportunity to go about doing so. For example, when a woman gets married and dedicates her life to her family, to someone other than herself, she is transforming her very nature. If a mother would retain her selfishness, it would be impossible for her to function successfully in her role. She has her children to worry about; sometimes they may not be feeling well, and it is she who will be responsible for tending to them. She has to prepare food for her family, and they rely upon her for many other things as well. She has to carry a child within her and eventually nurse that child. In short, she has dedicated her life to others.
   But in order for a mother to be able to perfect her neshamah, she mustn't merely do "acts of kindness" like the gentiles do. Rather, her chessed should be with the intention of serving Hashem! This brings Hakadosh Baruch Hu a great amount of satisfaction, and He therefore exclaims, "By assisting others, you are helping My people and serving Me in a form that is most desirous." (Rabbi Avigdor Miller Speaks, pp. 245-246.)

[Note: while R’ Miller equated the makeup of male and female neshamos he referenced the Gemara “woman are a separate nation” to describe the significant differences in the male and female natures. See Thursday Nights with Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Vol. II, p. 85]

    While the woman has her path for developing her soul, the man has his:

   A man, however, has to perfect his neshamah in a different way. While a man neither gives birth to children nor nurses babies, there are still multitudes of ways through which he can earn perfection. A man must go to work to earn a living, and there are very many nisyonos that he will encounter throughout his day. An entire section of Shulchan Aruch was written to deal with the laws that apply when one has to compete with another for a livelihood! There's a very great perfection a man can acquire when out making a living! Of course a man is also required to dedicate a part of his day to Torah learning, and other mitzvos that a woman wouldn’t have time to perform because of her day to day responsibilities. We see, therefore, that a man and woman secure perfection for their respective neshamahs in different ways. (Rabbi Avidgor Miller Speaks, pp. 245-246.)

    General equality of holiness and spiritual worthiness with differences in role and nature. This is the approach of these leading contemporary sages in explaining these matters to the general public. Their commentary on the subject provides us with a balanced and dynamic framework that promotes harmony between the sexes. It should help us to develop appreciation for halakhic distinctions concerning the positive time-bound mitzvos and gender.

Yisrael Kashkin, 5775

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Sunday, September 23, 2018

19 Letters

I read through some of Hirsch's 19 Letters recently and resolved something that had always bothered me. Benyamin writes a heartfelt letter of his frustrations with Judaism and how it keeps him out of the ebb and flow of the world. Naftali writes back without addressing his complaints directly. The picture Naftali paints is one of which we are familiar. One can say that today, we hear the 18 letters of response and much of it sounds familiar, but that's because we live post 19 Letters. That's the influence Hirsch had on the Jewish world. He introduced many of the understandings that now seem commonplace. (Of course they are basic Torah ideas found in Chazal but ones that to a large extent were forgotten by the common Jew.) It seems as if he is giving a cliched, canned response but at the time the ideas were new to most people.

But not only that. I realize now that Hirsch was addressing Benyamin's gripes. He was saying, you feel as if you are not part of the world and are not contributing to it. But the Jewish mission concerns the world. The Jews are to serve as a beacon, as teachers of morality to the world.

This is a different answer than one might get in some places. Often people are told, well, who cares if you are missing out on gentle endeavors like art and music. That's all emptiness anyway. The gentiles are horrible, disgusting. We don't care about them. That's often the answer one gets.

But is that going to work on someone with Binyamin's concerns, someone who feels that high culture, science, and democratic government are good for the world. Is someone who identifies in whatever way with the other humans on this earth going to be drawn to Judaism when Judaism is depicted as hostile with and unconcerned with the human race?

Hirsch's answer, through the fictictious Naftali, is very clever. He doesn't slam Binyamin to the floor, but works with him. He also doesn't do what many others in the kiruv world do, say, oh, you like art, you can be an artist here too. -- These are not the same kiruv people who tell you that all gentile culture is garbage. It's more the Modern Orthodox kiruv approach. -- Because quite frankly, it's very difficult to be an artist in the frum world. Or let us put it a different way, it's hard to be part of the art world in the frum world. Because the art world is so full of illicit and problematic images and people, that one really can't be a part of it in normal circumstances. Yes, you can make some art, but, except for those who can't function without it and for whom we make exceptions, you can't move to Paris and be part of the art scene. It really is disingenuous to pretend otherwise, even though some kiruv people often do.

Rather, Hirsch is saying, you can make an even higher contribution. You can show the world the way in morality.

This presumes that the Jewish mission cares about the human race. And I have quotes from the Netziv and Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik and others that show how such a view does fit in with Chazal and Tanach even if we have lost touch with that part of Judaism in recent centuries. For example:

"There are religiously committed Jews who are indifferent to the concerns of the larger non-Jewish society. They are content to reside in isolated communities with unconcern, if not actual disdain, for the Gentile world and for the problems which afflict humanity. This introversion can be explained as a reaction to the centuries-old derision and persecution which have been the Jewish historical experience and to which they were subjected with particular ferocity in modern times. Nowadays, there are particular aspects of moral perversion afflicting the general society which are repellant to Jewish sensibilities. Nevertheless, this insularity cannot be vindicated as authentic Judaism even if it can be understood and justified in particular historical periods and situations."
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Man of Faith in the Modern World, p. 73.

This is one of the reasons that it's not so easy to be a Hirschian in Israel. People in Israel are so obsessed with Zionist politics, so obsessed with Arabs, who overwhelmingly are deemed an enemy (not my perspective) and see everybody else only in terms of how they seem to treat the State of Israel. So Europe is deemed anti-Israel therefore we don't like Europe. That's the attitude over here.

There's not a whole lot of interest in the human race in Israel, except maybe in leftist circles which are quite far from religious.  It's not a great place for Hirschians and it's a very bad place to send newcomers to Judaism who have Hirschian leanings because they can get turned off. I know of numerous cases of baalei teshuvah who were directed to Eretz Yisroel to study and got so turned off by the anti-gentile attitudes and the politics that they did not stay with the religion.

This is why Hirsch was a master of kiruv, maybe the first kiruv person in modern times, and why he had the respect of the great rabbanim of Eastern Europe such as the Chasom Sofer, R' I.E. Spektor, R' Y. Salanter, and R' Chaim Ozer Grodinsky. He offered a path in Judaism that was a true path, that required definite sacrificies, but he did not impose demolition of the mind, nor did he sell a bridge. He found the fine line between competing outlooks. It's all there in the 19 Letters, a book he wrote at the ripe old age of 28.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Kenes in Bene Brak, chol moed

בית הכנסת כמנהג אשכנז
רחוב הרב בן יעקב 25 ב"ב

ביום חמישי י"ח תשרי
ידרוש בין מנחה למעריב
מורנו הרב בנימין שלמה המבורגר שליט"א
זמני התפלות
מנחה                       6:00
מעריב                      7:15
לאחר מעריב זמירות לכבוד המועד

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Yom Kippur Yekke Style

I had the privledge of enjoying a yekke Yom Kippur this year. This means start at neitz and go without stopping to neilah, at least this yekke minyan does it that way. It's quite a haul. Most of us had white tallisim and white kaepchens, that is, a head covering that looks like the Litvish yarmulka that R' Moshe Feinstein wore, only white.

There are lots of piyutim and the melodies are major key with a sort of bounce to them, lending cavod and grandeur to the occasion.

We used Rabbi Aumann's minhag Ashkenaz Machzor and he lead most of the davening. It's not often one can daven with the author of a mazchor.

My favorite part is the end, not because it's the end, but when the Yekkes do Hashem Hu HaElokim, it's disciplined, in unison, with a consistent melody that gets louder but is never out of control.

Duchaning also has special melodies, again with a bounce to them, major key, and uplifting, and responsive with the Chazan who not only tells the Cohanim the words of the bracha but sings it to them and the Cohanim sing back. This responsive exhange is common in Ashkenaz davening, such as on Friday night when the verses of Tehillim are said responsively, and such as during kiddushah where again Chazaon and tzibur don't talk over each other, they recite words responsively, one to the other.

Yekke davening is very Hirschian, positive, collective, dignified. and Hashem is front and center.

Friday, September 7, 2018

a no less ill-fated, completely un-Jewish direction

“As we look back today, it was more than one hundred years ago that European Jewry also faced a trying time. A generation filled with human kindness sought to make good on crimes committed in past centuries against the Jewish people, and opened the gates of emancipation into European culture for our people — which had abundantly clear consequences. Spokesmen for emancipation were leaders of the so-called Reform movement, resulting inevitably in total estrangement and mass baptism. God’s eternal wisdom has always shown that assimilation would lead to a rekindling of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism led to the Zionist movement, which hung a different flag on assimilation and guided it on a no less ill-fated, completely un-Jewish direction.” R’ Joseph Breuer, “At the End of the Year,” Mitteilungen, Vol. 2, September 1940 in A Unique Perspective, Rav Breuer’s Essays, pp. 291-2.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Linked Article: Israel: More Women Than Men Refuse Gitten, Shattering Stereotype

"Apparently, Get refusal in Israel goes both ways. On Sunday evening, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav David Lau said that there are currently more female Get refusers in the country than there are male Get refusers."

read full article: