Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sexual offenders IV - Empathy deficit and Torah

 This is a post from the past where the subject of empathy was raised. My understanding of the Chovas HaLevavos has changed and I don't view it as an example of empathy since it is focused on one's own pain - not the other's.
December 12 2008  Last week, as part of my research on the problem of child abuse, my chavrusa Dr. Shulem and I visited Doron Aggassi - the director of Shalom Bana'ich in Bnei Berak. As you may recall he was asked by HaRav Silman to create a community treatment program as an alternative to jail or ignoring the problem. One of the interesting points he made was that treatment consists primarily of sensitizing the perpetrators to the fact that they are actually hurting someone by their actions. This reinforces the point made in the psychological literature that there is apparently a cognitive deficit in the perpetrators and they tend not to view their victims as people - such as them -who feel pain and suffer.

We talked about the issue of why the large number of commandments regarding not hurting others should not be relevant. In other words, a secular person who is not aware that G-d has commanded not to hurt, embarrass or degrade another has some justification for his self-gratification at the expense of another. But how is it possible for people who are accomplished Torah scholars not to be sensitive?

It reminded me of something Rabbi Friefeld had said many years ago. "If the mugger was aware of the pain he caused by stealing another's money or felt the devastation that resulted from killing a husband and father and friend - it would be impossible for him to commit the crime.

So why doesn't the perpetrator feel? I just spent time researching the issue of empathy - feeling the pain of others - and so far it looks like there is no such concept in the Torah literature. There is clearly an explicit obligation to help the poor, to not hurt others, to love one's fellow man. However none of these are presented as issues of empathy but are simply cognitive behavior guidelines. Someone says he is hungry you give him food. But where do we find that we are supposed to feel the pain and suffering of the person we are to help?

I found a clear exception to the above pattern in Chovas HaLevavos (Introduction to Avodas HaShem):
The benefactor gives to the poor because the debased state of the poor person causes him pain. Thus the benefactor’s intent is to eliminate the pain that he himself is experiencing as a result of his empathetic upset and anguish cause by the condition of the poor person who arouses his pity. The benefactor can be compared to someone who cures his own pain which exists because of the good that G‑d has given him. Nevertheless the benefactor deserves to be praised in spite of his self‑serving motivation. As Job (31:19) said, “Have I ever seen someone die because he lacked clothing or a poor person that lacked covering – that I have not been blessed by clothing him and who was not warmed by the fleece of my sheep.” It is clear from what we have presented that the motivation of those who help other people is for their own selfish benefit. It is either to enhance his existence in this world or the world to come or to stop the pain he feels because of the other person’s suffering or to improve his own possessions.
Chovas HaLevavos is clearly stating that it is inherent in human beings to feel empathetic pain and anguish of others. So why is this not reflected in the Torah literature - until perhaps we get to the Mussar movement or the Chassidic movement? One possibility is that since it was always assumed to be inherent - there was not need to discuss it. Alternatively it could be that empathy is simply just not a Jewish value.

Irregardless of whether empathy is explicit or implicit as a Jewish value - the critical point is that molesters do not have empathetic awareness of their victim's suffering. It also seems that they are unaware of the connection between all the mitzvos concerning people such as "love your fellow man" and what they are doing.

A significant goal for what I am writing is to try to show how the mitzvos and prohibitions can be understood from the empathetic point of view. Furthermore as Doron Agassi noted, there are clearly some perpetrators who simply don't connect the laws of Shulchan Aruch to what they are doing. Torah learning is viewed as an abstract activity that is unconnected with the real world.

Thus three goals exist so far. 1) collect the Torah literature regarding hurting others, rodef, mesira as well as obligation to call police 2) Integrate the psychological facts regarding the damage that is done with the specific prohibitions and commandments - to increase empathetic aware of the harm 3) Clarify and elaborate and concretize the prohibitions and commandments so that they are seen as applicable to real life situations. [to be continued]

Faith in L.A. kosher butcher is shaken in wake of video

LA Times   For five decades, Doheny Glatt Kosher meat market has been one of California's preeminent suppliers of food that meets the requirements of Jewish law, offering staples such as brisket and chicken as well as bison, prime steak and grass-fed beef.

But on Friday, the esteemed butcher was at the center of an angry debate that had spread across L.A.'s Jewish community. The owner of Doheny faces accusations of selling meat that was not properly certified under kosher rules. Longtime customers doing their shopping before Shabbat were forced to decide how much they trusted their butcher.

Earlier this week, a council of rabbis pulled Doheny's kosher certification and, in a statement Friday, raised the possibility of "legal action," a recourse to secular courts that would be rare. Other prominent rabbis have stood by the meat shop.

Charges of fraud on the one side have been met with accusations of favoritism on the other, with some of Doheny's defenders suggesting that the shop has been under attack by disgruntled competitors.

In a letter emailed to congregants Friday, the chief rabbi of one of the city's largest synagogues, Rabbi Adam Kligfeld of Temple Beth Am, urged continued patronage of Doheny "because by doing so we can make a statement that kashrut" — Jewish dietary law — "should be about kashrut ... and not monopolies or power plays or raising suspicions." [...]

The controversy started Sunday when a video taken by a private investigator surfaced, purporting to show Doheny workers bringing in boxes of meat late at night without the required supervision of the independent inspector, known as a mashgiach, tasked with overseeing the store. The video later aired on KTLA-TV Channel 5.

After viewing the videotape, the Rabbinical Council of California pulled Doheny's kosher certification.

A group of rabbis also met with Michael Engelman, Doheny's owner. According to the council, Engelman initially denied any wrongdoing but later "admitted to bringing unauthorized products to the store on two to three occasions."

Friday, March 29, 2013

FBI arrests Gershon Barkany for $50 million Ponzi scheme

FBI  Earlier today, FBI agents arrested Gershon Barkany based on a criminal complaint alleging that the Far Rockaway man defrauded investors by promising to use their money in “risk-free” deals to purchase and then immediately re-sell at a profit large real estate properties located in New York City and New Jersey. In fact, the complaint alleges that no such deals existed and the defendant defrauded victims of more than $50 million.

The charges were announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and George Venizelos, Assistant Director in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), New York Field Office. The defendant’s initial appearance is scheduled for this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge A. Kathleen Tomlinson at the United States Courthouse in Central Islip, New York.

According to the criminal complaint that was unsealed this morning, Barkany induced at least five investors to wire transfer large sums of money supposedly to purchase real estate in Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, and Atlantic City, New Jersey. According to one of the investor victims, Barkany claimed that the sellers of these properties would only close on the real estate sales contracts after Barkany had located a purchaser who would be willing to buy the property from Barkany at a higher price. In that way, Barkany assured the victim that the real estate deals would be “risk free.” [...]

Caring for the Sinner: Homosexuality and Empathy

One of the issues that Rav Triebitz raised at yesterday's discussion is the possibility that the Netziv's approbation for the Chofetz Chaim's Ahavas Chesed - is indicative of the emergence of the empathetic approach versus the more traditional "everything is halacha" approach. The Netziv asserts that concerning bein adam l'chavero mitzvos, commonsense has a significant role in doing what is correct. In contrast the Chofetz Chaim lists halachic obligations and halachic reasoning. In essence he noted, the Netziv is undermining the Chofetz Chaim's approach - even though he gave a haskoma to the sefer. He noted also that Rav Sternbuch had related that at a major rabbinic conference the Chofetz Chaim had requested that the major rabbonim there sign a pledge never to speak lashon harah again. Rav Chaim Ozer took the document and ripped it up saying that a rav needs to be able to speak and listen to lashon harah. He said the dichotomy is whether seichel and human understanding is an essential component of fulfilling the mitzvos or does Torah precede the reality of creation in the sense that everything is halacha and human feelings are irrelevant.

In addition, Rav Trievitz noted this empathetic, intuitive approach is also referred to as yashrus. The Netziv's Introduction to Bereishis is one of strongest statements for the need for Yashrus - even in the face of piety. He famously stated that the Temple was destroyed because of the fanatic tzadikim who viewed all those who disagreed with them as apikorsim who were subject to capital punishment. 

At the end the introduction the Netziv notes that even though sin is to be hated - but we see that Avraham prayed for the lives and welfare of the sinner.
Rather G-d wanted tzadikim who were upright in the world. Because even if the non‑upright tzadikim were motivated by religious consideration - such conduct destroys the world. Therefore, this was the praise of the Avos that besides being tzadikim and chassidim and lovers of G‑d to the ultimate degree - they were also upright. That means that they conducted themselves in relation to the peoples of the world - even the debased idol worshippers - with love and were concerned about their welfare in regards to the preservation of Creation. This we see in the pleading of Avraham for the people of Sedom - even though he had total hatred for them because of their wickedness - nevertheless he wanted them to live…
 Thus Rav Triebitz wanted to say that the Netziv emphasized the importance of empathy and this was manifest in the love of the sinner. He noted that this distinction possibly is reflected in the recent change amongst some Orthodox leaders towards homosexuals. Those such as Rav Aharon Feldman who have called for understanding and sympathy for the homosexual - while rejected the sin - are manifesting empathy. As opposed to this there are more traditional rabbis such as Rav Moshe Sternbuch who view this as a major breach in the mesora and that the sinner needs to be condemned and not be viewed with sympathy or empathy.

Shavei Israel appoints emissary to discover 'hidden Jews' in Italy

Arutz 7   Rabbi Pinchas Punturello, 36, has been appointed to serve as the new emissary for the Shavei Israel organization in southern Italy and Sicily. In his new position, Rabbi Punturello will serve as the area’s chief rabbi, and will work to strengthen the local Jewish community in regions such as Puglia, Campania, Sicily, and Calabria, while also reaching out to the Bnei Anousim (whom historians refer to by the derogatory term Marranos) throughout the area, many of whom are looking to reconnect with the Jewish people.

Shavei Israel, which reaches out to communities of “hidden Jews” and helps them to reconnect with the Jewish People and State of Israel, is undertaking this project in conjunction with the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, the official umbrella organization of Italian Jewry. It marks the first time that a rabbi has been appointed to work specifically with the Bnei Anousim of southern Italy and Sicily.

“We are pleased that Rabbi Pinchas Punturello has joined the ranks of Shavei Israel. This is a direct result of the expansion of our activity throughout southern Italy in light of the growing desire of Bnei Anousim to reconnect with Jewish life,” said Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund. “In recent years, a growing number of Bnei Anousim in southern Italy have begun rediscovering their Jewish roots and expressing a desire to draw closer to Israel and the Jewish people. It is incumbent upon us to reach out to them and help them to do so,” he said.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Chol haMoed: Rav Meir Triebitz will discuss Empathy & Yiddishkeit

 Reminder - We are meeting tonight

update: Date is Thursday March 28 at 9 p.m. in Har Nof. At home of Dr. Baruch Shulem.  Those who will wish to attend send me an email and I'll send you the address and material that we will be discussing.  

Also read the previous posting here
I was discussing the issue of my post on Empathy and Yiddishkeit today with Rav Meir Triebitz and he agreed with me. When I mentioned that this issue has been a major point of contention on my blog, he said he would like to lead a group discussion on this topic during Chol haMoed Pesach.

If  you will be in Jerusalem and would like to participate - please send me an email regarding day and time you would be available. The location has not been finalized except that it will be in Jerusalem perhaps in Har Nof. Group will be limited to about 10 participants.

contact me at

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A seeker of truth must be rude ( "navel")

Mishlei (30:32): If you have done foolishly in lifting up yourself, or if you have thought evil, lay your hand on your mouth.
ספר משלי (ל:לב) אִם נָבַלְתָּ בְהִתְנַשֵּׂא וְאִם זַמּוֹתָ יָד לְפֶה

While researching the issue of the necessity of being a nice person, I did a search regarding being a navel b'reshus HaTorah. This is the famous Ramban (Vayikra 19:2) which says that one needs to restrict even that which is halachically permitted -  in order not to be a disgusting person within a Torah framework. For example, he says one should not devote oneself to pleasure - even if permitted - in eating or sexual activity. Sanctity comes from restricting that which is permitted to you.

I discovered that in fact there is apparently a counter principle which praises being disrespectful (navel). If one is concerned about being pushy, rude and insensitive, it seriously interferes with being a genuine talmid chachom. In fact the Baal haMeor says that social sensitivities are a major impediment to anyone's pursuit of truth - whether Torah or secular.

A simple example is that if a person is not aggressive he will not get the answers he needs.
Avos(2:5): ...A shy person (bayshan) has trouble learning and an impatient person can not be a good teacher...
However the gemora utilizing the verse in Mishlei (30:32) states it even stronger. Success in Torah requires being a "navel" i.e., rude or disrespectful. 
Berachos(63b): Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmoni asked the meaning of Mishlei (30:32), If you have been foolish in uplifting yourself and if you have thought evil – put your hand on your mouth? That means that if you act as an unrefined person regarding Torah knowledge – then you ultimately will be successful. However  if you don’t then out of embarrassment of being ignorant you will cover your mouth with your hand.
Rashi(Mishlei 30:33): Our teachers have explained that if you make yourself rude and inconsiderate for the sake of learning Torah in discussing explanations and clarifying doubts with your teacher – then even if you appear to him as an idiot without any understanding – in the end you will be successful. However if you keep quiet and don’t ask him questions, then when they ask you questions regarding halachic matters – you will be forced to cover your mouth and be silent because you won’t know how to answer anything.

In fact this verse in Mishlei is used to explain Avos (2:5) by many Rishonim.
Semag(Positive mitzvos #12): It teaches in Avos (2:5) that a shy person can not learn nor can a rigid  person be a teacher. It says in Mishlei (30:32), If you have foolishly elevated yourself and if you have had evil thoughts put your hand over your mouth. This is explained in Berachos (63b), One who makes himself rude and disrespectful for the sake of Torah - will in the end be successful.

The Baal HaMeor expands this into a necessary approach for all seekers of truth.
בעל המאור על הרי"ף (ברכות א:א): וחכמי המחקר קראו כסא הכבוד גלגל השכל ואמרו כי בזרוח אורו והוא אור החיים על הנפש החיה הזכה אשר לקחה ממנו תזהיר כזוהר הרקיע ומצדיקי הרבים כככבים לעולם ועד על כן מלא חשק לב כל חכם לב לדרוש ולתור בחכמה להבין ולהשכיל אם להימין אם להשמאיל בין האמת ובין השקר להורות ולהבדיל. ויש אשר יגבר החשק הזה על לבו עד שיראה כחושק היוצא מדרך הצניעות והמוסר בהסירו מסוה הבשת מעל פניו לבחון האמת כענין שנאמר ואדברה בעדותיך נגד מלכים ולא אבוש ויש רמז לדבר הזה במסוה שהיה משה מסיר מעל פניו בבואו לדבר עם אדוניו לקבל זוהר ההוד וקרני הכבוד מלפני מלך הכבוד ישתבח שמו ועל הענין הזה היו מרבותינו החסידים והקדושים ז"ל כאותה שאמר רבינו הקדוש ילדות היתה בי והעזתי פני בנתן הבבלי אע"פ שהיה ידוע במדת הענוה ורב אחדבוי קמיה דרב ששת הוה מהדר ליה בבדיחותא ואמר רב פפא כל כי האי מילתא נימא איניש קמיה רביה ולא לשתוק דכתיב אם נבלת בהתנשא ואם זמות יד לפה ואמרו עוד מנין לתלמיד היושב לפני רבו ורואה זכות לעני וחובה לעשיר מניין שלא ישתוק ת"ל מדבר שקר תרחק וזה המנהג נהגו כל חכמי העולם כמו שכתב החכם המורה אבן גנא"ח בהשיבו על המורה הגדול בעל הדקדוק רבי יהודה ז"ל הזכיר דברי הפילוסוף שהשיב על רבו ואמר ריב לאמת עם אפלטון ושניהם אוהבנו אך האמת אהוב יותר ואמר עוד אני לא באתי לגרוע מעלת האיש הזה ולהשפילה אך להפליאה ולהגדילה כי כלנו משדי חכמתו הניקנו ומעושר תבונתו העניקנו ומפרי פי שכלו אנחנו לוקטים ובים דעתו אנחנו שטים והוא אשר פקח עינינו ולמדנו והועילנו וגדלנו והשכילנו בחכמה הזאת ובאשר למדנו מפיו אנחנו משיבים מדבריו על דבריו וכדברים האלה ויותר מהמה כל שיש להוסיף אני הצעיר אומר על רבינו הרב הגדול המובהק ר' יצחק ב"ר יעקב בעל ההלכות המכונה אבן אלפסי. ואינו צריך להאריך בגדולתו ובחכמתו כי היא גלויה לכל בעלי עינים. כשמש בחצי השמים. וכנפי צדקותיו. בחבור הלכותיו. פרושות על דורותיו. ועל כל דורות הבאים אחריו. כי לא נעשה חבור יפה כמוהו בתלמוד מאחרי סתימתו וע"כ חובה עלינו בכל דבר נכבד ומפואר לכבדו ולפארו ולקדשו ולטהרו ולהלבינו ולבררו כפי כחנו

The same word - נבל is used by the Rambam and the verse in Mishlei. This assertion about the desirability of being a navel is cited by many authorities - so it is clearly not a daas yachid. How to resolve the apparent contraction between these two concepts - avoiding being a navel in order to be holy and being a navel in order to be able to discover the truth?

Another clear example:
Berachos (62a): It has been taught: R. Akiba said: Once I went in after R. Joshua to a privy, and I learnt from him three things. I learnt that one does not sit east and west but north and south; I learnt that one evacuates not standing but sitting; and I learnt that it is proper to wipe with the left hand and not with the right. Said Ben Azzai to him: Did you dare to take such liberties with your master? He replied: It was a matter of Torah, and I required to learn. It has been taught: Ben ‘Azzai said: Once I went in after R. Akiba to a privy, and I learnt from him three things. I learnt that one does not evacuate east and west but north and south. I also learnt that one evacuates sitting and not standing. I also learnt it is proper to wipe with the left hand and not with the right. Said R. Judah to him: Did you dare to take such liberties with your master? — He replied: It was a matter of Torah, and I required to learn. R. Kahana once went in and hid under Rab's bed. He heard him chatting [with his wife] and joking and doing what he required. He said to him: One would think that Abba's mouth had never sipped the dish before! He said to him: Kahana, are you here? Go out, because it is rude.1 He replied: It is a matter of Torah, and I require to learn.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Lo Sasur: Rabbinic authority today?

Mike W wrote:
The Sefer Hachinuch is explicit that Lo Sasur applies even nowadays (without a sanhedrin). So perhaps yes, one could claim that it applies to the gadol hador telling you something(The Rambam seems to argue, in hilchos melachim, , the Chinuch is definitely explicit, though)...

There is a very intelligent summary of the different positions in HaTakanos b'Yisroel Prof Yisroel Stefansky published by Mosad Rav Kook.

He states that there are 4 major positions regarding lo sassur as a doreissa prohibition

1) Limited to Beis Din HaGadol when they were in their proper chambers in the Temple - Rambam according to Margenisa Tova, Yereim. Ramban for things learned from the 13 midos,explanations of the Torah and Halacha L'Moshe.

2) Limited to Beis Din HaGadol but applies even when not in proper chambers - Rambam according to Lev Someach, Maharetz Chajes, Ran, Rashba, Rabbeinu Yonah, Ralbach. This is also relevant to the dispute between Rambam and Ramban in Sefer HaMitzvos #153. Ramban asserts Sanhedrin ended with cessation of capital punishment and destruction of Temple. Rambam asserts that every beis din hagadol has the status of Sanhedrin. Thus Rambam holds that Sanhedrin existed until Abaye and Rava - the fourth generation of Amoraim.

3) Applied to the end of the Talmud in the days of Ravina and Rav Ashi - Rambam's view according to Ramban and Chinuch, Rashbatz, Mabit, Lechem Mishna etc.

4) Applies in all generations even today concerning to the chochmim of the generation - Chinuch as understood by Minchas Chinuch. Rav Perlow holds that the Chinuch is a daas yachid

Lo sassur as rabbinic or asmachta

1) Ramban concerning halacha stated in the gemora. - Ramban in Sefer HaMitzvos. Ramban holds that rabbinic laws which are not founded on Torah laws - are not obligated by lo sassur even on the level of asmachta - even if these takanos were from the Sanhedrin. 2) Ran holds that as asmachta applies in all generations and even to takanos made by contemporary poskim.

He also notes that there a number of sources in the gemora which state that there is Torah obligation to listen to divrei chachomim and rishonim (Rosh Horius 2 2/Rashba Rosh HaShanna 16a) assert this is because of lo sassur

Stereotypic thinking:Intelligent opening-minded chareidim is not an oxymoron

The comments to my  previous post regarding Rav Sternbuch brought to mind two incidents. 

One happened 10 years ago in Bayit V'Gan. I was waiting for a bus back to Har Hof. There were two long haired young men sporting kipas - that clearly were not used too often - waiting also. One asked the other  - "We've been in this kiruv program for 2 weeks - what did you get out of it?" The reply was something that stuck me hard and revealed a new world. "I don't think I got too much out of the speeches about Science and Bible. I really didn't understand most of what they said about Torah. However I learned one important new fact, it is possible to be an Orthodox Jew and be intelligent and open-minded. Usually when someone mentions Orthodox or ultra Orthodox Jews, I picture a rather brutish person screaming Shabbos. A person who has no manners and views me with utter contempt. After all that is how they are described in the newspapers. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Orthodox Jews are really nice people."

The other happened 40 years ago while I was waiting for a subway in Midtown Manhattan. A tough character with leather vest, spiked bracelets and tatoos up and down his arm approached me. He snarled at me, "You know who I am? I am an Nazis and I hate Jews." I smiled and said hello. He apparently expected me to be frightened and disgusted with him - but I just politely listened to his rages about Jews and the world conspiracy against him.  The monologue continued for about 5 minutes. Suddenly he stopped and said, "This is really disgusting. People - even my friends - rarely have the patience to listen to me. I can't believe that a Jew is more understanding and considerate of me than my own kind." Fortunately at that moment the train arrived and I quickly jumped on. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Rav Moshe Sternbuch: Concerning the dreadful draft decree

Rav Moshe Sternbuch recently wrote the following letter criticizing the Israeli government's decrees against Chareidi Jews.  I have verified that it is genuine and it was posted on  the blog   בעולמם של  חרדים
 Update March 25: I posted Rav Sternbuch's letter after receiving the following criticism. Donniel, the person who criticized me just requested that I add our exchange to the post

Rav Eidensohn,
I find it hard to believe that you have not published on your blog your Rav's recent comments on the coalition agreement. I believe the comments expose Rav Sternboch as being highly unreasonable and even intellectually dishonest by claiming that the agreement punishes chareidim when it explicitly does not. there are no criminal consequences for evading the draft -  only  a withdrawal of unearned state subsidies for housing and child care.

Further , he  calls people who are supporting the agreement "total goyim" which is not only completely halachically inaccurate and s perversion of halacha but such verbiage is mean spirited and creates its own chillul hashem
[DT this is a gross mistranslation. Rav Sternbuch never said such a thing. The goyim he was referring to are converts who don't accept the obligation of mitzvos. Before opening ones mouth to strongly criticize someone - especially of the stature of Rav Sternbuch -  it is important to get the facts straight]. I would have thought that you had enough integrity to let your readers make their own decision. I suspect that you believe many readers would agree with me which is why you've omitted any post about Rav Sternbochs comments. I think you should let readers decide for themselves. I also think your ravs hashkafas are not befitting of your own hashkafas and it may be time to consider finding a new Rav.  I would really appreciate a response. most importantly,i think you should publish his comments and let your readers decide for themselves.

appreciate a themselves.
thank you for sharing your thoughts and concerns.

To which I replied:
I have not seen Rav Sternbuch's views on the matter nor have I discussed the issue with him. If you have the comments in the original language I would be interested in seeing them.

You seem to assume a lot about Rav Sternbuch and myself which perhaps would be better worded as questions about what you heard second hand or conjecture.

Rav Sternbuch is not  my Rav  in the sense of him being my only and final authority on all matters. He is someone who I greatly respect and have consulted with him on many matters. I usually agree with his views - but not always. Something which isn't surprising or unusual. There are other rabbinical authorities I consult with.

Most of what Rav Sternbuch says or writes is not included on this blog. I am not Rav Sternbuch's spokesman. It is true concerning the Tropper affair he gave me specific guidance which I followed. He also strongly encouraged me regarding writing about child abuse. There was also a time where I was sent articles of his which had been published in the Yated to be republished - but that stopped several years ago.

It is important to be careful with hasty judgments - and I appreciate that you took the time to clarify the matter.
Donniel replied:
 I greatly appreciate your thoughtful response. My apologies for assumptions that I made that proved to be inaccurate. Thank you for posting our exchange. I would like to add that your response was honorable, articulate,&well thought out. I agree with you that I made assumptions that proved not to be accurate. I apologize for doing so and request Mechila. Thank you for your transparency and integrity in how you conduct the dialogue with myself and others. If you want to post the above, I think it befitting your honor to do so, but obviously that is your judgment call.
 Translation by RaP    Rav Moshe Sternbuch: Concerning the dreadful draft decree” (March 24, 2013)

Da’as Torah from the Ra’avad of the “Eidah HaChareidis” – Jerusalem

The Gaon, Rebbi Moshe Shternbuch, SHLIT``A

BS”D                                                                                                                                      7 Nisan 5773  [March 18, `13]

Concerning the terrible decree to conscript yeshiva students [bnai hayeshivos], it calls for Da’as Torah about the severity of the matter.

And the matter is clear that their goal is not just to decrease the number of Torah scholars, G-d forbid [chas vesholom], but to uproot and change [the Jewish] faith and its adherents in Eretz Yisroel. And since they have announced that they intend to mix into our educational systems, into Jewish religious courts [batei din], and to insert into the Jewish nation converts who do not accept upon themselves the yoke of Torah and of its commandments [mitzvos] who by virtue of Torah law are pure gentiles [goyim gemurim] , and to increase Sabbath desecration in the cities of Israel, and other decrees, all mainly to damage the world of Torah [olam haTorah] to bring about a decrease in those who study Torah and observe it.

According to the Halachah it is forbidden to conscript the Bnai Torah because they are the “army [tz’va] of Hashem” and in all the generations were always a large community [tzibbur]  among the Jewish nation, for they are the “Tribe of Levi” and likewise all those that have accepted upon themselves the yoke of Torah were not conscripted and they thereby provided [Divine] protection for the Jewish nation as a shield with their Torah, as explained by the RAMBAM [Maimonides] at the end of the laws of Shmittah and Yovel [in the Mishneh Torah]. Those who dare to decrease the Torah scholars place into danger the entire settlement [of Jews] in Eretz Yisroel.

And in the army here [i.e. the Israeli army], they defile with what the Torah regards as [forbidden] mingling [between men and women], and with [forbidden] lusts, and those who are in it regularly hear heretical talk and use of foul language, and those in charge over there constantly try to cause religious soldiers in it to transgress the Jewish faith, as is known. And from experience it is proven that many [religious soldiers] have rejected the entire yoke [of Torah and Mitzvah observance], so that their goal is obvious: To ruin the Chareidim from their observances of their religion and faith [midasam ve’emunasam].

Eretz Yisroel is the Holy Land and many have come here to live a life of holiness and purity in the “Palace of the King” [paltron shel melech], to raise sons and daughters in the paths of Torah and fear [of God], and davka [precisely] here the authorities want to interfere in the pure Torah educational systems and [with those who wish] to live a Torah lifestyle, while in all the countries of the world it is accepted that theological students are free from conscription, yet here they want to force upon the Chareidim weaknesses to educate their sons and daughters against their pure will.

We view the decree of conscription as one more [link] in the twisted chain of their attempts to change the Chareidim and to thereby cause them to reject their Jewish faith [leh’avirim al das], but it is impossible to force us to do this even by means of punishments and increased penalties, and even if they try to [and do] hurt us and our children, they will never succeed in making us transgress from the faith of the Holy Torah.

And it is fitting to publicize that the [government] authorities in Eretz Yisroel who have guaranteed freedom of religion [to all] are instead actively forcing us to transgress our Jewish faith, and that the only place in the world that [Chareidi] Jews are hated and persecuted on account of their religion is in Eretz Yisroel. And we hope that they will be ashamed in front of all the nations of the world, and that they will leave us alone. And we will thereby save all the inhabitants of Eretz Yisroel from the dangers of God’s fury [charon af Hashem].

Let us strengthen each other and be strengthened. And our Father Who Is In Heaven [Avinu shebashamayim] when He sees our protests on behalf of the Honor of His Name, and as we strengthen ourselves in Torah learning and prayer, will hasten our Redemption, and we will shortly be able to greet our righteous Moshiach.


Bitul Chometz – A Brief History by Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Five Towns Jewish Times  According to Torah law, we can dispose of our Chometz before Pesach either by Biur—destruction or by Bitul—negation. By Rabbinic law, we must do both. We are all familiar with the text, we recite it in the evening after the search for Chometz, and again in the morning while we burn it.

What is perhaps shocking is that no where in the Babylonian Talmud is this formulation found. There is certainly an obligation to annul the Chometz, but it seems from the Gemorah (See Psachim 6b) that this is a thinking process that did not necessarily have to be verbalized. The Ramban actually rules that one does not require a verbal declaration (See Ramban, Psachim 7a, 31b[1]). The Jerusalem Talmud (Psachim 2:2), however, states just the opposite. There, Rav is quoted as ruling that one must recite the formula “All Chometz that is in my house that I am not aware of shall be annulled.”

The Rosh and the Rif, however, explain our Gemorah as stating that the annulment does require an actual verbal formulation. They differ slightly as to the verbal formula. There are actually four changes: [...]

Another question that exists in regard to the annulment is whether the Bitul can be annulled through a Shliach, through a messenger[3]. The Baal HaIttur holds that since a messenger is like the person throughout the entire Torah, a messenger can annul the Chometz of someone who sent him. The Rashba, the Ritva and the Nimukei Yoseph disagree and write that the actual owner of the Chometz must be the one who annuls it. The TaZ rules in accordance with the lenient opinion and states that someone who does utlize a messenger to annul, in all probability, has a reason for it. He is concerned that he may become busy or simply forget to annul it. His father-in-law, the Bach, however, was stringent. [...]

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Breslover leader R' Eliezer Berland: Allegations of sexual assault

Haaretz  Nonetheless, the testimony against Berland that is now coming to light has the Haredi world, and in particular the Shuvu Banim community, in an uproar. No less shocking than the criminal aspect of the matter is the fact that sexual asceticism is one of the main spiritual foundations that Berland preaches - and in this case he was apparently caught red-handed. 

This scandal comes on the heels of a stormy series of events that has been ongoing since late 2010; indeed, it turns out that allegations of sexual assault by him were already being made back then. Berland previously staged a sort of "coup" against his wife, son and members of his court, when he allowed publication of his claim that they were confining him against his will, seeking to have him committed, and denying him contact with his disciples. 

The rabbi, as part of his revolt, managed to elude, with the aid of a handful of loyalists, the security guards keeping watch over his house, and announced that he had escaped from captivity. Meanwhile, video clips came to light in which his son and grandson are documented in conversations acknowledging that they were exploiting him. A while later, the rabbi reconciled with his family, but the community was left traumatized and divided. Many left, the rabbi fell into debt, and about a year ago several of his senior disciples, including businessman Eran Hochberg (a former youth chess champion ) and Binyamin Ze'evi (son of the late politician and government minister Rehavam Ze'evi ), also jumped ship. 

The speculation within the community is that the allegations of sexual harassment reached his wife, Tehila Berland, and son Nachman even before they became public knowledge. For that reason, sources say, the pair sought to keep him out of the public eye, as Eliezer Berland himself has charged.

Friday, March 22, 2013

At what age is a child obligated in mitzvos or Can you sell your Chametz to a child?

Five Towns JewishTimes  by Rabbi Yair Hoffman

The Sefer HaChinuch explains that these seven laws are, in fact, categories of laws. These categories are the injunctions against murder, stealing, worshiping false gods, engaging in forbidden liaisons, eating the flesh of a live animal, and cursing Hashem, as well as the responsibility of setting up a system of justice whereby these laws are enforced.

Why then don’t they have bar mitzvah and bas mitzvah ceremonies?

Not a bad question, in fact. Jewish boys and girls have bar and bas mitzvahs when they reach the age at which they are obligated in observing the 613 mitzvos. What about their non-Jewish contemporaries, Chris and Kathy, for example? Perhaps the most pressing question is, when exactly is a gentile obligated in his or her mitzvos? And, more to our point, can the rabbi theoretically sell the community chametz to a mature eleven-year-old gentile?

It seems that there are three opinions among the Acharonim as to when our theoretical gentile would celebrate this milestone. The Chelkas Yoav (Vol. 1, s.v. “Aval”) indicates that the designated age would be the same as the age at which a Jewish child becomes a bar mitzvah. Thus, according to the Chelkas Yoav, “Chris” would celebrate his bar mitzvah at thirteen, while “Kathy” would celebrate hers at twelve. [...]

This brings us, however, to another question. Where did the age of thirteen come from in the first place? Also, is this figure a d’Oraisah (Biblical) ruling or is it a rabbinic ruling? If it is rabbinic in nature, then would it also apply to gentiles? (Gentiles, we recall, generally do not have to follow rabbinic laws.) [...]

Searching for the Historical Pharoah: Is it Obligatory?

5 Towns JewishTimes  By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

The Gemorah in Psachim (116b) informs us that, in each generation, we are obligated to view ourselves as if we actually left Mitzrayim. Indeed, in Michtav MeEliyahu, Rav Dessler writes that since time does not progress linearly, but rather travels in a carousel like circle, the 15th of Nissan of the year 2448 is actually the very same 15th of Nissan of our own year now.

This is one of our obligations on the night of Pesach. This being the case, that halachically we must view ourselves as actually leaving Mitzrayim, in our mind’s eye we should envision and picture the escape.

Let’s give it a try. Before us, standing at the water’s edge about to enter it, stands Nachshon Ben Aminadav. Behind us, on a chariot, Pharoah is leading his hordes of well-trained soldiers. They are rapidly catching up. Yes, it is Pharoah – the short, obnoxious leader of the Egyptians that dared to present himself as a god.

But who exactly was he? What was his name? What do we know about him? [...]

The halacha of envisioning us being there is not just theoretical. It involves physical action as well. The Rambam writes (Hilchos Chometz UhMatzah 7:6) based upon the verse in Dvarim 5, “And you shall remember that you were a slave in Mitzrayim” as follows: “In other words, as if you yourself were a slave and you left to freedom and you were redeemed.” The juxtaposition of this Rambam with the next halacha gives us remarkable insight. The Rambam writes, “Therefore when a person eats and drinks on this night he must lean in the manner of free men.” In other words, it seems that the obligation of leaning is a manifestation of this biblical obligation of imagining and visioning that it was actually us. So this Pesach let us go through the extra effort of picturing it with even more detail. A short, ugly Pharoah named Adikam Ahuz chasing us in a chariot.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Special Education Provider Stole Millions, State Audit Says

NY Times   One of New York City’s largest providers of special education services to preschoolers with disabilities illegally diverted millions in taxpayer financing to a girls’ religious school, summer camps and a kosher supermarket owned by the group’s officers and board members, state auditors said on Monday. 

The auditors were unable to confirm that any of the hundreds of children who were supposed to get one-on-one instruction from the agency, Island Child Development Center, ever actually did, said the office of the state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli. 

After subpoenaing more than 13,000 checks from the agency’s bank, auditors said they gave up counting after the first 1,549 checks they reviewed turned up $5.8 million in what they said was fraudulent spending over a six-year period when Island Child billed the state and the city more than $27 million.[...]

As of last April, Island Child was billing taxpayers for providing one-on-one teachers to nearly 200 disabled children ages 3 to 5, records show. 

Yet Island Child, in Far Rockaway, Queens, paid nearly $2 million to Bnos Bais Yaakov, a nearby school for Orthodox Jewish girls, of which the auditors said Rabbi Samuel Hiller, the assistant executive director of Island Child, is both dean and an owner. Another $877,000 went to various Jewish summer camps, two of them tied to Mr. Hiller, and more than $330,000 in nonpayroll checks went to Mr. Hiller himself, the auditors said.[...]

Auditors said Island Child also bought $344,000 in food, including $73,000 from Super Sol, a kosher supermarket whose founder, Laurence Garber, led Island Child’s board. The special education prekindergarten program prohibits purchases of food. 

Auditors cited what they said were many other improper or fraudulent expenses, including $200,000 in construction, $12,000 to two jewelers, $235,000 to credit-card companies, $44,000 to “cash,” and nearly $200,000 to five fictitious workers.