Monday, April 29, 2013

Stealing in order to help others - is it permitted?

In a previous Post  I mentioned the view of Rav Elchonon Wasserman that the prohibitions regarding bein adam l'chavero only apply where the act is destructive and meant to harm. He learns this from the Rambam (Hilchos Chovel 5:1) which states that hitting another is only prohibited if done derech nitzoiyon (strife or vanquishing). He says this rule applies not only to hitting but lashon harah and hatred.

A significant problem with making this sweeping generalization comes in the area of theft. Can a person steal something for a joke or with intent to pay - without any desire to harm the victim? More relevant to the issue of education - can a teacher or parent take away a student or child's possession - for the sake of chinuch or to prevent sin? Can you take away a neighbor's computer to prevent him/her from using the internet? Can you take away someone smartphone solely because you think it is for the person's benefit not to have it - even if you don't pay for it?

Rabbi Yehuda Hertzl Henkin (Techumin Volume 8) has a long article on this and concludes that despite being a common practice - there is no justification for taking things from another person against their will. 
Bava Metzia (61b):Why did the Torah (Vayikra 19:11) need to explicitly prohibit stealing [since  we learn the prohibition of causing financial loss from ribis and fraud while the prohibition of stealing in the Ten Commandments refers to kidnapping a person – Rashi]? The answer is as it was taught: One cannot steal just to aggravate [Rashi] another nor can one steal even if he intended to repay double for it [because he wants to give the victim something but he knows he won’t accept and therefore he uses stealing as a pretext to give him money – Rashi].
Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuva 3:85):  Do not steal or suppress or lie (Vayikra 19:11). Our Sages (Bava Metzia 61b) state that “not stealing” means if it it is only to upset the person. In other words a person should not say I will steal his possession in order to upset him and I will take while he is watchin and I will warn him that he needs to be more careful in watching his possession and then I will return it to him. Similarly it is prohibited to steal possessions from another’s house and use them and then return them. Nor should you secretly take your own possessions from a thief after they were stolen so that you don’t look like a thief. 
An apparently refutation of this is in the following gemora - but the Meiri says it is not a problem
Bava Basra(16a): Rava asked the meaning of “The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me...(Job 29:13)....This verse alludes to the fact that Job used to steal the fields of orphans [and the orphans were convinced that they had lost the land – Rashi] and he would improve the fields and then give them back.
Meiri (Bava Basra 16a):  There are sins which are done with good intentions and nevertheless they are not permitted. But this seems to be contradicted by this gemora where Job is praised because he would steal land from the poor and orphans and improve it and then return it. That is because Job was well known as such a tzadik – that even though he didn’t explain this reason – every knew that was his intent in taking the land. The gemora describes this as theft only as a general term of taking property of others – but according to my understanding it did not mean to say it was a sinful taking of the land. ... We can see from these cases that even when a person intends to do good and that should permit the act – nevertheless we are told that good intent is not enough to permit stealing in any form even if it is public knowledge what you are doing. That is because this gemora explicitly said not to steal even if you intend to pay back double. This requires further clarification. Nevertheless even the great Rabbis indicated that it is prohibited. Nevertheless the major difficulty has been removed regarding Job.
[I will be adding sources to this post regarding this serious exception to Rav Wasserman's assertion and possibly other exceptions.]

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lag B’Omer: An Overview by Rabbi Yair Hoffman

5Towns Jewish Times     The Rema, Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 493:2) writes that on Lag B’Omer we engage slightly in simcha. Observing Lag B’Omer is a serious matter. The Magen Avraham cites the Kavanos HaArizal that discusses a certain individual who had the habit of reciting “Nachem” every day. He continued to do so on Lag B’Omer as well. For doing so he was punished. We see, therefore, that one should take the words of the Rema quite seriously.

A number of reasons are cited by Torah authorities for commemorating Lag B’Omer:

• It commemorates that the students of Rabbi Akiva ceased dying during this day, although the deaths persisted between Pesach and Shavuos. (Shela, Pesachim 525)

• This day is the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who revealed the inner secrets of the Torah. (Chayei Adam, Moadim 131:11)

• This is the day that Rabbi Akiva granted ordination to his five students, among them Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. They did not die in the plague that struck Rabbi Akiva’s other students. (Pri Chadash, O.C. 493)

• It also commemorates the manna, which began to fall on this day after the Bnei Yisrael left Egypt. (Responsa Chasam Sofer, Y.D. #233, “Omnam yadati”) [...]

Rabbi Michael Broyde: Is his attribution to Lubavitcher Rebbe genuine?

Guest Post by Dr. Ben Bradley. In the context of the recent controversy about Rabbi Dr Michael Broyde and a letter by an apparently non-existent talmid chacham (the source of which has not been confirmed), which buttressed Rabbi Broyde's halachic arguments, I thought it important to put to following information in the public domain.

I am a family physician and as such I attended a talk for doctors and medical students in London in 2009 by Rabbi Broyde. Amongst other issues he discussed opinions in halacha about the breadth of the permission to break Shabbos for medical purposes and mentioned some very lenient opinions although only in general terms with no specific sources or details. In particular he mentioned a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in which he gave permission to sit an entrance exam for medical school on Shabbos. I was taken aback as this was well outside any heter I was aware of. I asked one of my rebbeim, a Lubavitcher talmid chacham with a vast familiarity with Chabad sources, about this. He was unaware of such a letter, thought that if it existed it would be unlikely that he didn't know about it, and further thought it highly improbable that the Rebbe would write such a thing for a variety of reasons.

I therefore emailed Rabbi Broyde asking where to find the source. He replied briefly that he didn't think it had been published, so I asked again where I could at least find reference to it. I had no further response from him and thought little further about it until now, since an evidently non-genuine letter has come to light giving halachic support for Dr Broyde's opinions. Now I am almost certain that this letter mentioned at his shiur does not exist and think this should be made public.

If anyone can find valid reference to this opinion of the Lubavitcher Rebbe anywhere at all I will be pleased to retract this posting.

Dr Ben Bradley

Ethiopian Halacha sefer arouses controversy


לפני קרוב לשנה יצא הספר "מסיני לאתיופיה". הספר הנחשב לראשון מסוגו הוא מעין קיצור שולחן ערוך של מסורת יהודי אתיופיה: ספר הלכה מתומצת המחולק לפי נושאים. אלא שמאז שהמסה הגיחה לאוויר העולם היא מסעירה את הקהילה האתיופית בארץ ובחו"ל. נגד מחבר הספר, הרב שרון שלום, מתנהל מסע השמצות בטענה שחיבורו מגדף ומחרף את קודשי ישראל ומתיר איסורים הלכתיים כמו איסור נגיעה ולחיצת יד לאישה, ביטול דיני מוקצה בשבת, ביטול חלק מהלכות נידה, כלי זמר ביום הכיפורים וטלטול כסף בשבת.

לפני כמה חודשים שיגרה קבוצה של רבנים אתיופים שהתקרבו לזרם החרדי מכתב חריף לכל המועצות הדתיות, ובו הם מאשימים בכפירה את יוצר החיבור התורני. למכתב הזה צורף סרטון שבו מדבר הרב הראשי לישראל, הרב שלמה עמאר, התוקף את המחבר.

מנגד, רבים בקהילה האתיופית מברכים על הספר ורואים בו פריצת דרך ומקור לגאווה, חיבור מכונן שמעלה על הכתב לראשונה באופן מסודר ונגיש את מסורת אתיופיה והלכותיה. לא מעט רבנים אורתודוקסים ואנשי מחקר מעלים על נס את הספר כאחת היצירות התורניות המשמעותיות ביותר בשנים האחרונות. רק לאחרונה המועמד למשרת הרב הראשי לישראל, הרב דוד סתיו, ביקר את הרבנות הראשית, שלדבריו איימה לשלול את ההסמכה לרבנות של מחבר הספר: "הבן אדם מקבל מכתב מהרבנות הראשית ששוללים ממנו את ההסמכה, הוא בסך הכל הביא מנהגים של יהדות אתיופיה של אלף שנה, אלפיים שנה", הזדעק הרב סתיו באחת מהרצאותיו לאחרונה.
הרב שרון שלום, לשעבר זאודה טספאי, הוא תלמיד חכם במובן הרחב של המילה: בוגר ישיבת ההסדר בגוש עציון, סר"ן במילואים ודוקטורנט לפילוסופיה יהודית באוניברסיטת בר-אילן. הוא רב בארגון רבני צהר, בעל הסמכה לרבנות ומתפקד כרב בית הכנסת האשכנזי "קודשי ישראל" של ניצולי השואה בקריית גת. עד לא מזמן היה הרב שלום מחתן ועורך חופות בישראל, אלא שבעקבות המכתב שנשלח למועצות הדתיות נאסר עליו לחתן בחלק מהמקומות, אף  שהוא מחזיק בתעודת הסמכה מטעם הרבנות המאשרת לו לערוך חופה וקידושין.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Guidance for Chareidim facing draft

This is basically propaganda - not realistic advice. Not sure whether it is to encourage the young men to not be cooperative or to try and scare the army that the draft will produce serious resistance. From the news items I have seen, it is viewed as further proof  that chareidim are nuts.

Rav Triebitz: Next meeting is planned in a week or two

Given the succcess of our recent group discussion of Rav Meir Triebitz regarding the issue of empathy, we are planning on having another one. This might lead to re-establishing the Think Tank Group we had several years ago. We plan on dealing with issues of the dynamics of halacha as applied to our community and education. Hopefully it will be in the next week or two in Jerusalem - probably in Har Nof. If you are interested in participating please send me an email -

We will be dealing not only with the past as found in the halachic literature  - but also indentifying what is happening now. Furthermore we will be defining goals for our community and the means that encourage their successful attainment.

Bein adam l'chavero sins - only if done to hurt & vanquish the other

Considering this is the period of Sefira, it is appropriate to talk about bein adam l'chavero sins. One important consideration started with the question that since hitting another is a doreissa sin - why is it permitted to hit children for chinuch which is only a rabbinic mitzva?  The basic  prohibition of hitting is described by the Rambam
Rambam(Hilchos Chovel 5:1): It is prohibited for a man to injure himself or others. Not only is injury prohibited but anyone who hits a good Jew - whether it is a child (koton) or adult (gadol) whether it is a man or woman – derech netzayon (in a manner of strife) - transgresses a negative commandment. As it says concerning flogging a criminal in Devarim (25:3), Do not beat him beyond that which is prescribed as punishment. If the Torah warns us about hitting a criminal beyond which is prescribed as punishment - than surely it is prohibited to hit a righteous person.
Rav Elchanon Wasserman focuses on the phrase derech netzayon (in the manner of stife) in his commentary on Yevamos. He then produces an important generalization.
Kovetz Ha’aros (Yevamos #70): ...It would seem that all that is prohibited between people (bein adam l’chavero) is only prohibited when done in a harmful and destructive manner without justification. For example regarding the prohibition of “Not hating your brother.” This is only prohibited for gratuitous hatred (sinas chinom). In other words when he is not doing anything wrong (davar ervah). However if he is doing something wrong then it is permitted to hate him. It is important to note that the reason for hatred being permitted in this case is not because of the fact that a sinful person is not considered your “brother.” Tosfos (Pesachim 113b) explains that if you hate this sinful person for another reason then you transgress the prohibition. The hatred is only permitted because of the bad (davar ervah) that you see in him. Similarly regarding the prohibition of beating another, the Rambam writes that it is prohibited only if done as fighting (derech netzoyan). This is clear from the fact that it is permitted for a teacher to his student. And this that we noted before in Sanhedrin (84b) – that is only a rabbinic restriction. And similarly concerning the prohibition of causing anguish to a widow or orphan, Rambam (Hilchos De’os 6:10) writes that if it is done to teach Torah or a trade – there is no prohibition. Similarly concerning the prohibition of lashon harah, it is permitted against people who cause discord and quarrels in order to stop the fight. Similar concerning using words to cause anguish (onas devarim), it is permitted publicly criticize someone publicly if it is for the sake of chastisement. It is even permitted to publicly embarrass someone if it is done for the necessity of chastisement for a person who has not stopped his bad behavior after being rebuked in private. In such a case it is even permissible to curse him. In fact this is what was done by the prophets in the past as the Rambam (Hilchos De’os 6:8) notes. We thus shown from all this, that all the prohibition involving interpersonal actions do not apply when the act is beneficial.
 The above is an important conceptualization. My son had a related conversation with the Rosh Yeshiva of Slabodka Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. He said that the Chazon Ish didn't understand the need for the extensive scholarship provided in the Chofetz Chaim's sefer regarding lashon harah. He stated the prohibition of lashon harah is simply not to cause harm to others through speech.

In short, the common way of viewing these mitzvos is that they are severe prohibitions for which there are limited heterim in special circumstances. The mitzvos and heterim are so complicated and nuanced that only a major posek can know when and how the heterim apply. Consequently people commonly are machmir to avoid transgressing the prohibition - and end up causing unnecessary harm to others (See the Piskei Teshuva O.C. 156). In contrast Rav Elchonon Wasserman's conceptualization is that the prohibitions only apply in situations where the intent and goal is to hurt another person. In a situation where the purpose is to help, and this is best way to help - there is no prohibition in the first place. 

This latter point is important. One can not speak lashon harah and  hurt another simply by claiming that it is  will also be beneficial.  The orientation of being focused on helping is critical. Thus Rav Wasserman is not providing a heter to permit actions which are harmful. One can not desire to cause damage and then find some benefit  and therefore claim that it is permitted because of the addition of the benefit. The concern has to be to help the other and not hurt him,
See note [י]

District Court says woman wearing talis at Kotel is ok

Haaretz   The Jerusalem District Court ruled Thursday that women praying at the Western Wall with prayer shawls and tefillin does not constitute a violation of “local custom” or a provocation, and therefore, no justification exists for detaining and interrogating women who engage in these practices. 

The ruling is a major victory for the Women of the Wall organization in its ongoing battle against police and the Orthodox authorities in charge of prayer rules at the holy site. 

The district court also ruled that contrary to police interpretations of a previous Supreme Court ruling, there is no prohibition preventing women from holding their own prayer services at the Western Wall nor any requirement that they congregate instead at the nearby Robinson’s Arch.[...]

Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz said he will look into the ruling and consult with state's legal representative to examine its consequences.  
"The Western Wall is the last unifying place we have," he said. "It is easy to enflame the Western Wall it divineness. It is much more difficult to the find the middle route that will allow everyone to feel included and wanted at the Western Wall."
"I beg the authorities as well as the silent majority who care deeply for the Wall, to prevent extremists from turning it into a site antagonism between brothers," Rabinowitz added.
'Women needlessly abused for years'

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Yair Lapid's Fascinating 20 minutes in the Knesset by RaP

Guest post from RaP: Yair Lapid's Fascinating 20 minutes in the Knesset: The Charedim will have to come up with a MUCH better response!
Yair Lapid recently made a fascinating and powerful 20 minute appearance before the Knesset in the presence of the Charedi representatives. It is worth watching, especially if you have some understanding of the language. Lapid is an experienced and charismatic personality and communicator with a very big agenda!
While it is obvious he is a secular Israeli, but he is NOT his father Tommy who was virulent and an embittered Holocaust survivor. Yair his son has more obvious empathy and he is a skilled communicator who uses logic with a friendly manner who makes sense and only by countering with even greater SECHEL can such debates be won.
Screaming and shouting, even in the Knesset where it is a common practice, will NOT accomplish anything.
The Charedim will have to come up with better responses not just acting out-of-control in paroxysms of anger because, plainly and calmly, Lapid does make some very valid points, that need to be answered in a rational and logical and calm manner, even though by standards of the Knesset it seems acceptable to scream and shout at the loudest pitch to drown out opponents.
Lapid seems genuine when he says he does NOT "hate" the Charedim, that they do not have a controlling monopoly on the state, that in a democracy you get to be in the opposition as well, but that they sat in the government for the last 30 years and contributed to the deficit that must now be fixed, and that parents have to be the first ones to take care of their children because it is not the responsibility of the state or other people that must take care of the children, even though he says no child will hungry in Israel. 

He says quite simply that the proposals are not just his and have been approved by the top bankers and finance people in the government.

Lapid tells them not to tell him what to do on Shabbat -- for posting on Facebook -- because he is "not Shommer Shabbat" as he does not tell them what to do on Shabbat -- and in the background the Speaker of the Knesset can be heard humorously admonishing MK Gafni of UTJ that he is sure that Gafni does not even go on the Internet meaning how can he talk about "Facebook", a very good question.
Lapid is responding as a typical Chiloni. Therefore at this time when so much Kiruv is on the go, surely Kiruv people would now give a better response to such situations and NOT act like bizarre people in the Knesset? Maybe it is time to put Uri Zohar or some Kiruv professionals from Ohr Somayach or Chabad personalities like Manis Friedman in the Knesset, someone who is FRIENDLY and has experience how to smile in front of cameras and win over an audience!!! Aish HaTorah and Ner Yisroel already have Dov Lipman, and that should also be countered with people who can sell a counter-message! But surely the same Gedolim who support Kiruv can choose a select group of people able to sell Yiddishkeit because everything is now done in front of the cameras and no one will like the Charedim any more if all they see when they look at them yell at Lapid who is making sense (mostly) while they are having infantile TANTRUMS. Just as the people who formed and rallied around Yesh Atid were brilliant enough to chose a master communicator and someone who acts friendly (remember Lapid has been trained to do this career-wise for a long time as popular TV host.) 
If Charedim will just go on with spoiler tactics and not come up with better strategies to sell their point of view and win the debate (always a tall order, now even harder), then expect Lapid and Yesh Atid not just to stay in the government for a VERY long time, but to become the main party of Israel that sweeps the next elections and beyond.
See an article about that below:
"Lapid: Israel 'Sick of Taking Orders' from Hareidi MKs 
Lapid tells hareidi Jews he does not hate them, ‘the state is just sick of taking your orders,’ in stormy Knesset session.
(Israel National News) By Maayana Miskin 4/22/2013

The Knesset’s summer session got off to a stormy start Monday with an afternoon session that saw Finance Minister Yair Lapid clash with representatives from the hareidi-religious Yahadut Hatorah (Gimmel) party.
MK Meir Porush of Yahadut Hatorah criticized Lapid, accusing him of hating the hareidi community. Porush also took Lapid to task for his fiscal policy, saying, “I heard that he’s going to impose harsh economic decrees on the state of Israel. This man lives life based on what he’ll look like tomorrow.”

Lapid lashed back in his own speech to Knesset later in the session. “The previous government that created this deficit – were you not in it?” he asked the hareidi representatives. “Were you on Mars?”
“You sat in every government for the past 30 years, and this deficit has your names on it. I need to deal with the deficit that you created, you were not cheap coalition partners,” he said.
“You talk about hatred of hareidim,” he continued. “Nobody hates you, and you keep arguing that they hate you… The only thing that happened is that you aren’t in the coalition, and that’s called democracy… The state is sick of taking orders from you, and now you aren’t on the Finance Committee.”
“You need to understand that we don’t hate you,” he added. “But you aren’t registered as the rightful owners of the government.”..."

Doctors are bringing people back from the dead

BBC   Carol had had a cardiac arrest - her heart had stopped beating. Luckily, an elderly neighbour knew the rudiments of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and quickly began to work on her chest. 

Paramedics soon took over, and at a point between 30 and 45 minutes after her collapse - no-one noted the exact time - Carol's heart started beating again.

"While 45 minutes is absolutely remarkable and a lot of people would have written her off, we now know there are people who have been brought back, three, four, five hours after they've died and have led remarkably good quality lives," says Dr Sam Parnia, the director of resuscitation research at Stony Brook University in New York. 

Most people regard cardiac arrest as synonymous with death, he says. But it is not a final threshold. 

Doctors have long believed that if someone is without a heartbeat for longer than about 20 minutes, the brain usually suffers irreparable damage. But this can be avoided, Parnia says, with good quality CPR and careful post-resuscitation care. 

He says it is vital that chest compressions occur at the right rate and force and that patients are not over-ventilated. CPR would be considerably prolonged, with machines doing the work.
Doctors also have new ways to care for patients after their hearts have been restarted. ==============================

Sam Parnia practices resuscitation medine. In other words, he helps bring people back from the dead — and some return with stories. Their tales could help save lives, and even challenge traditional scientific ideas about the nature of consciousness.[...]

It sounds supernatural, and if their memories are accurate and their brains really have stopped, it’s neurologically inexplicable, at least with what’s now known. Parnia, leader of the Human Consciousness Pro [...]
 Wired: In the book you say that death is not a moment in time, but a process. What do you mean by that?

Sam Parnia: There’s a point used to define death: Your heart stops beating, your brain shuts down. The moment of cardiac arrest. Until fifty years ago, when CPR was developed, when you reached this point, you couldn’t come back. That led to the perception that death is completely irreversible. [...]

R Michael Broyde: More serious allegations uncovered

TJCTV  A new investigation by The Jewish Channel suggests a deception related to Rabbi Michael Broyde’s academic work that academic ethics experts say would represent a much greater breach of academic ethics than the revelations from a previous investigation published by The Jewish Channel on April 12.

The Jewish Channel has previously revealed that Rabbi Michael Broyde — a prominent rabbi who was reportedly on the shortlist to be chief rabbi of England and is a law professor at U.S. News & World Report’s 23rd-ranked law school at Emory University — created a fake professional identity, Rabbi Hershel Goldwasser, that Broyde used over the course of nearly 20 years. The Goldwasser character joined a rival rabbinic group and gained access to its members-only communications, to argue with other members of that group under the fake identity, to submit letters to scholarly journals that in some cases touted his own work, and engage in other scholarly deceptions.

But a second identity uncovered by The Jewish Channel might have gone farther down the road of academic misconduct than did the Goldwasser character. The second identity, claiming to be an 80-something Ivy League graduate and Talmud scholar in 2010, alleged he’d had conversations with now long-dead sages in the late 1940s or early 1950s. The alleged conversations were used to produce a manufactured history of statements from long-dead scholars that buttressed an argument that Broyde had made in a highly-touted article published in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. Broyde, in a later publication, subsequently quoted this second identity’s alleged findings as further proof of his original argument. [...]

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Toronto imam reported alleged terror plot to police

LA Times   An imam in the Toronto area came forward more than a year ago with concerns about one of the two suspects now charged with an alleged terrorism plot, an attorney who handled the tip said Tuesday. Toronto attorney Naseer Syed said the imam, who wants to remain anonymous, first came to him with his concerns about Raed Jaser, 35, who was arrested Monday by Canadian police.  

“The community has always struggled with, at what point does some behavior or activity or words cross a certain threshold?” Syed said in a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times. “He noticed some of the activities and became concerned enough that he consulted with me and felt it should be reported to authorities. … He asked me to make the first call,” the attorney said.

Syed said he immediately contacted Canadian authorities with the tip. It is unclear what part the information played in the lengthy investigation that led up to the arrests of Jaser and Montreal-area resident Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, who were charged with conspiring to commit murder in connection with a terrorist group. Canadian police told reporters their investigation began last August.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Israeli Rabbinate: Supports Direct Metzitza

 As we reported last week - Daas Torah - Direct Metzitza - official rabbinate position   the official position of the Israel Rabbinate is that metzitza is a valid procedure. As they clearly state the parents have the option of either direct oral contact or using a tube. This was clearly described on the Rabbinate Web site in great detail. The fact that the guidelines are dated from a year ago clearly indicates that despite - some mistaken assertions to the contrary - the Rabbinate has not changed its position. All they have done is offered clarifications which some  have misunderstood to indicate that they changed their guidelines.

Arutz 7   In an official letter published by the Director of the Britot (Circumcisions) Department of the Chief Rabbinate, Rabbi Moshe Morciano clarified that the position of the Rabbinate supports traditional circumcision procedure which includes "metzitza bepeh" (oral suction). This is done to ensure the health of the baby.  The procedure is conditional upon the good health of the mohel himself, and the agreement of the family should be obtained by the Mohel (Circumciser).

Science: Wringing water out of cloth on Space Station

Monday, April 22, 2013

Boston Marathon Bombers: Is Terrorism a distortion of Islam?

The following video was brought to my attention by a reader. It charges that the Western World is collectively avoiding facing the true nature of Islam because of the desire to be tolerant and non-judgmental regarding religion and life style issues i.e., politically correct. Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of terrorist acts in the modern world are carried about by Muslims - we are told that we should view this as a perversion of Islam which is claimed to be inherently a peaceful religion and tolerant of other religions and lifestyles. There is no question that the overwhelming number of Muslims and their leaders are peaceful people and do not support terrorism. Therefore I welcome reasoned debate and refutation of the thesis presented in this and similar videos that are on the Internet. I am well aware that some of my readers are Muslims - and I am not presenting this to be offensive. The arguments and backlash against Islam already exist - at least from the time of the attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11. I would like to hear the other side. This is obviously not just a theoretical issue or an exercise in compartive religions. It strongly impacts Jews and in particluar Israel

Haifa's Chief Rabbi: Police say to indict him for fraud & bribery

YNET   The National Fraud Unit recommended that Haifa's Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Shlush be prosecuted for offences related to bribery, fraud, breach of trust, misuse of a public position and transgression of the Law Forbidding Kosher Fraud.[...]

The rabbi insists that he was the one who was subjected to extortion.[...]

In 2010, the attorney general ordered the government to investigate the rabbi, prompting numerous investigations of both Shlush himself and his aides. Though investigators found that the rabbi was receiving bribes and threatening businesses with loss of their Kosher certificate for reasons unrelated to religious law, no indictments were filed.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Limits of Empathy: Critique of Stephen Pinker - It doesn't make you a better person

NY Times   By David Brooks. We are surrounded by people trying to make the world a better place. Peace activists bring enemies together so they can get to know one another and feel each other’s pain. School leaders try to attract a diverse set of students so each can understand what it’s like to walk in the others’ shoes. Religious and community groups try to cultivate empathy. 

As Steven Pinker writes in his mind-altering new book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” we are living in the middle of an “empathy craze.” There are shelfloads of books about it: “The Age of Empathy,” “The Empathy Gap,” “The Empathic Civilization,” “Teaching Empathy.” There’s even a brain theory that we have mirror neurons in our heads that enable us to feel what’s in other people’s heads and that these neurons lead to sympathetic care and moral action. 

There’s a lot of truth to all this. We do have mirror neurons in our heads. People who are empathetic are more sensitive to the perspectives and sufferings of others. They are more likely to make compassionate moral judgments. 

The problem comes when we try to turn feeling into action. Empathy makes you more aware of other people’s suffering, but it’s not clear it actually motivates you to take moral action or prevents you from taking immoral action. 

In the early days of the Holocaust, Nazi prison guards sometimes wept as they mowed down Jewish women and children, but they still did it. Subjects in the famous Milgram experiments felt anguish as they appeared to administer electric shocks to other research subjects, but they pressed on because some guy in a lab coat told them to. 

Empathy orients you toward moral action, but it doesn’t seem to help much when that action comes at a personal cost. You may feel a pang for the homeless guy on the other side of the street, but the odds are that you are not going to cross the street to give him a dollar.[...]

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Women of the Wall: Irrelevant for Israelis - Heroes in America

Times of Israel   Every second Jewish American who talks to me about Israel talks about Women of the Wall,” says Chen Bram, an anthropologist and organizational psychologist who is currently a Schusterman Visiting Israeli Professor at the University of Florida. “They all know this story.” For many American Jews, Women of the Wall, the tallitot- and tefillin-wearing women who read the Torah at the Kotel, have long been heroes of Jewish religious pluralism. Most Israelis, however, are only recently aware of the group — though they may be more knowledgeable about other religious pluralism issues in Israel.

Bram is surprised by how much Americans know about Women of the Wall. He says chairwoman Anat Hoffman is accorded rock star status by liberal American Jews. Conversely, Rabbi David Golinkin, President of the Conservative Movement’s Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, says Hoffman and her colleagues are considered irrelevant by most Israelis. [...]

It is not merely a matter of media coverage, but a reflection of a major disconnect between the two largest Jewish communities in the world. This divide is slowly being bridged, however, as the notion of a “global Jewish Peoplehood” is entering the public discourse, and religious pluralism and civil rights are rising higher on the Israeli political agenda.

“The whole battle for the Western Wall is an Americanized and American-imported battle for religious moderation and tolerance,” explains Shmuel Rosner, senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute and L.A. Jewish Journal columnist. “Women wearing a tallit is not something Israelis are used to. They don’t necessarily have negative feelings about it, but it’s just strange and feels like it doesn’t belong here.”[...]

Friday, April 19, 2013

Meir Dascalowitz pleads guilty to sexual abuse in mikve

NY Daily News   A Brooklyn father who's been ostracized from his Hasidic community because he reported his son's sexual abuse claimed victory Thursday after the man who violated the teenage boy pleaded guilty.

"Justice was done," said the father, Mordechai Jungreis. "I'm happy to show the community that the game is over — if you do the crime, you need to do the time."

Meir Dascalowitz, 29, will get five years in prison after pleading guilty to having sex with the boy, who is now 17. He'll also have to register as a sex offender upon his release.

The admitted perv was arrested in May 2010 for the abuse, which took place in a ritual bath, and his case slogged slowly through psych exams and other delays. [...]

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Circumcision may bolster immune system against harmful bacteria

LA Times   Circumcision is known to reduce a man's risk of HIV infection by at least half, but scientists don't know why. A new study offers support for the theory that removing the foreskin deprives troublesome bacteria of a place to live, leaving the immune system in much better shape to keep the human immunodeficiency virus at bay.

Anyone who has ever lifted a rock and watched as the earth beneath it was quickly vacated by legions of bugs and tiny worms would be familiar with the principle, said study leader Dr. Cindy Liu: After the foreskin is cut away, the masses of genital bacteria that once existed beneath it end up disappearing.

"It's the same as if you clear-cut a forest," said Liu, a pathologist at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Flagstaff, Ariz. "The community of animals that once lived in that forest is going to change."

Of particular note is that circumcision undercuts anaerobic bacteria, the microbes that thrive in oxygen-deprived environments, she said. By reducing the number of anaerobic bacteria, the body's immune cells may be better able to destroy the virus — and less likely to fall prey to its Trojan horse-style of attack, the authors suggest.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

U of Penn sent me the Metzitza Report in response to a simple request!

Just received the report. I had only sent request this morning. The report simply indicates that while it is possible that a mohel can transmit herpes - however because of the limited number of cases in the studies available - more work needs to establish anything more definitive. This really doesn't support the Aguda's view that metzitza is not a problem. It is consistent with what the U of Penn had said the report is about in their comments to the Forward. The report also came with a pamphlet from the NYC Heath department warning of metzitza. I don't see any chidush in the report. It clearly is not part of some secret conspiracy to support the Aguda's agenda.  Does anyone doubt that it is theoretically possible to transmit herpes through metzitza? In sum I am simply affirming what the U of Penn has stated about this report.
 Good afternoon Dr. Eidensohn,
Please find the attached report that you requested.
Thanks !!

S.C. Dunbar
Administrative Assistant
Center for Evidence-based Practice (CEP) and
Clinical Effectiveness and Quality Improvement (CEQI)

University of Pennsylvania Health System
3535 Market Street, Mezzanine Level, Suite 50
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Telephone: (215) 662-2463
Fax: (215)349-5829

-----Original Message-----
From: Daniel Eidensohn []
Sent: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 3:36 AM
To: Dunbar, Stephanie
Subject: report request

could you please send me a copy of the following report listed on your
web site?

2013 01 21 | Risk of neonatal herpes simplex virus type 1 infection
associated with jewish ritual circumcision

Daniel Eidensohn Ph.D.

The information contained in this e-mail message is intended only for the personal and confidential use of the recipient(s) named above. If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient or an agent responsible for delivering it to the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that you have received this document in error and that any review, dissemination, distribution, or copying of this message is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please notify us immediately by e-mail, and delete the original message.

Direct Metzitza: Official Israeli Rabbinut guidelines permit it

Contrary to assertions that some have made  - the Israeli Rabbinate
says it is not necessary to stop the practise of direct mouth metzitza. These guidelines are currently posted on the web site of the Rabbinate. Israeli newspapers and BHOL on April 8, 2013 reported that the Chief Rabbinate had just issued a clarification of these guidelines. The  Rabbinate said that use of the glass tube is permitted l'chatchila and it is preferrable medically. "That the tube reduces significantly reduces the likelihood of infection." If the parents request that the tube not be used then the mohel should explain the dangers associated with that. The parents have the right to insist on the use of a glass tube. Basically - as the year old guidelines currently posted on the Rabbinate website state - the parents have the right to choose whether they want a glass tube utilized.

  See previous comments about metzitza

U of Penn study of Metzitza:The story gets weirder and weirder!

The issue of whether metzitza is an inherent risk factor for herpes and therefore should be banned - has been debated for a while now. See previous post and its comments. The Aguda in its defense of metzitza against the NYC Department of Health cited a metastudy from the U of Penn which analyzed previously done studies and which the Aguda  claimed said that no causal relationship was found between metzitza and herpes in infants. Now the U of Penn has issued a statement - bizarrely through the Forward and not directly - criticizing the use of the study which they said in fact concluded the opposite of what the Aguda said it did. They also added the study was not only not published  it was not even peer reviewed and was meant purely for internal use at the U of Penn. The study was not released and not even doctors can get copies without some sort of protexia. At this point it is very unclear why the U of Penn did the study in the first place. It is highly unlikely that U of Penn was interested in knowing whether they should allow metziza in their medical facilities - so what purpose did it serve. They are not making the study available - so how did the Aguda get a copy? How could the Aguda conclude the opposite of what the U of Penn claims the study says? At this point all one can conclude from the information funneled through the Forward - is that the U of Penn is claiming that it is possible to get herpes through metzitza - a point that no one contests anyway! The only relevant question is whether metzitza done by a mohel following proper procedures causes herpes. In short the whole incident is weird, makes no sense and  even smells funny. It does absolutely nothing to resolve the issue.   

Update 4/16/13 Here is an Israeli study of complications in mila  IMA 7:368 Ben Chaim et al 2005

Update 4/16/13  New study indicates mohel is significant source of infection

Update 4/16/13 Israeli Rabbinate's directives for metzitza

Update 4/16/13 U of Penn just sent me a copy of the report in response to a simple request for one
Forward   The authors of a research report on metzitzah b’peh say their study is being distorted by defenders of the controversial ritual circumcision practice who claim that the procedure poses no risk of neonatal herpes to infants.

In an April 9 press release headlined “Ivy League Study Casts Doubt on Claims that Jewish Tradition Leads to Herpes in Infants,” a public relations agency representing Agudath Israel of America and several other ultra-Orthodox groups sought to debunk the public health consensus on metzitzah b’peh, or MBP. The press announcement claimed that a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania “found little evidence to support the claim that circumcision ritual is infecting infants” with herpes simplex virus.

The announcement noted that the UPenn study was submitted as evidence in an appeal filed by the ultra-Orthodox groups, who are plaintiffs in a suit opposing regulation of the practice by New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“We have been saying for years that the evidence attacking this religious practice is highly dubious, and now we have world class doctors agreeing with us.” Rabbi Gedaliah Weinberger, chairman emeritus of the board of trustees of the Aguda, said in the press release.

But in a statement released Monday, the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Evidence-based Practice termed it “regrettable that our evidence review was manipulated for purposes other than advising physicians of important clinical risk factors for newborns.”

“The unpublished report was used without our knowledge or consent and importantly, without proper context,” the center’s statement said. “Further, a subsequent press release mischaracterized our review by implying that there is no causal relationship between circumcision performed with oral suction and the transmission of neonatal herpes simplex virus (HSV) when the full report on the existing evidence concluded this link does exist.” [...]

Monday, April 15, 2013

European Rabbis issue call to stop covering up abuse

Kikar Shabbat
רבני אירופה עושים סוף לטייוח מקרי אלימות:  אמש (ראשון) התכנסה מועצת רבני אירופה לישיבתה השנתית הנערכת בפריז. במהלך הישיבה הסוערת שנמשכה מספר שעות, דנו חברי המועצת, במספר פרשיות של התעללויות בילדים על ידי מחנכים בבתי ספר יהודיים ברחבי אירופה.

מועצת רבני אירופה החליטה לצאת בקול קורא מיוחד לכל מוסדות החינוך, בו היא קוראת להפסיק לחפות ולטייח פרשיות מן הסוג הזה ולטפל בכל פרשייה בליווי מקצועי צמוד.

בנוסף, החליטו הרבנים להקים וועדה מיוחדת, בראשות הגאון רבי בנימין יעקבס, רב ראשי בהולנד. והגאון רבי יצחק רובין, מחשובי הרבנים במנצ'סטר ויו"ר ועד רבני מחוזות אנגליה. הוועדה תעמוד בקשר עם מוסדות החינוך ותסייע להם בייעוץ וליווי בנושאים אלה.

Rabbi Michael Broyde takes "an indefinite leave of absence" from BD of America

Tablet [See previous post ]  The Rabbinical Council of America, the chief professional organization of Modern Orthodox rabbis, has granted Rabbi Dr. Michael Broyde, one of its most prominent scholars and a professor of law at Emory University, “an indefinite leave of absence” from its top rabbinical court, the Beth Din of America. Sources within the RCA confirmed the move, and Broyde’s biography has been deleted from the court’s web site, where he was previously listed as a member and judge.

“Rabbi Broyde has admitted to behavior that the Rabbinical Council finds extremely disturbing,” Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the RCA, told Tablet. “We have determined and announced by the Beth Din of America, our affiliated rabbinical court, that he has ceased to serve as a dayan immediately and indefinitely.”[...] 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Why this ultra-Orthodox Democrat will observe Yom Hazikaron

JPost by Rabbi Mendel Horowitz    For the first time in my 17 years living in Israel I plan to observe Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, not because I am Israeli – I am not – but because I am Jewish.

For me there was always a difference. Come April 15 I will escort my visiting American students to Mount Herzl where we will hear eulogies for those fallen. We will recite Psalms and grieve for dead Jews – husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters who died or were murdered as noncombatants on sovereign Israeli soil – a modern variation on an ancient theme. We may not care for “Hatikva” or “Jerusalem of Gold,” but we can care enough for tears.

I am, in my synagogue in Jerusalem, a pariah. A self-identified ultra-Orthodox Jew – complete with beard and sidelocks – I twice supported Barack Obama, the candidate my fellow  worshipers would hardly mention by name. Back home, in New York, I am a registered Democrat, a political affiliation increasingly unfashionable among my coreligionists. This past November I saw the political conservatism in my congregation mirroring its traditionalist theology. Recognizing a consistent reactionary agenda I shrank from both its expressions, and began assessing my allegiances. [...]

Throughout my childhood Zionism was mostly ignored, making it natural to pass over while engaging the spiritual elements of my Jewishness. Barring Rabbi Abraham Kook (1865-1935), who was viewed as an anomaly, the rabbis I grew up respecting attached little priority to the State of Israel and I became ambivalent regarding its being. Israel was at best a side-dish to the main course of my religion – the study of Torah and eminence of its laws.

That was then. Now, as I discover my liberal political views at odds with the elitist views of my congregation, I question too their other standoffish platforms – those that relegate Israel to the edge of the plate. Historically opposed to the State of Israel, my rabbi’s rabbi’s rabbis may have argued coherently against its establishment but today, such arguments seem beside the point. A dissent that began in earnest has evolved into a cultural diffidence, empty of clear reason. I cannot argue confidently against the existing Israeli state and more importantly, why would I want to? [...]