Sunday, November 8, 2015

Tamar Epstein: Story finally reaching the general public

Word is finally spreading. The comments in the second link are many and informative.

UnOrthodox Protest of the New RCA Resolution Against the Ordination of Women by Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer

Guest Post

It is unfortunate that Open Orthodox opponents of the new RCA resolution have vilified the resolution and the RCA in the secular Jewish media, issuing a flurry of attacks in The Jewish Week, Forward and elsewhere. The reason that Open Orthodoxy typically turns to the secular media as the venue for attack on positions with which it does not agree is obvious: the readership of these publications is less Jewishly-educated and is hence more easily influenced, and sympathy for critique of tradition is clearly more prevalent among non-Orthodox audiences. To put it very bluntly, Open Orthodoxy preys on people’s ignorance and emotions, and that is why it publishes its objections on religious issues in secular fora.

Here is an article I published in Times of Israel, in which Open Orthodox protest (in the secular Jewish media) to the new RCA resolution is analyzed. ...
Halacha should be decided by:
a) rulings of master halachic authorities;b) analysis of controlling halachic texts and precedent; c) popular petition; d) Facebook and Twitter posts; e) satirical entertainment.
If you chose answers a) and b), you are correct. In fact, rulings of master halachic authorities and analysis of controlling halachic texts and precedent have together formed the basis for halachic adjudication for time immemorial, and are classified as such by the original and primary sources of Halacha. If you chose answers c), d) or e), you are incorrect. Or, to put it differently, choosing answers c), d) or e) may be fine and well, but it is not Orthodox.

It is in this vein that we unfortunately need to revisit the issue of rabbinic ordination of women.

The recent Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) resolution against the ordination of women was predicated upon the considered halachic rulings and direct counsel of preeminent halachic authorities, as explained in this article and elsewhere. (Please read the article for insider details about the resolution and the problems with ordaining women.) The resolution reflects classical Orthodoxy/halachic Judaism, which is rooted in submission to Torah authority, even when such authority conflicts with contemporary values of egalitarianism and autonomy. Rabbi Yosef B. Soloveitchik explained that total submission to the yoke of Torah authority and unabashed and unapologetic promulgation of Torah values is the mandate of the Jew, as unpopular as the Torah’s messages and values may be in the eyes of modern society. This is Orthodox Judaism. Rabbi Soloveitchik eloquently explained that Surrender to the Divine Will, as expressed by Halacha, is at the core of our faith and calling.

It is thus with disappointment that some segments around the Orthodox orbit have rejected the RCA’s resolution, and have done so not by turning to halachic authorities greater than those upon whose decisions the resolution rests (the truth is that there are no greater or equal authorities who rule otherwise), but by resorting to extremely non-halachic means. Although the RCA resolution was worded respectfully and factually and is based on clear halachic directives, opponents have resorted to name calling, mud slinging, delegitimizing, satirical/mocking entertainment, popular petition, threats/guilt trips and non-halachic reasoning in an effort to demand halachic recognition of the ordination of women. By taking this matter out of the realm of halachic adjudication and into the world of social media and popular opinion, the supporters of ordination for women have demonstrated beyond a doubt that they have abandoned the halachic process and have hence abandoned Orthodoxy (they have also created a major rift, disingenuously laying the blame for the rift at the door of those who have held the fort and sustained thousands of years of tradition).
Rabbi Soloveitchik, in a famous exposition on the deeper signifance of the Korach Rebellion, explained that Korach sought to change Halacha by departing from the proper approach toward halachic adjudication, in favor of a populist approach that did not submit to preeminent halachic authority and did not respect the system or adhere to its axioms and methodology:
Korach rebelled against authority. All Jews are equal. Hence, everyone is entitled to interpret the law… The study of the law, Korach argued, is an exoteric act, a democratic act, in which every intelligent person may engage. Moshe’s claim to being the exclusive legal authority, and the exclusive interpreter of the law, Korach argued, was unfounded and unwarranted…
 The Oral Law (Halacha) has its own epistemological approach, which can be understood only by a lamdan (advanced Torah scholar) who has mastered its methodology and its abundant material. Just as mathematics is more than a group of equations, and physics is more than a collection of natural laws, so, too, the Halacha is more than a compilation of religious laws. It has its own logos and method of thinking and is an autonomous self-integrated system. The Halacha need not make common sense any more than mathematics and scientific conceptualized systems need to accommodate themselves to common sense.
When people talk of a meaningful Halacha, of unfreezing the Halacha or of an empirical Halacha, they are basically proposing Korach’s approach. Lacking a knowledge of halachic methodology, which can only be achieved through extensive study, they instead apply common-sense reasoning which is replete with platitudes and clichés. As in Aristotelean physics, they judge phenomena solely from surface appearances and note only the subjective sensations of worshippers. This da’as (simplistic) approach is not tolerated in science, and it should not receive serious credence in Halacha. Such judgments are pseudo-statements, lacking sophistication about depth relationships and meanings. (1973 shiur (lecture) at RCA convention; The Rav: Thinking Aloud – Sefer Bamidbar, pp. 127-148. And see here.)

The Moetzes Gedolei Ha-Torah, the Council of Torah Sages of Agudath Israel of America, very recently issued a public statement that Open Orthodoxy is not a legitimate form of Orthodox Judaism. The basis for this statement and what precipitated it have been demonstrated incountless ways, but the underlying ideology of Open Orthodoxy, as manifest in the “anti-RCA” protestations and rants (sorry — just being honest) by Open Orthodox leadership and laity, evinces an attitude toward Halacha that is one of personal agenda, control and demands, rather than submission.

This attitude betrays much of the outcry on the part of Open Orthodoxy toward the RCA resolution and other issues in the Orthodox world. Here are a few of the many recent expressions of Open Orthodox protest that exhibit this sentiment:

For me, sacred continuity is about calling in all of the men and women who have been alienated from Torah and from the Divine because they have not found communities that reflect their values or that welcome them in their fullness and contradictions. For me, sacred continuity is about creating a space, through our recently founded Yeshivat Kol Isha, where women grappling with intimate details of halakha around sexuality and menstruation can do that with other women and find a place for their own voice and reality to be reflected in halakhic discourse… (Rabba Melanie Landau, Yeshivat Maharat ‘15)
There are teachings from our tradition that are evil (genocides, stoning children, abuse of women, oppression of homosexuals, Judeo-centric imperialism, etc.) We have a moral responsibility to name it and own it! The nuanced teachings were progressive in their time but our sacred responsibility is now to reinterpret them (as our sages have always done) to be moral lights in our time. Within Jewish law, the principles, not the rules, are eternal. We are a people faithful to both roots and progress. (Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, YCT ’10)
Yes, people should be free to ordain women, to disregard the rulings of preeminent halachic authorities in favor of populist “Facebook/Twitter” and petition approaches to halachic decision-making, to define Judaism as they see fit, and to demand that Halacha conform to their subjective agendas and needs — so long as they please finally drop the word “Orthodox”.

A neutral psychologist refutes the psychological claims - that are the basis of Tamar Epstein's heter - with her diary entries

Guest post from Mr. Ploni a psychologist who has contributed many valuable comments to this blog but wishes to remain anonymous.

Rav Feldman Shlit"a quotes the "רופא מומחה":
הרופא הפסיכיאטור המומחה קבע את דעתו על פי עובדות ששמע מהאשה על התנהגותו 
של הבעל, כמו: כעסו, קמצנותו, פחדיו, דאגותיו, וכו' שכולם מוכיחים שיש לו 
המחלות הנ"ל שהן, לדעת הרופא, בלתי הפיכות
Let's check Tamar's diary entry...
About כעס / anger:
Related OPPOSITE traits are mentioned: "Why I love/like Aharon/what I respect: -respect. Shmiras halashon [wide ranging term meaning does not speak badly about others in any way or curse] ... loving/sweet/ affectionate/gentle to me"
The closest negative trait similar to anger mentioned: "not mature about certain things when upset/feels pressured into doing things he immature - sulks, passive-aggressive, self-absorbed". And "read paper, leave table, doesn't say goodbye etc." Is sulking when feeling pressured & not saying goodbye considered כעס???
About קמצנות / stinginess:
Actually, the OPPOSITE of stinginess is explicitly is mentioned: ""Why I love/like Aharon/what I respect: ... lets me spend money - equal share .... -doesn't pressure me to go back to work". Does that sound like a stingy person???
About דאגותיו-פחדיו / unwarranted fears: Nothing there. Actually, that's a mistake. Stress IS mentioned, but the one with the דאגה, פחד is Tamar, and not Aaron: "Me - anxious/stressed when with family when socializing with others - worry about how Aharon feels and will react"
I don't think this is a minor point. The fact that none of the core issues that the רופא מומחה based his diagnosis on where present at the time that Tamar wrote her diary entry gives great credence to what Rav Feldman suspects, that:
הרבה מהסיפורים שמהם מוכיח הרופא שהבעל אינו נורמלי עד כדי שאין לו רפואה קרו לאחרי הנישואין. מהיכי תיתי שהמחלה, אם היתה, לא התפתחה אחרי הקידושין, שאז כמובן אין כאן ביטול קידושין?
If so, there is obviously no basis for מקח טעות.
Even more importantly, this may show that Aaron is THE VICTIM here, and the anger, etc. that Tamar reported was not the CAUSE, but rather the EFFECT, which RESULTED from TRAUMA that Aaron suffered from being bullied & denigrated.
If my hypothesis is true, Hallachically, Aaron was therefore a) פטור even if did AFTERWARDS say things he wasn't supposed to (as per the סמ"ע חו"מ ס' רכ"ח ס"ק ד), and b) surely not obligated to grant a get (as per the the רמ"א אהע"ז ס' קנ"ד ס"ג).
This is the only logical way I can understand the discrepancy between the journal entry and the עובדות ששמע מהאשה.
Aaron's correct diagnosis might then be:
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder
(C-PTSD) also known as developmental trauma disorder (DTD) or complex trauma is a psychological injury that results from protracted exposure to prolonged social and/or interpersonal trauma in the context of  dependence, captivity or entrapment (a situation lacking a viable escape).
Dear Rabbi Eidensohn:
Do you think this discrepancy should be brought to the attention of the רבנים הגאונים שליט"א?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Chayei Sarah; When to feed pets by Rabbi Shlomo Pollak

Rivkah Imeinu gave Eliezer to drink BEFORE the camels. We know, asks the Sefer Chasidim, that we are obligated to feed our animals before we sit down to eat ourselves....

The Sefer Chasidim rules, that in giving to drink, humans are first. This is brought down in the Magen Avroham....

The Chasam Sofer and Reb Moshe Feinstein z'l have a different explanation.....  

For questions or comments please email

In light of the Tamar Epstein scandal: A call to action

Guest Post

Klal Yisroel is beset by numerous challenges both from internal and external factors. The external issues are to some degree dealt with by the leadership of the Agudath Israel organization. We are terribly lacking in leadership, or rather a leadership apparatus to deal with the internal burning issues of our day.

Every Rov, kehila and beis din is its own little island. For example when the “Grama Switch” was proposed there was no central authority to judge it. It took some time for this that and the other rov to get together and declare it chilul Shabbos and forbid it. Supposedly the concept is now finished, finally.

More recently the tzibbur was confronted with an issue of epic proportions, namely the remarriage of one Tamar Epstein without a Get.

The Rov who performed her second marriage is of impeccable credentials, a world renowned moreh horaah who has been relied upon by all rabbonim in many matters for decades.

I would not impugn upon this Rov’s credibility or integrity, yet when we are faced by a “agunah” who made herself into a cause celebrity as one, suddenly declaring herself “unchained” it is a grave matter to have this seemingly resolved without a written hetter from gedolei haposkim explaining what made this marriage invalid and invalidated.

Such is an issue of great precedent setting public policy importance and the lack of a vehicle for the rabbonim to receive and share information, formulate and provide public guidance is a void of epic proportions which must be filled.

The need in today’s day and age for an organization such as the Agudas Harabonim to be functional or to be replaced cannot be overstated.

Speak to your Rov, Rosh Yeshiva and Rebbe ask them to please join together with likeminded leaders of Bnei Torah for the sake of Hashem and the Torah.

With regard to Gittin and Kidushin, the shenanigans played by Toanim in Beis Din and general rabbinic protocols and standards the situation is totally out of control, everyone and anyone can do as they please and are answerable to no one. It’s time to end the madness. Nobody can say that they operate in a bubble, Rabonim do not necessarily need to be answerable to the masses, yet to their peers they need to be. Today’s situation allows for anyone to declare themselves a peer to whomever they please leaving us with this circus like situation.

Signed with the hope for a better tomorrow.

Echad mibnei hayeshivos

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Many websites that promote unscientific views about vaccinations use pseudoscience and misinformation to spread the idea that vaccines are dangerous

Many websites that promote unscientific views about vaccinations use pseudoscience and misinformation to spread the idea that vaccines are dangerous, according to a new study.

For example, of the nearly 500 anti-vaccination websites examined in the study, nearly two-thirds claimed that vaccines cause autism, the researchers found. However, multiple studies have shown that there is no link between vaccines and autism.

About two-thirds of the websites used information that they represented as scientific evidence, but in fact was not, to support their claims that vaccines are dangerous, and about one-third used people's anecdotes to reinforce those claims, the scientists found.

Some websites also cited actual peer-reviewed studies as their sources of information, but they misinterpreted and misrepresented the findings of these studies.

"So the science itself was strong, but the way it was being interpreted was not very accurate," said study author Meghan Moran, an associate professor in Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School's Department of Health, Behavior and Society. "It was being distorted to support an anti-vaccine agenda." [5 Dangerous Vaccination Myths][...]

The biggest takeaway from the findings is that researchers and health officials "need to communicate to the vaccine-hesitant parent in a way that resonates with them and is sensitive to their concerns," Moran said in a statement. "In our review, we saw communication for things we consider healthy, such as breast-feeding, eating organic, the types of behavior public health officials want to encourage. I think we can leverage these good things and reframe our communication in a way that makes sense to those parents resisting vaccines for their children."[...]

Monday, November 2, 2015

The New RCA Resolution About Women Rabbis – What It is, and What It Is Not

Cross-Currents   by Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer
JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) continues to be disappointed by the RCA’s insistence that only men may assume positions of “rabbinic status,” which as far as we can tell, amounts to nothing more than an obsession with titles… We are disappointed that America’s largest association of Orthodox rabbis spends its time developing redundant statements (see 2010 Statement, 2013 Statement) absent of halakhic grounding…
The above JOFA advocacy statement and a petition in support of the ordination of women as rabbis, as pushback to the new Rabbinical Council of America resolution concerning women rabbis, have been posted on the Facebook pages of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and numerous Open Orthodox constituents. Whereas I normally do not react to JOFA statements, in this case, JOFA’s statement evinces great misunderstanding and provides the opportunity to clarify and educate.

Although I am a member of the RCA’s Executive Committee and I voted in favor of the above resolution (which was voted upon by the entire RCA membership), I am not an RCA officer, nor an RCA representative, nor do I represent the drafters of the RCA resolution. I speak for myself only, yet as someone who has intimate familiarity with many of the issues and the background.

Contrary to the belief of JOFA and the Open Orthodox rabbinate, the RCA’s position that women may not be ordained as clergy is based on clear rulings and the direct counsel of Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz and Rabbi Mordechai Willig, all of whom presented their positions against the ordination of women to the RCA in 2010 and appealed to the RCA to vote in favor of a 2010 resolution to that effect. These preeminent halachic authorities presented a variety of reasons and analysis thereof for their decision, but the decision was uniform. (Please also see this incisive article.)

The RCA resolution of 2010 was, unfortunately, circumvented by some rabbis. Other rabbis, who are in the field and have been defending the position of the RCA poskim in the face of local Open Orthodox rabbinic and lay challenges, felt that something more specific was needed. Additionally, female clergy have been increasingly employed by Orthodox-identified congregations and schools over the past several years. It was against this backdrop and in response to these important developments that the 2015 RCA resolution on the matter was drafted, submitted for passage and adopted.

Some of us in the RCA were quite disappointed that mainstream institutional Orthodoxy had largely done nothing to address the growing trend of women rabbis, despite credible assertions on the part of leaders of mainstream institutional Orthodoxy that they are committed to the RCA’s halachic authorities and oppose the ordination of women for the rabbinate (and other Open Orthodox innovations). Open Orthodoxy has been on the march for over a decade, three classes of women have been ordained by Yeshivat Maharat, but all we heard from mainstream institutional Orthodoxy was silence. It was clear that something had to be done, and that it required a grassroots initiative.

The new RCA resolution not only affirms the position of the RCA’s poskim against the ordination of women, but it stipulates:

Therefore, the Rabbinical Council of America
  • Resolves to educate and inform our community that RCA members with positions in Orthodox institutions may not
    1. Ordain women into the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title used; or
    2. Hire or ratify the hiring of a woman into a rabbinic position at an Orthodox institution; or
    3. Allow a title implying rabbinic ordination to be used by a teacher of Limudei Kodesh in an Orthodox institution; and,
  • Commits to an educational effort to publicize its policy by:
    1. Republishing its policies on this matter; and,
    2. Clearly communicating and disseminating these policies to its members and the community.
 The drafters of the resolution sought to restrict the focus to the ordination of women, and not to address the propriety of Yoatzot Halacha and other women’s positons and halachic training programs. Unfortunately, despite this intent, many have construed the wording of the resolution as actually endorsing the Yoatzot programs and so forth. Although this seems to be a legitimate reading of the resolution, this was not at all its intent. The drafters purposefully did not want to convey an opinion about the propriety of Yoatzot programs and the like, as the RCA has no position on the matter, and many RCA members, this writer included, are not in favor of such programs. This is a critical point of clarification that must be made and publicized.

Some Open Orthodox rabbis have alleged that the RCA is placing people outside of Orthodoxy, discriminating against those who do not agree with the RCA position, and changing the rules. Nothing could be further from the truth. The RCA resolution is based on the 2010 pronouncements of the RCA’s poskim, whose articulation of the issues merely continued the rabbinic tradition of millennia and did not change anything. On the contrary, this problem was not created by the RCA, and those who broke rank with traditional Orthodoxy and introduced the problem and precipitated the present schism should think hard about their actions and trajectory.

I present here a snippet from a previous article on the subject of the ordination of women rabbis:

Within the week, three Orthodox-identified rabbinical ordination programs for women granted semicha (ordination) to their graduating classes. (Please see here and here.) While the mainstream organs of Orthodoxy do not recognize or approve of the ordination of women (here are RCA statements about the matter), the reasons for not accepting the legitimacy of semicha for women remain a mystery to some.

Various articles have been published about the topic (please see here for R. Hershel Schachter’s article); I would like to take one approach and provide some elaboration.

Halachic analysis of contemporary rabbinical ordination of women was first put forth by R. Saul Lieberman (please see here for R. Gil Student’s important presentation thereof), who in 1979 expressed his opposition to such on the part of Jewish Theological Seminary.

Although R. Lieberman’s tenure at JTS was the subject of controversy and was certainly not viewed favorably by Orthodox leadership, R. Lieberman was Orthodox and was very well-versed in our topic; his ruling on it is thus quite pivotal and precedential. R. Lieberman’s position was discussed in my initial article on rabbinical ordination for women, but that article focused more on the definition of Mesorah (Torah tradition). Let us turn here to the actual issue of semicha for women.

Lieberman demonstrates that even though modern-day semicha is not the original semicha that was conferred by Moshe upon Yehoshua and that continued to be conferred upon subsequent scholars until one-and-a-half a millennia ago, modern-day semicha is most certainly a carryover and model of the original semicha. The original semicha empowered one to serve as dayan, rabbinic judge, and that is exactly what contemporary semicha represents, as evidenced in the earliest of rabbinic literature that discusses the purpose and function of contemporary semicha. Since women cannot serve as rabbinic judges (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 7:4, with the exception of cases of binding arbitration, in which the status of dayan is forgone [Sanhedrin 24, Rambam Hil. Sanhederin 7:2] – and modern-day semicha is decidedly not modeled on this), the rabbinical ordination of women is not valid and is distortive of the very essence of semicha. To grant semicha to women makes no sense, and to do so would “make ourselves objects of derision and jest”, proclaimed R. Lieberman.

The end of the matter is that it is clear from the sources that being called by the title “rav” (“Rabbi he shall be called”) reflects on the fitness to issue legal decisions and to judge, and we should not empty the title “rav” of its meaning from the way it has been understood by the Jewish people throughout the generations. Since a woman is not fit to judge, and she cannot become qualified for this…

 Those who promote the ordination of women as rabbis either erroneously assert that modern-day semicha is a novel contrivance that has no controlling precedent, or they turn to the example of Devorah the Prophetess, who judged the Jewish People. (Shoftim 4:4)  However, Devorah did not have semicha and did not sit on the Sanhedrin. Rishonim (medieval halachic authorities) explain that she either was a leader and teacher, that she practiced binding arbitration, that she provided instruction for dayanim, or the like. To use Devorah – someone who did not have semicha and did not qualify for it – as the precedent for women rabbis is quite a stretch.

A Response to Ami Magazine’s Assertion that an Early Amorah Was Mentally Ill

update: The understanding of Berachos (5b) is the crux of the matter. Here is the Soncino Translation:
R. Eleazar fell ill and R. Johanan went in to visit him. He noticed that he was lying in a dark room,13 and he bared his arm and light radiated from it.14 Thereupon he noticed that R. Eleazar was weeping, and he said to him: Why do you weep? Is it because you did not study enough Torah? Surely we learnt: The one who sacrifices much and the one who sacrifices little have the same merit, provided that the heart is directed to heaven.15 Is it perhaps lack of sustenance? Not everybody has the privilege to enjoy two tables.16 Is it perhaps because of [the lack of] children? This is the bone of my tenth son! — He replied to him: I am weeping on account of this beauty17 that is going to rot in the earth. He said to him: On that account you surely have a reason to weep; and they both wept. In the meanwhile he said to him: Are your sufferings welcome to you? — He replied: Neither they nor their reward. He said to him: Give me your hand, and he gave him his hand and he raised him.
I don't see anything there indicating mental illness. Commentaries indicate that he was depressed because of his suffering and his belief that he would soon die. Depression as a realistic reaction to diffcult events is not mental illness. Read this Huffington Post  for examples of clinical depression

However Yungerman below claims that Rav Nachman understands it to be mental illness.


ברכות דף ה: רבי אליעזר חלש, עאל לגביה רבי יוחנן חזי דהוה קא גני בבית אפל, גליה לדרעיה ונפל נהורא. רצה לומר שראה שהתגבר אליו הקטנות והעצבות ומרה שחורה
Was Rabbi Nachman too a reformist? What stupidity and rechilus this article by Hoffman is!

I could not find the source for Yungerman's quote using DBS and Bar Ilan. This citation  apparently is not from Rav Nachman but is claimed to be based on his writings. In fact there is nothing there about mental illness but rather reaction to sin and the proper attitutde to avoid depression from being sinful - that is not mental illness!

It is possible that Rav Nachman is saying that it is mental illness but it could also be understood like the other commentaries that it was a realistic reaction to suffering and impending death. If his understanding of Rav Nachman is correct - then it apparently is the only such comment and it clearly differs from everyone else. Depression as mental illness is independent of events.

The Alshech for example says that Rabbi Eleazar was suffering from yesurim shel ahava which were overwhelming. He didn't want to request that they be removed until Rav Yochanon asked him. The gemora ends with the suffering being removed by Rav Yochanon. Nothing at all to do with mental illness.

Until someone can show an unequivocal commentary that his living in a "dark room" meant that he was depressed independent of what was happening to him (i.e., mentally ill) - then Rabbi Hoffman's criticism stands.

 It is simply accepted universally practice not to give a derogatory interpretation to the actions of a talmid chachom as long as the facts don't strongly indicate such. It is simply not acceptable  that the gemora is simply reporting the actions of a mentally ill person who happens to be an Amora - and thus not relevant for anyone else.
The problem is not in claiming that a great man was susceptible to mental illness - the gemora acknowledges the possiblity. [As noted before Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky had no problem with saying that he thought the Maharasham was senile. His problem was that he realized the fact that he justified this belief was wrong.] The problem is Ami Magazine's claiming that the gemora states that the Amora was in fact mentally ill - when there is absolutely no support from the text or from any commentaries. In fact the only other source for this understanding of the gemora is a Reform rabbi.

Five Towns Jewish Times     By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

Generally speaking, we should be open and tolerant of views and interpretations of others that may differ from ours.


Sometimes, however, when we perceive a breach in the Mesorah of the interpretation of a passage in the Talmud and it is presented as fact, it is incumbent upon others to vocalize their dissent. This is particularly true when the misinterpretation has no substantive linguistic indication to that effect within the text.

The essay stated that Rabbi Elazar, of the first generation of Amoraim, was suffering from mental illness. The essay was penned by Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter, the editor of Ami Magazine, whom I generally consider a Talmid Chochom. Nonetheless, the particular essay (issue 237 entitled “A Look Inside Psych Wards”) struck this author as troubling.


Rabbi Frankfurter based this assertion on a passage in Brachos 5b which states as follows:

Rabbi Elazar once became sick. Rabbi Yochanan came to visit him and saw that he was sleeping in a dark room. Whereupon Rabbi Yochanan uncovered his own arm and immediately the room grew light. Rabbi Yochanan then noticed that Rabbi Elazar was weeping. Rabbi Yochanan asked, “Why are you weeping? Is it because you have not learned Torah sufficiently? Behold we are taught, ‘No matter whether one offers much or little – only the intentions of one’s heart counts for the sake of Heaven.’ Is it because you are in need and poor? Not everyone receives a table in the world to come and a table here. Is it because of trouble from your children? Here is a bone from my tenth son. “I weep,” responded Rabbi Elazar for that beauty which will ultimately decay in the earth.” Rabbi Yochanan responded, “For that you really ought to weep.” Both wept together. Rabbi Yochanan then asked of him, “Do you love afflictions?” Rabbi Elazar answered, “Neither them nor their rewards.” “Then give me your hand.” Rabbi Elazar did so and was made well.


Rabbi Frankfurter writes, “It is clear that Rabbi Elazar was suffering on a psychological level from a pall of darkness enveloping his mind, rather than from physical disease.” He bases his interpretation on the fact that Rabbi Yochanan did not ask Rabbi Elazar if the reason he was crying was on account of poor health or physical pain. Rabbi Frankfurter then suggests that Rabbi Yochanan is engaging in “existential psychotherapy” in his discussion with Rabbi Elazar.


There is an unfortunate tendency for people to, at times, get caught up in their mada studies, in their Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Rank philosophies, and then retro-inject them into various Gemorahs and Midrashim that they come across with forced readings. Existentialist psychotherapy is strictly an early 20th century phenomenon. Injecting this type of therapy into the interpretation of a Gemorah with no Meforshim backing it up is anachronistic.

The results are not just incorrect readings of Torah texts, but there are two other repercussions as well: There are grave methodological missteps where, for example, an early Amorah is labelled as someone who is mentally ill; and the traditions of the classical commentators on our texts are entirely ignored. [...]

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Chareidim are using WhatsApp to defy their rabbis’ internet ban

the verge     Like most people, Moshe spends a lot of his time messaging friends on his smartphone. Unlike most people, he can’t openly talk about it.

As a Hasidic Jew living in Brooklyn, Moshe’s online activities are extremely limited. His ultra-orthodox sect has long banned internet use, on the grounds that exposure to the secular world would lead to moral corruption, sexual promiscuity, and infidelity. The insular community has allowed for some exceptions, acknowledging that smartphones and computers are now essential for business, though its leadership still requires members to install web filters on their devices, blocking all social media services and all but a few whitelisted websites. Internet use among children remains strictly forbidden.

Moshe, like many other Hasidim, regularly skirts these rules with WhatsApp — the popular messaging application that Facebook acquired for $19 billion in 2014. On his second, unfiltered smartphone, he uses the app to share news articles and local gossip across several group chats, some of which include up to 100 members.

WhatsApp has become popular among the Haredi community — an umbrella term for ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects that include the Hasidim. For Moshe and other Hasidim, the app provides a window into the outside world, and a forum for candid debate and discussion. In their view, it’s a closed network that’s not explicitly connected to the open web. For Hasidic leaders, it’s the latest threat to centuries of tradition and insularity.[...]