Monday, March 31, 2008

DVAR TORAH S3: Shemini/Parah (The smell of burning death)

Speaking of things wholly burnt up, my laptop burnt up via the fan. Hopefully they can fix it. I actually bought a new one from Dell but now it looks like they will fix the old one. Sparky lives another day (A name which I have just dubbed it just now, due to its fire-like tendencies)

So this past week we read Shemini where Nadav and Avihu, Aaron's eldest sons were killed by God for offering an alien fire. Also Kashrut laws a'plenty, but since I will be dealing with Kashrut ad nauseam in the coming days I will not focus on the main parasha (which I have already done in depth last year)

We also read as Maftir the mitzvah of the Red Heifer, the Parah Adumah, the prepared ashes of this cow will purify those who have the ultimate impurity, Tumat HaMet, coming in contact with a dead body. This, I believe, is the one ritual impurity that cannot be remedied by immersion in a mikvah bath and/or waiting in seclusion (something which will come up in the coming weeks in terms of the Metzora). It is near impossible to have the animal required for the mitzvah of Parah Aduma. I believe it has to be a perfectly red female (ie: no white hairs), be three years old without a single imperfection nor seeing a day of work in its life. The animal basically must be raised in order to fulfill this mitzvah. As I think about it, it is somewhat similar to trying to identify the messiah. There are so many requirements that eliminate so many possibilities. It is expensive to raise a cow, especially one that can never do work nor injure itself or be unhealthy. According to statistics I received in my halacha class last semester, it probably won't be an American cow -- very few cows in America are entirely healthy because of the way they are treated and what they are fed. The cows in Argentina however are considerably more likely to be glatt (ie: their lungs are completely healthy and therefore the rest of them is probably healthy. It is assumed that everyone in this day in age has Tumat Hamet. Whether you've been to a funeral or have been in a cemetary or a building with a dead body, or even been in an airplane that flies above a cemetery (because Tumat Hamet is the one impurity where the sky's the limit -- literally, there is no limit to how much death ascends to the heavens creating impurities. Nobody, Israelite or Kohen is considered free from this impurity and therefore nobody is able to ascend to the actual area of the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple (though many will go to the outskirts of the Temple Mount, but only after going to the mikvah, not wearing leather shoes and abstaining from sexual relations between the mikvah and the ascent. The reason we read this maftir now is because the Pascal Lamb involves the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and an ascent to the Temple, which requires ritual purity.

I love the haftarah that corresponds to this maftir. "I will sprinkle upon you pure waters/waters of purity and will purify you of all your impurities and from all your idols I will purify you. And I will give to you a new heart and new soul I will give within you and will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a fleshy heart. (and so forth from Ezekiel 36). Good stuff.

Shavuah Tov and may Hashem grant a Refuah Shleyma to Elan Shlomo ben Smadar.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A new twist on agunot: chain the husband!

I posted this a few moments ago to the Ziegler listserv but I realize that not everyone I know that this would interest are students in ZSRS. See wikipedia for a definition of Agunah.

An Israeli Rabbinic Court issued an interesting ruling, upheld by the Rabbinical Supreme Court on appeal, that could set a precedent for recalcitrant husbands in cases of agunot. They found this guy hiding out in a Yeshiva who has chained his estranged wife for years and now they're imprisoning him. If he doesn't give her a get soon, they will put him in solitary confinement.

Although I fully support what badatz is doing -- these monsters who refuse to divorce their wives deserve all the punishment in this world and the next, but is a get given under extreme duress considered valid?,7340,L-3523781,00.html


Rabbinical court send divorce recalcitrant to solitary confinement

Supreme Rabbinical Court sets precedent, orders a man refusing to grant his wife divorce, pay alimony, be held in manner reserved for extremely dangerous convicts – in complete isolation
Yoram Yarkoni

A religious rarity: A rabbinical court ordered a man refusing to grant his estrange wife a divorce be sentenced to solitary confinement, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Wednesday.

The ruling was rendered as part of a bitter divorce battle: The wife asked to divorce her husband of 10 years, he refused and she ended up issuing a restraining order banning him from their house.

The rabbinical court then ordered the husband to grant his wife the divorce and pay her alimony – but he refused to acknowledge the ruling.

Later on, and following several arrest warrants issued against him for failing to pay alimony, he dropped out of sight.

After a several-years search the man was discovered hiding in a Jerusalem yeshiva. The rabbinical court sentenced him to one year in prison – unless he grants the divorce. He preferred to go to jail.

Faced with the man's ongoing refusal to grant his wife a divorce, the Supreme Rabbinical Court was called into play, ruling that at the end of the man's 12 months incarceration – and should he still refuse to grant the divorce – he will be sentenced to four additional years in prison.

A religious first

The Supreme Rabbinical Court then set a religious precedent, ruling that those additional four years be served in solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement in a penalty usually reserved for the criminals deemed extremely dangerous, or those who may be in mortal danger if they came in contact with the general prisoner population.

Prisoners sentenced to solitary confinement are held in complete isolation and are denied any contact with the outside world: They are not allowed to receive visitors, send or receive letters or have any personal possessions.

The court further ruled that in order for the man to understand what he might be facing – and providing he failed to grant his wife a divorce by mid April – he will have to spend a week in isolation.

"A man refusing to grant his wife a divorce cannot be an observant Jew," stated the court.

The man demanded his immediate release as a pre-condition to him making and decision on the divorce. The court denied his requests, further ruling he serve his sentence in a general population ward, not the religious one.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

DVAR TORAH S3: Tzav/Purim (So long, and thanks for all the fish)

Okay, this is late, relatively short and I have an admission, not much about purim, but I have a whole bunch of Purim Divrei Torah archived up that you can read if you search the blog.

In this past week's Torah Portion I noticed something interesting in Leviticus 7:26. According to the old JPS translation: "And ye shall eat no manner of blood, whether it be of fowl or of beast, in any of your dwellings." I happened to have my Torat Chayim with me during services this week and had the sudden revelation that this may be another reason we consider birds fleishig. The blood of the bird is treated just like that of mammals: completely forbidden! As I had hoped, Rashi commented on this verse and said that it specifically excludes fish and kosher insects. As I feared commentary on the commentary said that the reason is that fish and insects have no blood (you win this one, Max. see Kritot 21a). I know this to not be the fact, however, and fish and insects do indeed have blood. I don't think that changes anything. On the totem pole of life, in my opinion Torah places fish below plant-life. It says in Parashat Noach that "you may eat of the beast of the ground, the birds of the sky, the goodness of the earth (ie: flora) and the fish of the sea". I think this is a pecking order.

There is a bit of Purim here, as fish, Dagim (Pisces in Greek) is the Mazal of the Month(s) of Adar and has come to symbolize the holiday of Purim. I finally located the book in which I learned the astrological signs relating to the Hebrew calendar, "Jewish Days" by Francine Klagsbrun:

[Pisces] is an appropriate sign for a month known for fun and frivolty, because as the rabbis said, in joyous ways Israel can be compared to a fish. How so? Just as the evil eye has no power over a fish in water, the evil eye has no power over the people of Israel. Moreover, although fish live in water, when a drop falls from above they catch it thirstily as if they had never tasted water before. So it is with the people of Israel. Although they grow up immersed in the waters of the Torah, when they hear a new Torah lesson they drink it in as if they had never heard the Torah expounded. (93)

Plus fish are inherently funny. Speaking of Kashrut, stay tuned for next week, Shmini which is full of Kashrut...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

DVAR TORAH S3: Vayikra/Zachor (Remembering Moses)

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the memory of Moshe Rabbeinu, of whom we are observing today, the 7th of II Adar 5768 his 3280th yahrzeit (d. 7 Adar 2488 AM). He would also be celebrating a milestone birthday, today Moses turns the big 3400 (b. 7 Adar 2368). Happy birthday to my original namesake! Oh look, he's blushing, he's so humble.

Moses was exceedingly humble; whether motivated by fear or humility, he repeatedly rebuffs God's order from the midst of the Burning Bush to deliver God's people from slavery in Egypt. He also gave up everything when, as a prince of Egypt, he slew an Egyptian taskmaster who was punishing an Israelite slave. Moses didn't think an Egyptian taskmaster was more important than a lowly Israelite slave, and though he'd grown up in the palace indoctrinated that Egyptians were supreme and that the life of an Israelite was worth less than bricks or horses, he realized that even from his high station as adopted son of the pharaoh he could not ignore injustice. Though his anger and anguish caused him to smash the Tablets of Law upon gazing upon the Israelites worshiping the Golden Calf, he fasts for months upon additional ascents to heaven and prays on behalf of God's chosen nation, and when God tells Moses He will destroy Israel and create a new nation with Moses as its progenitor, Moses begs for his own life to be taken if God refuses to forgive (for this God says, "salachti kidvarecha", "I have forgiven according to your word", one of the rare occasions in which God's edict has been swayed. Moses allowed his name to be excluded from the Passover Haggadah, allowing God full credit for the Exodus.

In this week's Torah Portion Moses begins the transference of priestly duties to his big brother Aaron, and Moses is happy for him and allows Aaron to have an everlasting dynasty while Moses' fell into disuse after a wayward grandson named Jonathan ben Gershon ben Mnashe, a priest of idolatry(the Nun here is the only letter I know of which is elevated in the Bible, indicating that the letter was added later to not associate Moshe with an idolater). The very first word of this week's torah portion and the very first word of the third book of the bible (and its namesake) is Vayikra, this time with a smaller letter aleph. Again a sign of the humility of Moses, that wanted to downplay that God called out to Moses. A treatment of this verse can be found at my last year's Dvar Torah for this week's Torah portion.

Now I want to examine Zachor. Because we will be celebrating Purim this coming week, we read a special Maftir, which we call Shabbat Zachor. There is a very hard-to-understand mitzvah within: that we must remember and not forget to wipe out the remembrance of Amalek. The Rabbis of the talmud think this is not meant to be taken literally. We take the wiping out symbolically, that we stamp out the name of his most well-known descendant, Haman (yemach shemo uzichro). The three words that I appended to the name of the evil villain of the Purim story means "may his name and memory be wiped out". But we are also supposed to remember! We should recall the sage words of poet-philosopher George Santayana who wrote a little over a century ago, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". We cannot forget the Holocaust and we cannot forget the perpetrators nor can we forget the lessons lest, God forbid, we forget and allow it to happen again. How can we who were attacked by Egypt and Amalek from Haman, Hitler and Hamas, allow genocide to go on under our watch. Wiping out the memory means we can't allow the tyrants and evildoers to proliferate wickedness without attempting to stop them.

Remember and forget at the same time. Memory is a very strange thing. When our ancestors left Egypt they consistently complained that they missed the vegetables and meat they got for free in Egypt. This is memory but not reality. They kind of forgot that they didn't get this food for free but that they had to work as slaves for sub-par food. This is why we must daily remember we were slaves in the land of Egypt, lest we forget.

Shabbat Shalom.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

DVAR TORAH S3: Pekudei/Chazak/Shabbat Rosh Chodesh/Shekalim (bittersweet completion)

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the memory of the seminarians murdered yesterday in the terrorist attack in the Holy City yesterday. May their memories be for a blessing and may the Omnipresent comfort their families and us among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

We have upon us a very interesting Shabbat. Outside of the holiday of Simchat Torah, there are three occasions I can think of when we would need to read from three Torahs: when Rosh Chodesh Tevet, Adar (II in leap years, as this one), or Nisan fall on Shabbat. On these Shabbats, in addition to the regular Torah reading, for which we read the sixth and seventh aliyot together as the sixth, we read a passage from Pinchas for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh from the second Torah, and from a third we also need to read the special reading for that day of Hanukkah, the reading for Shabbat Shekalim, and the reading for Shabbat HaChodesh respectively as the Maftir. While this is an exciting time on the rare occasion when it happens, the Torah cycle happens to have us at one of the four weeks of the year when we conclude one of the books of the Torah (the conclusion of the fifth book, Deuteronomy is always on Simchat Torah anyway), so after the sixth aliyah we will happily recite "Chazak! Chazak! V'Nitchazek!", "strength, strength, and we shall be strengthened!"

This aforementioned phrase is recited as we complete a book of the Torah, in great joy. This year it also coincides on the day when we are commanded in the Talmud to increase our joy. As Adar is entered, joy is increased (as we sing endlessly Mishenichnas Adar Marbin B'Simcha) (Babylonian Talmud Ta'anit 29a).

There is something else completed here. In a parasha devoid of Mitzvot (according to Rambam which in turn is according to Wikipedia) Moses completes the Mishkan. There are many feelings that one may simultaneously go through when they complete something on which they've been working hard and for a long time. There is a sense of accomplishment and pride at having been able to overtake a task so daunting, and yet some wistfulness edging on sadness on not having it anymore to work on. Not that I'm an expert, and l'havdil, but some women following pregnancies will be so happy to have a new baby and yet go through something called post-partum depression. Again l'havdil, but if I'm working on a long paper (and I have many on which I should be working right now...) I may punish my self to continue working on it and refining it. I wrote a poem last week for an underground night (which can be found here on the Philolexian Socity Phlog). I continued writing and refining the ten syllable-per-line poem until I was at 18 quatrains (72 lines). A couple of minutes before the event I added two more quatrains for good measure, resulting in 20 quatrains, 80 lines, a total of 800 syllables. I would have added more to the ending, but decided against it. I kept trying to perfect it. Polishing silver and scrubbing metal too much will ruin it, as I learned the hard way with a kiddish cup and one of meat pans respectively. And yet the Mishkan was perfect. It didn't have hte limitations of the human devices, but rather was a perfect structure with its instructions sent by God to divinely-inspired humans (sort of like the Torah *cough* JEPD, *cough*). Betzalel and Oholiab themselves didn't need Moses' instructions because they were also transmitted perfectly directly from God to them and Moses was able to, in a single sweep, put the entire building together.

That being said, it is nothing but a building without people. As I quoted a few weeks ago (Trumah), v'asu li mikdash v'shachanti btocham, make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them. "Them" being the people Israel. In the next few weeks in the book of Leviticus we will discuss their role in the Tabernacle. In the house of gold, silver, and, um, dolphin skins dyed red we don't truly have perfection until we have the people Israel involved. Stay tuned.

I will leave you the closing prayer I gave to my Talmud class yesterday. Mishenichnas Adar Marbin b'Simcha. May we no longer have reason for sorrow but only have occasion for joy and happiness. Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov.