Category Archives: Education

Pride Parade – a critical debate about religious acceptance

A close friend of mine, who is also a very respected and successful educator, posted support on Facebook last week for the pride parade in Jerusalem. A lengthy and healthy discussion ensued between myself and several of his Facebook followers.

Since my posts on the matter were responses to other people’s comments, they don’t necessarily constitute a full, coherent system of thought on the question of ‘what should be our attitude – as Orthodox Jews – to pride parade and LBGTQ culture’. I hope to one day soon create such an essay but, for the time being, I think people may find interest in these posts. I have received many responses from people saying they feel it has helped them articulate their own opinions better. Even if you find yourself disagreeing with what I write, I hope you will see there is at least a legitimate and logical argument for a conservative approach of opposing pride parade without immediately suspecting ones’ moral character.

Please feel free to comment, question and argue as well as to share positive feedback. Despite how loaded the topic is, I think everyone benefits from it only if it is done in a constructive manner.

Post #1  

I have difficulty accepting your call to publicly support the pride parade in Jerusalem this week. I fully accept individual people but I, as an observant and believing Jew, do not accept – and resent the expectation of me to accept – a way of life which the Torah (and I) understand as being a sin and wrong.

It is like expecting me to be accepting of a flag – and parade – recognizing the legitimacy or rights of adulterers or people who engage in incest. They have feelings, they have rights, some of them even have tragic stories and circumstances but the idea that we as a Torah society should accept the community of adulterers, or community of incestuous couples, or a parade of adulterers and parade of incestuous couples (in Jerusalem none the less) is a terrible thought to me. Even if an individual person who committed adultery might deserve understanding and acceptance – as an individual.

Post #2

1. You write that there is no prohibition in the Torah to be gay. That depends on what you mean by gay. There is no prohibition to be attracted to men just like there is no prohibition to be attracted to sisters-in-law and no prohibition to be attracted to siblings and no prohibition to be attracted to animals. None of these are prohibitions and we find that all of them are referred to in Rabbinic literature as situations a person might find themselves prone to in certain situations.

There is a prohibition, however, to act on these impulses, even if every single one of them is 100% natural and harms no one. It is a Torah prohibition for a man to have sexual relations with another man. Period. No way around it, even if they are truly and honestly in love and biologically and emotionally attracted to each other. It is a prohibition for a brother to have sexual relations with his sister. Period. No way around it, even if they are truly and honestly in love and biologically and emotionally attracted to each other.

And as I said – though I may be sympathetic and accepting towards an individual who chooses to do a prohibition, under no circumstances am I willing to accept the legitimacy of the sin itself.
For example, many of my (unmarried) students have girlfriends and have shared with me that they are involved in physical relationships with them, despite the severe prohibitions involved.

Did I dislike them because of this? No. Did I resent or hate them because of this? No. Did I still accept them as Jews and people? Of course. But if they were to come to me and say they want me to accept and be ok with the fact that they were having pre-marital sex with women who are Nidda and that I shouldn’t say it is wrong and they were to tell me that if I teach that  it is wrong, or even believe that it is wrong, I am a bigot and that I am an intolerant person – that would be an entirely different thing.

And if they organized and marched demanding recognition as an oppressed minority – hormone raging teenagers with no religiously acceptable outlet – I would, of course, not accept it in the least. And I imagine neither would you.

2. I personally am (and believe Halacha is as well) a big believer in certain aspects of queer theory. I would argue that the Torah does not accept the concept of sexual orientation at all. That the Torah does not recognize categorizing people by their sexual attractions and that – as we find in numerous places in Chazal – anyone could, under certain circumstances, be sexually attracted – and engage in sexual relations – with anyone.

But, even if you don’t agree with me about this point, as I’ve previously stated – it doesn’t really matter, as Torah does not prohibit attraction and does not prohibit sexual orientation. It prohibits sexual acts.

By the way – why is incestuousness immoral? If 2 consenting adults, who happen to be siblings , or happen to be mother and son, fall in love with each other – something one could argue they may have no control over – why is it immoral? I am asking seriously.

3. You ask why I say it is so much worse in Jerusalem. Any public display of sin is a Chilul Hashem. And that is what this is. Thousands of people marching in the street proclaiming “it is ok to engage in homosexual sexual relations” and “saying that homosexual sexual acts are wrong is primitive and discriminatory”. This would be true everywhere. But doing so in the holy city of Jerusalem – how much more so. Everything in Jerusalem is amplified. Jerusalem is the place in which our relationship with Hashem and our divine destiny is at it’s peak. The Nevi’im are filled with rebuke about sins done – specifically in Jerusalem, and how public sinning defiles the streets of Jerusalem. A public display and proclamation of legitimacy for acts of sin/revolt in the king’s palace?

I would feel exactly the same if someone wanted to organize a parade and put up flags in Jerusalem celebrating the legitimacy of eating pork (also a natural drive) and expecting me to fall in line, despite me not trying to prevent individual people’s choice to do so in the privacy of their home.

4. Indeed I have had students over the years – male and female – who shared with me their deliberations and struggles on these topics. I believe that not a single one of them felt rejected or hated. On the contrary. To them as well I have explained the fundamental distinction:

There are 2 very different things: acceptance of an individual who struggles with their identity and the challenges of observing Halacha. Whether it is keeping Shabbat, respecting parents, being loyal to a spouse or homosexual attraction and acts – it is our duty and privilege to accept them as Jews and, to whatever degree we can, help them feel part of the community while – in a variety of ways – help them aspire and work towards a life void of sin.

But to accept a categorical lifestyle which has at its core something which is prohibited? To accept public displays of praise for Torah prohibitions? That is not about tolerance. That is about politics. I’ll accept every individual. I won’t accept being forced to accept an ideology which is counter to fundamental beliefs of what Torah defines as right and wrong. That is not tolerance. I’d sooner call it thought police coercion masquerading as liberalism.

Post #3

Regarding your statement: “what happens when a person tells you that they’ll never be able to have any sort of deep romantic relationship with a person of the opposite sex? That is very different”
I am not sure I agree. I imagine there are many heterosexually identified people who are utterly convinced that they could not possibly have a romantic relationship with anyone but their spouse/partner. I am aware that it isn’t exactly the same things but, if we are judging things from the subjective perspective of the individual, I am not convinced it is that different either.

You write that homosexuality isn’t merely a sexual preference and that it ‘seeps very deeply into a person’s conception of themselves and their identity’. I am not an expert – or even a formal student – of sociology so I will phrase the following not as a statement, rather as a question: Considering we know as fact (and as logic would dictate as well) that homosexual drives, attractions and relations have been part of human nature throughout history and – to the best of my knowledge – until very recently there weren’t really frameworks for homosexual cohabitation, couple-hood and families, wouldn’t it then follow that seeing, or feeling – that one’s homosexuality ‘seeps very deeply into a their conception of themselves’ – is a choice one makes, be that choice a conscience or unconscious one (a-la social construct)?

Meaning, for thousands of years homosexuality existed merely as a sexual preference. I imagine some people found a way to live within normative frameworks of couple-hood while either repressing their tendencies or by leading double lives. During certain periods it may have been accepted to indulge in any and every type of sexual behavior. Sometimes with consent and, regretfully as we are aware, many times without.
One could argue that what I am saying could just as easily be applied to straight couples as well – that sex and couple-hood didn’t necessarily go together either; that romantic love and sexuality can – and have many times – been separate from each other.

I do understand the significance of what I just wrote and I am aware how objectionable it may sound, especially in this day and age. I am not advocating loveless, passionate-less marriages which are filled with cheating. Not in the least. What I am saying is that identifying sex and romance with one’s conception of self and core identity is not necessarily an objective reality as much as a fairly recent sociological development. And this is where I have my biggest issue. As I’ve stated above, I personally hold – and strongly believe this is most consistent with Torah – that defining and categorizing people based on their sexual drives is morally decadent. Be that definition straight, gay, bi-sexual, a-sexual or any other definition which attempts to reduce a human being to their the sexual activities that give them the most physical and emotional satisfaction.

There are sexual acts. Everyone and anyone can, theoretically be attracted to anyone. That is why all the following rules appear on the same 2-3 pages of Gemara:

A man and a women who are not married to each other should not be alone together in a secluded room. One man should not be alone with 2 women in a room together. 2 men used to be allowed to be secluded with a woman but at some point it became forbidden. Servants and children should not dine together without other adults there. Single men should not teach young children because of the married mothers who frequent the school house but also – 2 single men should not sleep together under the same blanket and a single man should not herd sheep. All of these prohibitions are for exactly the reasons one would think…

There are other such examples but the idea of all of them is the same – the sexual drive is powerful and could, under the right (or wrong…) circumstances lead to anyone being susceptible to sexual gratification and satisfaction with practically anyone else. The Gemara doesn’t seemed freaked out by any of these cases and seems to assume they are all part of what could be reasonably expected if one were left to their natural instincts.  But to say that any of these acts defines a person as a separate type of person seems to me to minimize and reduce what it means to be human and – more pertinent to where this discussion began – politicize it. (A worthy, separate, discussion is – what is Chazal’s fundamental approach to sexuality in general. But suffice to say that their attitude is rooted in a very different understanding of human nature, purpose and destiny than the dominant approach in today’s culture).

I do not understand how you can say “I have the Torah that tells me certain things are simply not allowed… and yet I want you to be proud of who you are”. If a person was born with a heated temperament and is challenged not to yell at people and lose his temper – he should be proud of who he is as a short-tempered person? The idea that “God accepts us as we are and so should we” is, in my eyes not consistent with the traditional Jewish approach. We assume that we absolutely are not good enough as we are. From the moment we are infants we are taught to believe that “us as we are” is not enough. It is just the beginning and one must – and can – improve and better oneself. We must change, develop and grow to become more than our natural selves. Few things represent this more than the Brit Milah which, of course, is reflective of everything we are discussing.

And even if one could argue the importance of accepting oneself as they are at this very moment in order to be able to realistically work on self-improvement, that is very different than being proud of who they are as someone who is regularly doing something which is defined as a sin.

Be happy for being a human being, be happy for being a Jew, believe in yourself enough to aspire to be good and do good, etc… why should someone be proud in general and particularly of who they are romantically attracted to or like having sex with? And more importantly, why should they be parading it in public? This is where the cynic in me sees pride parade and pride culture in general as much more about politics than anything else. And worst of all, politics masquerading as something else entirely.

[After all of the harsh things I have written I will concede what I believe is an important point. I do think that many, many observant people do not come at the topic with “clean hands” (clean souls might be more accurate). Many say “it isn’t natural”, which is of course incorrect. Many think “it is disgusting”, which as we know can stem from anything from a puritan-style upbringing to fear of their own latent or repressed homo-erotic feelings or other issues I do not know to name. Too many treat it as some extra-ordinary sin, so much worse than any of the other sins mentioned in Torah. The attitude which treats it as so obscene an act and sin has mixed within it too much that, I believe, is not Torah. Too much of it is just good (or bad) old intolerance and fear of those that are different.

This is especially problematic when we are talking about actual people within our communities who face actual struggles and difficulties. These are ever-so-amplified by todays culture which bombards them day and night with the toxic mixture of “just be yourself”, “you are who you sleep with” and pride culture.
I do think educators and rabbis need to accept every individual person, every single Jew – as an individual – with open arms and an open heart. To help them – if they are interested – in growing and changing for the better throughout their life, even if some sins they will never be able to shake – whether it be their fault or almost entirely out of their hands. There are many such things in each of our lives. But I would argue there is very, very little between that and pride parade. I’d actually argue they are diametrically opposed.]

[An interesting offshoot of the main conversation developed and revolved around how LGBTQ individuals are treated in today’s society in general and in Israel in particular]

Post #4

In what way are LBGTQ people in Israel – or anywhere else in the Western world – oppressed? What “shame, humiliation and homophobia do they encounter on a daily basis”? In today’s culture one gets celebrated when identifying as LBGTQ and humiliated when saying anything that even sounds like any type of criticism of LBGTQ culture. Really not sure what you are referring to.

Post #5

Regretfully, hate crimes – as well as other random acts of violence – do indeed take place in every country in the world and within every society. That have been said, I was very specific in my phrasing – I was referring to the claim that gays in Israel are oppressed. Maybe we will disagree on what constitutes oppression but I meant that in Israel – as in most (if not all) Western countries – there is no institutional oppression, no laws against, LGBTQ individuals.
For example, in many Western countries around the world acts of antisemitism are committed every so often. Including in the US. Hundreds, if not thousands, of individual incidents a year. (It would be interesting to check, percentage-wise, against which minority group more hate crimes are committed – LGBTQ or Jews – considering their respective proportion in the society). Even so, these many attacks against Jews in no way translates into “Jews are oppressed in the US”.

There are no laws against being Jewish, dressing Jewish or acting Jewish (assuming there was such a thing as dressing or acting Jewish). There are no laws against being gay, dressing gay or acting gay (assuming there was such a thing as dressing or acting gay).

The fact that there are evil people out there – actual bigots and racists, sadists, criminals, and other violent people – that has always been true and will, regretfully, continue to be true. They tend to be equal opportunity types – they’ll beat on people who are gay, Jewish, Indian, Muslim, Christian, women, overweight, very tall, very short, their own children and any other person/persons who can facilitate their anger and cruelty.

Luckily, we do not evaluate our societies based on the behaviors of such individuals, rather first and foremost based on the laws and the accepted norms of the countries and societies in which we live as well as how society views and handles those who break from those laws and norms.

Unless you have a different definition, I stand by my question – where in Israel, or any other Western country – do you see that LGBTQ individuals are oppressed?

Post #6

I am truly sorry and saddened to hear the way you were treated by a store vendor. I am quite certain that all decent people would, even those – like myself – who take great issue with pride parade. As I have outlined above, there are 2 completely different issues. The first being decent human behavior between one individual and another individual and the second, unrelated issue, being the political agenda and statement forwarded by pride parade.

That have been said, I would be happy to better understand what you are referring to in your second to last paragraph:
1. What are you referring to when you write that the Israeli government has “made the status of a quarter of its citizens lesser than Jews”? The only thing I can think this might be referring to is the “Nation-State law”. If that is what you are referring to, I fear you are misrepresenting it. That law does not lessen or discriminate against any individuals. Rather, it gives legal status to those things that define Israel as a Jewish State. Yes, this means that no other people – as a community – have communal, national rights in Israel. That is the founding principle of the State of Israel. Strangely enough, it had yet to be put into legislation.

2. You say you have seen on TV rabbis saying gays are perverts. Without, at the moment, getting into what they were saying, to whom they were saying it and what they were trying to achieve, I imagine that – like me – you saw it on TV in the context of it being condemned by practically everyone across the spectrum of Israeli society. They were not said by guests, invited respectfully to participate in panel discussions in TV studios. They were quotes and recordings presented in mainstream media as examples of primitive thought and deplorable educational messages. Not only that. For days, the media interviewed rabbi after rabbi, who was called upon (and most all agreed) to criticize those statements and wash their hands of those phrases.

To claim that those 2-3 statements by rabbis who said that gays are perverts in anyway represents Israeli society – or Orthodox rabbis as a whole – feels dishonest.

3. You write that the government has banned gay men from having families. I imagine you are referring to the surrogacy law. The surrogacy law is a far, far more complex issue than the question of “should gay men be able to have a family”. I would argue that it is only a small – and by no means the most important – aspect of it. Many, many of the most progressive countries in the world have severe restrictions on commercial surrogacy. (Countries in which commercial surrogacy is illegal: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Holland, Switzerland and UK. Countries in which commercial surrogacy is permitted: Armenia, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine). The primary reason for the prohibition in these many liberal countries is to protect underprivileged women who otherwise would be susceptible to selling their wombs or other people forcing them to do so. It has very little, if anything, to do with gay rights to adopt or bear children together. Yes, it is true that there is an overlap of the issues. Among other things because opening the option of surrogacy to include gay couples would highly increase the demand for surrogates, as their options for having children are far more limited than any other type of couple.

To say a law was passed in Israel to bans gay men from having families simply is not true. What happened was that the very restrictive law was not expanded to include them – as well as other peoples and groups. There is a very big difference between the two.


Post #7

You claim it was a big Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of Hashem’s name) that there were so many people at the pride parade wearing Kippot. I think we may have very, very different definitions for what constitutes a Kiddush Hashem. The sources I draw my understanding of Kiddush Hashem from, are the contexts in which the Torah mentions Kdusha. Most of which surround refraining from natural, instinctive behaviors which are forbidden by the Torah, for variety of reasons (e.g. of appearances of Kedusha: having sexual relations with certain people, eating certain things, working certain times). I’d be interested in understanding how you understand Kdusha that would define participation in a pride parade as a Kiddush Hashem – and where you draw that understanding from.


Filed under Education, Halacha, Morality, Uncategorized

Shabbat App Source Sheet

Over the past week, over 3,000 people have read the posts here and here about the Shabbat app. Many people have asked for sources, either for their own learning or in order to teach and discuss with others. Below can be found a small collection of 10 fundamental sources focusing on the understanding of תשבותו and ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר as the safeguards set by the Torah (according to some) and the rabbis (according to everyone) so Shabbat stays Shabbat.

I’d like to thank my friend and colleague Rabbi Elan Mazer for putting together the Hebrew sources – all translations are mine.

 שמות פרק כג, יב
שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּעֲשֶׂה מַעֲשֶׂיךָ וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי תִּשְׁבֹּת לְמַעַן יָנוּחַ שׁוֹרְךָ וַחֲמֹרֶךָ וְיִנָּפֵשׁ בֶּן־אֲמָתְךָ וְהַגֵּר

Six days you may do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, in order that your ox and your donkey shall rest, and your maidservant’s son and the stranger shall be refreshed.

 מכילתא דרבי ישמעאל בא – מסכתא דפסחא פרשה ט
שמרתם את היום הזה לדורותיכם למה נאמר והלא כבר נאמר כל מלאכה לא יעשה בהם. אין לי אלא דברים שהם משום מלאכה דברים שהם משום שבות מנין ת”ל ושמרתם את היום הזה להביא דברים שהן משום שבות

“Safeguard this day for your generations” – why was it said? Isn’t it so that it already said “no labor [Melacha] should be done on them”?
I only learnקed [the prohibition of] things that are [prohibited as] a Melacha. Things that are [prohibited from being] a “Shvut” [ceasing[ – from where do we learn [they are prohibited]?
[For this] it says: “safeguard this day” – to include things that are from Shvut [ceasing].

רמב”ן ויקרא פרק כג פסוק כד
נראה לי שהמדרש הזה לומר שנצטוינו מן התורה להיות לנו מנוחה בי”ט אפילו מדברים שאינן מלאכה, לא שיטרח כל היום למדוד התבואות ולשקול הפירות והמתנות ולמלא החביות יין, ולפנות הכלים וגם האבנים מבית לבית וממקום למקום, ואם היתה עיר מוקפת חומה ודלתות נעולות בלילה יהיו עומסים על החמורים ואף יין וענבים ותאנים וכל משא יביאו בי”ט ויהיה השוק מלא לכל מקח וממכר, ותהיה החנות פתוחה והחנוני מקיף והשלחנים על שלחנם והזהובים לפניהם, ויהיו הפועלים משכימין למלאכתן ומשכירין עצמם כחול לדברים אלו וכיוצא בהן, והותרו הימים הטובים האלו ואפילו השבת עצמה שבכל זה אין בהם משום מלאכה, לכך אמרה תורה “שבתון” שיהיה יום שביתה ומנוחה לא יום טורח.

It is my view that the Midrash is saying that we were commanded from the Torah to rest even from things that are not a Melacha… therefore the Torah “Shabbaton” [day of ceasing], that it should be a day of ceasing and resting, not a day of toil.

חידושי הריטב”א מסכת ראש השנה דף לב עמוד ב
וברם צריך את למידע דכל מאי דאמרינן בכל דוכתא שבות דרבנן לאו למימרא שאין לנו שבות מן התורה כלל, דא”כ נמצאת שבת כחול מן התורה שהחנויות פתוחות ואוצרות תבואה ויין, ומטלטלין חפצים מבית לבית דרך כרמלית ומודדין ושוקלין ומונין, ואינו בדין שאסרה תורה הוצאה כגרוגרת והתירה העמל הגדול הזה שא”כ אין זה יום מנוחה, אלא כך עיקרן של דברים כי בכלל מצות עשה שבות של תורה לשבות ממלאכות יש לשבות מכל שבות דרך כלל שלא לעשות שבת כחול, אבל בכל פרט ופרט כי עביד לי’ וזהיר באידך דלא הוי שבת כחול הוי שבות דרבנן, נמצא שיש לשבות עיקר מן התורה, ולפיכך העמידו בו חכמים דבריהם במקומות הרבה לדחות מצוה של תורה, וזו מרגליות שבידינו מרבינו הרמב”ן מפי מורינו ז”ל

But you need to know that what we say in every place “rabbinical Shvut” it is not to say that we do not at all have [a prohibition of] Shvut from the Torah, as [if that were true], Shabbat would be like weekdays from the Torah – shops would be open and storehouses of crops and wine, carrying objects from house to house through a Karmelit, measuring and weighing. It isn’t logical [that it is] legal that the Torah forbade carrying a “Grogeret” [small amount of food] from one domain to the other but permitted these great efforts, for if so – it isn’t a day of rest. Rather, this is the main point – included in the prohibition of “ceasing fro Melacha” is to cease [LiShbot] from all Shvut prohibitions as a general instruction not to make Shabbat as a weekday… we find that Shvut [Rabbinical prohibitions] are anchored in the Torah and therefore the rabbis set their words, in many places, to override a Torah Mitzvah

 רמב”ם הלכות שבת פרק כא הלכה א
נאמר בתורה (שמות כ”ג) תשבות אפילו מדברים שאינן מלאכה חייב לשבות מהן, ודברים הרבה הן שאסרו חכמים משום שבות

The Torah [Exodus 23:12] states: “[On the seventh day,] you shall cease activity.” Even things that are not a forbidden activity he must cease from doing and many things have been forbidden by the rabbis because of “Shvut” (ceasing).

 מגיד משנה הלכות שבת פרק כא הלכה א
א] נאמר בתורה תשבות אפי’ מדברים וכו’. כוונת רבינו היא שהתורה אסרה פרטי המלאכות המבוארות ע”פ הדרך שנתבארו עניניהן ושיעוריהן ועדיין היה אדם יכול להיות עמל בדברים שאינן מלאכות כל היום לכך אמרה תורה תשבות. וכ”כ הרמב”ן ז”ל בפירוש התורה שלו ובאו חכמים ואסרו הרבה דברים

It says in the Torah “cease” even from things etc. The meaning of our rabbi [the Rambam] is that the Torah forbade the particulars of the specified Melachot according to their matter and measurments and still, a person could labor in things that are not Melachot all day, therefore, the Torah said “Tishbot” [cease]. And similarly wrote the Ramban in his commentary to the Torah and the rabbis came and forbade many things

 ישעיהו פרק נח, יב-יד
(יג) אִם־תָּשִׁיב מִשַּׁבָּת רַגְלֶךָ עֲשׂוֹת חֲפָצֶיךָ בְּיוֹם קָדְשִׁי וְקָרָאתָ לַשַּׁבָּת עֹנֶג לִקְדוֹשׁ יְקֹוָק מְכֻבָּד וְכִבַּדְתּוֹ מֵעֲשׂוֹת דְּרָכֶיךָ מִמְּצוֹא חֶפְצְךָ וְדַבֵּר דָּבָר: (יד) אָז תִּתְעַנַּג עַל־יְקֹוָק וְהִרְכַּבְתִּיךָ עַל־במותי בָּמֳתֵי אָרֶץ וְהַאֲכַלְתִּיךָ נַחֲלַת יַעֲקֹב אָבִיךָ כִּי פִּי יְקֹוָק דִּבֵּר:

If you restrain your foot because of the Shabbat, from performing your affairs on My holy day, and you call the Shabbat a delight, the holy of Hashem honored, and you honor it by not doing your wonted ways, by not pursuing your affairs and speaking words:
Then, you shall delight with Hashem, and I will cause you to ride on the high places of the land, and I will give you to eat the heritage of Yakov your father, for the mouth of Hahsem has spoken.

 תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף קיג עמוד א
וכבדתו מעשות דרכיך וכבדתו שלא יהא מלבושך של שבת כמלבושך של חול
מעשות דרכיך שלא יהא הילוכך של שבת כהילוכך של חול
ממצוא חפצך חפציך אסורין חפצי שמים מותרין
ודבר דבר שלא יהא דבורך של שבת כדבורך של חול דבור אסור הרהור מותר

And you shall honor it, not doing your own ways:
‘and you shall honor it’, that your Shabbat garments should not be like your weekday garments.
‘Not doing your own ways’, that your walking on the Shabbat shall not be like your walking on weekdays.
‘Nor finding thine own affairs’: your affairs are forbidden, the affairs of Heaven [religious matters] are permitted.
‘Nor speaking thine own words:’ that your speech [conversation] on the Shabbat
should not be like your speech on weekdays

רמב”ם הלכות שבת פרק כד הלכה יב-יג
אסרו חכמים לטלטל מקצת דברים בשבת כדרך שהוא עושה בחול, ומפני מה נגעו באיסור זה, אמרו ומה אם הזהירו נביאים וצוו שלא יהיה הילוכך בשבת כהילוכך בחול ולא שיחת השבת כשיחת החול שנאמר ודבר דבר קל וחומר שלא יהיה טלטול בשבת כטלטול בחול כדי שלא יהיה כיום חול בעיניו ויבוא להגביה ולתקן כלים מפינה לפינה או מבית לבית או להצניע אבנים וכיוצא בהן שהרי הוא בטל ויושב בביתו ויבקש דבר שיתעסק בו ונמצא שלא שבת ובטל הטעם שנאמר בתורה (דברים ה) למען ינוח

12. The Sages forbade the carrying of certain objects on the Sabbath in the same manner as [one carries] during the week. Why was this prohibition instituted? [Our Sages] said: If the prophets warned that the manner in which a person walks on the Sabbath should not resemble the manner in which he walks during the week, and similarly, one’s conversation on the Sabbath should not resemble one’s conversation during the week, as it is written, “[refraining from]… speaking about [mundane] matters,” surely the manner in which one carries on the Sabbath should not resemble the manner in which one carries during the week.
In this manner, no one will regard [the Sabbath] as an ordinary weekday and lift up and repair articles, [carrying them] from room to room, or from house to house, or set aside stones and the like. [These restrictions are necessary] for since the person is idle and sitting at home, [it is likely that] he will seek something with which to occupy himself. Thus, he will not have ceased activity and will have negated the motivating principle for the Torah’s commandment [Deuteronomy 5:14], “Thus… will rest.”
13. Furthermore, when one searches for and carries articles that are used for a forbidden activity, it is possible that one will use them and thus be motivated to perform a [forbidden] labor. (meaning, the previous Halacha is not out of fear of violating an Issur Melacha! Y.S.)
[Another reason for this prohibition is] that there are some people who are not craftsmen and are always idle – e.g., tourists and those that stand on the street corners. These individuals never perform labor. Were they to be allowed to walk, talk, and carry as they do during the week, the result would be that their cessation of activity on [the Sabbath] would not be discernible. For this reason, [our Sages instituted] refraining from such activities, for the cessation of such activities is universally applicable.

 רש”י מסכת שבת דף קכג עמוד ב
שלשה כלים – ותו לא, ולקמן אמרינן דבימי נחמיה בן חכליה בבית שני גזרו על טלטול כל הכלים, כדי לגדור גדר להחמיר באיסורי שבת, מפני שהיו מקילין בה משנה זו – דלעיל, בראשונה היו אומרין שלשה כלים ותו לא – משום דהוו מזלזלים בשבתות, דכתיב בימים ההמה וגו’.

… and below it says that in the days of Nechemia son of Chachalia, during the Second Temple, they forbade carrying all of the vessels [on Shabbat] in order to create a fence to be stringent with the prohibitions of Shabbat because they were lenient in it.

Cellphone on Shabbat

Shabbos app

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Is the Shabbat Smartphone app Kosher?

My students approached me asking for my opinion on the so called “Shabbat App” which – according to the developers – “allows you to Halachically use a Smartphone on Shabbos”.Shabbos app
After reading the material on their website, I discussed it in class. Below is a summery of my opinion, followed by 4 correspondences between myself and the app developers.

1. The foundational logic of it is false and very disturbing:

Currently, using a Smartphone on Shabbos is prohibited. Unfortunately, this does not stop many otherwise observant Jews from using their devices on Shabbos, and can make Shabbos harder for the more adherent observer that do not use a Smartphone. The Shabbos App will give us all a way to keep shabbos with all the stringencies and still take full advantage of the wonderful technology the world has to offer.

As I told the students, it would be like saying – since there are so many people who aren’t Shomer Negi’a (and/or “find it difficult to not be”), let’s come up with rules of how to minimize the חיבה (affection) aspect of touching – only through clothing, only after stipulating that it isn’t affectionate touching, etc… As one of the students said – “that’s ridiculous. No one who touches girls would care about any of those things”. Exactly. I don’t believe there is anyone out there who is texting on Shabbat but at the same time is stringent with Brachot before and after eating. Meaning, people who are texting on Shabbat do not do so because they find it difficult to manage without cell phones.
They do so because they do not care enough about Shabbat and are violating other איסורי (prohibitions) of Shabbat as well. There is a concept in Halacha called הלעיטהו לרשע וימות – we do not have a responsibility to minimize an איסור for people who intentionally violate Halacha. Furthermore, if we did do this – it would serve as a destructive blow to Shabbat as it would open the door for other people – who wouldn’t otherwise dream of using their phones on Shabbat – to start doing so.

2. In their list of possible issues that using the phone on Shabbat entails, the writers miss the biggest issue. They list possible איסורים (prohibitions) – Mav’ir, Boneh, Kotev, השמעת קול, etc… but say nothing of the main issue – ממצוא חפצך ודבר דבר – from which מוקצה and other איסורי דרבנן (Rabbinical prohibitions) come, of differentiating Shabbat from weekdays. For many Poskim this is also the reason we do not use many electrical appliances on Shabbat and not because there is any actual איסור מלאכה. Throughout history our rabbis made sure to maintain the unique distinction between Shabbat and weekdays, making sure that during Shabbat people not only not create but also not be engaged – in action or thought – in weekday endeavors. I can think of fewer things that would empty Shabbat from all that is beautiful about it. Think of the quiet of Shabbat, the quality time with family and friends, the Shabbat meals and songs, the special atmosphere in and outside Shul, the Drashot, classes and lectures and the long hours of rest. How much of that would continue if cell phones – the instrument which most isolates us from our immediate surroundings – were permitted on Shabbat?

3. The possible מלאכות and ways they are “fixed” through the supposed app are riddled with mistakes. To name two of them:
– The idea that a battery heating up is אסור משום הבערת אש is very childish. Fire is not an issue of heat. Like most Melachot, it’s an issue of (יצירה) creation.
– In the “solutions” it mentions that a גרמא (causation) system will allow typing to be delayed and random. This idea is one most well known from the Tzomet solutions. The obvious difference being that Tzomet comes up with solutions because there is:
A. An actual Halachik need to violate Shabbat such as for sick people, for security and safety and other similar situations.
B. An extreme loss of Oneg/Kvod Shabbat, such as disabled people and the like.
In order so people who have to violate Shabbat or cannot function normatively on Shabbat the Halacha has a solution: The Mishna says that גרם כיבוי is מותר, the רמ”א conditioned that this can be used only במקום הפסד (in a place where there is loss) and the Poskim of our generation have said that security and health needs qualify as מקום הפסד. Equating cell phone use to any of these is nothing short of a gross abuse of Halacha.

It was a great discCellphone on Shabbatussion with my students. Though they didn’t agree with everything, they understood the logic I presented as well as my claim that whoever is behind this is not coming at it will pure intentions by any means as they are completely disregarding the most problematic aspect of the question.

And if you need further proof that this has little to do with concern for Shmirat Shabbat and are wondering what is really behind it one may not have to look much further than the price of the app – 50 USD.



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Ideas for a creative Sedder

Not cSedderontent with the simple rote recitation of The Hagadah? Want to make it an actual multi-generational Jewish learning/growth experience? Want to have a Sedder which will stimulate and excite your children?

There are a lot of ideas out there but here are some of my favorites which I’ve actually tried:

1. Start again. After everyone is finally situated in their designated seat, Head of Sedder (HOS) goes to the front door, opens it and urgently calls everyone to quickly come outside to see something. When they  arrive HOS says : “Imagine that right now we would get up and just leave our houses. Leave to go to Israel/Jerusalem/Har HaBayit. Just grab our suitcases and go. Everywhere in the world, right now, all Jews are sitting down to remember when The Jewish People left Egypt. Let’s do the same. Everyone head back in; We’re now ready to start our Sedder”.


2. Move Maggid away from the dining room to the living room. Children sit on the carpet or mattresses in center while adults sit on the sofas/armchairs. You will be amazed how this can transform the Maggid from a ritual to an actual family discussion/activity (Make sure to bring your cup of wine with you).


3. Encourage questioning. Throughout the Sedder every question (or answer) said by a child – awards them a chocolate chip to be placed in small baggie. Kids may eat them throughout Maggid, but whoever has the most chips by the end- gets a prize. (Other options are tiny marshmallows or, small notes that say “Good Job”).


4. Q-cards. Under each plate place a card which has on it information to be used at variant times during the Sedder. Examples:

1) An individual “special” word – whenever this word is recited in the reading, the person needs to yell out: “Pesach, Matzah and Maror!”

2) A character from the Pesach story – when there is a lul in the story, pick random participant, who needs to either act out his character, or answer 21 questions until the other participants guess his identity (don’t forget all the animal characters from חד גדיא!)


5. Experience slavery. Immediately after מה נשתנה, bring out blocks and tell the kids to each build a building to a certain height. As they build, Head of the Seder (HOS) makes suggestions of improvements. Upon completion, HOS instructs to ruin and re-do better. When they start re-building, HOS takes a more aggressive attitude, bossing them around about how to build the building. After the kids get upset (or even cry) HOS stops and explains that this is similar to what happened in מצרים, it started off mild and gradually changed into slavery. Continue with עבדים היינו.


6. Four sons.

1)     Ask each participant to identify which son they are and why (can be both a serious as well as a bit of a silly conversation). Adults can share which kind of “son” they were when they were kids…

2)     The 4 sons through the ages. Download and print out enough versions of The Four Sons collectioFour sonsn, based on which you can have many fascinating discussion with participants, of all ages. Sample questions:

i. Identify who is each son in the various depictions of the four sons. How do you know?

ii.  What are some of the differences between the various depictions of the various sons? (for adults – what do these differences mean?)

iii. Which depiction is you favorite? Why?

iv. Which depiction best describes our family?

v. (For adults:

– What is common to all the depictions on the 3rd page?  A: they carry strong ideological statements – Zionist, anti-enlightenment and anti-socialist

– What is common to all the depictions on the last page?            A: they depict whole families, not only sons

7. The Plagues

1) Each child acts out 2 pre-assigned plagues and the other kids have to guess what it is.

2) Blood – Ask for “Jewish” and “Egyptian” volunteers to demonstrate the plague of Blood. Prepare 2 non see-through cups, one of which should have at the bottom red food coloring. Make a spectacle of pouring clear water from same jar into the “Jewish cup” and then the “Egyptian cup”, hand to them and ask them to describe what they see. HOS explains that the same water stayed water for us but when was used by the Egyptians- became blood.

3) Darkness. Split kids into “Jews” and “Egyptians”. Blindfold “Egyptians”, who need to protect their chocolate chips from the “Jews”, who want to “borrow” them. HOS explains that this is what happened in מצרים- the Egyptians couldn’t see anything and the Jews could. The Jews went into the Egyptians homes to take treasures as compensation for their hard work.


8. Elijah’s cup. Have someone sneak out of the room a couple of minutes before Elijahs cup. This person leaves house and stands outside the door with his head covered with a Tallit. When children open the door – Elijah walks in, walks silently (remaining hooded) to the table, bends down enough to fool that he is drinking (while making sure to spill some of it) and then leaves.


Word to the wise:

1. Different activities are appropriate for different ages

2. Change the activity to fit your “clientele”

3. If you find one that the kids love – do it again. It’s worth the time

4. Choose wisely how many “special” activities to do. You don’t want overkill. I recommend choosing the 3 or four you think will work best.

5. These ideas are not meant to replace the traditional Sedder, rather to enhance it; to evoke more interest and engagement in the readings and observances.


Chag Same’ach VeKasher!

(Feel free to add in things you’ve actually done and seen succeed)

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Simon & Garfunkel, Jesus and Sex – a surprising conversation with my 8 year old son

On a drive back from Buffalo to Toronto last week, with only myself and my 8 year old in the car, I put on a “Simon and Garfunkel” disc as part of his ‘music appreciation education’. (He can already identify Blues as a genre, Beetles, Queen, some U2 and ‘Stairway to Heaven’. I thought it was time he become familiar with the great music of two nice Jewish boys, named Simon and Art).  
The first song on this timeless collection was “Mrs, Robinson”.

For those not familiar with this rock classic (shame on you!) the opening lyrics are:
“And here’s to you Mrs. Robinson;Jesus loves you more than you will know (wo wo wo)”.
Upon hearing this line, the following quite long and extremely important conversation ensued between my son and me:
Matanel: “Abba, who’s Jesus?”
Me: “He was a Jewish guy who lived a very long time ago. Do you remember that we learnt about Avaraham Avinu and how when he was a kid everyone believed that statues had powers and that they were gods? well Christians think that Jesus, who was a man, had powers and was a God. What do you think, does that make sense?”
Matanel: “No, not really”
Me: “Remember the story of how Avraham smashed all the statues and put the stick in the hands of the big statue and told his father that the big statue did it and that his father got angry because the statue is just a statue? what did Avraham answer him?”
Matanel: “That if the statue can’t smash the other statues how can you believe he is God”.
Me: “That’s right. So it’s the same thing with Jesus. Just like the statue was made by someone else and is just a statue so he can’t be God, also man was made from something and came from his parents and can’t be God”
Matanel (laughing): “That makes sense”.
Me: “Think about it. If he’s a ‘man’ then he’s a ‘man’ and if he’s ‘God’ – then he’s ‘God’. Saying ‘man’ is ‘God’ would be like saying a dog is a fish (Matanel laughing hysterically). If I tell you that this dog is a fish, that means that either it’s not a fish or it’s not a dog. It can’t be both, can it?”
Matanel: “Well, it can be both if you’re speaking in both languages…” (the Hebrew word דג, which means fish sounds exactly like the English word dog)
Me (laughing): “Well, I guess, but you know what I mean. Let’s say I say a dog is a cat – it’s either a cat that I’m calling a dog, or a dog that I’m calling a cat. IT can’t be both, right?”
Matanel: “Well, what if a dog and cat get married, wouldn’t their baby be both?”
Me: “Wow, good question. From what I know, when 2 animals from different species have babies, the babies can’t survive and they die”.
Matanel: “Ah. Abba – do animals get married?”
Me: “Not really”.
Matanel: “So how do they have kids?”
Me: “What do you mean?”
Matanel: “I have a different question. When people tell me I got my green eyes from you and Savta, or that I ‘got my height from my uncles’, how did I ‘get them’ from you?”
Me: “Do you know how you can save letters and pictures on the computer at home?” 
Matanel: “You mean it’s saved in the memory?”
Me: “Yes, exactly. So there’s something in our bodies called ‘cells’…”
Matanel: “Abba, I know what cells are!”
Me: “Oh, OK. Sorry. Well, cells have in them something called DNA that remembers all the things about our bodies – our height, the color of our eyes and hair and a lot, a lot of other things…
Matanel: “So I have your DNA and that’s why I’m like you?”
Me: “Yes but you also have Ema’s DNA”
Matanel: “Because I was in her Tummy?”
Me: “Ya, kind of”
Matanel: “But how did I get your DNA?”
Me: “Well, just like you can send someone an e-mail with letters and pictures that are kept in the memory of your computer, I sent my DNA, that has all the information about my body, into Ema’s tummy”
Matanel: “How did you send it to her? I mean, how did she get it from you? is it because you got married?”
Me: “Ah, I understand your question now. So no, not exactly because we got married. Think about it – you weren’t born right after Ema and I got married, right? only seven years later”
Matanel: “Ya. So how did you send your DNA to Ema?” 
Me: “You know how when you see a man and a women kissing and you don’t like looking because it’s very private?
Matanel (laughing) :”Ya”
Me: “So, there is something else that Abbas and Emas do and that’s how I send my DNA to Ema. It’s not from kissing – if someone ever tells you it’s from kissing, they don’t know what they’re talking about – but it’s from something like kissing that Emas and Abbas do but it’s more than kissing. It’s more special and more private than kissing. It’s like kissing, but more.”
Matanel: (says nothing. Seems to be thinking about this)
Me: “Do you want to hear more about this now or continue talking about it at a different time when you feel ready?”
Matanel: “Let’s continue a different time”
Me: “OK. I really like talking to you about these things. Let me know whenever you want to continue talking about it”. 
Matanel: “OK. Me too. Can I play on your phone now?”
Me: “Sure”. 
This Shabbat afternoong, Matanel asked me “if we could continue the DNA conversation”. I said I’d love to but we should wait until we can speak about it in quiet, without his younger brothers around to bother us.
Pointers to self for the continued conversation:
1. My kid is awesome. Thank you Hahsem for granting me such a special boy!
2. Make sure to continue letting him lead the conversation. Make sure I’m giving him the information he’s asking about and not giving him information he’s not actually asking about or ready for. There’s plenty of time. 
3. Don’t make a big deal out of either topic (God or Sex). He should continue to feel it is just like any other area in life, not something to get super excited, anxious or embarrassed about. 
4. What Simon and Garfunkel song should I have him listen to next…?

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