Category Archives: Halacha

Women and Halachic change – Can vs. Should

We can do itTo what degree, if at all, should Halacha change to reflect the change in women’s status in society? My approach to the subject has fluctuated over the years as I was exposed to a range of opinions and perspectives. It has been one of those “thought journeys” that have accompanied me for many years and in the (not too short) following piece, I will attempt to formalize it.

I will start with what is, for me, an important foundation to the discussion. I have tremendous trust in our tradition, in our history and in our communal identity, three things I believe to be one in the same. I do not believe that one can separate between who we are as a people – our communal identity – and the traditions, laws, customs, practices and even methodologies that have been part of our communal life for so long. Because of this great respect and trust I have for our tradition, my base assumption is that tremendous care needs to be taken when considering changes that represent, or can cause, changes to this identity. This means that my fundamental approach to formalized, communal change in these matters is, from the onset, one of extreme care and the default is – and should remain – the situation as it has been for centuries. I trust that if a norm or standard have been part of our national/communal identity for so long, there is a good reason for it and that it is very risky to fiddle with it. In other words, I like thinking of myself as an extreme traditionalist. By no means does this always result in an approach of saying “no” or always being more stringent. Many examples exist throughout Halachic literature demonstrating that “keeping things as they are”, can result in leniency; Eruv, Hash’haya on Shabbat and making Kiddush on a shot-glass, to name some better known examples. A good example, from my own personal life, can be found here (chapter 1) and there are many such examples in Halachic literature.

Based on this introduction, I’d suggest that when discussing the question of institutionalized Halachic change, the Halachic question is only one of several which needs to be considered, namely:

  1. Can it change?
  2. Should it change?
  3. What will be the price of the change?

‘Can it change’ is a purely Halachic question. e.g: when discussing women reading publicly from the Torah – What is the obligation of reading the Torah in public? Are women included in that obligation? Is there an issue with hearing a woman’s voice in religious matters? what is the definition of a צבור (community)? what defines כבוד הציבור (the community’s honor) – is it an objective, static, criteria defined by Chazal or is it subject to change as the concept of community changes? is there possibly a third option? etc… Similarly, other issues have their own questions that need consideration and discussion.

I believe that answering this category of questions is actually fairly easy. Not necessarily easy to come to a definitive conclusion but easy to answer, none the less. Utilizing the traditional approaches to sources, precedents and Halachic methodology, Poskim discuss, analyze, deduce and argue the different points of these and other such questions, and apply them accordingly. They won’t always agree, obviously, but it is clear enough to understand how they reached their respective conclusions and follow accordingly.

Let’s say, for a moment, that we’ve reached the conclusion that a certain change in Halachic norm is not against Hlacha – one way or another. At this point, I think we need to consider question number 2 – ‘should Halacha change?’ Meaning, just because something isn’t forbidden, or just because something is permissible, doesn’t necessarily mean it should be done. Halacha isn’t just a list of does and don’ts.

This is a much harder question to answer than the first one, as I don’t believe there are clear sources to draw clear answers from. It is not simply a question of which sources should and shouldn’t be included and the different ways to interpret and apply them. As previously stated, I am a big believer in “כל המשנה-ידו על התחתונה” (“He who wants to make a change- has a lower hand”). I believe that things that have to do with the identity of The Jewish People as it has formed over millennia- among other things, through Halachic norms – should remain the same. The only reason I can see for making institutional changes – in the norms themselves – is in order to maintain that same core identity of what and who we are. I realize, of course, this may seem like a very amorphous question – what are the core values and identity of The Jewish People? – and I am ok with that. Let us have it out, discuss and argue what are the values and ideals most consistent with Jewish identity throughout the ages. But as far as the question of changing Halachic norms, I’d suggest using the following consideration to ascertain whether the change is or isn’t consistent with Communal Jewish Identity. Is the change in the Halachic system (or even in a specific community) a response to the needs of individuals or a response to the need of the system/community itself? Meaning, there are a lot of factors that contribute to individuals wanting Halachic norms to change. Some of them are rooted in real issues and pains while others may stem from personal weaknesses, persuasions and even cultural influences. Either way, it does not seem logical to make institutionalized changes to such a large, complex and important institution just because a certain person – or group of people – happen to think/feel at a certain point in time they have an issue with it. It makes far more sense to say that the community does not need to change for the sake of the individual rather the community only needs to change for the sake of the community itself. one vs. many

A few examples to illustrate the distinction I am trying to make.

  1. When wealthy individuals weren’t lending money to poor people before Shmita, it was a problem for individuals, which Halacha dealt with locally by threatening and sanctioning such behavior. But when many, if not most, people stopped lending money to the poor before Shmita, it became a problem of the system itself, where the effort to keep Halacha (שמיטת כספים) for the sake of the poor, was causing the exact opposite – no one was lending money to the poor for years beforehand. Enter Pruzbul, one of the most radical changes in Halacha in history.
  2. A woman not getting a Get (Halachik divorce document) because her husband is a jerk – a problem of an individual, which Halacha must do its best to solve. Thousands of women not getting Gittin over decades of years – because the system that was put in place to address the issue is no longer effective – a problem of the system itself, as instead of strengthening the institution of marriage, it is in danger of weakening it.
  3. An individual who is not Halachically Jewish wants to marry someone Jewish without converting and is not allowed to – a problem for that individual and their Jewish partner. Hundreds of thousands of non-Jews already marrying Jews while remaining part of the Jewish Community, is already a problem for the system itself, as the mechanism aimed at preventing intermarriage is the one causing it to happen on a massive scale.

All three of the above cases illustrate well the difference between individuals having issues with the Halachic system and the system itself having an issue. It is important to emphasize that I am by no means saying that Halacha does not or should not have solutions for individuals who are suffering due to Halachic restrictions or regulations. Halacha has always known how to be extremely flexible in order to try and spare individuals injustices, suffering and harm. But that is not the issue at hand, which is that of changing Halachic norms, institutionally. One has to do with changing the lives of individuals while the other has to do with changing the life of the Jewish People. That should be a much more serious and complicated matter.

One could argue that if indeed there isn’t a prohibition on a certain thing, or that it could be permissible – why not do it, even if just for the sake of those individuals who are interested, or in actual need? Let alone if an issue seems to be heading in the direction of becoming a communal/institutional problem?

This is where the 3rd question comes in –  “what is the price of the change?” Halacha is a highly complex system comprised of hundreds of thousands of details, ideas, concepts, arguments and customs. It has been evolving and taking shape slowly for thousands of years, sustaining (and sustained by) millions of individuals and communities across the world. It is both an expression of, and a contributor to, so much of who we are. It has contributed to some of the greatest moral and societal transformations not only within The Jewish People but in all of humanity as well, throughout history. And one of the most amazing things about it is that there is no actual institution enforcing it. It is sustained by the millions of people who, throughout our history, chose – and continue to choose – to be committed to it. That is really the only thing that sustains it. The notion of fiddling with it – on an institutional level – to better fit with momentary sensitivities of individual people, I find to be foolish and irresponsible. Most importantly, it ignores the price that is paid when making institutional changes. One needs to think carefully – what is being gained by the change and what is being lost.

The fact that there is a price to pay, that something will be lost doesn’t automatically mean that the change should not be made, just that it needs to be acknowledged and evaluated to decide whether the gain outweighs, or is worth, the loss.

 

A few examples of how the above questions and considerations would be applied:

1. Woman’s Torah study:

‘Could it change?’ without going into the details and sources at the moment- yes, there was the Halachic possibility of permitting women to formally study and be taught Torah, including the Oral Law, something that had not been done traditionally.

‘Should it have changed?’ using the criteria we set above – was this a need of individuals or of the community – I think it was a communal need. The first Jewish schools for girls opened, among other things, as a response to growing poverty in the Jewish Community as well as growing exposure to the non-Jewish world. Without starting to educate women formally the community would suffer economically and socially as women would not be equipped to face the challenges of a growing secular society, especially as they began entering the workforce.

‘What was the price of the change?’ there was definitely a price to the change – changing the spousal and family dynamic, as women became more knowledgeable, capable and confident in many areas they were not previously. These included finances, religious matters and eventually also politics. Even so, I would argue that none of these were areas in which women were not involved at all, rather, they were less involved. Women had their own financial rights and standings and were always heavily involved in religious matters within the home. So, one could argue that though there was a price to pay for this change – a possible destabilization of the traditional balance within families due to women’s education – it was far outweighed by the financial stability and religious fortitude gained by it.

 

2. Women joining a Minyan

‘Can it change?’ The short answer is, no, it cannot. Based on studying the Sugiyot and relevant sources, it is my opinion that women cannot be counted as part of a Minyan for דברים שבקדושה (“things to be said in holiness”- Kadish, Kdusha and others) and as far as I am concerned, the discussion on that topic ends there and therefore: ‘Should it change?’ – irrelevant, ‘What is the price of the change’ – irrelevant.

 

3. Women becoming rabbis

‘Can it change?’ Yes, I hold that it can. Based on what I have learned and read I do not think there is a Halachic issue with women becoming rabbis. This is mainly due to the fact that the roles filled by rabbis today are no longer roles of coercive authority and therefore there is no issue for women to serve as Halachic advisers, spiritual guides and teachers (A.K.A rabbis today).

‘Should it change?’ using my criteria of ‘needs of individuals’ vs. ‘needs of the community’, I think the answer is ‘no, it shouldn’t change’. I do not think there is a national situation which requires such a drastic change. I don’t think there is a national or communal problem that this change addresses. To my knowledge, there is no lack of rabbis in the Jewish World and not even a lack of liberal, women’s-issues-oriented-rabbis. The main reason it is being discussed is because there are individuals, maybe even groups, who feel excluded and think it would allow them to better connect to Torah, Hashem and tradition. I’m not saying I disagree with their sincerity or with the fact that it very well may allow those individuals to truly be more engaged in Torah and Mitzvot. What I am claiming is that I don’t think that is a good enough reason for society to change.

‘What is the price of the change?’ Beyond the ‘classic’ claims such as ‘the unity of the Jewish People (today and throughout history)’ I think there is a much bigger issue and danger – changing the balance of a male dominated public sphere. I am fully aware of how objectionable this may sound to many people today. But, there is no denying that Torah does not see men and women equally, especially when it comes to the public sphere. One can like or dislike the Torah’s fundamental presentation of the balance between the sexes but it is there, none the less. On the one hand, Torah does not ignore women but women appear in it as the ‘other’ and, mostly, as (consistent) supporting figures.

One could try and explain it away as a result of just being a reflection of the power structure that existed during the times being described and that seeing as the power balance has changed (has it?) so should Torah’s take on it but then we are right back where we started from.

Personally, I would argue that the Torah’s approach is not just the result of old fashioned patriarchal structure, rather something far deeper that goes to the core of how Torah sees society. (see * at the end of this page for a more in depth explanation on this)

Regardless of whether you accept my specific explanation, or dismiss it as apologetics, one cannot deny that the Torah establishes a very certain social paradigm. Whether it be a result of theology, anthropology or evolution, the Torah does not view men and women as equal when it comes to their place in society and having men as the spiritual and legal leaders of the Jewish Community maintains that structure. I am sure that many people reading this are thinking – ‘yes! That is exactly what we want to change!’ I understand that but fundamentally disagree with the sentiment. It may be worth looking carefully at western countries in which the more drastic changes have taken place in these areas and see whether it has strengthened or weakened society as a whole, with an emphasis on long term variables.

Even so, what happens if and when the issue goes from being that of individuals to that of the community? For instance, if there is a lack of male rabbis, or that there is a large-scale issue with the ability of rabbis to address the needs of their communities? (Good examples of this are the ‘family purity advisers’ and the female rabbinical advocates, both of whom are dealing with large scale problematic phenomena that just happen to also effect a lot of women.)

If and when that happens I believe the change should be made, and chances are, it would be well on its way to happening already. I’d like to believe, though, that it would happen in a far more organic way, one which would preserve those ideals of Torah regarding society’s structure. As I have stated previously, I have tremendous trust in the system of Halacha as an embodiment of the collective identity of the Jewish People and that, as it has for the past 3500 years, it – eventually – knows what it is doing.


Some final thoughts:

1. Assuming my distinction, of “the needs of the community not the needs of individuals” is correct, the question then becomes – how do we know what is an individual need vs. a communal one? Is it just a matter of numbers? Is it just a matter of time, until the problem gets bigger and prevalent enough? Also, who decides when an issue if big or deep enough to justify an institutional change?

I must admit I do not have a definitive answer to these questions but I know that it isn’t any one person or one community within the Jewish People. It needs to be something or someone who represents and expresses the will of the collective of the Jewish People. Maybe it is the Government of Israel or its Rabbinic arm, the Chief Rabbinate (as an institution, not necessarily as Rabbi X or Rabbi Y…). Part of me wonders if it is only through the perspective of history that the Jewish People pass judgment on such things – that which has been accepted by the nation and that which has not.

2. The last question which I think needs to be addressed is what about those individuals who feel they can’t wait until the rest of the Jewish People “catch up” or figure out what they are certain is correct? What about those people who have difficulty feeling connected to, and inspired towards, a committed life of Torah because of a very real feeling of personal or ideological injustice?

A. As the Rolling Stones put it, “You can’t always get what you want”. As someone who works with kids and youth, I often wonder if we do as good a job as them in accepting authority. This might sound very counter-intuitive but, as adults, how often do we do things that we actually do not wish to do, or don’t believe we have/need to do, just because an authority figure told us to? (“so I don’t get fired/caught”, obviously, doesn’t count. Neither does “I don’t feel like it but I know it is the right thing to do”). Meaning, do we still have a sense of קבלת עול towards anything or anyone? Among them – towards Chachamim, towards our tradition, towards Hashem? That is what I think might be required in some of these cases. Accepting that as long as they choose to be part of this system of a committed life to Halachic Torah and Mitzvot they may have to “suffer” for the sake of the community, its time-frame and processes.

B. We live in a time of extreme privatization and entrepreneurship of Torah and Mitzvot. If a person feels that this issue is impeding their ability to live a committed and meaningful life of Torah and Mitzvot (which I believe could indeed be the case for some people) they are welcome to start their own Minyan, or to practice however they see fit. To put it in a Mei Hashiloach language – if you are convinced it is coming from a place of yearning to do Hashem’s will and you have eliminated other influences – laziness, pride, lust, etc… then go ahead and do it. That is your “Cheshbon” with Hashem. Just don’t expect us, the community, to give it our seal of approval or like it. Be prepared to do it alone, or with other likeminded people without expecting the community to change to fit with your individual, subjective convictions.

3. I know how tensions run high in these discussions and hope that even if no one is convinced by what I wrote, people will at least realize that there is a very good case to be made for a more traditional, conservative (small ‘C’) approach to changes in Halacha due to changes in societal norms, including in the question of women and Halacha.


* So many of these discussions seem to revolve around the ‘rights’ argument. That women, in general, or a specific woman should have the right to participate, share, express “just like men”, or to express themselves “to the fullest”. These types of arguments have a fundamental assumption which I find to be incorrect and extremely problematic. By no means is it exclusive for the discussion about women’s role in Halacha but it is one of the areas it is the most present. I recently completed a separate post on this exact topic, so will just summarize it as follows: I don’t believe the Torah believes in the concept of rights. The Torah believes in obligations, not rights. For instance, as a non-Kohen, I’m not being denied the right to serve on the Mizbe’ach in Beit Hamikdash, rather, I am not obligated to do so. Because I lack that status of obligation, I cannot enter certain places in Beit Hamikdash, even if being there would allow me a closeness to Hashem I would not attain elsewhere. I cannot eat certain foods, even if their holiness would significantly enhance my religious engagement and fulfillment. I would not be permitted to go up to the Duchan and bless the community (with a Bracha) during the priestly prayer just because I (honestly!) feel the love of Hashem to The Jewish People flow through me. This is all true, even if because of them Kohanim have more influence on the religious sphere within Am Yisrael. Whether it is supposed to be part of the result or just an indirect result is a worthy but separate question. I use this example, of a non-Kohen vs. Kohen, as it is easier to accept the distinction between ‘rights’ and ‘obligations’ in it. Most of us would look very strangely at the request of a non-Kohen to be permitted to practice as much of the Kohanic obligations as very, very odd. Torah teaches us to look first and foremost at “what does Hashem your God ask from you” and practically every single time Hashem speaks to someone in the Torah it is to command and relay expectations. And Torah’s expectations from men and women are different. That much is crystal clear. Why is that the case?
Answer 1 – don’t know, don’t care. It’s about fulfilling your obligations and different people have different obligations. Some of those different jobs can be categorized along the male-female line, others along the Kohen-non Kohen line, others along the single-married line and others along the Israel-outside of Israel line.
Answer 2 – The approach I personally identify with the most is the theological one, which sees the different roles Torah designates men and women as part of how Hashem created the world. In the first creation story man and woman are described as being created together, as one entity – “ויקרא שמם אדם” (“and he named them Adam”). Later, in the second creation story, man is described as being created first and women being created second, from him and as his counterpart. In these very different descriptions, I think Torah is saying it all.
Often, people like referencing the first creation story to prove that Torah’s fundamental approach and its original ideal is that of total equality between man and woman. But that is not the picture the Torah is depicting. It doesn’t describe them as equals, rather as one and the same. One whole creation which has two components to it, two aspects to it. The Torah’s topic is that complete unit. It is to that 2-aspected, single unit, that Hashem commands “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth”. The single man and the single woman are not really the main focus of the Torah, as it sees it as an incomplete state of being. Its topic is the “duo which is one”.
In chapter two we discover what role each component plays in the whole. Just as a body has internal organs and external organs, it seems the Torah designates the “man-component” of the complete unit to be the dominant force when it comes to the outside world – the external organs – while Torah designates the “woman-component” of the unit to be dominant when it comes to the internal world.
(I’m not even going to go the route of “which is more important internal or external organs?” to try and emphasize the importance of women, as – although I don’t necessarily disagree with it – I find it reeks too much of apologetics for most people’s pallets today and it doesn’t really fit with the analogy I am using. One is irrelevant without the other. A person cannot live without internal organs and a person cannot live without external organs.)
I would argue that the biological differences evolutionists identify as the cause of all the social differences between men and women are the exact opposite – the result of the different roles God designated for them as part of a complete, unified, entity.

 

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Filed under Halacha, Morality

You have no right. No one does. To anything.

The right to marry, the right to adopt, the right to choose one’s gender, the right to one’s body, the right to free speech, the right to bare arms and the list of rights goes on. These and many other rights are part of the “rights conversation” which has been increasingly dominating Western politics and social order in recent years.

symbols_humanrights

This phenomena has not passed over the Jewish and Orthodox worlds, with woman’s communal roles, LGBTQ’s in the community, marriage postponement, family planning and other similar questions becoming the delineating lines along which Jews have come to define their religious orientation. And, as is happening in general society, the individual rights argument is playing an increasingly dominant role in these discussions and slowly transforming institutions and conventions previously unchanged for generations.

Those trying to stand in the way of these changes find themselves, many times, defending Torah against the ‘rights conversation’. Some, attempt to reconcile the two by trying to prove how Torah’s ideals and guidelines are the true individual rights, while others try and explain how Torah defines these rights – or their parameters – differently. Until recently, I was a proponent of highlighting the rights of the community/Jewish Nation/Jewish People Throughout History, as opposed to the rights of the individual. Even so, I’ve always felt an uneasiness with these approaches, feeling they were more apologetics than anything else and lacked an independent, consistent, stance on the matters.

I recently realized why we seem to be losing the battle – within our own communities. This is because in the way in which we most often discuss these matters we unwittingly accept the premise of the arguments we are trying so desperately to reject; that people have unalienable, immutable rights. Then the question just becomes – how far do those rights extend? There is little surprise, then, that the rights conversation continues to expand and eat away at social conventions that just a few years ago were almost unthinkable.

Like many people, I simply knew something was “off” with the entire discussion but couldn’t put my finger on it. I think the reason for this is the degree to which we, in the Jewish and Orthodox world, are steeped in Western Civilization and therefore have difficulty drawing logical lines between “acceptable” rights and non “acceptable” ones. After searching for years for the elusive line between the rights which fit with Torah and those that do not and struggling with the troubling range left open for interpretation and personal biases, it finally came to me.

It is still a working theory but here it is – I’m pretty sure Torah doesn’t believe in the concept of rights. I can’t think of a single case or example in the Torah where someone has an inherent right. To anything. It seems that whenever God spoke to people in the Torah it was to let them know what they are expected to do – their obligation. You, as a parent, do not have the right to be respected by your children rather, your children have the obligation to respect you. The two are not the same thing. I don’t have the right to live as much as you have the prohibition not to kill me (or the obligation to not let me die). The Jewish People don’t have a right to the Land of Israel, rather, we have the obligation to live in it, conquer and settle it. Kohanim don’t have the right to serve in Beit Hamikdash as opposed to non-Kohanim, rather they have an obligation to do so.  The more I think about it the more it seems that in the Torah itself it is all about obligations and I think this is because of something even more fundamental that lay at the core of how Torah sees the world.

Simply put, we live in Hashem’s world. We did not create ourselves, we did not create the world we live in, we do not sustain ourselves, or it, every moment of every day. As such, Torah assumes our existence is for a purpose which transcends our individual, all too temporary, lives. Our entire existence serves someone and something else – be it God, Divine Justice, Jewish Destiny or any other divinely inspired ideal. Therefore, a person’s life ought to be driven by gratitude and servitude. Our entire lives are expected to be one, long, continuous “thank you”, translated into a “what am I supposed to do”. All of this is the antithesis to some of the most foundational concepts of Western Civilization, as they developed since the mid 17th Century through the enlightenment, all the way to today with the emphasis of natural rights and the autonomous man.

I do believe that these were important ideas and key developments within Western Civilization which have benefited the world greatly and even that some of them stem from Jewish and scriptural influences. But, just because these concepts helped free Western Civilizations from the tyranny of the church, of the Monarchy or the Feudal System, doesn’t make them theologically correct and definitely not necessarily for every era and community.

I do think that when we come to Chazal’s world – the oral law and the world of Halacha – we do begin to encounter something similar to rights but the fact that in Torah itself we do not, rather only encounter obligations, outlines the fundamental outlook of Torah as being diametrically opposed to what has become the theological and political paradigm within which we live.

I realize that saying that we do not believe in rights sounds troubling. I’m not saying that on a practical level no one has any rights, rather, that when we come to think of how these discussions and debates fit with Torah we need to realize that Torah has a completely different outlook on the human condition and is coming at these questions from an entirely different perspective. I have found this line of thinking and argumentation extremely powerful when considering the topic myself or discussing it with others. It doesn’t just ‘win by points’ by arguing against a specific point, rather, it offers a completely different moral – and theological – outlook at society and the human condition. And one need not necessarily accept the Torah’s outlook as I have outlined it to understand that attacking Torah based on the individual rights conversation doesn’t make much sense, considering the different world view. Whether a person chooses to prescribe to the ‘rights conversation’ or the ‘obligation conversation’ is entirely up to them but it is important to realize the significance of that choice and the different types of societies each of them envisions and aspires to.

I do think that, many times, Halacha can come to the same practical conclusions as those led by the individual rights conversation but I think they arrive there in a very different way, which makes all the difference. (I hope to share some examples of this in the near future).

I’d like to conclude this long train of thought with the famous opening of the Mesilat Yesharim (Path of The Just): “The foundation of piety and the root of perfect service is for a man to clarify and come to realize as truth what is his obligation in the world and to what he needs to direct his gaze and his aspiration in all that he toils all the days of his life”.

 

 

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Filed under Morality, Politics, Theology

Religious Vegetarianism – is it time?

When I was 17, I happened upon a book I received for my Bar Mitzvah (!) by the name of “A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace, written by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook. In it, he discusses vegetarianism as a religious ideal; its origins, merits, and dangers.

Here’s the (very!) short version:

  • Man was never intended to eat meat as it is immoral to derive pleasure from the suffering/death of other living creatures
  • Humanity failed to live up to the high moral standards set forth by God, leading to the flood
  • Man was permitted, temporarily, to eat meat for 4 reasons:
    1. Each “level” of creation needs to contribute its part to the gradual development and elevation of the world. In his current state, man depends – physically and emotionally – on eating meat for the world to develop.
    2. It is futile to try and maintain a moral standard of sensitivity towards animals while the world is filled with cruelty between humans. Humanity must first purge itself from far greater injustices before doing so towards animals.
    3. A prohibition to eat meat reinforces an equation between the species, legitimizing humans seeing themselves and acting no different than animals. Permission to eat meat instills the distinction between the species and therefore, an understanding that man is more than an animal, with greater expectations.
    4. Abstention from eating meat can create a false sense of morality which would – consciously or unconsciously – serve as an excuse for other immoralities. Eating meat serves as a “vent” for mans lower, animalistic, aggressions. Left without that “vent” people would find other, human, aggression vents, while still convinced they are moral due to their vegetarianism. (remember the stories of the vegetarian SS commanders walking their dogs through the camps?)
  • The Torah’s laws pertaining to animals incorporate both aspects – allowing man the use of meat while minimizing the cruelty involved in it while forcing him realize the moral compromise it involves. By following these “balance keeping” laws, man’s sensitivity towards animals can slowly develop, alongside humanity’s general moral development, towards the day when the full ideal of vegetarianism is natural and obvious.
  • In the meantime, vegetarianism should not be adopted by the masses but only by pious individuals who already lead lives of higher moral and religious standards. If the masses were to adopt it, he warns, it could lead – like during the generation of the flood – to the denigration and moral corruption of humanity.

Being the 17 year old idealist that I was, I knew for a fact that when Rav Kook spoke about the pious individuals who could take on vegetarianism, he was, obviously, talking about me… Six months later, after rereading the essay, I realized that – no, he wasn’t. I found myself looking down judgmentally at non vegetarians, excusing certain behaviors and avoiding guilt trips due to a new found sense of self righteousness. Thus ended my romance with vegetarianism.

Ever since, I have struggled with the topic and the degree to which I should or should not re-adopt it. Recently, inspired by the public display of vegetarianism by Israel’s president Reuven Rivlin, the following thought has begun to haunt me:

How are we to understand the fact that animal cruelty today is the worst in history. Due to factory farming and the mass production of meat for human consumption and commercialization, animal cruelty is more severe and more systematized then could possible be previously imagined (I dare you to go on youtube and search “factory farming” or “animal cruelty“. Let’s see how long you can bare to watch)
Keeping in line with Rav Kook’s philosophy, the fact that, through industrialization, animachicksGroundDownl cruelty has become:
1. So severe
2. So well known and undeniable
One must say 1 of 2 things:
Either we are in greater danger than before of “blurring the species lines” (reason no.3) and in greater need of “non-human aggression vents” (reason no.4), or, these new scale cruelties are a divine “nudge”, forcing us to realize what was always there to a tolerable degree has now reached a horrible epoch, one that can no longer be rationalized by moral philosophy and that we have no choice but to move towards adopting vegetarianism on a larger scale.

Considering that Rav Kook also holds that the world – as a whole – is constantly moving towards greater moral refinement (something I believe with every fiber of my being, especially since the establishment of the State of Israel)
and that
The alternatives for a non-vegetarian diet are so easily accessible or even produced,
I wonder if we are ready to take on a greater moral standard and progress towards vegetarianism. Meaning, if in past generations there was a certain correlation between man’s lower moral standards and limited- “personal use”- animal cruelty, we now find ourselves with an opposite correlation – higher moral standards on the one side but increased animal cruelty on the other.
Personally, I feel less and less capable of rationalizing the support of and participation in the industrialization of animal cruelty, while aspiring to the loftiest moral and religious ideals.
What about you?

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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.

(SEE IN THE COMMENT SECTION BELOW 4 CORRESPONDENCES BETWEEN MYSELF AND THE APP DEVELOPERS)

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