Friday, December 26, 2008

Miketz/Chanuka: Ethnic Tension

This weeks parsha probably has the first blatantly recorded example of pure “racial” anti-Semitism in the Torah, where it records (43:32): “The Egyptians might not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination unto the Egyptians.” Rashi explains this as religiously-motivated discrimination, because Jews ate the Egyptian deities. (One might say that Jews didn’t invent not eating in each others’ kitchens; does that make it a goyish concept?)

Rabbi Yehuda Herz Henkin theorizes that at the time of Yosef’s ascension to viceroy, the Hyksos were in control of Egypt, which was one of the factors that allowed Yosef to come to power. The ethnic Egyptians became a disenfranchised majority in their own country (compare, Blacks in South Africa until 1994, Shiites in Iraq until 2003, non-Alawites in contemporary Syria).

Yosef was able to take advantage of these ethnic tensions and rule by fiat; we will see how he employed absolute state control over the economy at the end of this weeks parsha and next weeks. But the most interesting thing is that Yosef, in preparation for the upcoming golus mitzrayim, tried to level the playing field, as it were, by forcing the entire male populace to circumcise themselves. (This might somewhat echo the tactic of the Danish under Nazi occupation in 1943 when their King decreed that the entire populace wear yellow stars.)

Confusing the issue further, we have Rav Hutner’s explanation of the uniqueness of Chanukah, or glaus yavan. Unlike all the other galuyos, he maintains that the impetus behind galus yavan was the internal wrangling between the religious Jews and the Hellenists, where Jews actually actively not only aided and abetted their enemies, but actually invited and welcomed the anti-religious persecution.

So this is how the cahin plays out: Yosef, the ultimate victim of fraternal sinah (his brothers thought they were religiously justified in attempting to kill him), takes full advantage of an already politically dubious situation and reduces the entire population to economic and personal vassalage, all for theoretically selfish political ends: to reduce the eventual discomfort his family will experience when they are exiled here.

What does this tell us in terms of our political allegiances?

First of all, we have to examine the two factors at play here which would indicate to us why we would NOT adopt Yoesf’s method as our political attitudes. First of all, the region had been plunged into a dire economic crisis and lives were at stake; states of emergency do not ever lend themselves to any sort of political ideal. The second is that Yosef, operating at the highest levels of nevuah, was, as it were, having his policy dictated to him by G-d. There is (I think) nobody who would make that claim nowadays.

However, I will go out on a limb and say there is another lesson to be learned here, regarding Jews political allegiances and attitudes. The question remains: is it ever politically and morally legitimate to take advantage of ethno-political tensions for our own benefit? (The best current examples I can think of are Israel’s refusing to take sides against the Serbs in the Balkan wars, the Serbs being the least anti-Semitic of all the participants in the conflict, or their refusal to acknowledge the Armenian genocide as such for fear of offending their allies the Turks. (There was an article in a recent Commentary theorizing that the Armenian tragedy was more a massacre than a bonafide genocide, but that’s somewhat disingenuous, to say the least.)

We have to realize that such a move will, one way or another, come back to get us. Yosef, theoretically, did everything right politically and spitirually; yet, as Rabbi Henkin theorizes, when the Egyptians drove out the Hyksos and retook the country, that’s when the shibud started in earnest. Apparently the Egyptians did not learn the intended lesson from the forced circumcisions; they reasserted their majority status the second they had the opportunity.

Yet we also have to realize, as Yoni Netanyahu said before he led the rescue at Entebbe, if we don’t take care of ourselves, no one is going to do it for us. We always have to come first.

So I will say that the political lesson of this parsha can be summed up as follows:

Sometimes what is never the best course of action may prove to be the only available one. Just make sure that it is.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Vayeishev—Tznius III of III: Er and Onan and Yehuda and Tamar

Parshas Vayeishev provides the paradigmatic event of “too much tznius”: maaseh Yehuda v’Tamar.

The medrash relates just how Tamar was able to seduce her father-in-law Yehuda: she have covered her face while in his house and so he did not recognize her when he saw her. This behavior is simultaneously praised and condemned at the same time in Bereishis Rabbah 85:9; Bereishis Rabbah 35:8 goes so far as to acknowledge the possibility that one might become overly unfamiliar with (the looks of) one’s female relatives to the point that disaster may result.

(This is more prevalent than one might think; I know personally of a scion of a prominent Chassidic family who lost the chance at a shidduch because he refused to look at his potential mother-in-law.)

In her “A Return To Modesty”, Wendy Shalit relates how Muslim men are actually “turned on” by women in the chador. I remember more than one aspiring rabbinic student saying that the most beautiful thing about a woman is her ankle-length skirt. Ironically, it is the use of the veil itself—which Ramban relates was a tool of the trade of both common (zonah) and sacred (kedesha) prostitutes—which allows Tamar to succeed.  Almost a "bizarro tznius", as it were.

Even regarding the “icon” of tznius—Bas Kimchis, who merited to have seven sons become High Priest during Temple times, who, according to the Gemara, is supposed to exemplify “Kol Kevuda de-Ba Melech Penima” because “the beams of her house never saw the braids of her hair” (Yoma 47a) —there might be, or lack of a better term, less than meets the eye.

Rabbi Yossi (Yoma 12b) notes that a Kohen Gadol could be reinstated following his purification, but his (temporary) replacement was stuck with all the restrictions and none of the privileges of his previous position, because of “maalin bekedusha”. The gemara further (ibid 47a) details just how the series of disqualifications and elevations to the position occurred among the brothers: being hit by Gentile spittle. Additionally, the gemara notes that while "she credited her success to her modesty, [] the Chachamim indicated that others had done similarly but had not merited such honor" leading one to re-examine Bas Kimchis’ rewards, and, by extension, though not to take away from her piety, how desirable her conduct really was from an educational standpoint.

In another example of tznius short-circuiting itself, Batsheva, says the Midrash, even when she washed her hair, she had her attendant hold a towel over her hair so that it not become overly exposed, even IN HER HOUSE. King David, shooting at a bird and missing, instead hit the towel and caused Bas Sheva's hair to become temporarily revealed. We all know the immediate aftermath.

In Tamar’s case (who, less than coincidentally, was a Bas Kohen), we can take the too much tznius theme a step further by what happens to her in Yehuda’s house before she feels compelled to seduce Yehuda. This is the famous maaseh Er v’Onan, which became a catchall for shichvas zera levatala (another educational misnomer, but I’m not going to deal with that here). However, the real capital offense here, according to Tosfos in Yevamos 45b and Chizkuni here in the parsha, was exclusive biah shelo ke-darka, and one can surmise that it was nonconsensual. There doesn’t seem to be any solid scriptural or midrashic evidence to this effect, but the circumstantial evidence-- Tamar’s tznius and the fact that she lived while both brothers died—is pretty strong.

One might even view the entire plot from the seduction through Yehuda’s “tzadka mimeni” as Tamar quietly indicting Yehuda for the way he ran his household—specifically, how tznius was at such a premium in a household where sexual deviancy was rampant—and how Yehuda “blamed the victim” by withholding Tamar from Shela because he thought she was responsible for Er and Onan’s deaths.

The parallels to current scandals are obvious.

I have two conclusions after all this. The first is, as I mentioned, that if kol kevuda de’bas melech penima, the benos melech have been mochlos their kavod. Or, to paraphrase author Karen Lehrman, there is no ma’alah involved in being chained to a pedestal.

The second might depend on the degree of which my above statement is descriptive—where there would be no real halachic remedy for the curse of tznius—or prescriptive, in which case one hopes for salient educational approaches to being modest with our modesty.

There is such a thing as too much tznius.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Vayishlach--Tznius II of III: Dina

Dina is the first Bais Yaakov girl.

And the poor child is literally put in a box.

And then, the minute she dares to venture outside the box--literally and figuratively--she gets raped.

The midrashim seem to be of two minds on assessing responsibility. Rashi’s approach blames Dina directly, her assault the result of her tendency to galavant (“yatzanis”). Infuriating? Blaming the victim? In fact, both Ramban—who is more explicit about translating “va-ye’anehah” as rape (ones) as opposed to Rashi’s quoting to midrashic explanation of inui as biah shelo kedarka—and Malbim, who states that the “Vateizei Dina” is meant to exonerate her from the Midrash’s charges—are ahead of the curve here.

The second approach blames Yaakov himself for putting Dina in the box because he was afraid Esav would set his eyes on her and want to marry her. Not that he was afraid he would rape her (although he certainly was not unaware of his brother’s inclinations regarding sexual violence; viz., the drash of “ve-hu ayef” in Toldos); rather, he didn’t want Esav to even THINK of marrying her, even if (and this I where the exegetes take Yaakov to task) she would bring him to tshuva (which, the midrashim generally agree, was a more likely outcome than Esav negatively influencing her.)

Bartenura says that Yaakov's reason for hiding Dina was not the fear of anything negative happening to her, but the fear that she would succeed in reforming Eisav, which would make him worthy of the blessing that he would dominate his brother. This approach might even be more infuriating; Yaakov is ostensibly engaging in some fraternal spiritual power play, and his own daughter suffers in the worst way possible.

However, that may be precisely the point: “punished” or not through his daughter’s rape, Yaakov’s mixing up his own personal spiritual concerns—justified or not (and there are many discussions in the midrashim as to how “lishma” his motivations were in withholding Dina from Esav)—render him responsible for what happens to her. Why?

First, one can look at the box as symbolic of a flawed educational approach. There is no reason to assume that all knowledge and experience is de facto, if not de jure, dangerous. Locking all of it in a box—or, worse, placing the person inside a box—ensures that this is the message conveyed, and it is indisputably the wrong message.

Second, one can see that, even in the case of Yaakov Avinu, there existed the necessity of a parent (and, kal vachomer, an educator) examining his or her own motivations in employing a specific educational approach. Oftentimes, what one thinks is best for the child is really not in the child’s interest at all. Furthermore, if it was as difficult for Yaakov Avinu to at least critically weigh his child’s interests against his own inerests and clal yisrael’s interests—as all the midrashim attest to in one from or other—one can only imagine the near-impossibility of anyone else succeeding in that endeavor.

In this case, the most conservative/restrictive approach had the most disastrous possible result: eventually, people get killed. (Shimon and Levi’s having the last word after the Shechem campaign (“Hachezona yaaseh es achosenu?”) is indicative of what the proximate cause is in Yaakov’s mind.)

As a contemporary analog, I can think of a few very specific current educational programs aimed at women still in practice today, specifically ones which assert that women are not ALLOWED to learn torah she-ba’al peh. Mekoros aside, there is no legitimate reason that this approach should be given quarter in any halachic circles, no matter from whom or where it comes from, and it should be denounced with all the fervor one finds on various Yiddish broadsides (although any proclamation with that sort of tenor would immediately tarnish its credibility).

Too much “tznius”?

A Side Note Regarding Prop 8

It's clear that, halachically, all contracts elevating same-sex relationships to the level of unions are proscribed as a matter of Noahide law. (See midrashim on Bereishis 6:2, and BT Sanhedrin....somewhere between 54b and 59a. I'm still looking)

It's nearly equally clear that there is no solid logical reason to prohibit said relationships and unions, and there even might be salient social policy arguments in favor of the practice. This means that the only remaining objections are axiomatically theological.

Still, if one takes one's belief in Torah MiSinai seriously, one finds oneself intellectually bound to believe in the axiomatic immorality of homosexual unions.

So does that mean that one is therefore obligated to directly support Prop 8?

I'll say no.

My ra'aya?

I just read an article in the Chovevei journal that illustrated the difference between protesting the objectionable and actually having to put a stop to it.

At first glance, one might think that the Mormons' effort provided the paradigm that all "right-thinking" people should follow, particularly Orthodox Jews. ("Da'as Torah" proponents are usually very uncomfortable when religious groups out-frum the frum in formulating public policy.)

However, I think it would be both morally and religiously sufficient to simply--abstain. This is a case where one could be yotzei "protesting" by simply not voting against Prop 8. (And be clear that, even if one's extrareligious conscience is bothered by ostensible religious "homophobia", the Torah's baseline position is not, to say the least, congruent with the current socio-political zeitgeist.)

Why would one not be obligated to go vote for Prop 8 given the opportunity?

There is an argument among liberal cognoscenti (and less-then-cognoscenti) that the full granting of sexual and marital civil rights is an inevitability. This is arguable in either direction; however, the fact that voters in thirty states voted to ban gay marriage does not necessarily postpone the inevitable. Aderabba: one can be certain that when Brown v Board was decided in 1954, even up to the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act in 1965, the majority of (at least) the South's (white) citizens were dead set against the granting of ANY legal equality. One must remember, too, that the objections--when they resembled anything rational--were usually either Biblical (Genesis 9:25-27) and/or sexually Darwinian (even now, black male-white female love scenes in mainstream Hollywood are extremely rare). Yet the legislation passed, and has become an inexorable part of our political culture and zeitgeist.

One can claim that the Mormon effort might actually speed up the process. (One should also appreciate the irony of a Mormon effort to pass legislation restricting marriage to one man and one woman. In contradistinction to the "Da'as Torah" influenced fear of other religious groups' out-"frumming" Jews, I thank Hashem Shelo Asani Fundamentalist. They actually make us look good.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Vayeitzei--Tznius, I of III: Rachel and Leah

The Gemara in Eruvin 100b lists the ten curses placed on women as a result of Chava’s role in the chet etz hada’as. One of the best treatments I’ve seen on the topic is "The Ten Curses of Eve (an unpublishable article on women in Judaism)" on Berel Lerner’s Jewish Bible Blog.

I’m going to concern myself with curse #8: what we call tznius, or according to the Gemara, “…that she stays in the home and does not show herself in public like a man.” There are strong indicators in each of the next three parshiyot that indicate three things about contemporary discussions of tznius, inside and outside the bes medrash:

One, that the popular, go-to translation, “modesty”, might be incomplete, particularly when the focus becomes visual and/or sartorial;

Two, that, in line with Eruvin 100b, it is truly is more of a curse than a desideratum; and,

Three, there is such a thing as “too much” tznius, Rabbi Pesach Falk’s assertion that “What Torah Does For Men, Tznius Does For Women” (chapter title in his “Oz Vehadar Levusha: A Blueprint for Modesty”) notwithstanding.

Before I delve into the relevant passages in the parsha, I will be upfront about what my aim in “attacking” tznius (which, I don’t think I’m really doing, but since I will definitely be giving that perception, I will have to deal with it) by putting it this way:

If Kol Kevuda de-Bas Melech Penima...

...nowadays the Benos Melech have been mochlos said kavod.

In any case, the story in question in Vayetzei which deals directly with my first issue--mistranslation—-is the Gemara in Baba Basra which deals with how becuase Rachel Imenu allowed Leah to marry Yaacov first, Hashem listened to Rachel and said, “Ki yesh sachar li’f’ulaseich v’shavu vanim l’gvulam”-- the Jewish people will indeed go back to Eretz Yisrael. The gemara even refers to this specifically as Rachel’s act of “tznius”. What kind of tsnius is this? Rabbi Usher Laifer, Yeshiva Gedolah of Greater Washington, provides what one might call a “classical” explanation:

“Rachel, when she gave the simanim to Leah, performed an act of tznius- an act of treating something special (Klal Yisroel) with the utmost respect. Regarding our physical bodies the manifestation of tznius is covering and clothing it; regarding the formation and foundation of Klal Yisrael, the manifestation of tznius is by making sure it starts “Al Taharas Hakodesh”- totally and absolutely pure- that not one ounce of hurt or bad can be found in its formation and creation. Thus the Gemarah describes Rachel’s deed as one of tznius.”

I have a different explanation, from someone who has requested anonymity, which I think might be more realistic, in light of how the Gemara and midrashim detail the events of that night.

First, the ostensibly earth shattering assertion from said anonymous source: Rachel was afraid that if she married Yaacov first, her father would rape Leah. (Which, to be blunt, seems to be a better way to explain “achshav techalem achosi” than mere embarrassment.)

I haven’t found a direct corroboration for this, but I have found a strong correlational source: the medrash that says that Besuel was killed by an angel the night before Rivkah was to leave with Eliezer for her marriage with Yitzchak because he intended to carry out his “droit de signeur”, or right to have a virgin before her intended did. Even--or especially--his own daughter. (Indeed, his very name, “Besu-El”, could be translated as “Lord of Virginity”.) In Lavan’s case, it seems that in the end his material greed got the better of his carnal inclinations, but in light of ma’aseh avos siman lebanim, Rachel couldn’t have been sure about that.

Additionally, might not Yaccov’s wedding to Leah could have been a mekach ta’us (Rav Aharon Kotler’s maaleh min hateva explanation notwithstanding)?   Might Rachel have "blackmailed" Yaacov to stay married to Leah (if Yaakov didn't feel compelled already to stay married to Leah for Lavan to allow him to marry Rachel?)

So what was the “tznius”? It seems that the details of this entire affair hardly resemble the "classic" (mis?)-conception of tznius. Indeed, as the gemara and Medrash Eicha details, during the wedding night, Rachel was under the bed doing all the talking while Yaacov was with Leah. (Hardly the most "tzniusdik" approach to tznius.)

Rather, a further definition of “tznius” should include:


Or, more specifically, when one must keep a secret—and when one must not.

When One Must Keep A Secret: Yaacov and Rachel’s “simanim”.

When One Must Not: Rachel giving the simanim to Leah, knowing the possible result of Rachel marrying first.

When One Must Keep A Secret: Rachel not letting on to Yaacov her suspicions….

When One Must Not: …until she could ascertain that Leah’s wedding was a fait accompli. (Here, the more standard explanation of “techalem achosi” would make more sense.)

When One Must Keep A Secret: Rachel and Leah never letting on to what really happened under the bed.

When One Must Not: Leah never letting on to how Rachel was in on it, because when Yaacov calls her “Deceiever, daughter of a deceiver!!!”, Leah doesn’t give up Rachel, but instead comes back with her pot-kettle-black retort: “And what about the brachos?”

We see, from all this, that the real “tznius” involved a delicate operation on Rachel’s part involving what to tell and not to tell, what needed to be “covered up” and what didn’t, and for her to suspend her very strong personal feeling in the process, which is probably why the midrashim elevate this “tznius” to the highest level, because discretion was definitely the better part of valor. Usually, getting discretion to be the better part of discretion is hard enough.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nitzavim/Vayelech: The Song Is Over

“And Moshe spoke [in] to [the ears of ] all the congregation of Israel words of this song until they finshed (Devarim 31:30).

And what was the last verse at the end of this song? Basically, Moshe telling Bnei Yisrael: you’re all gonna blow it after I die.

What prompts this unbridled pessimistic prophecy?

I would go back to the beginning of Nitzavim, where the Torah singles out a specific type of person condemned to having “his name erased from under [the] heavens”. This retribution is more in reaction to an attitude than a specific action or sin: as the Torah details, this person will tell him/herself: “All will be well [lit., peace] with me, for I will do as I see fit [lit., in the stubbornness of my heart I will walk]”. The Torah adds: “So that the watered be added to the thirsty [le’ma-an sephos ha-rava es ha-tze’me-ah]”, which Rashi explains to mean that his shegagos will be counted as zedonos.

While it seems as if Rashi explains the result, he may actually be providing an elucidation of the stated attitude. The best way I can explain this attitude may be through an old joke about a certain tzaddik who used to confuse the yetzer hara by giving in without a struggle.

I would venture that the reason this attitude is singled out for such opprobrium is that it describes someone who wants all the benefits of belonging to the community without having to put in any effort at all to be part of said community. This person hasn’t even had to advance to the kefira of a “mah ha-avoda ha-zos lachem”; in a sense, the attitude is simply parasitic. There are actually worse things than being a “self-hating Jew.”

I knew someone who once got up in front of an Orthodox college community and presumed to lecture them upon thier apparent unwillingness to respect all elements of a tzibbur, or as he put it, the “tzaddik”, “bet”, and “resh”—the tzadikkim, benonim, and reshaim, who were all integral parts of the community.

Normally, I wouldn’t confuse a message with a messenger, but I knew for a fact that his (religious—and other) views were, to be kind, questionable (because he had told me be-ferush; beyond his pontifications regarding G-d’s existence, or lack thereof, he had strongly asserted that the halachos of intermarriage were irredeemably racist).

Nevertheless, I did wish him a yasher koach (he did have a point), but in the interests of intellectual honesty, I asked him what place porshim had in the scheme of things. He laughed; he knew I had him.

Whether or not this person actually fits the category is eminently debatable (although, since I know him pretty well, if he was asked, he might actually gladly claim to fit the bill). However, the point I want to make is similar to what I discuss in Re’eh, where I detail the draconian legal process associated with mesis u-mediach and its insistence on securing a conviction, and its counterpoint in the ir hanidachas, where the legal system is set up to ensure it is never carried out. My point there was that the punishment associated with the former was so severe because, if the behavior was unchecked, it eventually led to the latter.

Here we have something similar. G-d singles out the individual with the parasitic attitude, because unfettered individualism only leads to the breakdown that Moshe sadly but confidently prophesies.

May this year see the fabric of the tzibbur—all parts—stay together strong, and may the words of The Song prove Moshe Rabbeinu wrong (he would want nothing more).

Gmar Chasima Tova to all.

Addendum to Ki Savo

Dov Hikind has informed me via e-mail that the Agudah no longer opposes fingerprinting.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ki Savo--Child Predators: Makah Be-seser

"Arrur makeh re'ehu ba-seser ve'amar kol ha'am amen."

According to Rashi, this refers to lashon hara.

I would propose an unfortunate but I think rather appropriate interpretation.

I can't imagine a stronger "maka be-seser" than molestation.

Except this: anyone who goes out of their way to not only protect predators, but who go so far as to sanctify the protection of these malefactors as a religious obligation. One might say they bear more responsibility than the actual predators themselves.

One could go on and on describing the various socio-cultural excuses masquerading as halacha that lead people to act this way.

I don't want to make a habit of calling out rabbis or rabbinical organizations; I'd be treading on more dangerous ground than I usually do. Besides, there are people who are truly being moser nefesh to put an end to this plague, and, having been victimized myself by religious predators (thank G-d in my case it could have been a lot worse than it ultimately was), I am not unaware that I have a axe to grind, however justified I may be.

I'll be blunt: Agudas Yisroel has no excuse to resist the fingerprinting of educational staff in any of its institutions. Certainly not now. The impression conveyed by their intransigence far outweighs any ostensible religious positive in circling the wagons.

I can draw one more parallel: the Mishna in Avot says--"ha-me'chalel shem shamayim be-seser nifrain mimenu be-gilui."

Can anyone imagine a more salient paradigm of chilul shamayim be-seser than the molestation of child by and individual entrusted with said child's spiritual and physical welfare in settings that are supposed to be pervaded with Torah and kedusha? Is there any action that maligns the Torah and Yahadus more than this?

It's not my place to speculate exactly how the priyah be-gilui comes into play. However, it isn't so much the existence of the problem more than the impression given of protecting the predators; that's where the real public chillul occurs.

Its time for our institutions to take the lead and fingerprint. No matter who objects.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

An Unrelated Note About The Election

If you give a pig a bris, talis, tefillin, a yarmulke, semicha, and then give it chassidishe shechita and check the lungs and declare it glatt...'s still a pig.

Ki Tetze—Marriage and Divorce

The old joke about why Gittin appears before Kiddushin in Shas (because G-d created the refuah before the makkah) is somewhat upended in this weeks parsha, where the sources for marriage and divorce appear in the same verse (24:1), with “kicha”, the term used for kiddushin, clearly preceding the appearance of “sefer kerisus”, the term denoting a get. The way the verse is written almost makes marital discord and divorce appear to be an inevitable consequence of marriage.

Further study of much of the halachos regarding marriage and marital conduct seems to mostly deal with what can, and will, go wrong, this even before it deals with issues of marital misconduct and divorce, a world all its own. (Maybe my Shabbas Nachamu criticism of religious figures’ involvement in matters of the heart may have been a bit harsh, at first glance; the halachic literature ostensibly doesn’t really give them that much to work with.)

I think the Torah boils the notion of marriage down to one very basic premise: no sexual relationship should ever be commenced until the parties are prepared to sign a contract regulating it. No matter how committed or in love two consenting adults really think they are, without this willingness, the relationship won’t be worth the paper its printed on. The Torah points out that there are going to be times this happens even when said paper does exist.

Furthermore, the marriage verse may seem to warn us that, if we are to think that the Torah is inevitably androcentrically misogynist, sometimes we might think again. We can examine a few of these bon mots, starting with 24:1.

The assumption in the verse seems, at first glance, to blame the ostensible dissolution of the marriage on the woman—“ki matza ba ervas davar”, he has found some unseemly thing in her. It doesn’t take much in the way of imagination to propose that the fault is with the male for being so fault-finding, maybe he is simply looking for a way out. (Why does the Torah give it to him? That’s another discussion.  Start with the machlokes Bes Shammai/Bes Hillel at the end of Gittin about grounds for divorce.  Rabbeinu Gershom must have thought along similar lines.)

The Gemara  (Bava Basra 132b and elsewhere) states unequivocally that a woman wants to marry more than a man. In light of everything we’ve seen up to this point, this might simply be a topical restatement of the notion that women are simply more inclined toward monogamy than men are. That would make evolutionary biology as androcentric as the Torah, which complicates matters considerably.

The last item I would like to examine is the Talmudic statement “Tav le’meitav tan du mi’lemeitav armelu”, which at its most basic is translated “Better to settle as two than to settle [alone][lit 'a widow']”. This has been seized upon to mean that the Talmud is suggesting a woman is better off settling, even with a “bad” match, than with no match at all. This unnecessary translation is something that both what I would call Ultra-Right Fundamentalists and Doctrinaire Marxist Feminists would have us believe.

A closer examination of the hermenuetuical makeup of one of the sugyas in which it appears (Kiddushin 41a; this statement appears in Shas four other times) should put the lie to both sides of this debate. The Gemara has just finished explaining why a man must see his prospective bride before betrothal, lest he not like what he sees and then find himself in violation of “You should love your neighbor as yourself” (!). The Gemara uses this statement to answer why the converse would not apply to women; one might even say it means that, all other things being equal, looks aren’t an ultimate dealbreaker from her end the way they might be from his. All in all, the Talmud just finds its own way of stating that the male is more spatial. Hardly politically correct, but just as hardly misogynist.

(If you think the two are synonymous, you are just as much a fundamentalist as leftist, if not worse of one, than your religious/right counterparts. But that’s another discussion still.)

The debate regarding halacha’s ostensible misogyny will never end as long as there is ink to spill (better that than blood, though at times it seems we might be coming a little too close). My contribution in this discussion is the following suggestion: the Torah has its own agenda. One must be careful in explaining it in terms of other socio-political labels and phenomena, no matter how much of a surface resemblance there seems to be.

We do ourselves—and Torah—no favors by attaching labels to its precepts. They stand on their own.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Shoftim—The Political Is Personal

This week’s parsha closes with the passage of egla arufa, the procedure to be undertaken when the body of an apparent victim of murder is found in between two jurisdictions.

The egla arufa ceremony serves as an indication of an instance when a breakdown in the social fabric occurs, and the various authorities summoned to perform the various functions are enjoined to examine whether they have been remiss in keeping order, even inadvertently, to the point that an ostensible innocent has perished.

As R’ Avraham ibn Ezra and Chizkuni delineate, this passage follows the passage regarding the ethics of besieging an enemy, because, as they put, it links a national state of war with a personal state of war that resulted in murder.

Chizkuni also asserts that the process of measuring meticulously to determine the locale last responsible for the deceased allowed for investigation as to the identity of the deceased, because word would inevitably get out, indicating that a cover-up was never to be an option.

Rashi, quoting the Talmud in Sotah, states that the Sanhedrin HaGadol administrates the beginning steps of the procedure, indicating that the case is given national import.

Rashi also explains what the declaration “yadenu lo shafchu et dam hazeh” means: there was no reason to assume that this man was not provided with provisions and an escort when he left town. Interestingly, it seems the authorities were realistic enough to discern the need for escorts and protections, even among and between members of clal yisrael.

The medrash states that when Yosef sent “agalos”, or wagons, to Yaakov back with his brothers after revealing himself to them, this was a code, of sorts: Yosef was reminding Yaakov that the two of them were learning the halachos of egla arufa when they had last seen each other. We might see that Yosef wasn’t simply assuring his father that he hadn’t forgotten to open a sefer in the prior 22 years. Instead, Yosef may have been telling his father: I may have an incredibly powerful position, but I know what it really means in terms of responsibility, especially regarding preservation of life and provisions.

With the conventions over, running mates selected and the campaigns now in full swing, its easy to forget, what with all the promises and issues bandied about, the real meaning of leadership and responsibility. This applies both to candidates and voters. Keeping in mind the lesson of egla arufa might serve as a reminder that, while the personal may be political, the political is always personal.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Re'eh--Dry Cleaning

During the Nuremberg trials, it was said of the Nazi war criminals that the farther away from the actual killing they were, the more actual responsibility they bore. Responsibilty stemming from influence is a major theme in the parsha, where chapter 13 lays out in succession three different paths to idolatry and their consequences: false prophecy (navi sheker), the private seducer (mesis/mediach), and the idolatrous city (ir hanidachas).

Each category has unique halachic characteristics. Chizkuni, quoting Sifri and Bechor Shor, asserts that a navi sheker never starts out that way; rather, he will be a once bonafide prophet with proper spiritual credentials who, upon becoming corrupted for whatever reason, will use the same “signs” (os/mofes) for idolatrous purposes that he once utilized for G-dly service.

In the case of mesis/mediach, Rambam in Hilchos Avodas Cochavim 5:3 details how this is the one case in all of Torah/Halacha where legal entrapment is not only permitted, it is encouraged. This follows all of Rashi’s quotes from the Sifri that, whereas in all other capital cases all efforts are to be made to spare the defendant from execution, in this case the opposite pursuit is to be the ultimate end.

The ir hanidachas, of course, is unique in halachic literature (along with the ben sorer u’moreh) that its relevant halachos actually prevented the possibility of it ever being carried out.

What’s the link between all these?

Knowing who and what your influences are and where they are coming from is the strongest common denominator. Specifically, the Torah is warning us that sometimes the worst kind of behaviors happen right in front of our noses and can be perpetrated by the people we love the most and are supposed to admire most, as opposed to the city streets, or “ir”, where we might be less surprised to find widespread moral turpitude. The Torah tells us not only that it can happen here, but that it will.

Regarding the consequences, while it seems that the mandated earth-scorching of ir hanidachas seems to be the most draconian of the three cases, the legal barriers to the punishment ever being carried out actually mitigates that: there comes a point when you simply can’t mete out widespread punishment, even if you should. No such barriers exist in the other two cases. The Torah is directing us to stop the influences in its tracks with extreme prejudice when we see them, before it becomes too late and results in widespread destruction, executed judicially or otherwise.

A tangentially related note: I’m going to go out on a limb here, but one might possibly draw an analog to stories of home and clergical abuse one hears about nowadays; irrespective of their (purported) infrequency, or possibly even because of it, there exists an admonition of sorts to administer the consequences harshly—and publicly. The mishna in Avos that says “Hamechalel shem shamayim ba-seser, nifra’in mimenu be-gilui”—clandestine chilul hashem usually results in a very public payback—may be more than just hinting at this.

Religious communities of all sorts have a built-in aversion to “public washing of dirty laundry”. The Torah indicates that such notions are not necessarily Jewish values.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Eikev: Where Does It Say?…

We learn from this week’s parsha that one is not allowed to eat on Yom Kippur.

This while Yom Kippur is nowhere in the Parsha.

The halacha is derived from a gezera shava between “Va-ya’ancha va-ya’arivecha” in this week’s parsha and “ve-inisem” in Acharei Mos and Emor.

Many examples abound of fundamental Judaic practices with extremely oblique, if not outright ostensibly flimsy, Torah textual support—not least, shechita (“ve-zavachta ve-achalta”), tzenius (“ervas davar”), hair covering (“upara rosh ha-isha”), minyan (a triple gezera shava) and tefillin (no such word in the chumash). This one may be the most surprising (“What? The Torah doesn’t say be-ferush that you can’t eat on Yom Kippur?”).

I don’t at all mean to imply this phenomenon of “mountains hanging from a hair” (as the Gemara describes the actual textual supports for most of hilchos shabbos) renders the salience of these practices questionable, or diminishes in any way from their Divine and compulsory nature.

What I mean to point out is that there needs to be some reframing done in how the relationship between Torah text and halacha is presented in educational circles. The best formulation I’ve seen belongs to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: “Halacha changes because Torah does not change.” But I would go a step further.

The Torah is, fundamentally, code. One can discern this from the fact that the actual base text of what we call the Torah she-bichtav has no vowels or punctuation. One might even say that bichtav ends and ba’al-peh begins simply with the addition of vowelization and punctuation.

There are many practical and educational conclusions that can be derived from this notion, which I will discuss in detail in later posts, but for now I will bring it down to one basic point: when we say that Torah is our Morasha (cf Devarim 33) and not anyone else’s, it means that we make a sharp fundamental distinction between what we call Torah and others call the “Bible”. Only we as Jews know what the “Bible” really says. The “Bible” was the first book subject to deconstructive tendencies, first as the Gemara in Megilla details with the advent of the Septuagint, and then later with the various politically denomination-driven Christian translations and finally the Criticisms. I once heard a NCSY Rabbi say that the Torah is possibly the worst written work of literature in existence. And it would be, if it was written by man. Or if it was a work of literature. But it’s neither.

Jews and Torah Judaism should be extremely wary of making any alliances, philosophical, political, or otherwise, based upon notions of “shared Biblical heritage[s]”.

They don’t really exist.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Nachamu: Single?

One can say the Jewish analog to “Spring is here and a man’s thoughts turn to…..” would be this period between Tu B’av and Yom Kippur, bookended by the Dancing of the Girls in White. (Nowadays, one can say this season extends to Simchas Torah, especially on the upper west side.)

I’ve been known to put a Churcillian spin on the upper west side: it’s the worst place for a religious single person to live, except for all the other places. I’ve lived up there for 12 years now, and I can emphatically say that the neighborhood is NOT to blame for my unmarried “predicament”.

And that’s the point I’m trying to make. This “predicament”—singlehood and the consequent delaying of marriage, irrespective of the fact that it slows down the kilui neshamos min ha-guf—does NOT a crisis make.

I think what the well-meaning crisismongers have to realize is that while today’s singles may be “pickier”, or more materialistic, or less “spiritual” than our ancestors (dubious assertions at best, but lets assume their partial truth just for the sake of argument), they forget that what probably scares us most is the actual unrealized depth of our commitment to the Orthodox Jewish lifestyle, a lifestyle that incurs extraordinary expense and diligence. We may not be picky as much as we are smart: if we’re going to make it work the way it has to, we had better make sure we pick the correct partner.

A further irony can be found just in the title of a book written by the founder of Speed Dating: it’s called The Death Of Cupid. This irony is especially delicious, because aside from using a Greco-Roman avoda zara as the avatar of romantic love, it is frum culture that is much more responsible for the death of notions of romantic love among its adherents than any secular cultural force. For millennia, the system of shidduchim and/or marrying one’s cousin or niece was supposed to be a bulwark against romantic frivolities seeping into the bayis ne’eman. And now suddenly it’s a good thing?

There is a reason that religious authorities lack credibility in matters of the heart. So I would say this to them:

We want to marry.

We'll do it when we think we're ready.

In the meantime, leave us alone.

Va-Etchanan: Intermarriage and Gilgulim

This week’s parsha is where the sources regarding intermarriage and matrilinieal descent appear.

I once mentioned to somebody—a reasonable Chabadnik—that even though no one can (metaphysically, at least) opt out of the Jewish people, its almost as if halacha provides an escape route, notwithstanding the level of sin ascribed to it: that a man could choose to have children who would not be Jews.

He related to me a kabbalistic concept that the non-Jewish children of mixed marriages—or other liaisons—often come back to be our worst enemies. That’s one of the reasons I always believed that somehow Hitler yemach shmo somehow KNEW that his father had been the product of a liaison between his grandmother and the teenage son of the family she worked for. (Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler gives a stark account of the author’s researching this very question.)

I also was told by a convert whose father was Jewish of another kabbalistic concept: that non-Jewish children of mixed marriages are gilgulim of Jews who intermarried and now must exercise the choice to get back in.

The first is just why the concept of gilgulim makes sense in the first place. The world population is currently six billion; it didn’t reach one billion for the first time until early in the 20th century. Also, consider that the world lived much the same way for almost 10000 years until the advent of the industrial revolution. One should be able to correlate that, as well as the later technological revolution and consequent exponential population explosion over the last half of the 20th century and beyond. I’m just too lazy to do the math.

In any case, my point is this: anyone who lived and died before, say, 1750, might have been a reincarnated to live in the current world in some form or another.

Which brings me to my next point. Why would they be reincarnated now?

The social scientists Alan Wolfe has said, loosely, that the 19th century was about economic freedom, the 20th was about political freedom, and the 21st will be about moral freedom. The current climate of moral freedom provides an opportunity to exercise bechira chafshis on a level that just was not truly possible in any other era. That’s why it would make sense that anyone who lived at a time where moral choices were severely circumscribed by one’s social circumstances might be reincarnated—and possibly “retested”—in a time when the moral climate is different.

That may be the ultimate message of intermarriage. The choices may not be condoned; they may even be condemned. But they’re there. Hare’shus nitnah.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Devarim-Chazon: Victimology and Militancy

The story of the meraglim and the ma’aseh dibbah ra’ah, which the Gemara in Taanis relates occurred on (the first) Tisha B’Av, is repeated in this weeks parsha.

Afraid of the possible loss of their lofty status following the move across the Jordan, the meraglim embarked on a program of dual victimology: we aren’t militarily strong enough, and even if we were, we aren’t spiritually strong enough.

It worked too well. Everyone in klal yisrael—males between the ages of 20 and 60—were taken in.

The Divine response indicates what the Torah thinks of victimology: you call yourselves victims, you will be victims in perpetuity. Bechiya shel dorot.

The counter-response—the ma’apilim--seems to be equally ineffective, both as a militant and spiritual exercise. Similarly, Chazal in Gittin seem to fault the biryonim (“zealots”) for the Churban as much as anyone.

So, as much as across-the-board quietism is decried, nationalist revolutionary militance may probably seen as worse. Often they are two sides of the same coin; these are early examples, but there are many others, Jewish and non-, throughout history, where self-preceived victims become as tyrannical as their former persecutors, often toward the very people they were trying to “liberate”.

This is one lesson of Tisha B’Av that seems to be heeded even less than that of sinas chinam. In fact, it may be more a cause than effect of sinas chinam, and consequently more dangerous.

As a side note: Chazal and the midrashim state that no women were caught up in the sin of the meraglim. That they would not have been militant would be no surprise; that they weren’t susceptible to the national self-pity instigated by the meraglim might tell us something.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Maasei—Jewish Geography

The passages regarding the imperative to settle the Eretz Yisrael and the consequences of allowing an alien population to settle there with Jews (Bamidbar 33:50-56) is a favorite of Kahanists and other “not-one-inch”-ers. They’ve attempted to apply the status of shiva amemim/Amalek to the Arab/Muslim inhabitants currently between the Jordan and the Meditteranean.

I one heard a shiur from Rav Moshe Sosevky, one of the founders of Yeshivas Ohr Yerushalayim, that there is a qualitative difference between what he called “galus Yishmael” and other galuyos: the other galuyos were contingent directly upon bnei Yisrael’s behaviors. The contingencies regarding galus Yishmael, who has zechuyos of his own deriving from his being a ben Avraham Avinu, aren’t as clear cut.

In other words, there may be more hashkafically salient positions than the most ostensibly right-wing one.

Lest anyone think I am advocating for a Palestinian or “bi-national” state, I will spell out a few of my political positions in this area, as briefly as possible.

The Palestinians: have no legitimate status as an ethnicity, geographic entity, or political entity. The idea of a “contiguous” Palestinian state in both “territories” exists only to undermine the stability of the State of Israel.

The Disengagement form Gaza: was a good idea that has been bungled. One might say that having 10,000 civilians to defend there might have endangered the rest of Am Yisrael, not unlike Moshe’s original concern with Reuven, Gad and Menashe.

The “Peace Process”: the only people who really want a Palestinian state in any form are the far-left “post-Zionist” Jews who have always wanted a secular state. Yoram Hazony and Hillel Halkin, among others, have written extensively about the (secular) belief (which mirrors the Satmar/Neturei Karta position) that the Jews cannot really fulfill their true mission unless they remain stateless. As long as the Beilinese don’t really run the country (or, at least, get control of the Mossad), we’ll never leave Judea and Samaria, and there will never be a Palestinian state.

What does this have to do with the Parsha?

Take a look at what’s in it: setting the federal borders, the arei levi’im, the arei miklat, even the institution of intra-tribal marriage as a result of the agitiation of benos Tzelaphchad. Heavy politics; this before any battle of kibush ha’aretz is fought.

The Torah knew nothing in Eretz Yisrael would ever be cut and dry.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Natan Sharansky is now Defending Identity as a fundamental building block of democracy.

In this summer’s Jewish Observer, Yonason Rosenblum takes Sharansky’s thesis one step further, asserting in “Can the Chareidim Save Israel?” that the chareidim are the only Jews in Israel with an unmistakable and unquestionable Jewish identity. Rosenblum’s ultimate implication has to be that chareidism is prescriptively, and non just descriptively, the sine qua non of Jewish identity, or in the parlance of multiple choice tests, “the best answer”.

My retort would be two things one of my most revered Rabbanim told me (I don’t need to cause him any trouble by publicly naming him; it doesn’t make his points any less trenchant).

The first was his assessment of what would happen if Israel would become a bona fide theocracy: “We’d have to close the country; no one would stay.” Interestingly, it was the chareidim who threatened to leave the country in the early days of the State when universal conscription of females was bandied about by the government at the time; there were teshuvos to that effect.

The second is what he told me during the Kollek-Olmert mayoral election, when Kollek was finally ousted. “Of course I’m voting for Kollek. I need streimlach in City Hall? Let ‘em stay in the beis medrash.” (Seeing what Olmert has wrought in the PM’s office, he may have been onto something for different reasons.)

The discussion of religious-less religious tensions (that’s my nice way of putting it) will never end, especially where Jews are concerned. I would instead quote Rabbi Matis Weinberg on the parsha. After parsing the differences between tribe as “Shevet”, or “exclusive club” (paraphrase mine), and tribe as “Mateh”, or “supporting staff” (also my paraphrase), he says this:

“The quest for identity makes ideals dangerous, a club to be wielded by every bully finding himself through depriving others, cleaning up his own ethnicity by ethnically cleansing.”

With the three weeks upon us, its important that any of our “tribes”--or “staff[s]-- or “clubs”-- refrain from doing anything that gives off this impression. Especially if they are even only perceived as acting as such from Divine mandate.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Pinchas and Extremism

Pinchas may have been a zealot, but he was no radical extremist.

Conventional wisdom dictates that a) the two are equivalent, and b) that Pinchas serves as the paradigm for both. Contemporary “extremists” (in at least a colloquial sense) on both sides of the religio-political (or politico-religious) spectrum believe this: “right-wingers” because he did what needed to be done in spite of the draconian nature of his action, “left-wingers” because his action, necessary or not, was draconian and therefore ipso-facto radically reactionary. (Some rather enterprising "enlightened" thinkers have termed this action the first example of religious terrorism.)

A further examination of the sequence of events leading up to Pinchas’ confrontation with Zimri will reveal that his action, while certainly zealous and ostensibly draconian, were not the actions of an unbridled extremist. In fact, his action was both religiously and politically calculated, was undertaken only after consultation, and could be successfully executed (literally and figuratively) only through the implementation of an elaborate subterfuge.

The Jews were once again knocking at the door of the promised land...but then the plague of snakes hit, Moshe and Aharon were disqualified from leading the Jews into Eretz Yisrael, and now the populace was engaging in widespread simultaneous promiscuity and idol worship, resulting in another raging plague.

In the midst of all the carnage came one of the pillars of the community—Zimri—to announce his plan to put an end to the plague. Basically he was telling the populace: you idiots. Why do you think you have to engage in the worship of ba’al peor just to liaise with non Jewish women? I’ll show you otherwise.

That’s one political response.

Pinchas, like everyone else, overhears Zimri’s boast and, remembering the halacha of kanain pog’in bo, consults with Moshe, who advises him to carry it out. What happens next—as detailed in the gemara in Sanhedrin—is worthy of any Mossad operation. Pinchas tricks the throng around the ohel moed—where Zimri has decided to make good his boast—into thinking that he is wants to pick up where and when Zimri leaves off. (Possibly the first Biblical example of law enforcement using deception to crack a case.) Hiding his weapon under his robe, he gains entrance and then spears the in flagrante Zimri and Cozbi, who are otherwise engaged and therefore completely unaware of his presence.

The first thing to note is that Pinchas was not only working within the exisiting legal system—he knew that there was a halacha of kanain pog’in bo—he even consulted with his superior first, and then, because he knew the risks involved (if Zimri actually stopped, Pinchas would be guilty of murder; if Zimri turned and killed Pinchas, it would be justifiable homicide), made sure he had all his bases covered. Aside from Zimri, he probably suspected that the cheering crowd outside the tent--obviously Zimri had influenced numerous people that his approach of gilui arayos without avoda zara was the more prudent course—were also aware of the halacha of kanain and were informally acting as Zimri’s security, although there is little or no textual indication as such.

However, is isn’t just Pinchas’ ability to calculate and consult that belies any notion of inborn extremism. One only has to see that the opportunity to actually put an end to the plague was actually unwittingly provided by Zimri, because until he declared his intention, showed up with Cozbi and took her in, everyone was at a loss as to how to stop the plague, because the mass convictions and executions going on were obviously not pacifying the Divine anger. It is possible that Zimri was trying to score political points with his constituency (whomever they may have been) by using his approach to contrast with Moshe’s, who was at a loss to stop the dying. (It is also possible that he had other things on his mind at the time; the gemara is actually rather explicit about what he and Cozbi were doing and for how long.) He almost certainly, however, calculated that no one would “call him on it”; that is, people would liaise without consequence before anyone would carry out kana’in. If not for Pinchas, he might have been correct.

Pinchas’ working within the system, giving Zimri whatever due process he would have deserved (admittedly not much, for Zimri had publicly announced his intent to violate the law and then made good on his boast) and undertaking a risky (though not necessarily suicidal) operation designed to save lives should serve as enough of an indicator that, to paraphrase Rabbi Norman Lamm, while he may have taken an extreme position, he was not taking an extremist position. If that is not enough, however, one must realize that he took this action purely as a reaction; he was precluded from taking any real proactive measures beyond what had already been done in this crisis. Until Zimri, acting as a political opportunist, provided Pinchas with an opportunity of his own.

So—if anyone—on either side of the religio-socio-political divide—thinks that the story of Pinchas provides either a justification for religious extremism, or portrays all religion as ipso facto irredeemably radically reactionary—think again.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Welcome to the Yeshiva

Ye’ush Mi’Da’as is a Talmudic concept delineating when it is possible to ascertain that one who has lost an object has certainly despaired of ever finding it.

The essays in this blog will have nothing to do with that sugya, at least not le’chatchila.

So why ye’ush mi-da’as?

I can offer three definitions.

Giving up on Knowledge (“da’as” as noun). I have despaired of ever attaining that level of da’as depicted and revered in Talmudic literature. Now I don’t think that one can be boreach mipnei da’as and have da’as run after him, the way kavod apparently runs after one who is boreach mimenu. (I wouldn’t know about running from kavod; I haven’t tried it.) Then again, I have a habit of confusing various Rabbinic maxims (maxi?); who was it that said “kol hamarbeh sicha im ha-isha harei zeh me-shubach?” (Full disclosure: I am single, male, and a resident of the Upper West Side.)

Giving up willingly (“mi-da’as” as adverb. Or, if my grammatical assessment is incorrect, I’ll rely on a reply post to remind me. There’s your first definition of ye’ush mi’da’as in action.) In other words, though I look at where I am madrega-wise and don’t necessarily like what I see, I am loath to do anything about it. Maybe, once upon a time, I heard someone say “sonei tochachos yichyeh.” Maybe that someone was me.

So what’s the curriculum in this Yeshiva?

I will attempt to post on a weekly basis (bli neder. Really bli neder. So bli neder that if was any more sure that it was bli neder, it would be a…nedava!) I will use an inyan from the parsha as a starting point, and then throw everything I can into it, like a chulent. (For those of you who have not yet been privileged to be fed my chulent, I am famous in certain circles (read: Upper West Side) for putting Pringles and Diet Coke in my chulent. That should tell you something). As far as I am concerned, anything is fair game.

Which brings me to what is probably Yeshivas Ye’ush Mi-Da’as’ raison d’etre: the exhibition of a fierce intellectual irreverence, yet one that avoids a slide into sacrilege. Some may say that such an undertaking is impossible; others may say that even if it were possible, the propriety of such an endeavor would be questionable at best.

While I won’t attempt to justify what I do—I’ll let the essays, and (hopefully) the reply posts, provide all the necessary justification (or lack thereof), I will provide three vorts by way of explanation.

A) My rav muvhak, Rav Aharon Bina, related sometime during my shana bet (yep—I went shana bet) that the Chazon Ish used to say that if there are three guys in a shiur, and at least one guy isn’t batt’ling, then it’s not a real shiur.

Think of me as your representative batlan. So what’s your excuse?

B) Rabbi Norman Lamm tells about preparing for a shiur with Rav Soloveichik where he was able to explain a sugya the way the Rav had taught it, to which the Rav retorted: “That’s what I said. What do you say? The problem is you brought your yetzer tov to the bais medrash. You were supposed to also bring your yetzer hara.”

I, on the other hand, just left my yetzer tov somewhere in front of OZ. (I’m an upper west sider; I couldn’t commit.)

C) The Gemara compares Torah to a drug in many places. It also says, “hamayeminin ba, sama dechaya [to those who go Right with it, it is life giving]; hamasm’ilin ba, sama demosa [to those who go Left with it, it is deadly]”.

Now, avoiding any specific religio-political implications because a) I would have to go on forever and b) eventually, I probably will go on forever, lets just assume for argument’s sake that, in line with my stated intention to be irreverent, I will be “going Left”. (And yes, masm’il rhymes with maskil. Cute.)

The gemara also says that “ein divrei torah niknin ela le’mi shememisin atzmo aleha [the words of Torah can only be acquired by one who kills himself over them].”

So, what quicker acquisition than as a sama demosa?

Oh, I forgot the third definition of ye’ush mi-da’as?

I lost my mind and I can’t find it.
But you probably figured that out already.

By the way, I forgot to save this before I posted it, something went wrong with Explorer, it got completely erased, and I had to write it again. My hava amina was that it was a siman min hashamayim to be misya’esh on the project

So was I misya’esh?

No. And it came out better the second time.