Category Archives: Israel

The Availability Heuristic and the Prohibition of Being Afraid During War

I recently gave a shiur on the topic of “Leaving Israel in Times of War” (here), and I just wanted to point to one argument about which I would appreciate feedback.

In addition to the general issues involved with leaving Israel, several modern poskim (such as Rabbi Yaakov Ariel in his article in Techumin 12) believe that there is a specific problem with leaving Israel during times of trouble.  They base their claim on the Rambam, who codifies a biblical prohibition to be afraid during war.  R. Ariel extends this, arguing that whenever there is a troubled period, leaving Israel would really abandoning Israel.  He goes further, analyzing the extent to which such a prohibition exists even when one relocates within Israel, and also offering arguments why the prohibition may apply to the civilian population, despite the fact that the original context of the prohibition refers to soldiers.  If he is correct, it would be problematic for civilians, students in Yeshivot, etc. to leave the country when it is under attack, and if we take the Rambam literally, it would even be forbidden to be afraid.   Continue reading The Availability Heuristic and the Prohibition of Being Afraid During War

A Channukah Message – Culture and Rhetoric

The Mishna in Succah 51a-b describes the happiness of the Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah. In response, the Gemara raises the general glory of the Beis HaMikdash and then begins to praise the Beis HaKnesses in Alexandria:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סוכה דף נא עמוד ב 

גמרא. תנו רבנן: מי שלא ראה שמחת בית השואבה לא ראה שמחה מימיו. מי שלא ראה ירושלים בתפארתה לא ראה כרך נחמד מעולם. מי שלא ראה בית המקדש בבנינו לא ראה בנין מפואר מעולם, מאי היא? – אמר אביי ואיתימא רב חסדא: זה בנין הורדוס. – במאי בניה? – אמר (רבא) +מסורת הש”ס: [רבה]+: באבני שישא ומרמרא. איכא דאמרי: באבני שישא כוחלא ומרמרא. אפיק שפה ועייל שפה, כי היכי דלקבל סידא. סבר למשעיין בדהבא, אמרו ליה רבנן: שבקיה, דהכי שפיר טפי, דמיתחזי כאדותא דימא. תניא, רבי יהודה אומר: מי שלא ראה דיופלוסטון של אלכסנדריא של מצרים לא ראה בכבודן של ישראל. אמרו: כמין בסילקי גדולה היתה, סטיו לפנים מסטיו, פעמים שהיו בה (ששים רבוא על ששים רבוא) כפלים כיוצאי מצרים +מסורת הש”ס: [פעמים שהיו שם ששים רבוא כיוצאי מצרים ואמרי לה כפלים כיוצאי מצרים]+, והיו בה שבעים ואחת קתדראות של זהב כנגד שבעים ואחד של סנהדרי גדולה, כל אחת ואחת אינה פחותה מעשרים ואחד רבוא ככרי זהב. ובימה של עץ באמצעיתה, וחזן הכנסת עומד עליה והסודרין בידו. וכיון שהגיע לענות אמן – הלה מניף בסודר, וכל העם עונין אמן. ולא היו יושבין מעורבין, אלא זהבין בפני עצמן, וכספין בפני עצמן, ונפחין בפני עצמן, וטרסיים בפני עצמן, וגרדיים בפני עצמן. וכשעני נכנס שם היה מכיר בעלי אומנתו ונפנה לשם, ומשם פרנסתו ופרנסת אנשי ביתו.

The Gemara starts by stating, similarly to the Mishna that one who did not see the happiness of the Mikdash during the Succot celebrations has never seen happiness. It then continues to state similarly that if one has never seen the glory of Yerushalayim has never seen glory and one who has never seen the beauty of the Mikdash has never seen beauty. Afterwards, the Gemara states in the name of Rabbi Yehuda that if one has never seen  the twin towers of the synagogue of Alexandria one has never seen the glory of the Jews. It then describes the glory of the shul at some length.

אמר אביי: וכולהו קטלינהו אלכסנדרוס מוקדן. מאי טעמא איענשו? – משום דעברי אהאי קרא לא תוסיפון לשוב בדרך הזה עוד, ואינהו הדור אתו. כי אתא, אשכחינהו דהוו קרו בסיפרא ישא ה’ עליך גוי מרחוק. אמר: מכדי, ההוא גברא בעי למיתי ספינתא בעשרה יומי, דליה זיקא ואתי ספינתא בחמשא יומי, נפל עלייהו וקטלינהו.

In the end Abaye asserts that this was all destroyed by Alexander the Great. Hashem used him as a vehicle of divine justice for the sin of returning to the land of Egypt, and it happened while they were (seemingly righteously) reading from the Torah a pasuk which predicted exactly that event. This depiction is difficult to understand. How is it that Alexander the Great destroyed the synagogue in Alexandria, a city which was completed after he died (and was named after him)? The tiny town which existed there before hand could not have possibly had such a large Jewish community. What does Abaye intend by this comment?

If we look at the Gemara it describes a glorious shul, however, the shul is described as a Greek building. It is a Basillica (a Roman public building used for court sessions). It contains within it catedras (meaning thrones) and it was named with a Greek word. These were people who were very assimilated in the local culture. Furthermore,  they had undertaken this process of assimilation in a place where they were not allowed to live. They weren’t just passing through, they were truly living there, it was their home. That is what destroyed them. If they had not depended so totally on the surrounding culture, and thus taken themselves permanently back to Egypt maybe it wouldn’t happen to them. Alexander the Great did this to them because he brought them the culture which they then attached themselves to. The point is not that he is directly responsible. The point is that he brought them the idea set they thought they could unite with Torah which told them the opposite and this was the result (that is the meaning of the fact that they were destroyed while reading psukim which foretold their fate).

Me’Inyana de’Yomah in the Daf Today

Today in the daf (in the Mishna) there is a disagreement between two Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yossi HaGlili. The Mishna relates their different opinions about the cities given over to the Leviim:

משנה מסכת סוטה פרק ה משנה ג
בו ביום דרש רבי עקיבא (במדבר ל”ה) ומדותם מחוץ לעיר את פאת קדמה אלפים באמה וגו’ ומקרא אחר אומר (שם) מקיר העיר וחוצה אלף אמה סביב אי אפשר לומר אלף אמה שכבר נאמר אלפים אמה ואי אפשר לומר אלפים אמה שכבר נאמר אלף אמה הא כיצד אלף אמה מגרש ואלפים אמה תחום שבת רבי אליעזר בנו של רבי יוסי הגלילי אומר אלף אמה מגרש ואלפים אמה שדות וכרמים:

If we look in Rashi on this Mishna:

רש”י מסכת סוטה דף כז עמוד ב 

מגרש – רחבה פנויה מזריעה ומבתים ומאילנות לנוי העיר להיות לה לאויר ואלפים לא הוזכרו לתתן ללוים ולא נאמרו אלא ליציאת תחום שבת.

Rashi is saying that according to Rabbi Akiva the Leviim would not have been required to perform any agriculture themselves. Instead, they would rely on what others would give them (presumably maasros). Presumably he understood this from the famous passuk in Parashas Korach:

במדבר פרק יח 

(כא) וְלִבְנֵ֣י לֵוִ֔י הִנֵּ֥ה נָתַ֛תִּי כָּל־מַֽעֲשֵׂ֥ר בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לְנַחֲלָ֑ה חֵ֤לֶף עֲבֹֽדָתָם֩ אֲשֶׁר־הֵ֣ם עֹֽבְדִ֔ים אֶת־ עֲבֹדַ֖ת אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד:

It would seem that the point for him is that the Jews will supply Leviim with their food and therefore there will be no need for agriculture. After all, if most of the Jews are farmers and they each give one tenth to the Leviim (and there are presumably less Leviim than any other tribe), then they should have more than enough food. There was no planning for a time when this might not happen (alhough I think it’s interesting to wonder how this would have worked in the Northern Kingdom).

On the flip side, Rabbi Eliezer here is saying the opposite – of course there was a plan for a rainy day. Even if the Jews were meant to support the Leviim, the Leviim were not left helpless.

I think the relevance of this issue to the modern concern with Haredim is obvious. Should we support the bnei Torah among us and let them just sit and learn and serve Hashem for all of us and thus raise the spiritual lives of us all to greater spiritual heights, or should we assume that it is important (either morally, see the Rambam, or practically) that everyone take responsibility both for their spiritual life and their physical survival. We learnt (again in daf yomi) not long ago about a Yisachar Zevulun relationship. At what level is it a desirable institution? I don’t know how to apply all this (especially as it seems to be a disagreement), and I acknowledge the difference between Talmud Torah and Avodah in the Mikdash (though it can go either way), but I think it should be a part of the discussion.

The Land Flowing with Wine and Honey?

“The land flowing with milk and honey” is a favorite poetic description of Eretz Yisrael in the Torah.  It is less known that Chazal in several places understand this phrase as not referring to all of the land, but rather to specific parts of it.  Israel is called the land flowing with milk and honey because it is the land that contains areas with this property.  Hence the following discussion of the Amoarim who had seen the areas with this property, culminating with the claim that only an area of 22 by 16 parsa can be referred to by this property.  Continue reading The Land Flowing with Wine and Honey?

Quality of Life and Yishuv Eretz Yisrael

In a previous post (here), I began to deal with some parameters of the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael, focusing on the element of protecting the land.  There are several indications that the notion of yishuv Eretz Yisrael means that there is a value to increasing the quality of life in Eretz Yisrael and not ensuring that Jews live in it

The first source is from the Gemara in Tamid 29b.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת תמיד דף כט עמוד ב

החלו מעלין בגזירין לסדר את המערכה [וכו’] חוץ משל זית ומשל גפן [וכו’]. הני מ”ט? רב פפא אמר: משום דקטרי, רב אחא בר יעקב אמר: משום ישוב דארץ ישראל.

The Gemara rules that grape and olive trees should not be used for the mizbeach.  The Rosh writes that, as the mizbeach needs a lot of wood, if we used these trees there would be not olive or grape trees left (and therefore no wine or oil).  The Mefaresh adds that then the land would be charev.  This may mean that people will move away, though he could simply mean, as is the simple understanding of the Rosh, that destroying the quality of life in Israel is problematic.  Continue reading Quality of Life and Yishuv Eretz Yisrael

On Mezuzot, the Iron Dome, and Yishuv Eretz Yisrael

In a shiur by Rabbi Binyanim Tabory exploring the teshvuot of Rabbi Menachem Kasher (here), I came across a teshuva that resonates very strongly with me at the moment.

In a question (Divrei Menachem 4:3 – here) about placing a mezuzah on the gates of courtyards, he has a general discussion about the role of mezuzah as protection.  He notes that the Gemara in Menachot 44a says that if one rents a house in the Diaspora, one is exempt from putting up a mezuzah for thirty days.  There are varying opinions as to whether this means that one is always exempt from putting up a mezuzah for the first thirty days even if one intends to be there long term, or if the exemption only applies to people who are planning to live in a given place for less than thirty days.  Either way, the Gemara then says that one who rents in Israel must put up a mezuzah immediately because of yishuv Eretz Yisrael.  Continue reading On Mezuzot, the Iron Dome, and Yishuv Eretz Yisrael

A response to recent events

BY: Alex Tsykin

I will respect the desire to refrain from politics on this blog. I only wish to say something about the nature of kedushas yisrael. Three innocent Jewish boys were murdered. An innocent Arab boy was murdered. These are both horrendous crimes. The question has been repeatedly asked, why is it that we do not react the same way to both events. Why are we more saddened by the death of the Jewish boys? The answer to me is clear: they are our family. I hate it that an innocent Arab boy was murdered however, he is not family. He is simply another innocent sacrificed to people’s (in this case Jews’, see Jonathan’s recent post about how this is even worse than murdering a Jew) endless hatred.

The lions share of this weeks parasha (parashas Balak) was devoted to the story of Bil’am (according to Rashi it is actually the entirety of the parasha). The Gemara in Berachos 12b states that parashas Balak was considered for inclusion in Shema instead of parashas tzitzis (since it also contains zechiras yetzias mitzrayim) however in the end the decision was taken that it should not be, since it is very long. The Gemara does not ask why it is that we need to include zechiras yetzias mitzrayim at all in the keriyas shema. Keriyas shema deals with the most primal and basic of human religious urges, the acceptance of God and the acceptance of His commandments. Why do we need to mention the extremely particularistic motif of the exodus from Egypt in this context? It would seem that this is exactly the point. Our experience of God includes both the general human experience and the particularistic Jewish one, and they are intertwined. For this reason at the beginning of Shema we read a passuk addressed to the Jewish people.

Indeed, all through Jewish tradition and liturgy in particular, we find an intertwining of universalistic and particularistic motifs. See, for example, Pesukei Dezimra (the hallelukahs and Vayevarech David) and Kiddush on Shabbos. Our religion tells us to address God both as humans and as Jews. This is the attitude which is meant to pervade our lives, and it extends to other areas of our religious existence as well. For example, it is forbidden to levy interest on a loan from a Jew, but permitted to do so from a non-Jew. Why? The Ramban provides a telling answer:

רמב”ן דברים פרק כג

וביאר בכאן שיהיה רבית הנכרי מותר, ולא הזכיר כן בגזל ובגנבה כמו שאמרו (ב”ק קיג ב) גזל גוי אסור. אבל הרבית שהוא נעשה לדעת שניהם וברצונם לא נאסר אלא מצד האחוה והחסד, כמו שצוה (ויקרא יט יח) ואהבת לרעך כמוך, וכמו שאמר (לעיל טו ט) השמר לך פן יהיה דבר עם לבבך בליעל וגו’, ועל כן אמר למען יברכך ה’ אלהיך – כי חסד ורחמים יעשה עם אחיו כאשר ילונו בלא רבית ותחשב לו לצדקה. וכן השמיטה חסד באחים, לכך אמר (שם פסוק ג) את הנכרי תגוש, וקבע לו ברכה, כי הכתוב לא יזכיר הברכה רק בצדקה ובחסדים, לא בגזל ובגנבה ובאונאה:

That is to say, while we may not mistreat a non-Jew, for that is a function of our shared humanity, we are not automatically obligated to respond to him with the greatest of kindness. According to the Ramban there is not problem in doing so, but we are not obligated in it. In the same way as it is wrong to lend money to your brother at interest, so too it is incorrect to do so to another Jew. With a non-Jew it is permitted, not because he is a not human being in the full sense of the word, but because he’s just not your brother.

So too here. While we should be sad and appalled when an innocent is killed, it triggers a general human disgust at such a crime, just not a particularistic Jewish sadness at losing one of our own.

There is No Greater Chillul Hashem than This

At the moment, I don’t even know how to react to the news that this brutal killing seems to have been carried out by Jews.  All I can think of is the following passage in the Meshech Chochma.  I can’t even bring myself to translate it, but suffice it to say he his assessment is correct – there is no greater desecration of God’s name than this.

משך חכמה שמות פרק כא

ויתכן משום דישראל שהרג בן נח איכא מלבד חטא הרציחה עוד עון דחילול השם יתברך, וכמו שהפליגו בירושלמי אלו מציאות (בבא מציעא ב, ו): ניחא ליה לשמוע בריך אולותהן דיהודאי מן כל אגר עלמא, כל שכן ברציחת גופו החילול השם. ובזה אמרו אין יום הכיפורים ותשובה ויסורים וכו’ רק מיתה ממרקת וכו’ “אם יכופר לכם העון עד תמותון”. נמצא דין עונש מיתה על חילול השם, ואיך יכופר לו על ידי מיתה חטא הרציחה?! ועל כרחין דינו מסור לשמים ודו”ק.


Religious Zionism as a Factor in Psak (Halachic Methodology Test Cases)

For the remainder of the year, our shiurim in Yeshiva on the Methodology of Psak Halacha are going to be focused on test cases.  I wanted not just to talk about the process, but to take some critical cases and show how it works.  As I have said before, to really understand the Halachic process, one must have some combination of actual experience with poskim, as well as have read around 10,000 teshuvot and watched how experts have dealt with issues over the year.  In honor of Yom HaZikkaron and Yom HaAtzmaut, our first topic was the role of Religious Zionism in psak.  The shiur is available and sources are available here.

We began with an overview of what defines Religious Zionist Psak broadly speaking, using the outlines of Dr. Aviad Hacohen (here).  Continue reading Religious Zionism as a Factor in Psak (Halachic Methodology Test Cases)