Wednesday, October 4, 2017

When a Lulav Is Not Kosher - The Giant "Perfect Lulav" - An Open Orthodox - Lubavitch PR Scam

A Lubavitcher website is reporting a joint effort of an 'Open Orthodox' (OO) spiritual leader from Washington DC, Shmuel Herzfeld, and a Lubavitcher shliach in California, Yossi Cunin, to get a giant lulav for the OO leader to use at his house of worship.

The (Los Angeles) Jewish Journal has as an article by Herzfeld about it, Best of Friends, Best of Fronds: A Lulav Story.

According to the reports the story had a happy ending when the shliach sent the OO leader a giant lulav from his own garden in California.

There appears to be one major problem though. It seems quite clear that the tree the lulav involved came from is not the traditional date palm where lulavim for arba minim come from.


The traditional date palm has a wider, rough trunk, due to persistent leaf bases of dead leaves. The palm involved here, shown in the video at the Lubavitcher website, has a plainly smoother and thinner trunk, and different appearance.

Caveat emptor - buyer beware.

Just because something seems like a cute story doesn't mean it is correct, or על פי הלכה.

A bracha should not be made on that lulav.

Why the Chofetz Chaim Did Not Hold or Shake His Lulav During Hallel One Year in Radin

This beautiful story, showing the great sensitivity of the Chofetz Chaim z"l, appeared in the Yated Ne'eman (USA) recent Rosh Hashanah edition (p.44), in an interview by Avrohom Birnbaum of Rav Chaim Walkin.

Rav Walkin shlit"a related that he heard the story from his zeide, Rav Shmuel Dovid Walkin z"l before he was bar mitzvah.

One year, in Radin, there was only one lulav and esrog, for which a dear price was paid, and it was in possession of the Chofetz Chaim. At the first day of Yom Tov davening there was a significant crowd in attendance, including greats such as Rav Elchanan Wasserman Hy"d, Rav Moshe Londinsky z"l, and Rav Naftali Trop z"l. People waited to see what the Chofetz Chaim would so, and how he would advise people to fulfill the mitzvah of daled minim.

Before Hallel, the Chofetz Chaim took the lulav and esrog, made the brachos, shook the lulav briefly, and then passed it on to another person to do the same. And so it went for all the men there. Then the Chofetz Chaim announced in front of the congregation 'This year we will not hold the lulav or shake it during Hallel, myself included.' He proceeded to explain, 'It is impossible to give the lulav and esrog to everyone during Hallel. There are too many people. If we give it to some and not to others, it might make some feel slighted. To cause someone else pain or suffering is an issur deoraysa, a Torah prohibition, while shaking the lulav during Hallel is a minhag instituted by the nevi'im. It is far better to be doche a minhag nevi'im than to even entertain the possibility of transgressing an issur deoraysa.'

A beautiful story (there are others in the feature as well, if you can get a copy), which shows us the gadlus of true gedolim, talmidei chachamim, and tzadikim. With such stories, it is no wonder the Chofetz Chaim was/is so beloved among various segments of Klal Yisroel.

A kosher and freilich Yom Tov.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Great 5778 Hadassim Scare Debunked - Healing Hadassim Hysteria with Halachic Clarity

A few days ago, an explosive article with inflammatory language was published online at a prominent website, as well as in a widely circulated newspaper in the NYC area, claiming that a Hadasim scam and scandal exists, with most hadassim sold (for Sukkos, ד' מינים) not being kosher for that purpose.

While the author discusses various issues that can arise with hadassim, his main allegation is that, in his view, there is a widespread deficiency in the area of having leaves that are משולש. He defines meshulash narrowly. In his view, people should inspect the nodes on the hadassim to see that they are closely aligned.

But is such a measure really necessary, appropriate and realistic? Is the situation really so dire? Must a person spend a great amount of time inspecting every node and leaf of multiple hadasim closely?

It appears that his standard is overly narrow, not necessary, not realistic, and not in accordance with mainstream halacha. Consequently, the article is misleading and alarmist.

Let me explain, and share some of my research.

1. Rav Avrohom Reit שליט"א is a choshuve talmid chochom in NY, who has, in recent years put out some excellent publications on various inyanim such as tekias shofar, chalitza, arba minim, etc. He specializes in clarifying, to a high level, the realia, the physical reality of a situation, the metzius that halacha is applied to. If someone doesn't know this metzius well, serious difficulties can develop in havonoh, understanding, and application of halachah.

In his excellent sefer Lekicha Tama: The Lulav and Esrog Buying Guide, Rabbi Reit writes about meshulash (which he calls "whorled" in English) (emphasis mine)

"two issues must be clarified: 1) is it the leaves, leafstalks, or nodes that must be whorled and 2) how closely aligned must they be to be considered whorled?

Whorled has traditionally been understood to mean the leaves appear as one set, with all the leaves at the same level. The focus is on the leaves themselves, not on the leafstalks or nodes. This is the standard of the pre-packed hadasim, of the old Yerushalmi experts, and this is how we were taught as children."

Practically speaking - מעשה רב מגדולי הדור

"When (Reb Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zatzal) inspected hadasim he looked only at the general appearance of the hadas - not at the stem [הליכות שלמה פרק י' אות י' ובארחות הלכה 43]"

להבחל"ח

"when...Reb Dovid Feinstein shlita checks hadasim for the public, he gives a cursory glance at the leaves without touching them (he does not examine the leafstalks or nodes)."

With permission of Rabbi Reit, I post below images of relevant section of his sefer where the above words appear, along with further elaboration. 


2. Rabbi Shlomo Gottesman is editor of the prestigious ישורון Torah journal, a fine talmid chacham, and marbitz Torah.

In a shiur he gave about hadassim last year (bottom of page) he seems to also differ with the article (certainly in tone) (14:00-). He states that even the renowned machmir, the Brisker Rav, was not makpid to have all the nodes aligned exactly (if that were even possible).

May we merit clarity in Torah knowledge, and a joyous zeman simchaseinu.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Trashing Kapporos - Kapporah Gain, or Kapporah Deficit?

There has been much debate over the Kaparos custom for many years.

Some of it has been about the very basis, the theory of the matter (e.g. is there a question of foreign Darkei Emori practice, as the mechaber of Shulchan Aruch maintains), while other parts of it was about the actual activity, how things worked out on the ground (e.g. was the shochet tired, calling the shechita into question, tzaar baalei chaim concerns). Now, it seems that there is a new issue raising additional concern about the practice. 

Evidently, in some places, the chickens, after shechita, are just treated as refuse.

While in the past it was assumed that the chickens were ultimately used as food, which seems to have usually been the case, when people were not so affluent, and were used to kashering (salting, removing blood, etc.) chickens at home themselves, nowadays, on the other hand, most people are used to the modern convenience of buying pre-kashered chickens and are not versed in, or comfortable with dealing with kosher fowl preparation themselves. The chickens nowadays are relatively inexpensive as well, due to mass production, and modern scientific advances, with G-d's bounty.

An additional difficulty is that most kaporos centers are not near the giant poultry plants where kosher fowl is usually prepared. So even if people would want to give their chickens to the plants for the balance of the necessary preparation, distance and other difficulties present significant barriers to such action.

So now that it has been revealed that fowl (the extent is not known, but a significant amount of chickens have evidently been involved in the past) are trashed after the ritual, which invokes the issue of Bal Tashchis, the prohibition against wasting things, particularly food, should those people who do it with chickens reconsider their participation?

This question was the subject of heated debate recently at a Chabad-Lubavitch website.

One writer called for using money instead of chickens, as some others have done for years. Another writer claimed, in response, that trashing the chickens does not invalidate successful kaporos.

Many commenters weighed in with various thoughts and suggestions.

Let us hope that people take such considerations into mind, and avoid a situation of יצא שכרו בהפסדו (gain outweighed by loss) in this season of repentance.

P.S. After Yom Kippur we learned of a new Kapporos scam - Halal Kapparos. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Nesivos Shalom Controversy and Its Broader Ramifications for the Torah World

Lehrhaus has just published an extraordinary piece. An exposé by a fervent Israeli (Dati-Leumi) Chasid, Rabbi Dr. Zvi Leshem, of problematic aspects of the נתיבות שלום of R. Shalom Noach Berezovsky, a Rebbe of one faction of Slonimer Chasidim, a work that has gained a cult-like following in some quarters in recent years.

Visitors to this site may recall that a number of the months ago, there appeared here a different critique of the Nesivos Shaom phenomenon, from a Litvishe-Misagdic point of view, in reaction to a Lehrhaus piece lauding it.

Now, with the appearance of Rabbi Dr. Leshem's excellent piece, it is evident that the Nesivos Sholom phenomenon is long overdue for some serious scrutiny. If traditionally opposite camps both have serious problems with a work, it is time to reevaluate it, and its place among us.

The question is asked, what accounts for the popularity of the Nesivos Shalom, among certain segments of the community? Building on what Rabbi Dr. Leshem states on the matter, it seems to me that it has become a staple fed to students  from the diaspora at many seminaries and yeshivas, as it is Hasidism light. Things like modernistic Hebrew, and a more open attitude toward Israel than prevails in some other Hasidic sects, make it an easy fit for faculty who want to offer something a bit different to fill time in the year or more that many Modern Orthodox types study in Israel (or elsewhere) for.

As an aside, I do take exception to the conflating in Rabbi Dr. Leshem's piece of the Litvishe tradition as a whole, with some severe mussar texts or schools within (or without of) it. Not all Litvaks were part of the mussar movement. Some opposed it strongly. And even among those who were part of it, there were great differences. Just like Slabodka and Novhardok were quite different, so too there were significant differences among other Litvishe as well. For example, the Michtav Me'Eliyahu of Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler z"l (cited by Rabbi Dr. Leshem in his piece as an alleged exemplar of the Litvishe world), was opposed by some of his Litvishe brethren for various reasons. The traditional Litvishe velt would take strong exception to certain aspects of the Nesivos Shalom just as Rabbi Dr. Leshem does.

בכל דרכיך דעהו, within a framework of moderation in dealing with the physical world, was and is taken very seriously by Litvishe תלמידי חכמים past and present. The Litvishe Torah world extends far beyond black hat yeshiva walls, and its representatives are found in various places and positions, not just or necessarily ראשי כולל, ראשי ישיבה, and some משגיחים.

There also is in this episode an important broader lesson, namely that before people become followers of a leader or sect new to them and their background, they should exercise due diligence, and go beyond the figurative headlines to check for suitability, acceptability, and compatibility.

May we merit appropriate and fitting spiritual guidance, on a deep level.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Dynamics of Spiritual Momentum - Insights into the Workings of Mitzvah Goreres Mitzvah

We are taught in Pirkei Avos, Ben Azai says מצוה גוררת מצוה and עבירה גוררת עבירה. One mitzvah drags along another mitzvah, and conversely, an aveirah drags along an aveirah.

Seems pretty simple.

However, even a seemingly straightforward teaching, can be understood in different ways by different people at times. This mishnah has featured in Chasidic-Misnagdic debate over the years.

Exhibit one -

Chasidim who davened late were criticized for missing zeman tefillah. One answer given by R. Yitzchak Meir of Gora Kalwaria was as follows. The mishnah says aveirah goreres aveirah. However, according to the Chasidic respondent, those Chasidim who davened late, after davening would learn Torah. If so, according to him, that proves that their davening late was not an aveirah, but rather a mitzvah, since it was followed by another mitzvah, rather than by an aveirah (source)

Misnagdic responses to this clever defense could be as follows.

1) Mitzvah goreres mitzvah doesn't mean that one mitzvah observance will, with total certainty, follow another (and conversely with aveiros). Rather, it means that it will bring another mitzvah opportunity in its wake, following it. A type of positive spiritual momentum, if you may. In the final analysis, however, the person involved will have to choose if they will continue in the mitzvah path or not, by acting to take advantage of the new opportunity, or to lose the momentum, and squander the new opportunity.

Therefore the fact that people were learning after davening late, doesn't prove that the davening late was entirely proper. It may be that they just took separate action to move on to learning, not that they coasted there with the momentum of what they did previously.

2) Davening late (at least within some type of correct time frame, e.g. not davening shacharis during the time of mincha) is not an aveira (such as eating non-kosher or wearing shatnez), but rather carrying out a spiritual activity without following its prescribed regulations. Such a act might be endowed with different dynamics than an actual full-fledged aveirah.

3) There may have been another, possibly unseen, or unnoticed, act between davening late and the learning, which arrested the initial negative spiritual momentum.

Exhibit two -

Rebbe Yitzchak of Radvil asked as follows. We put tefillin on in the morning. This should lead to more mitzvos, because מצוה גוררת מצוה. So everyone should be a tzaddik, as this mitzvah should lead to another, which would lead to another, and on, and on. Why don’t we see this happening? He answers; it depends on how the person does the mitzvah. If he does it with joy, then definitely so. If not, however, it won't have this ability (source, p.8-9).

A Misnagdic response to the above would be (IMHO) that, as above in exhibit one, מצוה גוררת מצוה is not an unstoppable force. Rather it is a type of momentum, spiritual momentum. Just as physical momentum has limits, so too does spiritual momentum. Momentum is not inevitability. We would not agree that 'a mitzvah done without simcha' (as if such could be so easily measured or determined, if it exists at all), or otherwise in less than optimal fashion, is devoid of the power of momentum. Misnagdim have a more expansive, inclusive view of spiritual momentum, and don't limit it to what people consider mitzvos done besimcha.

Exhibit three - 

A fine contemporary hit song, known as שכר מצוה, states העושה מצוה אחת קטנה בשמחה מגלגלין לו לעשות מצוה גדולה מהראשונה - someone who does a small mitzvah with simcha, the opportunity is given to him to do a greater mitzvah.

While some people may not notice or pay heed, those lyrics actually differ from the mishna in פרקי אבות. While the mishna speaks of mitzvos generally, without classifying them as being smaller or larger, and without discussing if the mitzvah was done besimcha or not, the song lyrics introduce those new classifications/qualifications/limitations. I don't know where the lyrics are from, but I suspect that they are from (a) Chasidic source(s). If someone can shed light on the matter, please enlighten us. 

Let us hope that we seize our moments for good, and maintain positive momentum forward.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Many Friends of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l

The other day, while listening to the Headlines program, I heard stated, in the introduction of a well-known New York Rav (רב יהודה דוד בלייך שליט"א, Rabbi J. David Bleich) "he's one of the few people in the world who can say that Rav Moshe Feinstein referred to them as yedidi" (1:08:55-1:09:30 approximately).

I heard similar words in another program by the same host about the same guest in the past.

It didn't sound right to me, didn't square with my recollection however.

Just to check, I opened up אגרות משה (which can be seen at www.hebrewbooks.org), and in the pages I went through, it seemed like just about every שואל was referred to that way, i.e. as ידידי  (with some exceptions, such as relatives, e.g. Rav Moshe's uncle, who were referred to based on their relationship).

I believe Rav Moshe also signed some public letters with the words ידיד כל אחד ואחד, משה פיינשטיין.

So it seems like an out and out error.

Rav Moshe z"l was a man of many friends.

Since Headlines and its author/host have become important players on the frum scene, it is proper to treat them with appropriate attention and seriousness, which includes correction of errors, such as the above.

Also, in another recent program, the host stated (1:35) "we love when people disagree, the koach of Klal Yisrael was always the כח of argument, discussion", as well as citing Bill Gates at another point, or in another recent program, as saying along the lines of that one learns more from those who disagree with them than those who agree with them.

Based on the above, the host should welcome these corrections. אי"ה there will be more coming.