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by Yaakov Schiff
Every year on Shavuot Ashkenazic Jews read Megillat Rut. We read about Elimelech and Naomi, about Rut and Orpah, about Rut’s active choice to follow her widowed mother-in-law, and about her eventual reward by way of the benevolent Go’el, Boaz. This is a beautiful episode, but every year, we are faced with a perplexing difficulty: Megillat Rut seems to be puzzlingly simplistic. One may easily read the four Perakim of this Sefer and understand the Peshat more or less completely, yet come away with little to no understanding as to the purpose of this Sefer in Tanach, let alone why it is read every year on Shavuot. What is Megillat Rut but a nice story about the lives of a few obscure characters? What real relevance does this narrative bear to the rest of Tanach other than its mention of the lineage of David HaMelech at the very end of the sefer? What special message lies in this Megillah that has any special significance relative to Zeman Matan Torateinu? There seems to be nothing extraordinary detailed in these Pesukim; there is only a tale of essentially ordinary people acting in a just and proper manner. Indeed, Rav Zeira, as quoted in the Midrash Rabbah on Megillat Rut, states that this Megillah contains neither purity nor impurity and teaches neither about any Issur nor Heter, neither prohibition nor permission; in fact, the only reason why this Megillah was even written, he claims, was to teach about the reward given to Gomlei Chasadim, those who do acts of kindness. Can this truly be all that Megillat Rut is about? Is this really reason enough to include it as one of the Sifrei Kodesh of Tanach—and to feature it prominently as a special part of our Shavuot experience? In order to arrive at an answer to these questions, one need not look any further than this week’s Parashah, Parashat Naso. There are several important topics discussed in Naso, from the laws pertaining to Sotah to the special priestly blessing, the Birkat Kohanim. Yet, among all of these topics, there is one topic that stands out, one that takes up a very large part of the Parashah. This, of course, is the section detailing the Korbanot brought by the Nissi’im, the heads of each tribe, at the Chanukat HaMishkan, the dedication of the Mishkan. The reason why this portion is so lengthy is because the Torah details every single Korban individually, despite the fact that every Korban is exactly the same as the others. The question has often been asked why this might be; why should the Torah go out of its way to mention the same gift twelve times over? We know that the Torah does not waste words. One celebrated answer that has been given is that every Nassi purposely chooses to make the same exact contribution as all the others who had come before him. Why? Simply because they all understand that if one Nassi is to offer more than the Nassi who came before him, he would compel all of the Nissi’im after him to continue raising the standard, thereby forcing the final Nassi to contribute an enormous amount of money! Therefore, out of regard for his fellow leaders, each Nassi chooses to give the same exact offering as the Nassi before him. Now, one might
6-9 Sivan 5770
May 19-22, 2010
Vol. 19 No. 31
Megillat Rut: A Story of Chesed
easily remark, was that really so special an occurrence that the Torah should have to spend so many seemingly extra words on it?’ Answers HaKadosh Boruch Hu: ‘Why, absolutely!’ The Torah mentions every single Nassi’s Korban individually just to teach us the extraordinary value of simple, everyday Chesed. Keeping this in mind, one may now respond with resounding certainty to the questions raised earlier about the significance of Megillat Rut. The fundamental objective of Megillat Rut is indeed no more or less than teaching the value of, and the reward given for, Gemilut Chasadim; the primary theme of this Sefer, central and crucial to its message, is simply normal, everyday Chesed. For all its seeming simplicity, Megillat Rut conveys a remarkable lesson about the power of everyday actions, and of the importance and significance of acting “Lifnim MeShurat HaDin”, above and beyond the letter of the law. What emerges from this story is a message not only worthy in and of itself, but essential to all of Torah and Yahadut. The reader of this Megillah is left with an inspiring, astounding message that these everyday righteous actions are in fact the essence of Torah and Yahadut. As Rabbi Chaneles explained in the name of Rav Taragin of Yeshivat Har Etzion, the ideals that we as Jews pursue do not require us to act as “superhumans,” but rather as “superhumans,” acting in a just and proper manner. Specifically on Chag Shavuot, when we celebrate the anniversary of Matan Torah, it is important that we hear Megillat Rut to remind us that Yahadut is not all about Ma’amad Har Sinai and Gilui Shechina, but about regular, everyday Midat Chasidut and Chesed. Our job is Chesed and Ma’asim Tovim; in the merit of our actions, Hashem will provide the Nissim and Niflaot.
The Ultimate Berachah
by Jonathan K arp
In Parashat Naso, Hashem presents three blessings, known as Birkot HaKohanim, that the Kohanim recite every day during Davening. The individual Berachot are (BeMidbar 6:24-26), “Yevarechecha Hashem VeYishmerecha; Ya’eir Hashem Panav EilechaViChunekah; Yisa Hashem Panav Eilecha VeYaseim Lecha Shalom.” “Hashem will bless you and watch over you, Hashem will shine his face upon you and give you grace, Hashem will lift up his face to you and give you peace .” The number of words in each Pasuk and Berachah increases progressively from three to five to seven. The same progression can be seen in the content of the Brachot, as each Berachah adds an additional element of Hashem’s blessing. The first Berachah, as explained by Abarbanel, is focused entirely on practical needs. The word “VeYishmerecha” refers to the material possessions that Hashem will provide for us. The second Berachah, in direct contrast to the first one, is a completely spiritual Berachah. As Sforno explains, this Berachah refers to the idea that Hashem will grant us understanding of the Torah. The third Berachah is the ultimate blessing, a combination of the first two, granting both physical and spiritual gain. However, the beginning of the third
Berachah seems problematic. How is “Yisa Hashem Panav Eilecha” any better, if not any different from, “Ya’eir Hashem Panav Eilecha”? Rashi (ad loc., “Yisa Hashem Panav Eilecha”), quoting BeMidbar Rabbah, explains that “Hashem lifting his face” means that He is suppressing His anger. The word “Panav” in this context represents a face of wrath. However, this explanation still poses a problem. If the Berachah refers to Hashem suppressing his anger, it would have negative connotations, as opposed to the Berachah before it, which has positive connotations. Rashbah explains that “Panav” does not always have to imply anger, but it can imply any emotion, either positive or negative. Therefore, the third Berachah is not necessarily negative. The word ‘Panav’ can also be explained as showing favor. In Masechet Rosh Hashanah (17b), a Giyoret is quoted as asking Raban Gamliel about an apparent contradiction between two phrases. In Birkot HaKohanim, “Yisa Hashem Panav Eilecha” means that Hashem will show you favor, while elsewhere “Asher Lo Yisa Panim VeLo Yikach Shochad” refers to the prohibition against showing favor in judgment. Rabi Yosei HaKohein explains to her that “Lo Yisah Panim” involves transgressions between people while “Yisa Hashem Panav Eilecha” involves transgressions between us and Hashem. This seems to imply that Hashem cares more about man’s honor than His own honor. There is a similar discussion in a Midrash in BeMidbar Rabbah. The Midrash also asks why the Torah contradicts itself, and the Midrash answers that the word ‘Panim’ refers to partiality. Although partiality is forbidden in court, Bnei Yisrael do show Hashem partiality, and in return, Hashem shows them partiality. In what way do Bnei Yisrael show Hashem partiality? The answer lies in something we do every day: Birkat HaMazon. Although the Torah states (Devarim 8:10) “VeAchalta VeSavata UVeirachta” “And you shall eat and be satisfied, and you shall bless Hashem,” we show partiality towards Hashem by thanking Him after eating even if we are not fully satisfied. Since Bnei Yisrael act beyond the letter of the law, Hashem goes beyond the letter of His law by granting Bnei Yisrael undeserved forgiveness. Therefore, the third Berachah, in which Hashem acts to a further extent to show favor towards Bnei Yisrael, is greater than the second Berachah. Rav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch explains that the third Berachah represents the climax of all of the Berachot. The physical and spiritual gains of the first two Berachot lead to the third Berachah. This Berachah speaks of the nearness of Hashem to us, the ultimate blessing. Hopefully, we will all be Zocheh to recognize these blessings in our lives this Shavuot and in the future.
arises is, how can we have a concept of dairy on Shavuot when we are told that meat is a food for facilitating Simchat Yom Tov? The most noted source for this concept of meat on Yom Tov is found in the Gemara (Pesachim 109a), where Rabi Yehuda ben Beteira comments that in the time of the Beit HaMikdash, there was no Simcha without meat, but that in today’s time, we are forced to use wine. This source supports the concept of dairy meals, as meat is seen to be optional for our current unfortunate circumstance. The Yam Shel Shlomoh agrees with this, commenting that while meat is still the preferred method for Simcha, meat was obligatory on Yom Tov only during the time of the Beit HaMikdash, where not only did we have meat but also Korbanot to Hashem. Furthermore, he explains that unlike in today’s time, there was no wine at the meals, and therefore our drinking of wine replaces the mandate of meat. This too supports our practice of eating dairy. However, the Torah Temimah offers an alternate interpretation of the Gemara noted above. He states that based on the wording of the Gemara, which uses the word Basar, meat in general, and not specifically Shelamim, meat of a Korban, the Gemara’s intent is to include all meat, even Chullin, in a time in which one is unable to give Korbanot, such as today. Considering this, our original question still stands. However, the Beit HaLevi offers a compromise that would solve this dilemma. He explains that on Shavuot, one should make sure to have a meal of dairy as well as one of meat. He explains that according to the Midrash, when Hashem gave Bnei Yisrael the Torah, the Malachim complained about giving such an epitome of holiness to mankind. Hashem responded to them that Bnei Yisrael were indeed worthy of the Torah over the Malachim, citing the Malachims’ visit to Avraham, where they ate milk and meat together - a practice from which Bnei Yisrael are stringent in abstaining - and are therefore deserving of the Torah. Therefore, on Shavuot, we eat both milk and meat to fulfill the Zeicher aspects of milk, the Simcha of meat, and the bridging of the two through the impetus of Matan Torah. May we all be able to learn from this lesson and commemorate this Simcha of Yom Tov and the receiving of the Torah this Shavuot and all Yamim Tovim to come.
Bittul Geirut (Nullification of a Conversion) – Part Two
by R abbi Chaim Jachter
With great trepidation we begin to present the great debate of 2008 between two of the greatest Dayyanim (rabbinic judges), Rav Shlomo Dichovsky and Rav Avraham Sherman, regarding nullification of conversions. The trepidation stems from not only the great respect owed to these outstanding Rabbanim but also from the profound implications of this debate. In this column, we have presented quite a number of debates between Rav Dichovsky and Rav Sherman on issues of major importance. Nonetheless, this particular debate does not impact only the Jewish status of a mother and her children in the Ashdod area but also thousands of individuals who have converted through the special conversion courts established by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Thus we begin our discussion of this matter with full awareness of sensitivities to the variety of opinions regarding an issue that has great impact not only on our generation but on generations to come.
Milk or Meat?
by Chaim G artenberg
On Shavuot, one of the most celebrated and well known Minhagim is that of eating dairy products on the Chag. Less known are the reasons behind this practice. The Ramah explains that it is a custom to eat dairy on Shavuot, as the Mishnah Berurah cites the famed explanation that Bnei Yisrael did not have the time to Kasher their utensils and prepare meat according to Halacha, and therefore they ate dairy. However, the concept of Simchat Yom Tov is also key to the discussion of milk or meat on Yom Tov. The Meshech Chochmah goes as far as to say that a Jewish Holiday without explicit Simchah on it is like learning Torah without intent to apply it. Furthermore, meat is noted in several sources, most prominently by the Alshich, as being a direct correlation to this Simchah. A question that then
The Special Conversion Courts
The great immigration from the former Soviet Union to Israel beginning in the late 1980’s has given rise to an enormous social and Halachic problem. A great number of these immigrants are either not
Jewish or only possibly Jewish. They were granted Israeli citizenship under Israel’s Law of Return, which grants automatic eligibility for citizenship even to one who is married to a Jew and even to one who has only one Jewish great-grandparent. The situation of these immigrants is particularly difficult, given that Israel is a Jewish State, and, therefore, they wish to convert to Judaism. Many also regard themselves, out of sheer ignorance of Torah, as “Jewish” before they moved to Israel, and they very much wish to be regarded as Jewish by mainstream Israeli society. The problem is that most of these people do not wish to be observant of Torah law, which creates a serious Halachic problem. We noted in an essay archived at www.koltorah.org that the overwhelming majority of classic and modern Halachic authorities view Kabbalat Mitzvot, acceptance of Mitzvot, as a non-negotiable component of conversion. Thus, converting people who are not committed to observing the Torah and its commandments constitutes a very serious problem. In an attempt to ameliorate this difficult situation, Israel’s chief rabbinate established special rabbinic courts for conversion. According to media reports, the goal of these courts was to facilitate large-scale conversion of non-Jewish citizens of the State of Israel by somewhat relaxing the requirements of Kabbalat Mitzvot.
though he/she did not observe Mitzvot either before or after the conversion. Rav Dichovsky writes, “Anyone who has been present at one time at a conversion is aware that it is a very emotional experience for all those in attendance, especially, of course, for the convert. It is very likely that in that emotion of the moment of immersion that indeed she was fully committed to Torah observance and only later did she veer from the [Torah] path.” Rav Dichovsky (following Rav Kook, Teshuvot Da’at Kohein number 153, cited in last week’s essay) even proves his argument from the fact that the entire Jewish People converted at Mount Sinai, as stated by the Rambam (Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah 13:1-3). This conversion was recognized as valid by none other than Hashem, even though we (or at least some of us) worshipped the Eigel HaZahav only forty days after that great moment!
Rav Sherman’s Criticism
Rav Avraham Sherman strongly rejects Rav Dichovsky’s approach. He argues, “The test of Kabbalat Mitzvot is not measured by that moment he makes the oral declaration that she accepts the Mitzvot, as Rav Dichovsky states. The true test is the factual circumstances, the lifestyle of the convert before the moment of immersion. Her shared life with a man who is removed Remez HaShavua by Neil Bodner The Ashdod Case of 2007 from Torah and Mitzvah The Mishnah (Avot 6:2) states, “ שאין לך בן חורין אלא מי שעוסק According to media observance and her living in a “ ”,בתלמוד תורהA man is truly free only if he is involved in Torah reports, a convert and her society that does not observe study.” The Sefat Emet explains that Judaism’s set of laws is not Jewish-born husband were Torah and Mitzvot, reflect a set of restrictions but a release from the physical inclinations divorced according to what occurred at the moment of the material world, and that is true freedom. The Sefer Halachah but were denied a of acceptance of Mitzvot. HaChinuch (Mitzvah 306) explains that during the Sefirah period, rabbinic court ruling that the There is no logic and one we count the days until Shavuot like a slave waiting to be freed, couple were divorced. The cannot even consider removing as we are waiting to be freed through Kabbalat HaTorah. The rabbinic court is reported to that specific moment from the Jews who came out of Mitzrayim were amazed at the tremendous have ruled that it is highly continuum of a secular lifestyle amount of freedom they just received. Hashem then gave them questionable if the woman devoid of a religious life of the Torah, as if to remind them what true freedom is. (and her children) was Jewish, Torah and Mitzvot and declare The Remez: The phrase שאין לך בן חורין אלא מי שעוסק בתלמוד תורה and, therefore, they were not that at that moment there was a has the Gematria (numerical value) of 2448, the exact year granted the document. The revolutionary movement of (counting from the creation of the world) our Jewish nation was rabbinic court went as far as to entering the Jewish religion, its call into question all of the principles, beliefs and Mitzvot, freed from Mitzrayim and immediately given the Torah. conversions administered by when a moment after the the special conversion authority due to the claimed lack of Kabbalat conversion there is no expression and actualization of the religious Mitzvot of the majority of those whom they converted. The ruling movement that occurred as it were in her heart.” went even further, arguing that the Dayyanim who sat on these Rav Moshe Feinstein’s Ruling rabbinic courts were disqualified to serve as rabbinic judges due to Interestingly, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe Even their adopting a lenient standard regarding Kabbalat Mitzvot. Thus HaEzer 3:4) grappled with this issue in a 1968 ruling regarding a the Ashdod Beit Din called into question the validity of a conversion situation in Winnipeg, Canada. A non-Jewish man was converted, in which the individual, in fact, did commit to a Torah observant life apparently by an Orthodox rabbi, and married a Jewish woman in and indeed lived as an observant Jew since the conversion. The basis an apparently Orthodox ceremony. The rabbi, however, did not of this ruling is the requirement for the presence of a Beit Din during require a Berit Milah, since the man had already been circumcised. a conversion (Yevamot 46b and Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 268:3). This stands in contradiction to Halachah, which regards this as an Rav Dichovsky’s Approach unresolved matter of dispute and thus requires ritual removal of The woman appealed the Ashdod Beit Din’s ruling to the blood (Hatafat Dam Berit) in order to avoid the dispute (Tosafot rabbinic court of appeals in Jerusalem. Rav Shlomo Dichovsky, a Shabbat 135a s.v. Lo Nechleku and Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 268:1). The long time member of this special Beit Din, ruled in a number cases couple divorced civilly, and the husband disappeared and could not such as these (one such ruling appears in Techumin 29:267-280) that be located in order for him to give his wife a Get. Since the local although he would not necessarily have administered many of these rabbis felt that it was impossible to obtain a Get for the wife, they conversions, one cannot nullify the conversions BeDiEved (post asked Rav Feinstein if it was possible to invalidate the marriage by facto). While he agrees that Kabbalat Mitzvot constitutes an absolute declaring the conversion null and void due to the man’s lack of requirement, Rav Dichovsky focuses on the fact that it is quite Kabbalat Mitzvot. possible that during the actual moment of conversion, the immersion Rav Moshe writes that if an Orthodox rabbi administered the in the Mikvah, the convert sincerely accepted the yoke of Torah, even conversion, one should assume that he properly performed the
ceremony in accordance with Halachah, even though the fact that he did not require Hatafat Dam Berit reflects poorly on his fidelity to Halachah. Nonetheless, since in this case, “We saw that he did not refrain from the Torah’s prohibitions even one day,” it appears that he never accepted the observance of Torah and Mitzvot. Rav Moshe, though, raises the possibility that perhaps, at the moment of immersion, he sincerely accepted Mitzvot, an argument similar to Rav Dichovsky’s. Rav Moshe seriously considers this as a possibility, as we find cases in Halachah in which we are concerned that a person experiences an immediate change of ideology. Rav Moshe cites the ruling of the Shach (Y.D. 1:8) validating the Kashrut of an animal slaughtered by a Shocheit who subsequently converted to another religion later that very day. The Shach assumes that the fact that he converted later that day does not reflect that the slaughterer was an apostate earlier in the day at the time of the slaughter (which would invalidate it). Rav Moshe, however, notes that the Shach rules accordingly only because before the slaughter, the Shocheit was a Torah-observant Jew. Thus, in a conflict between the Chazakah (status quo) prior to the slaughter and after the slaughter, the Shach rules we follow the prior Chazakah (Chazakah DeMeiIkara). Accordingly, Rav Moshe suggests that since the husband was not observant either before or after the conversion, one may assume that at the time of conversion, he remained the same as he was before and after that moment, and that it is obvious that the husband’s acceptance was insincere and therefore invalid, an argument similar to Rav Sherman’s. Rav Moshe was inclined to invalidate the conversion but noted opinions that apply a current status quo retroactively (Chazakah DeHashta) only in a case in which the status quo was bolstered by a Rov (behavioral assumption created by what occurs in a majority of cases). Thus, since no such Rov exists in regards to the case of the husband’s conversion one might not be able to project the husband’s non-observance of Halachah post conversion to what occurred at the time of conversion. Rav Moshe, however, permitted the woman in question to remarry without a Get due to a Sefek Sefeika, a double doubt – perhaps the conversion is invalid due his insincere acceptance of Mitzvot, and perhaps the conversion is invalid due to the failure to perform a Hatafat Dam Berit. Most relevant to our discussion is that Rav Moshe considers Rav Dichovsky’s argument and regards it as a Safeik (unresolved question). Thus, Rav Moshe grants some validity to both Rav Dichovsky’s and Rav Sherman’s arguments. In practice, it would seem that one should regard a case of a conversion administered by Orthodox rabbis in which the convert engaged in wholesale violations of Halachah both before and after the conversion as a Safeik, possibly invalid, following Rav Moshe Feinstein.
Rav Moshe understood the pressure faced by Orthodox rabbis serving less-than-Orthodox congregants, and while he does not endorse converting someone who, in all likelihood, will not observe Mitzvot, he does not condemn it either. Orthodox rabbis are faced with the same quandary as to how to service the great numbers of non-observant Jews in the State of Israel. While there are certainly different approaches to this issue, and the majority opinion favors the strict approach, those rabbis who adopt the lenient approach are nonetheless following a legitimate minority opinion in Halachah and should not be condemned as disqualified from service as a Dayyan. Moreover, even Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Teshuvot Minchat Shlomo 1:35), who strongly advocates the strict approach to Geirut and criticizes those who adopt the lenient approach as violating Lifnei Iveir (causing others to sin), does not state that those who adopt the lenient approach are invalidated as rabbinic judges. Moreover, the Dayyanim of the special conversion courts, to a great extent, are following in the footsteps of Rav Uzziel (cited in last week’s essay), who famously advocated a lenient approach to conversions. It is shocking to find Rav Sherman condemning the rabbis of the special conversion courts as rejecting “all Halachic authorities.” Rav Sherman himself considers Rav Uzziel as a legitimate Halachic authority, as he cites him on page 43 of his lengthy responsum. Even Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Teshuvot VeHanhagot 1:611 and 4:230) does not rule decisively that the lenient rabbinic court judges are disqualified, since “they believe they are performing a Mitzvah.” Indeed, Rav Gedalia Axelrod, a Rabbinic court judge in Haifa who adopts a very strict stance towards conversion standards (see his essay in Shurat HaDin volume three), rules that the lenient rabbis are not disqualified from service. Rav Sherman adopts the harshest stance towards these lenient rabbis and seems to adopt a position that is beyond mainstream Halachic thought.
The debate as to whether to recognize a conversion conducted by Orthodox rabbis for a convert who did not observe Torah either before or after conversion is regarded by Rav Moshe Feinstein as Safeik, possibly invalid. However, conversions performed by Orthodox rabbis who adopt the lenient approach conversion are not automatically disqualified. If one converted by a panel of rabbis who adopt the lenient approach observed Torah before and after the conversion, Rav Moshe Feinstein deems the conversion as unquestionably valid.
To view an additional article on the topic of Shavuot by Gavi Berger, please visit our website: www.koltorah.org
Invalidating the Rabbinic Courts
However, Rav Sherman’s arguments invalidating the members of the special conversion Batei Din appears to be incorrect. Rav Sherman does not cite Rav Moshe Feisntein’s (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe 1:60) “limited justification” of those rabbis who adopt a lenient approach to conversion. Even though Rav Moshe does not endorse the lenient approach, he does not even consider ruling that those rabbis who adopt the lenient approach are disqualified from serving as Dayyanim. Moreover, in Teshuvot Igrot Moshe Y.D. 1:159, Rav Moshe refrains from counseling a practicing rabbi to spurn the lenient approach to conversion, “since there are many rabbis who accept converts such as these and thus I do not pronounce a prohibition [to perform such a conversion]….You should use your best judgment on how to act in this situation”.
Editors-inEditors-in-Chief: Yakir Forman, Shua Katz Editors-inEditors-in-Chief Emeritus: Shlomo Klapper, Charlie Wollman Publication Editors: Reuven Herzog, Benjy Koslowe, Joel Krim, Danny Shlian, Leead Staller Business Manager: Avi Rosalimsky Webmaster: Shaul Yaakov Morrison Publishing Managers: Yonah Rossman, Zvi Wolpoe Staff: Neil Bodner, Jono Fuchs, Hillel Hochsztein, Yanky Krinsky, Eli Lehman, Mikey Levy, Gavi Sragow, Moe Weiss Rabbinic Advisor: Rabbi Chaim Jachter
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