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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary

Yeshiva University Center for the Jewish Future

THE BENJAMIN AND ROSE BERGER

TORAH TO-GO Established by Rabbi Hyman and Ann Arbesfeld
®

June 2017 • Shavuot 5777
A Special Edition Celebrating

President Richard M. Joel
WITH SHAVUOT TRIBUTES FROM
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander • Rabbi Dr. Hillel Davis • Rabbi Dr. Avery Joel • Dr. Penny Joel
Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph • Rabbi Menachem Penner • Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter • Rabbi Ezra Schwartz

Special Symposium: Perspectives on Conversion
Rabbi Eli Belizon • Joshua Blau • Mrs. Leah Nagarpowers • Rabbi Yona Reiss
Rabbi Zvi Romm • Mrs. Shoshana Schechter • Rabbi Michoel Zylberman

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
We thank the following synagogues which have pledged to
be Pillars of the Torah To-Go® project
Beth David Synagogue Green Road Synagogue Young Israel of
West Hartford, CT Beachwood, OH Century City
Los Angeles, CA
Beth Jacob Congregation The Jewish Center
Beverly Hills, CA New York, NY Young Israel of
Bnai Israel – Ohev Zedek Young Israel Beth El of New Hyde Park
New Hyde Park, NY
Philadelphia, PA Borough Park
Koenig Family Foundation Young Israel of
Congregation Brooklyn, NY
Ahavas Achim Toco Hills
Young Israel of Atlanta, GA
Highland Park, NJ
Lawrence-Cedarhurst Young Israel of
Congregation Cedarhurst, NY
Shaarei Tefillah West Hartford
West Hartford, CT
Newton Centre, MA

Richard M. Joel, President and Bravmann Family University Professor, Yeshiva University
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, Vice President for University and Community Life, Yeshiva University
Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, David Mitzner Dean, Center for the Jewish Future
Rabbi Menachem Penner, Max and Marion Grill Dean, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary

Rabbi Robert Shur, Series Editor Rabbi Joshua Flug, General Editor
Rabbi Michael Dubitsky, Content Editor Andrea Kahn, Copy Editor

Copyright © 2017 All rights reserved by Yeshiva University
Yeshiva University Center for the Jewish Future
500 West 185th Street, Suite 419, New York, NY 10033 • office@yutorah.org • 212.960.0074

This publication contains words of Torah. Please treat it with appropriate respect.
For sponsorship opportunities, please contact Paul Glasser at 212.960.5852 or paul.glasser@yu.edu.

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
Table of Contents
Shavuot 2017/5777
Chag Hasemikhah Remarks, 5777
President Richard M. Joel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 6
A T R I BU TE TO PR E S IDEN T R ICH A R D M . J OEL
Kabbalat HaTorah:A Tribute to President Richard & Dr. Esther Joel
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 8
Yom Hamyeuchas
Rabbi Dr. Hillel Davis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 10
What Happens in Heaven... Stays in Heaven
Rabbi Dr. Avery Joel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 11
The Matan Torah Narrative and Its Leadership Lessons
Dr. Penny Joel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 14
Reflections on a Presidential Chavrusa: Lessons from the Fourth Perek of Brachos
Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 16
Experiencing the Silence of Sinai
Rabbi Menachem Penner . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 19
Consent and Coercion at Sinai
Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 22
Flowers and Trees in Shul on Shavuot
Rabbi Ezra Schwartz . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 25
PER SPECTIVES ON CONVER SION
The Surrogate Challenge
Rabbi Eli Belizon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 28
The Power of Obligation
Joshua Blau . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 31
I Just Want to Drink My Tea
Mrs. Leah Nagarpowers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . , . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 34
Lessons from Mount Sinai: The Interplay between Halacha and Humanity in the Gerus Process
Rabbi Yona Reiss . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 36
Lessons Learned from Conversion
Rabbi Zvi Romm . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 39
On Mikva and Matan Torah: Observations from Witnessing the Conversion Process
Mrs. Shoshana Schechter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 44
Performance of Mitzvos by Conversion Candidates
Rabbi Michoel Zylberman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Page 46
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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
Introduction
T he chag of Shavuos is most
closely associated with its
identity as zman matan
Toraseinu — a day commemorating
the giving of the Torah. Its ritual
Rabbi Yaakov Glasser
David Mitzner Dean, YU Center for the Jewish Future
Rabbi, Young Israel of Passaic-Clifton
expression is limited, since there
are no formal objects of sanctity traditional Masoretic structure of in our overall commitment to talmud
or commandments to engage in the verses. The other, taam elyon (the Torah. Fundamentally, the liturgical
particular acts of religious observance. upper cantillation), divides the verses experience is really intended to be one
The primary mitzvah we engage without regard to their traditional of study. Therefore, the cantillation
in over the course of the holiday is structure, and instead organizes used corresponds to the breakdown
talmud Torah (Torah learning). This them with the goal of distinguishing of verses. This is the most authentic
is distinct from every other holiday each of the commandments. There way to engage in Torah study. The
throughout the Jewish calendar, is an extensive halachic discussion reading of the Torah on Shavuos has
which requires us to endow a regarding which of these two an entirely different purpose. The
particular object or act with a unique cantillation methods should be Rokeach no. 296 writes based on a
moment of sanctity in recognizing employed when chanting the Aseres midrash:
the particular message of that chag. A HaDibros. The Magen Avraham
lulav and esrog are not objects we use ‫אמר הקב”ה לישראל בני הוו קורין את‬
(494) quotes the Masas Binyamin,
for performance of mitzvos the rest of ‫הפרשה הזאת בכל שנה ושנה ואני מעלה‬
who distinguishes between the
the year, nor do we fulfill a mitzvah by ‫עליכם כאלו אתם לומדים לפני הר סיני‬
reading on Shavuos and the reading
eating matzah, or blowing the shofar. .‫ומקבלים את התורה‬
on an ordinary Shabbos. The Masas
Yet Shavuos embraces a mitzvah that The Holy One Blessed Be He said to the
Binyanim argues that when reading
is consistent throughout the year. Jewish people: Read this section (the
Parshas Yisro and Va’eschanan during
The mitzvah most associated with Aseres HaDibros) each year and I will
the regular cycle of the year, we
Shavuos is essentially at the center treat it as if you are studying it at Har
should utilize the taam tachton, and
of our religious life — the study of Sinai and accepting the Torah.
when reading the Aseres HaDibros on
Torah. How does our talmud Torah Shavuos, we should employ the taam The reading of the Torah on Shavuos
experience on this holiday become an elyon. is not simply an act of Torah study.
experience that is unique to Shavuos? Rather, it is intended to recreate the
Are we not simply engaged in a Why should we make such a
experience of Sinai itself. As a result,
religious act that is required of us each distinction? Surely we should be
we follow the taam elyon, which
and every day of the year? consistent and select one tradition echoes G-d’s presentation of the
as the authentic approach in reading Aseres HaDibros, rather than the
The kerias HaTorah (Torah reading) this section of the Torah, regardless of
of Shavuos appropriately features technical manner in which they were
the reason why we read it. Rav Yosef recorded.
the reading of matan Torah, and Dov Soloveitchik explained that the
included within this reading are the nature of our obligation to read the This is truly what Shavuos is about. It
Aseres HaDibros. There are two Torah on Shavuos is different from isn’t only about the study of Torah. It
potential formats for the cantillation the obligation to read the Torah on is about the experience of Torah. We
of the Aseres HaDibros. One, the an ordinary Shabbos. Throughout the are not only focused on the substance
taam tachton (the lower cantillation), year, the purpose of reading the Torah and content of Torah — we embrace
divides the verses based on the each Shabbos is to ensure consistency the opportunity to connect to the

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
larger transformative impact that that take place across our texts and programs, buildings, and centers
Torah makes on our lives. We stay up traditions, and to the voice of G-d that that have been dreamt, built, and
Rabbi David Aaron, Rabbi Elie Abadie, Yehuda Leib Abberbock, Rafi Abraham, Professor Abraham S. Abraham, Jed H. Abraham, Aaron Abramson, Rabbi David Abuchatzeira, Nina J. Ackerman, Ms. Malka Adatto, Rabbi Elchanan Adler, Rabbi Yosef Adler, Rabbi Moshe Adler, Rabbi

Ashleylearning
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Dr. Stuart Apfel, Apfel, Dr. Maryln Applebaum, Rabbi Yaakov Rabbi Yosef Leib Arnest, Various Adrienne Asch, Sam Ash, Rabbi Pinchas Ashen, Rabbi Aster, Shayna Aster, Abigail Atlas,

Yisraelnot a productive tactic in the pursuit that NoahweBaron, study. Yet hisBayme,contribution
Rabbi Mordechai Becher,and imprint
Dr. Gil Atzmon, Rabbi Kenneth Auman, Rabbi Avrohom Ausband, Professor Nathan Aviezer, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Chaim Axelrod, Dr. Harvey Babich, Rabbi Elisha Bacon, Dr. Joshua Bacon, Dean Karen Bacon, Rabbi Asher Balanson, Rabbi Hanan Balk, Rabbi Yehuda Balsam, Rabbi
Balsim, Rabbi Moshe Bamberger, Rabbi Natan Bar-Haim, Yonah Bardos, Dalia Barenboim, Rabbi Dr. Sara Barris, Rabbi Simon Basalely, Rabbi Tzvi Basch, Rabbi Shalom Baum, Dr. Steven Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer, Katie Becker,
Rabbi Assaf Bednarsh, Cantor Bernard Beer, Yitzchak Editor Beis, Rabbi Binyomin Beiser, Rabbi Eli Belizon, Mrs. Rebecca Belizon, Rabbi Shmuel Belkin, Gurion Prime Minister David Ben, Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Chaim, Geulah Ben-David, Eitan Ben-David, Rabbi Hanan Benayahu, Rebecca
of Torah
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Diana Benmergui, butBenovitz,
Rabbi Moshe theMr.experience
Ronald Benun, Rabbi Simon Benzaquen, Dr. Michael Berger, Rabbi David Berger, Ari Berger, Rabbi Gedalia Berger, Dovi Bergman, Rabbi
Berko, Dr. Jay R. Berkovitz, Rachel Berley, Cantor Moshe Berlove, Rabbi Todd Berman, Rabbi Etan Moshe Our religious
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gives expression to an inner passion programs of YU. There is the taam
Berzon, Rabbi Azarya Berzon, Rabbi Chananya Berzon, Rabbi Abraham Besdin, Mrs. Rachel Besser, Rabbi Donny Besser, Rabbi Joseph Beyda, Rabbi Ezra Bick, Rabbi Jack Bieler, Rabbi Richard Bieler, Rabbi Jonathan Bienenfeld, Rabbi Marvin Bienenfeld, Amanda Bier, Rabbi Avi Billet,
Nun Rabbi Elchanan Bin, Nun Rabbi Yoel Bin, Mrs. Malke Bina, Rabbi Aaron Bina, Rabbi Gidon Binyamin, by aPnina taamBirman,tachton a taam
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Rabbi Elichai Bitter, Rabbi Mendel Blachman, Rabbi Josh Blass, Rabbi Yitzchak Blau, Rabbi Binyamin Blau, Rabbi Yonason Blau,

and love for Torah. That is what elyon that President JoelRabbichallenged
Dr. Rivkah Blau, Rabbi Yosef Blau, Rabbi Benjamin Blech, Rabbi Dr. J. David Bleich, Dr. Judith Bleich, Rabbi Moshe Bleich, Rabbi Michael Bleicher, Professor Gerald J. Blidstein, Rachel Blinick, Rabbi Akiva Block, Mrs. Dena Block, Elli Bloom, Dr. Norman Blumenthal, Chaim Blumenthal,
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Brazil, Professor Marshall J. Breger, Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz, Rabbi Mendel Breitstein, Edward Breuer, Rabbi Alanare theDovday-to-day
Brill, Rabbi structured
Tova Bodoff, Faygie Bomzer, Rabbi Herbert Bomzer, Rabbi Yehuda Dovid Borenstein, Dr. Abba Borowich, Yitzchak Brand, Ms. Miryam Brand, Rabbi Reuven Brand, Rabbi Kenneth Brander, Rabbi
Aaron Brisman, Rabbi Shlomo
Asher Brander, Tehilla Brander, Hilda Brandwein, Baruch Dov Braun, Rabbi Shmuel
Brody, Dr. Baruch A. Brody, Rabbi David Brofsky, Mrs. Mali Brofsky, Rabbi Avrohom Bromberg, Rabbi Moshe Bromberg,
RabbiShavuos is all Bronstein, Rabbi Chaim Brovender, Dr. Jeremy Brown, Rabbi Moshe Brown, Dr. Erica Brown, Rabbi Michael Broyde, Rabbi Eli Brudny, Rabbi Ephraim Z. our
Yosefabout. community to engage in.Irving
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Abba Bronspeigel, Rabbi
Dovid Burack, Fay Burekhovich, Rabbi Steven Burg, Rabbi Mordechai Burg, Robin Burger, Dr. Edward experiences
Burns, Esther Burns, RabbiofMenachem
religious Burshtien,life, andBusel,there
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Buchwald, Rabbi Reuven Buckler, Rabbi Ephraim A. Buckwold,
Rabbi Asher Bush, Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo, Rabbi Yosef Carmel, Rabbi Shalom Carmy, Rabbi Yigal
Chabshush, Rabbi Nachum Chaimowitz, Rabbi Yoni Chambre, Professor Jerome Chanes, Rabbi Zevulun Charlop, Rabbi Yaacov Moshe Charlop, Rabbi Alexander Charlop, Rabbi Yechiel Michel larger purpose
Charlop, Rabbi Leon Charney, to our
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Magazine Journal: inChavrusa, Rabbi Yuval
We
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being a source of not just Torah and
Yitzchok Cohen, Rabbi Yehoshua Cohen, Rabbi Chaim Cohen, Rabbi Tanchum Cohen, Rabbi Jonathan Cohen, Ariella Cohen, Rabbi Alfred Cohen, Mrs. Suzanne Cohen, Cohen, Mrs. Shulamith Cohn, Rabbi Menachem Copperman, Rabbi Eytan Coren, Mrs. Miriam Coren, Ronald
greater access to the substance of and revolution in how we relate to
Cranford, Rabbi Ari Cutler, Dr. Gabriel Cwillich, Rabbi Shlomo Cynamon, Dr. Michael Dalezman, Yakov Danishefsky, Rabbi Yaacov Darmoni, Dr. Jonathan Dauber, Rabbi Avishai David, Rabbi Aharon David, Rabbi Chanoch Davidman, Rabbi Michael Davies, Rebbetzin Meira Davis, Dr.

Dienstag, Chanie Dinerman, Rabbi Herbert Dobrinsky, Rabbi Mark Dratch, Rabbi Yaacov Drillman, Rabbi Solomon Drillman, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Druck, Rabbi Chaim Druckman, Rabbi Josepheducation, butDovidnobility and leadership.
Perry and Ms. Margy-Ruth Davis, Rabbi Edward Davis, Rabbi Dr Hillel Davis, Mrs. Yocheved Debow, Aryeh Deinstag, Jennifer Deluty, Professor Aaron Demsky, HaTevah Editor Derech, Naftali Derovan, Rabbi Eliyahu Deutsch, Segni Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di, Ariel Diamond, Prof. Jacob

Editor,Torah than anyYosefother inEtanJewish ourselves and theProfessor
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Shema Koleinu Editor, K’tones Editor, Rabbi Ehrenfeld, Yaakov Ehrenkrantz, Rabbi Yisroel Ehrlich, Rabbi Ally Ehrman, Barry Eichler, Editor Einayim, Shlomo Einhorn, Rabbi Moshe Einstadter, Mrs Atara Eis, Rabbi Chaim Eisen, Mrs. Mindy
Eisenman, Rabbi Chaim Eisenstein, Rabbi Benny Eisner, Zev Eleff, Dr. G.E. Elinson, Rabbi Hagay Elitzur, Rav haRoshi Mordechai Eliyahu, Mrs. Adina Ellis, Rabbi Mickey Ellman, Rabbi Gil Elmaleh, HeRabbi instilled
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Faskowitz, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, Jennifer Fathy, Esti Feder, Ari Federgrun, Jessica Feig, Rabbi Aaron Feigenbaum, Mrs. Aviva Feiner, Rabbi Eytan Feiner, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Rabbi Reuven his colleagues a sense of mission that Yitzchak
Feinstein, Dr. Carl Feit, Rabbi Yaacov Feit, Rabbi Meir Simcha Feldblum, Rabbi
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Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman, andRebecca Feldman,
Rabbi Jonathan Feldman, our hakaras
Dr. Louis Feldman, Dr. hatov (gratitude)
Adam Ferziger, Rabbi Chaim Feuerman,to Rabbi Rafi Feurstein, Professor Steven Fine, Rabbi Daniel Fine, Rabbi Reuven Fink, Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman, Dr.

emotion of Torah seems out of reach. President Richard Joel for his 14 years extends beyond the day-to-day, and
Yoel Finkelman, Rabbi Michael Finkelstein, Rabbi Jason Finkelstein, Rabbi Joel Finkelstein, Eitan Fiorino, Meira Fireman, Aliza Fireman, Bernard J. Firestone, Jesse Fischbein, Rabbi Dovi Fischer, Esther Fischer, Rabbi Chonoch Henoch Fishman, Professor Sylvia Barack Fishman, Secunda
Mrs. Daphna Fishman, Professor David Flatto, Rabbi Tzvi Flaum, Ms. Elana Flaumenhaft, Rabbi Neil Fleischman, Rabbi Yosef Fleischman, Yishai Fleisher, Rabbi Aaron Fleksher, Rabbi Josh Flug, Rabbi David Fohrman, Rabbi Yoni Fox, Daniel Fox, Dr. Steven D. Fraade, Rabbi Netanel

reaches forFriedman,
higher Adampurpose in Frogel,
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Frankenthal, Ilana Frankiel, Rabbi Ezra Frazer, Esther Frederick, Rabbi Avidan Freedman, Rabbi Lavey Freedman, Rabbi Binny Freedman, Rabbi Zev Freidman, Rabbi Barry Freundel, Daniel Fridman, Frida Fridman, Rabbi Pesachya Fried, Rabbi Yosef Friedenson, Michelle Friedman,

RabbiShavuos
Yossi Fuchs, Yechielis anRabbiopportunity for usMeirto ofFurman,
leadership atRabbi
Yeshiva University.
Allen Friedman, Rabbi Asher Friedman, Rabbi David Friedman, Rabbi Gavriel Friedman, Dr. Michelle Friedman, Rabbi Mordy Friedman, Dr. Richard Friedman, Sarah Friedman, Josh Friedman, Rabbi Moshe Aharon Friedmann, Dr. Michael Michael Fruchter,
Fuchs, Ari Fuld, Rabbi Dovid Fuld, Rabbi Fulda, Rabbi Yaakov Rabbi Milton Furst, Mallen Galinsky, Dr. Judah Galinsky, Rabbi Moshe Ganz, Rabbi Naftali Ganzvi, Rabbi Noah Gardenschwartz, Reuven Garret, Tova Gavrilova, Dr.
Dan Geisler, Rabbi Eli Gelernter, Mrs. Yael Gelernter, Rabbi Dani Gelertner, Rabbi Shaanan Gelman, Dr. Sheldon Gelman, Rabbi Barry Gelman, Moshe Genack, Rabbi Menachem Genack, Rabbiwe do.
Yitzchak Genack, Yitzy Genack, Rabbi Shai Gerson, Rabbi Shmuel Gerstenfeld, Dr Wiiliam
reconnect
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Rabbi Baruch Gigi, Rabbi Yehuda Gilad,than data,
Mr. Alan Gindi, Rabbibut to Rabbi AriPresident
Yosef Ginsberg, Ginsberg, Rabbi Beinish Joel has
Ginsburg, made
Ms. Leslie countless
Ginsparg, Rabbi Daniel Glanz, Debra Glasberg, Shifra Glasner, David Glassberg, Mrs. Chana Glatt, Rabbi Dr Aaron Glatt, Rabbi Ephraim
Glatt, Rabbi Ozer Glickman, Arielle Glueck, Cantor Sherwood Goffin, Rabbi Zev Gold, Ronit Gold, Michal Gold, Rabbi Yoni Gold, Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, Mrs. Basheva Goldberg, Noah Goldberg, Rabbi Nosson Goldberg, Rabbi Dr. Judah Goldberg,
the larger experience of talmud Torah, contributions to the taam tachton at
Rabbi Zev Goldberg, Rabbi Chaim Goldberg, Rebbetzin Yocheved Goldberg, Michelle Goldberg, Mrs. Shayna Goldberg, Rabbi Shraga Goldenhersh, Mrs. Yael Goldfischer, Stephanie Goldglantz, Rabbi Yechiel Goldhaber, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, Joshua L. Golding, Yedida Goldman, Rabbi
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to the intergenerational conversations YU. There are so many personalities,
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Beth Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series Din • Shavuot 5777 of,
Chag HaSemikhah Remarks, 5777
T oday marks the fourth and
final opportunity I have to
address a Chag HaSemikhah
as Yeshiva’s president. It has been a
sacred privilege.
President Richard M. Joel
President and Bravmann Family University
Professor, Yeshiva University
Today, we celebrate over 130 young men
of extraordinary quality and character ‫ישראל ואורייתא וקודשא בריך הוא חד הוא‬. ‫ֹאמר ה’ ִהּנֵ ה ָמקֹום ִא ִּתי וְ נִ ּצַ ְב ָּת עַ ל ַהּצּור‬
ֶ ‫וַ ּי‬
who I have seen grow in learning and in And almost 85 years ago, our first And the Lord said: “Behold, there is a
middos and in professionalism. president, Dr. Bernard Revel zt’l, stood place next to me, and you shall stand on
the rock.”
And today, I know that you join me in at this podium and said the following:
celebrating the extraordinary Roshei Out of the portals of this sanctuary of Such a dramatic moment — Moshe
Yeshiva and Hanhala of Yeshivat the spirit shall come a Jewish leadership wants to see God’s face. As close as
Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan whom I — lay and spiritual — conscious of its Moshe was to the Ribbono Shel Olam,
have had the pleasure to partner with. unique heritage, striving to develop in he was hungry for more. He wanted to
this land a Jewish life, culturally creative see God’s face, and God says no. But
In today’s celebrants, Yeshiva
and spiritually satisfying, based upon the then God says “stand beside me.”
embraces the continuity of our
profound mission of advancing Torah eternal foundations of the Torah, helping Rav Sampson Raphael Hirsh explains:
values, so as to guide, teach and lead our communities to fuller self-expression, ‫ — ִהּנֵ ה ָמקֹום ִא ִּתי‬there is a place next to
our people and the world to a better and richer contribution to the cultural Me. One and only one point of view
place. Almost 40 years ago, President and spiritual values of our society. exists as the highest goal to be attained
Norman Lamm stood at this podium So I stand here today on the shoulders by the highest human mind, even for
and shared the following message: of those who came before me, and I Moses, only one legitimate point of
contemplate, what can I possibly add view, and that is not to try and get a
Scholarship and piety are necessary,
to this discussion? To this continuing sight of God, but, elevated by God,
but they are not sufficient. A spiritual
conversation? and godliness, to look at men and the
person is one whose ideals and practice
human condition from a height, next to
transcend his self-interest, whose To me, parashat Ki Tisa offers a God, near to God, from God’s point of
deportment and, indeed, very presence precious perspective on how we, klei view, to understand and appreciate all
symbolizes the values of Torah. kodesh, and lay kodesh, are to lead men and all conditions of human life.
Years before that, at an earlier Chag our lives, a message that has been a
This master insight — the human
HaSemikhah, his predecessor, Dr. Samuel defining insight for my life and I think
for that of my wife and children. being is not supposed to see God —
Belkin zt’l, shared the message that:
it’s not our realm. Our goal is to stand
There is one thing we must remember Perek lamed gimmel details an amazing beside God. Our role is not to see
always. Just as we have faith in God, discussion between Moshe and the God, but to see as God sees, and strive
and just as we have faith in the Torah of Ribbono Shel Olam, culminating with to do as God does.
Moses, so let us have faith in the Jewish Moshe beseeching God to let Moshe
see God’s face, Hareini na es kevodecha. Beloved musmakhim: Hear the
people, in the continuous miracle of its
God responds: message from four presidents of this
rebirth. Let us have faith in the miracle of
Yeshiva, and consider that:
spiritual unity between God, His Torah ‫ֹאמר ל ֹא תּוכַ ל לִ ְראֹת ֶאת ָּפנָ י ּכִ י ל ֹא יִ ְר ַאנִ י‬
ֶ ‫וַ ּי‬
and His people, which is summed up in ‫ ָה ָא ָדם וָ ָחי‬Be a caring role model;
the sayings of our Sages, “Israel, the Torah And He said, “You will not be able to see Believe in the Jewish People;
and the Holy One Blessed Be He, are one.” My face, for man shall not see Me and live.” Dare to make a difference in the world;
And strive to see as God sees and do

6
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
as God does — vehalachta b’drachav. of Torah by constantly fanning its you. Partner with them and with all
flames. Your actions matter — your our children to advance the Torah and
As musmakhim of Yeshivat Rabbeinu
Yitzchak Elchanan, you have been commitment to Torah inspires people advance the world.
and elevates the world.
trained in leadership, you have been V’cheyn yehi ratzon.
prepared to serve as our ambassadors Esther and I are entrusting our
of nobility, spreading the warmth children and our grandchildren to

WHAT YESHIVA UNIVERSITY CAN DO FOR YOU!
Programs of YU’s Center for the Jewish Future

Lay Leader Services COMMUNITY BEIT MIDRASH facilitating a variety of extracurricular
Join us at the Israel Henry Beren Campus workshops in a day camp setting.
CHAMPIONSGATE LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE for a unique six-week lecture series and Contact josh.weisberg@yu.edu.
In concert with community leaders from hear from YU’s expert faculty on topics such
around the world; prioritize, present, and as Tanach, Jewish history, medical ethics, Rabbinic Services
discuss an agenda of the issues facing the Jewish law, Israel’s foreign policy, and many
Modern Orthodox community at a yearly more. Contact aryeh.czarka@yu.edu MORRIS AND GERTRUDE BIENENFELD
conference that convenes lay, educational DEPARTMENT OF JEWISH CAREER
and rabbinic leaders. The conference YU SPEAKERS BUREAU DEVELOPMENT AND PLACEMENT
continues through ongoing conversations Tailor programs of speakers from within the Access to professionals who aid institutions
and continued updates to implement YU community for the needs and desires of with the search process, management and
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Contact championsgate@yu.edu. Contact aryeh.czarka@yu.edu professionals throughout North America and
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COMMUNITY LEADERSHIP INITIATIVE Teams of young men and women JEWISH CAREERS
Utilizing top professors, talent and resources dispatched to communities for Simchat A vocational website designed to help
of Yeshiva University, CLI teaches the skills Torah and Shavuot to teach classes, instill Jewish organizations find professionals
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Join Yeshiva University’s vibrant campus COUNTERPOINT ISRAEL as “Addressing Abuse in Community;” “End
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Contact aryeh.czarka@yu.edu

7
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
Kabbalat HaTorah:A Tribute to
President Richard & Dr. Esther Joel
, ַ‫יהֹוׁשע‬
ֻ ִ‫ּומ ָס ָרּה ל‬ ְ ,‫ּתֹורה ִמ ִּסינַ י‬ָ ‫מׁשה ִק ֵּבל‬ ֶ
‫ ּונְ ִב ִיאים‬,‫ ּוזְ ֵקנִ ים לִ נְ ִב ִיאים‬,‫יהֹוׁש ַע לִ זְ ֵקנִ ים‬
ֻ ִ‫ו‬ Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander
.‫רּוה לְ ַאנְ ֵׁשי כְ נֶ ֶסת ַהּגְ דֹולָ ה‬ ָ ‫ְמ ָס‬ Vice President for University and Community Life,
Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and
transmitted it to Yehoshua and Yehoshua Yeshiva University
to the elders and the elders to the
prophets and the prophets transmitted it remind us that the study of Torah President Richard Joel has always
to the Men of the Great Assembly. is not just about collecting data subscribed to this vision, together
Avot 1:1 and knowledge; it is not an exercise with his partner, Dr. Esther Joel. The

T he Mishnah focuses on the in Googling information. Critical Joel’s home has always been warm
first stages of the transmission to the experience of talmud Torah and welcoming, filled with a love for
of the Torah. The Maharal is the environment in which the Torah and its values. This is seen in
(R. Judah Loew ben Bezalel), in his engagement with God occurs. The the way they engage with family and
Derech haChayim commentary to this environment either enhances our in the steady stream of representatives
Mishnah (s.v. Amnam), asks: Why kabbalat haTorah or detracts from its from various organizations or people
doesn’t the Mishnah begin with the function and purpose. in need requesting tzedakah because
statement that Moshe received the the Joel home is known “on the street”
Furthermore, authentic Torah study
Torah from Hashem? Isn’t Divine as a home of chesed. All are welcomed
should also create an environment
transmission a critical component of with a smile and financial support.
that is modest and promotes the ideal
our mesorah? Why is Har Sinai, the One would think that after a grueling
of mutual respect. The experience
location, stressed instead of the role of of revelation on Mount Sinai is schedule, day in and day out helming
the Divine? such an important institution, that
elaborated on in Shemot, Chap.
Shabbat would be a well-deserved
The Maharal explains that the 19–20, and continues in Chapter 24.
day of rest. Yet they have welcomed
environment in which Torah Placed in the center of the description
thousands of students for Shabbat
study takes place is integral to the of the Sinai experience are chapters
over their tenure as leaders at Yeshiva
experience. Moshe receiving the 21–24 of Misphatim. These are the
University.
Torah on Mount Sinai was not laws that instruct us on how to create
happenstance; the location was a just and civil society. They are President Joel has also worked to
carefully chosen. The mountain’s sandwiched in the midst of the story communicate that if YU is a place
modest demeanor was a fitting of Divine revelation to remind us of Torah it must also be a place
place to share the word of God. The that the Torah demands of us that we that is welcoming, engaging, and
environment was choreographed to create a society that values kindness, respectful to all. How many university
justice and caring. presidents stand in line to help

Find more shiurim and articles from Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander at
http://www.yutorah.org/Rabbi-Dr-Kenneth-Brander

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
How many university
presidents stand in line
to help students move
into their rooms in the
residence halls? How
many personally serve
employees food at a
day of recognition?

students move into their rooms remind students not to limit their experiences, helping us to improve
in the residence halls? How many friendships to those in their classes our individual and collective kabbalat
personally serve employees food or shiur, those from the same high haTorah.
at a day of recognition? How many school, or from the same yeshiva or My colleagues, Rabbi Dr. Hillel
make time to meet not just with seminary in Israel. Davis, Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph, Rabbi
current undergraduates, but with For the past fourteen years, President Menachem Penner, Rabbi Dr. Jacob
prospective students — in high school Joel has been involved in all the J. Schacter, Rabbi Ezra Schwartz, and
and studying in Israel — throughout challenges that university presidents members of the family, Rabbi Dr.
the year? It is President Joel who is deal with, but he has also worked to Avery Joel and Dr. Penny Joel have
constantly reminding us to engage make Yeshiva University a friendlier contributed additional thoughtful
“the other” on campus, those who and a more engaging place. In the pieces related to Shavuot honoring the
may appear different than ourselves, to process, he has made our campuses leadership of President Richard M.
greet them with warmth and without our Mount Sinai, where we can find Joel.
judgment. President Joel would and engage in meaningful spiritual

Were you
Koveah
time to learn today?
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What you want, when you want, at the pace you want

Visit www.koveah.org to start adding
more learning to your day!

9
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
A TRIBUTE TO PRESIDENT RICHARD M. JOEL

Yom Hamyeuchas
I f you look carefully at the Jewish
calendar for the month of Sivan,
you may be surprised to find that
the second day of the month is referred
to as Yom Hameyuchas. Generally, we
Rabbi Dr. Hillel Davis
Chief Operating Officer, Five Blocks

understand “meyuchas” or “yichus” as
the paints and sketch out the drawings more apt description to the individual
“being of distinguished lineage,” so the
that would decorate their respective that he is and the role that he has
second of Sivan is apparently the day of
walls. The fourth sat by, seemingly idle, played than as a meyuchas. He is of
distinguished lineage. What does that
writing numbers in a note pad. As the distinguished lineage as one who has
mean and why is such an attribution
three were finishing their work on their worked to create a mural that reflects
attached to that particular day?
individual walls, the fourth finally stood the glory of all that surrounded him,
The most popular explanation is based up and arranged a series of mirrors on all the good and all the potential that
on the Gemara, Shabbat 86b-87a. The his wall. When the king arrived to judge we as a community have. He has built
second of Sivan was the day when the the work, he awarded the prize to the up our Yeshiva to reflect the very best
Jewish people were charged by God to fourth artist. He said that while the that came before us — our tradition,
be a mamlechet kohanim v’goy kadosh — creativity and skill of each of the three our history, our story as he would
a priestly nation and a holy people. The artists were both evident and special, so often refer to it. At the same time,
Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chaim 494:7, the work of the fourth artist was truly he has invested his entire being in
notes that this is the reason why it is the most beautiful in that it reflected unleashing the potential of the glory
called Yom Hameyuchas — the day upon the glory and the grandeur of all that of who and what will follow — the
which we as a Jewish people attained surrounded it. generations of young men and women
our distinctive and distinguished place who have absorbed those lessons,
Yom Hameyuchas has no intrinsic
among the family of nations. built on them and made them their
holiness, but by virtue of the fact
Others suggest that in fact the day itself that it sits in the midst of holiness, own, and will, God willing, continue
has no special or unique quality, but it reflects all that surrounds it. to bring pride and nachat to us as
rather since it sits squarely between Ultimately, that is what yichus is: the parents, grandparents, as Jews and as
Rosh Chodesh on the previous day and opportunity to reflect all the grandeur citizens of the world. He has created
the shloshet yemei hagbalah, the three of that which came before and that that fourth wall that reflects the glory,
preparatory days leading up to matan which will follow. When we think of the beauty and the nobility of what
Torah, it too is swept up in the overall ourselves as primarily a conduit to was and what is still to be.
simcha of the period. As such, Yom reflect the glory of the generations As a leader, he has created a paradigm
Hameyuchas achieves its prestige from that preceded us and we pray (and that we could all benefit from
its proximity to the holy days that work so) that the generations that emulating — understanding that our
surround it. follow us will also create their own yichus comes not from any greatness
The Yalkut Me’am Lo’ez cites a parable, beauty and dignity in which we can that we attribute to ourselves, but
which apparently is attributed to the take pride and ultimately bask in that rather to our commitment to ennoble
Roziner Rav, to explain this idea further. reflection, then we are truly meyuchas the past and enable the future. His
A king wanted his palace decorated, — we are of distinguished lineage. artistry has brightened the future of
so he invited four famous artists, each our community, the broader Jewish
This Shavuot, we are marking the end
to paint one wall of the palace. Three community throughout the world and
of President Joel’s 14 years at the helm
of the four worked assiduously to mix mankind as a whole.
of Yeshiva University. I can think of no

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
A TRIBUTE TO PRESIDENT RICHARD M. JOEL

What Happens in Heaven...
Stays in Heaven
I f it is acceptable to have favorite
pesukim (verses) in the Torah,
I would choose the following
section. Toward the end of Moshe’s
farewell speech to Bnei Yisrael, Moshe
Rabbi Dr. Avery Joel
Principal, Stark High School, Cleveland, OH
shares some inspirational words,
meant to motivate the people. In
Parshas Nitzavim (Devarim 30:11- mimcha” — “It is not concealed from can he introduce a new law based on
14), Moshe says: you” that you would need nevi’im a heavenly prophecy. If a prophet tries
--‫ ֲא ֶׁשר ָאנֹכִ י ְמצַ ּוְ ָך ַהּיֹום‬,‫יא ּכִ י ַה ִּמצְ וָ ה ַהּזֹאת‬ (prophets), “v’lo rechoka hi” — “And to add, remove, or change mitzvos, we
‫ יב ל ֹא‬.‫ וְ ל ֹא ְרח ָֹקה ִהוא‬,‫נִ ְפלֵ את ִהוא ִמ ְּמָך‬-‫ל ֹא‬ it is not far away” that you would need do not listen to him.
‫ּלָ נּו ַה ָּׁש ַמיְ ָמה‬-‫ ִמי יַ ֲעלֶ ה‬,‫ לֵ אמֹר‬:‫ ִהוא‬,‫ַב ָּׁש ַמיִ ם‬ chachamim (Sages), to explain to you
There is a well-known story in
-‫ יג וְ ל ֹא‬.‫ וְ נַ ֲע ֶׂשּנָ ה‬,‫ וְ יַ ְׁש ִמ ֵענּו א ָֹתּה‬,‫וְ יִ ָּק ֶח ָה ּלָ נּו‬ what needs to be done. Don’t think
Maseches Bava Metzia (59b) that
‫עֵ ֶבר‬-‫לָ נּו ֶאל‬-‫ ִמי יַ ֲע ָבר‬,‫ לֵ אמֹר‬:‫ ִהוא‬,‫ֵמ ֵע ֶבר לַ ּיָ ם‬ that teshuva isn’t a reality given your
applies this principle as well. Rebbi
-‫ יד ּכִ י‬.‫ וְ נַ ֲע ֶׂשּנָ ה‬,‫ וְ יַ ְׁש ִמ ֵענּו א ָֹתּה‬,‫ַהּיָ ם וְ יִ ָּק ֶח ָה ּלָ נּו‬ time or place. Rather, repentance is
Eliezer ben Hirkanus declared that
.‫ לַ עֲ ׂשֹתֹו‬,‫ ְּב ִפיָך ִּובלְ ָב ְבָך‬:‫ ְמאֹד‬,‫ָקרֹוב ֵאלֶ יָך ַה ָּד ָבר‬ always attainable, even though we may
a certain oven made out of separate
11. For this commandment which I sometimes feel like it is out of reach
coils of clay is not susceptible to
command you this day, is not concealed for one reason or another.
tum’ah (impurity), while the Sages
from you, nor is it far away. 12. It is not Rashi offers a broader definition declared that it was. After failing to
in heaven, that you should say, “Who of this “mitzvah” and suggests it is convince the other members of the
will go up to heaven for us and fetch it referring to the entire Torah. The Sanhedrin, he resorted to supernatural
for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can messages then are similar, but this means to convince them. In support of
fulfill it?” 13. Nor is it beyond the sea, interpretation is all-encompassing. his opinion, Rebbi Eliezer summoned
that you should say, “Who will cross to It is our responsibility to acquire a carob tree to uproot itself and walk
the other side of the sea for us and fetch and attain the Torah. “Shamayim” across a garden. He then instructed
it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can (heaven) isn’t going to do it for us. water in a stream to reverse direction.
fulfill it?” 14. Rather, [this] thing is very Simultaneously, the contents of Last, he ordered the walls of their
close to you; it is in your mouth and in the Torah — the commandments, study hall to support him, so they
your heart, so that you can fulfill it. the stories, and the lessons — are trembled and tilted inwards. After all
But there is some debate as to what accessible to everyone, not just the of these miracles failed to sway the
Moshe was truly referring to. What is chachamim and nevi’im. Sages, a bas kol (a heavenly voice)
this “mitzvah” that is close to us? Beyond the charge these pesukim called out that the halacha should
provide to Bnei Yisrael, they also serve follow Rebbi Eliezer.
According to the Ramban, it is the
mitzvah of teshuva (repentance). This as the basis for a halachic concept. Unmoved by the supernatural display
parsha is always read right before Based in part on the phrase “lo of support, Rebbi Yehoshua, the av
Rosh Hashana. The Seforno explains bashamayim hi,” the Rambam codifies beis din (chief of the court), responded
in this vein that the message Moshe (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 9:1) that a with “lo bashamayim hi” — “It isn’t
is leaving Bnei Yisrael is “lo nifleis hi prophet can’t override halacha, nor in heaven.” It doesn’t matter that the

11
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
heavens testified on Rebbi Eliezer’s creation of man by saying (Bereishis gave Moshe all of Torah She’ba’al Peh.
behalf. We follow the guiding 1:26) “na’aseh adam b’tzalmeinu” — With all of the transmissions over the
principles given to us, including “Let us make man.” Why is it plural? generations, some of the details were
“acharei rabim l’hatos” — we follow With whom was Hashem consulting? lost. The Sages seek to rediscover
the majority even if an individual One answer is that Hashem was them, and that is where machlokos
sage might have gotten a law “right” talking to mankind. We are created come from. Another explanation is
in the absolute sense. The Torah tells in an imperfect state (as opposed to that Hashem only gave Moshe the
us through these pesukim that the all other creations). Hashem started general principles, but left it up to
responsibility for interpreting the the creation process, and we are the chachamim to apply them. The
Torah rests on the chachamim of each invited, and charged, to do our best application of them is where there
generation, which they do by utilizing to continue and complete it — by are disagreements. [See Rambam’s
the system given to Moshe on Har reaching our potential. introduction to Seder Zeraim.]
Sinai, and then passed down to each
This partnership is also emphasized A third approach, based on the
generation. This can’t be overruled,
in the difference between the first and Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 4:2) is that
even by Hashem! (Rebbi Eliezer’s
second set of luchos, tablets. There Hashem taught Moshe 49 reasons to
refusal to follow this system ultimately
was one main difference between the prohibit each situation and 49 reasons
led to him being excommunicated.)
first set of luchos — which Moshe to permit those very same situations.
The Gemara continues to describe how ultimately smashed in response to Hashem gave Moshe and the
Rebbi Nasan asked Eliyahu HaNavi the sin of the Golden Calf — and the chachamim all of the logic and tools,
how Hashem reacted to their decision second set. While Hashem wrote on along with the ability to determine
to ignore the miracles and the bas both of them, Hashem only carved what “truth” is. As Rav Chaim Navon
kol, and rule against Rebbi Eliezer. out the first luchos. Moshe had to of Yeshivat Har Etzion beautifully
Eliyahu said that Hashem’s response carve out the second set, upon which explains (article available at etzion.
was “nitzchuni banai” — “My children Hashem then wrote. Ultimately it org.il/en/download/file/fid/4477):
have been victorious over me.” Hashem was the second set that endured. The act of Torah study is not aimed at
rejoiced in the fact that they followed I heard from Rabbi Eli Rubin that uncovering and revealing an absolute
the system He had put in place for it endured because that was where truth, but at creation and advancement.
the development of Jewish law. This Hashem and mankind partnered In this respect, Halakha is closer to a
is exactly how Hashem wanted the together. The creation of that second work of art than to a rigid mathematical
halachic process to play out. set involved both Moshe and Hashem, system, in that it does not require a
The compelling question is: why in partnership. specific and unequivocal conclusion.
not follow the bas kol? If Hashem Until now, we have advanced the ... With respect to the Oral Law, the
reveals absolute truth to us, why theory that even though it may not concept of “truth” is meaningless. The
doesn’t He want us to follow that? lead to absolute truth, we follow Torah student is not required to strive for
Aren’t the Sages simply trying to the halachic process and utilize the the absolute “truth” that is concealed in
uncover the truth? Perhaps it is tools given to the chachamim, like God’s hidden places. The Torah serves
counterintuitive, but Hashem is not following the majority. Perhaps, as raw material for human creation,
looking for us to follow absolute truth. though, there is no absolute truth and man must develop the Torah in the
Rather, Hashem’s goal is to create a when it comes to halacha. There is direction that seems right to him.
partnership with us. Hashem wants us, some debate about what Hashem This approach can also give meaning
Bnei Yisrael, involved in the creation gave Moshe on Har Sinai. If Moshe to a well-known phrase from the
and shaping of halacha. He wants us to was given both Torah She’bichsav (the Gemara in Eruvin (13b). The Gemara
partner with Him in this process. Written Torah) and Torah She’ba’al states that for three years Beis Hillel
This isn’t the only time we see how Peh (the Oral Torah), how are there and Beis Shammai argued. Each one
much Hashem values His partnership machlokos, arguments, in the Gemara? said the halacha was according to
with mankind. During the story of There are a few approaches to this. their opinion. In the middle of this
creation, Hashem introduces the One understanding is that Hashem argument, a bas kol came out and said:

12
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
‫ והלכה כבית‬,‫אלו ואלו דברי אלקים חיים הן‬ can be understood simply — “since Students have asked me if the way we
.‫הלל‬ there is no single halakhic truth, both currently do things is the way Hashem
These and these are the words of the opinions are equally legitimate and intended. “Did Hashem really mean
Living God, and the law follows Beis ‘true.’ Both are considered a legitimate for us to have two sinks, two sets of
Hillel. development of halakha.” Therefore, dishes, etc.?” “Did Hashem really
machlokes isn’t a bad thing, and may intend for us to soak our strawberries
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, Emes
even be desirable. in soapy water to rid them of bugs?”
L’Yaakov, Eruvin 6b, understood that
“Did Hashem intend for us to not be
the argument was not an ordinary Similarly, in his introduction to
able to turn a light on or watch TV on
argument but a very broad argument Choshen Mishpat, Rabbi Yechiel
Shabbos, the day of rest?” Perhaps we
about the nature of halacha: who do Michel Epstein, author of the Aruch
can now meaningfully and confidently
we follow when we have a majority HaShulchan, says:
answer these questions. Hashem
and a minority, but the minority is ‫ואדרבה זאת היא תפארת תורתינו הקדושה‬ didn’t have a particular picture in
a little bit sharper? Beis Shammai ‫והטהורה וכל התורה כולה נקראת שירה‬ mind; Hashem asked us to help Him
argued that you follow the sharper ‫ותפארת השיר היא כשהקולות משונים זה‬ paint the picture and determine what
group. Since they are sharper, they ‫מזה וזהו עיקר הניעמות ומי שמשוטט בים‬ it should look like.
will find the absolute truth. Beis ‫התלמוד יראה נעימות משונות בכל הקולות‬
Hillel maintained that we follow the This idea — that we partner with
.‫המשונות זה מזה‬
majority. Even though it may not Hashem in all ways and even play a
On the contrary, this is the glory of our
be the absolute truth, we follow the role in painting the landscape of the
pure and holy Torah. The entire Torah is
majority since it better reflects true world — resonates with the way my
called a song, and the splendor of a song
human intellect. While the heavenly father lives his life. With the support
is when there are different voices; this
voice states that both are the words of my mother, he has dedicated his
is the essence of harmony. Anyone who
of Hashem, it also concludes that the entire life to answering the call to
sails the sea of the Talmud will discern
halacha follows Beis Hillel. In practice, help the Jewish community raise
the harmony rising from all the different
we have to choose an opinion to their different voices in harmony to
voices.
follow. But fundamentally, “both these partner with Hashem in tikun olam,
and these are the words of the Living Mankind’s partnering with Hashem in perfecting the world. May we all
God.” the creation of halacha is harmonious merit to contribute our voices to this
to Hashem. harmony as well, and truly partner
Rav Navon explains that this Gemara
with Hashem.

(L-R) Rabbi Dr. Avery Joel, President Richard M. Joel, Dr. Esther Joel, Dr. Penny Joel and Dr. Noam Joel

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
A TRIBUTE TO PRESIDENT RICHARD M. JOEL

The Matan Torah Narrative
and Its Leadership Lessons
M uch can be learned
from the matan Torah
narrative. We often focus
on what Bnei Yisrael received during
matan Torah and how B’nei Yisrael
Dr. Penny Joel
Experiential Educator, Jerusalem, Israel

responded to the experience. But
there are many leadership lessons that
can be gleaned from the experience at bottom of Mount Sinai. But Moshe lives of the people. This experience
matan Torah. needed to return to G-d at the top of points to the important balance the
The text states that in preparation for the mountain to continue focusing on leader must maintain between leading
matan Torah, Moshe traveled up and the bigger picture and broader vision the people and understanding the
down the mountain numerous times for Bnei Yisrael. people in a thoughtful way.
to communicate with G-d and Bnei R’ Shmuel Goldin, in his work Immediately following the matan
Yisrael: Unlocking the Torah Text: Shmot, Torah narrative, the Torah pauses in
ָ ‫ וַ ּיֵ ֶרד מ ֶֹׁשה ִמ‬... )‫ ּומ ֶֹׁשה ָעלָ ה (פס’ ג‬discusses where Moshe was located
‫ה ָהר‬-‫ן‬ the story and discusses numerous laws
,‫ וַ ּיֵ ֶרד מ ֶֹׁשה‬... )‫ וַ ּיַ ַעל מ ֶֹׁשה (פס’ כ‬... )‫ (פס’ יד‬during the Aseret Hadibrot. He notes in Parshat Mishpatim. This is unusual.
.)‫ ֲאלֵ ֶהם (פס’ כה‬,‫ֹאמר‬ ָ ‫ ֶא‬that Midrash Rabba suggests that
ֶ ‫ה ָעם; וַ ּי‬-‫ל‬ Why would G-d interrupt the story
And Moses went up (v. 3) … And Moses Moshe needed to be with the people of  making a nation with a long list
went down from the mountain (v. 14) when the Aseret Hadibrot were given of laws? Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
… And Moses went up … So Moses because G-d wanted to make it clear suggests that Mishpatim interrupts
went down unto the people, and told that the Torah was coming from G-d our narrative in order to connect this
them (v. 25). and not from Moshe. great vision for our nation that we just
Shemot ch. 19 Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch heard from G-d — the broad concepts
(Shemot 19:25) also believes that of our purpose, including the Aseret
Climbing a mountain, even Mount Hadibrot — to the details of how
Sinai, is no small trip. So why did Moshe stood with the people during
matan Torah. However, the reason to actualize that vision. Mishpatim
Moshe find it necessary to make explains the legal system that guides
multiple trips up and down the Moshe stood with the people was
not to emphasize the Divine origin us toward making this vision a reality.
mountain? And was Moshe at the We, as Bnei Yisrael, need not only a
top of the mountain with G-d or at of the Torah, but rather to teach Bnei
Yisrael that Moshe was receiving the shared narrative and broad vision, but
the bottom of the mountain with the also a system to actualize that vision.
people for the Aseret Hadibrot? Torah just like they were. This was
an important message for the people By structuring the texts this way, G-d
Perhaps Moshe’s frequent trips to understand and an important is providing a model for successful
between G-d and Bnei Yisrael reflect reminder for Moshe — the people leadership. A leader must focus on
his effective leadership style. Even needed to recognize that Moshe was a compelling vision and a detail-
in the throes of preparing for matan part of the nation, obligated in the oriented plan to execute it.
Torah with G-d, Moshe continued to laws like all other members of Bnei Once Bnei Yisrael received the laws,
focus on the needs of the people by Yisrael, and Moshe was reminded of the narrative continues with cheit
repeatedly returning to them at the the importance of understanding the ha’egel (the sin of the golden calf), and

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
again we see a leadership lesson: They have made themselves a god of Absent these people, the larger vision
‫וַ יְ ַד ֵּבר ה’ ֶאל מ ֶֹׁשה לֶ ְך ֵרד ּכִ י ִׁש ֵחת ַע ְּמָך ֲא ֶׁשר‬ .‫ז‬ gold. 32. And now, if You forgive their crumbles. Therefore, Moshe did not
‫סרּו ַמ ֵהר ִמן ַה ֶּד ֶרְך‬ .‫ח‬:‫ם‬ ָ ִ‫ֶה ֱעלֵ ָית ֵמ ֶא ֶרץ ִמצְ ָרי‬ sin [I am satisfied,] But if not, erase want any part of it.
‫ֲא ֶׁשר צִ ּוִ ִיתם ָעׂשּו לָ ֶהם ֵעגֶ ל ַמ ֵּסכָ ה וַ ּיִ ְׁש ַּת ֲחוּו לֹו‬ me now from Your book, which You The experience at Sinai is a critical
‫ֹלהיָך יִ ְׂש ָר ֵאל ֲא ֶׁשר‬ ֶ ‫ֹאמרּו ֵאּלֶ ה ֱא‬ ְ ‫וַ ּיִ ְזְּבחּו לֹו וַ ּי‬ have written.” 33. And the Lord said to moment of the Jewish narrative that
‫ֹאמר ה‘ ֶאל מ ֶֹׁשה‬ ֶ ‫וַ ּי‬ .‫ ט‬:‫ֶה ֱעלּוָך ֵמ ֶא ֶרץ ִמצְ ָריִ ם‬ Moses: “Whoever has sinned against Me, teaches us many lessons in leadership.
‫ָר ִא ִיתי ֶאת ָה ָעם ַהּזֶ ה וְ ִהּנֵ ה ַעם ְק ֵׁשה ע ֶֹרף‬ him I will erase from My book!” 34. And Moshe was a leader who understood
‫וְ ַע ָּתה ַהּנִ ָיחה ּלִ י וְ יִ ַחר ַא ִּפי ָב ֶהם וַ ֲאכַ ּלֵ ם‬ .‫י‬:‫הּוא‬ now go, lead the people to [the place] of that his role as leader included seeing
‫וַ ּיָ ָׁשב מ ֶֹׁשה‬ .‫ לא‬... :‫אֹותָך לְ גֹוי ּגָ דֹול‬ ְ ‫וְ ֶא ֱע ֶׂשה‬ which I have spoken to you. Behold My the bigger picture, the vision for
angel will go before you. But on the day I
‫ֹאמר ָאּנָ א ָח ָטא ָה ָעם ַהּזֶ ה ֲח ָט ָאה‬ ַ ‫ֶאל ה’ וַ ּי‬ the nation, and understanding the
‫וְ ַע ָּתה ִאם‬ .‫ לב‬:‫ֹלהי זָ ָהב‬ ֵ ‫גְ דֹלָ ה וַ ּיַ ֲעׂשּו לָ ֶהם ֱא‬ make an accounting [of sins upon them], perspectives and needs of the people.
‫אתם וְ ִאם ַאיִ ן ְמ ֵחנִ י נָ א ִמ ִּס ְפ ְרָך ֲא ֶׁשר‬ ָ ‫ִּת ָּׂשא ַח ָּט‬ I will bring their sin to account against Ultimately, Moshe set the example
‫ֹאמר ה‘ ֶאל מ ֶֹׁשה ִמי ֲא ֶׁשר ָח ָטא‬ ֶ ‫וַ ּי‬ .‫ לג‬:‫ּכָ ָת ְב ָּת‬ them.” for us by emphasizing that you can’t
‫וְ ַע ָּתה לֵ ְך נְ ֵחה ֶאת ָהעָ ם‬ .‫ לד‬:‫לִ י ֶא ְמ ֶחּנּו ִמ ִּס ְפ ִרי‬ Shemot Chapter 32 (Judaica Press forfeit the people for the vision.
Translation)
‫ֶאל ֲא ֶׁשר ִּד ַּב ְר ִּתי לָ ְך ִהּנֵ ה ַמלְ ָאכִ י יֵ לֵ ְך לְ ָפנֶ יָך‬ Moshe’s sincerity and true caring for
:‫אתם‬ ָ ‫ְּוביֹום ָּפ ְק ִדי ָּופ ַק ְד ִּתי ֲעלֵ ֶיהם ַח ָּט‬ What do we learn from Moshe’s the people motivated him to defend
7. And the Lord said to Moses: “Go, reaction to G-d? the people with his life. What could
descend, for your people that you have ‫מּואל ָא ַמר ְמלַ ֵּמד ֶׁש ָּמ ַסר עַ צְ מֹו לְ ִמ ָיתה‬ ֵ ‫ְׁש‬
be a greater example of a leader
brought up from the land of Egypt have .‫עֲ לֵ ֶיהם ֶׁשּנֶ ֱא ַמר וְ ִאם ַאין ְמ ֵחּנִי נָ א ִמ ִּס ְפ ְרָך‬
completely committed to his people?
acted corruptly. 8. They have quickly Shmuel taught: We can infer that I have had the opportunity to watch
turned away from the path that I have [Moses] was willing to die for [the Jewish my father, with the incredible support
commanded them; they have made people] as it states “But if not, erase me of my mother, be a thoughtful and
themselves a molten calf! And they now from Your book.” compassionate leader in many
have prostrated themselves before it, Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 32a settings. Motivated by a desire to make
slaughtered sacrifices to it, and said: the world better and, in particular,
‘These are your gods, O Israel, who The Gemara discusses how Moshe
to make Jews feel connected to their
have brought you up from the land of was willing to give up his life for
Judaism in a meaningful way, my
Egypt.’” 9. And the Lord said to Moses: Bnei Yisrael. When Moshe came
father has truly taken to heart the
“I have seen this people and behold! to the defense of Bnei Yisrael, his
example set by Moshe Rabbeinu. He
They are a stiff necked people. 10. Now compassion for the people is obvious.
has consistently prioritized personal
leave Me alone, and My anger will He could have easily given up on
relationships with people while also
be kindled against them so that I will Bnei Yisrael but instead, Moshe
articulating and implementing a vision
annihilate them, and I will make you demonstrated that he is so invested in
for Yeshiva University. Both of these
into a great nation.” … 31. And Moses the people, that he was willing to die
aspects of his leadership are truly
returned to the Lord and said: “Please! for them. He believed that Bnei Yisrael
inspiring.
This people has committed a grave sin. were the key element of G-d’s vision.

Moshe continued to focus on the
needs of the people by repeatedly
returning to them at the bottom of
Mount Sinai. But Moshe needed
to return to G-d at the top of the
mountain to continue focusing
on the bigger picture and broader
vision for Bnei Yisrael.
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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
A TRIBUTE TO PRESIDENT RICHARD M. JOEL

Reflections on a Presidential
Chavrusa: Lessons from the
Fourth Perek of Brachos
T here is a photograph that
hangs between the Gottesman
Library and the Glueck
Beit Midrash that shows President
Richard Joel, former Vice President
Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph
Senior Vice President, Yeshiva University

Jeff Rosengarten and me sitting at a
table on the upper floor of “the beis.”
At one point, rumor had it that it get on a daily basis: the overwhelming I do not recall whether it was
was a posed picture, set up to make experiential gestalt that inheres Torah immediately after that study session
it look like we were learning; in fact, study in such an awe-inspiring place, or soon thereafter, but the President
however, we had opened a volume of surrounded by the melodic cacophony and I committed ourselves to finding
Rambam’s Mishneh Torah and were of several hundred chavrusa pairs whatever time we could to learn
experiencing, for the moment, the alternately yelling at or with their together be-chavrusa in the newly-
bracha that so many of our students study partners, mentors and Rebbeim. consecrated beis midrash. We chose to
start with the fourth perek of Brachos
for a variety of reasons, and the
lessons that we shared about Torah
and life could fill volumes. There are
a number of lessons President Joel
has taught us over the years that find
resonance through this chapter as
well. For now, in honor of the yom
tov that celebrates matan Torah, and
in honor of my mentor, friend and
chavrusa, I present the following six
divrei Torah.

1. Ask questions

One of the lessons President Joel
constantly taught was the importance
of asking questions. When we
approach a Mishna, we use the same

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
technique; so for example, the first to the challenging statement, tefillah 4. We can both be right, even
four words of our first Mishna beg begins with sunrise in order to though we disagree
understanding: connect geula, redemption, with
The Gemara details a lengthy debate
.‫השחר עד חצות‬ ‫תפלת‬ ‫ מתני׳‬tefillah. The question, then, in and of
itself provides solutions to two of our as to the source of the daily tefillos,
Mishna: According to the Rabbis, the
questions above: a) it sheds light for whether they were established by
morning prayer may be recited until
us that tefillah refers to the Amidah, or our ancestors, tefillos avos tiknum,
noon.
Shemoneh Esrei, not the Shema; and or whether they derived from the
‫—תפלת‬Which prayer in the morning b) that the day begins at sunrise. sacrificial services, tefillos keneged
is being referenced? The entire tmidim tiknum. Proofs are cited in
morning service? Are we continuing Although the Gemara seems to
support of both sides, but in the final
the discussion in the previous perakim be challenging and questioning, analysis, both answers are accepted:
about the Shema? The berachos it is simultaneously fleshing out
our ancestors established the tefillos
before and after? Yes, the third perek the halachah and ironing out the
and the Rabbis related them to the
parenthetically discusses some details details by suggesting and proposing sacrificial services.
surrounding tefillah, but it is not made solutions! Though President Joel
always welcomed questions and This combination of the two sides,
clear at the outset what it signifies
enjoyed parrying through give and however, need not have been
until we arrive at this perek.
take, he also insisted that we question, necessary. At one point, the question
‫—השחר‬What does morning mean? look for answers, and focus on is raised for the position supporting
Is it until the fourth hour or midday solutions and not just the problems. the ancestors’ origination: “from
as the Mishnah debates? Moreover, where do we get Mussaf (the
when does the morning begin? additional service)?” In our study,
3. It’s not enough to be right
‫—עד‬Even a seemingly unassuming we suggested that it seems one could
word, “until,” must be examined, as The Gemara in Berachos on 28b, posit a linguistic parallel between
the Gemara later wonders whether details several provocative incidents this additional prayer, Mussaf, and
it means “up to” or “up to and between Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yosef, one of the descendants of
including.” Yehoshua, where the former, the Nasi Yaakov, as they seem to share the
of the Sanhedrin at the time, forces same root. Later, we found that the
‫—חצות‬What is the definition of Or Gedalyahu on Moadim (page
the latter to admit his erroneous
midday? How do we even understand 146) suggests the same idea — that
opposition, thereby embarrassing
time? Can an hour mean something perhaps we can learn about Mussaf
him. The situation grew so intense and
different from one season to the next? from Yosef. Thus, we might have
dire that eventually Rabban Gamliel
Is time truly fixed or can it fluctuate truly been able to derive all of the
needed to be deposed from his
depending on the month and time of tefillos from the Avos. However, the
position. As President Joel points out,
year? Moreover, why must prayer be Gemara did not give such an answer,
“Ok, so you’re right. It’s not enough.”
delimited to a set time? Might there be possibly preferring to teach that at
It is not enough to be right, one must
a chance for a do-over? times, a beneficial solution might
act righteously as well. Often people
are blinded by their drive to win, to derive from approaching a dilemma
2. It’s not enough to ask be accurate; the lesson we can learn via two directions and solving it while
questions; recommend from The Gemara , as emphasized by providing the opportunity to benefit
solutions President Joel, is that one needs to from both sides. Thus on a daily
also focus on how to work toward a basis, we hearken back to the original
The very first words of the Gemara on united goal, not to fracture the whole prayers of our ancestors while also
the aforementioned Mishna present in the process of working toward a connecting our actions and service to
a challenge: ureminhu, a citation that better answer. the Beis Hamikdash.
seems to contradict the Mishna, or at
least introduce a dialectic not at first
apparent in the earlier text. According

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
5. With respect 6. Tocho Ke-Varo
Deriving Ethical Messages
President Joel has always promoted President Joel often comically quotes from Talmud Study
a harmonious approach in discourse, a UJA fundraiser who once remarked, R. Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg
as he says, “to disagree agreeably.” “The absolutely most important HaDarom (Vol. 19, pg. 178),
We can profoundly disagree on thing to develop is a sense of personal writes that until R. Yisrael
major issues, but we must do so in a integrity. Once you can fake that...” This Salanter, ethical development
respectful manner, appreciating the approach, which certainly was meant in and the study of Gemara were
tzelem Elokim, the Godly image of jest, is not often lived in jest. Especially treated as two separate realms.
all those with whom we engage. The when we contrast this notion to the R. Yisrael Salanter stressed the
Gemara in Berachos 27b, explains Gemara (Berachos 28a) that states that importance of finding ethical
that a person cannot daven behind Rabban Gamliel only let someone who messages in one’s study of
his Rebbe, as this would perhaps was “tocho ke-varo” (literally “his inside Gemara, the mussar bahalacha.
make the Rebbe wait for the student is like his outside”) into the study hall. This idea is consistent with
to finish praying before the Rebbe President Joel would often posit that R. Yisrael Salanter’s general
may finish his own Amidah. In fact, an essential leadership quality is to be approach to studying Torah. In
the Gemara says that a person who honest with yourself about who you Ohr Yisrael (no. 27), he writes
would daven behind his Rebbe causes are — and to share that wholeness with that the mitzvah of mastering
the Divine presence to be distanced others; to make yourself vulnerable is Torah supersedes the mitzvah
from B’nei Yisrael. Thus, not just one’s to make yourself truthful. In order to to constantly study Torah. The
intentions, but one’s actions matter, lead, people must see you as genuine. mitzvah to constantly study
and respect and consideration must be In order to advance a cause, your team Torah would not provide an
given to the context within which one must trust that you are wholeheartedly allowance for someone to seek
stands. committed. In order to affect others, out a means of improving the
Based on this and a series of related people need to believe in you as you quality of one’s studies such as
discourses in the Gemara, we truly are. This sixth lesson represents travelling to a yeshiva in another
discussed the dialectic between those the value of a role model. By taking town or sleeping more in order
who are b’nei Torah and those who time to learn in the beis midrash, to focus. It is only because of
are b’nei yeshiva. The former is to be President Joel showed that the role the mitzvah to master Torah
lauded for his dedication to Hashem’s model of “lay kodesh” that he so often that one can spend less time
timeless Torah teachings and ideas; spoke about is best exemplified by studying in order to focus on
but the latter attains an even higher President Joel himself.  the quality of one’s studies.
plane, as a ben yeshiva also recognizes With these few and humble lessons, However, this is only true when
the prerequisite respect for a Rebbe my intent is to display some of my the individual is someone who is
and his place within the context of the world, having merited a deep and working on ethical development
place of study, the place of prayer. As meaningful relationship with a man and yirat shamayim (fear of
we find ourselves leaving the period who has been a mentor, a friend, heaven). If one has mastered
of Sefiras ha-Omer — a period when and a source of inspiration for many the Torah but did not use that
we mourn the lack of respect of the years. As our professional relationship as an opportunity to become
students of Rabbi Akiva for each other evolves I will cherish our chavrusa a refined individual, it would
— and as we head to the yom tov of even more, as we continue to try to have been better to focus on
our acceptance of the Torah, we must find ways to learn together. Thank quantity. Talmud Torah is not
note the importance of this notion of you President Joel, not just for simply a means of collecting
kavod, respect. And as President Joel transforming Yeshiva into the beacon information. It is part of a
would often begin his rejoinders, it is it is today, but also for who you are process of becoming a complete
worth emulating his guidance, “with and for allowing me to greatly benefit individual who lives the ideals of
respect…” from a relationship with such a the Torah.
remarkable person — and chavrusa. Torah To Go Editors

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
A TRIBUTE TO PRESIDENT RICHARD M. JOEL

Experiencing the Silence of Sinai
R abbi Norman Lamm, shlit”a,
in a derasha reprinted in his
book The Royal Reach, points
out that while we often speak of the
“quiet before the storm,” the inverse
Rabbi Menachem Penner
Max and Marion Grill Dean, RIETS

occurred at Sinai.
There was most certainly a “storm”:
“Greatness,” explains Rabbi Lamm, These words spoke the Lord with all
‫יׁשי ִּב ְהיֹת ַהּב ֶֹקר וַ יְ ִהי קֹֹלת‬
ִ ִ‫וַ יְ ִהי ַבּיֹום ַה ְּׁשל‬ “is born out of the womb of stillness.” your congregation at the mount, from
‫ְּוב ָר ִקים וְ ָענָ ן ּכָ ֵבד ַעל ָה ָהר וְ קֹל ׁש ָֹפר ָחזָ ק ְמאֹד‬ There is no doubt that G-d could have the midst of the fire, the clouds and the
:‫וַ ּיֶ ֱח ַרד ּכָ ל ָה ָעם ֲא ֶׁשר ַּב ַּמ ֲחנֶ ה‬ spoken loudly enough to be heard darkness, with a great voice, and has not
It came to pass on the third day when it over the din of His creation. Instead, ceased.
was morning, that there were thunder the world is given the opportunity
claps and lightning flashes, and a thick Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi in Pirkei
to partner with the Divine at the
cloud was upon the mountain, and a Avot presents a similar idea (6:2):
moment of revelation. He speaks, it
very powerful blast of a shofar, and stands quietly in awe. In the words ‫ בכל יום ויום בת קול‬:‫אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי‬
the entire nation that was in the camp of Rabbi Lamm, “The word of G-d .‫יוצאת מהר חורב‬
shuddered. comes forth when the words of man Every day, an echo resounds from Mount
Shemot 19:15 come to an end.” Horeb (Sinai).
All of this, however, occurred before G-d’s offer to partner with mankind In the words of Rabbi Lamm: “Since
the giving of the Torah. The actual continues to this day and His voice, in that first Shavuot, the Divine Voice
revelation, according to Chazal, a certain sense, can still be heard. In still broadcasts on the same heavenly
unfolded with a backdrop of utter Parshat Va-etchanan we are told: wavelength from Sinai every day.
cosmic silence.
‫ֶאת ַה ְד ָב ִרים ָה ֵאלֶ ה ִד ֶבר ה’ ֶאל כָ ל ְק ַהלְ כֶ ם ָב ָהר‬ So why do we not hear it? Why
‫ כשנתן הקב”ה את‬:‫א”ר אבהו בשם ר’ יוחנן‬ ‫ִמּתֹוְך ָה ֵאׁש ֶהעָ נָ ן וְ ָהעֲ ָר ֶפל קֹול גָ דֹול וְ ל ֹא יָ ָסף‬ are we not moved to teshuvah or
‫התורה צפור לא צווח עוף לא פרח שור לא‬ .‫וַ יִ כְ ְת ֵבם עַ ל ְשנֵ י לֻ חֹת ֲא ָבנִ ים וַ יִ ְתנֵ ם ֵאלָ י‬ introspection every day?”
‫ שרפים לא אמרו קדוש‬,‫געה אופנים לא עפו‬ The Lord spoke these words to your The answer is simple: We expend
‫קדוש הים לא נזדעזע הבריות לא דברו אלא‬ entire assembly at the mountain out tremendous effort to make sure that
’‫העולם שותק ומחריש ויצא הקול אנכי ה‬ of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and there is never a moment of silence — a
.‫אלקיך‬ the opaque darkness, with great voice, moment to think and to listen. Rabbi
Said Rabbi Abbahu in the name of “velo yasaf.” And He inscribed them on Lamm was addressing an audience
Rabbi Yochanan: When the Holy One two stone tablets and gave them to me. in the 1960’s and asking them to “sit
gave the Torah no bird screeched, no fowl Devarim 5:19 still, for Heaven’s sake.” Today, the
flew, no ox mooed, none of the ophanim
What does the pasuk mean when it obsession to keep our senses flooded
flapped a wing, nor did the seraphim
chant “Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh,” the sea says “velo yasaf”? Those two words can has reached levels unimaginable in
be understood to mean “He added past generations. Walking, driving,
did not roar and none of the creatures
no more.” But the exact opposite sitting, standing; we are attached to
uttered a sound. Throughout the entire
translation is also valid. Onkelus our smartphones and are listening,
world there was only a deafening silence
translates: watching, communicating, and reading.
as the Divine Voice went forth speaking:
We multitask, doing and accomplishing
“I am the L-rd your G-d.” ‫טּורא‬
ָ ‫ יָת ִּפ ְתגָ ַמיָא ָה ִאלֵ ין ַמלִ יל ה’ ִעם ּכָ ל ְק ָהלְ כֹון ְּב‬everything — except for the critical
Shemot Rabbah 29:9 .‫ ִמגֹו ֶא ָׁש ָתא ֲענָנָא וַ ֲא ִמ ְיט ָתא ָקל ַרב וְ לָ א ְפ ַסק‬task of living in the moment and

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
contemplating the world around us. We Where is the word of G-d to be heard Have we ever considered the
dread those moments of silence, but at those moments of quiet meditation? possibility that during tefillah, the
they are so important for introspection Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen word of Hashem is actually coming
and listening for the voice of Hashem. Kook, in the first introductory essay to us? It has been said that when
to his siddur, Olat Re’iyah, makes a we learn Torah, G-d speaks to us,
It is noteworthy that the holiday of
fascinating suggestion: Our souls — and when we pray, we speak to G-d.
Shavuot is bereft of its own unique
mitzvot. There are no lulavim to shake, the portion of G-d within us — can But we rarely pray to G-d using our
“speak” and can sometimes even be own words alone. We use texts that
sukkot to dwell in, matzot to eat.
heard. Our neshamot speak words of speak to us, even as we are speaking
There is just — quiet. We are asked
on Shavuot not to do — but to listen. truth — G-dly words, through which to G-d. These texts were written by
those who understood neshamot and
Ironically, the yom tov that marks Klal we can properly learn values and set
our priorities. G-dly priorities — the Anshei Knesset
Yisrael’s momentous proclamation of
HaGedolah — with prophets among
“naaseh ve-nishma” is commemorated When can we hear our souls? Perhaps
that group.
through listening first and only acting at any moment of quiet in which we
later. Perhaps we have already proven truly take time away from the world. Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch
our ability to fulfill “we will do.” On However, our souls “speak” very softly famously explains that the word
Shavuot, we are asked to fulfill the and are difficult to hear. Tefillah, if not “le-hitpalel” comes from the root
second part of our promise — “we rushed, can allow for such a time. ‫ — פלל‬which means to judge. When
will listen.” we pray, we judge ourselves. What
There is one time, however, that we can
does this mean? Are we supposed
But we need not wait for Shavuot, or hear them loudly and clearly — when
to ask ourselves with each middle
even for Shabbat, to find the quiet we we mouth the words of the tefillot.
berachah of Shemoneh Esrei whether
so desperately need. Rabbi Yehuda The words of the siddur, which often
we are truly worthy of being granted
HaLevi in his Book of the Kuzari (3:5) seem disconnected from our everyday
our request? Rav Yosef Albo (Sefer
explains that tefillah is to the day what lives and our priorities, express the
HaIkkarim) says absolutely not.
Shabbat is for the week. Just as we true desires of our souls. By listening to
Tefillah is a request for mercy. We ask
must stop for twenty-four hours every our prayers, we hear our souls talking.
Hashem not for our due but to shower
seven days, we must pause several In fact, Rav Kook explains, our souls
love upon us, as a father would upon
times every day to reorient ourselves pray to G-d without interruption.
his children.
and remind ourselves of what is truly Most of the time, we cannot hear those
important. Our moments of prayer beautiful tefillot. Only three times a What, then, does it mean that we
provide us with an island of quiet in a day do we give a “voice” to the tefillot “judge” ourselves during tefillah?
world of deafening confusion. emanating from our neshamot. Perhaps we evaluate ourselves and our

When we use the words of the siddur,
we can compare our priorities in light of
the text composed by our Chachamim.
If I would have asked Hashem for
a different set of things, I must ask
myself: Are my priorities correct or
did Chazal perhaps have a greater
understanding of what really matters?

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
priorities by listening to the words we in my weekday Amidah on these hear myself. Yes, it adds to my level
utter to G-d. aspirations, what does that say about of concentration when I can hear
When we speak in our own words, my priorities? myself. But this halacha may be about
and listen to ourselves, we must The berachot, as the Gemara tells something more. I may be listening to
challenge ourselves: Am I asking for us in Megillah 17b-18a, are in a very my own tefillot — listening to their
the right things? How will I use the messages and listening to my soul.
specific order. If I would have, for
things I ask for? Will they truly help example, asked for health (Refa’einu) As I whisper the Shemoneh Esreh —
me in my avodat Hashem? Are there and wealth (Bareich aleinu) before having blocked all other sounds and
others I should be praying for — or understanding (Ata chonen) and distractions — I hear a kol demamah
am I asking only for selfish needs? repentance (Slach lanu), do I, perhaps, dakah, the calling of my soul, the
truths of G-d revealed through our
When we use the words of the siddur, have something to learn from the text
of the Shemoneh Esrei? Sages, as passed on through our
we have an even greater opportunity prayer-books for millennia. I have
to judge ourselves by comparing our The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim much that I can learn if I listen to that
priorities — the hopes and desires 101:2) instructs us: voice.
that we would pray for if left to devise ‫לא יתפלל בלבו לבד — אלא מחתך הדברים‬ As I write this piece in honor of our
our own prayers — in light of the text
‫ ולא‬.‫בשפתיו — ומשמיע לאזניו בלחש‬ outgoing President Richard Joel, I
composed by our Chachamim in the
—‫ ואם אינו יכול לכוין בלחש‬.‫ישמיע קולו‬ must conclude with a personal thank
Amidah. If the themes of the berachot
‫ והני מילי — בינו לבין‬.‫מותר להגביה קולו‬ you to our Nasi. By nature, I am more
seem foreign to us, if we would have
‫ אבל בצבור — אסור — דאתי למטרד‬.‫עצמו‬ resistant than almost anyone to the
asked Hashem for a different set
.‫צבורא‬ experience of calm silence. On many
of things, we must ask ourselves:
One should not pray just in his heart occasions, President Joel has steered
Who is right and who is wrong? Are
(without saying the words) but one must me to step back, to take the time
our priorities correct or did Chazal
actually say them with his mouth in a to just listen and take in the beauty
perhaps have a greater understanding
whisper that can be heard by his ears, around me. The voice of Hashem can
of what really matters? And if our
but not as loud as one’s voice. And if be heard thundering in the walls of
prayers give voice to our own
he is unable to concentrate with just a our Beit Midrash and in the still quiet
neshamot, might we, deep down, know
whisper, it is permitted to raise his voice, voice of acts of kindness and greatness
the truth but need daily reminders?
and the words remain with him, but around the campus. Much is missed
For example, the latter half of the in public it is not permitted to bother (including large objects that one can
requests in the weekday Amidah anyone else with this. and will walk into!) if one runs around
are for the national aspirations of our holy campus with their eyes glued
The Amidah must be said softly —
Klal Yisrael — from kibbutz galuyot to their phone or their list of tasks to
so that my fellow mitpalelim aren’t
through the Mashiach. If I would complete. Thank you for opening my
distracted, but loud enough for me to
not have “used” half of the requests eyes, my ears and my soul!

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
A TRIBUTE TO PRESIDENT RICHARD M. JOEL

Consent and Coercion at Sinai
T he most iconic image
associated with matan Torah
is surely the one described in
the Gemara (Shabbat 88a):
Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter
University Professor of Jewish Thought and Jewish History
‫ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר א”ר אבדימי בר חמא‬ Senior Scholar, YU Center for the Jewish Future
‫בר חסא מלמד שכפה הקב”ה עליהם את‬
‫ההר כגיגית ואמר להם אם אתם מקבלים‬
.‫התורה מוטב ואם לאו שם תהא קבורתכם‬ Israel and we [still] declined to accept the Torah, they all made up their minds
“And they stood bi-tahtit of the it?,” and, in support of this argument alike to accept the kingship of God
mountain” (Shemot 19:17). Rav Avdimi the Talmud cites this statement of with joy,” and goes on to note that
son of Hama son of Hasa said, “This Rav Avdimi son of Hama. Similar “God appeared on Mount Sinai like
teaches us that The Holy One, Blessed be descriptions can be found elsewhere an old man full of mercy.”3 This very
He, suspended the mountain over them in rabbinic literature,1 with the most different sentiment is also reflected in a
as a vat (gigit) and said to them, ‘If you pointed and powerful formulation number of other rabbinic texts as well.4
accept the Torah, good. But if not, there appearing in Midrash Rabbah Shir ha- For me the most compelling expression
will be your burial place.’” Shirim (8:1:5): of this perspective is found in the
Rav Avdimi interprets the unusual ‫ דרש פלטיון איש רומי ואמר נתלש הר סיני‬comment of Mekhilta de-Rabi Yishmael
word tahtit as if it were tahat, meaning ‫ והיו ישראל נתונים תחתיו‬,‫ ונצב בשמי מרום‬on the verse, “And they stood bi-tahtit
“under,” probably influenced by a ‫ אמר הקב”ה אם אתם מקבלים עליכם‬... of the mountain” (Shemot 19:17):
verse later in the Torah where that ‫תורתי מוטב ואם לאו הריני כובש עליכם ההר‬ ‫ וקרבו ועמדו‬,‫מלמד שנתלש ההר ממקומו‬
.‫הזה והורג אתכם‬
image is explicitly indicated, “And you ‫ שנאמר ותקרבון ותעמדון תחת‬,‫תחת ההר‬
Paltion, a man of Rome expounded,
approached and stood under (tahat) ‫ עליהם מפורש בקבלה יונתי בחגוי‬.‫ההר‬
“Har Sinai was uprooted and stood in
the mountain” (Devarim 4:11). In this .‫הסלע‬
view, at matan Torah, the Jews stood, the height of the heavens and [the people It teaches us that the mountain was
literally, under Har Sinai and were of] Israel were placed under it … The uprooted from its place and they
presented with an ultimatum: either Holy One, Blessed be He, said, ‘If you [the people of Israel] came near and
you accept the Torah or you will die. will accept My Torah upon yourselves, stood under it, as it is said, “And you
good, and if not I will press the mountain approached and stood under the
This vision of the ultimatum offered down upon you and kill you.’”
the Jews under the mountain at the mountain” (Devarim 4:11). Of them
moment of Revelation is also found Simply put, the Jews were forced to it is declared in the traditional sacred
elsewhere in rabbinic literature. In receive the Torah; indeed, there is no writings, “O my dove in the clefts of the
describing how the Nations of the coercion greater than the threat of rock” (Shir ha-Shirim 2:14).”5
World will seek reward from God at death.2
This verse in Shir ha-Shirim, invoking
the End of Days, the Talmud (Avodah But at the same time, rabbinic literature the image of the Jews under the
Zarah 2b) records that their claim presents an entirely different scenario mountain at Revelation like a dove is
will be rejected because they refused of Revelation, highlighting the love and found in the clefts of the rock, is also
to accept the Torah even after being joy experienced by the Jewish people found in Mekhilta de-Rabi Shimon ben
offered it by God. Their retort, in the at that most transcendental moment. Yohai and Midrash Rabbah Shir ha-
words of the Sages, will be, “Master The Mekhilta de-Rabi Yishmael states Shirim.6
of the Universe, did You suspend the that, “When they [the people of Israel] Why is a dove found in the clefts
mountain over us as a vat as you did to all stood before Mount Sinai to receive of the rock? It is fair to assume that

22
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
it is seeking protection from the the one hand, it is imperative that view of Rav Avdimi, God held the
elements rather than continuing to we submit to God’s will and devote mountain over the Jewish people
feel vulnerable to them; resting under ourselves to following what we believe at Sinai and said, “If you accept the
the outcropping of the rock enables to be His commandments. We should Torah, good. But if not, there will
the bird to feel safe and secure. Now experience our commitment to Torah be your burial place (sham tehei
imagine the Jews standing at the and mitzvot as if we were coerced kevuratkhem).” There will be your
foot of Mount Sinai exposed to the into observing them, as if we have no burial place? Should He not have
merciless heat of the summer sun in choice in the matter at all. And, at the said, “Here will be your burial place?”
the desert. How uncomfortable they same time, we should appreciate the Would it not have made more sense
must have felt. How unpleasant and gift that God kindly bestowed upon for the text to have read, “If you will
even painful the experience must have us by granting us the opportunity to not accept the Torah, I will drop the
been for them! Who can concentrate live our lives blessed by the warmth mountain on top of you and you will
on hearing the words of Moshe, or and the specialness of Jewish life and die right here”? True, it is interesting to
even God Himself, in such a distressed Jewish living. To borrow from Rabbi note that the version of this statement
position? And so, sensing the Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s description in the Mekhilta de-Rabi Shimon ben
aggrieved state of the Jewish people, of what he learned from his mother, Yohai does in fact read, “If you accept
God lifted the mountain over them “Judaism expresses itself not only in upon yourselves the Torah [good],
to provide shade for them, to protect formal compliance with the law but and if not here (kan) will be your
them from the sun, like the dove is also in a living experience. She taught burial place.”10 What is the significance
protected by finding shelter in the me that there is a flavor, a scent and of the “there (sham)” in the Talmudic
clefts of the rock. Now, as a result of warmth to mitzvot.”8 Judaism is both, version?
God’s kindness, they were in a much requiring compliance and providing The answer lies in understanding
better position to focus on what they warmth. the particular choice of the “kafah
were hearing. Yes, the image is the On this holiday of Shavuot, then, when aleihem har ki-gigit” image adduced
same. The Jews were, indeed, under we invoke the image of our ancestors here. Gigit means vat or “something
the mountain, but gone is the sense of under Har Sinai at the great moment arched, roofing, a huge vessel, tub,
ultimatum, coercion, compulsion or of Revelation, we reaffirm that our tank (for brewing beer).”11 Kafah,
duress. In its place we have God’s love, observance of mitzvot is motivated by similar to kipah, or dome, gives the
God’s sensitivity, God’s protection. these two dimensions. We do so, one, impression that the Jews were not
We can now better appreciate a because we have no choice, and two, under the vat or mountain, but in the
different statement in the Midrash, because we appreciate how meaningful mountain, surrounded on all sides
‫ אני‬,‫ אני היא וחביבה אני‬,‫ אני חבצלת השרון‬they are for our lives. Indeed, we would by the mountain. The Maharsha,
.‫ היא שהייתי חבויה בצלו של סיני‬choose to observe them even were we in his commentary on this passage
“I [the Jewish people] am a rose of not obligated to do so.9 in Shabbat uses the phrase “betokh
Sharon (Shir ha-Shirim 2:1). I am the ha-tahtit.” Perhaps, then, we can
one and beloved am I. I am she who was understand the choice of the word
hidden in the shadow of Sinai.7 It is my pleasure to contribute to sham. Imagine trying to kill a fly not
God’s arranging for the Jewish people this collection of essays in honor of by hitting it but by trapping it inside a
to be in the shadow of Sinai was, Yeshiva University President Richard glass. It will live for a while but, soon,
indeed, a most clear indication of how Joel as he completes his tenure as the it will tire and die. So too the Jewish
beloved they were by Him. leader of our institution. Reflecting people, suggested my father z”l. God
upon his many very significant was telling them, “If you accept the
So which is it? Were the Jewish people contributions, I want to conclude with
Torah, good. But if you will not do so,
forced into accepting the Torah or did an insight on this Talmudic passage
you will continue to live for a while
they accept it voluntarily, with great that I heard from my father, Rabbi just like all the other nations around
joy? Was God being coercive or was Herschel Schacter z”l. you, the Hiti, Hivi, Yevusi, Emori,
God being kind? This is the subject of
There is one word that is out of place and Girgashi. They too will continue
much discussion but I would suggest
in this rabbinic formulation. In the to exist without the Torah. But sham,
that, ultimately, both are true. On

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
there, in the future, down the long Edition, vol. 2 [Philadelphia, 2004], 314). of the Jews’ experience under Har Sinai many
road of history, tihiyeh kevuratchem, See also the similar formulation in Midrash years ago when I read Gerald J. Blidstein, “In
Tanhuma, Parshat Yitro 13; Mekhilta de-Rabi the Shadow of the Mountain: Consent and
you will be buried. You will not be Shimon ben Yohai, Yitro 19:19 (Hoffmann Coercion at Sinai,” Jewish Political Studies
able to sustain eternal existence edition, p. 101). Review 4:1 (Spring 1992):41-53. My thanks to
without the Torah. At some point I 4 Midrash Rabbah Shir ha-Shirim 1:2:2; 1:2:3; Professor Blidstein for first bringing this most
guarantee you that you will disappear, Pirkei de-Rabi Eliezer, Chapter 41; Mekhilta interesting conflicting set of understandings
just as all those other nations will de-Rabi Yishmael, Masekhta de-ba-Hodesh, to my attention. See, in addition, idem., “Kafah
Aleihem Har Ki-Gigit – Mekorot Hadashim,”
disappear.”12 Yitro, Parshah 6, beginning (Weiss edition,
Bar Ilan: Sefer ha-Shanah 26-27 (1995):131-
p. 74b; Lauterbach edition, p. 319). See too
Torah assures the eternity of the Rashi, Shemot 19:9, s.v. et divrei ha-am. 34; Yosef Heinemann, Agadot ve-Toldoteihen
Jewish people. Creating, sustaining ( Jerusalem, 1974), 170-74; Avraham
5 Mekhilta de-Rabi Yishmael, Masekhta de-ba- Kurman, Yezi’at Mizrayim u-Matan Torah
and nurturing institutions of Torah Hodesh, Yitro, Parshah 3, end (Weiss edition, (Tel-Aviv, 1978), 354-61. There is a large
assures the future of the Jewish p. 72b; Lauterbach edition, p. 307). body of literature relevant here. For example,
people. And here we are in President 6 Mekhilta de-Rabi Shimon ben Yohai, Yitro see Tosafot, Shabbat 88a, s.v. Kafah aleihen;
Joel’s debt. He has devoted a lifetime 19:17 (Hoffmann ed., p. 99); Midrash Rabbah Maharal, Tif’eret Yisrael, chapter 32; Menahem
of service to the Jewish people, Shir ha-Shirim 2:14:4. M. Kasher, Torah Shleimah, vol. 15 (New
York, 1953; repr. Jerusalem, 1992), 102-04;
culminating in the last fourteen years It is interesting to note that it appears that
Shlomo Goren, Torat ha-Mo‘adim (Tel-Aviv,
at the helm of our institution. We Rashi conflates both of these sources (the
1964), 374-76; Ephraim E. Urbach, The Sages
Talmud in Shabbat and the Mekhilta de-Rabi
are deeply grateful to him for all his Yishamel) in his commentary to the verse,
(Cambridge, 1975, 1979), 327-28; Joseph
accomplishments on our behalf, and B. Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith
“And they stood bi-tahtit of the mountain”
we wish him good health to enjoy (Northvale and London, 1997), 45-46.
(Shemot 19:17). He writes, “According to the
with his exceptional family and many simple meaning (lefi peshuto) [it means] at For a different interpretation of the image of
the foot of the mountain. And its midrashic “yonati be-hagvei ha-sela,” see Eliyahu Katz,
years of continued service to Klal
interpretation [is] that the mountain was “Kafah Aleihem Har Ki-Gigit,” Shema‘atin 39
Yisrael. uprooted from its place (she-nitlash ha-har (1974):56-57.
mi-mekomo) and was held over them like I have dealt with the contemporary challenge
Endnotes a vat (ve-nikhpah aleihem ki-gigit).” Notice of experiencing submission to God’s
that the source Rashi gives for this second commandments while at the same time seeking
1 Midrash Tanhuma, Parshat Noah 3; ibid., interpretation is a midrash and not a Talmudic to make them personally meaningful and
Parshat Shoftim 9; Mekhilta de-Rabi Shimon ben text. Indeed, the first half of his comment, the resonant in my article, “Halakhic Authority in
Yohai, Yitro 19:17 (David Zevi Hoffmann, ed., words “she-nitlash ha-har mi-mekomo,” appear a World of Personal Autonomy,” in Michael J.
Mekhilta de-Rabi Shimon ben Yohai [Frankfurt in the midrash (Mekhilta de-Rabi Yishmael) Harris, Daniel Rynhold and Tamara Wright,
a. M., 1905], 100). For a later version, from the and not in the Talmud. The second half, “ve- eds., Radical Responsibility: Celebrating the
writings of Pirkoi ben Baboi in the eighth-ninth nikhpah aleihem ki-gigit,” invokes language Thought of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
century, see B. M. Levin, “Mi-Seridei ha- found in the Talmudic passage and not in (New Milford and Jerusalem, 2012), 155-76.
Genizah,” Tarbiz 2:4 (1931): 395. the midrash. I thank my son-in-law, Corey
Tarzik, for drawing this interesting point to 10 See above, n. 1.
2 The Talmud itself is sensitive to this my attention many years ago. See too Rashi, 11 Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary (New York,
assessment because it immediately wonders Devarim 32:10, s.v. yesovevenhu. 1950), 234. Rashi, Shabbat 88a, s.v. gigit,
(Shabbat, ibid.) why any Jew can ever be translates it as “a vessel in which beer is
faulted for not observing the Torah since it 7 Midrash Rabbah Shir ha-Shirim 2:1:1.
placed.”
was originally accepted only under duress. 8 Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “A Tribute to
the Rebbetzin of Talne,” Tradition 17:2 12 I am reminded of the formulation of the
3 Masekhta de-ba-Hodesh, Yitro, Parshah 5, Rambam (Hil. Melakhim 5:4) in connection
beginning (Isaac Hirsch Weiss, ed., Mekhilta (1978):77.
with The Seven Nations, “their memory has
[Vienna, 1865], 73b; Jacob Z. Lauterbach, 9 I was introduced to this dual appreciation already been lost (u-kevar avad zikhram).”
ed., Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael: A Critical

Find more shiurim and articles from Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter at
http://www.yutorah.org/Rabbi-Dr-Jacob-J-Schacter

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
A TRIBUTE TO PRESIDENT RICHARD M. JOEL

Flowers and Trees in Shul on Shavuot
It was my deep honor to work in
President Richard M. Joel’s office for a
number of years and to see first-hand Rabbi Ezra Schwartz
his profound commitment and tireless Rosh Yeshiva and Associate Director, RIETS
dedication to enhance so many aspects of Rabbi, Mount Sinai Jewish Center, New York, NY
our Yeshiva, University and community.
In honor of Shavuot I have chosen to
focus on our minhag of beautifying how and why this practice was met and the practice extends to homes
our homes and mekomot Torah on with controversy.1 as well as shuls. Moreover for Rama,
Shavuot. This practice highlights but the practice is based on matan Torah,
The earliest source of this practice is
one of President Joel’s achievements; his rather than the generic joy of yom
the Maharil:
spectacular beautification of our Yeshiva. tov. Perhaps placing greenery to
In addition to the many other aesthetic ‫ נוהגין להשטיח רצפת ב”ה בבשמים של‬commemorate maamad Har Sinai is
improvements to our Yeshiva’s campuses, .‫ עשבים ובשושנים לשמחת הרגל‬a fulfillment of the Torah prohibition
President Joel is responsible for the It is our custom to spread the floor of the against forgetting this formative
construction of our gorgeous new Glueck synagogue with fragrant spices and roses event.3
Beit Midrash, which has added significant in order to enhance the joy of the holiday.
This practice was further extended
beauty to our Yeshiva. He was not Sefer Maharil, Hilchot Shavuot
by Magen Avraham (494:5) to place
content, however, with only enhancing our It seems from a careful reading of the trees in shuls and homes to remind us
Yeshiva’s physical appearance. Through Maharil that the practice was to place that Shavuot is a time of judgment,
his sichot mussar and campaigns, he fragrant spices on the ground of the when we are judged regarding peirot
tirelessly combated the corrosive effect shul and this was a fulfillment of the hailan (fruit trees). Effectively Magen
of cynicism that too often plagues batei general mitzvah of simchat yom tov. Avraham is adding an additional
medrash. Effectively he beautified Although every yom tov mandates reason for the practice. Consequently,
our Yeshiva in the physical sense and simcha, the Gemara (Pesachim 68) for Magen Avraham, the practice
improved our culture as well. Both of these teaches us that Shavuot is supposed involved the placement of trees rather
constitute hiddur mitzvah. Maharsha to be more joyous than other festivals. than spices or grasses.
in Shabbat 133b explains that hiddur Hence the practice was limited to
mitzvah is a category that can be applied It is well known that the Vilna Gaon
Shavuot, and not other yamim tovim.2
to mitzvot bein adam lchaveiro as well (Gra)4 opposed this practice. Gra felt
as to mitzvot bein adam Lamakom. Rama’s citation of this minhag that since the non-Jews place display
Through his hard work, our Yeshiva is modifies it somewhat. Rama writes: trees during their holiday, our display
now a far more beautiful, upbeat and ‫ ונוהגין לשטוח עשבים בשבועות בב”ה‬of trees would constitute a prohibition
positive place. Thank you President Joel .‫ זכר לשמחת מתן תורה‬,‫ והבתים‬of chukot akum (following the ways
for this, and for so much more. Our practice is to spread grasses on of the idolaters). Many of the later
Shavuot in the synagogues and the seforim ponder if Gra’s opposition to
There is a widespread custom to
homes as a remembrance of the joy of the practice in fact is at odds with the
decorate our homes and shuls with
receiving the Torah. position of Rama.
trees and flowers on Shavuot. We will
discuss the variety of reasons for this Glosses of Rama, Orach Chaim Some suggest that there is no dispute.
minhag, and the consequent practical 494:3 They contend that a careful read of
implications in terms of the scope of According to Rama, the practice is Rama only supports the practice of
the practice. Finally, we will discuss to place grasses rather than spices, placing grass, while Gra opposed

25
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
the extension of Magen Avraham to for Pentecost are absent from many Based on this we can explain that
include trees.5 Although there is much of the later editions, which deleted Rama permitted placing trees in shul
merit to this argument, nonetheless the foreign terms in Chayei Adam. and at home since there are legitimate
many leading poskim including Aruch This deletion led to the mistaken logical reasons to do so. Gra, however,
Hashulchan (495:6) understood that impression based on our modern consistent with his position in YD
Gra opposed the placement of all experience that the festival addressed 178, forbids even activities that have a
forms of botany. by Gra was Christmas.8 logical basis.
Others suggest that there is no If Gra meant to oppose the practice of
dispute between Rama and Gra, and both trees and other greenery, and if Endnotes
their differences are due to historical the holiday Gra was concerned with
1 Much of the material cited comes from
considerations. It is generally assumed was Pentecost, then Rama and Gra Rabbi Gedalia Oberlander’s fine article in
that Gra opposed placement of trees would be in dispute. Ohr Yisrael volume 20 (5760) page 136-
because of the similarity between this 150. Rabbi Oberlander traces the practice
Perhaps we can trace this
practice and the Christmas tree that in great detail and offers a fair number of
disagreement back to a well-known other reasons for the practice. For the sake of
was introduced by Martin Luther machloket regarding chukot akum. In brevity, we will suffice with the broad general
(‫ )שר”י‬to replace nativity scenes, and Yore Deah 178:1, Rama paskens like overview presented.
subsequently came into widespread Maharik that the prohibition of chukot 2 In Rabbi Oberlander’s article note 14,
use in Protestant countries. Rama, akum only applies to practices that he connects this with another famous
who passed away in Catholic Poland originated among pagans and does comment of Maharil. Although for Maharil it
in 1572 less than thirty years after not have a good reason. However, is permitted to fast a taanit chalom (a fast for
Luther, may not have been aware of a practice that is based on a solid,
a troubling dream) on every other yom tov,
this practice. Gra, however, who lived on Shavuot one may not fast a taanit chalom.
readily comprehensible reason cannot Shavuot mandates an even greater level of joy
200 years later in Lithuania and was be forbidden. Effectively for Rama, than any other yom tov.
well aware of the practice, forbade it.6 the prohibition is only for chukim, 3 See Ramban Devarim 4:9 and Shichichat
However, a careful read of the original practices that are not understood.9 Lavin #2.
source in Chayei Adam indicates Consequently, it is permitted for 4 As cited by Chochmat Adam 89, Gra
that the non-Jewish holiday that doctors to wear special clothing forbade the practice of placing trees since the
concerned Gra was Pentecost rather to demonstrate their educational non-Jews display trees during their holiday.
than Christmas.7 An essential part of attainment, since the reason for this See also Chayei Adam 131. In Maaseh Rav
the observance of Pentecost involved practice is easily comprehensible. (195) Gra writes similarly that the practice
should be nullified since it is not a strict
decorating homes and churches with Gra (178:7), however, disagrees. obligation but only a minhag. Interestingly,
birches and other greenery. Chayei this paragraph was absent from a number of
According to Gra, even practices
Adam writes: the editions of Maaseh Rav. See 2009 edition
that are grounded in comprehensible note 106.
,‫הגר”א ביטל מנהג מלהעמיד אילנות בעצרת‬ reasons may be forbidden. His proof
‫משום שעכשיו הוא חוק העמים להעמיד‬ is from the Gemara in Sanhedrin 52b, 5 See Rabbi Oberlander, loc. cit. page 146 in
the name of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.
‫אילנות בחג שלהם (שקורין “זאלאניע‬ where the tanna Rabbi Yehuda forbids
)”‫שווענטע” או “פינגשטן‬ carrying out the mitat beit din of hereg 6 This is the approach of the Sefer Halikutim
printed on the side of Maaseh Rav 2009
Gra nullified the custom to place trees on (capital punishment) with a sword, edition.
Shavuot because now it is the custom of since the idolaters use a sword to kill.
non-Jews to place trees on their holiday Gra maintains that there is a logical 7 I would like to thank Dashiell Ferguson for
alerting me to this point.
(which is called Zielone Świątki or reason to employ a sword; swords
Pfingsten). simply do a good, neat job of killing. 8 My brief survey of this matter shows
that all versions of Chayei Adam published
Chayei Adam 131:13 Even so, the tanna Rabbi Yehuda until 1960 contained the foreign language
wants to forbid the use of a sword. terms. Those who removed the terms may in
Chayei Adam identifies the non-
Apparently reason alone does not fact be in violation of Rabbenu Tam’s strict
Jewish festival he is referring to by its
suffice to conclude that an action will admonition not to amend the text in sefarim.
Polish name Zielone Świątki and its
not constitute chukot akum. 9 See Rashi Bamidbar 19:2.
German name Pfingsten. These terms

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
Special Symposium • Shavuot 5777

PERSPECTIVES ON
CONVERSION

27
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
The Surrogate Challenge
I am fortunate to be a member
of a beis din that is involved in
conversion. This has given me
the opportunity to enable sincere,
committed individuals from all
Rabbi Eli Belizon
Faculty, Stone Beit Midrash Program
Rabbi, Young Israel of Fair Lawn
walks of life join kneses Yisrael and
become a part of our great nation. I
take this job very seriously and view these technologies require conversion. .‫וְ ַא ַחר יָ לְ ָדה ַבת וַ ִת ְק ָרא ֶאת ְש ָמּה ִדינָ ה‬
it as a great privilege. Nevertheless, While in the past, in vitro fertilization After, she bore a daughter and she called
I frequently encounter challenges in and surrogate motherhood were her name Dina.
this role. One such area of challenge merely theoretical issues in the world Bereishis 30:21
is the groundbreaking and innovative of halacha and Gemara, they now
The Baal Haturim notes that regarding
technology now available through are frequent issues facing todays
Dina, the Torah never refers to
modern medicine in the treatment batei dinim. When analyzing and
herayon (pregnancy) as it does by the
of infertility; technology that enables understanding these issues, we will
other children. He explains, based
couples to bear children and enjoy the see that the discussions surrounding
on a comment of Targum Yonasan,
blessing of building a beautiful family. surrogacy and egg donation are
that Leah did not in fact conceive
These innovations, however, present relevant to understanding how we
Dina, but rather Dina was conceived
halachic questions that often extend to became a Jewish nation at Har Sinai.
in Rachel’s womb. At the same time,
a beis din that is involved in conversion.
The question that must be addressed is: Yosef was conceived in Leah’s womb.
One issue that can cause infertility which part of development is critical to If Leah would have given birth to
is a woman’s inability to produce producing a Jewish baby? Does halacha another boy, Rachel would have only
fertile eggs. The medical world has require a Jewish mother to deliver had the opportunity to bear one of
discovered methods to extract an egg the baby, or is it more critical that the the shevatim (tribes), fewer than the
from a donor and implant it, providing genetic material come from a Jewish maidservants. Leah had mercy on her
an otherwise infertile woman the mother, regardless of who carried the sister and davened for a miracle. The
ability to have a child. Additionally, child to term? Chazal tell us that a child Targum Yonasan states that Hashem
some women can produce a fertile egg born to a Jewish mother is Jewish, but performed a miracle and transferred
but for various reasons are unable to they do not specify what part of the Yosef to Rachel’s womb and Dina to
complete a full pregnancy. Medical process imparts the Jewish status onto Leah’s womb.
technology now provides the ability the child.
The Tur takes this idea one step further.
to implant a fertilized egg in another
Although the concepts of egg The Torah (Bereishis 46:10) refers to
woman, a surrogate, who can carry
donation or surrogacy do not appear one of the children of Shimon as “Shaul
the fetus to term. In many of these
in the Talmud, some commentators ben Hakena’anis.” Rashi comments
situations, the egg donor or surrogate
on the Torah allude to a similar that this was a child born to Shimon
may be a non-Jew. Our beis din very
concept with the birth of Dina and Dina. After Dina was captured
often is required to determine whether
and Yosef. The verse uses peculiar by Shechem and was embarrassed
or not children born as a result of
language to describe the birth of Dina: publicly, Shimon resolved to marry

PERSPECTIVES ON CONVERSION
Special Symposium • Shavuot 5777

28
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
her. This marriage is problematic, him as well? He is still uncircumcised that ger shenisgayer k’katan shenolad —
as it involves siblings that share a at the time of the conversion. The a convert is like a newborn child who
common mother, which is prohibited Baalei Hatosfos (see Tosfos, Yevamos has no halachic relatives?
under Noachide law as well as Jewish 47b, s.v. and Matbilin and Kesuvos 11a,
Moreover, there seems to be a
halacha. How could Shimon marry s.v. Matbilin) offer an answer, which
contradiction between the two
his sister? The Tur resolves this issue may serve to clarify our issue as well.
passages in the Gemara. According
by citing the above commentary, and The Baalei Hatosfos believe that when
to the first passage, the defining step
argues that since Dina and Shimon this child is born, the circumcision is
in the determination of a child being
were conceived by different mothers not a circumcision of conversion. At
Jewish would seem to be conception.
they are not considered siblings for the time of the mother’s conversion
If the child was not Jewish at the time
the purpose of halacha (Noachide law the fetus undergoes conversion as
of conception, he or she requires a
only prohibits marrying a sibling from well, regardless of the child’s gender.
conversion, regardless of the fact that
the same mother). The implication of Once the child is born and turns out
he or she was born to a Jewish mother.
these sources is that the Torah seems to be a male, we circumcise him on the However, the second passage seems
to consider the woman who conceives eighth day as we would any other baby to imply the opposite, and despite
the child to be the mother. This could that was born Jewish. The Ramban, the fact that these two brothers were
be extrapolated to our modern-day Yevamos 47b, however, offers a different conceived while their mother was
dilemma, and one may conclude that solution and explains that in general, not Jewish, they remain brothers
as long as the egg is from a Jewish this formal order of circumcision once they are born, contrary to what
mother, that child would not require prior to immersion in the mikveh is would normally occur in the process
conversion. The Minchas Yitzchak not essential and although ordinarily of conversion.1 This would imply that
3:114, points out that these sources recommended, the conversion is the gestation and delivery are more
are difficult to rely on for a few reasons. valid if the order was reversed. The critical for creating a Jewish child.
First, these sources are not traditionally conversion of the baby whose mother
meant to teach halacha, they are more converted while pregnant is complete There are numerous ways to resolve
aggadic texts. Additionally, the Gemara when the circumcision takes place. this contradiction and because
in Brachos 60a, has a different account Thus there seems to be a fundamental there is no clear resolution as to
of the story involving Leah. In the dispute regarding how we view the whether conception or gestation
version in the Gemara, Leah had pity conversion process of this fetus. is the ultimate determinant, many
on her sister and prayed for her to poskim suggest that the beis din
There is a major challenge to Ramban’s should be stringent and require
conceive and deliver a boy. There is no
opinion. The Gemara in Yevamos, conversion if either the egg donor or
mention of a fetus transfer or exchange.
97b, discusses a similar case where a the surrogate are not Jewish. One of
The most compelling and direct source mother is pregnant with twins and these resolutions provides for us an
that helps to clarify our issue is one converts mid-pregnancy. The Gemara important insight into what makes
highlighted by Rav Zalman Nechemia states that these twins are considered us Jewish. Rav Naftalli Trop, in his
Goldberg (Techumin Vol. V), one of to be full-fledged brothers for halachic Chiddushim to Kesuvos 11a, resolves
the leading poskim in Eretz Yisrael. purposes. This would only seem to the contradiction by explaining that
The Gemara in Yevamos 78b, discusses make sense according to the Baalei both conception and delivery are
the issue of a woman who converts Hatosfos. According to the Baalei contributing factors to one’s Judaism.
while she is pregnant. The Gemara Hatosfos, when the two babies are There are two fundamental elements
explains that the geirus is effective born, they are Jewish, and since they that give an individual the status of
not only for her but for the fetus as have the same mother, they should a Jew. There is shem Yisrael, Jewish
well. Many of the commentaries are be considered full-fledged siblings. nationality, which is attained by
bothered by this conclusion. A male However, according to the Ramban, being born to a Jewish mother. The
convert must undergo circumcision the two twins are not Jewish until second dimension is kedushas Yisrael,
prior to immersion in a mikveh. If this the circumcision is performed. How Jewish Sanctity, which is attained
particular fetus is male, how could the can they be considered full-fledged when one is conceived by a Jewish
mother’s conversion be effective for siblings? Shouldn’t we apply the rule

29
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
mother. We take for granted that their ancestors as well? Why didn’t communities. As we approach this
every child born Jewish has both of the ger shenisgayer principle apply after chag — which takes us back to our
these components, but as Rav Trop matan Torah? national conversion — we realize
suggests, these two elements don’t it is insufficient to simply identify
Based on the analysis of the two
always go hand in hand. Perhaps, he ourselves as part of the Jewish
elements of our Judaism, I believe
suggests, the child born to a woman nation. We must realize the other
we can resolve these questions. Our
who converted during pregnancy is component of becoming a Jew, and
relationship with our ancestors and
considered a member of the Jewish renew our commitment to achieving
the fathers of our nation is a result
nation for the purpose of determining kedushas Yisrael. This component of
of being born to Jewish parents. The
his relatives, and therefore maintains Judaism requires constant reaffirming
descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak
his relationship with his twin brother and commitment. We relive this
and Yaakov had a shem Yisrael.
for halachic purposes. Since at the transformation every Shavuos and
Nevertheless, we were still missing a
time of his birth he was born to a reaffirm our commitment to Torah
critical component of being Jewish.
Jewish mother, he has the status of and mitzvos, thereby completing
We had not yet achieved the element
a brother to his twin. Nevertheless, the process of our own “conversion”
of kedushas Yisrael. This second
at conception he was the child of a to Judaism. The world is changing
element was only realized at Har Sinai
non-Jewish mother and therefore and constantly confronts us with
when we received the Torah and its
is missing the second element of new challenges. We must therefore
commandments. When we perform
being Jewish, kedushas Yisrael. For undergo an annual kabbalas Hatorah,
a mitzvah, we recite a beracha that
that, according to Tosfos, he requires a symbolic conversion, through which
states “asher kideshanu b’mitzvosav
a conversion in-utero and for the we maintain our kedushas Yisrael.
vitzivanu” — Who sanctified us with
Ramban, he still must undergo the
His mitzvos and commanded us.
conversion process after birth. Thus, Endnotes
We were endowed with holiness and
the two passages in the Gemara
sanctity when we received the Torah
are not necessarily contradictory. 1 This question could theoretically be
and mitzvos. In order to attain that applied equally to both the opinion of the
They are merely discussing different
additional component of Judaism, we Baalei Hatosfos and Ramban. However, as
components of becoming a Jew.
required a conversion process at Har we alluded to earlier, if a conversion takes
Perhaps one could suggest that these Sinai. It remains true that our family place in-utero and then the Jewish baby
two elements, Jewish nationality and relationships remained the same, since is born to a Jewish mother, he retains the
relationship with his mother. See Achiezer
Jewish spirituality, stem from the we already had Jewish nationality from 2:29. The relationship to the mother in such a
experience of the Jewish people at our ancestors. Nevertheless, Shavuos situation is more of a technicality and as such,
matan Torah. The Gemara, Kerisus imbued within us that kedushas Yisrael the first passage in the Gemara implies that
9a, states that bnei Yisrael underwent and completed the process of becoming conception is the determinant even according
a conversion at Har Sinai. In fact, we a Jew. In essence, every single one of to the Baalei Hatosfos.
use that process as the source for how us standing at Har Sinai was similar to 2 These two dimensions of Judaism are
we conduct our conversions. If this is the status of a baby born from a Jewish not only apparent to us. Our enemies have
recognized it as well. We have suffered from
true, then am Yisrael should have lost mother but conceived by a non-Jewish anti-Semitism in many different generations.
all of their familial relationships after mother. The same way — according to Yet the persecution and animosity was
undergoing the conversion process this analysis — the child would require triggered in different generations for various
at Har Sinai. Are we to assume that a conversion, the Jews at Har Sinai all reasons. We have often faced enemies that
after matan Torah, the Jewish people required conversion as well.2 would like to destroy the Jewish nation,
the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak and
had no relatives because they were all It is remarkable how a modern Yaakov. Mitzrayim serves as the paradigm of
converts? Furthermore, don’t we all dilemma encountered in a beis this type of antisemitism. They persecuted
recite three times daily that we are the din for geirus helps to illuminate us before we even attained kedushas Yisrael.
children of our ancestors Avraham, our perspective on the chag of
However there are other enemies, such as
Yitzchak and Yaakov? How can the Yavan and Amalek, who focused on Jewish
Shavuos. Many of us were born to sanctity and our observance of mitzvos.
Gemara consider am Yisrael converts, Jewish parents and live in Jewish
yet still maintain their connection to

30
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
The Power of Obligation
My Choice
Joshua Blau
A lthough I wasn’t Jewish, I
grew up going to Chabad
Hebrew school, day camp,
and shul. As I got older, my mother
and I celebrated all the Jewish holidays
Yeshiva College Class of ‘17

in a more and more Orthodox had raised me — an only child — by ‫בר חסא מלמד שכפה הקב”ה עליהם את‬
fashion. It wasn’t long before I often herself for most of my life, and if she ‫ההר כגיגית ואמר להם אם אתם מקבלים‬
wore a kippah and tzitzit. My mother was going through a religious process, ‫התורה מוטב ואם לאו שם תהא קבורתכם‬
managed to get me into an Orthodox then so was I. My taking said process ‫א”ר אחא בר יעקב מכאן מודעא רבה‬
day school before I was even officially seriously is inherent in my personality. ‫לאורייתא אמר רבא אעפ”כ הדור קבלוה בימי‬
Jewish (an exception to school The point remains: If I was forced into ‫אחשורוש דכתיב קימו וקבלו היהודים קיימו‬
policy). Finally, at age 10, I went with Judaism, albeit circumstantially and .‫מה שקיבלו כבר‬
her to the mikvah and went through more by coercion than force, how was “…And they stood at the lowermost
the conversion process. my choice meaningful? part of the mount” (Exodus 19:17). R.
The question has occasionally Avdimi bar Hama bar Hasa said:
occurred to me since then — as I’m A Strange Midrash [the verse] teaches that the Holy
sure it has to many gerim (converts) One, Blessed Be He, overturned the
— what would have happened had The giving of the Torah at Sinai mountain above them like a barrel,
I not converted? The question itself might be viewed as the pinnacle and said to them: If you accept the
implies a choice, but upon further of Jewish history. It was the climax Torah, excellent, and if not, there will
reflection, my choice doesn’t seem of the people’s miraculous exodus be your burial. R. Aha bar Ya’akov
to have been present at all. This type from a centuries-long slavery in said: From here is a substantial caveat
of situation, a child under the age of Egypt, a national covenant with the to [the obligation to fulfill] the Torah.
bar mitzvah converting along with a omnipotent God of their ancestors Rava said: Even so, they again accepted
parent, is precisely what necessitates and Creator of the world. A crucial it in the time of Ahasuerus, as it is
a reacceptance of the mitzvot at the part of this covenant was Bnei Yisrael’s written: “They ordained and took upon
dawn of adulthood for child gerim. end of the pact: the acceptance them…” (Esther 9:27); they ordained
Yet, even such an affirmation of one’s of the Torah and all the laws and what they had already taken upon
choice is embittered by the same systems of law therein. An oft quoted themselves.
problem: Where is indeed the choice? aggadic fragment of Gemara, found For the purposes of Purim, this
in Shabbat 88a, throws a wrench into aggadic passage strikes a chord; the
I was invested in Orthodoxy, the significance of this event. In classic
certainly; sometimes even more than holiday not only contains its own
midrashic fashion, the Gemara paints depth, but is now imbued with the
my mother, at least as far as the strict a strange picture based on the word
nature of the law was concerned. But additional significance of the real
tachtit: acceptance of the Torah. But for
this did not change the fact that I was
extremely close to my mother, who ‫ ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר א”ר אבדימי בר חמא‬Shavuot, a holiday on which our

PERSPECTIVES ON CONVERSION
Special Symposium • Shavuot 5777

31
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
acceptance of the Torah should be listen” when they were first asked if they Here the midrash reveals its true
in far more focus, what is left by this would receive the Torah? Because [the intentions. God was threatening Bnei
midrash but a seemingly meaningless, Written Law] doesn’t involve toil and Yisrael with death, but not in the way
half-hearted acceptance of a body of effort and its laws are small in number. one might think. Instead of being
law resulting only from a sure death Rather [the holding of the mountain] instantly crushed under the weight of
sentence had it not taken place? was said about the Oral Law that has a mountain, the apprehensive nation
How could such a covenant even be many details to both stringent and less would be restrained behind a wall of
enforceable, when its participants stringent mitzvot. rock for the duration of their lives.
could claim they only agreed This would (ignoring loss of oxygen
According to Tanchuma, the Jewish
because the alternative was death? — this is a midrash, after all), rather
people were only forced to accept the
Furthermore, even if we choose not to than rendering them dead, simply
Oral Law. If the focus of the giving of
take the midrash literally, how would render them immobile. In doing so,
the Torah was the Written Law and
such a counterintuitive angle on this imprisonment would theoretically
the Oral Law simply came along with
history deepen our perception of the remove all meaning from the people’s
it, the problem posed by this midrash
already momentous occasion of the lives, leaving the collective as a mere
is minimized. However, this is not the
giving of the Torah? shell of what it would have been,
case. R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch,
at least in purpose, with the Torah.
We might attempt to limit the scope in a beautiful essay on Shavuot,1
In an exaggerated sense, this is the
of the problem by narrowing its explains that the significance of our
central tenet of the midrash; God was,
subject. An alternate version of annual holiday marking the giving
in forcing the people to accept the
the midrash in Shabbat is found in of the Torah indeed is concentrated
Torah, simultaneously imparting the
Tanchuma, beginning the same way on the cruciality of the Oral Law, not
notion that their lives would be empty
but, instead of continuing to discuss the Written Law (though the latter
without it.
the first statement’s implication or is, of course, certainly necessary). If
continuation in history, taking a the import of the events at Sinai was This point is manifest on two
radically different turn: Bnei Yisrael’s acceptance of the Oral levels, respectively contained in the
Law specifically, and this was the two versions of the midrash. The
‫ולא קבלו ישראל את התורה עד שכפה עליהם‬
very portion of the Torah that they Gemara’s presentation addresses the
‫הקב”ה את ההר כגיגית שנאמר ויתיצבו‬
were forced to accept, what are we consequence of a relationship with
‫בתחתית ההר ואמר רב דימי בר חמא א”ל‬
celebrating on Shavuot? God without an accompanying Law.
‫הקב”ה לישראל אם מקבלים אתם את התורה‬
God held a hollow mountain over the
‫ ואם‬,‫ מוטב ואם לאו שם תהא קבורתכם‬A closer look at the midrash reveals a
people to symbolize that this type of
‫ תאמר על התורה שבכתב כפה עליהם את‬detail with interesting implications.
relationship is purposeless. Without
‫ ההר והלא משעה שאמר להן מקבלין אתם‬Of anything to compare a mountain
the Torah, they would feel trapped
‫ ענו כלם ואמרו נעשה ונשמע‬,‫ את התורה‬to, the midrash strangely picks a gigit,
in a hollow existence. Tanchuma
‫ מפני שאין בה יגיעה וצער והיא מעט אלא‬which is a tub or barrel. One might
makes a similar point, emphasizing
‫ אמר להן על התורה שבע”פ שיש בה דקדוקי‬think that, if a mountain hovering in
the importance of the Oral Law
... ‫ מצות קלות וחמורות‬the sky waiting to drop on millions
specifically.
The Jewish people did not accept the of people were to resemble anything,
Torah until the Holy One, Blessed Be the pictorial simile would certainly It is in this vein that the midrash
He held the mountain over them like a not be hollow. Not only does such an supplies insight into Shavuot as it
barrel, as it states “And they stood at the object not accurately represent the appears through Hirschian lenses.
lowermost part of the mount,” and R. internal structure of a mountain, but Without the Oral Torah, the
Dimi bar Hama said: The Holy One, it would also seemingly not convey Written Torah would be difficult
Blessed Be He said to the Jewish people: the idea the midrash is attempting to if not impossible to understand,
If you accept the Torah, excellent, and if portray. God explicitly threatens the inflexible, and limited in time scope.
not, there will be your burial. If you will people with death — “if not, there will Furthermore, the nation’s continuity
say that He held the mountain over them be your burial” — so why not do so is dependent upon the generational
for the Written Law, did not the Jewish with something that would kill them transmission established by the Oral
people respond “We will do and we will immediately? Torah. This fact is again related back

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
to our midrash by the version in the therefore, we celebrate what truly their potential. My upbringing has
Mechilta of R. Shimon bar Yochai: makes us what we are, despite — nay, allowed me to fully internalize a key
‫ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר מלמד שכפה עליהם‬ because of — the fact that it was not ingredient in a Torah life: obligation
‫הקב״ה את ההר כגגית ואמר אם מקבלין‬ really a choice. without choice.
‫אתם עליכם את התורה [מוטב] ואם לאו כאן‬ While a choice of Judaism, as opposed
‫תהא קבורתכם באותה שעה געו כולן בבכייה‬ My Choice: Redux to birth or coercion into it, may be
‫ושפכו לבם כמים בתשובה ואמרו כל אשר‬ more impressive, it is certainly no
‫דבר ה’ נעשה ונשמע (כ”ד ז’) אמר הקב”ה‬ As I have moved from local Chabad less meaningful. One of the greatest
to slightly yeshivish middle school
‫ערבים אני צריך הרי שמים וארץ יערבנו אמר‬ factors of the meaning and fortitude
to Modern Orthodox high school to
‫להן עסיקין הן אמרו בנינו יערבונו אמר הרי‬ of our tradition, and of the Oral Torah
Gush to YU, I have befriended many a on a broader scale, is the fact that it
.‫ערבים טובים‬
“…And they stood at the lowermost peer from different backgrounds and is not chosen. Instead, it was, even in
part of the mount” (Exodus 19:17), with different interests and skill levels. the beginning, “forced” upon us as an
[the verse] teaches that the Holy One, Almost none of them know about my integral component of our brit with
Blessed Be He, overturned the mountain background. I made it somewhat of a God. It is not only the Oral Torah, but
above them like a barrel, and said to policy to not outright tell people that I this aspect of coercion itself which is
am a ger unless directly prompted. The necessary for national survival and
them: If you accept the Torah, excellent,
and if not, here will be your burial. Atdecision largely developed from my the deep meaning and beauty behind
that moment, they all cried out in tearsbashfulness, but at least in my head, I what we do every day, week, and
had good reasons for remaining quiet
and their hearts poured out like water in year. This experience should be, even
repentance and they said “All that God about my origins. There was a latent needs to be, available for every Jew,
fear, perhaps irrational, perhaps not,
said, we will do and we will listen.” The regardless of background or means
Holy One, Blessed Be He said: I need that people would view me differently of entrance into our nation. Part of
guarantors. [They said], let the heaven if they knew. Maybe their expectations our obligation to welcome the ger
and earth be the guarantors. He said for me would be lowered. Maybe their is to recognize that while his or her
to them, they are busy. They said, our esteem for me would grow. entry to Judaism was by choice, it
children will be our guarantors. He said,
While I wanted to be acknowledged was a choice to bind oneself by the
these are good guarantors. for my identity, I also scornfully same obligations incumbent on all
harbored anxiety for these Jewish people. It is this binding, this
One might question the connection
sense of absence of choice, that is to
between the first and second portions possibilities. I desired to be held under
of this excerpt. What does being only the highest of expectations, lest I be celebrated particularly along with
be treated as if my ability or potential our celebration of the receiving of the
forced to accept the Torah have to do
was limited. I did not deserve higher Torah on Shavuot. Along with the
with the identity of its guarantors?
esteem for simply living my life in resulting universal sense of appointed
Based on what we have already
the way it was dealt to me; I did not devotion will come a stronger and
explained, there is no non-sequitur
accomplish anything extraordinary. larger whole that we may look to with
present here. Part of the purpose of
In part, it is this attitude that has great pride as we once again revel in
the forced acceptance of the Oral
outwardly reinforced my ability to the Torah that we had no choice but
Torah was to establish the integrality
integrate to the degree that I have. to accept, and are all the happier for it.
of an oral tradition within which
children are inherently central, Gerim are often looked upon with
transforming our tradition into an utmost respect and admiration; a Endnotes
ever-blossoming tree of transmission. praiseworthy perspective, no doubt.
However, it becomes problematic 1 Judaism Eternal: Selected Essays from the
Had our receiving of the Oral Writings of Samson Raphael Hirsch - Vol. 1,
Torah been voluntary, the factor of when this view morphs into ger lenses,
Chapter IX, Sivan, “The Festival of Revelation
obligation to continuously pass on this and the first thing one sees is a ger and the Uniqueness of the Torah.”
body of the law to the next generation rather than a Jew. Such an attitude
would have been greatly diminished, is what I was afraid of, and is what
if not altogether absent. On Shavuot, hinders many gerim from reaching

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
I Just Want to Drink My Tea
S ipping a nice hot cup of ginger
tea is my favorite way to end
a Shabbat meal, regardless of
the time of year. I was once a guest
at someone’s Shabbat table sipping
Mrs. Leah Nagarpowers
Stern College for Women Class of 2014
my tea, when the conversation Teacher, Magen David Yeshivah, Brooklyn, NY
turned to non-kosher food trends.
The topic seems a bit random but be a pregnant pause until I give some ‫אם היה בעל תשובה לא יאמר לו זכור מעשיך‬
I promise there was a context to it. rushed answer. ‫הראשונים אם הוא בן גרים לא יאמר לו זכור‬
Anyway, I was just sitting in my seat ‫ כ) וגר לא‬,‫מעשה אבותיך שנאמר (שמות כב‬
and enjoying the spicy aroma of my Before I describe where the
conversation tends to go from there .‫תונה ולא תלחצנו‬
brew when, yet again, someone asked If one is a baal teshuva, someone cannot
my opinion on a popular non-kosher I would like to bring in the Shelah,
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz. In Shnei say to him, “Remember your earlier
restaurant. Before I could open my actions,” and if one is a child of converts,
mouth, someone else piped up and Luchot HaBrit he spends some time
discussing the phrase “When a you cannot say to him, “Remember the
asked how it is that I could have an actions of your ancestors,” because the
opinion to begin with. Not missing stranger (convert) lives among you”
from Vayikra 19:33, and how it is verse says, “And you shall not mistreat
a beat, I followed with my typical nor oppress” (Shemot 22:20).
response, “Because I’m a baalat meant to serve as a literary allusion to
Avraham. He explains that the reason These statements from the Mishna are
teshuva,” a line I’ve been using for already fairly clear: don’t remind baalei
years at this point. Hashem put this allusion in the Torah
is to remind us not to remind others teshuva or converts about their past.
Then came the typical questions: Why of their potentially sordid pasts when But the Gemara goes a step further in
did you become frum? Was it hard we have our own to deal with. He its discussion of the Mishna. On the
to keep Shabbat? What do you miss goes on to remind us that B’nei Yisrael same page, the Gemara discusses an
from before? I’ve learned how to give committed acts of avodah zarah and actual convert, explaining:
canned answers to these questions other aveirot while in Egypt and that ‫אם היה גר ובא ללמוד תורה אל יאמר לו פה‬
that at this point require little to no because of this, we have no right to ‫שאכל נבילות וטריפות שקצים ורמשים בא‬
thought and satisfy the inquiries fairly remind a convert of his or her prior .‫ללמוד תורה שנאמרה מפי הגבורה‬
quickly. Inevitably there was one acts. If someone is a convert and he came
person who was more curious than to study Torah, someone cannot say to
everyone else and just couldn’t let The Talmud Bavli in Masechet
Bava Metzia page 58b discusses a him, “Does the mouth that consumed
the topic go. It tends to be the case non-kosher carcasses, wounded animals,
that someone will then proceed to Mishna detailing the prohibition of
ona’at devarim — causing someone disgusting creatures, and creeping
poke at my defenses and ask more animals come to study the Torah
personal questions about my family. emotional suffering — and how
that can be done through various that was given over by the mouth of
Sometimes someone else will get Hashem?”
involved and change the subject, but statements. One of the examples the
Mishna gives refers to baalei teshuva: Now most people, being decent and
more often than not there will instead

PERSPECTIVES ON CONVERSION
Special Symposium • Shavuot 5777

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
kind, would never think of saying with questions I hear the most celebrate Shavuot, we take time to
something like what the Gemara is common comment of all, “You’re so think about how we could be more
describing to anyone. I think that the inspirational! Can you share your sensitive towards converts and baalei
rabbis of the Gemara also believed story?” teshuva. Not just because Megillat
that most people were decent and Rut discusses the famous convert of
Now, to people who aren’t converts
kind and didn’t need to give mussar the same name but because when
or baalei teshuva that last comment
telling people not to make such the story was over, Rut went on
may seem harmless, but I would like
statements. The rabbis were possibly to just be Rut, a regular shomeret
to argue otherwise. When someone
using such an extreme example to mitzvah member of the tribe. Stories
becomes a baal teshuva or a convert
illustrate a different point about such as Rut’s can definitely be a
he or she spends a certain amount of
how it feels for the convert in this source of inspiration, but as we seek
time learning how to fit in to the frum
situation. If you were in this convert’s out inspiration, we also need to be
community. What to say when, how
shoes, how would you feel? Attacked? sensitive to the impact it has on
to dress, what hechsherim to look for,
Embarrassed? Isolated? Inferior? I others. I, and many, many others,
these are all things we have to navigate
believe the rabbis would also apply don’t want to be treated as a separate
as we find our place in the religious
this thinking to other questions posed group that the rest of the community
world.1 After this transitional period
to converts that seem to be more finds “inspiration” from. We just want
we just want to be accepted like any
pareve. Questions like, Why did you to bake challah, daven in a minyan,
other frum from birth person (FFB).
convert? Was it hard to keep Shabbat? learn Torah, and enjoy a night out like
In other words, we want to “pass.”
What do you miss from before? anyone else. So please, don’t make
Once we have integrated into Modern
If you have been following me so far, us pay for our supper by harassing us
Orthodox society, we don’t want
then you can already see where that with questions. We just want to drink
others to remind us of our past. Can
conversation I was describing usually our tea.
you imagine someone reminding you
goes. It comes out that I’m a convert of a car accident you had at 16 after
(surprise!) and then the questions you were well into your 20’s? Now Endnotes
become increasingly more invasive. imagine that happening when you’re
1 I encourage you to read Becoming Frum:
At this point I tend to do one of two surrounded by strangers who want How Newcomers Learn the Language and
things, feign fatigue or steel myself to ask all sorts of probing questions Culture of Orthodox Judaism by Dr. Sarah
with another cup of ginger tea. After about the incident, over 10 years later. Bunin Benor for more information on this
about 10 minutes of being peppered transition.
I would like to suggest that as we

The Choice of the Convert as a Source of Inspiration
Even without knowing a person’s particular story, we can individual didn’t see any of that and came to refine himself/
be inspired by the very choice to become Jewish. The herself to the Holy One Blessed Be He and accepted upon
Midrash Tanchuma, Lech Lecha no. 6 states: himself/herself, the yoke of the Heavenly Kingdom. Is there
‫א"ל ר"ש בן לקיש חביב הגר לפני הקב"ה מן אותן אוכלוסין שעמדו‬ anything more precious than this?
‫ למה שכל אותן אוכלוסין אלולי שראו הקולות והלפידים‬,‫על הר סיני‬ R. Yehonatan Eibeschitz, Yearot Devash no. 1, writes that
‫וברקים וההרים רועשים וקול שופרות לא קבלו עליהם מלכות‬ when we recite the beracha of Al HaTzaddikim (for the
‫ וזה לא ראה אחד מכולם ובא ומשלים עצמו להקב"ה וקבל‬,‫שמים‬ righteous), we should specifically have in mind to fulfill
.‫עליו עול מלכות שמים יש חביב מזה‬ the mitzvah to love the convert. In today’s day and age
Reish Lakish responded: the convert is more precious before when the spirit of the times is to live a life free of any
the Holy One, Blessed Be He than the population that stood ethical systems, and this individual decides to accept
at Mount Sinai. Why? Because if that population didn’t the yoke of mitzvot, this individual is comparable to
see the sounds, the flames, the thunder, the trembling of the Avraham Avinu who discovered God on his own.
mountains and the sound of the shofars, they wouldn’t have Torah To Go Editors
accepted upon themselves the Heavenly Kingdom. This

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
Lessons from Mount Sinai:
The Interplay between Halacha and Humanity
in the Gerus Process
A major motif of the Shavuos
holiday is the idea that
kabbalas HaTorah represents
the collective conversion of B’nai
Yisroel to the Jewish faith. Indeed,
Rabbi Yona Reiss
Rosh Yeshiva, RIETS, Av Beit Din, CRC
the Talmud (Kerisus 9a) derives Chairman, RCA Conversion Committee
from the matan Torah experience
at Har Sinai each of the requisite
components of conversion, including Hadibros on Shavuot morning, the grandiose reward for her conversion
the requirements for immersion in entire congregation rises to stage a to Judaism. According to one opinion
a mikvah and, in the case of male reenactment of the entering of the in the Talmud (that of “acherim
converts, bris milah. The statement community of Israel into the Divine omrim”), most converts endure a
of “na’aseh ve’nishma” (Shemos covenant (see Mesorah, volume 1, certain amount of suffering as a result
24:7) — that we agreed to accept the pp. 17-18). Along the same lines, of having delayed their entry into
covenant of all the laws of the Torah, the reading of the Megillah of Ruth the covenant of the Jewish people.
including those not yet known by on Shavuos (in the Diaspora on the However, in the case of Ruth, she was
us — parallels the requirement of second day) evokes the conversion not able to convert until the Sages had
kabbalas ol mitzvos, the acceptance experience of each individual convert. decreed that the Biblical ban against
by each convert throughout Ruth, in her exclamation (1:16) of marrying Moabite converts applied
the generations of the yoke of “amech ami v’elokoich elokai” (your only to Moabite men and not Moabite
commandments (see, e.g., Teshuvos people are my people, and your G-d is women. As soon as this ruling was
VeHanhagos 2:515). Similarly, the my G-d), represents the paradigmatic issued, she converted immediately
requirement that a conversion take convert who is prepared to associate without delay, and was therefore not
place before a rabbinical court is herself wholly and unconditionally to subject to punishment (commentary
based on the concept of the rabbinical the Jewish people and the Jewish faith. of Etz Yosef, ibid).
court serving in the place of the
Divine Presence that was present at The Talmud (Yevamos 48b) derives However, the aforementioned opinion
Har Sinai, as expressed in the verse from the verse in Ruth (2:12) in in the Talmud about how converts are
(Tehillim 82:1) Elokim nitzav ba’adas which Boaz tells her “u’sehi maskurtech penalized for not having converted
Kel be’kerev Elokim yishpot — that shelemah” — that your reward shall at an earlier point in time is puzzling
the Divine Presence resides within a be complete, “asher bas lachasos because Judaism does not seek to
rabbinical court (see Rabbi Joseph B. tachas kenafav” — because you have proselytize non-Jews to convert
Soloveitchik, Al HaTeshuva, p. 137). chosen to enter under the protections to Judaism, and believes that it is
of the wings of the Divine Presence, perfectly legitimate for non-Jews to
During the reading of the Aseres that Ruth received a particularly remain non-Jewish. Why, then, should

PERSPECTIVES ON CONVERSION
Special Symposium • Shavuot 5777

36
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
a convert be punished for taking so understand why, notwithstanding It is interesting in this vein to note
long to convert? Na’ami’s three utterances of shovna that while Judaism recognizes the
The commentary Ahavas Eisan (on and shovna b’nosai (“return, my validity of she’ain da’atam domeh
daughters, go back”), from which zeh lazeh (Berachos 58a) — of there
the Eyn Yaakov) answers this question
based on a different Talmudic passage. we derive that a convert should be being a variety of different personality
The Gemara in Shabbos (146a) states discouraged three times, the Midrash types — nonetheless when it comes
that all Jews were present at Har Sinai (Yalkut Shimoni, Yisro, Remez 268) to interactions with conversion
and have therefore been cleansed teaches: candidates the Talmud (Shabbos 30b)
states explicitly:
of the contamination brought upon ‫כשיבוא אדם אצלך להתגייר ואינו בא אלא‬
humankind by the Serpent in the ‫לשם שמים אף אתה קרבהו ואל תרחקהו‬ ‫לעולם יהא אדם ענוותן כהלל ולא קפדן‬
Garden of Eden. The Talmud then ‫מכאן אתה למד שיהא אדם דוחה בשמאל‬ .‫כשמאי‬
asks that while this makes sense with .‫ומקרב בימין‬ A person should always have the patience
respect to descendants of those who When a person comes to you to convert and forbearance of Hillel and not the
were present at Mount Sinai, this and is sincerely motivated to do so, you strictness and severity of Shamai.
does not account for converts whose should welcome him and not distance Most people are familiar with the
ancestors were not present at the time. him. From here we learn that a person famous story of the individual who
Accordingly, the Talmud answers that should distance with left (weaker hand) thought he could cause Hillel to
while the converts were not present, and welcome with the right (stronger) lose his temper by continuously
their “mazal,” or spiritual shadow, hand.
interrupting him with silly questions
was indeed present at Har Sinai when Since each sincere convert starts off while Hillel was trying to bathe for
the Torah was given. Therefore, all as a destined member of the Jewish
Shabbos. What is not as well known is
converts were predestined from the people, special care must be taken
that this story appears in the context
time of their birth to become converts not to cast the convert away, even in
of the Talmudic passage praising
to Judaism, in which case, explains the process of our appropriate efforts
Hillel’s personality specifically when
the Ahavas Eisan, they can be held to gauge his or her commitment and
dealing with candidates for Jewish
responsible for not converting quickly sincerity to adopt the Jewish faith.
conversion. The Talmud immediately
enough. The Radal (commentary to Midrash
thereafter recounts how after
The Chida (Midbar Kedemos) notes Rabbah, Megillas Ruth) writes: Shamai forcefully turned away three
that this is a reason why a convert ‫והיינו שפותחין לו דלת ואין דוחין לגמרי לנעול‬ conversion candidates who came with
is not called a “goy she’nisgayer” (a .‫דלת בפניו‬ unreasonable attitudes (one wanting
non-Jew who converted), but rather The door to conversion should never be to accept only the Written Law, one
a “ger she’nisgayer” (a convert who shut entirely but must always maintain a wanting to learn the entire Torah
converted), since he or she was sliver of an aperture. on one foot, and the other wanting
always destined to become a convert. In fact, the Ba’alei Tosafot (Yevamos to become the High Priest), Hillel
This insight is also consistent with 109b, s.v. Ra’ah) note that while it worked with them with patience and
the comment attributed to the Ger is improper to solicit converts or to understanding until they were fully
Tzedek of Vilna that throughout the convert an individual precipitously, ready for conversion (see Maharsha ad
generations, those Jews who became the patriarchs were criticized for locum, s.v. amar leih). At the end of the
apostates were descendants of the rejecting the overtures of Timna account, the Talmud (Shabbos 31a)
small minority of Jews who did not (see Sanhedrin 99b), a daughter of a tells about how the three individuals
want to accept the Torah at the time chieftain of Seir, when she genuinely met up in one place and declared:
of matan Torah, and those non-Jews desired to become a member of the ‫קפדנותו של שמאי בקשה לטורדנו מן העולם‬
who converted to Judaism were Jewish people. A consequence of her .‫ענוותנותו של הלל קרבנו תחת כנפי השכינה‬
descendants from the small minority rejection from conversion to Judaism The severity of Shamai sought to banish
of the other nations who would have was that she ended up in a union with us from the world, and the humility of
been prepared to accept the Torah Elifaz, the son of Esav, from whom she Hillel drew us under the wings of the
when it was offered to them. bore Amalek, the arch enemy of the Divine Presence.
Jewish people.
Based on this insight, we can

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
The clear message from this Talmudic level prior to the completion of the to Judaism is a significant human
passage is that the rabbis who deal conversion process. milestone that requires humanity,
with conversion candidates are sensitivity and appreciation.
Along these lines, Rav Asher Weiss
enjoined to assume the personality Accordingly, in addition to sending
(Shu”t Minchas Asher 1:49) rules that
profile of Hillel. out a certificate of conversion to
it is not the province of the Beth Din
The Gemara in Yevamos (47b) to reject a candidate based on the fact the conversion candidate, we have
indicates that it is a mitzvah to that they are uncomfortable with the adopted the practice of sending out
convert a sincere conversion convert’s social skills (unless of course “Mazal Tov on Your Conversion”
candidate without delay as soon there is a deficiency in terms of midos cards, much in the same fashion that
as the convert demonstrates his or — the essential character traits that people send such cards on a birthday,
her readiness to accept the yoke are part of a Torah Jew’s personality) anniversary, or birth of a new baby.
of commandments and the Jewish if the convert has the requisite The Talmud in Pesachim (87b)
faith. The commentators debate commitment and wherewithal to teaches:
the nature of this mitzvah, but one fulfill the mitzvos of the Torah. While
‫לא הגלה הקב”ה את ישראל לבין האומות‬
explanation is that this is a fulfillment part of the conversion process is an
‫אלא כדי שיתוספו עליהם גרים‬
of the commandment v’ahavtem es assessment by the Beth Din that a
Hashem did not exile the Jewish people
hager — to love the convert (see Rav candidate belongs in the community amongst the nations of the world except
Yerucham Perlow’s discussion in his of Israel, the Beth Din also has a for the purpose of adding converts to our
commentary to the Sefer Hamitzvot solemn responsibility to facilitate the people.
of Rav Sa’adiah Gaon, Mitzvah 19, conversion of any sincere individual
in the name of the Ri Arbargaloni). who is genuinely prepared to assume Hashem put us in exile to attract
While others are of the opinion that the commitments and responsibilities the sincere converts who are
the mitzvah of loving a convert only that define membership in the Jewish scattered throughout the earth. We
kicks in at the time that the convert community. can suggest that this task carries a
has joined the Jewish people, the twofold purpose. On one level, we
Our rabbis teach that ger she’nisgayer have a responsibility to bring into
Tosafos HaRosh (Shabbos 137b) states
k’katan shenolad dami — a convert the fold the sincere converts, such
that the mitzvah of loving the convert
who converts is like a newborn child as Ruth, the great grandmother of
is in existence even at the time that
(Yevamos 22a). Conversion is not King David, who have so much to
a bris milah is performed on a male
only a halachic process, but is a birth, contribute to the continuity of the
conversion candidate who still needs
a moment of celebration. It is our Jewish people. But on another level,
to undergo conversion in order to
custom at the Chicago Rabbinical the very process of working together
become a member of the Jewish faith,
Council, and the practice of many with conversion candidates serves as a
and that this is the reason why the
other rabbinical courts, to have growth opportunity for the character
blessing recited at such time includes
the convert recite the blessing of traits of Jews from birth, to learn how
the phrase ‫אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו למול‬
Shehechiyanu on a conversion. It is a to inspire, to instruct and to embrace
‫ — את הגרים‬Who has commanded us
happy occasion, a momentous event. those, like Ruth and even like Timna,
to circumcise the converts. We can
There is even a custom (see Mishnas who want so much to join the Jewish
understand this approach very well
HaGer 8:4, Teshuvos VeHanhagos people and adopt the Jewish faith.
based upon the explanation that every
3:307) to have a seudas mitzvah This can happen if we are prepared to
convert was destined from birth to
— a festive meal — following the open our hearts and minds, like Hillel,
convert to Judaism, and therefore is
completion of a conversion. It is to work with them earnestly and
already viewed as a convert on some
vital to remember that conversion compassionately.

Find more shiurim and articles from Rabbi Yona Reiss at
http://www.yutorah.org/Rabbi-Yona-Reiss

38
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
Lessons Learned from
Conversion
T he receiving of the Torah,
which we celebrate on
Shavuot, serves as the model
for the laws surrounding conversion
to Judaism. Having been involved
Rabbi Zvi Romm
Faculty, Isaac Breuer College
Rabbi, Bialystoker Synagogue, NYC
with the Manhattan Beth Din for Menahel, Manhattan Beth Din for Conversions
Conversions for close to a decade,
I have been privileged to watch
hundreds of individuals engage in detail. The end result, typically, is a halachically required, we find that the
their own personal reception of convert who often knows more about connection to Hebrew enhances the
the Torah, as they embrace a life of Judaism than many of the people he or connection to Torah and community.
Torah and mitzvot in all its fullness. she sits with in shul on a regular basis. A few months after we asked a stellar
Along the way, I have been inspired candidate to learn how to read
many times over by the commitment Why the contemporary insistence
Hebrew, she wrote to us:
and self-sacrifice displayed by these on acquiring extensive knowledge,
individuals. As all of us prepare to if the Talmud does not seem to I write to you to express deep gratitude
receive the Torah anew on Shavuot, require it? I think the answer lies in for asking me to learn to read Hebrew
I share some lessons learned from the recognition that the knowledge is in preparation of my joining the Jewish
converts and their process that can not only an end in itself; it is a means people.
serve as a source of inspiration to us to enable the candidate to deepen a I am excited and humbled by the new
all. sense of connection and commitment world that has been opened up to me.
to Torah and the Orthodox Instead of doing my prayers in English, I
community. While the beth din may read them in Hebrew...yes, it takes me a
Knowledge is a Key to
not be obligated Talmudically to long time but the joy is immeasurable... I
Commitment
insist on a certain level of knowledge, have a long ways to go before I can read
Reviewing the Talmudic passages it is mandated to determine the fluently with speed, but I can read, I can
candidate’s level of commitment, and follow prayers in shul from my siddur.
regarding conversion, one gets the
impression that the conversion in the contemporary world, one way It is an amazing feeling! I am really
in which to do that is by observing the looking forward to the High Holidays,
candidate needs to acquire very little
depth of commitment generated by G-d willing I will be a halachic Jew who
Judaic knowledge before conversion.
the acquisition of knowledge. for the first time will use the Machzor’s
Yet, every beth din today insists on a
Hebrew side. I will need translation but
rigorous educational process through Our beth din generally insists on
not transliteration.
which the candidate studies Jewish the candidate learning at least basic
theology and practice in considerable Hebrew reading. While this is not Those of us who were born Jewish

PERSPECTIVES ON CONVERSION
Special Symposium • Shavuot 5777

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
would do well to reflect on the struggles and triumphs of the Jewish community is probably the single
idea that knowledge is a key to people worldwide and historically. most important element in the
commitment. The better we can In a more focused sense, this means conversion process to help ensure that
understand a Jewish experience — a that a conversion candidate needs the convert will remain committed to
holiday, a lifecycle event, or even to integrate into a specific Orthodox a life of Torah and mitzvot in the long
a simple halachic practice — the community before we can consider term.
more committed we will feel to that finalizing the conversion. This
experience and the joy will truly be is often a complicated prospect. Doing What is Right
immeasurable. Full integration into an Orthodox
community means living within A non-Jewish woman in her twenties
Community Really Matters comfortable walking distance of a met a Jewish man who, like his
functional Orthodox synagogue, parents, was nominally Orthodox
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l sees something that can be challenging for but not fully observant. The family
the declaration of Ruth (1:16) — many candidates. insisted that the woman undergo
“Your nation is my nation; your G-d And yet — integration into a Orthodox conversion before any
is my G-d” — as reflecting a dual community is essential to the possibility of marriage would be
aspect of conversion. The convert not conversion process. Anecdotal considered. As the woman began
only commits himself or herself to the evidence suggests that even born to study with an Orthodox tutor,
Jewish religion. He or she commits to Orthodox Jews often drift from she gradually began incorporating
become part of the Jewish people. observance when they do not feel Orthodox practice into her life and
part of the community. I would say was disappointed to see that her
In a broad sense, this means
that successful integration into a boyfriend was maintaining his non-
developing a sense of kinship with the

JEWISH EDUCATION HAS
ALWAYS BEEN YOUR PRIORITY.

WHY STOP NOW?

40
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
observant lifestyle. She truly came to forcing her to move back to her family, decisions seemed, superficially, to
love Orthodox Judaism and sincerely who lived quite a distance from any backfire — should inspire us to “keep
wanted to lead her future life as a Orthodox resources. This was a cruel at it” and do what we know is right,
fully Orthodox Jew. Ultimately, she irony; her very devotion to Orthodoxy even when we seem to be hurt by
presented her boyfriend with an had set her back, in a very real sense, doing so in the short run.
ultimatum: If you will not become in her pursuit of conversion!
fully Orthodox yourself, we can no We are Fortunate to be
The beth din continued to provide
longer be in a relationship. both pastoral support to this idealistic Chosen
The couple chose to end the woman, as well as connecting her to
relationship, and the woman apartment possibilities in Orthodox A man in his twenties became
continued to pursue conversion. But neighborhoods which would be attracted to Judaism through reading.
there was a catch: The boyfriend’s within her price range. After a number During the course of his exploration
parents had been advised that the beth of disappointments, the woman was of Judaism, he suffered an accident
din would only convert a candidate able to find an apartment she could which left him temporarily bedridden
who was living in an Orthodox afford in a vibrant Orthodox area. and depressed. By that time, he had
community. They had therefore rented We completed her conversion not already purchased a Hebrew-English
an apartment for the woman in an long thereafter. Today, she is studying siddur. He randomly opened up the
Orthodox neighborhood. When the Torah full-time and has begun siddur, looking for some comfort
relationship ended, the boyfriend’s applying for Aliyah. during the difficult period he was
parents no longer felt a vested interest experiencing. The siddur opened
I think this story speaks for itself. The to Aleinu. The man read Aleinu for
in the woman’s conversion process, tenacity this woman displayed —
and they stopped paying her rent, the first time and found its message
keeping to her goals, even when her

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children could accomplish
everything they wanted in a “
fully Jewish environment.

“Having attended YU and benefited from its education and
religious culture we felt confident that it would provide those
same opportunities for our children. With its balance of Limudei
Kodesh and challenging academics, we knew YU would provide
our children with the preparation needed for their careers as
professionals, as well as reinforce the religious ideals that they
will take with them in all that they do. The same values that
permeated the walls of YU when we attended 35 years ago are
the very values that we chose to inculcate in our children.

Today, our daughter is a sophomore at Yeshiva University.
We are thrilled with the education she is receiving and her
growth in Torah. She couldn’t be happier.”

Michele & Jody Bardash
YU Parents
LEARN MORE! yu.edu/enroll
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41
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
incredibly inspiring. At that point — decision, and the fact that he or she observant. One such member pulled
he later related to the beth din — he need not feel obligated to undertake me aside during the spirited simcha
became convinced that he was on the these extra mitzvot. At the same dancing and commented to me with
right path and went on to seek out time, we certainly view the system of great passion, “You know, if Marty
a more formal structure in which to mitzvot as a privilege, not a burden. If can become a shomer Shabbos, what
study Judaism, ultimately leading to we are surprised that someone would excuse do the rest of us have?”
his conversion. voluntarily choose to be an Orthodox
I don’t know whether that member
I find this story striking on several Jew, perhaps we need to do a better
ultimately became shomer Shabbos.
levels. Unfortunately, Aleinu is a job affirming to ourselves our sense of
I do know that Marty went on to
prayer that is often recited without pride and privilege in being bearers of
become extremely active in that
feeling even by those who attempt the Torah. Perhaps we really do need
synagogue, spearheading a successful
to invest their prayers with meaning. to say Aleinu with a little more feeling!
campaign to build an eruv locally and
Aleinu has the “misfortune” of being organize a daily minyan. He certainly
placed at the end of our davening, We Can Powerfully Influence exerted a powerful influence on his
a time when even the more devout Those Around Us surroundings.
among us often have “one foot out
the door.” The idea that Aleinu could Our beth din worked with “Marty,”
a man in his sixties who had been Questions Can be our Lifeline
clinch someone’s decision to convert to Faith
should certainly give us pause the next married to a non-observant Jewish
time we recite Aleinu mechanically. woman for many years. Along the
Many of the converts we have worked
way, he developed an interest in
What is even more striking, though, with were raised as Catholics. I often
Orthodox Judaism. He and his wife
is that Aleinu’s content often causes hear from them something along the
began attending services and classes
us a degree of discomfort. Aleinu following lines: “I went to Catholic
at an Orthodox synagogue located
proclaims that we are fortunate school, where we were taught that
about fifteen minutes’ drive from their
to have been chosen to be Jewish, questions were bad, that we should
home. As their observance intensified,
privileged to be able to worship G-d, just have faith and not ask questions.
the couple ultimately acquired
and grateful that the Jewish role in I find Judaism to be so refreshing,
a “Shabbat apartment” near the
the world is distinct from that of a because it validates and encourages
synagogue where they spent Shabbat,
non-Jew. Many of us chafe at that asking questions.”
now fully observant. The journey
unabashed expression of pride in toward conversion culminated with One such conversion candidate
the Jewish mission. In fact, I have the man undergoing circumcision was a woman in her twenties. She
frequently heard born Orthodox and immersion in a mikveh; a few had forged a learning relationship
Jews express amazement that anyone hours after the mikveh immersion, with a wonderful Orthodox woman
would want to convert. Why, they the couple gathered in the Orthodox who was quite pious and scholarly.
ask, would anyone voluntarily take synagogue where they were married But there was a problem: when the
upon themselves a whole host of extra according to Halacha, surrounded by candidate would question certain
obligations? all the members of their newfound aspects of Judaism, in a sincere
Our discomfort should be disturbing supportive community. attempt to try to achieve a better
to us. It is true that halacha mandates understanding, the Orthodox mentor
Although the synagogue was
impressing upon a prospective impressed upon her the importance
Orthodox, many of the members
convert the gravity of his or her of accepting things on faith and
of the synagogue were not strictly

Find more shiurim and articles from Rabbi Zvi Romm at
http://www.yutorah.org/Rabbi-Zvi-Romm

42
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
limiting one’s questions. In a different practices and viewpoints on faith, cannot let it go.
context, this might have been good might we not generate disillusionment His sentiment beautifully captures
advice, but it was devastating for with Judaism? Engaging a sincere the attitude toward Torah that is
this candidate. “This is exactly why questioner can often lead to a championed by Chazal (cited in Rashi
I left Catholicism!” she complained. deepened faith and commitment, to Shemot 19:1): “Let the words of
The beth din connected her with a rather than a lackluster one. Torah be eternally new to you.”
different mentor who encouraged
questions. The woman’s intellectual This attitude of wonder and freshness,
Never Old, Never Stale
curiosity was satisfied. She went on expressed by so many converts, is the
to convert with our beth din and A young man who converted with our greatest source of inspiration. It can be
today is living a life of commitment beth din about two years ago recently easy to allow one’s Torah learning and
to Torah and mitzvot. wrote me the following: mitzvah observance to become rote
and ossified. One of the “perks” in my
I have often thought about this case I have been told by a fellow convert that role as administrator of the beth din
when contemplating our collective the conversion is over, and that I am a is my constant exposure to men and
efforts to educate our own Orthodox full Jew. The problem I have with that women who are proud to “never let
youth. The candidate in question left statement is that the actual moment go” of the awe-inspiring experience of
Catholicism because she felt that she that I became Jewish followed by the accepting a life of mitzvot, allowing it
was not allowed to raise questions. experience of my neshama coming into to be an ongoing source of inspiration.
If we discourage questioning and my body is something that I think about
tell our youth — or, for that matter, and relive every day of my life. It was
the adults we seek to educate — that such a positive moment that I really
they should simply accept our Torah

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
On Mikva and Matan Torah:
Observations from Witnessing the
Conversion Process

A s director of the Mechina
program at Stern College for
Women, a program geared
toward women who are coming
from unaffiliated or less affiliated
Mrs. Shoshana Schechter
Director of Mechina Pathways and Assistant
Professor of Bible, Stern College for Women
backgrounds with limited to no
formal Jewish education, I have had
the opportunity and privilege of I’m not sure if she or I was more she’s older,” at which point the rabbi,
seeing young women from all over anxious, though in all fairness it was to help lighten the mood, smiled and
the world accept the yoke of heaven probably she. The mere thought of said, “You know, we can change that
and the yoke of mitzvot and choose entering a mikva with a group of three now too.”
a life of Torah. For some of these rabbis was itself anxiety-provoking In my experience in accompanying
women, though, the choice was not to say the least. It certainly didn’t these young women, the most
merely choosing a Torah lifestyle make it easier after the news media inspiring part of the geirut process
over a secular Jewish one, but rather reported about mikva scandals is the proceeding that takes place
choosing Judaism altogether. I have involving a corrupt rabbi abusing his immediately before the woman
had the unique opportunity to guide power over vulnerable women seeking is about to immerse in the mikva.
several of my students through the conversion. The members of the beit While partially immersed and
geirut process and to experience the din (that served on the cases that I completely covered except for her
event as a layperson from the inside. have dealt with), Rabbis Rapp, Romm head, Rabbi Romm asks her a series
And I must say, the entire experience, and Willig, deal with the immersion of questions before her complete
from the initial beit din meetings, to with tremendous sensitivity and immersion. Discreetly, from just
follow-up communication with the modesty. Numerous steps are taken to outside the doorway, he begins by
members of the beit din, culminating ensure that the immersion takes place asking her, “By immersing at this
in the final tevillah (immersion), I with the utmost standards of tzniut. time, do you agree to believe in one
have been struck time and time again Additionally, the rabbis, aware of the G-d and reject other gods and other
by the sensitivity in which the process potential anxiety, do everything they religions?” He then continues asking
was handled. [Note: I have dealt solely can to put each woman at ease. My her about the acceptance of other
with the Manhattan Beth Din for favorite line at one conversion of twin aspects of Judaism including belief
Conversions under the leadership of sisters was when one of the rabbis in G-d’s revelation of the Torah, both
Rabbi Zvi Romm.] asked, “OK, who’s going first?” and the Written and Oral Law, belief in
To be perfectly honest, the first time I one of the young women pointed to reward and punishment, acceptance
accompanied a student to the mikva, her sister and said, “she will because

PERSPECTIVES ON CONVERSION
Special Symposium • Shavuot 5777

44
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
of Shabbat, kashrut, tzniut, tefilla. Experiencing these events have been covenant and this imprecation, but with
He then asks about her commitment and continue to be among the most whoever is here, standing with us today
to Jewish community: living in a inspiring experiences of my life. As before Hashem, our G-d, and with
Jewish community and being actively Rabbi Romm asks the young women whoever is not here with us today.
involved in a community that is to agree to a lifelong commitment Devarim 29:13-14
committed to Torah Judaism and to Torah and mitzvot, I find myself The Torah is a gift from G-d and
halacha. He asks if she is committed directing the very same questions to is ours for the taking, even if we
to raising her future children in a me. And as she agrees after each one, weren’t actually at Har Sinai. Just as
Jewish community conducive to I find myself agreeing silently, noting Moshe urges the next generation to
Torah growth and sending those that over the course of my life no one take ownership of their Torah after
children to Jewish schools that ever asked me those questions. they leave the supernatural bubble
embody those values. He asks about Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael at the of the midbar and enter the Land of
her commitment to her fellow man beginning of Sefer Devarim: Israel, we too must take ownership
and her commitment to mitzvot bein of our portion in Torah. It makes
adam lachaveiro, interpersonal mitzvot ‫ ל ֹא ֶאת‬.‫ֹלקינּו כָ ַרת עִ ָמנּו ְב ִרית ְבח ֵֹרב‬ ֵ ‫ה’ ֱא‬
no difference whether we grew up
like tzedaka and chessed. Each loaded ‫ֲאב ֵֹתינּו כָ ַרת ה’ ֶאת ַה ְב ִרית ַהזֹאת כִ י ִא ָתנּו‬
with Torah or we didn’t, whether
question begins with the identical .‫ֲאנַ ְחנּו ֵאלֶ ה פֹה ַהּיֹום כֻ לָ נּו ַחיִ ים‬
our knowledge of Torah was taught
wording, “By immersing at this time Hashem, our G-d, sealed a covenant
as the “Old Testament” or even if we
do you agree to…” And after each with us at Horeb. Not with our
learned the “new” one, at some point
question there is a pause, and the forefathers did Hashem seal this
in our lives each one of us must try to
woman responds with, “I agree.” The covenant, but with us — we who are
reflect, take ownership of our Torah
questions culminate with the woman here, all of us alive today.
and commit ourselves actively, not
immersing herself in the waters of Devarim 5:2-3
just passively. Na’aseh v’nishma, we will
the mikva with the help of the female Toward the end of the Sefer Devarim, do and we will listen, is not confined
mikva attendant as the rabbis leave the he repeats this idea: to the national unilateral response
room. A few minutes later when she at Har Sinai over 3,000 years ago.
emerges Rabbi Romm gives her a mi ‫וְ ל ֹא ִא ְתכֶ ם לְ ַב ְדכֶ ם ָאנֹכִ י כ ֵֹרת ֶאת ַה ְב ִרית‬
‫ כִ י ֶאת ֲא ֶשר יֶ ְשנֹו‬.‫ַהזֹאת וְ ֶאת ָה ָאלָ ה ַהזֹאת‬ Nobody is asking us the questions that
sheberach blessing and like any new the convert is asked before entering
Jewish neshama born into the Jewish ‫ֹלקינּו וְ ֵאת ֲא ֶשר‬
ֵ ‫פֹה עִ ָמנּו ע ֵֹמד ַהּיֹום לִ ְפנֵ י ה’ ֱא‬
.‫ֵאינֶ ּנּו פֹה עִ ָמנּו ַהּיֹום‬ the mikva, but our na’aseh v’nishma
people, she receives her Jewish name. can be manifested even in a silent “I
Not with you alone do I seal this
agree,” more than 3,000 years later. It
is most apropos to dedicate a Shavuot-
It makes no difference whether we grew up with themed publication to the topic of
Torah or we didn’t, whether our knowledge of geirut. As we celebrate z’man matan
Torateinu, the period of receiving the
Torah was taught as the “Old Testament” or even Torah, there is no better way to glean
inspiration than to look at those who
if we learned the “new” one, at some point in truly accepted the yoke of Torah in a
our lives each one of us must try to reflect, take very personal and profound way. On
this Shavuot, may we all experience
ownership of our Torah and commit ourselves our own matan Torah individually and
actively, not just passively. proactively.

Find more shiurim and articles from Mrs. Shoshana Schechter at
http://www.yutorah.org/Mrs-Shoshana-Schechter

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Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
Performance of Mitzvos by
Conversion Candidates
When Did Rus Convert?

T he Gemara (Kerisus 9a)
derives the necessary
components of the conversion
process from our collective experience
at Sinai. The requirements of bris
Rabbi Michoel Zylberman
Rosh Chaburah, RIETS
Director of GPS Conversions, RCA
S’gan Menahel, Beth Din of America
milah (for males), immersion in a
mikvah, and bringing a korban (when (Rus 1:16-18), And when [Naomi] converted before marrying Machlon
there is a Beis HaMikdash) mirror the saw that [Rus] was determined to go and Kilyon; only now that Naomi was
steps that the Jewish people took prior with her, she left off speaking to her. returning to Beis Lechem did Rus
to receiving the Torah.1 While we She said “We are forbidden to leave the express interest in converting. This is
derive the formal steps of geirus from boundaries on Shabbat,” Rus replied, the position of R. Meir (Rus Rabbah
the conversion that we underwent “Where you go, I will go.” [Naomi said] 2:9) that lo geirum v’lo hitbilu osam —
at Sinai, we learn about the process “We are forbidden to have secluded they did not convert them nor bring
leading up to conversion from the meetings between man and woman.” them to a mikvah. Rashi (Rus 1:12)
exchange between Naomi and Rus in [Rus replied] “Where you sleep, I will accepts this approach and writes that
Megillas Rus. sleep.” [Naomi said] “We have been when Machlon and Kilyon married
The Gemara (Yevamos 47b) records: commanded 613 commandments.” Rus and Orpah, the latter remained
[Rus responded] Your people shall be non-Jewish.
‫ ואין‬... ‫תנו רבנן גר שבא להתגייר בזמן הזה‬
my people.”. [Naomi said] “We are
‫ אמר רבי‬.‫מרבים עליו ואין מדקדקים עליו‬ Ibn Ezra (1:4) argues with
forbidden from idolatry.” [Rus replied]
‫אלעזר מאי קראה דכתיב ותרא כי מתאמצת‬ Rashi, since, in his opinion, it is
“Your God is my God.”. [Naomi said]
‫ אמרה לה‬.‫היא ללכת אתה ותחדל לדבר אליה‬ inconceivable that Machlon and
“Four modes of death were entrusted to
‫ אסיר‬.‫אסיר לן תחום שבת באשר תלכי אלך‬ Kilyon (who, according to Bava Basra
beth din.” [Rus said] “Where you die, I
‫ מפקדינן שש מאות‬.‫לן יחוד באשר תליני אלין‬ 91a, were righteous people) would
will die.” [Naomi said] “Two graveyards
‫ אסיר לן עבודת כוכבים‬.‫וי”ג מצות עמך עמי‬ have married non-Jewish women.2
were placed at the disposal of the beth
‫ ארבע מיתות נמסרו לב”ד‬.‫ואלקיך אלקי‬ He argues that Rus and Orpah must
din.” [Rus said] “And there will I be
‫ ב’ קברים נמסרו לב”ד‬.‫באשר תמותי אמות‬ have converted earlier, and the
buried.” Immediately, “[Naomi] saw
.’‫ מיד ותרא כי מתאמצת היא וגו‬.‫ושם אקבר‬ conversation between Rus and Naomi
that [Rus] was determined to go with reflects a reaffirmation on Rus’s part
Our Rabbis taught: If nowadays, a
her.”
man desires to become a convert … of that which she had previously
“We should not persuade or dissuade The simple reading of the pesukim, accepted (1:16).
him excessively.” R. Eleazar said: What amplified by the Gemara’s analysis, While Rashi must contend with the
is the Scriptural proof? It is written implies that Rus and Orpah had not

PERSPECTIVES ON CONVERSION
Special Symposium • Shavuot 5777

46
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
difficulty of assuming that Machlon references proficiency in the siddur), Jews should not be permitted to
and Kilyon married non-Jewish the convert would, upon conversion, perform mitzvos that require kedushah
women, Ibn Ezra’s position raises violate numerous prohibitions due to v’taharah (sanctity and purity) such
the question of how Naomi could lack of knowledge, and the beis din as tefillin, Sefer Torah, and mezuzah.8
have encouraged her daughters- will have violated the prohibition of Remo (Yoreh Deah 291:2) cites Shu”t
in-law to return to their idolatrous lifnei iver, causing the new convert to Maharil (Chadashos 123:2), who
ways if they had indeed already sin.6 rules that a non-Jew should not be
converted and were halachically Some have claimed that requiring permitted to display a mezuzah for
Jewish. R. Yoel Sirkus (author of the additional reasons. The Maharil was
conversion candidates to embark
Bayis Chadash — the Bach), in his on a rigorous course of study and asked about a local non-Jewish ruler
Meishiv Nefesh on Megillas Rus (1:4), who requested a mezuzah to place
integration is an unnecessarily
attempts to somewhat reconcile the in his fortress. The person asking
onerous addition of the contemporary
opposing positions. He suggests that the question expressed concern that
rabbinate meant to inappropriately
while Rus and Orpah did indeed failure to provide the mezuzah could
discourage conversion candidates.7
convert before their marriages, their After all, they argue, Rus merely made lead to negative repercussions for the
conversions, having been performed local Jewish community
a singular declaration of faith and
for ulterior motivation (i.e. for the commitment and she was immediately Maharil responded that to the extent
sake of marriage), were halachically accepted as a convert. It is clear, that the non-Jew who requested
suboptimal but valid post facto (based however, in context, that whether the mezuzah believed that it would
on Yevamos 24a). When the Medrash Rus’s statement was a reaffirmation protect him, if at some point he no
says that they did not convert, it
of a previous conversion or whether longer felt protected, he would not
means that they did not convert in it preceded an actual conversion, treat it properly or dispose of it. At
the optimal fashion. Their status was
she had already been significantly the very least, after this ruler’s passing
similar to the status that the Rambam
exposed to the lifestyle to which she his children would likely throw it out.
(Issurei Biah 13:14-15) ascribes to was committing herself and had been Second, there is a concern that Jews
the wives of Shimson and Shlomo sufficiently trained in its details. In the may be led to think that the individual
HaMelech.3 4 ten years that Machlon and Kilyon displaying the mezuzah is himself
were married to Rus and Orpah, they Jewish, and may be misled into being
The Need for a Conversion presumably had significant exposure hosted by the non-Jew (with the
Process to practical Judaism, and all that implicit fear that he may then kill
was left for Rus to do was make the the Jew).9 This is along the lines of
The above analysis may be helpful commitment to embrace that lifestyle. the Gemara in Menachos (43a) that
in discounting a misconception that prohibits a Jew from selling a garment
some have about the conversion with tzitzis on it to a non-Jew lest the
Tefillin and Mezuzah for
process. It is common practice to buyer pass himself off as a Jew and use
Conversion Candidates
require conversion candidates to his assumed identity to lure and then
undergo significant educational Our practice of having conversion kill Jews.10
training — including both the candidates observe mitzvos in advance At first glance, the Radvaz’s position
theory and practice of Jewish law of the actual conversion is consistent
— and integrate into an observant would preclude a conversion
with the ruling of Rambam (Melachim candidate from wearing tefillin or
community, so that they will have the 10:10) that a non-Jew may voluntarily
requisite knowledge and experience affixing a mezuzah to his doorposts.11
perform most mitzvos. However, However, Be’er Sheva (Shu”t 36)
to live an observant lifestyle upon there are some exceptions to this appears to suggest that under certain
conversion.5 Minchas Elazar (Shu”t
principle that may pose problems for circumstances a non-Jew may be
4:63) reasons that if a beis din were to
the aspiring conversion candidate and entrusted with mezuzos. He cites a
convert someone without previously
require further analysis. Yerushalmi in Peah (1:1) that relates
educating him or her in the proper
observance of mitzvos (he specifically Radvaz (ad loc.) suggests that non- an episode in which Rebbi sent a

47
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
mezuzah to Artivan, presumably a Studying Torah and Shabbos ‫נכללים בהם מכבדין אותו אפילו ככהן גדול‬
non-Jew, in response to his request Observance ‫שאין כאן חשש לטעות אחריו שהרי אף בשלו‬
for a gift. Be’er Sheva posits that ‫הוא עוסק וכל שכן אם חקירתו על דעת לבא‬
since Rebbe identified Artivan as Reflecting the special connection ‫עד תכלית שלימות תורתינו עד שאם ימצאנה‬
an individual who believed in the between the Jewish People and the … ‫שלימה יחזור ויתגייר‬
oneness of Hashem, he sent him Torah, the Gemara (Chagiga 13a) The same applies if one studies, not for
a mezuzah to encourage him to prohibits a Jew from teaching Torah the purpose of fulfilling its commands
continue his belief and to convert. to a non-Jew and also (Sanhedrin but because one’s heart desires to
Alternatively, Be’er Sheva suggests 59a) derives that a non-Jew who know our Torah and Talmud. He is
that Rebbe knew that Artivan was not learns Torah is deserving of severe then worthy of punishment because
an idolater, and that Rebbe believed punishment.14 This is codified in people might think that he is one of
that there was only an issue with Rambam (Melachim 10:9). However, us because they see his knowledge and
providing idolaters with mezuzos. despite the dual prohibitions, might be lured by him. Nevertheless,
Both suggestions of the Be’er Sheva common practice is to instruct one who studies the principles of the
would presumably allow a prospective conversion candidates in whatever Seven Noachide Laws, their details
convert to affix mezuzos in his home. Torah knowledge is necessary to and the laws derived from them, even
facilitate their observance of Jewish though that would include most of the
Netziv (Eimek She’ala, Eikev 145:19)
law.15 fundamentals of Torah law, we would
suggests an alternative explanation of
the passage in the Yershulami. Rebbe This practice is consistent with a honor him like the Kohen Gadol. There
sent Artivan a mezuzah that had comment of the Maharsha (Shabbos is no concern that a Jew might be tricked
not been written for the purpose of 31a s.v. amar lei mikra) regarding to follow him because he is studying what
affixing to a door, and thus lacked the the story of the non-Jew who came relates to him. This is certainly true if
kedusha of a regular mezuzah. To send to Hillel and requested to convert his inquiries are for the intent of fully
a regular mezuzah would have been an on condition that he be allowed to understanding the Torah so that if he
inappropriate affront to the sanctity of wear the garments of the Kohen finds the Torah to resonate with him, he
the mezuzah. Shoel U’meishiv (Hagos Gadol. The Maharsha assumes that will convert.18 19 20
Yad Shaul, Yoreh Deah 231:3) similarly Hillel did not, as the Gemara seems The aforementioned Gemara in
suggests that the mezuzah that Rebbe to indicate, convert him on the spot. Sanhedrin also records that a non-
sent was intended only as an amulet. Rather he instructed the interested Jew who observes Shabbos (even
According to this explanation, there party to study the relevant portion of on another day of the week — see
would be no distinct dispensation for the Torah so that he would realize on Rambam ibid.) is deserving of severe
a prospective convert.12 his own that a non-Kohen may not punishment. While there may be
wear bigdei kehuna. In suggesting this theoretical arguments to allow for a
Based on the Radvaz, Rav Moshe
answer, the Maharsha writes that there conversion candidate to fully observe
Klein, Mishnas HaGer (1:31), points
is no prohibition for a conversion Shabbos,21 common practice is to
out that a conversion candidate
candidate to study Torah.16 17 instruct a conversion candidate to
should not wear tefillin before the
conversion has been completed. Meiri (Beis HaBechira, Sanhedrin 59a largely keep Shabbos but to perform
Some batei din have the practice of s.v. Ben Noach) explicitly permits a one melacha over the course of
instructing a conversion candidate to non-Jew to study Torah if doing so Shabbos.22 23 If a candidate may in fact
put on tefillin for a few weeks prior to will lead him to convert: be Jewish already but is preparing to
the actual conversion in order to allow undergo a conversion because of some
‫וכן הדין אם עסק בתורה שלא לכונת קיום‬ doubt regarding his or her status,
for sufficient practice.13 The general ‫עיקרי מצוותיה אלא שלבו חפץ לירד לידיעת‬
practice is that conversion candidates the candidate should fully observe
‫תורתינו ותלמודינו ראוי ליענש מפני שבני‬ Shabbos, as the consequence of a
are not instructed to put up mezuzos, ‫אדם סבורים עליו שהוא משלנו מתוך שרואין‬
but would not need to remove them Jew violating Shabbos is more severe
‫אותו יודע ויבואו לטעות אחריו ומ”מ כל‬ than that of a non-Jew who keeps
if they move into a residence that ‫שהוא עוסק בעיקרי שבע מצות ובפרטיהם‬
already has mezuzos set up. Shabbos.24
‫ובמה שיוצא מהם אע”פ שרוב גופי תורה‬

48
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
In his famous letter to Ovadia HaGer, components of geirus are invalid even post in which fully observant families, other than
the Rambam lauds the dedication and facto if not performed in front of a beis din. that of the local rabbi, have sustained and can
Tosafos (Yevamos 45 s.v. Mi) assume that the continue to sustain Orthodox life over the
commitment of the righteous convert presence of beis din is only necessary even long term. Additionally, the candidate will
who leaves behind a comfortable post facto for kabbalas hamitzvos, the formal have been living there for a significant period
lifestyle to embrace Judaism. He acceptance of the binding nature of Torah of time either without intention to move
writes regarding the respect and and mitzvos and commitment to live an or with a commitment to move only to a
admiration that a ger tzedek deserves: observant lifestyle. As long as this declaration similar community, and maintain an ongoing,
was made in the presence of a beis din, even positive relationship with a local rabbi.
You should know that the obligation if the beis din did not observe the milah
6 Minchas Elazar suggests that in earlier times,
that the Torah obligates us vis-a-vis and tevilah, the geirus is still valid. Rambam
proficiency in the siddur was not as critical a
converts is great. Regarding a father (Issurei Biah 13:7), however, assumes that beis
prerequisite for conversion as it is now, and
din is necessary even post facto for tevilah
and a mother we are commanded to (and perhaps milah as well). According to
therefore, the Gemara makes no mention of
honor and fear [them]; regarding the an educational period prior to conversion. In
one opinion in Tosafos, if a woman goes
earlier times we accepted the basic halacha
propehts [we are commended] to listen to the mikva as a niddah subsequent to her
(Sotah 31b) that Shema and davening may
[to them], and regarding the converts we conversion, that is the halachic equivalent of
be recited in any language and the Shaliach
are commanded to to love them intensely having a beis din present. Given that there
Tzibur would have in mind all those in the
was no beis din in Midyan, Machlon and
from the heart ... and HaKadosh Baruch Kilyon assumed like this position in Tosafos
congregation who were incapable of davening
Hu Himself loves the convert ... on their own. In such an environment, not
that beis din was not absolutely necessary and
being able to daven in the original was not
the conversions were therefore valid. Naomi
an impediment to converting. Nowadays
assumed like the other Rishonim that without
We should draw inspiration from the that is no longer the case, and therefore more
a beis din for at least some components of
geirei tzedek in our communities in training is necessary. Minchas Elazar does not
the geirus process the conversion would be
address other areas of Jewish law that would
enhancing our own avodas Hashem, ineffective, and therefore Rus and Orpah
presumably also require practice in observing.
and embrace those who make the remained non-Jewish and Rus needed to
convert in a valid fashion. 7 For an analysis of the appropriate attitude
commitment to join the am hanivchar. toward conversion candidates see this
5 The following is an excerpt from the GPS
author’s “Dissuasion and Encouragement:
(Geirus Policies and Standards) document
Endnotes that governs the batei din that operate under
Complimentary Themes in the Conversion
Process” (Torah to Go, Shavuos 2014).
the auspices of the Rabbinical Council of
1 See Rambam (Issurei Biah 13:1-5). In America and the Beth Din of America: 8 While presumably the Radvaz is referring to
a fascinating line, Meiri (Beis Habechirah, allowing a non-Jew to don tefillin and to affix
Yevamos 46a s.v. U’ma sheamru) implicitly i. As far as the halacha is concerned,
a mezuza to his doorpost, the intention of the
wonders why every Jew is not required to conversion involves the creation of a
reference to sefer Torah seems unclear. Rav
undergo immersion, just as every male must transformed, fully reborn, new person.
Hershel Schachter suggested that the intent of
receive a bris milah, as part of a personal Becoming fully part of the Jewish family,
the Radvaz may be to prohibit a non-Jew from
acceptance of the Covenant. one literally acquires a new family, a new life
receiving the honors of hotza’ah or hagba’ah
and as such one reorients one’s entire being.
2 Meishiv Nefesh to Rus 1:4 quotes a Medrash and gelilah.
The candidate will be expected to cultivate
HaNeelam (Zohar HaChadash) that is new friendships, new relationships, new 9 Be’er Sheva (Shu”t 36) cites a Talmudic
consistent with Ibn Ezra’s analysis. social activities, new Torah commitments. source for not allowing non-Jews to use
3 For further analysis of the status of such Moreover, as with any Jew, the growth and mezuzos. The Gemara (Bava Metzia 102a)
conversions, see this author’s “The Converts learning process continues throughout one’s rules that if a Jew vacates a residence that
of Shushan” (Torah To Go, Purim 2016). life. will be occupied by another Jew, he may not
remove the mezuzos from the premises. If the
4 See Tzitz Eliezer 17:42:5, who points ii. As a result, a candidate must come to residence will be occupied by a non-Jew he
out the difficulties inherent in the Bach’s reside in a Torah observant community. It may remove the mezuzos. Be’er Sheva notes
presentation. Tzitz Eliezer quotes various is not possible to learn and absorb Judaism that the intent of the Gemara must be that the
suggestions that account for how Naomi and Torah living at a distance; it must be departing resident must remove the mezuzos,
could have attempted to dismiss Rus and experienced on a daily basis, especially on and not merely that he may, as there is no
Orpah if they had indeed already converted. Shabbat and holidays. The candidate must chiddush in saying that he may remove the
See commentary of R. Ovadia Yosef to also experience traditional Jewish communal mezuzos (see also Shitah Mekubetzes citing
Megillas Rus (appended to Chazon Ovadia life in order to be familiar with the realities R”i MiLunil).
on Yom Tov), who suggests that Machlon and of living as a Jew, both in faith and in
10 Remo does acknowledge more room
Kilyon, who accepted Rus and Orpah as full peoplehood.
for leniency than the Maharil. According
geirim, and Naomi, who did not, took sides to Remo if there is a concern that failure to
in a dispute between the Rishonim as to what iii. Ordinarily, this community will be one

49
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
provide the mezuzah could endanger the is also the position of Minchas Yitzchak contradictory. See R. Eliyahu Bracha, Toldos
Jewish population, then one would be allowed (1:36:1), Tzitz Eliezer (21:25), and Shevet Noach pp. 572-573 for an analysis of two
to give the mezuzah to a non-Jew. HaLevi (7:162). See R. Ovadia Yosef (Yabia versions of the Rambam’s teshuvah.
Omer, Y.D. 2:17:5), who records that the
11 It is arguable that the two reasons of the 20 There may be other mitigating positions
practice in Egypt that predated his arrival
Maharil which form the basis of the Remo’s that provide further allowance for teaching
as Chief Rabbi of Cairo was to provide
ruling in Hilchos Mezuzah do not apply to a Torah to conversion candidates. Netziv
conversion candidates with an easy-to-read
conversion candidate. There is less likelihood (Meishiv Davar 2:77) argues based on various
booklet written in the vernacular that outlined
that a conversion candidate would treat a sources that a non-Jew is permitted to study
the basics of Judaism. See also R. Asher Weiss
mezuzah with disrespect or pose a danger Torah SheBichsav and is only proscribed
in Geirus K’hilchasa, Section II 9:2.
to other Jews by passing himself off as a Jew. from studying Torah SheBeal Peh. One
R. Moshe Klein (Mishnas HaGer 1:32 and 16 See R. Eliyahu Bracha, Toldos Noach, p. of his primary proofs is the tradition (see
footnotes 75-76) assumes that this is the case 570, and Mishnas HaGer, pp. 318-319 ft. 107, Sotah 35b) that Yehoshua translated the
with tzitzis as well. He further notes that even who discuss whether there would be room to Torah into seventy languages. See, however,
the Radvaz’s position is not relevant to the permit the non-Jew in this case to study Torah R. Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer, Y.D. 2:17)
wearing of tzitzis. As tzitzis are not considered while preserving the prohibition of a Jew who quotes many sources that dispute the
to be objects of inherent kedusha there would teaching him Torah. Netziv’s contention. Shiltei HaGibborim (end
be no objection to a prospective convert of the first perek of Avodah Zarah) quotes
17 R. Akiva Eiger (Shu”t 1:41) was asked
wearing them. from the Riaz that the prohibition only
about the propriety of teaching Torah to a
applies to Chumash and the explanation of
12 Mishnas HaGer (1:31) suggests, based on conversion candidate who resided in a locale
its pesukim and not to Neviim and Kesuvim,
Netziv, that if tefillin are written specifically where conversion to Judaism was illegal and
or at least those portions that deal with the
for the prospective convert there would be no was hoping to eventually relocate to a country
consolation of the Jewish people. See Tzitz
objection to his wearing them. where conversion would be possible. R. Akiva
Eliezer (21:25), who analyzes (and rejects)
Eiger points out that Tosafos (Yevamos 24a
13 Rav Schachter thinks that a conversion the position of some authorities that the
s.v. Lo) understood that Hillel did indeed
candidate should not recite a birchas prohibition only applies to teaching the
convert the individual immediately and that
hamitzvah prior to performing a mitzvah. reasoning behind the laws but not the laws
Tosafos implicitly disputes the Maharsha’s
Since the conversion candidate is not (yet) themselves. For a general treatment of the
leniency. He concludes that he does have
commanded to perform any given mitzvah, subject of teaching Torah to non-Jews see
the ability to allow teaching Torah to a
even if he is permitted to do so voluntarily, R. J. David Bleich, Contemporary Halakhic
conversion candidate. R. Moshe Feinstein
it would be an untruth to recite the formula Problems Vol. II pp. 311-340 and Toldos Noach
(Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:90) finds R. Akiva
asher kidishanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu — Chapter 10. See also Mishnas HaGer Part II
Eiger’s position difficult and assumes that the
who has sanctified us with his mitzvos and Chapter 15.
reluctance to allow a conversion candidate
commended us. My colleague Rabbi Zvi
to study Torah must have been limited to the 21 The aforementioned Meiri views the
Romm suggested that a conversion candidate
situation at hand, where it was not feasible to prohibition of a non-Jew keeping Shabbos
could avoid this concern and still recite such
convert at that moment. as being based on the same reason as the
brachos by prefacing every birchas hamitzvah
prohibition to study Torah. There is a concern
with the phrase (or a similar phrase): “A Jew 18 Regarding the Meiri’s implication that
that if a non-Jew keeps Shabbos others will
in this situation would say Baruch ata …” there would be a collective interest in having a
incorrectly think that he is Jewish and be led
This is similar to a suggestion of R. Yitzchok non-Jew study the Torah in order to discover
astray. It is arguable that this concern does
Zilberstein recommends that if one is in the ultimate truth and convert, it is worth
not apply to conversion candidates. Tosafos
doubt as to whether he is in the presence noting an interesting comment of Ibn Ezra
Yeshanim (Yevamos 48a s.v. Zeh) in one
of more than six-hundred thousand people, (Devarim 31:12). Included in the Torah’s list
answer suggests that a non-Jew who intends
such that he would have to recite the bracha of attendees at the Hakhel gathering is hager
to convert is permitted to keep Shabbos. R.
of Chacham Harazim, he should recite asher b’kirbecha — the stranger in your midst.
Akiva Eiger (Kamma, Hashmatos to 121)
the relevant passage from the Rambam or Ibn Ezra writes, “ulay yisyaheid” — perhaps
quotes from R. Pinchas Horowitz (author of
Shulchan Aruch that includes the text of the he will become Jewish. Ibn Ezra clearly
the Haflaah) that the prohibition for a non-
bracha (teshuva referenced at kikar.co.il). understood that the ger referenced here is not
Jew to keep Shabbos applies to the twenty-
a ger zedek, an actual convert, but rather a ger
14 See Tosafos (Chagigah 13a s.v. Ein mosrin) four-hour period beginning Shabbos morning
toshav, a non-Jewish resident of the Land of
who address the need for both prohibitions. and through motzaei Shabbos. According to
Israel, and that there is a collective interest in
Although the Gemara uses the term chayav this approach, which R. Akiva Eiger himself
having such a person convert. See Pardes Yosef
misah — is deserving of the death penalty, rejects, it would be permissible for a non-Jew
HaChadash on this passuk for further source
see Kesef Mishneh to Rambam who says that to keep our Shabbos, so long as he performs
material on this matter.
the reference to the death penalty is to misah melacha on motzei Shabbos.
biydei shamayim — death in the hands of 19 There is a teshuvah of the Rambam
In a pamphlet entitled V’ahavatem Es
Heaven and not by a beis din. (Pe’er HaDor 50) that may lead to a similar
HaGer (2003), a guide for families that host
conclusion as the Meiri, although the printed
15 In addition to the Minchas Elazar cited conversion candidates published by the Israeli
teshuva has some lines that may appear
earlier and the Igros Moshe cited below, this Conversion Authority (Ma’arach HaGiyur),

50
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
the author recommends instructing
conversion candidates to keep Shabbos fully.
22 The most common suggestion in
contemporary times has been to turn on a
light once over the course of Shabbos. Given
the recent movement away from incandescent
bulbs (which according to many poskim
constitutes a Torah prohibition of kindling
a flame)in favor of fluorescent, halogen, or
LED bulbs (which according to many poskim
would only involve a rabbinic prohibition),
perhaps the violation of a clearer Torah
prohibition would be advisable.
23 The issue of whether a conversion
candidate who has already undergone a bris
milah but not yet gone to the mikva may
(or should) observe Shabbos spurred much
literature in the aftermath of an episode that
took place in Yerushalayim in 1848. See, for
example, Binyan Tzion 126. For a thorough
analysis of this topic, see Rabbi J. David Bleich
in Contemporary Halakhic Problems Vol. IV pp.
145-170.
24 Minchas Chinuch (mitzvah 32 section
entitled Assufi) is bothered by the apparent
Catch-22 situation of a person who is unsure
as to whether he is Jewish. If he observes Azrieli Graduate School
Shabbos he may violate the capital offense of a
non-Jew keeping Shabbos and if he desecrates
Shabbos he may violate the capital offense of
is here for you.
a Jew violating Shabbos. He suggests that a YU’s Azrieli Graduate School is a resource for day schools, educators
person is situation violate a melacha through and the entire Jewish education community.
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(shiur). However, the notion of shiurim does Programs for All Educators: Four day summer intensives, in Israel (Differentiated Instruction) and
not apply to non-Jews. Thus, for example, New York (Holocaust Education), and all Azrieli courses are open to educators wishing to advance.
a Jew is only liable for stealing if he stole an Summer Chinuch Fellowships: Graduate course credit for Jewish education staff at Camp
object worth at least a perutah; a non-Jew Moshava I/O, Camp Moshava Los Angeles and Camp Morasha.
would be liable for stealing even if he stole an
www.yu.edu/azrieli | azrieli@yu.edu | 212.960.0186
object worth less than a perutah.
If this individual of questionable status
performs a melacha on Shabbos with only a
chatzi-shiur, if he is really not Jewish he would
be considered to have violated Shabbos. If he Pardes Yosef (Noach 43) quotes in the name of violation of Shabbos.
is Jewish, he would have only performed a the Chasam Sofer that one who is of doubtful
melacha with a chatzi-shiur, which according R. Yitzchak Yosef (Kuntreis HaGiyur, printed
status should wear tzitzis in a reshus harabbim
to some is not Biblically prohibited (even in Kenes HaDayanim 5774, pp. 148-149)
(public domain). If he is Jewish, then he will
though in general chazti-shiur in other areas thinks that the notion of safeik d’oraisa
have done nothing wrong, as one is permitted
is considered Biblically significant), and l’chumra does not apply to non-Jews, and
to wear clothing in a reshus harabbim.
according to others would not be prohibited if therefore if someone is of doubtful status,
However, if he is not Jewish, since he is not
his intention is simply to avoid this Catch-22 there is no consideration of being stringent to
obligated in tzitzis the garment would be
situation. intentionally violate Shabbos, and he should
considered a masa, a burden, and to wear it
fully observe Shabbos.
in reshus harabbim would be considered a

51
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary • The Benjamin and Rose Berger CJF Torah To-Go Series • Shavuot 5777
Aaron and Blanche Schreiber

Torah Tours 5777
A PROGRAM OF RIETS-CJF AND THE OFFICE OF STUDENT LIFE

Bringing simchat hachag to communities all over the world!
The Aaron and Blanche Schreiber Torah Tours, currently in its fourth decade, shares the Torah knowledge and
enthusiasm of Yeshiva University and RIETS students with Jewish communities throughout the world. Teams of 4 to
6 young men and women spending Simchat Torah and Shavuot in communities across North America and Europe.
The students participating on Torah Tours teach classes, lead singing and dancing, meet with synagogue youth, and
create a fun and spirited Yom Tov experience. For more information about the Aaron and Blanche Schreiber Torah
Tours program please visit www.yu.edu/cjf/torah-tours.

We thank the following communities for hosting Yeshiva University students this year:
Ahavat Achim (Fair Lawn, NJ) Congregation Shaarei Tefillah (Newton, MA)
Anshei Sphard Beth El Emeth (Memphis, TN) Congregation Shaya Ahavat Torah (Parsippany, NJ)
Belmont Synagogue (London, UK) Elmora Hills Minyan (Elizabeth, NJ)
Beth David Synagogue (Binghamton, NY) Forest Hill Jewish Centre (Toronto, ON)
Beth Israel Congregation (Miami Beach, FL) Golf Manor Synagogue (Cincinnati, OH)
Beth Israel Malden (Malden, MA) Kehillat Shaarei Torah (Toronto, ON)
Beth Jacob Congregation (Columbus, OH) Keneseth Beth Israel (Richmond, VA)
Beth Zion Congregation (Montreal, QB) Kesher Israel Congregation (Harrisburg, PA)
B’nai Israel Ohev Zedek (Philadelphia PA) Lake Park Synagogue (Milwuakee, WI)
Borehamwood and Elstree Synagogue (London, UK) Maimonides (Brookline, MA)
Brith Sholom Beth Israel (Charleston, SC) Montefiore Synagogue (Lowell, MA)
Cockfosters and N. Southgate Synagogue (London, UK) Mt. Kisco Hebrew Congregation (Mt. Kisco, NY)
Congregation Agudas Achim (West Hartford, CT) Ner Tamid (Baltimore, MD)
Congregation Emek Beracha (Palo Alto, CA) Pinner Synagogue (London, UK)
Congregation Agudath Achim (Bradley Beach, NJ) Radlett Synagogue Brondesbury Park (London, UK)
Congregation Ahavas Sholom (Columbus, OH) Rimon Center (East Windsor NJ)
Congregation Beth Abraham-Jacob (Albany, NY) Roslyn Synagogue (Roslyn Heights, NY)
Congregation Beth El Atereth Israel (Newton Centre, MA) Shaarei Torah Orthodox Congregation (Dewitt, NY)
Congregation Beth Israel (Metairie, LA) Sons of Israel (Allentown PA)
Congregation Beth Sholom (Providence, RI) Suburban Torah (Livingston, NJ)
Congregation Beth Tikvah Ahavat Shalom Nusach Hoari Tribeca Synagogue (New York, NY)
(Dollard des Ormeaux, QB) United Orthodox Synagogues (Houston, TX)
Congregation Dor Tikvah (Charleston, SC) Westville Synagogue (New Haven, CT)
Congregation Machzikei Hadas (Ottawa, ON) Young Israel of Brookline (Brookline MA)
Congregation Ohav Sholom (Merrick, NY) Young Israel of Plainview (Plainview, NY)
Congregation Ohr Torah (West Orange, NJ) Young Israel of West Hartford (West Hartford, CT)
Congregation Rodphey Sholom (Holyoke, MA) Young Israel of White Plains (White Plains, NY)
Congregation Shaar Hashomayim (Montreal, QC)