Category Archives: Divre Torah

Disposable Women

Rabbi Gil Student has a post on a troublesome mishna:

The Mishnah in Horiyos (13a) states: A man comes before a woman in matters of life (le-hachayos) and to return a lost item, and a woman comes before a man for clothing and redemption from captivity.

The implication of the first item is that if a man and woman are drowning, one should save the man first and then the woman.

Rabbi Student then goes on to cite two rabbis who recently found ways to get out of this:

R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggeros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat vol. 4
… writes that the rule of the Mishnah only applies when
all other things are [absolutely] equal.…

R. Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 18:1) notes that the rule of the Mishnah is not mentioned in Mishneh Torah, Tur, and Shulchan Arukh. Why? To answer this, he proposes a new interpretation of the Mishnah. He suggests that "matters of life (le-hachayos)"
refers to feeding from charitable funds. Of course, he writes, when
there is a literal case of life and death then we do not differentiate
between people.…

Aplogetics aside, the intent of the mishna seems clear. When the ship sinks, save the men first. Why would this be? let me suggest the following answer. Men either were or had the potential to be Torah scholars; women did not. Therefore, the rabbis ruled that men – i.e., the Torah – must be saved first.

So why ransom women first? Why not ransom men first? Because, in that case, women had the real possiblity of being raped and abused. While men also needed to fear this, the threat was, I would think, lower for us than for women. Therefore, the case is not equal, and the threat to women is higher than the threat men; therefore, women come first in this case.

But what about clothing? Why should women get their clothing first? I would think, in part, because there a many areas of a woman’s body that must, under Jewish law, be clothed; the same is not true for men. Further, who is seen to be damaged by a woman who is underdressed or naked? Men. So, giving women clothing comes first.

This leaves the case of the lost object. Why return a lost object to a male first, rather than a female? Because women had inferior property rights and were seen as extentions of their husbands or fathers.

In short, remove the apolgetics and you have discriminatory misogynistic halakha. On the bright side, the halakha is not cited in the Mishneh Torah, Tur, and Shulchan Arukh. Why?

Not, I think, for the reason citied in Rabbi Waldengerg’s, ztz"l, name. I think this halakha was too much for the people to take and too open for attack from the outside, so, in order to preserve the rabbinic order (remember, Karaite and Muslim theology were both major threats in those days) the rabbis simply ignored it in theory. In practice, in the unlikely event that a case came before them based on this law, I would think they ruled narrowly.

Aplogetics aside, women go down with the ship. How can this be justified? Should it be justified?



Filed under Divre Torah

What To Do With Today’s Gedolim? Let The Talmud Tell Us

Are rabbis like trees? If so, when is it appropriate to ‘chop one down’ or cut a rabbi down to size? Steven I. Weiss has a talmudic quote from Ta’anit 7a that explains, in the name of Rabbi Yochanan:

…This is to create a parallel with the situation of a great scholar (”talmid chacham“). If it’s appropriate, you eat from it and do not cut it down, and if not, destroy it and cut it down.

I would think much of today’s Orthodox leadership, especially the haredi leadership, should be ‘kindling’ by now.


Filed under Crime, Divre Torah, Haredim, Mikva Abuse

Was Isaac Son of Abraham Sexually Abused?

DovBear has a shocking post on what may be the true reason Sarah threw Yishmael out:

By far, the most surprising opinion can be found on the Bar Ilan website, where Dr. Joseph Fleischman argues rather convincingly that Yitzchak was sexually abused.

And Dr. Fleischman’s proofs are quite strong, as one can see from reading the linked article, including the opinion of Rabbi Akiva, who argued 1900 years ago for this exact position. Rabbi Akiva did not have our knowledge of ancient semitic languages to back up his argument. If he had, the story of the expulsion of Yishmael would have taken its place alongside the (date) rape of Dinah as a paradigm of sexual abuse and response. Maybe now it will.


Filed under Crime, Divre Torah, History

(Lost In) The Flood

DovBear has his usual incisive posts on Noah’s flood. In short, it never happened. All evidence from geology and many other hard sciences as well as softer sciences and history show this clearly. And, guess what? Saying the Flood never happened does not make you a heretic or non-Orthodox – it just makes you alert and honest.

As Springsteen wrote:

Have you thrown your senses to the war, or did you lose them in the flood?


Filed under Divre Torah, History

Yom Kippur and Repentance

It’s just a few hours before Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year. Most Jews, even many not otherwise religious, will spend the day in fasting and in prayer.

Yom Kippur is perhaps the most observed Jewish holiday after the Passover Seder night. I think the reason for this is largely because the idea of teshuva – and of forgiveness – is universal. All of us have done things we are sorry for. We all want to make amends and seek forgiveness. But this is hard to do. Yom Kippur gives this process structure and, perhaps more importantly, makes it communal. Asking another for forgiveness, especially at a time when he is himself seeking forgiveness from someone else or from God, makes the process much easier. It is difficult to refuse another’s apology when you must yourself ask forgiveness of someone.

So Jews will flock to shuls, synagogues, and temples to seek forgiveness, or to hope that their one-day presence is enough to excuse their year long absence, and that God will forgive their neglect.

Others will sit, perhaps in the seat next to yours, and will quietly demand an apology from God and from man. For what? For entire families burned to smoke and ashes or buried in mass graves. For starvation and torture and neglect. For the rabbi, God’s messenger, who raped and abused them, and for the rabbis who stood by and let it happen. For the Kolkos and the Lanners and for their enablers, the Margulies and the Willigs, and, sadly, the gedolim.

Chances are, in your shul, someone will be alone within the crowd, lost in the pain of abuse present or past.

But we will ignore them. We will beat our chests, cry and seek forgiveness for tying the wrong shoe first or accidentally eating a piece of non-yoshon bakery. We will beseech God with all our might to forgive us these sins. For the day we ate a Hebrew National hot dog, for the day we ate the wrong cheese, for the day we didn’t learn enough or daven hard enough. And, as the day ends and the fast lifts, we feel renewed and forgiven.

This Yom Kippur take a few minutes out of your scripted self-centered piety and think about those people who really needed your help, but you ignored them. Maybe you wanted to avoid a “hillul hashem.” Perhaps you denied their cries by citing lashon hara law, or you chose to side with the rabbis because of their power and social standing (“they must be right – they’re rabbis and community leaders, after all”). Or maybe through the din of your daily life you did not hear their cries.

When the fast ends will you feel renewed and forgiven? I don’t think so.

It is our job, our mission as Jews, to make God known in the world. We do that whether we realize it or not, often whether we want to or not, for better or for worse.

The world is what we make of it. If you want to see God’s presence, make room for it. How do you do that? Help people. Feed the hungry, protect the defenseless. Reject corruption, stealing and fraud. Deal honestly with everyone, and protect the weakest among us.

If you do that, people will look at your communities and they will see God and they will say God is good.

If you do not, they will look at your communities and they will see a God of evil, a corrupt God, a falsifiable God, a God of welfare fraud and political fixes, of nepotism and abuse. You may not understand this but, all frum propaganda aside, this is what many people now see when they look at Orthodoxy.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You each have a choice. It may be difficult and it may be painful, but it’s yours. Please act on it.


Filed under Divre Torah

OU Non-Glatt Policy Discussed On Hirhurim; Price Fixing; Answer to Our Kosher Quiz

Rabbi Gil Student posted (uncritically, of course) on Rabbi Menachem Genack’s shameful and misleading article on the OU’s non-glatt policy. I noted here why Rabbi Genack is less than completely honest. Now let me address a comment by Michael Rogovin to that Hirhurim post.

>R’ Teitz of Elizabeth was the last “reliable” non-glatt hashgacha but because of ignorance his butcher was avoided.

Actually, Upper Midwest Kashrut of St Paul MN is listed in the Chicago Rabbinical Council (Triangle CRC) as a reliable hechsher with the note that some meat products are not glatt. Nathan’s kosher hot dogs carry this hechsher and are presumably not glatt, but should be reliable.

Upper Midwest kosher changed its name to United Mehadrin Kosher years ago. A small point, perhaps, but the name is telling. A “mehadrin” hechsher giving supervision to non-glatt meat. But the more you learn about that supervision, the more telling that name becomes.

The UMK is headed by Rabbi Asher Zeilingold, a Chabad hasid and rabbi located in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Rabbi Z, as those who follow this site will remember, is both my former rabbi and a close friend of Rabbi Sholom Rubashkin, the operational head of Agriprocessors and Aaron’s Best. Rabbi Z has given supervision on Rubashkin’s non-glatt for almost 20 years. But that supervision isn’t what you think.

KAJ, the then-head of kashrut supervision for all the varying supervisions at Rubashkin, including the OU, would not put its symbol on non-glatt meat. No haredi supervision would, and the OU would not do so either. So KAJ and Rubashkin made a deal with Rabbi Z that went something like this: You put your name on our non-glatt. KAJ will do all the work. We’ll take care of you. (I think Rabbi Z first had a symbol and adopted Upper Midwest Kosher as a name about this time.)

And this is what went on for many years and may still be happening today–except Rav Wiessmandl has replaced KAJ in the supervision hierarchy.

Anything one could say bad about Triangle-K supervision (see the many uniformed comments on Hirhurim) one could easily say about UMK, especially UMK 10 to 20 years ago. It was primarily because UMK was a fig leaf for KAJ that made its meat acceptable.

The facts of this supervision were known in the industry for years. I heard them first hand from Rabbi Z because the Agudah rabbi of Minneapolis tried to ban this very non-glatt from Minneapolis, and tried all sorts of questionably halakhic devices to stop its sale, including having a proxy drag my partner and I to beit din over this and a trumped up hasagat gevul charge. The Agudah Rav and his proxy lost. The non-glatt was stopped anyway because his friend, the local kosher food distributor, held by the Agudah Rav’s decision even after the beit din ruled against him, and no non-glatt was delivered. For his part, Rubashkin held with the Agudah Rav against his own supervision because of a complicated business deal with that kosher food distributor. This kept the price of kosher meat artificially high. From what I’ve heard since word of the Justice Department investigation into price fixing in the kosher meat industry, stories like mine are not uncommon.

So, when the CRC says UMK non-glatt is reliable, what it’s really saying is Wiessmandl/KAJ/OU non-glatt is reliable, which is why Nathan’s is reliable – if Rubashkin’s animal welfare and other issues don’t bother you.

Which brings us full circle.

Earlier, I posted a Kosher quiz:

You make rice in a clean dairy pot, thinking you’ll serve it for dinner in a dairy Indian recipe. At last minute, you remember Aunt Millie’s meat chili, sitting in the refrigerator for the last three days. You change your mind and decide to have the chili. But you have no more rice. Can you eat the meat chili together with the rice made in the dairy pot? If yes, why? If no, why not?

A few of you – including one Chabad rabbi who claims semicha from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein – suggested answers. No one answered correctly, although some were much closer than others.

So, here’s the long answer:

If you look at the Piskhei Teshuva 95:2, you’ll see he brings the Pri Megadim and the Chavot Da’at. Both hold like the Shach. The water would be forbidden to eat with meat, but the food cooked in it is permitted. (Actually, the Chavot Da’at would let you use the water with meat as well.) The only real problem here is if the situation involves roasting (tzli) fish (or another pareve food) using meat (or milk) utensils and then eating that food together with the opposite type. This stringency does not apply to regular cooking.

The Shulchan Aruch follows Tosofot and the Rosh in their understanding of Rashi’s opinion. It doesn’t distinguish between roasting or regular cooking – both are permitted, but only if one did not plan to do it. Once the rice is cooked in a clean milk pot, if you change your mind and want to eat it with meat, you can without restriction.

For Sefardim that is the normative halakha.

For Ashkenazim, it is the same with one change–if the food item in question is roasted, some poskim will ask that you remove a k’dei klipa (a thin peeling of the food) before combining it with the opposite type. Others will be stricter and will rule combining roasted pareve food as described above is not permitted.

Now, the short answer: You can eat it.


Filed under Divre Torah, Kosher Business?, Kosher Meat Scandal, Price-Fixing

The Lesson Of Abraham Our Father

A nursing home resident, a woman of about 90, went to the State Fair today with her daughter. She saw just-born calves and sheep, and an array of farm animals, all up close for the first time. This woman belonged for most of her adult life to a Conservative synagogue, one that has, for the last 35 years or so, been on the leftward fringe of the Conservative Movement. Despite that, she kept kosher (until her late 60’s, when she gave it up), and was and still is actively involved in Jewish life.

She described her outing to me and then excitedly said, “It was so wonderful to see those baby calves and sheep. You can really see God’s handiwork by seeing them, by seeing God’s creation.”

This was Avraham Avinu’s (Abraham’s) lesson, taught anew by one of his grandchildren.

Somewhere tonight, a certain Zoo Rabbi is smiling.


Filed under Divre Torah