Menachem Mendel

Menachem Mendel

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The Kotel Compromise: Good or Bad?

Much has been written and spoken about the “Kotel Compromise” both in favor and against. Two of the more interesting things that I heard were two interviews (Hebrew) with Israeli Orthodox women who have come down on different sides of the compromise, one in favor and one against. While the agreement is not without its problems, I think that it is a good compromise, not only for non-Orthodox movements, but also for the many other Jews (secular, traditional, and liberal Orthodox) whom I think will use it. Last month I was in the designated area (עזרת ישראל) and the largest bar-mitzvah there was from a traditional Israeli Sephardic family. Also see this picture below. While I am hesitant to guess a person’s religious affiliation by how they dress, I don’t think that this woman is Reform or Conservative. (Photo credit: Michal Fattal)


Here are the two interviews, judge for yourself. The first is with Hannah Kahat (against) and the second with Ricki Shapira Rosenberg (for).

The second interview is from 25:00.

Is Israeli Ultra-Orthodoxy in Crisis?

Avishai Ben-Hayyim, a reporter for the Israeli TV Channel 10 who specializes in the religious community, has been broadcasting a series of reports this week about the Israeli ultra-Orthodox community called “The Ultra-Orthodox: The Dissolution.”

According to Ben-Hayyim the foundations of the Israeli ultra-Orthodox world are undergoing an unprecedented shake up. These foundations are the study of Torah, the status of its rabbinic leaders (gedolim), and the ghetto walls that separate it from larger society, and Ben-Hayyim thinks that these are all experiencing a weakening that is having large repercussions. In the Israeli Twitter World there was a lively discussion that Haaretz has written about and I’ll post some of them below in addition to Ben-Hayyim’s series of reports as they are broadcast.

One statistic that Ben-Hayyim mentioned was that one in ten members of ultra-Orthodox is leaving the ultra-Orthodox community. See this post from a few years ago on this subject.

Here are some of the tweets from Twitter.

Eugene Borowitz z”l

Eugene Borowitz, one of the most influential Jewish theologians of post-WW II America has passed away. Borowitz, an ordained Reform rabbi, taught for many years at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He engaged with the thought of Jewish thinkers of all stripes, writing about not only liberal Jewish thinkers but also Rav Soloveitchik. In one of his last books he included a abridged translation of the introduction of Yosef Karo to the Beit Yosef because he felt that it was a fine example of a holistic view of halakhic development. For him all of Jewish tradition and teaching was there for us to engage with and to be inspired by. יהי זכרו ברוך.

Conservative Movement Officially Permits Kitniyot on Passover

Not that anyone is already thinking about Passover, but the CJLS of the Conservative Movement has just posted online two responsa that permit kitniyot on Passover. The first is a translation and modification of an already existing responsum in Hebrew by David Golinkin and the second is a new one.

Interview with Shai Held about Heschel, Honor, and Doubt

I highly recommend this interview with Shai Held from Mechon Hadar about Mechon Hadar, Heschel, the role of doubt in religion, and a few other things.

New Book: Halakhic Writing in a Changing World


Tomer Persico has a quick summary (Hebrew) of Maoz Kahana’s new book Halakhic Writing in a Changing World, from the ‘Noda Biyhuda’ to the ‘Hatam Sofer’, 1730-1839 (Hebrew). The book, based upon Kahana’s dissertation, examines the differences between the halakhic approaches of the Noda Biyhudah and the Hatam Sofer.

The following is from the English introduction to the book:

From the Noda BeYehuda to the Chatam Sofer – Halakha and Thought in their Historical Moment describes a formative stage in the creation of modern halakha, in its historical context. First, the book analyzes the severe literary purification demanded by the Noda BeYehuda (Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, 1713–1793), rabbi of the city of Prague, and the most prominent halakhic writer in Europe in the second half of the eighteenth century. Rabbi Yechezkel sought to rid halakha of all “non-Talmudic” literary sources. Not only did he wish to remove from halakhic writing all kabalistic influence – which were under suspicion due to the subversive presence of Sabbateanism in Europe throughout the entire eighteenth century – but he even objected to primary segments of traditional Ashkenazi halakha, one of whose hallmarks was its diverse, non-talmudic sources.

The second part of the book deals with the profound internalization of this critical approach in the writings of the greatest rabbi of the succeeding generation, the Chatam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer, 1762–1839). This in turn led to various “corrections” as well as sharp, intense censures of the writings of the Noda BeYehuda by the Chatam Sofer, throughout the decades of his creative work.

The full English introduction and table of contents can be read here.

A Left-wing Israeli MK from Joint List and Jewish Law

Dov Khenin, a member of the Israeli Communist Party and an MK from the Joint List, recently proposed a change in Israeli law that was almost identical to Jewish Law. According to Khenin, it wouldn’t be legal to convict a person solely on the basis of a confession. This is essentially in line with the halakhic concept that a person can’t self-incriminate themselves, אין אדם משים עצמו רשע. This very principle was discussed in a recent article (Hebrew) in the Musaf of Makor Rishon that brought numerous sources which address the impracticality of upholding the strict standards of the halakhic demands of evidence.

While many religious members of the Knesset are always saying how Jewish law should have a greater influence on the Israeli legal system, none of them supported Khenin’s proposed law. Interestingly enough, one of the only people from the religious community that came out in support (Hebrew) of the law was the former MK Moshe Feiglin. Politics makes strange bedfellows.

Terror, Tragedy, Theodicy, and the Media

Tomorrow’s Daily News have a fairly provocative front page:

Since the recent terror attacks in Israel there have been a number of similar articles/op-eds in Israeli papers, although none with a front page like the Daily News knows how to do.



The following headline was published the day after two Israelis were murdered right outside of a synagogue in Tel Aviv: “The Prayers Didn’t Help.”



JTS Booksale December 2015


Lashon Hakodesh: History, Holiness, and Hebrew


Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein was kind enough to send me a copy of his most recent book, Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, & Hebrew. Rabbi Klein has done an admirable job of presenting the multi-faceted history of the Hebrew language within Jewish tradition and culture. This is not a critical history of the Hebrew language, for that I would recommend either Angel Sáenz-Badillos’s A History of the Hebrew Language (which is cited by Klein) or Joel Hoffman’s In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language. Klein’s book does contain a lot about the history of the Hebrew language, but I think that this book addresses other questions.

A look at the table of contents will give you some idea of the issues that are addressed by this book.

Chapter 1. The Language of Adam
Chapter 2. The Tower of Babel
Chapter 3. Abraham the Hebrew
Chapter 4. The Jews in Egypt
Chapter 5. Replacing Lashon Hakodesh
Chapter 6. The Language Wars
Chapter 7. Foreign Influences on Lashon Hakodesh
Chapter 8. Development of Aramaic


Appendix A: The Scripts of Lashon HaKodesh
Appendix B: Egyptian Names in the Bible
Appendix C: Prayers in Aramaic
Appendix D: Maharal on Aramaic and Lashon HaKodesh

The discussion of any of the topics in Klein’s book is comprehensive and filled with a copious amount of sources from traditional Jewish literature ranging from the Talmud and Midrash, traditional parshanut (interpretation), halakhic and responsa literature, and works of Jewish thought and philosophy. All throughout the book Klein also brings modern scholarship about Hebrew, referring to the research of such scholars as Gilad Zuckerman and Gary Rendsberg.

In addition to enjoying all of the information and sources that are found in Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, & Hebrew, I think that I can say that I had two important takeaways from this book.

The first is how important the Hebrew language has been for traditional Jewish scholars and rabbinic authorities. Whether it was thinking about which language was spoken in the Garden of Eden or what was the script (Ancient Hebrew or Aramaic) of the Ten Commandments that Moses received at Mount Sinai, it was an important question that had to be addressed. The second takeaway, and in my opinion the more important one, is how intertwined language and identity have been throughout Jewish history. Whether it was which languages Jews at any given moment were speaking, writing, or reading, or which languages they weren’t speaking, writing, or reading, be it because of ideology or history, these helped shape both who we have been and often who we would like to be.




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