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Why Learn Talmud

This looks like a nice series of programs at Drisha:


Wednesday Evenings, 6:30-9:00pm:
October 29, November 5 & 12

Each evening will begin at 6:30 with a choice of workshops.
At 7:15, we will break for tefilat ma’ariv, refreshments, and informal conversation.
At 7:45, we will join together in the beit midrash for a lecture or panel discussion.

We invite educators, rabbis, students, parents, and all interested members of the community to participate in this conversation.

WORKSHOPS – 6:30-7:15pm
(each workshop meets for three weeks)

Existential Dialogue: The Complex Human Spirit of the Talmud-Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard

Ancient Texts, Modern Lessons-Yaffa Epstein

Archeological Talmud: Digging Deeper-Rabbi Ysoscher Katz

What Does the Talmud Say About Talmud?-Rabbi Jon Kelsen

LECTURES – 7:45-9:00pm

October 29:
Talmud Study as a Religious Practice-Dr. Devora Steinmetz

November 5:

The ‘Conceptual’ Approach to Talmud Study: Where Has It Been, Where Is It Going, and Why Does It Matter?-Professor Chaim Saiman

November 12:
Navigating the Sea of Talmud: Study, Teaching, and Personal Religious Meaning
Dr. Alyssa Gray, Rabbi Dov Linzer, and Rabbi Ethan Tucker
in conversation


All sessions meet at Drisha – 37 West 65th Street, 5th floor
For more information on sessions and presenters, visit
To pre-register, call 212-595-0307 or email

There is no fee for this program.
We welcome contributions to support our work.

This event is sponsored by Drisha Institute in partnership with Mechon Hadar, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, and Yeshivat Maharat.

Israeli News Program on Religious Zionism

Israeli Channel 10 has been broadcasting a series of broadcasts on the current state of religious zionism in Israel. During each episode, the reporter, Roi Sharon, focuses on a different issue. All of the broadcasts are in Hebrew.

1. Episode 1-Focuses on the tensions between the “Hardal” and more liberal religious elements within religious zionism.

2. Episode 2-Features an extended interview with Rabbi Eli Sedan, the founder of the pre-army academy (מכינה קדם צבאית) in Eli, Bnei David.

3. Episode 3-Relations between Sephardim and Ashkenazim in the religious zionist sector.

Photo Exhibit on the Ezrat Nashim


The Israeli architectural photographer Adva Naama Baram has a photo exhibit at the Architect’s House Gallery in Jaffa consisting of photographs of different women’s sections (Ezrat Nashim) from synagogues around Israel. Haaretz has a report about it:

The women’s section of the Yom Tov Taranto Synagogue on the narrow Gilboa Street in Jerusalem’s Ohel Moshe neighborhood is actually a row of chairs outside, with an improvised roof over it made of wooden beams and corrugated iron. In the Ahdut Israel synagogue in Jerusalem, the women’s section, a closed-in terrace, has the dimensions of a narrow corridor. The women’s section in the Heichal Yehuda Synagogue in Tel Aviv is touchingly tiny, located behind a thin curtain. The women’s section in the ancient synagogue in Peki’in consists of a single stone bench at the entrance to the building, outside. Although the women’s section in the Anan Hanassi Karaite synagogue in Ashdod is more spacious, it still maintains the principle of segregation.

If the subject interests you, I recommend that you listen to an interview with Baram that was broadcast on TLV1.

Origins of the Phrase Hag Sameah

The Academy of the Hebrew Language has an interesting post about the origins of the phrase חג שמח/Ḥag Sameaḥ. It turns out that this phrase is relatively new, with the first evidence of its use coming only in the twentieth century.

הברכה “חג שמח” שגורה על לשוננו בתקופת החגים, אך לא תמיד היא הייתה חלק ממסורת החגים היהודיים. ואכן מקומה נפקד מן הרשימה בְּרָכוֹת וּבִטּוּיֵי נִמּוּס שפרסם ועד הלשון בשנת תרפ”ח (1928), ותחתיה אנו מוצאים שתי ברכות אחרות למועדים: “מועדים לשמחה” ו”תזכו לשנים רבות”. מקורן של ברכות אלו במסורות העדות: הברכה “מועדים לשמחה” נהוגה בשלושת הרגלים בעדות רבות – אשכנזים וספרדים גם יחד. מקורה בתפילת העמידה ובקידוש של הרגלים: “וַתִּתֶּן לָנוּ ה’ אֱלהֵינוּ מועֲדִים לְשִׂמְחָה חַגִּים וּזְמַנִּים לְשָׂשׂון…”. על פי זה גם נהוג בחלק מן העדות להשיב על ברכת “מועדים לשמחה” במילים “חגים וזמנים לששון”. ממסורות העדות מוכרות גם ברכות קרובות, ובהן “מועדים לשלום”, “מועד טוב”, “מועדים טובים” (הצירוף ‘מועדים טובים’ נזכר בזכריה ח, יט).

It apparently has its origins in the Yiddish phrase “פרעהליכן יום־טוב”. What did people say before חג שמח/Ḥag Sameaḥ? Depending on where you lived, the common phrases were “מועדים לשמחה” and “תזכו לשנים רבות”.

Hag Sameah

The earliest use of חג שמח that I could find on the website Historical Jewish Press was from April 9, 1903 edition of Ha-Magid, and it was actually talking about a holiday greeting card that an anti-semitic member of the Hungarian parliament received. Before the 1930’s there were very few uses of the phrase.

חג שמח

Prophetic Justice and Using a Stolen Lulav

Jonatan Ben-Dov addresses the interplay between prophetic justice, Talmudic law, and traditions from Babylonian versus those of the Land of Israel in The Moral Quandary of Lulav Ha-Gazul
The Torah and Bavli vs. the Prophets and Yerushalmi

If a religious act is made possible through deceit, is it nevertheless valid? Or does a moral blemish have the power to ruin a ritual action? For example, if a person brings a sacrifice that has been bought with stolen funds, or confiscated due to abuse of government power, to the Temple – may it be offered on the altar? Intuitively, it feels as if the answer should be no, and this is indeed one of the answers offered by the Talmudic sages. Nevertheless, as we will see, some sages take a more moderate position, seeing fit to take the sting out of an uncompromising moral requirement.

The prophets, who dealt with similar problems, tend to a rather strict moral position. Amos (2:7) rebukes the people who “lie down next to the altar on garments that their debtors have given as security, and drink wine that they have bought with money obtained from [unjust] fines.” In Isaiah 61:8, the prophet declares “For I, the Lord, love justice, I hate robbery with a burnt offering”. Similarly, Malachi (1:13) rebukes the priests: “…you have brought stolen, lame, and sick animals…” The severity of their comments is not surprising; prophetic zeal leaves little room for compromises.

More on the Oldest Known Torah Scroll


Updated information about the oldest known Torah scroll. [From Facebook]:

The rediscovery of the oldest known complete Torah scroll, a sheepskin document dating from 1155-1225, was announced by Prof. Mauro Peran in May 2013 at the University of Bologna. Carbon analysis performed independently by the University of Salento in Italy and the Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign confirmed the date.


The scroll (36 meters or 40 yard long and 64 centimeters or 25 inches high) doesn’t take into account the rabbinical rules that standardized how the Pentateuch should be copied that were established by Maimonides in the late 12th century. The Hebrew letters were written in the Oriental Style of the Babylonian tradition.


Research conducted by the librarian Prof. Rita De Tata has now (Sept. 2014) reconstructed the history of the manuscript. This scroll has been in Bologna for centuries, since it was donated by local Jews to Auimerico Giliani da Piacenza, the superior of the Dominican Order of the city, at the very beginning of the 14th century. Attributed to Ezra himself, the manuscript was preserved as one of the most precious relics and exhibited to travelers and scholars. Taken to Paris after Napoleon suppressed the monastic and religious orders, it was returned in 1815 and kept in the Pontifical Library, now the University Library, together with other manuscripts of the Bible. In 1889 Leonello Mortara mistakenly catalogued it as “an Italian script [from the 17th century], rather clumsy-looking, in which certain letters, as well as the usual crowns and strokes show uncommon and strange appendices,” The scroll was forgotten, until Prof. Perani was commissioned in 2012 to write a new catalog of the University of Bologna library’s Hebrew manuscript collection.

The Migrating Tales of the Talmud

Migrating tales talmud

Richard Kalmin’s new book Migrating Tales: The Talmud’s Narratives and Their Historical Context is now available.

Migrating Tales situates the Babylonian Talmud, or Bavli, in its cultural context by reading several rich rabbinic stories against the background of Greek, Syriac, Arabic, Persian, and Mesopotamian literature of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, much of it Christian in origin. In this nuanced work, Richard Kalmin argues that non-Jewish literature deriving from the eastern Roman provinces is a crucially important key to interpreting Babylonian rabbinic literature, to a degree unimagined by earlier scholars. Kalmin demonstrates the extent to which rabbinic Babylonia was part of the Mediterranean world of late antiquity and part of the emerging but never fully realized cultural unity forming during this period in Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, and western Persia. Kalmin recognizes that the Bavli contains remarkable diversity, incorporating motifs derived from the cultures of contemporaneous religious and social groups. Looking closely at the intimate relationship between narratives of the Bavli and of the Christian Roman Empire, Migrating Tales brings the history of Judaism and Jewish culture into the ambit of the ancient world as a whole.

Ruth Kalderon has also published a book on the Talmud, Alfa Beita Talmudi (H). The first chapter can be read here.


May this be a year of filled with health, happiness, and many quality books.

The Meaning of Ma’avirin et Ro’a HaGezeirah from Unetaneh Tokef

My colleague, Rabbi Jeff Hoffman, has written a post about the meaning of the phrase “Ma’avirin et Ro’a HaGezeirah” from Unetaneh Tokef.

For many generations, there have been commentators – including Ramban (12th c.)[3] and R. Yitzchak Arama (15th c.), among many others – that have taken issue with the theology of the prayer. Many worshipers, too, have had trouble believing its main thrust. After all, don’t we all know pious people who involve themselves passionately with repentance, prayer, and charity, and yet who nevertheless have died young, or who have died violently? This prayer promises exactly the opposite! It is hardest on people who have lost loved ones soon after Rosh HaShanah because, in the wake of experiencing this central prayer, they are challenged to believe that their loved one was sentenced to die as heavenly punishment.

One of the ways that some modern machzorim have dealt with the issue is to “translate” the problem away, whether or not they are doing so consciously. For example, the ArtScroll Machzor (1985) translates the climactic line of the prayer as “But repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil of the decree.” Similarly, the Koren Machzor (2011), translated by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, renders “But repentance, prayer and charity avert the evil of the decree.” There is a subtle, but crucial interpretation in these translations. Instead of the three pious actions – repentance, prayer, and charity – actually cancelling the harsh decree itself, they cancel the harshness of the decree.

Read the whole post here.

Reviews of Mehalekhet Bedarkah

Below is a list of reviews or article about Malka Puterkovsky’s new book, מהלכת בדרכה, that I hope to keep updating as they are written.

1. Yael Levine in Kipa and INN (Hebrew): A critical review of Puterkovsky’s chapter on woman saying the mourner’s kaddish. Levine wrote:

[An] in depth analysis uncovers cardinal problems throughout the entire chapters from the perspective of using sources that make it impossible to rely upon it. I will preface my words by saying that I don’t disagree on a practical level with the halakhic possibility of women in our day saying mourner’s kaddish from the women’s section, for this there are sources, including the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah Herzl Henkin. Along with this, the chapter that Puterkovsky wrote about this topic is very problematic from the perspective of the use of sources and their analysis, it is full of errors, and it presents an unreliable picture.

Puterkovsky’s answer: “My response to these words is written in the book. The readers are invited to read and judge for themselves.”

2. Interview (Hebrew) with Puterkovsky by Emily Amrusi. See post about it here.

3. A review by Rabbi Yoel Katan, a response by Malka Puterkovsky, Katan’s response to Puterkovsky’s response. (Hebrew)

4. Yehuda Yifrach has written a few comments on Facebook. (Hebrew)

5. Ravtzair has also been collating reviews.

6. A response by the yoetzet halakhah Shlomit ben Shayah to Rabbi Katan’s review, along with a clarification by Rabbi Katan. (here)

7. Rabbi Yoni Rosensweig with some comments here, here.

8. Yael Levine has a review (English and Hebrew) posted at the Seforim blog that focuses on the chapter in Puterkovsky’s book about the recitation of mourner’s kaddish by a  woman.

9. Review at the website Shavua ha-Sefer. (Hebrew)

Malka Puterkovsky in Her Own Words

There is an interview (Hebrew) with Malka Puterkovsky, the author of the recently published book on halakhah, in Israel Hayom. The interviewer, Emily Amrusi, asked Puterkovsky many questions and these are some of her comments and answers.

“I am not beholden to any institution, program or training. I went the entire way with excellent teachers, but on my own, as an autodidact, therefore I have freedom of thought. I am not a member of any guild. I don’t have to answer to any rabbi or politician. Some of the rabbis in Israel are out of touch. I heard a rabbi speak very passionately about the effectiveness of conversion therapy for homosexuals. A fiery speech. At the end I looked at him and asked if the honorable rabbi would propose that his daughter marry such a young man. How can you dare voice your opinion without learning the material. Take it upon yourself that you won’t open your mouth about a subject that you don’t believe in.”

“I wrote a multi-year program [for rabbinic ordination], that is appropriate also for mothers. A program for the training of “dovrei halakhah” (Halakhic conversationalists). I’ll take away some of the laws of kashrut [from the curriculum], a rabbi does not have to learn kashrut in detail. He is not a mashgiah kashrut (kosher supervisor). They will learn psychology, sociology, economics. The majority of halakhic questions that I am asked are dependent upon a psychological hurdle. A rabbi must feel the things at the tips of his fingers. He must first be a person of interpersonal relations. Friendly, a good person, desiring to make the world better (tikkun olam).”

Answering a question about what is the difference between her and Reform Judaism: “I follow the principles of halakhic decision making. A halakhic personality (Ish Halakhah) learns the entire chain. I personally am subservient to Torah and my personal life is conducted according to halakhah. This is how we are educating our children. I wear a head covering, despite it being uncomfortable for me. When I enter to speak at the Army Command College people immediately start whispering, ‘Why have you brought this religious woman (dosit).’ A head covering immediately pigeonholes me, but I won’t take it off. That is the difference between me and Reform Jews. I hope that whoever criticizes something that I wrote in my book will do it according to the proper method. That he should explain to me where I made a mistake in the learning.”

Previous posts about Malka Puterkovsky can be found here and here.




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