Menachem Mendel

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Rabbi David Shlush z”l

Rabbi David Shlush z”l, the Chief Rabbi of Netanya, passed away yesterday. Rabbi Shlush studied at the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem along with Rabbis Ovadiah Yosef, Hayyim David Halevi, and Ben-Zion Abba Shaul. He was known for his independent halakhic thinking in numerous areas, sometimes disagreeing with the majority of his colleagues, including Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef. See e.g. this responsum on when to recite the blessing on Shabbat candles and this responsum on violating Shabbat to save the life of a non-Jew (against). He also wrote extensively on personal status, include that of Jews from Ethiopia (see here n. 7).

One of his opinions that is very relevant for the upcoming Shavuot holiday is the permission to use electricity on Yom Tov. This responsum can be found here. He concludes this responsum with the following words:

ולמעשה כבר התירו את הבערת החשמל ביו״ט הרה״ג אהרן בן שמעון בספרו ומצור דבש ערוך השלחן ועוד רבנים גדולים אחרים, ומרן הגריב״ץ עזיאל בספרו משפטי עזיאל אם כי לא מהטעמים שהזכרתי, והנלע”ד כתבתי.

Rabbi Shlush grew up in the Old City of Jerusalem and as part of an attempt to gather the testimony of those who lived in the Old City in pre-state Palestine, the Moscovitz Foundation filmed an extensive interview (Hebrew) with him about growing up in the Old City.

May his memory be for a blessing.

Many of Them Were Really Weeping

There are hundred of postcards from the past hundred years that feature pictures or illustrations of the Western Wall (Kotel). Last week I attended the World Stamp Show-NY 2016 and purchased one postcard that had a picture of the Western Wall and was sent in 1924. I purchased it not because it was so rare, but because of what was written on it.




Visited this place among many others today. Many more men than women there and many of them were really weeping. All reading from Jeremiah I suppose. Had no idea they were really so in earnest.

See this post at the Seforim Blog by Elliot Horowitz about descriptions of Jewish behavior at the Western Wall from the 19th and early 20th centuries. (HT Menachem Butler). Here is a good place to read about customs that are unique to Jerusalem. Happy Yom Yerushalayim.

A Possible “Feminist” Reading in a Genizah Fragment

Screenshot 276

The Fragment of the Month from the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Project:

In this fragment the anonymous commentator explains to his (most probably male) readers: ‘There is nothing that satisfies her more than that you will listen to her’. The commentator supports his argument with reference to the Jewish sources of Late Antiquity, the Mishna, and the Talmud, but adds a new and interesting creative interpretation. The Mishna (Qiddushin 1:1) states: ‘A woman is acquired in three ways’, and the sages of the Talmud ask two simple questions: (1) why does the Mishna use the word ‘acquired’ as if a woman is ‘bought’ or ‘acquired’, instead of saying ‘a woman becomes betrothed in three possible ways’; (2) Why use the passive voice and not simply say ‘a man betroths a woman in three possible ways’? Unfortunately – as is often the case with Genizah fragments – we don’t have the commentary on the Talmud’s explanation of the first question as to the use of ‘acquired’, but we do have what remains of the commentary on the second question.

The Talmud states that the Mishna chose to put the focus on the woman in order to emphasise that the marriage cannot take place without her will. Our commentator takes this one step further and offers an interpretation that can be seen as a ‘feminist reading’ of the Talmud. According to this interpretation, the Jewish sages taught that in the marriage contract the groom is seemingly active and the bride is passive, while in fact the opposite is the case. The groom’s role in the ceremony is to satisfy the bride’s will and to act accordingly. This is why the groom gives his bride a ring (or equivalent). Perhaps our anonymous commentator sought to advise young couples in how they should interact and respect each other throughout their married life.

International Bible Quiz Final-5776

These kids are incredible.

יום העצמאות שמח

Israeli Supreme Court Decisions and Tweeting

Yesterday the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a petition against the appointment of Aryeh Deri as the Minister of Interior. Soon after the decision was handed down someone tweeted the following.

According to this reporter, the Arab-Israeli Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran quoted the medieval halakhic work the Sefer Kol Bo in his rejection of the petition about Deri’s appointment. I thought that was cool so I in turn retweeted it and my tweet was retweeted a number of times.

Well, I finally got to look over the Supreme Court decision itself and the original tweeter and I were both wrong, the quote from the Kol Bo was NOT from Justice Joubran, it was actually from the dissenting opinion of Justice Neal Hendel who supported the petition opposing Deri’s appointment. The quote from the Kol Bo was from a discussion about repentance and public figures that was included by Justice Hendel in his dissent (pp.47-53). Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchick also makes an appearance in Hendel’s dissent. (p. 49)


So the moral of the story, try and read the entire Israeli Supreme Court decision before you tweet about it. Should I delete my tweet? Maybe I will, but in the meantime it’s a good example for how even on Twitter (LOL) one shouldn’t rely upon what others say.

Laws Against Witchcraft in Israel

While listening to an episode of the always interesting podcast the Tel Aviv Review that addressed neo-paganism in Israel, I found out that performing witchcraft for benefit is against the law in Israel. The interviewee, Shai Feraro, pointed out that in the Israeli Penal Code par. 417 it is written (Hebrew):

417. (a) If a person pretends to perform witchcraft with intent to obtain anything, then he is liable to two years imprisonment; if he obtained anything for or on the strength of the witchcraft, then he is liable to three years imprisonment; for purposes of this section, “witchcraft” includes magic and fortune telling.
(b) The provisions of subsection (a) shall not apply to magic or fortune telling, which does not exceed the scope of amusement or entertainment, that amusement or entertainment being provided free of charge or for a consideration that is only of the price of admission to the place where it is held.

417. (א) המתחזה לעשות מעשה כישוף בכוונה לקבל דבר, דינו – מאסר שנתיים; קיבל דבר בעד מעשה הכישוף או על פיו, דינו – מאסר שלוש שנים; לענין סעיף זה, “כישוף” – לרבות מעשה קוסם והגדת עתידות.
(ב) הוראות סעיף קטן (א) לא יחולו על מעשה קוסם או הגדת עתידות שאינם חורגים מגדר שעשוע או בידור, והשעשוע או הבידור ניתנים ללא תמורה, או שתמורתם היא מחיר הכניסה בלבד למקום עריכתם.

Over the years there have been a number of cases from Israeli secular and rabbinic courts in which witchcraft has been an issue.

See this report from the July 17, 1958 edition of Herut.

This is from the June 10, 1964 edition of Davar.


Laws related to witchcraft have a long history, and the Israeli law has its roots in British Mandatory Law. These laws raise many issues related to gender, patriarchy, etc. One only has to read these news reports and see the similarity between what these women were accused of and what today is done by many male rabbis for money to see the problems. On the latter see my post on Israel’s wealthiest rabbis. Witches and witchraft have a long history with Jews and Judaism, just watch yourself if you plan to practice it in Israel.

Update: I did a little more digging and found a few cases of men who have been charged with witchcraft related offenses, although they usually seem to be for fraud. People complained to the police that the “spell” didn’t work and people were charged with fraud. See this article from Davar, June, 9, 1970.


Interview with Ben Sommer about His Book Revelation and Authority


Now available on Soundcloud for a listen. HT to Mosaic.

Joseph Ryan Kelly talks with Benjamin Sommer about his new book, Revelation and Authority: Sinai in Jewish Scripture and Tradition. Sommer is Professor of Bible and Ancient Semitic Languages at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Also read this previous interview with Sommer by Alan Brill.

Sources for Mixed Seating on Public Transportation

The issue of mixed seating on public transportation is in the news again with a report of El Al being sued by a woman who was asked to change her seat in order to accommodate an Orthodox man who did not want to sit next to hear. I do not want to address this specific case, but I thought that it might be interesting to people to see what discussions there have been in halakhic literature  about the topic of mixed seating on buses, trains, and planes. If you know of additional sources, I would be happy to add them. There are many issues about gender and patriarchy that could be discussed, but for the moment I’ll just put the sources out there.

Follow the links for PDFs of the sources listed.

Shu”t Igrot Moshe EH 2:14
Shu”t Shevet ha-Levi IV:136
Kuntres Berurei Minhagim
Shulhan Arukh ha-Mefurash Derekh ha-Shulhan Hilkhot Harhakot
Sefer Om Ani Homah
Shu”t She’eilat Shlomo EH 2:344


Prioritizing Treatment of the Wounded-The Israeli Experience

A few months ago there was a lot of discussion in Israel about comments made by the Director General of Magen David Adom. Eli Bin said that

When I see my enemy wounded I no longer treat him as a terrorist, but as a human being. He has surrendered; he no longer poses a threat, so I’ll treat him.

Bin later said

I understand public sensitivities, but they won’t change our procedures. We can’t just let people bleed to death. I believe that the right thing to do is treat those who are the most seriously wounded first, regardless of their race, religion or gender. That is the MDA doctrine.

There was recently a seminar devoted to the ethical questions raised by this issue and recordings of the sessions can be found below. (Hebrew)

Interview with Author of Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests


Jason Mokhtarian, the author of the recently published book Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests: The Culture of the Talmud in Ancient Iran, was interviewed by the New Books Network about his book.

He lays out a research program for Talmud studies that is contextual, rather than literary or exegetical. Analyzing references to Persians and Persian loanwords in the Talmudic text, as well as ancient seals and bowl spells, he argues that we need to understand ancient Iran, as a real historical force and an imaginary interlocutor, to fully understand rabbinic identity and culture.




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