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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.

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.

Not in Our Store

Bli Neder, I will have my own copy of Malka Puterkovsky’s new book (see here) on halakhah in a few weeks, but in the meantime one chain of Judaica stores associated with the national-religious community in Israel has found a non-creative way of addressing the issues that the book raises, not selling it. The chain of store Divrei Shir is refusing (Hebrew) to sell Puterkovsky’s book. This news item actually began as a post in the important Facebook group Halakhic Feminists and from there it seems to have migrated to an internet news site for the national-religious community.

Every book store can choose which books to sell and which not to sell, and those looking for the book it is apparently available in many of the general bookstores such as Steimatzky and Tzomet Sefarim.

Anyone interested in the book should also read Tomer Persico’s comments (Hebrew) about it.

Rockefeller Museum Collection Online


The Israel Antiquities Authority, as part of its attempt to upload digital images of objects held under its auspices, has began to post digital images of the archaeology collection found at the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum. The collection can be found online here. HT to Dr. Lea Mazor.

The Heart and Soul of Judaism

Anyone interested in Talmud must watch this video of a discussion about the study and love of Talmud with Prof. Christine Hayes and Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer. HT to the Talmud Blog on Twitter.

In her opening remarks Hayes called Talmud the “Heart and Soul of Judaism.”

Is She an Eishet Halakhah

In a few weeks, the small number of halakhic works that have been written by women will be increased by one when a new book on halakhah by Malka Puterkovsky will be published.

Mehalehet bedarka

During the past few weeks an interesting discussion has been going on about what title should be used for Puterkovsky. Is she a rabbanit? An eishet halakhah? The discussion surrounding how she should be described on her Wikipedia page has left the confines of Wikipedia. There has been discussion on social networks, an article (Hebrew) on a popular Israeli Internet site for the religious public, and now there has been a discussion about it on Israel Radio. The radio spot can be listened to below: (Hebrew)

In addition, last year Puterkovsky was interviewed on a popular Israeli radio program and that interesting interview (Hebrew) can be found below:

I have addressed the issue of titles used for women in the Israeli Orthodox community here, and it will be interesting to see how this discussion continues.

Update: Here is a picture from the book launch via Facebook.


Reconstructing the Talmud Available for Purchase

The new book Reconstructing the Talmud is now available for order from Mechon Hadar. Below is the table of contents.


Responsa Radio from Mechon Hadar

From Mechon Hadar:

Responsa Radio Episode 1

Night Owls, De Tocqueville, Dishes from Sears, and Theater!
Mechon Hadar is happy to introduce this new joint project with Open Quorum and the Center for Jewish Law and Values: Responsa Radio.

Ever wanted to know the answer to some deep and challenging questions in halakhah (Jewish law)? Join R. Avi Killip interviewing R. Ethan Tucker with questions sent in by Yeshivat Hadar alumni on all sorts of details of Jewish law. In this episode:

1. For someone who works night-shifts, how should they go about doing the morning prayers? Should they aim to get up in the middle of their sleep even if it is unhealthy? Or is there flexibility in doing the morning prayer at another time, or somehow catching up on what was missed?

2. There is a halakhic concept known as karov l’malkhut, giving dispensation for some Jews to avoid some of the classic restrictions of making Jews distinct from non-Jews. How does this still apply in the modern day? Does this concept even apply in democratic and multi-cultural America?

3. There is a mitzvah of tevilat keilim (the immersing of utensils in the mikveh / ritual bath) for bowls and such bought from non-Jews. But now, when most if not all of our utensils are mass-produced and bought from corporations, does this miztvah even apply?

4. Is it permissable to perform a show on shabbat assuming that there are no direct violations of shabbat for that person? How do factors such as who is coming?, are the audience paying?, are the actors being paid? fit into thinking about this question? Does it matter which profession is being pursued?

The first podcast can be listened to here.

Two Interviews with Hamas Expert Shlomi Eldar

This summer I am in Israel, so the current situation is occupying me quite a lot recently. If you are interested in reading more politically oriented commentary of mine, you can follow me on Twitter. That being said, I decided that politics had to make an appearance on this blog at the present time.

There are few people in the world who have devoted so much time to researching and getting to know Hamas than the Israeli journalist Shlomi Eldar. He has probably spent more time with Hamas leaders than any other journalist and has authored one of the most important books on the history and politics of Hamas, להכיר את חמאס. The book is available for purchase in America here and in Israel here. Since last summer Eldar has been a visiting scholar at the Wilson Center, so you may be able to see him being interviewed on American TV. He is also a columnist at Al-Monitor, and you can find his recent columns here.

I highly recommend Eldar’s analysis for two reasons: 1. Very few people know as much about Hamas as he does; 2. He has been critical of Israel in the past and has written about mistakes that he thinks Israel has made; 3. Anyone familiar with his work would have difficulty saying that he does not care about the Palestinians living in Gaza.

That being said, below are two interviews that he recently gave to the Israeli radio station Galei Tzahal. In both of them Eldar claims that while different options may have been available in the past, at present, the best course of action for Israel is to hit Hamas hard enough militarily that it will be unable to continue to rule in Gaza. He is aware of all of the counter arguments and the tragic human cost of the continued fighting, but he feels that given the current reality on the ground, this is Israel’s best option. The interviews are in Hebrew, but his ideas can be found in English in these columns.

If you are having trouble with the embedded audio, they can be listened to here and here.

Update: Here is another interview with Eldar from Israel Radio-Reshet Bet.




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