Toasted and Exhausted

My neck and face are sunburned.
It is early evening, but I'm exhausted.
After a festive davening, a hike around some local ruins, some time watching the kids bounce around on big inflatable toys in a cul de sac inhabited by friends, and a barbeque with friends all afternoon (1/2 hour drive away), I'm beat (the beer didn't help).
The highlight was the following:
On the drive home, Child A started complaining that Child B had leaned over and licked her lollipop. I pointed out that the lollipop remained intact, so she could continue eating it. She said she didn't want Child B's germs. I asked: "Would you like me to link his germs off?". She agreed. I took a lick of the lollipop and returned it to Child A, who happily continued to eat it.
All the while, Child C was giving himself zerberts on the soles of his bare feet.

I miss Sundays.


Imagining a Conversation with my Former Self

I had Shabbat lunch with a KBY “shana alef” student (as well as several others) today. We ended up engaging in a prolonged and broad discussion about a number of issues, from Rambam’s view of women and R’ Yehuda Halevi’s essentialism to the Brisker Derech to the authorship and structure of classical rabbinic tests. In many ways, I felt like I was having a conversation with a former version of myself (that’s obviously a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point). That’s probably why I was much more patient and understanding of some of the positions this student espoused: I remember my own evolution, how my own worldview evolved during my years at Yavneh (and through the years in YU, Gush, and since; intellectual restlessness is, in my opinion, one of the greatest advantages and disadvantages of having ADD).

I remember latching on to certain ideas that became monoliths in my maturing mind, only to have them replaced at some later date with another. I remember the constant construction and demolition of these conceptual edifices; having a hammer and thinking that the whole world looks like a nail (more yeshivish version: having a chakira and then seeing it in every Tosafos in the mesechta); thinking that it’s really possible to find the unified theory of life/ Torah/ Judaism/ God, that all of halakha, history, and Torah can be somehow merged into a seamless and harmonious whole, and that finding that grand harmony is somehow within reach; stewing in my own juices as I bounced ideas off of Rabbeim and, more importantly, friends.

I know that this kid’s thinking will evolve. There were ideas that I hesitated to present to him because, frankly, I know how I would have reacted to them (i.e., negatively) had I been in his shoes. It will come, but in due time.

This actually got me thinking. What would I have thought of my current self had I met me 15 years ago? Or even 10 years ago? Had I met that later version of myself walking down the street, how long would it have taken for me to realize “Hey, that’s future me!”? Would I have liked what I saw? Would I have been disappointed that many of the grandiose dreams (that we all had in our late teens and early 20s) seemed to have died? Would I have been shocked that I became a baalebos – one who no doubt learns a good amount, often gets to work with Torah on a professional basis, and even maintains an entertaining and well-read religious-themes blog – but a baalebos nonetheless? Would I think that I’m an apikorus? Would I be shocked that I’m living in a bourgeoisie hell (I had the opportunity to make a ha-Tov ve-haMeitiv at lunch today, and before the bracha I made a ‘l’chaim’ to having good friends and neighbors to suffer with in our bourgeoisie hell, so the phrase is on my mind)? Would I be disappointed that I’ve given up the search for the unified theory of everything and become content that certain questions are unanswerable, that dissonance and difference lurk everywhere, that Jewish meaning is constructed in a manner that, to recycle an old saying about women, can be beautiful or faithful, but rarely both?

I’m not going to lose any sleep over these questions. This is a thought experiment – perhaps conditioned on the fact that I’ve recently read both The Time Traveler's Wife
and The Five People You Meet in Heaven
. I ultimately think that, for most of us, to meet an older, fatter, balder, and less passionate version of one’s self would be like a cold shower. I’d want to give myself food for thought, a way to expand horizons, and maybe some good books to read. I would definitely not want to be too dismissive, obnoxious, or condescending (which I totally would have been had it been nearly anyone else, especially a shana alef Gushie).

And I’d tell myself to enjoy the ride.


National Teaching Award

Mazal Tov to my close friend and former chavruta (and sometimes commenter) Aytan Kadden on being selected one of five National Teachers. You make us proud.


Flour Ground After Pesach

This is the first year that I've heard of this chumra of not eating flour that was ground before Pesach and sold. Presumably, this chumra only applies in Israel, where the vast majority of flour stocked in stores and warehouses is owned by Jews. The ostensible reason for this chumra is a concern that a) the flour came into contact with water and became chametz, and b) the sale of chametz to a non-Jew is not a truly valid sale.

The reason that this is not a concern is:
1) Chametz that was owned by a Jew during Pesach (Chametz she-avar alav ha-Pesach) is forbidden by rabbinic injunction (mi-drabanan). Since there is no certainty that the flour ever came into contact with water and, indeed, it is likely that it never did, the issue becomes, at the very worst, a 'safek de-rabanan' (doubt in a case of rabbinic injunction), which the halakha treats leniently.
2) Since flour is generally sold along with the chametz, and was not owned by a Jew on Pesach, there is no reason to be machmir. Even those who do not personally sell their chametz because they find the sale to be dubious do not consider chametz that was sold to be "chametz she-avar alav ha-Pesach". This is because there is a long-standing tradition, upheld by major halakhic decisors, of selling chametz to a non-Jew. The rabbinic injunction against "chametz she-avar alav ha-pesach" would not apply in cases where the alleged "owner" of the chametz relied on an accepted mechanism for obviating that ownership. I.e., even though Person A might not accept this mechanism, he need not - and should not - consider Person B to have violated the laws governing chametz ownership on Pesach by availing himself or herself of that mechanism.
Please note that each of these 2 reasons operate independently and is sufficient to undermine the practice of insisting on flour that was ground after Pesach.
[Here's a question that may be relevant, and I simply do not know the answer: do we employ bittul be-shishim with regard to chametz she-avar alav ha-Pesach? If we do, then there's another reason not to be concerned].
My final reason is sociological: this chumra is almost impossible to apply consistently. There is no way that the chametz products that hit the shelves after Pesach were not sold. One would have to wait several weeks before consuming chametz products if one were to take this chumra to its logical conclusion. If would apply all year to chametz products - beer and liquor come to mind - that have a longer shelf-life. You may as well stop going to shalom zachars.

This chumra definitely goes into the "close to apikorsus" and "idiotic" file. See here.


A Kohein and the Daughter of a Non-Jew

There’s an article in the most recent RJJ Journal (which Gil has done us the favor of posting here) that discusses the halakhic issue of a kohein marrying the daughter of a Jewish woman and a non-Jewish man. The article reminded me of one of my worst moments as a Jewish professional, a story which I will retell here (concealing all information that might point to the identity of the principals).

It was my first year out of kollel, and we were living in the States, in an out-of-town community. We were involved in several communal institutions. At some point during the year, a situation developed in the community where this halakha would come into play. I was familiar with this halakha, but it did not register until my wife pointed it out to me that this was such a case. At that point, the couple was dating seriously and on the verge of engagement.

The boy’s family was part of the MO community, and the girl was a ba’alat teshuva from a somewhat remote suburb. I was not the rabbi of the community – in fact, the community was between rabbis at that time. I discussed the issue with another rabbi/ educator in the community, and we agreed that the best course of action was to get in touch with the former rabbi of the community, who remained close with the boy’s family, and basically lay it at his doorstep. I had absolutely no interest in getting involved, in having my name linked to the issue, or anything. I felt that I should call it to the attention of someone who could handle it, but nothing more than that.

Unfortunately, said former rabbi made a blunder that I still cannot get my head around. He indeed called the boy’s family and told them of the halakha, and mentioned that I had called him and brought it to his attention. The former rabbi was no longer in town, so by dropping my name, he made me the lightning rod for everything that happened later.

The girl’s parents, obviously, was not very pleased with me. I think that “hatred” would actually not be too strong a term, here. The girl had a sibling in the school where I was teaching, so it became an issue there as well. The gentile principal really did not have much context to understand the issue in general, never having studied Yevamot. Someone did him the service of explaining the basic issue, translating the word ‘pagum’ as ‘tainted’, adding a dimension of eugenics into the mix. Said principal was of the opinion that since the issue concerned two people who did not attend the school, I had no business mixing in anyway.

I got on the phone and made a bunch of calls, looking for some kind of hetter. The couple was pretty much in aveilut. Ultimately, the former rabbi came up with the following solution: he found a Sephardic rabbi (ostensibly someone who follows the Rambam, who permits such a marriage, even though the Shulchan Arukh is more stringent; I did not understand the basis for this Sephardic rabbi’s ruling then, and, after reading the article, am even more baffled, but whatever) to officiate. Couple got married. Happily ever after.

I often ask myself if I would do it differently now. For one, I would have said something much earlier in the courtship. Had the situation already developed, I’m undecided. I do not think that the situation falls under the rubric outlined by Rav Ovadiah, but perhaps that logic can be extended to include other types of fallout, pertaining, say, to those around the couple if not to the couple themselves. That would almost certainly provide me with the grounds to simply keep my mouth shut. Then again, I would probably want to bring it to the attention of the LOR, which is ultimately what got me into trouble the fist time.


A Question Regarding Chassidus and Russian Folk Religion

I'm currently rereading The Brothers Karamazov. I think that Freud was onto something when he called it the greatest novel ever written. It's certainly the greatest novel that I've ever read (not the most entertaining, mind you, but the greatest).
This time around, I've been noticing many things that I missed the last time around (about 8-9 years ago). In particular, I'm getting a lot more out of Dostoevsky's descriptions of the religious sensibilities of Russian Christianity - amongst the bourgeoisie, the peasants, the intelligentsia, and even various clerical groups.
I've noticed that there are many themes that would have been relevant in a Jewish context as well. In particular, I've found that Dostoevsky describes his heroes in a manner that would easily transpose onto certain figures from early Chassidus (the Besht and Reb Zusha come to mind).
I was wondering if this issue had ever been studies, namely, the Russian context of the rise of Chassidut. As Russia became a world power in the 18th and 19th Centuries, Jewish communities would have confronted Russian Orthodoxy for the first time - until then it had mostly been a Catholic context. I wonder if that had any impact on he contours of the nascent momvement.
Whatever. Just thinking out loud.


An Extremely Rare Mitzvah

I'm not talking about birkat ha-chama. That's so done. I'm talking about a mitzva that is even more rare. Most of us will never get a chance to do this mitzva. Thus, when it is done, it is done with great fanfare. Furthermore, Erev Pesach is an extremely appropriate time to talk about this mitzvah.
If beglittered donkeys look strange to you, and this whole ceremony seems just a tad contrived and awkward, they you are beginning to understand how I feel about this whole birkat ha-chama thing [clarification: I will say the bracha, much as I would redeem the firstborn donkey of any flock I should own. In fact, the latter is a mitzva de-orayta].
I've added some captions. Feel free to suggest your own.

Donkey whispers to sheep: "Sorry pal. Better your neck than mine."

Mechubad im bracha acharita...

The guest of honor poses with an ass:
I've heard of chassidishe shechita, but never chassidishe arifa...
Snoop Donkky Donkk.


Media Hound

I've been quoted in the English Haaretz twice in the past week, but in very different types of articles.
One it here.
The other is here.


Can One be Yotzei the Daled Kosot with Milk?

Rav Chaim Solovei[t]chik of Brisk was once allegedly asked the above question. Quickly discerning that one who asked such a question could not afford meat for the Seder, he ordered that the pauper be given enough charity to purchase meat and wine for the Seder (this was obviously in the days before Pesach price gouging; otherwise, she would not have even been able to afford the milk).

Turns out, he did not need to go overboard. He could have simply sent this poor Jew to the right Seder...

[Note: My wife sent me the link to the article. She regularly peruses the NYT Food section. I, shockingly, do not.]