Monday, November 30, 2009

On Chasam Sofer's Derekh HaLimud

From Gittin 11a:

You can see from here the way the Chasam Sofer would actively look for Halachic implications even during his theoretical learnining. In this case, he comes out with a Chumra that you wouldn't be able to believe a military court that reports that a Jewish soldier was killed.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Reish Lakish on the joys of marriage

Yitzhak's provocative post reminded me of the famous disagreement between R YB Solveitchick and R E Rackman as to whether the principle of Reish Lakish - "tav l'meisiv tan du mil'meisiv armalo" - and to whether it is a "transient psychological behavioral pattern" or a "permanent ontological principles rooted in the very depth of the human personality, in the metaphysical human personality [!]".

First, some basic philological analysis. The expression is in the "lashon ketzarah" of Yerushalmi (although it does not appear in Yerusahlmi) which I think proves that this is an exact recording of Reish Lakish's statement. The translation is that it is better to carry a "load" (Tan being a contraction of either To'en - a load, or perhaps Ten - a basket?) of grief (Du being related to the word - Devai - as in "Al Eresh Dvai" - on a bed of grief (deathbed), then to live as a widow.

Its unclear in which context the statement was made, and whether it is Reish Lakish's own observation on the joys of marriage or some type of received tradition (unlikely). Its unclear how much grief the basket/load is supposed to include. R' Mohe Feinstein (on whose rulings R' Rackman supposedly relied (see the summary in this article) believs it to be finite, and in a case where the husband is impotent or homosexual, R' Moshe ruled that Reish Lakish's principle does not apply and you can claim Mekach Ta'us.

I am far from an expert in R' YB Soloveitchik's p'sak, but I would guess that he would disagree with R Moshe in the above two case, as the woman will still have company, if nothing else.

In the Talmud, the statement is cited in relation to engagement by proxy (Kiddushin 41a), one who is "mezakeh" a get to his wife in the midst of a quarrel (unclear - a quarrel of which intensity) (Yevamot 118b), that a woman would be willing to accept a levirate marriage with a brother with a terrible skin disease for a woman is happy with anything (Bava Kamma 111a) - this last statement ought to be clarified in light of the interesting Gemara that states that a woman is pleased to receive the honor bestowed on a married woman, even if she marries a very short husband - but with the addition that she will cheat" and use her husband as cover, an addition that shows that a moral woman would perhaps not be satisfied with such a husband?, the last case is (Kiddushin 7a) that a woman will be willing to get engaged for minimal payment (adam chashuv).

It would seem that the Talmud at least placed the basket of grief to be quite large, and that as long as the man can act in at least some of the roles of a husband, the marriage will stand. The fact that all this is observably not the opinion of women today (metaphysical personality or no) makes for a real challenge.

[Update: I see that there are many great sources on this topic in Otzar HaPoskim V. 13 pg. 109 ff. I hope to update this post soon.]

Monday, November 16, 2009


Those interested in early American Jewish history will find the pamphlet Toldeos Yaakov Yoseph in New York of great interest. For more on New York's first Chief Rabbi -

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Clever Haskama from R Chaim Berlin

The following Haskamah was written for a commentary on Targum Yonoson/Yerushalmi called Yanchenu (by Yochonon Eisenberg) written by R C Berlin in the language of the Targum.

In his introduction, the author argues with Mahartz Chajes on the late dating of the Targum, and note the response of R' Shlomo Buber.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The secret behind Chabads success

From an interview with the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l in Jewish Forum (about 1960)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Heresy in Slabodka Yeshiva

According to this report:

At the time of my father's boyhood, the Haskalah movement had already commenced to penetrate the walls of the ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva where even the study of the Prophets were prohibited. My father often related how he and other students would keep the Tanach hidden within the Talmud volume from prying eyes of their teachers in order to study this literature clandestinely. To read Isaiah or Jeremiah with the Malbim commentarywas blasphemy.

and further:

"Students at the Yeshiva would forego many a meal, made available to them by generous families to whom serving meals to Yeshiva students was considered a great privilege or mitzva, to take special lessons in modern Hebrew and grammar from dedicated young men. This was particularly prohibited"

The statements seem odd considering the fact that R Yaakov Kamenetsky seems to have focused on learning T'nach and Grammar during his time at Slabodka. Although, there are reports of the Alter trying to prevent RYY Weinberg from learning Russian , and of controlling R Aharon Kotlers correspondence with his sister, i do not recall anything like what is described above. (The Alter himself had an interest in Haskalah at one point - see Benny Browns article on Slabodka.)
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