THE WEEKLY TORAH READING -- A FIRST GLANCE
THIS STUDY IS SPONSORED BY THE PARTICIPANTS AND STAFF OF THE DYNAMIC YOUNG ISRAEL ACHVA SUMMER MISSION, A PROJECT OF THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF YOUNG ISRAEL.
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A. THE BACKGROUND, & AN OVERVIEW, OF SHOFTIM
In last week's episode of Moshe's passionate parting addresses, he focused upon the world's most special place--the holy Temple, "God's Home" (see Ps. 135). But Moshe didn't even reveal the site, Jerusalem, lest the tribes fight over possessing its holiness; only later, after the land was divided among the tribes, was its site finally revealed to David via Gad the prophet, tho he was not allowed to build the Temple himself--Dovid's function was war, his son Solomon's--peace, a prerequisite for the Temple; Ramban equates Yitzchak's 3 wells with the 3 Temples--both the 3rd well and 3rd Temple come peacefully, without opposition (Ramban, Gen. 26:20; see 2S24, ICh21, 22, 1K5:5, 8:5, 17f); after acquiring the site from Arnava the Jebusite, "David proclaimed: `This is the house of God, the Lord, and this the altar of the burnt offering for Israel' (2Ch. 22:1--Rambam, Guide); H.U. (Hebrew or Heretical University) Prof. Shmaryahu Talmon, an allegedly "scientific" Bible scholar, basically ignored the Biblical text to passionately push his own imaginative de-Divinized non-inspiring Machiavelian version--that Dovid chose Jerusalem only for rather far-fetched political and economic reasons! Just as religion, "becoming Big Daddy's favorite", can engender tribal rivalry (cf. Chassidim amd Misnagdim), so history's first murder occurs when Cain's upset that God prefers Abel's sacrifice; cf. religious politics today--who controls the Ministry of Religions becomes more important than bringing Israel back to Torah.
Prof. Esther Japhat of H.U., trying hard to separate and postdate Deuteronomy, vis-a-vis the other 4 books of the Torah, claimed that this is the first time that the Torah even mentions one special exclusive place for Divine worship, a "later" concept; but she ignores God's obvious initial choice of Mt. Moriah, when Avraham goes to sacrifice Yitzchak in Genesis (22:2-4). Also, Moshe's dramatic celebration of the kick-off campaign of Israel's Mission to Israel, the Song at the Sea in Exodus, indeed culminates with "You shall bring THEM (not "us"--Moshe unconsciously predicted his own desert death here--Rashi) and plant them on the mountain of your heritage (Moriah), the foundation of Your Dwelling Place, , which You, God, have made, The Sanctuary, O' God, which your hands have established (Ex. 15:17)". All Jews must offer their sacrifices and celebrate their 3 agricultural festivals there. Israel restores the original harmony between Man and God when it brings "sacrifices" (lit. "closeness facilitators") with proper intentions; this, in turn, restores the original harmony between Man and Nature (a festival theme), in conflict since Adam and Eve's fall. When disputes and doubts arise, the ideal setting for their resolution is the Temple. Indeed, 2 higher courts of 23 and the Sanhedrin (the Supreme Court of 70 + 1 scholar-saints) are located there.
Moshe now contrasts this ideal site of justice with the real need for an extensive national network of easily accessible courts and law enforcement-- disputes must be quickly resolved (Ibn Ezra, Or Hachayim); otherwise, conflicts will grow deeper and mistaken religious behavior will become imbedded custom, while waiting for the Jerusalem Sanhedrin to resolve matters (cf. court delays today); the problem may then be much harder to resolve (imbedded mistaken customs today include wearing "magic" red strings, and adding "... by the mouth of God, via the hand of Moshe", from Numbers 9:23, to "This is the Torah which Moshe gave the children of Israel", Deut. 4:44). Quick inexpensive justice flows from the biblical system of neighborhood courts--captains of tens, of fifties, etc. (cf. China's similar system today). Lawyers are rarely mentioned in talmudic sources--justice shouldn't cost much. Local judges (or teachers) are readily available, and know the parties better than those who are greater, but busy and distant. Also, contentious litigation in crowded Jerusalem courts would spoil Israel's joyous holiday pilgrimages (Pnina).
Unattainable ideals can indeed destroy real, tho limited, opportunities to move forward--an eternal search for one's ideal friction-free "soulmate" may lead to an empty lonely life. Waiting for a perfect Messianic Israel to come from heaven may have the delayed the real, tho imperfect, State of Israel for many centuries, causing the death and assimilation of millions of Jews (see repentent Haradi leader Yissachar Dov Teichtal's "Am Habonim S'macha"--English synopisis $5 from TOP). So, to achieve peace, both sides to a dispute must compromise their own ideal conceptions of truth and justice. Emotional chaos or disease can irreparably damage a victim who waits for an ideal therapist or physician. Even aliya and large families, relatively clear Jewish ideals, may be counterproductive, if the oleh or parent is broken in the process--he/she may then even turn against Israel or his/her children. True, anything of real worth, e.g. Israel, the Torah, and eternal life, is only acquired thru sacrificial struggle and affliction (Rav J. Soloveichik); but we pray that God bring us back UPRIGHT to our land--may the hardships not be more than we can take, breaking us, rather than building us.
Yet one mustn't forget great ideals, tho they're not presently achievable or even desirable. We prayed for Jerusalem for 1900 years. Woman's leitmotif, nurturing, is usually far less developed in a well educated secular western Jewess than in a well educated Bet Yaakov girl, raised to be primarily a great Jewish wife and mother; Ms. Career may become depressed and irritable, should she become observant and try to become an ideal vibrant mother of 10, rather than a more realistic 3-4 (but see Growing With My Children by Sara Shapiro, herself the product of Norman Cousins healthy, tho secular, family of 5 kids; friends can help); but Ms. Career may still give a more family oriented education to her own daughters, tabulae rasae. So a man raised in ambitious materialistic western society may break or revert to secularism if he ideally spends every free moment, day and night, studying Torah; a less rigid schedule might work and he'll slowly grow in strength; his sons, raised differently, may come closer to the ideal, or, suffused with religion and spirituality from birth, they may feel no need to make such a big fuss about it!
An austere lifestyle & absorption in Torah is called "the way of Torah" (Avot 6:4); but this ideal may break and depress those whose habits, temperment, or bodily constitution can't tolerate such a regime (Rav Yaakov Emden); see How To Get Deeper Into Torah Without Going Off The Deep End, a deep and delightful pamphlet by Friedman the Tutor--"a tutor's suggestions for maintaining your sanity while studying in a baal teshuva yeshiva". She opens: "GO SLOW: If you take on too much, too quickly, you'll have inner backlash. You'll wake up one day sick of Torah, sick of yourself, or just physically sick. Or all 3".
After Moshe teaches God's laws for all Israel, he delivers legislation for their leaders--kings, judges, priests and prophets (Sporno); crude and vulgar people won't tolerate inspired saintly leadership. But if leaders aren't true models of human potential, their flock will gradually deteriorate (Jer. 2:8, 3:14, Zeph. 3:3, Daniel 12:3, B.B. 15b, Sefer Hachinuch 491). Shoftim follows God's blessings of bounty (16:17)--society's blessings depend upon respect for its judges (Haamek Davar; see Ex. 22:27-8). Day-to-day disputes, negligent manslaughter, false prophets, etc.--bothersome details of life in a tarnished world--follow the ecstatic farbrangen on the 3 pilgrimage festivals in the Torah--periodic highs are no substitute for properly ordered day-to-day living; the most "turned on" enthusiasts are indeed in asylums--cf. Jerusalem's #11 bus, "from Mea Shearim to Ezrat Nashim".
Jane Howard, in Families, explores the innate human need for on-going relations with the same group of people; truly functional families (or yeshivot) must balance liveable and stable norms, traditions, beliefs and relationships with the equally strong human need for freedom, individuality and creativity. Some issues which she probes--what can shattered families learn from those that endure? What stereotypes about families ought to be abolished? Is blood still thicker than water?--can friendship replace kinship? Should the terms "clan" and "tribe" be redefined? How important to a family are ritual, myth and religion; sense of place, property, history and purpose; elders, founders, and networks of outsiders? To what extent do adversity and guilt keep families together? Apply her insights to Leading Litvaks, at the end of D.
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B. A SYNOPSIS OF SHOFTIM
GIVE YOURSELF JUDGES AND OFFICERS IN ALL YOUR GATES, WHICH GOD, YOUR LORD, GIVES YOU, ACCORDING TO YOUR TRIBES; (such that) THEY SHOULD JUDGE THE PEOPLE WITH JUST JUDGEMENT. YOU SHALL NOT PERVERT JUDGEMENT, YOU (the judges or the appointers) SHALL NOT RECOGNIZE FACES, AND YOU SHALL NOT TAKE A BRIBE, FOR A BRIBE BLINDS THE EYES OF THE WISE AND PERVERTS THE WORDS OF THE RIGHTEOUS. ARDENTLY PURSUE JUSTICE, THAT YOU LIVE AND INHERIT THE LAND WHICH GOD YOUR LORD GIVES YOU (16:18-20).
Moshe now addresses the people as an entity (2nd person singular). He orders their leaders to appoint judges, who (3rd person plural) will render true justice. Moshe tells those who appoint judges: "GIVE YOURSELF judges"--you too must submit to them; they owe you no favors (cf. political judicial appointees). God's GIFT of Israel is conditonal upon appointing proper judges; then you deserve Israel's cities; they'll be "YOUR" gates. Local judges must not favor litigants from their own tribe or town. Finally, the judges are addressed directly and warned of specific potential abuses (Alshich).
Rambam & Ramban disagree (a frequent occurrence) as to whether these laws apply to the diaspora (see Makkot 7a). Tosafot (San. 16b) claims there must be separate courts for each tribal group within a city; Rambam disagrees (Or Hachayim). "Officers" are those who enforce decisions and ordinances of the court (Sifri, Rashi); police may not act independently.
GATES may also be a metaphor; one must put judges and guards at the "gates" of his speech and perceptions--eyes, ears, and mouth. One must also use good judgement and self-discipline as she enters the transition, the gate, to each new stage in life's cycles; behavior and attitudes must be age-appropriate (Rav M. Sheinberger).
A judge's judgement is likely to be distorted, perhaps unconsciously, by benefit received from a litigant. The personality or identity of the parties should be irrelevant to his conduct and demeanor. So a decent rabbi won't add his name to another rabbi's condemnation of a person, work or project, without his own investigation and speaking to the accused. Rambam's son Avraham forbids "recognizing faces" of great talmudic authorities re secular issues, e.g. medicine and physics, accepting their judgement without ?; knowledge and logic are the only valid criteria in such realms (Introduction to the Agada, printed as a preface to Ein Yaakov). We must actively pursue justice, as peace, SEEK OUT opportunities to pursue it (see San. 32b, Kid. 40a); but opportunities to perform ritual commandments, such as freeing the mother bird, needn't be sought out, if they don't naturally arise. Yet we end our main prayer with: "may my soul pursue Your mitzvos" (Pnina)--we should crave them in our hearts, tho our bodies are basically involved in the pursuit of peace and justice..
Trees associated with idolatry may not be planted at a Jewish house of worship; Ramban extends this to all trees, even those not worshipped, since idolators so worshipped Nature; not even a wooden porch was permitted in the Temple itself (Tamid 28b), nor could one plant a tree or build a house on the Temple mount (Rashi--16:21). The juxtaposition to the judicial system suggests that he who appoints an unfit judge, however eloquent, is as tho he planted such an outwardly beautiful tree next to the altar (San. 7b). Sacred pillars, once used by the patriarchs, are now prohibited, due to their use by idolators. Blemished animals may not be sacrificed (see Sifrei). Idolators in Israel, e.g. worshippers of astral bodies, are killed only after testimony and thorough cross-examination of two witnesses. Over-emphasis of nature is the first step away from the intimate infinite God focus of Eden; this deteriorates into worship of symbols of Nature, without God; man finally descends into meaningless idolatry, tho of artistic quality (Yad, A.Z. 1). When "natural man" experiences sunrise with wonder, the Jew closes his eyes and relates to God, it's Author, Who is beyond his senses, via prayer! (R. S. Aviner); but the Jew had to observe sunrise BEFORE he shut his eyes, in the days before watches (Rav G. Fleer--at least the prayer leader did so)! Many Torah students are overly detached from nature and science; a basic PART of faith experience is appreciation of God's Glory in nature, ceaselessly celebrated in Psalms.
Cases which the lower courts cannot decide are heard in the Supreme Temple Court, the Sanhedrin. Yitro's judicial system, leader-judges for each 10, 50, 100 and 1000 Israelights, is now to be superceded (Hirsch). Local courts of 3 judge monetary matters, in towns of less than 120--San. 50b. 23 judges sit in a larger town; the higher courts have 23 and 71. The rabbis banned single judges, unless the parties agree to accept their decision (Avot 4:8). Ideally, judges will be priests and levites, the ONLY people entitled to communal support, per the Torah; they can thus study day and night (Abarbanel; he reflects Rambam's crusade against salaried non-Levite scholars and teachers of the Oral Torah to adults). The Sanhedrin's absolute authority is set forth in 17:11--see below, D. A qualified judge, who ACTS against its majority view of God's Law, is executed. His rebellion threatens the judicial stability of Israeli society (San. 86ff; Rambam, vs. Ramban, includes rebellion against Rabbinic legislation); yet if he thinks that the majority wrongly permits something, he must give them his arguments, before acting in accordance with their opinion (see Sefer Hachinuch 496). AFTER conquering Israel, the Jews will want "a king like the other nations". They may only appoint one who's born Jewish and approved by God. A king is limited in his accumulation of wives, wealth, and horses (and wine, per Shlomo's mother--see 17:14f, Prov. 31:1-9).
C. A FALSE JERUSALEM REPORT: Elliot Dorff, rector of L.A.'s Conservative University of Judaism, used (abused?) Parshat Shoftim (Jerusalem Report 8/22/96) to preach the Contemporary Conservative Creed (Canard?): 1) that the written Torah is subject to rabbinic interpretation in each age, according to the needs and whims of the day, citing 17:8f (for it true meaning, see D. below; the verse doesn't refer to rabbis making up their own interpretation of the Torah, but to their applying the Oral law to given situations). 2) a corollary: they deny that the Oral Law, the unique Jewish heritage, was given, together with the Written Torah, at Sinai. But the Written Torah itself refers us to the Oral Law, when the Jews are told that they needn't travel to the Temple to offer a sacrifice every time they crave a corned beef sandwich (every animal slaughtered during their desert trek had to be sacrificed in the Tabernacle). They must just "slaughter it... as I commanded you..." (Deut. 12:21)--but we're not told how, anywhere in the Written Torah!!! The Torah simply assumes that we also have the Oral Law, Tractate Chulin, where ritual slaughter is spelled out in myriad detail (S. R. Hirsch); Jewish Law is NOT derived from the Bible, which has other didactic functions, for all peoples, only from the Talmud. 3) the equation of Conservative rabbinic committees with the ancient Sanhedrin and its later European counterparts, and the application of "these and these are the words of the living God", from Eruvin, re talmudic rabbis, to the disputes between truly tradtional (Orthodox) Judaism and the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist schisms today.
Dorff's third point is simply a false comparison--all rabbis involved in Talmudic disputes, e.g. Hillel and Shamai, as the misnagdim and hassidim, and all judges in traditional Jewish courts throughout the ages, before the 19th century heresies, believed that God dictated the Pentateuch and explained the Oral Law to Moshe; but all of today's dissident sects--Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist--teach the opposite, the Documentary Hypothesis, of German Christian origin; they claim that the Torah is just a collection of diverse old documents, later edited by someone like Ezra, and that the oral law was later made up by the rabbis (see The Condition of Jewish Belief, Milton Himmelfarb, AJComm); all those advocating and teaching such beliefs, destroying the significance of Judaism and, ultimately, of Zionism, are condemned and labelled heretics in Jewish tradition, especially by allegedly liberal Maimonides--see M. T. Mamrim.
Dorff's "proof" that nothing is beyond question in Jewish law is good pious Queen Salome's reign in the otherwise corrupt Hasmonean dynasty, despite the prohibition against a queen ruling Israel (see Sifrei Deut. 17:15; unfortunately JR does not give exact citations in its Torah articles). But, as today, on Rehov Bar Ilan, religionists don't always have the power to impose Judaism on their fellow Israelis. Indeed, if Salome was the only candidate to prevent national collapse, disaster, and foreign invasion (her late husband proclaimed her his successor after she convinced him that: "the Jews would bow to her authority as they would to no other"), as seems to have been the case, she'd certainly be permitted, even encouraged, to serve--cf. Dvora & Golda; almost all laws may be violated to save lives. National unity was indeed destroyed upon her death, followed by her sons' power struggles--at her sad end, her son Aristobulous, a chip off his dad's heretical and murderous old block, was already plotting against her, together with the Sadducees, and might have assassinated her, had not nature done the job. Furthermore, together with her brother, Shimon, she restored religious authority in the Temple and courts to the Pharisees, in the tradition of Oral Law from Sinai--she cast out the heretical Sadducees; somewhat akin to the Conservative movement today, they denied the Sinaitic origin of the Oral Law; unlike the Conservatives, however, they did acknowledge Divine Dictation of the Written Law. Per Conservative Louis Jacobs ("What Does Judaism Say About...", p. 67), rabbis interpeted and reinterpreted the Torah to "preserve its dynamism" (cf. "A source of blessings are You, God, who giveS the Torah"). But the rabbinic process itself IS the Torah's own intent and tradition, but always within its own rules and limits.
Dorff also ignores those truly traditional interpretations of Sifrei that DO allow a woman to rule, even as a queen, especially when there's no one else as competant--despite the Rambam's expansion of Sifrei to all public offices (M. T. Malachim 1:5; see Psikta Zutrati too)--the issue is discussed in great depth and detail in Rav J. David Bleich's wonderful modern work on Jewish Law--Contemporary Halachic Problems, Vol. II, "Women On Synagogue Boards" (thanks to Yaakov Machles for this source); Bleich brings the full gamut of views, pro and con, on participation and non-participation of women in public realms, e.g. voting and holding office (Rav Kook and others opposed even women's sufferage). Bleich cites Rav Moshe Feinstein, who follows Rambam, banning female officials; but Rav Moshe deduces that Sefer Hachinuch (492, 509), as Tosafot (Nida 50a), limits the prohibition on female public service to being a queen; converts to Judaism, however, are excluded from all public office; public power and prestige must never be the converts' goal (YF); Lamarckian Sefer Hachinuch claims that long-standing general Jewish national traits of kindness, etc. are required for those who exercise power over others; he believes that public peace requires a king, one man, in charge (cf. Israel's Knesset and elections), and that all public officials are to be succeeded by their sons, IF the later are pious decent people--otherwise they're to be despised and chucked out.
So Rav Dr. Moshe Tendler, Rav Moshe's son-in-law (his wife has truly experienced the traditional description of the Rambam--"from Moshe to Moshe, there's no one like Moshe"!), explored the dangers latent in the very achievements of modern science, out-of-control in a world in which man creates his own values, "makes his own world", after eating of the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, rather than following God's Own values, set forth in the written and oral Torah, His factory authorized instruction manual for both Jews and non-Jews. YF: Even some modernist rabbis completely distort Torah; a Conservative Rabbi, in Tikkun, defended modern homosexuality and its "committed deep relationships"!!!--he claims that the Torah only knew of primitive exploitative homosexuality (also implying its non-Divine origin)!! His perverted logic would next sanction "meaningful" incest and beastality (cf. Tobacco Road; hear David Luchin's profound TOP tape on Judaism and Homosexuality and read The Pink Swastika, on homosexuality and fascism). His view should be condemned by the Conservative Movement which, howbeit unclearly defined, claims some Divine and traditional authority. The rabbi should be defrocked or transferred to Reform, which has no binding religious doctrine. Thus Reform "conversion" would be better termed an "initiation" or acceptance into its Jewish cultural sociological community.
Rav Tendler also condemned alternative medicine's exaggerated claims of efficacy, scientifically unproven; belief in God as Creator also entails belief that his Torah and world are understandable by man, with Whom He constantly communicates, IF man really applies his mind and senses to get God's messages; silly unproven magic and superstition are treif (e.g. red strings and evil eyes?); but Tendler, like many scientists, may overrate logic and the scientific method, while underrating intuitive and experiential insights, the fruit of inner spiritual development of sensitive souls. Accupuncture apparently works. Tendler cited the end of Psalm 147, to contrast the Jewish and secular mindsets: "He relates His Word to Yaakov, His statutes and judgments to Israel (the Torah); He did not do so for any other nation (who thus must learn them from Yaakov & Sons--Isaiah 2), of laws He did not inform them--Halleluka." Thus, it seems to me, that non-Jews must be even more creative, sensitive, and creative than Jews, until that great day when we'll be in proper shape to teach them, and they'll be willing to learn Torah (their 7 Great Principles of Law) from us--for they have to create their own fluctuating legal systems meanwhile; thus it's really wrong to depreciate non-Jewish intelligence (e.g. the derogatory use of "goyishe kep", growing out of warped East European Jewish experiences with crude savage non-Jewish peasants), when the talmudic rabbis themselves recognized possible gentile intellectual superiority in secular matters.
But Ramban claims that gentiles must also build their legal systems on Torah law, guided by learned Jews, e.g. Rav Yoel Schwartz; also, Jews will corrupt and misinterpret God's Law if they're not also open, bright, deep, creative and sensitive--it's not enough to obey His Law, "We will do"; we must also understand it, and the world to which it applies, to truly fulfill His Will-- "and we will listen" (see Ex. 19:8, 24:3,7; cf. Deut. 5:1: "... Hear, Israel, the statutes and ordinances which I proclaim into your ears this day. study them, and preserve them to perform them.").
Rav Moshe also cites another dictum of Rambam (Hilchot Melachim 1:7), that evildoers and the non-observant (cf. Meretz) are prohibited from holding communal office; Rav Feinstein declares that such an infraction is more serious than naming a woman to such offices--if one's confronted with a choice between a non-observant male and an observant female, Rav Feinstein asserts that one should strive for the appointment of the observant woman--cf. Israel today. Truly great Rav Chaim Herschenson, whom I would have loved to have had as a rebbe, interprets the Sifrei as ruling only that a king may serve, tho he has no queen, unlike a high priest, who must always be married! Ruler Queens are A-OK! While the problem of Dvora the Prophetess is dealt with in depth, Shlomtziyon Hamalka is ignored in Bleich's article; the book is replete with interesting and relevant issues, tho I reject his ardent attempt to ban women's slacks.
Based upon my own brief experience of Dorff's own institution, I think Salome would have shaped it up or closed it down, had she the power!--she was strictly observant and dismissed any violator of religious law (EJ). She banished the Sadducees from Jerusalem to avoid conflict (cf. Meretz on Bar Ilan St.). When I was in L.A. about a year ago, I was shocked to hear a widely publicized author and lecturer, at Dorff's allegedly religious institution, claim that the Torah was but the adaptation of old myths of female goddesses! Had I not been there, no one, including Dorff, would have protested this shocking, heretical and foolish lecture. So Beit Shmuel's claims to be religious, howbeit Reform, ring hollow, when they have completely secular, even profane, entertainment at their Friday evening Oneg Shabbat celebrations. See Migrant Soul, the tale of an American Indian convert finding his way in Judaism.
Shulamit ben Shetach Alexandria (139-67), Shlomtziyon Hamalka, Shimon's sister, was the wife of childless Aristobulus I (died 101 B.C.E.), later the Levirate wife of his brother Alexander Yannai, whom she freed from prison, together with his two younger brothers, after her husband died in 76-75; she led Yannai's army in their Jordanian conquest of Ravna, without telling them of the king's death (Men. 85b); The rabbis relate how, in the days of Shimon ben Shetach, it rained only on Werdnesday and Friday nights, when people remained indoors (they were afraid of demons on Wednesday night! Similar miracles are alleged in the building of Herod's Temple), and that the land was so fertile that the grains of wheat, oats and lentils grew to extraordinary size; they were kept to show future generations what piety could achieve (see Taanit 23a, Lev. 26:4, Sifra, B'Chukosai I:3:1, which adds "in the days of Shlomtziyon Hamalka"). A street near Jerusalem's main P.O. and Police Station is named for Shlomtziyon Hamalka--Queen Salome is not to be confused with thrice-married Salome, Herod "The Great"'s cruel sister, who helped him murder her first 2 husband's, in the good old pious days of yore, nor with Salome, the daughter of Herodias, Mrs. Herod Antipas, who allegedly requested the head of John the Baptist from Antipas--she was dramatized by Oscar Wilde, painted dancing by Florentine artist Benozzio Gozzoli!
D. THE SYNOPSIS RESUMED: Whether appointing a king is a mitzvah, or merely a concession to Jewish weakness, is debated in both talmudic and medieval sources (see I Sam. 8, San. 20b, Mid. Rab. 5:8,9,11 & Jacobson--Meditations on the Torah); per Rav Shubert Spero, "king" is a metaphor for "government", which has finally evolved into is highest form, democracy, a prerequisite for a viable Jewish State after our long exile. Continuation of a king's royal line depends upon his humbling himself--he's to write, and read from, his own sefer torah; he also teaches the masses Torah in the hakhel assembly. Shlomo lost most of his kingdom to Y'ruvum, who criticized his corruption; Y'ruvum's own line was completely cut off, when he became far worse, once in power. Democratic rebel leaders often themselves become the worst dictators (Rav A. H. Leibowitz, one of my teachers; cf. Castro, USSR after the revolution). Israel's King is appointed only AFTER the conquest, a sign of his prime function--to spread Torah, not to wage war (Hirsch).
Leviim must be immersed in their leadership teaching roles; they get no tribal land--just 48 cities. Perhaps the king's to be the religious leader in earthly matters, the levite in heavenly. Priestly dues are set forth; all priests and Levites may join the Temple service. Jews mustn't plot the future via divination and witchcraft; the Canaanites are indeed about to be expelled for such practices. HUMAN prophets, as Moshe, shall proclaim God's intent (the Jews modestly felt inadequate for further direct Revelation); God will punish he who disobeys a prophet; death's decreed for one who simulates a Divine message (tho 99% correct--Rambam; Jesus?) or who speaks in the name of other gods.
When Israel will conquer all 7 Canaanite nations, 3 more Levitical cities of refuge (from the family avenger of manslaughter) are to be added (in Israel proper) to the 3 in Transjordan. In the Messianic era, when Jews will keep the entire Torah, they'll also conquer the Kenites, the K'nizites, and the Kadmonites; then they'll build 3 more cities of refuge (19:9, per Rambam, Rashi, & Ramban)--war and manslaughter still exist in the early Messianic Era! This is difficult, as the institution of family avenger has virtually disappeared, except for primative Beduin societies, etc. Do we expect to revive it? Intentional killers or even negligent killers, who are enemies of the victim, may not use these cities.
The Torah now returns to laws of the public domain. God's original tribal borders may not be altered. 2 witnesses are required for punishment; they can be refuted by 2 others, who don't attack the testimony itself, but testify that the former are not witnesses, as they were elsewhere (19:18-9). The witnesses themselves get the punishment they intended for the accused, but only if he was NOT YET punished! If he was, we assume he deserved it (!), as God wouldn't let him be condemned (Ps. 37:33) and wouldn't let His righteous court, with whom He sits in judgement (Ps. 1:17, 82:1, 2Ch. 19:6), spill innocent blood-- Ramban; but bad things do happen to good people!--R. Yanai says: "It's not in our hands (to explain) the tranquility of the wicked or the trials of the righteous--(Avot 4:19, cf. 4:2--but see 2:7; Guide 3:12,17,24)". R. Yaakov denies reward for mitzvos in this world; others disagree (Kid. 39b; but he too may acknowledge chastisement in this world). Ramban himself stresses these principles in "The Gate of Reward"; he posits that God's impending judgement on Rosh Hashana, "who shall live and who shall die", is only regarding certain deeds, whose recompense is in this world. One may be an absolute sinner in these realms, tho an absolute saint overall, vis-a-vis eternal life, or v.v.
Per Bachye b. Asher, the righteous undergo brief (up to 120 years!) bodily suffering downstairs, so that their better half, the soul, can enjoy eternal bliss upstairs (Kad Hakemach--Atonement). The Torah indeed prescribes a sacrifice for a Sanhedrin which errs (Lev. 13:4), tho the possibility of their killing the innocent isn't mentioned. Indeed, there were great, but totally evil, Torah scholars, e.g. Y'ravum b. Nevat and Achitofel; certainly others might be just a bit off (see Kid. 40a--cf. Bnei Brak and Mea Shearim today)! Shimon b. Shatach (above) purged a Sadducee Sanhedrin in his bad old days!
The priest for war exhorts the people not to fear far more powerful enemies-- WHEN God is with them. The officers exempt from service those who haven't yet lived in their new home, obtained the first crop of their vineyard, or married their legal fiancee. Those afraid (Sot. 44) or unable to kill (Ibn Ezra) may also leave, lest they demoralize others--cf. those who refuse to serve in predominantly Arab areas today. Peace is to be offered enemies (even the 7 nations--Rambam, Ramban), IF they accept the Jewish State and their Noachide laws, or leave. Only men are to be killed in war, except for the corrupted and corrupting 7 nations and Midian. As fruit trees may not be unnecessarily felled for war sieges, so all wanton destruction is forbidden. The whole nation is to be aroused by unsolved homocide (as manslaughter, a possible consequence of war), via ceremonial killing of a vital calf. War is no excuse for domestic violence.
E. FORCE NOT YOUR FAITH
"Whenever it's known that the people won't obey the judges, who can't compel them (by police), there's no obligation to appoint judges" (Ohr Hachayim, Psikta). Unenforceable judgements are worthless. Should we impose rabbinic courts on a secular population which mocks them? Imposing religion by law is counterproductive--it turns secularists into enemies of Torah (cf. Sabbath cinema protests, the anti-pork law), delaying their eventual return to Judaism (Rav J. Soloveichik); Jews can't sew, write, drive, etc. while sitting in a cinema on Shabbat! Americans, unlike many Israelis, like and learn from truly traditional Jews--who, thank God, have no power over them (Rav Soloveichik)! So Israeli Orthodox shouldn't "protest" religious violations in anger--only show the secular something finer. Mea Shearim girls should volunteer to bake cookies and sew parachutes at home for Tzahal; all Israelis should openly pray for the welfare of the state and army that defends them. Try not to doven in minyanim which don't do so, or which use modern prayer books (e.g. the brown Artscrolls), which lack such prayers--ask only for black (!) RCA Artscrolls Zionist siddurim, with Rav Saul Berman's modern Orthodox Zionist Overview.
Presently apathetic religious councils should present proper public Sabbath entertainment (e.g. Uri Zohar, Shlomo Carlebach). Observant Jews, from the chief rabbis on down, might make kiddush and give out wine and cake, while singing catchy Shabbat tunes, near Talpiyot's discos, and invite secular youth to Shabbat meals--a great project for emotionally inspiring Rebbetzin Jungreis; her ecstasy and religious enthusiasm can more than match their vulgar entertainers, tho it can be dangerous in political realms--she passionately argued against the peace plan, at The NCSY Israel Center (tape at TOP)--we needn't placate the Arabs for peace, says she, but just rely on God who saved us from the 39 Scuds (she stressed this magic number of Biblical lashes); but she somehow forgot about the 2500 men who died in the Yom Kippur war, the advances in weapons since, and God's links of the Promised Land to our being a truly holy people, which we've only begun to become. Meanwhile we must follow Yaakov's example--try to placate Esav, yet prepare to fight him, if necessary, and pray. Only one brave soul in the gung ho impassioned crowd questioned her emotional outpouring.
Rav Soloveichik (J., not A.) claimed that our political leaders, not even our rabbis, leave alone religious enthusiasts, are the experts and authorities in political decisions, as doctors in medical ones. One might rely on them to defend her body, on the Rebbetzin to enflame her heart, until Moshiach blends both realms. While Rav Aharon Soloveichik opposed persecution of Chabad Messianists, he did not endorse the dead Rebbe as a possible Moshiach; per his pupil, David Luchins, such paragraphs were crossed out before Rav A.S. signed his letter.
Angry frustrated Charedi youth are on the rampage again--another long hot summer; they have little other action in their lives, where even those least inclined to intellectual pursuits must sit over the talmud all day and not break even the slightest rule openly, if they want a good shiduch, apartment. furniture and, possibly, support for life. This Sunday, when I returned from Bnei Brak after midnight, the bus driver refused to enter Geula, due to the wild demonstrations. When I got to Kikar Shabat, it was again littered with stones and debris; I saw haredi zealots light a large fire in the middle of the square; besides their grave sin in destroying public property, e.g. burning garbage bins, they harm many innocent citizens, who just wish to peacefully travel to their destinations, without being blocked or stoned; they also demonstrated and threw stones on Tuesday night, per the JP. I. B. Singer wrote "Satan in Gory", how rampant evil could sweep a pious European shtetl; while Satan may flourish in pagan Shenkenian Tel Aviv and erotic Eilat, making potentially good Jews flaunt the Torah, his true capital of success is Mea Shearim, where he makes them even hate and despise it, delaying their eventual return. If the Badatz rabbis really gave a damn, they'd be down there to immediately and peacefully disperse the demonstrations, and save the good name of God and the Torah; one questions the sincerity of their public proclamations againmst violence, while simultaneously organizing mass demonmstrations, breaking the sabbath peace and causing police, firemen and newsmen to violate Shabbat; the rioters may get their real message.
F. RABBINIC AUTHORITY--NOW & THEN
"WHEN A MATTER OF JUDGEMENT IS BEYOND YOUR GRASP... YOU (the local court) WILL COME TO THE LEVITE PRIESTS OR TO THE JUDGE (the king--Ibn Ezra) OF THOSE DAYS... DO ACCORDING TO THE TORAH WHICH THEY INSTRUCT YOU... DON'T TURN ASIDE FROM THE WORD WHICH THEY TELL YOU RIGHT OR LEFT" (17:8-11)--follow the leading Torah scholars of the day, tho they tell you right's left and left's right (Rashi); cf. R.H. 25a. So Ramban claims the Sanhedrin embodies the Will of God and CANNOT err in their decision, tho their reasoning process may be suspect (but see 19:18-9 above). We need a final court of authority to preserve one Torah in Israel (should we unify diaspora customs in today's reunited Israel?).
Per R. Nissim and Sefer Hachinuch, however, the court CAN err--but its occasional errors resemble nature's defects in a generally perfect world; far greater errors are likely to occur when Jews rely on their own judgement! But Abarbanel, K'Tav V'Kabbala and Torah Tmimah cite Jer. Tal. Hor. 1:1--one may NOT follow Torah giants, UNLESS they say right's right and left's left! Per Sifre 154, you must obey the sages even WHEN IT APPEARS they call right left and v.v.; thus the Jer. Talmud may apply only when you conclude that they're wrong, after the most thorough investigation; otherwise, presume they're right, despite your contrary first impressions. Y. Nachshoni cites medieval views that mitzvot affect proper human physiological and psychological development; will God protect adherants of obviously wrong decisions from self-destruction?
Abarbanel: A court may CONSCIOUSLY DISTORT THE LAW, when its usual application will result in gross injustice, given its PURPOSE; then there must be some way to interpret a law as "left" instead of "right"--one justly entitled to money may not get it due to legal presumptions against him, e.g. that a debtor wouldn't pay a debt early, not true in his case. The rabbis will then ignore the legal presumption, calling left right, for truer justice (cf. equity vs. law). An appointee to the Sanhedrin must be able to give 150 reasons to pronounce pure something normally considered 100% impure (requiring such creativity, plus knowledge of major languages, might vastly improve today's chief rabbis and rabbinical judges--should all have to possess at east a high school diploma, or its equivalent, and military service?).
Nachalat Yaakov Yehoshua: only those deeply steeped in Torah AND AWE OF GOD can understand God's overall purposes; the Jer. Talmud means that you may only accept RIGHT IS LEFT from a court who OTHERWISE always tells you RIGHT IS RIGHT; it doesn't condone contemporary religious innovators, tho learned, who simply want to subvert the Torah to modern fads (cf. C. above). True believers in Divine Revelation indeed preserve its own eternal verities by their abnormal rulings in rare special cases; thus a Torah teacher has to be approved by a predecessor in the chain of tradition. So the Torah assures the Jew that he'll retain mercy EVEN WHEN he must act most harshly (13:18); if the most merciful of peoples has to treat those who would destroy Israel with harshness, their out-of-role harshness is probably justified; it preserves Israel, which shall teach mercy to all of mankind (cf. fighting Hitler and Hamas).
Per Talmudic Kli Yakar, there are at least 2 ways of looking at almost every issue; a "decision" is a somewhat arbitrary selection of the more popular view (cf. Shulchan Aruch and today's choice of several possible sabbatical years). However, there's also holiness to the minority view; it can be applied where the usual law counters our overall purposes. The Rav of Corfu applied Y. Emden's suggestion to revive concubinage today to a difficult case--a man who returned to Judaism couldn't legally REMARRY, only live with, his former spouse, under local gentile law, and couldn't marry anyone else. Medieval scholars questioned their own legal authority, as the Talmud was the last work accepted by the WHOLE Jewish people (R. Aharon Lichtenstein; cf. Ashkenazic and Sephardic Shulchan Aruchs).
Per Ramban, the Torah's order to appoint judges is inapplicable TODAY! Judges must be traditionally ordained rabbis (Git. 88b); they can become so, even per Rambam, only in Israel, and only if ALL Israeli scholars agree (a messianic possibility!). They may rule upon capital cases only when priests serve in the Temple and the Sanhedrin sits in Jerusalem (San. 52b, 87a, Deut. 17:19). When ordained judges are available, one may not turn to lay or Canaanite courts, tho the parties may AGREE to lay adjudication of a dispute (Ramban, Ex. 21:1). Rav Y. Berav reinstituted traditional ordination and tried to set up a Sanhedrin in S'fat, after the expulsion from Spain; tho 25 local rabbis agreed, Yerushalmi Rav L. Ben Chaviv stopped them. Rav Yosef Karo, one of 4 rabbis meanwhile ordained, may have intended his Shulchan Aruch to be a de facto sanhedrin or bet din, composed of the views of 3 great late rabbis--Rif, Rosh and Rambam; it unified Sephardic Jewry after the Expulsion and enabled them to be leaders in world trade (until Napoleon) due to their shared commercial code (Independent open Syrian Rav Dr. Jose Faur; Curaco Sephardim had 6000 ships).
Some (e.g. Maharal and his brother Hayyim) decriedthe Shulchan Aruch and its arbitrary choice of 2 of the 3 of many possible sources consulted. Marshal opposed all legal codes--their commentaries invariably destroyed their attempts at unity. The Levush tried to combine Shulchan Aruch and Bet Yosef.60% of Shulchan Aruch has, in fact, been modified by progressive commentary (H. J. Chajes). Some claimed Karo's pupils wrote the work from his notes; otherwise havoc would ensue. Perhaps Karo wanted it used only to recall their thorough study of Tur and Bet Yosef (see Smah, Introd. to Choshen Mishpat, Dvar Shmuel 255). Some feel Karo wrote it to save time for his Kabbalistic cohorts, who fled from halacha to mysticism after the Expulsion-- S. Alkebetz, author of Lcha Dodi, was his student. Karo claimed to be taught by a divine messenger (Magid Mesharim; see Joseph Karo--Lawyer and Mystic, Werblovsky, and listen to engrossing Rav-Historian-Raconteur Berel Wein's great tapes on modern Jewish history--his last lecture this season is Tuesday 8:30 PM at Bet Knesset Hanasi, 24 Usshishkin).
Today rabbinical courts lack true halachic status, only existing to maintain social order; their authority is only re common occurrences, as non-Jewish Noachide courts. Besides thorough knowledge of Torah, a candidate for ordination must possess mental health and integrity, love truth and despise baseness; pious scholars are not good if they're good only to Heaven, not to Man (Is. 3:10, Kid. 40a; so one wicked to Heaven, but not to Man, is not truly evil--ibid; see Sefer Hachinuch 491--cf. today's leaders). When a creature of habit, clinging to the opinions of his youth, Man becomes a Babbitt, avoiding the search for truth (Guide 1:31)--cf. Rambam's earlier M. T. with his Guide. Rambam claims those sick or starved in body can't think straight (M.T. Daot)--should we then doubt the validity of the Guide, written in his troubled ill old age? (Hirsch and Ramban did).
Smicha, ordination, today, is only professional certification of one's legal expertise and piety; very great scholars don't need it, and often didn't have it. The only significant and necessary ordination today is permission of one's main teacher to teach (Rav J. Soloveichik, who urged me to do so). Even a "chief or grand rabbi" should be followed only if you're impressed by his wisdom, soul, and erudition. God doesn't order you to follow any particular rabbi. Smicha study today focuses upon Chulin, laws of kashrut. Housewives frequently brought questionably kosher chickens to the rov; today's "rabbi" must primarily be an inspiring teacher, who can convey the undistorted Torah in contemporary terminology and thought patterns; he can consult ritual experts when necessary.
Rambam's favorite Sage (see his Introduction to the Mishna), R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus, was excommunicated for insisting upon his God-sanctioned minority opinion. God gives over His formal legal system to the well-reasoned judgement of the majority of scholars. Was he, R. Akiva's teacher, right in rejecting this principle? God does NOT similarly give over His role in history; in such issues, a sensitive minority can be "right" in its action, e.g. Yosef and religious Zionists (Rav J. Soloveichik--THE RAV SPEAKS).
Rav Yehuda Henkin of Otzar Haposkim asks if we must follow everything rabbis say today too. He concludes: "Technically, the Torah (17:8-11) refers to the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Council, not found on the Temple Mount for 1900 years. NO RABBI OR GROUP OF RABBIS TODAY HAS THIS AUTHORITY. A Torah authority needn't defer to a majority ruling today... In fact, there's no formal procedure to determine who's a valid authority" (YF: Chazan Ish also stated this--cf. The Council of Torah Sages, de facto Sanhedrin of Agudat Yisroel. Assuming the greatness of a rebbe or rosh yeshiva, without critical analysis of his teachings, recalls the tale of the emperor's new clothes. Undefinable "Das torah", "Divine Insight", often masks lack of logic and secular savvy in pietistic scholars, per Rav Soloveichik). Henkin posits, however, a general consensus as to great scholars of the age. But if even one authority supports one's own views on ritual, politics, or community affairs, he needn't bow to others; but if there's NO such support, your views are probably invalid (cf. 2 witnesses).
YF: Rav Riskin has been often attacked for his unique standpoints, often based on Rav Soloveichik's teaching, and Rav Steinsaltz for his broad approach, often reflecting that of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Should one support Yeshivas, Synagogues, and bookstores who ban or remove Rav Steinsaltz's Talmud?
YH: Nowadays, we even find public figures and journalists, nonobservant ignoramuses in Jewish Law, proclaiming incessantly what is "true" religion, "honest piety", and "real" idol worship. YF: Micha, however, says: HE HAS TOLD YOU, MAN, WHAT IS GOOD, AND WHAT GOD DEMANDS FROM YOU--ONLY TO DO JUSTICE AND LOVING KINDNESS AND WALK MODESTLY WITH YOUR LORD (5:8); an ignorant commoner may have a more basic sense of religion than a great cleric--so say the Besht and Rav Yaakov Yosef; one may sense rancor in the statements of an allegedly great rabbi, turning Jews off. Other rabbis may be be afraid of speaking up, supporting him out of a misplaced desire for unity, and from loyalty to "the old bochurim's club".
Israeli municipal chief rabbis are partially chosen by secular politicians, not by any popular consensus; their inspirational qualities are often ignored; indeed secular electors may not want anyone who will challenge their world outlook. They may prefer a rabbi who runs rituals strictly, but leaves them alone otherwise! Ritual technical expertise must not be confused with spiritual leadership; they require different traits, especially in a predominantly non-observant society--cf. the Peter Principle. 2 municipal chief rabbis are needed--one of Ritual and Law, e.g. kosher supervision; the other of Religious Information, for public events, outreach, and press statements; a worldly tolerant outgoing rabbi could have great positive impact and respect in such a position. One might bring one's questionably kosher chicken to a great, but angry and narrow, Talmudic scholar, but not one's soul--there Shlomo z"l or the Bostoner Rebbe's far more understanding (cf. Moshe and Aharon, somehow combined in Samuel). Fortunately, some chief rabbis do possess inate greatness and breadth, e.g. Rav Lau, Rav Riskin and Rav Grossman.
LEADING LITVAKS had a paradoxical upbringing--on the one hand, they were to emulate, follow and revere their aristocracy, saintly and brilliant rabbinic leaders, past and present, from the Vilna Gaon and R. Chayim Volozohner to the Chofetz Chaim and Rav Chayim Ozer; they had to rigidly adhere to a narrow self-righteous elitist religious tradition and culture; on the other hand, at least for the males, that very tradition urged them to use every second to develop their questioning capacity, curiosity and critical ability to its maximum potential, via talmudic studies. They were very serious, even "heavy" (like non-Jewish Lithuanians), highly ethical and quietly and deeply pious folks, little given to song, dance, whisky or whiskey and whimsy or whimsey. Over the last century, their traditional beliefs and lifestyle were confronted by the modern world, with all its ramifications, and by the holocaust, as the world's most secularly educated, yet savage, nation, Germany, brutally destroyed their helpless families and civilization.
Scions of the great Misnagdic tradition responded differently to these challenge. Many simply abandoned tradition for modernity, or made modernity their main focus, many in South Africa. Litvishe grandeur and destruction, decay and conflict are magnificently portrayed by my favorite novelist, Chaim Grade--I once asked Rav JBS if he'd read Grade's magnum opus, The Yeshiva (Tzemach Atlas), about the Musar and non-Musar Lithuanian Yeshiva worlds. He had. I asked if he liked it? "Like", he replied, "is not the right word-- it's true!". When Grade attended the Rov's shiur, he told the Rov how hard it was for him to do so, after Hitler; the Rov told Grade how much love and hope Grade's teacher, the Chazon Ish, hero of The Yeshiva, still had for him, despite his abandoning Torah (see With-it Rav J. Telushkin's dramatization of Grade's short story, The Quarrel).
But some leading Litvaks (e.g. Rav Shach & Co.) were more determined than ever to perpetuate their fathers' world, just as it was 100 years ago, and to even gain new adherents for it, despite it's many problematic beliefs and practices. Rav Dr. Dovid Fox portrays the dedicated life mission of Rav Simcha Wasserman and his devoted Rebbetzin Feige to carry on their martyred parents' faith (Greatness In Our Midst, $17 from TOP). Tho childless, they were de facto parents to hundreds of young Jews; they established new, but strictly traditional, Misnagdic Mussar Torah centers in France, USA, South America and Israel--Fox ignores, however, the tragic anti-Zionist stance of Reb Simcha's father, Rav Elchanan Wasserman (Rav Soloveichik, in The Rav Speaks, claims Reb Elchanan, like Yosef's brothers, would have simply admitted his error, had he survived the Shoah), and avoids deep analysis of how Rav Simcha was forced to depart from his father's opposition to secular education in the free New World.
A personal note--when I left secular Reading, Pa. and attended a Lithuanian Mussar Yeshiva (Chofetz Chayim in Williamsburg and Forest Hills, based on Slobodka), at 16 (back in the dark ages!), David Jaffee took me home with him to Detroit for my first truly traditional Pesach. We had our seder at Rav Wasserman's home, where all naturally and comfortably spoke Yiddish. But the Rosh Yeshiva insisted on explaining almost the whole seder in English, so I'd follow too. I can appreciate the love, kindness, wisdom and dedication of such folks, also found in other faiths and cultures, tho I reject many of their beliefs, and much of their lifestyle.
Other leading Litvaks, e.g. Saul Lieberman's rebbe, Louis Ginzberg and other founders of the Conservative Movement (which has no nusach sfard hassidic siddur), eagerly embraced modern life and scholarship, even the destructive and foolish "Higher" criticism (H.U.C. didn't hire Ginzburg, due both to this heresy and to fears that he'd introduce Orthoprax!); yet, tho they studied and taught Torah, their profession, day and night, they made no pretense of being also saints, like their ancestors. Ginzburg was a brilliant descendant of the Vilna Gaon's family, a genius who studied in Telsh, Slobodka and Volozhin, before getting his secular education in Germany. In Keeper of The Law, his son Eli's fascinating personal memoir of his warm, charming and revered father, we see how such Jews failed to perpetuate the spirit and commitment of their forefathers, despite their own great scholarship, which earned them fame, acclaim and professional success. None of their children, unlike Rav Simcha, continued their Jewish pursuits, tho founding fine families and achieving professional success; Ginzburg developed shingles and other ailments, shortly after receiving a poison pen letter, villifying him as a traitor to God, the Torah and his ancestors, urging him to repent.
A fourth, and I think the best, leading Litvak approach, consistent with Misnagdic independence of thought, was that of Rav Moshe Soloveichik--to fully enter the modern world and benefit from it, unlike his father, Rav Chayim, while retaining complete faith in Torah and dedication to its spirit and practice; his son Yosef Dov further developed this approach, leading many bnei Torah into the modern world and many modern Jews back to the world of Torah-- cf. the Netziv and his son, Rav Meir Bar Ilan (of University fame). Rav Soloveichik's children and grandchildren continue in his path, leaders of the worldly Jewish faithful, while his countless pupils spread his message to the whole world. May his family bring him and the world merit by spreading his writings and tapes far and wide, as is being done for the wonderful hassidic teachings of Shlomo Carlebach.
G. CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
Our passages contain many emphatic death penalties; yet the Torah reports only 2 executions, specially commanded by God--those of the gatherer of sticks on Shabbat and the blasphemer; both were open rebels against, and amidst, God's recent Revelation. A Sanhedrin which executed one man in 7 years (7O per R. Eleazer b. Azaria) is called "destructive" (Mak. 1:10). R. Tarfon and R. Akiva claim that they would have executed no one! But R. Shimon b. Gamliel counter-claims that they would have unleashed a flood of murders (he's not worried about ritual crimes). This discussion takes place 150 years after the Sanhedrin ceased functioning; the Jewish right to inflict capital punishment was taken away by Rome in 31 C.E. (San. 41a). Per San. 71a, some Torah punishments were only didactic, NEVER to be carried out. However, even extra- legal punishments are OK in an emergency situation (San. 46a; see Schreiber, Jewish Law and Decision Making). Our source of law and guide to action isn't the Bible, but God's far more extensive parallel oral law, embodied in the Talmud; there we find so many criteria and qualifications for capital punishment, that any erudite judge could render it a nullity.
Per the Zohar (a holy book, like Rambam's Guide, written down in 1278), the written Torah is the threatening punishing father, the oral law the soothing rescuing mother. Father puts a good scare into Sonny, but mother saves him from Daddy's feigned wrath!--the Torah warns of the extreme seriousness of a crime, knowing that its penalties will rarely be carried out, due to the Oral Law. 2 truths clash--1) how can man ultimately judge another and take his life? Can't a sinner be redeemed? 2) we need strong deterrents to prevent the tip of the iceberg of civilization from sinking into the sea of primal drives-- "Pray for the welfare of the government; if people didn't fear it, a person would swallow up even his neighbor alive" (Avot 3:2; Sefer Hachinuch 491). Modern Israel has no capital punishment, except for genocide and treason; many would include terrorists who act to destroy the Jewish state; murderous terrorists now just sit in jail, awaiting the next prisoner exchange, or, even worse, are sprung after brief stays in Palestinean jails.
H. THE HAFTARA, ISAIAH 51:12-52:12
God's finally ready to DIRECTLY comfort the Jews, to reveal Himself in human history, after sending others (e.g. the USA) to comfort them; Zion's revivial and influence, already obtained on a natural level, will be vastly expanded. A precondition, however, is a concentrated Israeli effort to see God beyond the facades of nature and civilization. The Holy Land will link heaven and earth, spiritualize the material, thru the Jewish people. Other nations reviled the Jews; they even saw God on their side, as they treated them with degradation (e.g. the Crusaders, Luther and the Polish Church--see The Twins, Firer). God rejects these hypocrites; He awaits the day when Israel won't appear ancient and worn, but will renew itself with youth and vitality. Zion will really rejoice, when it sees all nations have adopted its message of peace and salvation, via the God of Israel. Then Israel will be purged of those who keep mitzvos, but are dishonest or hostile with non-Jews or Jews. Life will no longer be a frenzied pursuit of alleged satisfactions, which yield nothing once achieved; nor will it be flight from imagined or real danger--FOR NOT WITH HASTE SHALL YOU GO OUT, NOR TRAVEL IN FLIGHT, FOR GOD MARCHES BEFORE YOU AND THE LORD OF ISRAEL IS YOUR REARGUARD (12; all per M. Hirsch).
Secular law enables society to function; Jewish law does much more. As Divine order governs every detail of the universe, so Tzedek, justice, determines ideal human behavior. A tzadik may initiate proceedings to see if his $ really belongs to another! So Moshe wanted to personally pursue justice, to judge "hard" cases; pragmatic Yisro wanted him to deal only with "big" ones. Immersion in the law to plan and to settle disputes will eventually bring the folk to a higher understanding of it as their guide to God's will. Israel shall then bring the Divine order, "eternal life", to all (Rav Y. Stollman).
J. AND TO ALL A MERRY MAZAL TOV--'TIS THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY
After 3 weeks of mourning, the end of the summer is a time for holy rejoicing, especially weddings. Our joy is even much greater when brides and grooms, bnei and bnos mitzva, are deeply immersed in both Torah and the world, trying to merge and perfect both, to return both mankind and nature to Eden, from Zion. So a really hearty heart-felt mazal tov to Mr. & Mrs. Morris Anton and Mr. & Mrs. Eliezer Eisikovits, and to their families upon their weddings, and to Yehuda Rachamim Or Zaruah Witt, and his family, upon his Bar Mitzva--a living testimonial to Shlomo Carlebach's great eternal impact. As our simchas are to be but a beginning to even greater growth and joy, we also extend a mazal tov to Elisha Kuchar, and his parents Jill and Menachem, upon the first anniversary of his Bar Mitzva. May he blend the holy zeal of Elisha's teacher, Eliyahu, with the patience of Elisha to slowly struggle forward, yidel by yidel, in a still so imperfect world, still so far from God and Torah--"a little here and a little there".
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