Magnifying The Mitzvos, Part 2
The point of my original letter (October 12 issue of the 5TJT) was that our leadership is silent in the face of many developing practices not in line with our mesorah. They must lead by directing us away from practices that are foreign to Torah while reinforcing adherence to our beautiful halachic system.
I cited a couple of examples that are quite troubling: I questioned what the message your paper was trying to send by featuring a Rebbe engaged in using a magnifying glass to inspect an esrog, which I thoroughly proved is a completely unnecessary activity according to our halachic authorities. I contrasted this with the widely ignored Torah-level obligation of sleeping in the sukkah, a mitzvah not enacted by rabbinic authority but rather d’oreisa in nature, which is being ignored by almost all of Chassidic Jews and the majority of other Orthodox Jews. I also mentioned other practices, which were entirely ignored in the editors’ response.
Although the Torah embraces technology and science, almost all of our poskim concur that our halachic system does not recognize microscopic items, for all the reasons mentioned last week. However, you speculated the Rebbe had seen some dirt on his esrog and this picture was taken right after he saw the dirt which couldn’t be wiped off with the use of his own hands. I am glad to read that you think this is the only justification, as far-fetched as it may be, for using a loupe to inspect an esrog, and I hope that was in fact the case. Unfortunately, I have seen enough of these pictures and have been exposed to many people within our community who believe that using the aid of magnifying lenses to inspect everything from water to various vegetables is necessary, and publishing that picture certainly gives that erroneous impression. I think we should leave this one to your erudite readers who can each make their own call on this one.
As a side note, I find it ironic that although we seem to go out of our way to find lone positions on the use of magnifying lenses, you don’t acknowledge these same rebbes actively discourage the study of science and use of technology in the area of delving into the chochmah of the universe and improving our knowledge of G‑d through the briyah.
Regarding your critique of the mitzvah d’oreisa of sleeping in the sukkah, the editors are entitled to their opinions, though not their own facts! Let me remind the readers that my letter was written, sent, and published for the Five Towns community and its surrounding areas. The weather throughout the entire chag was between 71 and 77 Fahrenheit; next year will likely be even warmer due to the earlier date. I was completely perplexed on what relevance the historical accounting of the positions you cite who created a heter in regard to colder climates. Many of the Rishonim and later sages (Tosafot and Rashi, to mention just two) were located in countries where it was not hot and actually much colder than what we experience here and yet don’t mention this heter.
It is true that the Rema mentions the cold as one possible reason why people in his area did not sleep in the sukkah, but this is not the case here. Furthermore, the Rama said that the scrupulous in mitzvos slept in the sukkah, implying he considered that the correct practice! You invoke the principle of possible death and “v’chai bahem” in regard to sleeping in the sukkah. All our chachamim were rationalists, but not a single one of them would have thought that the facts about getting a cold would have any relevance! I refuse to believe that an authentic carrier of our mesorah would invoke a heter which has no relevance. You cannot dismiss all of the Torah-observant Jews who are sleeping in their sukkos as the “younger generations who insist upon chumrah after chumrah even when it entails danger.” Your statements are people’s own rationalizations, not rational thought. This whole exchange proves my point about the loss of our focus and values.
In your response, you wrote that maybe we should try to learn something from this rebbe’s action. I can’t possibly think you are suggesting the lesson we should learn is that we all buy magnifying glasses next year while continuing to ignore a mitzvah d’oreisa? Instead of discussing the essence of the mitzvah of Sukkos, we are debating minuscule bugs/items. Science has proven that we inhale bugs every time we breathe. I can’t wait for the declaration that we will need to wear masks soon.
The central theme of Sukkos is that we are not supposed to feel as comfortable as we would in our homes. Anyone listening to the robo-calls sent out by our mayor and the wholesale evacuation orders from the storm last year can recognize that our security in the physical is often distorted. The mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah should engender in man the simchah yeseirah—the additional joy associated with the chag of Sukkos. We are commanded to leave the security of our homes and use the sukkah as our home for the entire holiday. The Torah wants man to realize that the security afforded by his home and his physical possessions are tenuous. It gives man a false sense of security and encourages man to value material possessions, which become man’s source of security and the driving force in his life.
The Torah wants man to understand that this is a false system, and any security it offers is illusory at best. Man should recognize his only source of security is his relationship with his creator. This relationship is based upon man living a moral and just existence in accordance with the principles of the Torah. When man leaves his house and enters the sukkah as his home for the chag, he starts to recognize the frailty of the human condition and the transitory nature of our physical existence. He begins to appreciate the mitzvos of the Torah and recognizes that the only security that is real is based upon his relationship with his Creator.
I hope that our rabbis, as well every member of our community, have the courage to go against the current trend which has us seek spiritual security on superficial activities that are foreign to halachah and our mesorah. As an example, board members and rabbis should restore the practice of including the pictures of the deserving wives who receive honors at our beloved institutions. We know full well that these fine women are in many cases more deserving of the honor than their spouse, as they devote much of their time and effort towards their respective institutions.
Additionally, I hope our rabbis speak up privately and publicly against the wearing of these silly red bendels which are identified as “darchei emori” in the Tosefta Shabbos (seventh perek). Also, I hope they inform our women that the placing of keys in challahs should likewise be stopped and substituted by tefillah to our Creator.
Finally, I would like to point out that our responsibility is not just limited to our community but also to influence the world as a whole so that we can honestly fulfill the pasuk and the will of G‑d and be a true light unto the nations as the Torah says in V’Eschanan: “Observe therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples that, when they hear all these statutes, shall say: ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’”
Where’s Your Number?
I was driving down one of the main streets in Far Rockaway last night in the dark, looking for a particular house number, and there was not one single house number that was visible from the street. I had to pull over three times, get out of my car, and walk up to the houses to see the numbers. I just wanted to alert the public to the potential danger that this can cause in the case of an emergency. It’s unfortunate that an emergency responder should have to waste their time with this.
Westhampton Beach Kashrus Alert
On Thursday, October 4, the proprietor of the Beach Bakery Cafe at 112 Main Street in Westhampton Beach obtained approvals from the Village Board of Westhampton Beach to begin his renovation and expansion project. For many months now, the proprietor has made it clear that his new establishment will be non-kosher.
Since an ongoing commitment by an establishment to kashrus observance is essential for the integrity of our certifying it, and consistent with our duty and obligations to the Jewish community of Westhampton Beach, and the Jewish community at large, as of Wednesday morning, October 17, 2012, the Beach Bakery Cafe will no longer be under the kosher supervision of The Hampton Synagogue.
We are pleased to inform you that in light of this development, several well-known kosher establishments have now expressed their desire to open in the village. Our commitment is to have a new kosher establishment in place by spring 2013.
Rabbi Marc Schneier,
Morris Tuchman, President
You May Now Be Seated
I read with interest Hannah Reich Berman’s recent complaint about having to stand up too much during davening on Yom Kippur (“Wishful Thoughts,” October 12).
I would like to inform her and others out there that actually, according to basic halachah, they needn’t stand so much. Some believe that one must stand whenever the aron kodesh is opened. However, that is not so, if it is in a different reshus (domain), as is the case in many shuls where it is elevated and separate from the main shul floor. Also, standing for Kaddish is not obligatory according to all authorities, under all conditions. Ditto with standing during the Torah reading. Of course, if someone has problems standing due to their health, there is additional leeway given to them.
A competent Orthodox rabbi should be able to guide people regarding the above, as well as regarding the requirement of guarding one’s health, and not unduly making Yom Kippur services more strenuous than necessary. Our Torah is a Torah of life, and the Jewish laws are not meant to torture weak, fasting people in such a way.
Safeguarding Our Freedom
We live in such an amazing Medinah shel Chesed. Our country was founded upon the G‑d-given rights to every human being of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Indeed, the United States has enabled the Jewish people to thrive in an environment of genuine pluralistic freedom. We are blessed with the privilege to daven and praise the Ribbono shel Olam without fear of retribution or persecution. We have an abundance of Jewish Day Schools without intrusion as to the curriculum, the teachers, or the safety of our precious children. Our communities are rife with freedoms given to us by this great nation to practice our religion as free men and women—free meaning exactly as we see fit. And that is true liberty and I am forever grateful to this nation for providing it to me and to all of us.
But what were to happen if one day it would not be so? Can we imagine our lives absent this freedom? Dare we think if we are prepared to remain steadfast in our beliefs when it is not served to us on a silver platter? Fear not, I am not foretelling doomsday nor am I prepared to sound the alarm of pending shmad. But one thing is for certain: something has changed.
Slowly, throughout the past few decades, the relationship between government and citizen has strayed from the original construct. We must remember that our government is only empowered by the consent of the governed—a critical level of authority and power that we citizens simply neglect all too frequently. This means in no uncertain terms that the government is specifically created to legislate the civil society, to secure our borders and citizens, and to maintain a just legal system of fair and equal application of the law. The ever-expanding reach of government causes me much consternation and I believe we as a Jewish people should be particularly sensitive to this. Indeed, is there any aspect of our lives that the government’s bureaucratic tentacles do not touch?
It is no secret by now that the Bloomberg administration has issued a new mandate requiring all mohalim to present parents choosing to have Metzitzah B’Peh (MBP) performed on their sons during b’ris milah to sign an “informed consent” form. The stated purpose of the requirement is to ensure that parents are made aware of the “risks” associated with MBP. The secular society has lauded New York City’s “bold” move to curb this practice, and many other cities are considering similar measures.
To make one point very clear, I am not engaging in a debate of the merits of MBP regarding whether it should still be done or not. That is a halachic discussion that needs to be had amongst our gedolei Torah (a majority of whom have apparently paskened that it should continue). If a family, under the guidance of their personal competent halachic authority, has decided to abstain then that would be fine, in my simple opinion. What I take as a direct threat to our religious liberty is our government’s insistence on regulating b’ris milah.
But why should we be so alarmed by the government requiring parents to sign an informed-consent form? Because while this may seem relatively benign, there is no doubt that it will serve as a platform to further regulate b’ris milah or perhaps endanger the mitzvah altogether—at least legally, that is. Is this doctrine not far from the government saying, “B’ris milah really isn’t safe being done in the field by anyone other than a physician. From now on, all b’ris milah must be done in a hospital by a licensed physician.” Or perhaps—as Germany has already done—making b’ris milah illegal all together.
This is a frightful thought, and it is incumbent on each of us to do all we can to repeal this mandate. We need to make sure that every elected official will understand that we reject this mandate and that we require officials representing us to take action or risk alienating our future votes.
This fits into a grander, broader realization that our Torah, our customs, our families, and our children are under attack. Not under physical harm but rather the constant influx of moralities and dogmas entirely foreign to us. We need to remain steadfast to our minhagim, our dress, our language, our mitzvos, and our Torah.
I encourage everyone reading this, wherever you live, to pick up the phone and call your elected officials, at all levels of government, and inform them of your concern and respectfully request they stand by us.