Letters to the Editor

The Pitfalls of Wealth
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman’s piece (“How To Handle the Financial Crisis: A Trans-Century Phone Call”) in the spring 2009 issue of Jewish Action was a delight. Invoking the wisdom of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto as it applies to our contemporary financial crisis is a most instructive insight. Nevertheless, one must remind the reader that Rabbi Luzzatto remained more than financially comfortable in his brief lifetime. He was born into a prominent and affluent family in Padua, then under Venetian rule. He later married into the Finzi family, one of Italian Jewry’s wealthiest families at that time. Hence, both in Venice and later in Amsterdam, Rabbi Luzzatto undoubtedly had few monetary problems to contend with!

Gary Frank
La Jolla, California

Rabbi Feldman Responds
Mr. Frank’s information about the background of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto is valuable, and only lends greater force to the message Rabbi Luzzatto sends about the pitfalls of wealth and luxurious living. When a poor man issues such a warning, it could be taken with a grain of salt. After all, what does a poor man know about wealthy living? But when a wealthy man sends us this message, it carries an even greater impact.

Amen or No Amen? A Halachic Dispute
In the spring 2009 issue of Jewish Action, Rabbi Ari Zivotofsky undertakes an analysis of the laws regarding responding “Amen” to the berachah of “Ga’al Yisrael” in Shacharit (“What’s the Truth about . . . Ga’al Yisrael?”). Rabbi Zivotofsky correctly notes that there is complete agreement that members of the congregation do not recite Amen if they are still in the middle of Ga’al Yisrael, or if they have already begun Shemoneh Esrei. However, the rest of his analysis remains incomplete.

Rabbi Zivotofsky states that Rema opines the following:

a. If a congregant has completed the berachah of Ga’al Yisrael before the chazzan, then he recites Amen to the chazzan’s berachah;

b. If this congregant completes his berachah simultaneously with the chazzan, then he does not recite Amen.

Closer inspection of Rema’s statements reveals, however, that he disagrees with both assertions. Regarding the former, Rabbi Zivotofsky already noted earlier in his analysis that completing Ga’al Yisrael and then waiting—for any reason—constitutes a violation of the principle of juxtaposing the redemption with the Shemoneh Esrei. Surely Rema would not counsel us to wait for the chazzan to finish at the expense of juxtaposing prayer with the redemption! Rema states in OC 66:7 that the congregation responds Amen to Ga’al Yisrael—but he does not indicate that this is the case when one must wait, and thereby cause an interruption, in order to respond Amen.

Rema also disagrees with Rabbi Zivotofsky’s second point, namely, that Amen should not be recited if congregant and chazzan finish the berachah simultaneously. According to Rema, if one completes the berachah together with the chazzan, he must answer Amen. Which other case could Rema have been referring to in 66:7 when he states that the congregation recites Amen? He could not have been referring to the three most common cases (if one is still reciting the berachah, if he has begun Shemoneh Esrei or if he had finished the berachah before the chazzan) for various reasons. He could only have been referring to the case where chazzan and congregant finish the berachah simultaneously.

Rema rules that members of the congregation can answer Amen even to their own berachot. Though this is true in theory, he states (OC 66:7): “Some say that we answer Amen to [our own blessing of] Ga’al Yisrael, and our practice is thus to say Amen only when it follows the chazzan’s berachah.” Rema means that one should reply Amen to the berachah of the chazzan only in the case where one ends simultaneously with him—Amen, in this situation, is encouraged because it achieves two things: it is a response to one’s own berachah and a response to the berachah of the chazzan.

What is the basis of this ruling? Magen Avraham notes a general principle: the Ashkenazi custom is for individuals to answer Amen to their own berachot that constitute the final berachah of a series only when they finish that berachah together with the chazzan, not when they finish alone. Thus, Rema to 66:7 essentially restates Magen Avraham’s general principle: Amen is recited in response to the individual’s berachah when that individual finishes Ga’al Yisrael together with the chazzan, but not when the individual finishes before the chazzan.

However, when dealing with this specific case of Ga’al Yisrael, Magen Avraham neglects to apply the general principle he himself had formulated. Thus, Rabbi Zivotofsky is correct that Magen Avraham (to 66:7) argues (as does the Mishnah Berurah) that Amen should not be recited when the individual finishes Ga’al Yisrael together with the chazzan, but Levushei S’rad (loc. cit.) correctly notes that that position is contrary to that of Rema and to the earlier Ashkenazi pesak. Rabbi Zivotofsky himself references the positions of Levushei S’rad and the Vilna Gaon, who argue that Magen Avraham has misrepresented the position of Rema, but yet he continues to adopt this misunderstanding of Rema throughout the presentation.

Yes, the Mishnah Berurah does rule that by completing Ga’al Yisrael with the chazzan the congregation avoids the need to respond Amen, but it is clear that Rema was of the opinion that completing Ga’al Yisrael with the chazzan requires the congregation to respond Amen.

Yaakov Jaffe
Rabbi, Maimonides Minyan
Coordinator of Halacha, Maimonides School
Brookline, Massachusetts

Rabbi Zivotofsky Responds
I thank Rabbi Jaffe for taking the time to carefully read my article abot Ga’al Yisrael. Rabbi Jaffe takes issue with two points. I shall address each separately.

I stated that Rema rules that if one completes Ga’al Yisrael before the chazzan, then he should respond Amen to the chazzan’s berachah. Rabbi Jaffe contends that Rema does not say this and that when Rema twice (OC 66:7; OC 111:1) rules that one should respond Amen to the berachah of Ga’al Yisrael he is referring to the case when one concludes simultaneously with the chazzan. Nowhere does Rema imply that this ruling applies only to this atypical case. It would be strange for Rema to limit this ruling to this instance without stating so clearly. Furthermore, no commentator that I have found restricts Rema’s ruling to this situation. And those who suggest that one should complete the berachah simultaneously with the chazzan in order to avoid reciting Amen never cite this “explicit” Rema as a contradiction to their proposal. It seems obvious to me that Rema’s ruling applies to one who finished before the chazzan—that seems to be what Rema implies in Darchei Moshe (66:4), and that is how it is explicitly understood by Rabbi David Yosef (Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef’s son; see Halachah Berurah, vol. 4 [5763], p. 420).

Secondly, Rabbi Jaffe is perturbed by my claim that according to Rema, Amen is not recited if a congregant and the chazzan finish simultaneously. Rabbi Jaffe is correct in stating that the Levushei S’rad and others understand Rema as he does. And indeed, I did not hide that fact and quoted those positions in my article. But I explained Rema’s statement the same way as Magen Avraham and the Mishnah Berurah do. In this instance, Rabbi Jaffe is entitled to disagree, but he is not entitled to dismiss my reading of the Rema.

The Solution to Our Crisis
The article by Rabbi Asher Meir, “The Economic Crisis and the Crisis of Character” (spring 2009), while quite erudite, misses an important point. Yes, it is true that had more people adhered to the words of our prophets and Chazal much of our financial mess may have been averted. The question is, Why are we, Orthodox Jews included, not adhering in many instances to these eternal admonitions?

We have seen awful scandals—from the Bernard Madoff affair to the Rubashkin accusations—that are distinctly Jewish, to our regret. While Madoff is not an Orthodox Jew, the environment in which he operated was notably traditional and some of his business associates were Orthodox Jews.

Moreover, to quote the saintly nineteenth-century founder of the Musar Movement, known as Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, “If a woman in Paris intermarries, it is because a yeshivah bachur in Vilna was not learning with proper diligence.” The idea is that, ultimately, the Torah community sets the tone for all of Jewry.

It seems to me the study of business ethics is sorely lacking in our yeshivah and day school syllabus. A yeshivah student may spend years devoted to studying the tractate of Bava Kama or Bava Metzia and yet not be aware of its practical implications. How much time is spent in yeshivahs studying the applied halachot of fiscal propriety found in Choshen Mishpat? The answer is almost zero.

It is also no secret that there is a high tolerance for cheating on exams in our yeshivahs. Many students and even administrators rationalize this by saying it’s “only English” and not Torah studies. Rabbi Elya Svei, the rosh yeshivah of the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia, was known to have no tolerance for cheating and explained that if one cheats in the afternoon (when secular studies are taught) then one becomes a cheat, period.

We have to develop a culture where a yeshivah or day school student is made to feel as uncomfortable not dealing honestly as he does not eating kosher food. He must be made to feel “un-Jewish” at the thought of defrauding someone.

A number of years back I presented the head of a major day school organization with a text for teaching a condensed and practical course in Choshen Mishpat and its ethical lessons. It was received with great enthusiasm, but went nowhere. This has to change. We are paying the price for it . . . literally.

Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld
Kew Gardens Hills, New York

This article was featured in the Fall 2009 issue of Jewish Action.