Letters Summer 2015

Wanted: A Davening Coach

Alan Krinsky’s article on davening properly (“Pray or Play?,” winter 2014) is wonderful.

Too many of us are concerned with finding the “fastest minyan in town.” We are casual with our tefillot and, for many of us, davening is viewed as a tedious experience.

Rav Gedaliah Eisemann, the late mashgiach of Yeshivas Kol Torah in Yerushalayim, once said: “I’ve seen a lot of eccentric people, but I never saw any of them daydreaming while reading a newspaper. Why?
Because they find it interesting. We have to make our davening and learning interesting by keeping it fresh and engaging!”

Extending Krinsky’s sports team metaphor, what about having a “coach’s” inspirational speech
before each “game”? Shul rabbis should offer a brief and relevant message or insight before davening—twenty to thirty seconds long. This should be done before and even during davening.

Baltimore, Maryland

On Jewish Genealogy

While I enjoyed Bayla Sheva Brenner’s article about Jewish genealogy (“Jewish Genealogy: The Journey to Oneself,” winter 2014), I found it to be too focused on the Ashkenazic American experience. With the exception of one woman of Syrian descent, all of the vignettes Brenner shares are of descendants of European Jews seeking to bridge the gap from the old world to the new. The web site she recommends, JewishGen, does not even offer a search option for countries outside of Eastern Europe. The fascinating journey of the many diverse Sephardic communities, including anusim (those forced to convert) and communities scattered after the Inquisition, merit attention as well.

Rebecca Dreisinger
New York, New York

I appreciated Bayla Sheva Brenner’s article on Jewish genealogy, having experienced similar exhilaration when conducting my own family research. I’ve worked for several years teaching genealogy as a supplement to limudei kodesh classes, and students love the class and the journey of discovery. Our L’dor Vador class also helps my students contextualize everything else they learn, making it that much more meaningful. I encourage all Jewish day schools to incorporate genealogy into their curricula.

Jeffrey Schrager
L’dor Vador Educational Services
Dallas, Texas

Holding the Arba Minim

When I receive my Jewish Action, the first place I flip to is Rabbi Ari Z. Zivotofsky’s column. I enjoy the selection of topics and the accurate references. However, I think that the article, “What’s the Truth About . . . the Arba Minim?” (fall 2014) is misleading in its conclusion.

In the Mishnah Berurah 651:11, the Mechaber uses the word “líchaber” when referring to holding the lulav to the etrog during the naíanuim.

The Mishnah Berurah brings the story of Rabbi Menahem Recanati, which Rabbi Zivotofsky mentions. However, Rabbi Zivotofsky does not recount the story accurately. Rabbi Recanati points out that the day following his dream [which he interpreted as referring to the arba minim], he observed a Jew waving a lulav without the etrog, and he understood that all four species must be held together; he does not note that there must be a slight space between the lulav and etrog.

Furthermore, Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried, in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, says, “We turn the etrog over and holding it close to the lulav, with no separation between them, we wave them towards the four points.” Rabbi Ganzfried states, “shelo yehiyeh peirud beineihem.” He mentions this twice in this paragraph. Therefore, it seems to me, as I’ve observed since childhood, that one should have the etrog touch the spine of the lulav while holding them with both hands and waving the lulav.

Rabbi Israel Robinson
Atlanta, Georgia

Rabbi Ari Z. Zivotofsky Responds

I thank Rabbi Israel Robinson for his letter. In my article, I did cite a story regarding a dream of Rabbi Menahem Recanati. Rabbi Robinson is correct that my presentation of the story was imprecise, and in the story, as cited by the Taz, Beíer Hateiv and others, the guest, in fact, did not have an etrog at all.

In the article, I also quoted an idea attributed to the first Belzer Rebbe that when bringing the etrog in the left hand near the lulav in the right hand, a slight space should be left between them. Rabbi Robinson, while agreeing with the main premise of my article that the etrog and lulav should be in separate hands, suggests that the idea of leaving a space is specious and that the etrog should, in fact, touch the lulav.

Permit me to elaborate on this specific point, which was addressed in a more limited manner in the original article. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 651:11) instructs one to ìjoin the etrog to the lulav” (“lechaber”). He does not explicitly comment on whether they should touch or if there should be a space between them. The Mishnah Berurah (651:48) simply reiterates the Shulchan Aruchís instructions that the etrog should be “mechubar” to the lulav, without elaborating. The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (137:1) twice says to bring the etrog near the lulav (“mekarvo”) so that there should not be a separation between them (“peirud beineihem”). The Aruch Hashulchan (651:9) says that the two hands should be brought near each other for the purpose of joining the etrog with the other three species and, God forbid (“chalilah”), that they should be separated from each other. The Chayei Adam (148:7) writes similarly. It seems to me that the language used in all of these sources is ambiguous regarding whether the lulav and etrog have to actually touch. I think the import of the rulings is that in light of the fact that the etrog and lulav are in different hands, one can potentially hold them far apart, and thus these sources instruct that they should be held near one another. None of these sources explicitly state whether or not they should touch. On the other hand, the idea that I mentioned in my article, that they should be close but have a small space between them, is, as cited in my footnote, from the Kuntras HaíAcharon (Taíamei Haminhagim, sec. 792, p. 347). He states this explicitly, based on the Belzer Rebbe. In contrast, the Kaf HaChaim (OC 651:106) quotes the Radvaz as saying that he was careful not to let his fingers separate between the lulav and etrog. Minhag Yisrael Torah (651:18) quotes opinions that the etrog should be touching the aravot, which are on the left side, or alternatively, that it should actually touch the lulav.

In summary, one fulfills his obligation whether the arba minim touch or are merely close to each other and both approaches have support in the sources.

More on Dawkins

Professor Nathan Aviezer mentions three people in his article “Replying to Richard Dawkins” (spring 2015): Dawkins, Krauss and Hawking. All argue that science has eliminated a Creator. While the science involved is quite sophisticated, the arguments against a Creator are, in many respects, quite primitive, as we can see from the straightforward explanations provided by Professor Aviezer. (More detailed arguments are available in the literature.)

One might characterize Dawkins as a scientist, evolutionist, atheist and enemy of religion. He not only argues that religious belief is wrong, as would any atheist, but also that religious belief is an evil that needs to be eradicated.

[Religious] morality demands the presence of a great gulf between Homo sapiens and the rest of the animal kingdom. Such a gulf is fundamentally anti-evolutionary. The sudden injection of an immortal soul in the timeline is an anti-evolutionary intrusion into the domain of science . . . . You can kill adult animals for meat, but abortion and euthanasia are murder because human life is involved . .

. . I think a case can be made that faith is one of the worldís great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate (Richard Dawkins, ìWhen Religion Steps on Scienceís Turf; The Improbability of God,î The Free Inquiry Magazine 18 [1998]).

And why is religion and faith so terrible? Because it values human life over other forms of life. The essential issue for Dawkins is the “sudden injection of an immortal soul,” without which humans are just another version of animals. Hence, euthanasia and infanticide and all sorts of other behaviors become perfectly rational and acceptable. We can poke fun at the almost childish “proofs” from science that there is no higher being. But belief in these proofs has no real impact on our lives. Rather, it is in the claim of a superior moral philosophy that would not only turn us into physical animals by definition, but would turn us into animals in behavior, where Dawkins and his like are to be strongly opposed.

Los Angeles, California

Professor Aviezer asserts that “both Darwin and Rav Hirsch viewed evolution as the mechanism used by God to produce the animal kingdom.” He cites the following (Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, vol. 7, p. 264):

If the notion of evolution were to gain complete acceptance by the scientific world, Judaism would call upon its adherents to give even greater reverence to God, Who in His boundless creative wisdom, needed to bring into existence only one amorphous nucleus and one law of ìadaptation and heredityî in order to bring forth the infinite variety of species that we know today.

However, this is not a verbatim quote from the Collected Writings. Rav Hirsch’s actual words are:

Even if this notion were ever to gain complete acceptance by the scientific world, Jewish thought, unlike the reasoning of the high priest of that notion, would nonetheless never summon us to revere a still extant representative of this primal form as the supposed ancestor of us all. Rather, Judaism in that case would call upon its adherents to give even greater reverence than ever before to the one, sole God Who, in His boundless creative wisdom and eternal omnipotence, needed to bring into existence no more than one single, amorphous nucleus and one single law of ìadaptation and heredityî in order to bring forth, from what seemed chaos but was in fact a very definite order, the infinite variety of species we know today, each with its unique characteristics that set it apart from all other creatures.

Rav Hirsch adds that “this would be nothing else but the actualization of the law of ‘lemino,’ the law of species, with which God began His work of creation. This law of lemino, upon which Judaism places such great emphasis in order to impress upon its adherents that all of organic life is subject to Divine laws, can accommodate even this ‘theory of the origin of species.’”

Nowhere in those words is an expression of agreement with the theory of evolution. The words only say that if the theory is accepted universally by the scientific community, one could look at it as describing a Divine wisdom utilized during the creation of animal species. This doesn’t mean that Rav Hirsch looked at the creation of the animal kingdom that way.

In the sentence just prior to those above, Rav Hirsch explicitly expresses his view on the veracity of the theory. After asserting that man’s attempts to explain natural laws “does not alter his moral calling,” Rav Hirsch tells us the following:

This will never change, not even if the latest scientific notion that the genesis of all the multiple of organic forms on earth can be traced back to one single most primitive, primeval form of life should ever appear to be anything more than what it is today, a vague hypothesis still unsupported by fact.

With such unequivocal skepticism, Rav Hirsch cannot serve as a source of support for the theory of evolution. Rabbi Natan Slifkin agrees that Rav Hirsch “personally did not believe in evolution” (www.ZooTorah.com/controversy/BetechAffair.pdf).

Rav Hirsch’s intent was to offer a way for those who supported the theory to pursue a Torah-observant life. However, he personally did not support it.

Passaic, New Jersey

Professor Nathan Aviezer Responds

Nowhere in my article did I state that Rav Hirsch accepted the theory of evolution. In fact, Rav Hirsch’s view on this matter is of minor importance because Rav Hirsch was not known for his expertise in science. The greatness of Rav Hirsch lay in the realm of Torah. Therefore, the important question—the question that I did discuss—is whether Rav Hirsch thought that the theory of evolution is consistent with Torah hashkafah. Rav Hirsch gave a clear, affirmative answer to this question, writing that if the theory of evolution “were ever to gain complete acceptance by the scientific world . . . in that case, Judaism would call upon its adherents to give even greater reverence than before to the one, sole God . . .”

Rav Hirsch indeed thought that the theory of evolution was “a vague hypothesis, unsupported by fact,” a view shared by many scientists before Gregor Mendel’s genetic theory became known. In Rav Hirsch’s time, no one could explain heredity or mutations, the backbone of the modern theory of evolution.

Rav Hirsch viewed evolution (“if accepted by the scientific world,” which is the case today) as the mechanism used by God to produce the animal kingdom, writing that God “needed to bring into existence only one single, amorphous nucleus and one single law of heredity to bring forth . . . the infinite variety of species that we know today . . . .”

This point of view, known as “theistic evolution,” is accepted by many Orthodox Jews, including me.

Still Making Rosl

Reading “From Homemade to Store-Bought” by Carol Ungar (spring 2015), I noticed that the author states, “Another important job was making rosl, a now-almost-unknown pungent crimson-colored beet broth that was considered the height of gourmet cuisine in Eastern Europe.”

I have been making horseradish this way for forty years now (though I did not know it was called rosl until I read the article). Making this “beet juice” on Purim each year starts my Pesach preparations. Far from being forgotten in my family, making this homemade horseradish is an annual event for me, and my family and friends look forward to my horseradish each Pesach.

Dennis Halpin
Houston, Texas

This article was featured in the Summer 2015 issue of Jewish Action.
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