Category Archives: Archives 5760

Archives

Elul 5760 – Halachic Process

1 Elul 5760

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:

At least 95% of the time, whenever an halakhic issue is raised, especially on contemporary issues, even before the question is asked, the answer is known: one rabbi will say yes; one rabbi will say no; and a third rabbi will say, “Well, it’s better if you don’t, but if you do it anyway you’re also OK”. Every possible outcome one could imagine before asking the question is found in fact after asking, if you ask enough rabbis or search enough books.

Instead of Halacha being a system that provides clear-cut and meaningful answers to relevant issues, all these halachic debates seem to be just like a game of amusement, in which the outcome is not really important, since all possible outcomes, that are already known at the outset, are equally valid. And if the rule is that you can ask only once, it’s a game of trying to hit the right rabbi on the first shot. So the question is obvious: Why waste time asking and debating these questions in the first place? Why not let each individual just do what he feels comfortable with, and 99% of the time it will turn out that there are valid halachic grounds to support him?

Thank you,

Name and Seminary withheld upon request

Dear Name withheld upon request,

I don’t know what your experience is with the halachic process, but it differs seriously from mine.

Let me first deal with a point that you made that seems to me to be the most important one. You write, “all these halachic debates seem to be just like a game of amusement, in which the outcome is not really important”. I couldn’t disagree more. I think the outcome will determine G-d’s will and our purpose in the world. The possibility of getting that wrong provides NO amusement for me, but rather fills me with a sense of dread. I take the process VERY seriously, more so than medicine, since medicine only affects your body and this affects your eternal soul. As such, when my father had lung cancer, we didn’t nonchalantly say “well, some doctors will tell you one thing and others will tell you another thing – just do what you want, Dad”. Rather we researched and listened and examined carefully the credentials and results of the doctors making the suggestions.

Is it possible to hear whatever you want from a doctor? Sure, that doesn’t mean they’re all right. It also doesn’t mean I’d advise someone who was ill to go to the medicine cabinet and take whatever medication they feel like.

The idea of picking one Rabbi is not much different from following one form of treatment. We believe that Judaism is an organic whole, not a collection of individual laws. As I once explained to someone, the sheet fits the bed perfectly – you can’t pull it to far to one side without it coming off on the other. We don’t “shop around” for a Rabbi who will tell us what we want to hear. We look for a Rav who we believe embodies what Torah stands for, whose knowledge is wide, whose understanding is deep, whose life embodies holiness. Not Rabbi Bob who studied for Semicha, knows little about anything else and whose job is on the line if he doesn’t answer the way we want.

There will of course be disagreements between sages about how to apply halacha to new situations. Sometimes they will agree and other times not. But each view is reflecting a total welterschanng. Not a spur of the moment feeling.

If there is a specific issue you want to deal with, I’ll be happy to discuss it in detail.

Sincerely,
Dovid Orlofsky

Archives

Av 5760 – Saying Shema

1 Av 5760

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:

People have been asking me why we say “Shema Yisroel”. If the prayer is directed to G-d, why do we tell all of Israel to listen? No one can hear us except for G-d!

Thank you,

Heidi Levin
Michlelet Esther 5760

Dear Heidi,

Great question! You see, the Shema is a strange kind of a tefilla, because it isn’t technically a tefilla. We are neither praising, nor asking or requesting. All we’re doing is reading, two paragraphs from Devarim and one from Bamidbar. The mitzva to read the Shema is D’Orayssa, the berachos before and after are tefillos and are MiDeRabbanan. So we have to realize that Shema is unique, not your usual tefilla.

The Shema is a declaration – Hear O Israel (I would translate that as “listen carefully, Jews”) Hashem, who is our G-d is One! Look at the first paragraph (leave out Boruch Shem Kavod Malchuso L’olom Vaed for now, that’s an addition). We declare Hashem is One and then we say, Love Hashem with all your heart and all your life, and all your money. That’s it. That’s the whole paragraph. The rest says this is important, this is very important, so teach it to your children and write it on your head and tie it on your arm and write it on your door, and say it when you get up and say it when you lie down, and say it in a box and say it with a fox. This is REAL important. That’s it. That’s the Shema, Two lines.

Now two questions should occur to us when we say this. One is – how can you ask me to love Hashem? That’s an emotion. Either I feel it or I don’t. The second thing is, what is the point of saying “Hashem is One”. Is this a declaration of our monotheistic values in contrast to the polytheistic gods? If so, we will have a hard time relating to it, because we don’t meet many idol-worshippers today (we meet a lot of “idle-worshippers”, but that’s another story). So if we understand this point, what we are declaring by saying “Shema Yisroel”, I think we can understand the other.

Monotheism doesn’t mean we believe in one god instead of fifty gods. Why worship fifty gods, we Jews always prefer to buy wholesale. So pray to one clearinghouse god. That’s not the point. When we say Hashem is One, we mean Hashem is everything. Infinity. Hashem has everything and needs nothing. In polytheism, the gods demand a sacrifice. They want the sheep, the wheat, the wine, the occasional young maiden thrown into the volcano. Hashem, on the other hand is One. Infinite. With no needs and no wants and lacking nothing. If so, then Hashem must have created the world for us. In order, as the Mesillas Yesharim says in Perek Aleph, to get the greatest pleasure and delight in the world, which is of course to get close to Him. Therefore, the Shema continues, love Hashem with all your heart and all your life and all your money. Because it’s the best way to live life.

The sefer HaChinuch on the mitzva of Ahavas Hashem says that the way to do this is by focusing on the fact that loving Hashem is greater than wealth, children and honor. Meaning, these are the things we enjoy in the world, but there is something even more enjoyable, and that is the close loving relationship we can have with HaKadosh Boruch Hu.

Heidi, the sad reality is that today most frum Jews forget this. They think the purpose of life is to do ritual, or to serve Hashem as though He needs our avoda. Hashem is just fine, thank you. We are being given an opportunity to do the mitzvos that bring us close to Him in order to enjoy the greatest delight possible. Since it is so easy to forget what life is all about when we go out into the “real world” Hahsem says to us – remember why you are alive! Say it when you get up, say it at the end of the day when you go to sleep. Write it on your door before you go outside into the “real world” where money and power are what counts. Teach it to your children and – before you start – call out “Shema Yisroel”, listen you Jews! Remember what life is all about. Because something this important can’t be kept to ourselves, we have to share it with others.

And so my legions of ex-seminary girls, back in the “real world” after your fantasy stay in Israel. After a year or two of listening to people talk to you about middos, and personal growth and holiness and all that other nifty stuff. Now you are back in reality. Time to be practical, no more up in the air fluffy nonsense. Let’s remember what’s important in life, parnassa, shidduchim, meaningful careers (osher, kavod and bonim, as the Sefer HaChinuch says). For us, the Shema has a dramatic message – keep your focus!

And now a personal plea. I am constantly hearing from seminary girls how they come back from Eretz Yisroel and they can’t find any inspiring shiurim on a high intellectual level, so they end up losing it. Well, this is your call to arms. Shema Yisroel! START those shiurim, contact the other girls back from seminary, find a Rav you think can relate to them and BADGER him until he agrees. Don’t sit back and don’t revel in the insights you have gained, do something with them. I am waiting to hear through JEMSEM about all the shiurim that have been started by you in your communities, and I think we should start a listing to let the others know what’s available.

Be well, keep in touch and I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,
Dovid Orlofsky

Archives

Tammuz 5760 – Shaking Hands

15 Tammuz 5760

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:

I am involved in kiruv on my campus, and in terms of programming, the events are generally co-ed (Shabbos meals, shiurim, etc). My efforts on the more personal, one-on-one level are geared to girls, of course, as you recommend. However, the situation invariably arises when someone (a male) will introduce themselves and extend their hand. I am aware of the teshuva of Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, about the seriousness of the prohibition of shaking hands with the opposite sex. I am not a cold, mean person and would not want, chas v’sholom, to embarrass someone in public or turn them off to Orthodox Judaism, by blatantly refusing to shake their hand. How can I realistically handle situations like these (I don’t know if saying that I don’t touch males would go over so well)?

Thank you,

[Name & seminary withheld to protect privacy]

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:

I got a summer job working in an office where most of my co- workers are not Jewish, and the issue of shaking hands with male co-workers has come up more than once. It is always uncomfortable for me when I try to explain why this seemingly harmless social custom is forbidden by Jewish law, because its sort of hard to smush a three hour lecture on hilchos tznius into two sentences.

I was wondering if you have any suggestions, or any short but informative responses to the hand- shaking question that you could pass along. Thank you,

Wolfie
[Seminary withheld upon request]

****************************

Dear Everybody,

Great hearing from you.

Shaking hands is a big problem. So is social kissing, hugging, embracing and let’s be thankful that at this point of time that’s about it. But it’s enough. So let’s see how to approach the topic.

Let’s start at the beginning – mine is NOT a halachic column. If you want to know if you can rely on a view that says it isn’t derech chiba or anything else, please write to “Ask the Posek”. I am the lowest fellow on the JEMSEM totem pole. People don’t write to me to find out WHAT to do, but rather the best way to explain what they’ve already decided to do. So assuming your halachic authority has said no touching no way, how do we handle it?

The first problem is with family. When Uncle Harry throws his arms wide open and says (as he has said since you were two) “Come here, cupcake and give your Uncle Harry a big hug!” Or cousin Bobby (you know, cute cousin Bobby) wants to give you a kiss on the cheek, they don’t usually respond well to being told that there should be no physical contact as a geder to arayos. Guys, by the way, can sometimes pull that off. I know someone who told his elderly aunt that he can’t touch her because he doesn’t trust himself. It made her whole year. But for a girl, it is not proper or effective.

Humor and the light touch is often effective. “I’m sorry Uncle Harry, but I just came back from one of those fanatical seminaries in Israel and I’ve frummed out. But don’t worry, I’m sure it’s just a phase and I’ll grow out of it”. You’ll be surprised how if you can say something like that tongue in cheek, they’ll let you off the hook.

You can try appealing to people’s better side and asking them to respect your religious beliefs, but unfortunately, I’ve seldom found that effective.

Remember however that you are a teenage girl (or close enough to one) to fall into an emotional anxiety attack. “I CAN”T,OKAY! I JUST CAN’T! WHY ARE YOU ALL DOING THIS TO ME!” Then run out of the room sobbing and go to your room and slam the door. I have seven daughters and I know that this approach is often accepted by people as reasonable behavior.

In the workplace or a social situation, it’s actually much easier. Today, with the heightened awareness of sexual harassment, people naturally have a sense of “hands off”. It doesn’t take as much to discourage even casual physical contact. Stand with your hands clasped behind your back or papers in both hands and respond to the outstretched hand with a short bow, a nod, or a wave. “Hi, great to meet you” in a sincere friendly voice should be enough to dispel the uncomfortablness of the situation.

Ah, but what about an explanation? What if people don’t merely dismiss your quirky behavior, but appear interested. Well, we can explain that we believe that contact between the genders is something holy and not something we engage in lightly. Someone told me that a handshake doesn’t mean anything to them, and if so, they have managed to take one of the most sublime human experiences and reduce it to nothing. We think a touch is a powerful thing. I refer you to the work that has already become the classic in the field “The Magic Touch” by Gila Manelson. In fact, keep a copy by your desk and if anyone asks, lend them the book. One person used to just look at the person seriously and say “I don’t believe in pre-marital handshaking”.

As far as kiruv situations go, don’t worry. Guys are only offended if you don’t touch them, not if you don’t touch anybody. There is a fellow whose name I will not mention since he is now a famous Rabbi who was once a kid in NCSY. On the bus this new girl was on her way to her first convention and she was sitting next to this guy who was shomer negia. Not knowing anything about that (or Shabbos and Kashrus, either for that matter) she kept tapping him and got the feeling that he was cringing whenever she did. The fellow behind her (now a big Rabbi) tapped her on the shoulder and said “listen, you can’t touch him”. She looked at him like he was crazy. “Just take my word for it. You can touch me, you cab touch him and him, but you can’t touch him” . She told me the story years later and she thought it was a little strange, but it certainly didn’t deter her from getting involved.

Good luck and remember those famous words of Chazal (or was it “The Golden Crown”) no plan can succeed without Hashem’s help. Daven!

Sincerely,
Dovid Orlofsky

Archives

Sivan 5760 – Jews and Non-Jews

15 Sivan 5760

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:

At university I constantly encounter dilemmas about relating to the non-Jewish world. I am unsure what to do in a situation where I can either interact and eat lunch with a mixed group of people in an environment of non-Jewish music, but where I may have an opportunity to make a Kiddush Hashem, or I can eat by myself, perhaps always giving these people the impression that I don’t want to associate with them. Though up to this point I have always preferred to take the second option because I felt that this was the right thing to do, I have begun to feel that maybe I have the responsibility to tell them and show them that being Jewish means more than just dressing differently, seeing as they know I am Jewish. I am also interested in this answer to know how to interact with non Jewish people in a work environment – though I realize the importance of keeping polite relationships with them, how should one interact with them at activities such as lunch.
Thank you very much for your help.

[Name withheld to protect privacy]
Michlala 5756

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:

The other day I was having a conversation with one of my friends and we got into a discussion about Non-Jews. Just as background – We both have been in yeshiva all our lives and spent the last year in seminary. I’m not really sure how they fit into this world. Is their purpose to just fuflill the sheva mitzvot bnei noach and be a mentch? I have always heard this mashal about a non-Jew who was rich and the sole reason for his wealth was for a tzadik to come and learn under his tree – this is very nice but can’t a non-Jew have his own credit separate from Jews? I have been told the opinion that the non-Jews are in this world simply to help the Jews and impact on them. I definitely see that Jews are punished through the other nations and we also see how not to act through them, however I can’t see that it is the sole reason for their existence. There are so many non-Jews in this world – can’t they have their own existence and purpose separate from the Jews? I think there is room to say that there can be good non-Jews in this world who have nothing to do with one Jew yet they can follow the sheva mitzvot and fulfill their purpose in this world. If we can derive our purpose from the Torah and the mitzvot in it, I think we can derive their purpose from what Hashem expected of them. Basically the sheva mitzvot are commandments of being a mentch in this world and realizing that there is one G-d – if they can do that, haven’t they fulfilled what they were put on this earth for, without even impacting one Jew? Thank you so much for your time – I appreciate it.

[Name & seminary withheld to protect privacy]

Dear Rabbi Orlofsky:

I was wondering what the correct thing is to do with relatives or friends who have unfortunately intermarried? I am a junior in college, and my cousin, who is quite a few years older than I, recently contacted me to say she wants to talk the next time I am home. She intermarried when I was in seminary in Israel two years ago, and I have not spoken to her since before that. I have not responded to her yet because I know my family doesn’t accept her and I am very confused as to what to do. Should I reply to her or just let the letter go? What is the proper thing to do? Thank you very much.

[Name withheld to protect privacy]
Bnot Chayil 5758

Dear Everybody,

First of all, my apologies for not answering everyone sooner. My life has been a little crazy lately. I have been traveling a lot this year for Ohr Somayach, my daughter was hospitalized with a possible appendix attack, and there have been many people asking to speak to me about their personal problems. There are very few Rabbonim among the English speaking population here who have the learning and insight to help people with their personal problems and since I know how busy they are I volunteer to help out whenever possible.

But do not fear! All of you Jemsem readers and questioners have a special advocate in Rivka Lev. She, who works tirelessly to bug us JEMSEM contributors to answer your questions and send this newsletter around, often delivering it to your electronic mailbox by hand, managing to fit in getting married in her spare time, is relentless. So as a belated wedding gift I decided to make up some of my old columns.

It’s obvious that the issue of Jews and Gentiles seems to be a major one for a lot of you. Here in Israel, our major interaction with the non-Jewish community mostly involves ducking. But America is a different place and in school and at work and in our neighborhoods we are constantly interacting with non-Jews. The question of our role in the world and the role of the rest of mankind is one that is going to have a lot of importance to us.

The key to the Jewish approach, in my opinion, is the way we view history. Christians view time as beginning from the birth of their savior. Before that there is no time. B.C. Cavemen and other such barbarians. Nothing counts, it’s prehistory. Moslems count time from Mohammed’s night flight from Mecca to Medina, when he began to experience the visions that would result in the Koran. Before that, time doesn’t really count. We, on the other hand, count time from the creation of the first human. And all of the history of mankind is included. We don’t start our calendar from Avraham, or Har Sinai.

The ramifications of this difference are dramatic. Christians and Moslems believe no one else besides themselves count. As such, if you are not one of them (more specifically a member of the particular sect of them speaking to you) then you are going to burn in hell forever. That’s obviously bad, so they encourage you to join, often in the strongest terms, torture not excluded. From their point of view, it makes a lot of sense because they are saving you from eternal damnation. We, as you know, take a dramatically different approach. If a non-Jew comes to us and asks to convert we ask them “why?”. This is always disturbing to prospective converts. “Why? Because I don’t want to burn in hell, that’s why!” “No problem” we tell them. You see, we believe the righteous of all people have a place in the world to come.

Judaism is a strange sort of a religion. We don’t believe you have to belong to us to get to Heaven. To put that into Jewish terms (since we don’t believe in a big place in the clouds with a set of pearly gates), you don’t have to be Jewish to have a relationship with Hashem. The role of the Jews in the world, so we were told at Matan Torah, is to be an “Am Mamlechus Kohanim”, a nation of kohanim. Just as the kohanim have a role to Klal Yisroel to teach and lead, so we have a role to the world to teach and lead. To the point, the Torah tells us, that if we do not live up to our role there will be such anti-Semitism and destruction that the nations of the world will ask, why this is happening to us? One way or another, we will influence the world.

So the ultimate goal is for Hashem to be “Melech al kol HaAretz” and that the entire world will recognize Him and get close to Him. Do Jews have an advantage? Of course! A relationship that’s dependant on 613 things is going to be greater than a relationship based on seven things. I hope your marriage will be a deeper and more meaningful experience than the one you have with your hairdresser. But the opportunity for a higher level relationship is not exclusive to those of us born as Jews. Anyone can join. If, on the other hand, you prefer just to be close friends, you can do the seven Noahide laws and be a righteous gentile. For that matter, if you want a distant relationship, you can do that too. But that choice is a tragedy that we are supposed to help them avoid.

That is the relationship between the Jews and the nations of the world. The question is, what is the best way to accomplish it? The Maharal tells us that the Jews are compared to fire and the nations of the world are compared to water. Which is more powerful? The answer is, it depends. If the water is poured on the fire, the water will obviously extinguish the fire. But if the water is put in a pot, then the fire can slowly bring the water to a boiling point. The only way we can hope to impact on the nations of the world is by living a life of holiness and purity APART from them. Otherwise they will extinguish us. This is the way to understand Chanukah and the mistake of Shlomo HaMelech, but I’m starting to sound like a Rabbi so let me get back to the issues you all raised.

What should be our everyday dealings with non-Jews? Cordial but separate. One of the reasons for yayin nesach was to minimize social contacts. Let me remind you of a simple truth – non-Jews are just like Jewish people. They can be charming and intelligent and empathetic and sharing and YOU CAN FALL IN LOVE WITH THEM! It has happened on more than one occasion. I’m not saying that it will happen to you, and I’m not saying the marriage would work, but don’t be naive and say it can’t happen to me! Minimize all social contacts! Maybe that wasn’t clear. MINIMIZE ALL SOCIAL CONTACTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I mean parties, studying together, working on joint projects. Reb Yisroel Salantar used to say, the eleventh commandment is don’t be a fool!

What does this mean practically? Run the risk of being thought of as aloof. So you won’t be voted Miss Congeniality at school or work. It might even hurt your professional advancement. But if our year in Seminary has taught us anything, it’s to value our Torah identity over our secular identity.

Now maybe they are interested in Judaism? It is not up to you to proselytize. And if you want to make a Kiddush Hashem you sure ain’t gonna do it by selling yourself for the cause. “Sorah B’Ohel” is the byword and if it isn’t always possible it is certainly the ideal to be striving for.

Now, what about intermarried relatives? You must ask an shaila to a big Rabbi, preferably with a long white beard, as Rabbi Orlowek likes to say, on each individual case. Sometimes we are encouraged to try to be migayer the non-Jewish partner and sometimes to avoid them. The Jewish partner, however, should be encouraged to explore their Jewish roots. As such, to respond to the Jewish partner is probably a good idea, but if they make it dependent on your accepting their non-Jewish partner as part of the deal, it’s big shaila time.

I hope this has clarified some of the issues and I hope those of you who have been avoiding sending in questions to my column will begin again, so I can have more of your problems and questions to feel bad about if I don’t answer them right away. In the meantime, be well everyone and have a great summer.

Sincerely,
Dovid Orlofsky

Archives

Nissan 5760 – Inyanei Pesach

15 Nissan 5760

Dear Everybody,

Sorry I haven’t been around for a while, but things have been BUSY (as they say in e-mail speak). But if Rivka is determined to get a newsletter out in time for Pesach, then I guess I can find some time too.

Now my column is supposed to deal with how to answer questions, and since this is an Erev Pesach JEMSEM I guess the most appropriate thing to answer is what to answer at the seder. So let me start with some basic seder tips.

1. QUESTIONS ARE BETTER THAN DIVREI TORAH

If you ask a thought provoking question chances are people will respond better than if you say a vort. People love to give opinions and participate. You do better by moderating than dominating.

2. CHOOSE YOUR VORTLECH WELL

If you MUST say a vort, ask yourself if you were sitting at the seder, would you necessarily want to hear it from somebody else. If so BE BRIEF! You do better making them wish you had spoken longer, than shorter.

3. BE RELEVANT

Questions or vortlach should not be deep chakiros in dinei Korben Pesach. Rather they should inspire people to make applications to their own lives.

EXAMPLES

Is the Exodus something we care about today, or is this just a cultural experience like a Navajo Rain Dance (only less fun)?

Why do we attack the Rosha instead of trying to mikarev him like the sheano yodea lishol?

“In every generation someone rises up to destroy us”. Isn’t this just inspiring Jews with a sense of paranoia? We have it great in America. (Don’t tell me how great we had it in Germany – there was always official anti-Semitism.)

We eat Matza today, 3300 years later because their matzas didn’t have a chance to leaven. Why didn’t they just let it leaven when they arrived at their destination? All they had to do was wait before they baked it?

4. BE PATIENT

Not everyone cares at the Seder like you. Smile. DON’T MEASURE YOUR KZAISIM OSTENTATIOUSLY! Make pleasant conversation. When you’re married (pooh pooh pooh) you’ll do it differently. For now, as they say in Yiddish grin and bear it.

That’s my middle of the night cleaning for Pesach and stopping to e-mail Rivka a Pesach message meanderings. I would be happy to get feedback from you of what you have done and how it worked. Next issue I hope to get back to answering the accumulation of questions I have been ignoring till now. And to the girl on the ledge considering jumping, I hope you’re still there. Be patient.

Chag Kosher V’Someach

Sincerely,
Dovid Orlofsky