Thursday, July 30, 2009

תשעה באב - מעשה דבן אבקולס

OK, this actually does have what to do with Tish'a B'av...

Well, I was able to make it to a Moroccan synagogue last night (not that I usually say “synagogue” instead of “shul”. It’s just that I try to keep those accursed yiddishisms out of the purity of this blog), unlike last year in the meat plant where the minority Israeli-Ashkenazim seemed to take over the kinot situation. Honestly I think Moroccans have too much fun with the kinot (as they’re recited melodically). I’m actually joking; melodically is much better. There is one night kinah that I find touching even, if it’s sung correctly, and that is, of course, “אליכם עדה קדושה”. The contrast of joy and sorrow through the usage of black humor has always had me more captivated than most of the other night kinot (though there are some other really good ones)

In regards to Eicha, of course I notice new things every time I hear it. This year I concentrated on its unusual theology. Anyone who says that the G-d of the Tanach is not one of "fire and brimstones" obviously hasn’t read the Tanach. Though He’s far from being an "angry G-d" (I don’t know who formulated that usage, but it’s obviously quite heretical as far as “we’re” concerned). He obviously does give people a chance—chance after chance in fact—but He’s pretty adamant when He puts His foot down. As it says in chapter 3 (verse 8), “even when I call out or cry for help, He shuts out my prayer”, and then in verse 10, “like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding”. This is from the NIV (New International Version translation), but the Hebrew is simply He “is” a bear and “is” a lion, something which is very unusual to say about G-d. Usually we say He’s “Great, Powerful and Awesome" (in the “shmone esre”), and now He’s “a bear waiting to ambush” and attack us, and “a lion, hiding in the shadows” waiting to trounce upon us (it also says in the first chapter that G-d has become as “an enemy”). So, it’s not like He’s the bad guy, but there is a limit to His patience, there is a limit to how much you can do before you can’t do t'shuva anymore. Or, you can do t'shuva, but the punishment will not be recalled. Truthfully this does border on the whole "does the “old testament” believe in an afterlife” discussion, but even without that it’s understandable.

One other thing I wanted to mention was the "Agadot of the destruction" in (Masechet) Gitin: usually when we attend lectures on Tish’a B’av the message and moral we’re supposed to be learning from these stories seems pretty unified, though when you read the Agadot yourself you see that they can be, and in fact are, interpreted to have a great many, differing, morals. Take for example the very first related passage on 55b, the “story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza”. In rabbinic circles it is clear that the only moral of the story is to relate how unfounded animosity towards people does not lead to anything positive. Yet not only is that moral not stated in the text, it is highly disputed even among rabbinic authorities. To start with, it is disputed who is really the “source” of evil in this story, is it the householder who refused to let bar Kamtza stay, is it Bar Kamtza who let his own degradation lead him to betray his nation, or the rabbis who said nothing. Yet these three are only the “common” culprits.

A much more likely culprit is of course rabbi Zachariah ben Avkulas, who is guilty for his “religious fundamentalism” either for not having Bar kamtza killed, or for not letting the emperors’ sacrifice ascend the alter, to the extent that rabbi Yochanan ben Zacai himself said about him that he singlehandedly “destroyed our house, burned our sanctuary and exiled us from our land”. So, as far as I’m concerned, rabbi Zachariah ben Avkulas is the culprit, but not him per-se, but his fundamentalism. The true leader of the Jews, rabbi Yochanan, was not only not a fundamentalist in the sense that rabbi Zachariah was, but he was also a “member of the peace party” (so to speak, i.e. he didn’t believe a war with the Romans would end very well). his is especially true considering the interpretation Avigdor miller followed, which holds that there was an extremely specific reason the householder and the rabbis wanted Bar Kamtza out; because he otherwise had a connection with the Romans, and the party itself was not a “party” at all but rather an excuse to gather and secretly discuss the proper course of action in regard to the Romans.

I have more to say, for example about the status of Jews in reference to political leadership, but that would already be burdensome for me to write, and for it to be read.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Comparative Religion

Now, this has nothing to do with Tish’a B’av or anything, but I’ve been meaning to put this up for a while. By the way, forgive me if this lacks coherency, it was compiled from a big jumble of small ideas..haphazardly:

I have, friends, been asked not long ago about the halachic backing I may have for my, at times, researching the sacred texts and histories of religions outside the Judaic realm. This would also be a follow up to the previous post (although it is, in fact, in a different language). The truth is that, as it happens, I’m quite happy to find opportunities to review my opinions, since it has generally been my habit to come to conclusions about things, and later find that I cannot recall the reasoning on which I based my former change of opinion or action. It is beneficial, therefore, for me to regularly review what my ideologies and theology are actually based on.

Firstly it must be said that before any attempt to understand other religions we must fully understand our own, and be fully rooted in its literary sources and traditions. Secondly, before speaking of the diversity of other religions it is quite worthwhile to discover the diversity within our own religion realm, and the practices and beliefs of its myriad of different factions.

To some it is clear that it is pointless to delve into the texts of other religions since religion is a subjective study; in all other sciences one can benefit from amassing knowledge through the true, objective research of people in the past. Yet by the subject of religion, if one religion is founded on certain principles, studying the teachings of other religions, which are usually based on principles that, to the other are nonsensical, seems not only utterly pointless, but prohibited by halacha.

Let's start by the beginning (but get through this quickly because I haven't got much patience): In the first era the Torah introduces a "Mono-theistic" ideal to challenge the great Pagan ideologies that were prevalent everywhere in the world up until then. The Torah is fully opposed to idolatry and even commands us to break Pagan icons we may encounter. Certainly books about Pagan theology would be out of the question. In the next era, Monotheistic religions based on Judaism (Christianity and Islam) took control of most of the Pagan world, until they threatened the very existence and validity of Judaism itself. This would seem to be a replacement which, to us, is not much of an improvement from the original.

As a result of this expansion, a question recorded in the Responsum of Maimonides; someone asks him how it is possible for Judaism to have become such a minority among world religion if it is, in fact, the true religion. The Rambam replied with an innovative idea by saying that the expansion of these religions was in fact a manifestation of the biblical principle that all the nations of the world will, in the future, come to worship (one) G-d. Obviously then he felt that these religions were an extension of Judaic principles in the world, and not opposing them.

So, first of all, it is important to remember that they are far from being “idolatrous”, rather they are a manifestation of our own religion being transferred into the general (gentile) world. All the religions that came to be during and after the Second Temple era (most prominently, of course, the two monotheistic religions that still exist) were extensions of Judaism, and in us can their beginnings and principles be found. Their early histories as well are an outgrowth of, and mingle with, our own history. It is, in fact, impossible to study the story of the development of Judaism in the 1st to 10th centuries without studying the beginnings of Christianity and Islam. What better reason to study comparative religion than to study about how our own religion influenced numerous religious groups in the past, and in time, most of the world’s populace, to follow religions that were directly based on our own? We must reconsider the prominence Judaism had in influencing world religions instead of keeping it a despised religion, kept only in the shadow.

The banning of knowledge for the sake of religion, has, historically, been a generally Christian phenomenon. Yet this phenomenon has come to influence Ashkenazi Jewry due to their proximity to the Church. But it was not the second-hand influence of Christian dogmatism alone that incited the suspicions of the Ashkenazim towards such studies, but also the poor relations the Christians of Europe traditionally had with the Jews (let’s just say it was the kind of problem that couldn’t be remedied by the likes of Dr Phil). Since that time, the Jews of Europe have generally become quite afraid and suspicious of the Christians, and for very good reason. Yet these suspicions lasted with them too long, and to their detriment. Take for example their being idle from the study of G-d’s word on the night that the Christian messiah was supposedly born; perhaps in Europe it seemed unfathomable to study Torah on that night, but to abide today by such a practice is nothing but silliness. The same is true to a much larger extent in regards to knowledge of other religions and the examining of their sacred texts; it would be incorrect t for one to refrain himself from gaining important knowledge due to these religious biases of his forefathers.

In the general world the prejudices of the dark ages have subsided, and people can now pursue knowledge freely. Now that the dogmatism on the church has subsided, and with it it’s influence on the Jewish community, we can once again explore all knowledge in our pursuit of G-dliness during our stay upon this earth, as our ancestors in Spain once have. No more does our understanding of our religion have to be through the ignorance of isolation. Today we are free to explore G-dliness not only through G-d’s word but through G-d’s world. Not only through G-d’s world but through all of G-d’s people, not only through G-d’s people but throgh their religious innovations, and not only through their religious innovations but trough their religious innovations that were directly based on G-d’s word can we come to know G-d and the nature of our place in the world.

Now that our shackles are freed, then, we can explore the academic study of "Comparative Religion", even with "religious intent", for in the eyes of "true Judaism" no knowledge that can broaden our religious consciousness can possibly be considered a negative knowledge. This is an idea which, as stated, was true up till the age of Spanish Jewry, and was reinstituted with the ideologies of Mendelssohn and Hirsch.

But more importantly, unlike the recent past of our religion, we currently live in a very multi-cultural and multi-religious society. In my eyes that is yet another reason to be at least reasonably aware of some of the religions outside Judaism. For how would we feel if others were living in absolute ignorance and hatred about Jews and Judaism? Has Hillel notttt said “what is hated upon you do not unto others”?

Studying other religions also reveals their theological weaknesses, something important to keep in mind for when they attack our own religion (for example one of the mainstays of Christian theology is that “the Law” can’t possibly be properly kept—it’s good to know their opinions so as to reflect upon our own. Thus is the essence of halachic polemics as well). A similar benefit can be reaped from studying Judaism in an academic outlook; to see what aspects of our own religion are up into question by others, so that we may defend it.

An understanding of the majority religion of one’s country of residence is also important to understand that culture in a more thorough way, especially considering that the prevalent culture of a country usually ends up affecting the way Jews in that country think as well.

It’s also good to be aware of the positive aspects of other religions. The teachings of Jesus, for example, as they’re represented in the Gospels are not very different from the beginnings of the Chassidic movement.

And again, the lack of this knowledge causes one’s very logic in what comparative religion one does dabble with (since everyone has somewhat of an opinion on it). For example Christian “proofs” for the veracity of Christianity considers the fact that such veracity is attested to in verses of the Christian bible to be proof enough, which of course is ludicrous. It is therefore important for us not to fall into similar logical traps.

Now, these ideas are also not devoid of Talmudic legitimacy: I think it’s fairly agreed upon that the true translation of that which it says in the Talmud that it's prohibited to read "external books" is, in fact, not discussing books of secular knowledge, but referring to the books of the Jewish Apocrypha. Not only the ancient apocrypha (paralleling the Tanach), but more importantly (what was then) “contemporary apocrypha”; for example the kinds of writings that were found at Qumran; the writings of the Essenes the Sadducees and the Jewish-Christian sects. There was a fear, perhaps, among rabbinic authorities, that people would confuse these books with the accepted books of the Tanach, but not that they meant that they should not be read altogether. We must consider what “reading” meant in Talmudic literature; in the language of the Mishna things are ‘read’ in a religious sense only; as in ‘reading’ the sh’ma, a “religious recital” if you will. What this rabbinic ban meant then, is that these books shouldn’t be recited religiously in the sense that they should not be incorporated into our body of sacred texts, but not that it is forbidden for us to be aware of the words they contain.

Even in regards to the study of Paganism itself, it is important to consider what the Torah was up against when it tried so very hard to deflect the Pagan Ideal, where the Israelites were coming from ideologically and what opinions they were surrounded by.

There is, in fact, an entire tractate of Mishna ad Talmud that discusses the intricacies of paganism in detail, so that we should know how to interact with them in reality in a manner complacent with halacha, and “who is greater to us than the Rambam” that relates having read treatises on pagan practices in his “Guide”.

Friday, July 17, 2009

"חכמת יוונית"

אף על פי שהתלמוד אסר את הקריאה ב"ספרים חיצוניים" ולימוד ב"חכמה יונית", כלומר נושאים חילוניים, לפני, ואפילו אחרי, עידן התלמוד עדיין היה דבר זה שנוי במחלוקת בין חכמי ישראל, ובפרט בין חכמי ישראל שבספרד, ובין החכמים המקבילים אותם באשכנז (צפון צרפת, הריינוס שבגרמניה ודרום אנגליה). ח

אפילו שהמציאות היתה שנחלקו חכמי ספרד באין-סוף של דברים, ושבכל עידן באה עלי-ספרד השפעות ומזגים חדשים ושונים, עדיין אפשר לומר שחכמיה אשר חיו ב"תור הזהב" העריכו את חכמות העולם, חכמה יוונית דוקא, ולימודי חול בכלל. בראשם עומד רבי משה בן מימון מקורטובה. הרמב"ם, בלי ספק, עידד ותמך בעיסוק בספרי אריסטו, ובנושאי הטבע והרפואה. הרי דעתם של הספרדים ידועה, אבל מה היתה דעתם של "חסידי אשכנז" בענין? ח

אדם שמגשם את אמונתם של האשכנזים הראשונים, והשפיע רבות על השקפותיהם בעתיד היה, הלא, רבי שלמה בן יצחק מטרואה. רש"י, כידוע, לא כתב ספרי פילוסופיה וגם לא חקר במעשה בראשית. רש"י, מעל לכל דבר אחר, יהיה פרשן ופוסק, ומעולם לא העז להזיז את רגלו מחוץ לארבע אמות של הלכה ש"היו לו לעינים" מיום עומדו על דעתו. לא היתה חסר-תקדים המאמר שבענין הזה רש"י היה המתנגד הכי-הקיצוני של השקפותיו של הרמב"ם. לרש"י ולהנגררים אחר דעותיו לא היתה סיבה כלשהי לעסוק בחכמות ובידיעות מחוץ לחכמת התורה. ח

ההנחה הזאת בדעת רש"י, לדעתי, שגויה ביסודו: הן אמת שרש"י לא עסק אלא בתורה לחוד, ושדברי התלמוד "היתה ללחם יומם", אבל מהיכן ידע רש"י על קשרי הספנים ומיני הזרעים, ערבית וגרמנית אם לא שעסק בלימודים אשר הם מחוצה לדברי התורה?! ידועה היא הגדרתו של רש"י בפי סופרי חייו כ"איש העולם הגדול". לא נהיים ל"איש עולם" בתוך כותלי בית המדרש! אלא וודאי שדעתו של רש"י היתה שלא רק שמותר אלא שרצוי ללמוד על אספקטים של העולם שיעזרו להבנת דברי התורה והמשנה. ומפני ש"לית אתר דלא שליט עליה אורייתא", כמעט וכל ידיעות העולם הכרחיים הם להבנת התורה, שהיא משמשת רק כמדריך השתמשות לחיים אנושיים ולעולם. ח

רעיון דומה מתגלה מתוך דברי הרב אברהם יצחק הכהן קוק: כל מהותו של דעתו על "עם ישראל בארץ ישראל לפי תורת ישראל" מיוסדים על ההנחה שנגמרה העידן שבו העבודת ה' היתה מתגשם רק בבית המדרש, כבישיבות ליטה ופולין, אלא עתה, כבימי קדם בעם ישראל, עבודת ה' מתגשם גם בחקלאות ארצי-ישראלית, פיתוח טכלוגיה ארצי-ישראלית ושירות בצבא הישראלית נגד אויבינו, כלפני שנגלינו מעל ארצינו. ח

העיסוק הבלתי-מוגבל בתלמוד בזמן הזה מוטעית באותו מידה של אותם אנשים בדור המדבר שהתנגדו לכניסת ישראל לארץ ישראל מפני שחששו שבזריעת שדות וקצירת חיטה יתבטל העם מלימוד התורה. לא ידעו ולא יבינו שזו היא עצם קיום התורה ולא ביטולה! לעסוק בעניני העולם ולעסוק בלימוד על העולם אינם מחוץ לתחום התורה, אלא הם הם גופי תורה, וכאמור. . ח

Saturday, July 11, 2009

הלכות בין המצרים: שמיעת כלי-שיר

We are, fellow bloggers (...and fellow non-bloggers) in the midst of a time that has been called "בין המצרים", i.e. the three weeks between "the fast of the fourth" (month- the 17th of Tamuz) and "the fast of the fifth" (month- the 9th of Av)". This is a time, friends, between two days in which our noble ancestors have suffered great misfortunes in past generations. In order to keep us in sync with the mood of these times, and to remind us of the sins of our ancestors which had brought destruction upon them, lest we repeat their actions and bring the same upon ourselves, the Talmudic sages instituted that the passages from the Prophets which should be read on Shabbat be "prophesies of doom" during these weeks. The same goes for other merry actions such as weddings and the recital of the "שהחיינו" blessing, about which later authorities deemed improper for times such as these.

In general the restrictions placed on these days are based on those placed on mourners, but different authorities employ vastly differing levels of stringency for the time between the fasts. The general rule is that the lowest level of stringency is given to "the three weeks" (after the 17th of Tamuz until the beginning of Av). The second level being from the beginning of the month until the fast itself, and the third level being the day of the fast.

The first level restricting people from lighter forms of enjoyment, such as shaving and swimming, listening to music and weddings. The second restricts us from eating meat and drinking wine, showering and washing clothes. And of course the actions to be performed on the day before the fast itself are to be kept in a much more mournful demeanor than any time previous to it.

These are the customs as laid out by Ashkenazi educational institutions. As with many of their customs, I knew early on that many of them were of dubious origin in regards to traditional Judaic literature. I also knew that Sefaradim traditionaly did shave during "the three weeks", and were sometimes looked down upon by their European brethren for breaking halachic boundaries during these days.

I should mention that none of this would be of such importance to me (not that it's not important...I'm just not sure I would generally be speaking about hilchot Bein Hamitzarim on the blog) if not for the fact that I was considering attending another of my friend's concerts he's putting on next week (in Harlem no less. Perhaps that's why it's free. Which is of course my incentive to be going), and was considering the halachic permisibility of such an engagement.

In regards to his (the singer's) halachic status, I'm reminded of what Rabbi Avraham Gombiner (מגן אברהם) comments on the Shulchan Aruch (very loose translation) "It is permissible for a Jew who earns his livelihood from music to play for non-Jews during the three weeks. Even if he plays enjoyable music, he himself is not enjoying it that much because "it's his job" to play"(תקנא:ב).

Though it's quite obvious that rabbi Gombiner's rulings are based on a much earlier Ashkenazi tradition that veered from the Sefaradi one a long time ago. What are the earliest sources for these "three weeks"?

Well, as we already established, the fact that there is an interim period of mourning between the "17th" and the "9th" is obvious, both from the haftara placings and other early Talmudic and post-Talmudic passages. But what of actual restrictions and commemorations during these times? On this point there is recorded, even in the Shulchan Aruch itself, customs of pious individuals to refrain from eating meat, and of some to even fast daily, from the 17th of Tamuz. Yet the same custom is recorded about others from the beginning of Av and from the week in which the 9th falls.

Upon a quick realization that it is beyond my current level of patience to record here the slow evolution of halacha between Early German Jews and Early Spanish Jews, I will suffice by saying that for anyone who does even a superficial reading of the sources, it is clear that there is no "traditional" or Sefaradi observance of the "three weeks". In fact, there is no concept of the "three weeks" in the Sefaradi halacha system. In fact, neither is there a concept of the "nine days". Both are European inventions. In our understanding the time after the 17th of Tammuz is in fact a mournful time, but that isn't really manifested in action. The first hint the Talmud gives us that mournfulness should become manifest in our actions is the statement that "with the coming of Av we should reduce in joy" (משנכנס אב ממעטין בשמחה), but that too is mainly manifest on the week in which the 9th falls. In the communities of The Pious Men of Germany (חסידי אשכנז), many more costoms and restrictions were added to be observed during these times, and those customs are what later Ashkenazi halachic literature is based on, but again, that has no bearing on Sefaradi halacha.

It should also be mentioned that no early source records any restriction on playing musical instruments, either in early Ashkenazi or Sefaradi traditions. Does this mean I can go to the gig? Well, basically "yes", since all we're speaking of here is just the arena of customs, not halacha per-se, but it is still worthwhile to see what some Ashkenazi authorities make of the music prohibition today.

In his essay, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed (of the Beit El yeshiva) records some of the prevalent moods of halacha regarding music during the "three weeks" among Poskim today. He comes to the conclusion that there are, in fact, three categories of music in this respect: Joyous music, neutral music, and sad music. He allows neutral music during the "three weeks" and sad music during the "nine days". In that case, while not particularly in the spirit of the times, though also not quite prohibited, it would be allowed, even according to the much stricter Ashkenazi halacha, to listen to neutral music, which I feel is the type of music I plan to hear (though hearing it live has a special "prohibition" attached to it according to him, so..).

These posts never seem to come out they way I would like them to...

Some links!

Rav Uri Shriki on the topic.

Rav Ovadia Yosef (talking about his efforts against the "Ashkenazi Establishment" to allow weddings in the Israeli rabbinate during the "three weeks").

Thursday, July 9, 2009

עינוי נפש

התורה והתלמוד מצווים אותנו על עינוי הנפש (כגון צומות) בימים אשר ארעו צרות לישראל כי כל סיבתה של הצרה היא פזרון כוחות האדם (עבירה), ובכדי לתקן את אשר נגרם מ"גובה נפש" בא "עינוי הנפש". אם רוצים אנו להינצל מצרות כמו אלו שחוזרים על ישראל ביום "מועד" כזה, עלינו להראות לא"לוהינו ששולטים אנו בכוחות גופינו, ואם בידינו היה דבר, לא היתה סיבה מלכתחילה לקבוע את יום זה ליום אבל. י

Saturday, July 4, 2009

מהות חלל

["The Content of Vacuum"- A Succinct History of My Talmudic Pursuits]

A happy American Independance to everyone. I would, perhaps, have written about it, but I already had this up last week and took it down. now it's up again..
As a result of my currently having a relatively freer schedule, I have, friends, begun regular evening attendance at a community Beit Midrash. Around the time I started these attendances I was speaking with a Rabbi I I've known since I was in high school, who, when learning that I attended, agreed to help me find a study partner. After I saw him there he said something to me which I felt to be disparaging towards my level of Talmudic tutelage when he told me to sit in with a class on Pirkei Avot, since he "didn't want me staring at the walls" (as if to suggest that if I did attempt to open a Gemara, it was more likely to be upside down than vice-versa).
I actually have a long and varied history not only with the Talmud itself, but also with the different methods of Talmudic analysis. So long a history, in fact, that if I were to record the entire account here it would make for the most boring post I've ever written. In fact even this abriged version will probably be the most boring I've written, but this blog doesn't run on consumer satisfaction anyway, so...
I suppose I should start with high school, since that is where I first learned how to decipher a Talmudic "sugya". In 11th grade I had a teacher, who, with a very innovative and perhaps unorthodox use of graphs and verbal introductions of concepts made the subject of Talmud clear to me for the first time (I used what I learned there in 12th grade as well). After I was done with high school I went on to fulfill my aspiration of engrossing myself full-time in Talmud in the Holy Land.
Year 1:
By the first year of my attendance in the "academies of Abaye and Raba" in Israel I was already relatively proficient in deciphering the Talmud, yet for the entire first half of the year I had felt that I was placed in a class in which I learned nothing. Finally in the summer I was transferred to a class that better suited me; the Rabbi (Goodman- מחבר ספר דברי יואל על הנביאים) went through Rashi, Tosafot, and the Rishonim using a spattering of relatively "simplistic" commentators which he found to be pertininent to the sugya. But it was not very lucid, and I was not quite happy there either.

I had to return to America early that year, and I attended a small yeshiva in Lakewood called Sha'arei Torah. I ended up returning there on and off for small periods the next few years. The Rosh Yeshiva was a friendly Rabbi from the state of Georgia, Rabbi Freundlich (which means "friendly"). His shiurim were far better than those I attended in Mikdash Melech, and I was, in essence, his top student. They were based on a bed of a consolidation of the opinions of some major Acharonim (such as the Ketzot and the Netivot) and the major Roshei Yeshivot, with a topping of his own discoveries of patterns and agendas in their opinions. I always considered his shiur to be far superior than one would imagine from a small yeshiva.
Year 2:
In the beginning of my second year I tried out an Israeli Sefaradi yeshiva in Petach Tikva called Pe'er Moshe (which I hoped had nothing to do with the fact that the Rosh Yeshiva's name was Moshe). I studied there under Rav Chaim Shvartz. Even though it was my first class in Hebrew I clearly understood him. He was very good at explaining differences of opinion between Rashi and Tosafot, as well as giving us a clear understanding of the problems and solutions of the early Acharonim.

By Chanuka (a small interim in the yeshiva winter semester) I realized most of the students there were not serious enough for my taste and returned to Jerusalem. To make a long story short me and another individual took someones advice to attend "the Mir". Since he had some classmates of his from Lakewood there who were attending a certain shiur and I had no connections, I attended the same shiur. Rabbi Wagshal.

His approach was to try to find patterns in the sugya at hand himself, without mentioning the commentators at all, unless they were part of the agenda he was trying to prove (which was supposedly an approach advocated by the former Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Nachum). I didn't quite like it because while I'm sure he had very interesting observations, since I was ignorant of what the commentators of the past 1,000 years said about the sugya I first wished to see what they had to say about things. After a little while I switched shiurim.

I then attended the shiur of Rav Nissan Kaplan--a very interesting individual if I don't say so myself. His shiur was, as I had wished, very much based on the commentators. He brought up pertinent Rishonim and a few Acharonim (such as the P'ne Yehoshua), he gave us a taste of the 'Brisk' approach, and at times even went into the halachic opinions on the subject of his own teachers (Rav shlomo Zalman Aurbach, yet he also mentioned Rav Noigershal).

In the summer I was offered a position by Rabbi Freundlich to teach Talmud in a camp to Modern Orthodox children from New Jersey (all the teachers were bachelors there). I tried to incorporate the teaching methods of my 11th grade teacher partly by presenting very comprehensive charts, and partly by making sure that there was no premise in the gemara that wasn't clearly explained before we started. Many of the others there went on to, in fact, educate children in Talmud for a living. I felt I could do it as well, twice as good as they could!

Those summers were actually the beginning of my exposure to Modern Orthodoxy; a religious approach which I've since adopted, but that is for another time. As a result of some acquaintances I made there, I started attending Shor Yoshuv during my interum periods in America instead of Shaarei Torah. There was the first place I saw students who studied Talmud in the morning, yet went to college in the afternoon, which to me was quite a novel idea at the time. My own Chavruta was in Medical School. Nonetheless, the shiur I attended there was also, like Rabbi Freundlich's, based on the influence of the Roshei Yeshivot approach, but was noticeably more "Brisker". I enjoyed becoming aquainted with the Brisker approach, but I knew that theirs was not an honest attempt at understanding the Gemara, but rather they used the Gemara as foundation on which to base their intellectual yet fanciful ideas about the Gemara. After teaching Talmud again that summer I returned to the Mir the following year.
Year 3:
I was in Rav Nissan Kaplan's shiur on and off for two years. After a while I became somewhat disillusioned with his pedagogic skills, much of it having to do with the fact that he was linguistically "undecided". He spoke English, Hebrew and Yiddish, yet the language he spoke was none of the above, which made it very difficult to understand his speech. I did until then, but I was unsure how much longer I would be able to hold out.

Around that time my friend had told me that he had been attending a "chabura" which he found to be very enjoyable. I told him that there were more chaburot in the Mir than one can count; why would I attend this one if I can attend any of the others. Still he insisted that "this one" was different. Without much of a choice I agreed to attend one. We were said to prepare a sugya in the first chapter which I had studied a while before, with Tosafot and the Maharsha. I went through it, as I had before, and attended the shiur.

I can say without any restraint that that was the best shiur I ever heard. He was a master orator who not only had full control of his voice and the English language, but more importantly of the sugya at hand; he never actually quoted Rashi or Tosafot or the Maharsha, but using their ideas explained the actual Gemara in a way that you not only stood Rav Huna, you felt like you were invited to a tour of Rav Huna's mind. Everything in the sugya was as clear as the sun; there was no room for doubt or confusion in anything.

As I continued coming to the chaburot I found more and more people coming from Rav Asher's shiur (the top shiur in the yeshiva) to instead hear this businessman from Georgia. After enough time it was clear to me that all the other shiurim were shrouded in darkness in regards to true understanding of the sugya. He once asked a very simple question to the gentlemen from Rav Asher's shiur about the stance of one of the (Raba's) opinions in the sugya. He gave them five minutes to think about this simple question that one would be inclined to answer instictively. After the wait he asked one of them, and they gave the obvious answer. Barry said it was incorrect. The man sitting next to him thought for a while and answered from a slightly different perspective. He was also incorrect. Barry then went on to show an extremely obvious point that they were overlooking, and again went on to explain the sugya as one who was broadcasting to us live from inside the brain of Raba.

Yet this all occured towards the end of the yeshiva year. I obviously wanted to study by Barry the coming year, but by then I had had quite enough of the Mir in general, and I wasn't sure I wanted to stay another year. I then learned that Barry was not creating this methodology on top of a fruit store. It turned out he had studied in Bircas Hatorah before he came to study under Rabbi Kaplan. After a bit of contemplation I decided to attend this yeshiva next year, where Barry Klein became who he was. Even before I came to Bircas though I was told by the faculty there that Barry's methodology did in fact sprout-up on in a fruit store, and that he only used the methodology taught in Bircas as a basis for his innovations. I thought that even if that is the case it would still be better for me to attend Bircas to obtain those same basics myself. I wanted to have a solid basis on which to dissect his methodology anyway, so that I would reveal the mechanics behind his "magic".
Year 4:
Before I continue, a word about "the methodology". It turned out that it was based on a reconfiguration of a form of Classic Logic for Talmud study formulated by the Ramchal in his "Ways of Reason". This book was then discovered and reprinted in an English translation by the rosh yeshiva of the diaspora yeshiva, Rabbi Mordecai Goldstein--the teacher of Rabbi Green. Rabbi Green in turn tinkered with the methodology even further to render it more palatable to contemporary Talmudists. He was meant to publish his form of the methodology in a pamphlet, but that has yet to happen (though other works from the yeshiva have been published).

Another very important facet of his methodology was the incorporation of ideas from people like Malachi Hacohen and Yitzchak Kanfanton, who were basically recording the Spanish tradition of Talmudic analysis, which is why I found a certain amount of racial pride in the methodology; it was not new, but in fact only a reincarnation of the Talmudic methodologies of the Spanish Jews.

Back to my stay in Bircas: I first studied under the Rosh Yeshiva himself, which was enjoyable, yet it seemed that he took for granted that his weathered students knew "the methodology". I therefore decided to leave after a month to attend the shiur of Rabbi Wegbreight, who supposedly stressed the teaching of the actual methodology. I can say that I learned much by him, and while some of the most studious pupils came out without a full grasp of the methodology, I not only fully understood it but was able to teach it to a friend of mine when I returned to America that summer. But still, the methodology was what I intended it to be; too mechanical, mathematical almost. There was no life in it, none of the brilliant expositions of mr. Klein. I had in fact revealed the mechanism, but not the magic.

I very much would have liked to return to Barry's shiur then, with these new foundations to work with, and discover how in fact he built such magnificent edifices, but alas, it was too late. I was already quite old to be dawdling away my time with some ancient Aramaic texts. I was 22, and if I ever wished to be considered by girls and be married and raise a family one day, I would have to leave the yeshiva. I just stare at the walls..
[Hm. I find myself considering the revalation of this inormation somewhat embarassing. I'm not even sure I want it posted here.]

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Larry Phenomenon

As with many times in the past, I have recently found myself, friends, almost falling victim to the Larry Phenomenon. I spoke about this on the blog not long ago, but since I am now viewing it from a slightly different perceptive I wish to speak of it again. For further explanation regarding this phenomenon watching the video is an obvious necessity.

I have mentioned this in previous posts: My own experiences have proven that people usually like outgoing and personable people. I once mentioned on this very platform that while working in a Chinese restaurant in Manhattan I had a female coworker who seemed to defy a lot of my previous notions about social interactions. She was not very attractive, her personality was not quite magnetic etc., and yet she "forced herself into a position of likability by people". Of course I despised her and she seemed to understand that, but she seemed to get along quite well with most other people. This repugnant and unabashedly anti-Christian behavior of total self-aggrandizement seemed to have brought her a fair amount of social acceptance.

Yet the other possible result of such behavior is becoming a "Larry", someone who does not belong yet forces himself into a social group. I have an acquaintance here in my home Shtetl of Boro Park. He is an older Tel-Avivian bachelor, who I actually consider to be quite interesting, but who perhaps is not considered as such by all. Yet still he does in fact force himself upon people who might not be interested in talking with him or spending time with him. Obviously his outgoing personality does not allow him to become overly concerned with considering whether the person he's speaking to actually enjoys his presence. For myself, on the other hand, that can become a main concern when intruding upon individuals, especially in the case of females. ..while it is true that I must learn to overcome my timidity, I also have no interest in becoming a Larry. No sir, not at all, I have no stomach for it.

How then is one to determine if they are being a Larry? My mother was recently watching another dated film ("The Philadelphia Story") in which, basically, a charismatic man steals a woman away from not only her ex-husband but her fiance, when in fact he had little place speaking with her in the first place. Certainly he is no Larry! In fact he's Jimmy Stewart! This is no proof though, since even if Jimmy Stewart were to introduce himself with just as much gusto as Larry himself it would not lower his esteem in the eyes of those who met him.

Thus far my research has not been conclusive on this social phenomenon, yet I am still eager to come to a sound conclusion on this subject, since it so intimately affects my very self. Any ideas?