Monday, September 24, 2007

Succot and Eretz Yisrael

It once occurred to me that there are two positive mitzvot in all the Torah that can be done while sleeping: Succah and Yishuv HaAretz. This was a yearly vort that I would give people until I found it worded slightly differently in the name of the GR"A in the first chapter of Kol HaTor: There are two mitzvot that a person enters in to with their entire body: Succah and Eretz Yisrael. The mitzvah of Succah is that it should be made, and not from what is already made (Aseh v'lo min he'asuy), and thus it is for Tzion (that the building of Tzion/Eretz Yisrael requires doing from Am Yisrael). May we all be zocheh to perform these two mitzvot in their shleimut during the coming Chag!

Sunday, September 23, 2007


What better way to catch everyone off guard than starting with something not on the list in the last post? Hebrew is one of my passions, so I thought I would discuss the dualities in Hebrew. The difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Hebrew (and by that I mean the way it was pronounced before the modern era, when the communities were still relatively insulated) is enough to confuse someone not used to the variety. The Hebrew language has the following characteristics:

  • There are 22 letters, of which 6 (or 7 according to Sefer Yetzirah) have secondary sounds. Only two letters should have duplicate sounds (Sin and Samech), giving us a total of 27 or 28 unique sounds.
  • There are 8 basic vowel sounds (not including kamatz and shva and chaser variations)

When an Ashkenazi Jew hears Sephardi Hebrew, he notices all the new sounds of the consonants. The chet and the ayin are usually the most striking. Depending on the community, the sounds of quf, tsadee, and tet, as well as beged-kefet letters without a dagesh, will also stick out.

When a Sephardi Jew hears Ashkenazi Hebrew, he notices the greater variety in vowel sounds than his own Hebrew.

But who is right and who is wrong? Our sources surely show that there are more consonental sounds than is present in Ashkenazi Hebrew (take beged-kefet letters as the obvious case, and the statement in the Gemara to lengthen the daled at the end of Shma Yisrael). The necessity for differences in the vowels is also self-evident. Kamatz is from the language of k'mitzat ha'peh, closing the mouth in an aw or oh sound. Patach is from p'tichat ha'peh, meaning to open the mouth wider, which is an accurate description of most Ashkenazic pronunciations of these vowels.

The answer is that neither is 100% right, but each has an essential aspect of Truth within it.

In closing, I will translate a Baraita from the Yerushalmi from Brachot 2:2:

תני אין מעבירין לפני התיבה לא חיפנין ולא בישנין ולא טיבעונין מפני שהן עושין היהין חיתין ועיינין אאין אם היה לשונו ערוך מותר

It is taught: (We) do not appoint as Shliach Tzibur not people from Haifa, nor people from Bishah (I'll admit I have no idea how that city name is pronounced), nor people from Givon, because they pronounce their Heh's like Chet's and their Ayin's like Alephs, but if their language is proper, it is allowed.

This is of course an issue that touches on halachah and one should look in to the subject seriously in the halachot of Kriat Shma and Shliach Tzibur in the Rambam, Shulchan Aruch, etc, but we should notice that the implication here is that those that formed this Baraita did not say that because it was their minhag, it was acceptable behavior. They said it was wrong and therefore we shouldn't let such a person be the shliach tzibur.

Postscript: Yes, I ignored Yemenite Hebrew in this analysis. From my own humble analysis it is indeed very close to proper Hebrew, but I do have some logic issues with it that are off topic.

The Fight for Balance

The Jewish world, as we know it, suffers from immense division. We find many different parts of Torah that are taught in opposing fashions. The move towards polarization has increased in the last few generations. Our goal in this generation is balance. That is the message in Kol HaTor, balancing the Left and the Right. The truth is found between the extremes that we find, and it is our task to reveal the Center. That is where the Truth stands. I would like to examine some Jewish dichotomies in the coming posts and hopefully find some clarity and show a point of Truth. Possible Subjects Include:

  • Outlook on Geulah - Natural or Miraculous
  • Approach to apparent contradictions between Science and Torah - Rational or Blind Faith

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Three Oaths

Sorry for the long delay since the last post. I have been back from my "break", but I have not wanted to post until I had what to say.

The source text for this topic is a Gemara at the end of Ketubot, on page 111a. Starting on the prior page (110b) there are a few statements brought down in the Rambam about Eretz Yisrael, but these are not 100% on topic today.

Based on the phrase "I have imposed an oath on you, daughters of Jerusalem" from Shir HaShirim, which occurs three times throughout the book, it is taught that there are three oaths which have been imposed on Am Yisrael and the Nations of the World upon our entry to Exile.

  1. That Am Yisrael will not go up "in a wall" (usually meant to mean "as" a wall, i.e. in great numbers)
  2. Not to revolt against the Nations of the World
  3. That the Nations of the World are not to enslave us too greatly (the word, shi'bud, is the same word used for the slavery in Egypt, and what we seek freedom from by the hand of Moshiach ben Yosef)

Note there are two oaths put upon us, one upon the Nations of the World.

For those of you who are not familiar, the Three Oaths are the halachic block that some groups use to say that Jews shouldn't make Aliyah until Moshiach comes.

Rav Chaim Vital, in the introduction to Etz Chaim, writes that the oaths had a duration of one millenium, and he brings a few sources for this opinion, which we can take as the Ariza"l's opinion on the matter as well.

From what I have seen, the GR"A does not say that the oaths expired, but he does interpret them differently. It says not to go up as a wall. The Gemara does not say "where" we are going up to. In his commentary on Tikkunei Zohar (Tikkun 26, Daf 157, on the words ובמה וכו' בימינא), he says that the oath about going up as a wall is referring to the Beit HaMikdash. We are not permitted to use force to build the final Beit HaMikdash. The oath does not apply to creating a political entity who sovereignty over part or all of the Land of Israel.

This leads me to the Churvah synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. It was either in Mosad HaYesod or Chazon Tzion, which come in the same set of 3 books (If you have this set and would like an exact reference, please let me know, its been a while and I'll have to dig it up). It said that in building the Churvah synagogue, the Jews were on one hand building a community and religious center. On the other hand, they were calming the fears of the Ottomans and the Arabs that they had immediate aspirations to the Temple Mount.

When the time is right, Hashem will bring down the Final Beit HaMikdash, around which the physical building will be built by human hands (thus fulfilling the two opinions, one that it is built by us, the other is that it is built Above and descends to earth, see the Ramcha"l, Mishknei Elyon. I don't have a page, but search for the words הבית העליון יתפשט. For online text, go here and click on משכני עליון on the right side of the page). This will be with the agreement of the nations. Their agreement will not necessarily seem to come from such pure intentions, much as it was in 1947, nor will it last for long, as it did then.