Too Much Heart – Comments on Parashat Kedoshim

The 15th of Shevat

Not long ago, we celebrated the holiday of Tu BiShevat (ט”ו בשבט), commonly referred to as “the new year for trees.” In actuality, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat is not a “holiday” at all. In was only in the 16th century that the kabbalists of Tzefat, most notably Yitzhak Lurya (the “Arizal”), imbued the day with mystical significance and even formulated a “seder” after the fashion of the seder shel Pesah – complete with four cups of wine, a haggadah, and special foods – a rite which has unfortunately become nearly ubiquitous among Jewish communities today. Being a late contrivance that was specifically invented to further the dualist mystical system of Luria, it should be altogether avoided. The more modern modern conception of Tu BiShevat as “Israeli Arbor Day,” wherein children are taught about the fruits of the land of Israel and the regulation of agriculture by the Torah, is a positive development and should be encouraged.

Tu BiShevat is actually nothing more than a calendrical marker created by Hazal in order to facilitate the observance of the laws of orlah. The Mishnah, in Masekhet Rosh HaShanah 1:1, lists Tu BiShevat  as one of the four “new years” that takes place throughout the year. It says,

TEXT

באחד בשבט ראש השנה לאילן כדברי בית שמאי בית הלל אומרין בחמישה עשר בו

TRANSLATION

“On the first of the month of Shevat is the ‘new year for a tree,’ according to the words of Beit Shamai, but Beit Hillel say, ‘One the fifteenth day of the month.'”

This rosh ha-shanah le-ilan (ראש השנה לאילן) is a necessary institution in order to objectively determine when the fruit of newly-planted trees becomes permissible according to the Torah in Vayikra 19:23-25, which says:

TEXT

כג וְכִי תָבֹאוּ אֶל הָאָרֶץ וּנְטַעְתֶּם כָּל עֵץ מַאֲכָל וַעֲרַלְתֶּם עָרְלָתוֹ אֶת-פִּרְיוֹ שָׁלֹשׁ שָׁנִים יִהְיֶה לָכֶם עֲרֵלִים לֹא יֵאָכֵל כד וּבַשָּׁנָה הָרְבִיעִת יִהְיֶה כָּל-פִּרְיוֹ קֹדֶשׁ הִלּוּלִים לַיהוָה כה וּבַשָּׁנָה הַחֲמִישִׁת תֹּאכְלוּ אֶת-פִּרְיוֹ לְהוֹסִיף לָכֶם תְּבוּאָתוֹ:  אֲנִי, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם

TRANSLATION

23 – And when you come to the land and you have planted every type of [fruit-bearing] tree for food, you shall consider its fruit as forbidden as the orlah of the uncircumcised. For three years shall those trees be as uncircumcised to you and you shall not eat from them. 24 – In the fourth year all of its fruit shall be holy to, and comprise a praise of, HaShem. 25 – In the fifth year you shall eat its fruit so that it may thereby produce additional fruit. I am HaShem your God.”

The word “uncircumcised” is arel (ערל) and refers to an uncircumcised male, while the world orlah (ערלה) is a direct reference to the remaining foreskin of such males. But what do a tree or fruit have to do with either circumcision or foreskins? This question will be answered in the course of this essay, but first let us consider the overall process regulating the life of a fruit tree.

  • First, the tree is planted.
  • Second, it is left completely alone for its first three years.
  • Third, the fruit produced by it in the fourth year is brought to Yerushalayim to be consumed there.
  • Fourth, from the fifth year onward its fruit is permissible and may be eaten as usual.

This wasn’t the end, however. From the fifth year onward, most trees were subject to further laws, such as the bikkurim. These laws applied to grapevines, olive trees, pomegranate trees, fig trees, and date trees – which, together with wheat and barley, comprise the shiv’at minin (the “seven species” of special produce grown in the land of Israel). Beyond these five, the fruit of all trees were subject to the laws of berakhot, which one is required to recite before and after consuming them. In other words, the tree goes from a state of being completely forbidden to being regulated by laws and principles of the Torah. But what is the connection to circumcision?

Brit Milah and Milat HaLev

In Vayikra 12:3, the Torah commands the circumcision of eight-day-old infant males when it says,

TEXT

וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי יִמּוֹל בְּשַׂר עָרְלָתוֹ

TRANSLATION

“And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin (orlah) shall be circumcised.”

What is the purpose of this operation? The Rambam says in the Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Milah 3:8, that its reasons are two:

TEXT

מאוסה היא העורלה שנתגנו בה הרשעים שנאמר כי כל הגויים ערלים. וגדולה היא מילה שלא נקרא אברהם אבינו שלם עד שמל שנאמר התהלך לפניי והיה תמים ואתנה בריתי ביני ובינך

TRANSLATION

“The foreskin (orlah) is disgusting and the wicked of the world were deprecated thereby, as it is said, ‘For all of the nations are uncircumcised (arelim)’ [1]. Great is circumcision (milah), for Avraham Avinu was not called complete until he circumcised himself, as it is said, ‘Walk before me and be perfect, and I will give you my covenant, between me and you’ [2].”

[1] cf. Yermiyahu 9:25
[2] cf. Bereshit 17:1-2

So, (a) the foreskin is considered disgusting, and (b) it is the sign of completion and the covenant (berit) between the Jewish nation and God.

In the Moreh HaNavokhim (“Guide to the Perplexed”) III:49, the Rambam further explains his view of circumcision from the standpoint of philosophical erudition. He states that, “One of its objects is to limit sexual intercourse, to weaken the organ of procreation as much as possible, and thereby cause man to be moderate…The natural drive [for sexual fulfillment] retains its full power, but is guarded against excess.” In other words, the functional purpose of circumcision is to make it easier for Jewish men to make less use of their genitals’ sexual function.

The removal of the foreskin, beside its influence on sexual function, also has hygienic and practical daily ramifications. Uncircumcised males are often faced with the build-up of bacteria, discomfort, infections, and an extra need to touch or handle their members when urinating. All of this extra touching and the need for daily pre-occupation with and care for the sexual organ is obviated through the removal of the foreskin.

After the circumcision of a male, the surgical removal of the orlah, the usage of that organ is regulated by the wisdom and laws of the Torah related to sexual relationships. So it seems that the concept underlying the “circumcision” of trees and of Jewish males is the same: to lessen its overall usage and subject it to the laws of the Torah. For trees, years in which we can make use of their fruit are lessened and we are commanded to exercise complete restraint for the first four years. For males, their foreskins are circumcised, they enter into a time of complete sexual restraint, and then, once married, are directed to manage their drives and body in accordance with the regulations of the Torah.

“Circumcision” of the Heart?

Perhaps the imagery of circumcision makes sense when applied by the Torah to fruit trees, but what relevance could it have to one’s “heart”? In Devarim 10:16, the Torah commands us to,

TEXT

וּמַלְתֶּם אֵת עָרְלַת לְבַבְכֶם וְעָרְפְּכֶם לֹא תַקְשׁוּ עוֹד

TRANSLATION

“Circumcise the foreskin (orlah) of your hearts, and do not anymore stiffen your necks.”

In the Torah, the heart is seen as the seat of an individual’s emotional as well as intellectual activity. However, it requires development and training and is not naturally governed by principles or intellectual virtue. Without such training, the heart is essentially no different than that which is possessed by animals, operating on a level of reaction and instinct. So, what does this have to do with a “circumcision” of the heart?

In Bamidbar 15:39, we are warned,

TEXT

וְלֹא תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם זֹנִים אַחֲרֵיהֶם

TRANSLATION

“Do not turn aside after your hearts and after your eyes, after which you tend to go astray.”

The word usually translated “go astray” is zonim, which literally means “to prostitute oneself” or “to commit illicit sexual acts.” And herein lies the connection between one’s heart and circumcision.

Apparently, when we circumcise our hearts, we train ourselves to utilize it and be pre-occupied with it less, not more. It seems to me that the common conception of the Biblical phrase of “circumcising the heart” having the implication that we will have a greater and more intense use of our will and passions, may be mistaken. When one removes the orlah of their heart, they are effectively making it a subservient psychological organ with which they are not constantly pre-occupied. By virtue of being endowed with our rational capacity, signified by the tzelem elohim, we are supposed to be ruled by our intellects and not our passions.

Reflect on that for awhile.

Perhaps more later,

Kol tuv,

YB

The Prohibition of Hadash – A Meqori Perspective

[Note: The below is for information purposes only, as is everything on this site. The decision to act upon any of it or not is the personal decision of the reader and any details regarding the observance of any halakhah – especially those laws which are intricate, complicated, and/or severe – should be discussed with a competent rav.]

[Further Note: The position expressed below does not necessitate a functional change in the kashruth of hadash as commonly practiced today. However, it does place an almost identical practical outcome on a newer, and squarely meqori, line of reasoning. This is the intended purpose of what follows.]

What in the world is “hadash”?

The word hadash means “new” and is a reference to “new grain” – in other words, grain that has taken root after the sixteenth day of the Hebrew month of Nisan of one year until after the sixteenth of Nisan of the following year. During that time, the grain which took root is referred to as hadash or “new” and it is forbidden to eat it until after the sixteenth of Nisan.

So, what happens on the sixteenth of Nisan? This is the second day of the week of Pesah when the first of the grain offerings for the year – called the Omer – is offered in the Beyth HaMiqdash, or the Temple. In a time like today when there is no Temple, new grain is forbidden for the entire day of the sixteenth, but when the offering is brought in the time of a Miqdash, new grain becomes permitted directly after the Omer is offered during the day of the sixteenth within Jerusalem and surrounding areas, and after halakhic midday (hassoth) in the outlying areas. After either the Omer is offered or midday or the end of the sixteenth of Nisan, the grain is no longer referred to as hadash (“new”), but yashan (“old”), signifying its new permitted status.

Interestingly enough, the laws related to hadash and yashan stem from a single verse in Wayyiqra 23:14 which says,

TEXT

כג:יד  וְלֶחֶם וְקָלִי וְכַרְמֶל לֹא תֹאכְלוּ, עַד עֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה עַד הֲבִיאֲכֶם, אֶת קָרְבַּן אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:  חֻקַּת עוֹלָם לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם, בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם.

TRANSLATION

23:14 And you shall eat neither bread, nor parched grain, nor fresh kernels, until this very day, until you have brought the [omer] offering of your God; it is a statute forever throughout your generations and in all your dwellings.

With such large legal implications stemming from such a short passage, the laws governing the consumption of hadash and yashan seem to be in the category of what the Mishnah in Masekheth Haghiyghah (1:8) refers to as כהררים תלויים בשערה מקרא מועט והלכות מרובות – “Like mountains suspended by a hair, [meaning that in connection to this body of laws there is] little scriptural basis and a multitude of halakhoth.”

This prohibition, however, does not apply to all grains. As with the laws of hallah and hamess, the first mishnah in Masekheth Hallah tells us that the application of the law is the same also with regard to hadash and yashan – namely, that the only grains under the prohibition are the hamesheth miyney daghan (“the five species of grain”) which are listed there as החיטים והשעורים והכוסמין ושיבולת שועל והשיפון. The Rambam in Kitab As-Siraj (his commentary on the mishnayoth) explicitly says – as does the Mishnah and Gemara – that these are exclusively species of Wheat and Barley. The common identification of שיבולת שועל with “oats” is an incorrect identification made by Rashi (cf. b.Pesahiym 35a), as is his identification of several others. This means that oats, rice, and even “buckwheat” (which is actually not “wheat” at all) do not come under the prohibition of hadash at all. As an aside, I always refer to oats by the Modern Hebrew designation קוועקר (pronounced “Keveyker” – i.e. “Quaker [oats]”) and not שיבולת שועל in order to avoid furthering the confusion and misidentification. 

The exact reasoning behind this commandment is unclear. However, In the Guide the Rambam generally places particulars of agricultural commandments under the rubric of opposition to the vast array of idolatrous practices by ancient pagans which were practiced by them in their agriculture. He also usually views them as being important, unlike animal sacrifices, for engendering respect for God and gratitude for His provision for mankind and specifically the Jewish nation. The Sefer HaHiynukh (#303) explains that the offering of the Omer prior to partaking of any grain from the wheat or barley harvest from the previous year is analogous to the requirement to make a berakhah before partaking of food, drink, smell, before performing misswoth, or witnessing certain types of people or phenomena.

Who, When, Where, and How

So, we have gone over the “what” and the “why” – remaining are the questions of “who,” “when,” “where,” and “how.” In other words,

  • Who is obligated to observe the prohibition of hadash, and on whose grain does the prohibition fall?
  • When does this prohibition apply? Just when there is a Beyth HaMiqdash, or in the current era as well?
  • Where does it apply? In the land of Israel, or does it apply outside as well?
  • How does one observe this prohibition in the places and times that it does apply?

The Rambam in Hilkhoth Ma’akhalot Asuroth 10:2-6 specifies that the prohibition of hadash applies in every era, even when there is not a Miqdash. This is the undisputed law from Hazal and it is contested by no one. So, then, this answers the question of “when.” And we will revisit the specific of the Rambam’s opinion a little later on in our discussion.

As for the “who,” it applies to Jews wherever they live whether men or women – and even servants, i.e. everyone who is obligated to the public misswoth associated with the Land. However, there is another aspect of the “who” question which we will also return to in a bit.

However, the central question in our time – and indeed in every era in which these halakhoth were discussed – is the question of “where”: Where does the prohibition of hadash apply? Within Israel or outside of it also?

The Mishnah states in Masekheth Qiydhushiyn (1:9) that

TEXT

א,ט  כל מצוה שאינה תלויה בארץ נוהגת בארץ ובחוצה לארץ וכל מצוה שהיא תלויה בארץ אינה נוהגת אלא בארץ חוץ מן העורלה והכלאיים ורבי אליעזר אומר אף החדש

TRANSLATION

Every commandment which is not dependent on the Land, we conduct ourselves [in accordance with it both] in the Land and outside of the Land. And every commandment that is dependent on the Land, we conduct ourselves [in accordance with it] only in the Land, except for `orlah and kilayyim. And Rebbi Eli`ezer says, even hadash.

Rebbi Eli`ezer includes hadash, along with `orlah and kilayyim, as a prohibition that although it depends on the land it nevertheless is kept even outside of the land. We will examine the position of Rebbi Eli`ezer momentarily.

In Masekheth `Orlah (3:9) it says explicitly that

TEXT

החדש אסור מן התורה בכל מקום

TRANSLATION

Hadash is forbidden from the Torah in every place.

Because of the seemingly explicit nature of this Mishnah, many Rishoniym rule in accordance with the opinion of Rebbi Eli`ezer. However, as we shall see, the opinion of Rebbi Eli`ezer may not be as simple or as straightforward as it seems.

The Unresolved Bavliy

The issue of whether the prohibition of hadash applies everywhere or just in the land of Israel is based on the interpretation of the last phrase in the pasuq (Wayyiqra 23:14) where it says be-khol moshvoteykhem – “in all of your dwelling places.” In other words, what are the halakhic implications of the word be-khol?

In the Talmudh Bavliy, Qiydhushiyn 37a-38b, the discussion of what exactly is implied by the phrase be-khol moshvoteikhem seems to have never been truly resolved, with the hakhamiym being essentially divided. As Rashi comments in his piyrush on the Torah there:

TEXT

בכל משבתיכם: נחלקו בו חכמי ישראל יש שלמדו מכאן שהחדש נוהג בחוצה לארץ ויש אומרים לא בא אלא ללמד שלא נצטוו על החדש אלא לאחר ירושה וישיבה משכבשו וחלקו

TRANSLATION

“The sages of Israel were divided on this matter (i.e. the extent of the halakhah as determined by the interpretation of be-khol moshvoteykhem). There were some that learned [from here] that the [prohibition] of hadash applies outside of the land, and there are some who say that this phrase does not come to teach us anything except that we were not commanded concerning hadash until after taking possession and settling [of the land] after its conquest and division [among the tribes].”

Because of this lack of clarity in the sughyah of the Bavliy, most poseqiym were left to determine their positions on the basis of the Mishnah.

The only direct examination of the position of Rebbi Eli`ezer suggests two different ways of understanding him: [a] he holds that due to be-khol moshvoteikhem the prohibition of hadash applies only in the land, and [b] that he held that it only applied in the land of Israel and was not related to `orlah or kilayyim (this view sees that the Tana Qama in the Mishnah only mentioned `orlah and kilayyim but thereby implied hadash) but was instead governed by the general rule stated by the Mishnah

In other words, his statement in the Mishnah either comes to argue for leniency or stricture. In the end of the discussion, they conclude that Rebbi Eli`ezer’s statement should be seen as an argument for a stricter interpretation as opposed to that of the Tana Qama which excluded hadash.

It should be very carefully noted that the seemingly explicit statement from Masekheth `Orlah cited previously is never brought as a decisive proof in the course of the sughyah in Qiydhushiyn with regard to hadash. It stands to reason that if the Mishnah in `Orlah was supposed to be understood as constituting an explicit and incontestable prohibition of all hadash everywhere in the world that it would have been brought in this discussion. Had they done so, it seems that they would not have had anything much to discuss.

Either way, as noted by the Taz on Shulhan `Arukh, Yoreh De`ah 293:4, the Gemara does not conclude in a very definitive way in favor of the view that the halakhah is definitely like Rebbi Eli`ezer. In fact, it appears that even in the generation of Rav Ashey there was a difference of opinion as to whether the prohibition of hadash outside of Israel was de-rabbanan or a de-oraytha, as it states in b.Menahoth 68b.

So, it seems that the Talmudh Bavliy holds that there is a prohibition of hadash even outside the land, but many particulars seem to simply be left un-examined. For instance, does this apply to Jewish grain outside of Israel, or does it apply to non-Jewish grain as well? What about grain that has been exported to lands outside of Israel – does this have the prohibition of hadash as well?

The Simple and Succinct Talmudh Yerushalmiy

Interestingly enough, the statements of Rebbi Eli`ezer in the Mishnah of both Qiydhushiyn and `Orlah are met with the exact same (i.e. uniform) explanation in the Talmudh Yerushalmiy. For those who may not know, there is no Gemara in the Talmudh Bavliy for any masekhta in the first order of the Mishnah, except for Masekheth Berakhoth. For this reason, `Orlah is simply left without commentary by the Persian hakhamiym. This is mostly due to the fact that such laws were agricultural and tied directly to the land of Israel. In Babylon they simply had little or no relevance.

In `Orlah 20a of the Talmudh Yerushalmiy it comments on the statement of the Mishnah that החדש אסור מן התורה בכל מקום by stating the Mishnah from Qiydhushiyn, but qualifying it as follows

TEXT

החדש אסור מן התורה בכל מקום:  מתניתא דרבי ליעזר דתנינן תמן כל מצוה שאינה תלויה בארץ נוהגת בארץ ובחוצה לארץ וכל [מצוה] שהיא תלויה בארץ אינה נוהגת אלא בארץ חוץ מן הערלה ומן הכלאים.  רבי ליעזר אומר אף החדש.  מה טעמא דרבי ליעזר (ויקרא כג) בכל מושבותיכם בכל מקום בין בארץ בין בחוצה לארץ.  מה מקיימין רבנין טעמא דרבי ליעזר בכל מושבותיכם בחדש שכן יצא בחוץ

TRANSLATION

Hadash is forbidden from the Torah in every place. The Mishnah of Rebbi Li`ezer (i.e. a shorter form of “Eli`ezer” used in the Yerushalmiy) that we learned there: “Every commandment which is not dependent on the Land, we conduct ourselves [in accordance with it both] in the Land and outside of the Land. And every commandment that is dependent on the Land, we conduct ourselves [in accordance with it] only in the Land, except for `orlah and for kilayyim. And Rebbi Li`ezer says, even hadash.” What is the reason [for the statement] of Rebbi Li`ezer? [It is because of the phrase] Be-khol moshvoteykhem, meaning in every place whether in the land or outside of the land. What did the sages realize was the reason [for the statement] of Rebbi Li`ezer? Be-khol moshvoteykhem, meaning that [the prohibition applies] even to hadash that has traveled (i.e. has been carried; exported) outside the land.

Both the Peney Mosheh and the Qorban `Eydhah on the Yerushalmiy affirm that the Yerushalmiy meant by this explanation to exclude grain grown outside of Israel itself, and that Rebbi Eli`ezer’s statement was intended to prohibit only grain grown within Israel that was exported to outlying areas or surrounding countries. This interpretation actually fits quite nicely within the seeming vague resolution of the Bavliy. Being that the vast majority of farmers outside the land of Israel were non-Jews in the Talmudic era, it makes sense that this limitation was put on the prohibition of hadash.

The Position of the Ba”H and Non-Jewish Grain

But what about in later eras when Jews were allowed to own land and farm it in various lands of the Diaspora? Does hadash apply to Jewish grain grown outside of Israel?

First of all, let’s consider the common reasoning given for why the majority of orthodox Jews do not observe the prohibition of hadash today. In fact, it is almost completely ignored. There are two reasons: First is the halakhic position of the Ba”H (the Bayith Hadash) written by Rav Yoel Sirkis z”l on the Tur, and the second – referenced mainly by Hasidic Jews – is a supposed dream of Israel Baal Shem wherein he supposedly received a permissive answer to the question of the halakhic status of hadash.

The second of these reasons is ridiculous and is not worthy of wasted breath. The Torah is not in Heaven (i.e. lo ba-shamayim hiy) and the hakhamiym ruled in the Talmud that דברי חלומות לא מעלין ולא מורידין – “the words of dreams neither elevate a matter or bring it down,” meaning that we do not take the contents of dreams into account as regards halakhic decisions. This is true even for a naviy emeth – a “true prophet” – so how much more so for anyone else, especially a dubious character like the supposed founder of the Hasidism.

As for the position of the Ba”H, it is a bit complex and enlists many different aspects found in the sefariym of his predecessors. His position is basically that since he saw that all of the rabbis of his locale (sixteenth century Poland) – including the more pre-eminent ones among his teachers – completely ignored the prohibition of hadash, there must have been a cogent halakhic reason and therefore he sought a legal justification of such a practice. Citing Rishoniym who held that hadash never applies in the fields of grain which were grown by non-Jews, he brings evidence from several places in the Gemara that the `Omer offering was not able to be offered from grain grown in the fields of non-Jews. He extrapolated from this that grain unsuitable for the `Omer offering must likewise not be subject to the prohibition of hadash.

The view of the Ba”H was harshly criticized by many, most notably the Gr”a and the Sifthey Kohen on the Shulhan `Arukh. The Shulhan `Arukh itself rules that the laws of hadash apply even to grain grown in the fields of non-Jews. However, Rav Qaro likely wrote this because he read the words of the Rambam in Hilkhoth Ma’akhaloth Asuroth chapter 10 as referring to all grain everywhere. However, this – like his reading of the Rambam with regard to `eruviyn – may possibly be an overly strict reading. Nowhere does the Rambam specify in the Mishneh Torah that the grain under discussion is of either Jews or non-Jews.

The Practice of Yemen and the Rambam

Mori Yusef Qafih z”l writes in his piyrush on the Rambam there that while many people understand the position of the Ba”H to be a hiydhush and a da`ath yahiydh (a singularly novel halakhic position), this is actually not the case as it was the practice in Yemen from early times to take a similar position to the Ba”H. In Yemen, the practice was not to apply the prohibition of hadash to the grain of non-Jews. He also writes that while he was growing up and learning in Yemen that he heard from hakhamiym there that it was very possible that this was in actuality the position of the Rambam himself, and he brings various indications for this assertion from within the text of the Mishneh Torah itself.

Rav Ratson Arussi, chief rabbi of Kiryat Ono, rules that this is exactly the position of the Rambam with regard to hadash and the grain of non-Jews. He writes so specifically in a teshuvah.

TEXT

לק”י

כבוד הרב שלום וברכה

רציתי לדעת מה הדין ביום בנושא של תבואה חדשה לדעת הרמב”ם

איזה תבואה אסורה רק בשדה של יהודי? בארץ או גם בחו”ל? האם מותר “להעלים עין” ולא לשלוח משגיחים וכו’ לחו”ל על מנת לפטור את החדש בדרך של ספק ספיקא והאם בכלל אנו צאן הרמב”ם נוקטים בשיטת ספק ספיקא ואם כן מהם התנאים לסברה שכזאת

יורנו הרב וה’ יסייעהו בדבר תורתו

גלעד

תשובה: רק תבואת חו”ל של יהודי – אסורה. אבל תבואת חו”ל של גוי – אינה אסורה

TRANSLATION

Peace and blessing to his honor, the Rav.

I would like to know what is the proper ruling with regard to the new grain today in opinion of the Rambam.

Which grain is forbidden, only that which is grown in the field of a Jew? In the land or outside of it? Is it permitted to “turn a blind eye” and to purposefully not send kashruth inspectors to areas outside of Israel [where grain is grown] etc. and to render it permissible in any case through use of a safeq-safeqa? And can we who are included in the flock of the Rambam adopt the halakhic methodology of such a safeq-safeqa, and if so then what are the conditions for being able to use a line of reasoning such as this?

Guide us, our teacher, and may HaShem give you assistance in the matters of his Torah,

Gil`adh

Response: Only the [new] grain grown outside of Israel by a Jew is forbidden, but the [new] grain grown outside of Israel by a non-Jew is not forbidden.

Summing It All Up

So, it would seem from the sources that there is indeed a prohibition on hadash today, and that it applies even outside of the land of Israel. However, it only properly applies to grain grown by or in the fields specifically owned by Jews. Inside the land, however, it would seem that all grain – whether grown by Jews or non-Jews – is subject to the prohibition of hadash. This appears to be the best and most reasonable interpretation of both Talmudhiym overall, as well as the nuanced position of the Rambam himself.

Practical Considerations and Outcomes

And this brings us to the practical questions of “how”.

In Israel, the Rabbanut and other agencies are already very careful to monitor all grain grown in the land and to make sure that all products sold are, in fact, yashan and not hadash. However, while many Jews avoid imported products, specifically from America, due to concerns of hadash, it seems that there is really no halakhic concern in these instances and those living in Israel may eat of imported products made of wheat and barley grown by non-Jews from outside of Israel.

In America, the only possible concern for yashan would be the imported Israeli products which, as we just said, really present no concern (as long as they are certified kosher) since the Rabbanut and certifying agencies already monitor very closely for hadashThe same goes for most other countries throughout the world.

Europe is mostly the same, however I do remember hearing that Israel exports a lot of durum wheat used for semolina flour to some places along the coast of the Mediterranean. This type of flour is used mainly for noodles, so those in Europe may want to check into the source of flour for these products to make especially sure. Other than this, however, there does not seem to be any real concern for hadash.

I hope that this was clear, insightful, and helpful. I plan to draft a more concise Hebrew version of my understanding with regard to this important halakhic topic, so be on the lookout for that in the near future, be-`ezrath HaShem yithborakh.

Kol tuv,

YB

Being Meqori – The Life and Loss of Rabbi David Chelouche z”l

לק”י

Just over a month ago, Kelal Yisra’el suffered the loss of a great meqori hakham and Sefaradiy Chief Rabbi of Netanyah, HaRav David Chelouche z”l.

Rav Chelouche (שלוש) was born on January 1st 1920 and passed away on June 8th of this year. He authored many books of halakhah and commentary on the Miqra (Scripture, Tanakh), including a well-known collection of she’iloth and teshuvoth entitled Hemdah Genuzah (חמדה גנוזה). Notable relatives are his niece (the daughter of his sister) who was the wife of HaRav Mordekhai Eliyahu z”l and his younger brother, Rav Avraham Chelouche, who still serves as Chief Rabbi of Kefar Saba.

He learned at Yeshivath Porath Yosef and studied under HaRav `Ezra `Atiyyah z”l alongside such hakhamiym as: Hakham `Ovadyah Yosef z”l, HaRav Hayyim David HaLevi z”l, HaRav Ben Tziyon Abba Sha’ul, and others. In 1953, he was sent to serve as Chief Rabbi of Netanyah by the then operative Rishon Le-Ssiyon, HaRav Ben Tziyon Me’iyr Hai Uzziel z”l, a position in which he served up until his recent passing.

Among other things, he was a prominent supporter of the Ethiopian Jews, opposing the idea that they needed to undergo a giyur le-humrah in order to marry Jews from more traditionally-established communities.

Like many of his Israeli-Sefaradiy compatriots and fellow hakhamiym, Rav Chelouche had an authentic vision to unite all Jews under one, reasonable, livable halakhic norm in which all ethnocentric and divisions that developed during the galuth. His loss was such that it seems he may never truly be replaced, or at least that is the common feeling when such a great and holy hakham passes from our midst, but I am sure that even now – in the `olam ha-emeth (the “world of truth”) – he would assure us that if we strive it is possible to not only replace him at the level to which he attained, but also to surpass him – a notion that feels so far from our present reality. HaShem ya`azor lanu la-`aloth be-liymudh toratho kedhey la-`asoth (“May HaShem help us to rise in the learning of His Torah for the purpose of carrying it out”). Amen, selah.

One of my favorite hakhamiym of the current generation, Rav Haim Ovadia of Rockville, Maryland has done a short, two-part series on the halakhic ideology of Rav Chelouche that I highly recommend listening to, either at the links below or on his podcast channel which is also hosted at Spreaker.com.

In this series, Rabbi Ovadia learns through a portion of the introduction to Hemdah Genuzah, a portion of which I have provided below.

Hemdah Genuzah - Intro

Enjoy, and may HaShem grant us the zekhuth to live up to the ideals of His servant who has passed from our midst, but whose wisdom remains, HaRav David Chelouche z”l.

Kol tuv,

YB

Haircuts, Shaving, and Music During the Omer – A Meqori Perspective

No haircuts, no trimming, no shaving, no music, no engagements, no marriages – at least not until “Lag Ba-Omer.” Right? …Not exactly.

We have all heard the story about Rabbi Aqiva’s 12,000 (some say 24,000) students who, because they were not polite enough to one another, were wiped out in some sort of a plague. Because of these incredibly sad events – so the traditional story goes – we need to nationally mourn during these days. But when did this begin? Where is it written in Hazal that we need to abstain from such things? The fact is – it doesn’t.

The section of the Gemara that discusses this incident is found in b.Yevamoth 62b, which says:

TEXT

אמרו שנים עשר אלף זוגים תלמידים היו לו לרבי עקיבא מגבת עד אנטיפרס וכולן מתו בפרק אחד מפני שלא נהגו כבוד זה לזה והיה העולם שמם עד שבא ר”ע אצל רבותינו שבדרום ושנאה להם ר”מ ור’ יהודה ור’ יוסי ורבי שמעון ורבי אלעזר בן שמוע והם הם העמידו תורה אותה שעה תנא כולם מתו מפסח ועד עצרת אמר רב חמא בר אבא ואיתימא ר’ חייא בר אבין כולם מתו מיתה רעה מאי היא א”ר נחמן אסכרה

TRANSLATION

“They said, ‘Rebbi Aqiva had twelve thousand pairs of students from Givath to Antifras and all of them died at once because they did not conduct themselves with honor one to another, and the world was desolate until Rebbi Aqiva came to our teachers in the South and taught them [Torah]. Those masters were Rebbi Me’iyr, Rebbi Yehudhah, Rebbi Yosiy, Rebbi Shim’on, and Rebbi Eli’ezer ben Shammua. And they upheld the Torah in that [difficult] hour. It was taught by a Tanna that all of them died between Pesah and Shavu’oth. Rav Hama bar Abba, or possibly Rav Hiyya bar Abiyn, All of them died an evil death. What was it? Rav Nahman says, Asphyxiation.”

Despite the fact that Rav Sherira Gaon (in his well-known Iggereth) describes the cause of death as being shemada (i.e. the Aramaic form of “shmad,” or government murder of Jews), and not askarah (“asphyxiation”) – which lends itself more plausibly, in the view of some scholars, that the original reference is to the death of Rebbi Aqiva’s students who fought during the Second Jewish Revolt under Bar Kokhvah and perished at the hands of the Romans – this passage leaves us with several questions.

[1] Where does it say that Kelal Yisra’el needs to nationally enter a state of mourning due to this?

[2] Which students died between Pesah and Shavu’oth, the twelve thousand pairs or the rabbaniym from the South who arose after them?

[3] Is the story – as told in the Bavli (and the parallel passage in Bereshiyth Rabbah) – midrashic, and therefore metaphoric, in nature or are we to take it literally? It doesn’t seem likely that Rebbi Aqiva would have produced students who were so terrible that they deserved Divine destruction to the point of endangering the Torah.

[4] If it is obvious that the import of this passage is to cause Kelal Yisra’el to actively mourn during sefiyrath ha-omer, then why does the passage not just say so? And, further, why do neither Rashi nor Tosafoth discuss it there on the daf? In fact, the Mahzor Vitry does not mention this practice [i.e. to mourn] at all.

[5] The Rambam never mentions such a thing as national [quasi] mourning for any event during the omer. When he mentions other later customs, why doesn’t he mention this one?

As far as being meqori is concerned, a few of the Geonim mentioned in their writings that due to the tragedy of Rebbi Aqiva’s students some did not contract marriages during the omer. And this is probably a good idea, although it is not a halakhah that was ever mentioned, or even a suggested practice, in the Mishneh Torah. Refraining from the contracting of marriages during the omer likely falls under being respectful to Jewish communal traditions. But refraining from music, haircuts, or shaving – things which are private – are certainly mutar according to halakhah.

According to the Rambam, there is no directive to mourn in this way except for actual halakhic mourning (such as during shiva and sheloshiym – Hilkhoth Evel 6:1-3) and the week in which Tisha Be-Av falls (Hilkhoth Ta’aniyoth 5:6). And so, that which is permissible throughout the year is halakhically permissible during sefiyrath ha-omer.

The entire timbre of the omer period seems to have been turned on its head; from a time of joy and celebration to a time of sadness and mourning. Shavu’oth is referred to as Assereth (עצרת) and as “the” assereth to Pesah. This designation means that Shavu’oth is meant to be the official end (read, culmination) of the Pesah celebration in the same way that Sheminiy Assereth is the capstone to Sukkoth in the Fall. This should strongly indicate to us that the omer is supposed to be a time of quasi-celebration for Kelal Yisra’el, not mourning and sadness at all.

This is yet another example of asceticism and kabbalah obscuring the true meaning of the Torah and the halakhah. In fact, it is a misswah to trim your beard and cut your hair bikhvodh shabbath, which is why Rav Soloveitchik z”l and others took a “lenient” position with regard to the custom of not shaving or taking haircuts during the omer. For those who are interested in his position on the matter, it is easily located in sources written about Rav Soloveitchik and his teshuvoth on various halakhic questions.

In the next post, I will talk about the fake holiday of “Lag Ba-Omer” that has led to some idolatrous practices (halilah) and should, in my opinion, be avoided as much as possible.

Enjoy your haircut and your tunes,

YB

[Note: The above is for information purposes only, as is everything on this site. The decision to act or not act upon any of it is the personal decision of the reader and any details regarding the observance of any halakhah – especially those which are intricate and/or are severe – should be discussed with a competent rav.]

Counting the Omer – A Meqori Perspective

Sefiyrath Ha`Omer – A Relatively Simple Misswah

The Torah, in Wayyiqra 23:15, commands us as follows:

TEXT –

וּסְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת מִיּוֹם הֲבִיאֲכֶם אֶת-עֹמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה שֶׁבַע שַׁבָּתוֹת תְּמִימֹת תִּהְיֶינָה

TRANSLATION –

“And you shall count for yourselves, [beginning] from the day after the [festival] sabbath, from the day that you bring the `omer-offering of waving – there shall be seven complete weeks.”

From this pasuq, Hazal taught – among other things – that each male of Kelal Yisra’el, beginning with the second night of Pesah, needs to begin counting (vocally, and with a berakhah) seven weeks (49 days), after which would be the festival of Shavu`oth. Although we cannot currently offer the `omer, we nevertheless count the days and weeks as was done in the days of the Beth HaMiqdash.

What Does It All Mean?

Usually around the time of sefiyrath ha-`omer we begin hearing the kabbalistic buzz of latter-day interpretations of these 49 days, seven weeks. Everything from combining supposed “sefiros” to “tikkun ha-middos” is mentioned in Jewish books and religious newspapers. Some even relate it to the “49 levels of tumah” that are mentioned in the Tiqquney Zohar.

The truth, however, is that the Gemara merely states that it is “zekher le-miqdash – a remembrance of the Temple” (b.Menahoth 66a) and nothing further. The Rambam in the Moreh HaNavokhiym (III:43) expands on this idea and tells us that it is a “countdown” to the anniversary of the Matan Torah (“the Giving of the Torah”) and that, just as one counts the weeks, days, and hours before the arrival of a dear friend, so also does the Jewish nation build anticipation toward Shavu`oth by counting these seven weeks of days.

Traditionally, the anticipation of receiving the Torah “anew” – as it were – has generated a focus on teshuvah and the improvement of the miyddoth (character traits). This is an excellent idea, but unfortunately it has taken on a flaky mystical focus and any real personal growth is usually overshadowed if not forgotten. Le-`aniyuth da’ati (in my humble opinion), I think that the best and most productive tradition in this vein in that of learning a chapter a week of Pirqey Avoth. I also would HIGHLY recommend learning a chapter each day of Hilkhoth De`oth (laws of character development) from the Mishneh Torah, and I consider it no accident that it too contains exactly seven chapters.

Focusing on one’s miyddoth before receiving the Torah is completely appropriate since the halakhah states that Torah is only to be taught to a student whose character is refined and whose deeds are good (cf. Mishneh Torah, Hilkhoth Talmudh Torah 4:1).

The Rambam in the MT: Just Two Short Halakhoth

Did you forget to count at night? Did you forget to count an entire day? Did you forget more than one day? Do you make a berakhah during the day? Can you make a berakhah if you forgot a day? These and other considerations are the common discussion points of the obligation to count the `omer today. The entire conversation has become one infused with many doubts due to a lack of confidence to decide the actual halakhah and has also become subsumed – as have many areas of Jewish law – in kabbalistic sentiments and concerns.

For all of the questions, doubts, and supposed halakhoth that can be found related to sefiyrath ha-`omer – comprising a veritable mountain – the Rambam in the Mishneh Torah dedicates only two to the subject. Two short halakhoth, placed in Hilkhoth Tamiydhiyn Umusafiyn (7:19-20 in the Yemenite [i.e. Correct and Uncorrupted] Editions), give the definition of one’s obligation, and they are as follows:

TEXT –

יט מצות עשה לספור שבע שבתות תמימות מיום הבאת העומר שנאמר “וספרתם לכם ממוחרת השבת” ומצוה למנות הימים עם השבועות שנאמר “תספרו חמישים יום” ומתחילת היום מונין לפיכך מונה בלילה מליל שישה עשר בניסן שכח ולא מנה בלילה מונה ביום ואין מונין אלא מעומד ואם מנה מיושב יצא

כ מצוה זו על כל איש מישראל ובכל מקום ובכל זמן ונשים ועבדים פטורין מספירת העומר וצריך לברך בכל לילה אשר קידשנו במצוותיו וציוונו על ספירת העומר קודם שיספור מנה ולא בירך יצא ואינו חוזר ומברך

TRANSLATION –

19 “It is a positive commandment [of the Torah] to count seven complete weeks, from the day that the `omer is first brought, as it says, ‘And you shall count for yourselves [beginning] from the day after the [festival] sabbath.’ And the commandment includes the counting of the days along with the weeks, as it says, ‘You shall count fifty days.’ And we count at the very beginning of the day, therefore we count at night, from the night of the sixteenth of Nisan onward. One who forgot and did not count at night should count during the day.

And we do not count except when standing [le-khatehilah], but if one counted while sitting then [bedi`avadh] he fulfills his obligation.

20 “This commandment is an obligation for every man of [Kelal] Yisra’el, and it applies in every place and in every time. Women and servants are exempt from sefiyrath ha-`omer. It is necessary to make the berakhah each night, ‘who has sanctified us with his commandments and has commanded concerning the counting of the `omer‘ before one counts.

[Bedi`avadh] if one counted without making a berakhah, he [nevertheless] fulfills his obligation and he does not go back and make the berakhah.”

The Rambam seems to hold the following:

[1] Only men are obligated to count the `omer. Women may [and likely should] count, but without a berakhah. There are opinions that include women fully in the obligation and allow her to count with a berakhah, but this position is not that of the Rambam and I myself do not hold this way. Although, as an aside, I have daughters who hold like me and do not count with a berakhah, another who does not count at all, and another who counts with a berakhah. It is important to me that my children do not feel too separated from their religious Jewish peers as that can be psychologically damaging. If I make distinctions between our family and others in our community in terms of practice, it is only in very foundational issues and the vast majority of the time these distinctions consist of hashqafic tenets (e.g. monotheism, superstitions, `avodhah zarah, “rebbe” worship, “gadolatry,” etc.) – making a berakhah when their hearts are happy and full to do the will of God, especially when they have on whom to rely, is not something that I insert myself too strongly into. I give them a pleasant and non-threatening explanation of how I hold halakhically and leave it at that. (This is good advice for the many meqori parents out there who tend to be too exacting and harsh on their children – believe me this does critical damage to their little psyches!)

[2] Both weeks and days must be enumerated. This is normative halakhah today and needs no explanation.

[3] Counting begins the second night of Pesah. This is normative halakhah today and needs no explanation.

[4] Counting is [le-khatehilah] done at night. This means after complete nightfall (sseth ha-kokhaviym) and no earlier. If one forgot to count at night, then they should still count during the day – and apparently with a berakhah. Although the position of the majority of later rishoniym and poseqiym is to count during the day only without a berakhah, there were Geonic opinions (such as the Halakhoth Gedholoth) who did not object to making the berakhah even during the day. It seems that this was also the opinion of the Rambam. In the style of the Rambam, if he felt that making a berakhah during the day was prohibited, then he would have said so – and he does not. It is important to note that Mori Yusef Qafih z”l interprets the Rambam as being of the position that the berakhah is not said when counting during the day, and since we do have a general halakhic principle of safeq berakhoth le-haqel (“in a doubt of the obligation to make a berakhah we always refrain”), perhaps this is the best course of action. After all, the Rambam states explicitly that the berakhah does not prevent one from fulfilling his obligation.

[5] Counting should be done while standing. As is clearly stated above.

[6] The berakhah is – ברוך אתה ה’ אלהינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצוותיו וצונו על ספירת העומר

Forgotten Days

Although the Rasa”g (Rav Sa`adyah Gaon) in his siddur rules that one may continue counting with a berakhah through the entire seven weeks of the `omer, he does note that if one forgets to count the very first night then he cannot continue counting at all with a berakhah. This is because of his diyyuq of the word “temiymoth – complete” from the pasuq in Waiyyiqra (p. 155 – קנה).

The position of the Rambam in his teshuvoth (as brought there by Mori Yusef Qafih z”l in his commentary on the MT) is that one who forgets on any night, even the first, even if he misses multiple days, may upon remembering (or simply doing teshuvah, whatever the case may be) continue to count throughout the entire seven weeks with a berakhah. The Rambam adds, however, that one who forgets a day may not say the word “temiymoth – complete” in the declaration made on the last night of the `omer. The word “temiymoth – complete” is not said in the nosah of the Baladi Yemenite tradition, but rather the Aramaic word “shalmey – complete,” and it too should be avoided by one who forgot to count for an entire day during the `omer.

Enjoy your countdown to Shavu`oth. I will be posting about the contrived “holiday” of “Lag BaOmer” in the next post.

Until then, berakhoth le-kulam.

YB

[Note: The above is for information purposes only, as is everything on this site. The decision to act or not act upon any of it is the personal decision of the reader and any details regarding the observance of any halakhah – especially those which are intricate and/or are severe – should be discussed with a competent rav.]

What Happened To Jewish Prayer? – A Mekori Perspective – Part I: Introduction

“It is a positive commandment [mitzvat aseh] to pray each day, as it is said, ‘And you shall serve HaShem your God’ (Shemot 23:25). From the part of the Oral Torah heard by Mosheh himself, they learned that this ‘service’ is a reference to prayer. And it is said, ‘And you shall serve Him with all of your heart’ (Devarim 11:13). The hakhamim said regarding this verse (b.Ta`anit 2a), ‘What is this service that is in the heart? This is prayer.”

(Rambam, Hilkhot Tefillah 1:1)

Jewish prayer 1And so begins the laws of prayer in the Mishneh Torah. The Rambam goes on to explain that throughout the Biblical era prior to the Babylonian exile each person composed his own prayers in pure Hebrew (called “yehudit” – cf. Nehemyah 13:24). Hazal relate to us that the morning, evening, and afternoon times of prayer were instituted by the avot themselves (cf. b.Berakhot 26b). However, after Ezra HaSofer returned with the exiles from Babylon, he set up the supreme court of 120 hakhamim (a court unmatched at any time in history) known as the Anshei Keneset HaGedolah (“Men of the Great Assembly”). These great visionaries set up the entire system of what is recognizably rabbinic Judaism today; the official formula of berakhot and the proper occasions to recite them, the minyan, the synagogue system, public kriat ha-torah, and the texts of the prayers were all instituted by Ezra and his grand beit din.

The reason for this sudden change in protocol was that, due to the exile, the majority of the Jewish people were unable to adequately compose their prayers, let alone in their own native language of Hebrew (cf. Hilkhot Tefillah 1:4). To remedy this, the hakhamim created a standard prayer of eighteen short blessings to express the collective and individual praises, gratitude, and needs of the Jewish nation (1:5). The hakhamim knew that praying and expressing religious concepts in foreign languages – or, more accurately the inability to verbalize them in Hebrew – could be a doorway to avodah zarah and religious misconception. One example of such misconception is illustrated by the common [mis]translation of the Hebrew word kippur (כפור) by the English term “atonement,” which is an expressly Christian idea related to their idolatrous conceptions of God. This is why prayers and blessings that are said in foreign languages, although allowed, are subject to intense rabbinical scrutiny. The translation of their wording and content must be by an expert, and even in translation such blessings require the mention of the Hebrew names of God (i.e. untranslated) in order to be halakhically valid (cf. Hilkhot Berakhot 1:6, and the comments of Rav Yosef Qafih z”l there).

The purpose of composing various blessings, and developing them in accordance with a set structure and formulation, was to make them “well-ordered prayers and blessings in the mouth of all Israel, so that all of the subject matter of each blessing will be prepared and ordered in the mouth of the non-native Hebrew speaker” (1:6). The people who occasioned the drafting of the prayers and blessings were not religiously educated. It is not as if they were all benei yeshivah.I Rather, the text of the Tanakh shows that they were fairly ignorant of Jewish laws, the Hebrew language, and even elements of their own culture. Only the scholarly elite such as Ezra and his colleagues still understood the Torah and its laws. And this is the point: the prayers were meant to be relatively simple to memorize for the sake of such under-educated people, but their text has grown to be something that is overwhelming and unfortunately irrelevant to many. What happened?

nosha'oth comparedOver time, the text of the prayers has grown from something that – in the rite that I personally use – consists of a few double-sided pages and takes roughly 7-15 minutes to complete (depending on the time of day) into something that spans hundreds of pages and requires anywhere from 20 minutes to more than an hour and a half. And this is just for daily prayers. When we look at the nosah for the entire year, the Rambam records roughly 20 pages of text whereas the common mahzor set today includes six or seven volumes, each of them containing several hundred pages. So, I ask again, what happened to Jewish prayer? What caused something that was easily memorized and required relatively little time to perform to become a task that cannot be reasonably completed without having a textbook and half an hour?

If we are going to be completely honest, we have to admit that most “orthodox” Jews – whether they were raised in religious Jewish homes, are baalei teshuvah, or are gerim – alternately do not enjoy prayer, do not pray properly, and in many cases simply neglect daily prayer altogether. The reasons for this are simple:

[a] The nosah is incredibly long.

[b] The physical posture employed is passive rather than active.

[c] It requires uncomfortable equipment.

[d] The prayers are hurried and rushed through, leaving all but the trained ‘murmurer’ behind.

[e] Late kabbalistic additions are many times strange and change the simplicity of focus.

[f] There is much mis-education regarding the true nature of prayer and its centrality in the daily worship of the One God of Israel.

All of the aforementioned reasons tend to cause a sense of futility and intimidation in religious newcomers while cultivating a numbness among seasoned participants. These factors often lead people not to care about or even desire understand what they are saying, being more concerned with racing through a mumbled string of paragraphs to fit everything in. Even our children have become infected with this dysfunctional relationship to prayer. I have watched as young benei yeshivah race through their shemoneh esrei, counting out the seconds and only reaching 12 to 15 before they take three steps backward. And we know this is true. I would bet that the majority of us have, at one time or another, witnessed young men rocking back and forth during prayer – giving an external show of participation – while being completely disengaged.

The Haredi/Hasidic approach to prayer has arguably destroyed its original intent, having replaced it with cheap spiritualism and over-active emotionalism. If we want a meaningful prayer experience wherein we feel at once close to and humbled before the Creator, then we need to re-align ourselves with the wisdom of Hazal and the halakhah. We need to re-discover prayer as a deep form of worship and of aligning oneself with the Divine will.

In this series of posts, I intend to address several of the issues with Jewish prayer in our times and what I see as needing to change in order to restore the beauty, simplicity, and meaning of this “service of the heart.”

Becoming Mekori – Stones in the Path – Part 2: The One Way of Truth, NOT the One True Way

One of the very common mistakes made by those who head down the path of mekoriut is that they begin to search for “the one true path” of Torah to the exclusion of all else. Such people begin to display a harsh intolerance for diversity within halakhic practice and will often arrogantly villainize all who disagree with their particular position.

Perhaps the most common form of this phenomenon is the [largely] American English-speaking “Rambamist” community. My reference to “Rambamists” in this context excludes the רמב”םיים and Dar Da`im found almost entirely in Israel among various Yemenite communities. These authentically “Rambamist” individuals are generally not actively seeking to ridicule or invalidate the practices of other groups and are much more tolerant of diversity, although they do ardently hold that the Mishneh Torah of the Rambam is the best and purest codification of halakhah while rejecting the Zoharic system of “kabbalah” as well.

The predominantly English-speaking, non-Yemenite “Rambamists,” by contrast, are dogmatic about the Mishneh Torah, but often do not know why. This is largely due to their inability to adequately interact with the Hebrew text of the sources – or even the Mishneh Torah itself. Taking a “Karaite” approach to the text of the Mishneh Torah, they almost completely ignore the opinions of the Rambam expressed in his Pirush HaMishnayot, his letters, and his many responsa. Instead, they opt to grant themselves permission to interpret the text and apply it as they see fit. The halakhic errors espoused by them are often numerous and careless. Yemenite rabbis, posekim, and commentaries on the Rambam are usually dismissed by them as being “impure,” and great rabbanim such as Mori Yusef Qafih z”l and Rav Ratson Arussi shlit”a are criticized for being “hadshanim” and “sell-outs” – since even Yemenite “Rambamists” are not “Rambamist” enough for these types. However, most of their dismissal is just a cover for their inability to actually read any of it and their desire to be ruggedly independent and find an allowance for anything they desire either to do or not do.

Before proceeding, I should clarify that I do not mean to imply that every English-speaking/American “Rambamist” is arrogant or disrespectful, has ve-shalom. To the contrary, I know many of them who are wonderful, dedicated, and reasonable Jews who try to exclusively follow the opinion of the Rambam the best that they can. However, what marks them as different is that they do not engage in disrespect of the Yemenite community and tend to have a more holistic approach to the Mishneh Torah found also among Israeli רמב”םיים and Dar Da`im. Essentially, everyone deserves a chance and should not be automatically subject to prejudice. Nevertheless, these ideas are out there claiming to be mekori and it is important to be able to recognize those who detract from the beauty of the Torah through their behavior – it is the advice of Hazal to avoid such people (MT, Hilkhot Deot 6:1-3).

Although they tend to be the usual culprits, they are not the only ones. I have met mekori Jews of all types who feel strongly about their various halakhic positions who just can’t seem to fathom that other Jews may be just as sincere and well thought-out as they are – or even that they themselves may, perhaps, be wrong.

The intensity by which they feel that they need to find “the one true way” or the “ultimate truth” in Judaism is largely based on error. It is no coincidence that many of these “one true way” types are from a Christianized/Western cultural context. The religious outlook of the majority of cults, denominations, and religious movements in the West have this same mentality. For them, truth is singularly apparent from either their holy books, their leaders, or both and everyone must abide by the exact same “truth” in their belief, outlook, practices, and reasoning as they do. Hazal tell us, however, that the truth of the Torah is not always so apparent or black-and-white.

One of the greatest halakhic hakdamot – in my humble opinion – is the hakdamah of Rav Mosheh Feinstein z”l to his Iggerot Mosheh. In it he discusses the partially subjective nature of pesak halakhah, especially those rulings which are made without the benefit of a Sanhedrin. I have translated a portion of it below, but I encourage anyone who is able to engage its [fairly elementary] Hebrew to do so.

Rav Mosheh writes:

“…le-aniyut daati, …the hakhamim of the latter generations were worthy and obligated to render practical halakhic rulings, even though they were not considered higia le-hora’ah in the same way as were the hakhamim in the generations of the Gemara. And there is certainly place to suspect that perhaps their rulings are not in the strict accordance with the truth with respect to Heaven’s view, but it has already been said about the truth of practical halakhic instruction that ‘lo bashamayim hi‘ (“it [the Torah] is not in Heaven,” i.e. it is not within the strict purview of God) and it is rather supposed to be in accordance to how it appears to the individual hakham – after he has spent the proper time looking into the matter in order to clarify what is the halakhah in the talmud and the posekim – according to his ability and with all due seriousness and yirat HaShem yitborakh. And if it so appears to him that the true practical ruling is such-and-such, he is obligated by halakhah to rule according to his honest view – even if it could be that the truth with respect to Heaven’s view is not thus. And in such a situation it is said that his words are ‘divrei Elohim hayim‘…”

Notice that Rav Feinstein z”l does not promote a carte blanche authority to the rabbis and Torah scholars of every generation to make halakhah and Judaism into whatever they see fit irrespective of the sources. Rather, he specifically limits their ability to rule to what is written in the “talmud and the posekim.” Nevertheless, when a hakham has reached a point of being able to understand and apply the sources of Hazal and their expositors, he is not only able, but obligated to help those who come to him clarify their halakhic duty. Of course, this is a broad and detailed subject, but nevertheless we see here that there are going to be different opinions when determining situational halakhah and each hakham may come to his honest conclusion and those who so desire may rely on his opinion.

This idea is also to be found in the Mishneh Torah of the Rambam. In his hakdamah, the Rambam writes as follows:

TEXT

וכן אם למד אחד מן הגאונים שדרך המשפט כך הוא ונתבאר לבית דין אחר שעמד אחריו שאין זה דרך המשפט הכתוב בתלמוד אין שומעין לראשון אלא למי שהדעת נוטה לדבריו בין ראשון בין אחרון

TRANSLATION

“And so if one of the Geonim taught that the way of justice is thus and it became clear to another beit din which arose after him that the opinion he expressed is not the way of justice that is written in the talmud, we not [necessarily] listen to the first opinion [i.e. just because it came first]. Rather, we listen he whose words are most logical, whether he was first or last.”

It is made abundantly clear in context that the Rambam here is speaking strictly of post-talmudic halakhic decisions. The posekim are limited in the view of the Rambam to what is “written in the talmud.” However, I wonder if any “Rambamists” have ever asked themselves the questions “Why are there are opinions being expressed after the close of the talmud? Can anyone give a practical ruling not explicitly found in the words of Hazal? Isn’t everything we need to be found simply within the talmud?” The answers to these questions are: because that is the nature of halakhah, apparently so, and apparently not.

Another very telling passage is in Hilkhot Mamrim 1:9, where the Rambam states the following about post-Sanhedrin/Talmudic rulings:

TEXT

משבטל בית דין הגדול רבתה מחלוקת בישראל זה מטמא ונותן טעם לדבריו וזה מטהר ונותן טעם לדבריו זה אוסר וזה מתיר שני חכמים או שני בתי דינין שנחלקו שלא בזמן הסנהדרין אם עד שלא הגיע הדבר להן בין בזמן אחד בין בזה אחר זה אחד מטמא ואחד מטהר אחד אוסר ואחד מתיר אם אין אתה יודע להיכן הדין נוטה בשל תורה הלוך אחר המחמיר ובשל דברי סופרים הלוך אחר המקל

TRANSLATION

“Ever since the beit din ha-gadol was disbanded mahloket has increased in Yisra’el, with this one declaring something tamei and giving reason for his opinion, and this one declaring the same thing tahor and giving reason for his opinion; this one forbidding and this one permitting. Two batei dinin who are divided over an issue at a time when their is no active Sanhedrin – if this particular issue had not yet been ruled on by them when they were active [i.e. if no definite ruling has been recorded already in the talmud or sifrei Hazal] – whether these two courts were contemporaries or whether they existed at different times, with one ruling tamei and one ruling tahor, one forbidding and one permitting, if you do not know to which opinion the law inclines – one acts in accordance with the stricter of the two opinions with regard to a Torah law and in accordance with the more lenient of the two opinions in the case of a rabbinic law.”

Even the Rambam himself understood that a form of halakhic ruling would continue even after the close of the talmud. Perhaps so-called “Rambamists” should take these words of Rav Mosheh ben Maimon z”l more seriously instead of making attempts to somehow prove that the halakhic system either shut down or was supposed to shut down after the publication of the Mishneh Torah.

For those with the “one true way” mindset, the idea that there have always been different practices among religious Jews and that there has been divergence on even the seemingly most simple of religious practices from the most ancient times is very unsettling.

For instance, there are ancient and authentic sources for each method of performing netilat yadayim – with the blessing either before or after pouring a revi`it of water on the hands. And it goes further than this, with some opinions requiring that water be poured on the hands from the wrist down and others requiring only up to the second joint of the fingers need be washed. Even further, there are also those who maintained that netilat yadayim with water poured over the hands from a vessel was only strictly required for kohanim when eating their terumah and that yisra’elim need only immerse their fingers in a container of clean water. And the differences continue.

So which is “right”? Which is “true”? That is not a simple question. And the general conclusion appears to be that any of them are valid when they can be “proven” cogently from the texts of Hazal (all of which can be). Wild ideas that are clear departures from Hazalic precedent may be dismissed as erroneous and incorrect, but those that have sufficient basis may be relied upon. And those who rely on them – even if we disagree, however strongly – are not “sinners” and should not be condemned as such. Rather, each one should follow the best advice of his trusted rabbanim. Our attitude toward others should always be one of “yesh lahem mishehu al lismokh – they have someone on whom to rely.”

This idea is not the mindset of the “one true way,” but is instead the “one way of truth” – the way of the Torah.

May HaShem give us the wisdom to avoid such mistakes and look upon each other with eyes of love that appreciate diversity within orthodoxy. In our current circumstances, this is the only way forward.

Live and Let Live?

Spotlight_poster_goldposter_com_1-400x593My wife and I just went to see a truly excellent film entitled “Spotlight.” It tells the story of the investigative reporting team for the Boston Globe newspaper by the same name that broke the story regarding the mass cover-up of catholic priests who were caught molesting thousands of children over the course of decades. The local dioceses worked to silence victims and quietly pay them off while at the same time denying that there was a well-known and systemic problem of child abuse being facilitated by the church. The acting was superb and the story was gripping – and admittedly quite disturbing.

When the film ended and my wife and I were exiting the theater, we were greeted by several couples from our community who, amid sighs of relief said, “I guess we should be glad that we’re Jewish!” My wife and I looked at each other and replied, “The Hasidic and Haredi communities throughout the US and Israel are plagued with virtually the same problem of pervasive child abuse and they are covering it up in much the same way.”  The response we got was one of shock. “But in Judaism we don’t believe in celibacy so how could we be having the same problems as catholics?” I proceeded to explain to them that although Judaism doesn’t believe in celibacy, the Hasidic and Haredi views of sex and sexuality were adopted from catholic asceticism centuries ago. I further explained that the unnatural segregation of the genders ultimately leads to the objectification of women. In the Haredi world there is near absolute silence with regard to education about sexual development and healthy sexuality, which contributes prominently to the problem. Add to this that Hasidim and Haredim almost universally forbid their followers from going to the police to report cases of abuse by their rabbis, and you have something very close to what was experienced in Boston and many other cities across the globe.

As we watched the film we were absolutely stunned at the parallels between the two communities and their issues with both pedophilia and deviant sexuality. The studies cited in the film showed that the majority of priests involved in such activities were emotionally stunted, having the mentality of a 12 or 13 year old and an inability to properly function in social settings. This reminded us of the very many Haredim and Hasidim whom we have encountered that have weird social ticks, an almost inability to process social cues, can be seen picking their noses in an almost obsessive manner in public, don’t regularly bathe, and who operate on a level of general immaturity in most areas of their lives.

The way in which the offending priests were constantly shuffled around from parish to parish was reminiscent of how elementary school “rebbes” are caught and then transferred to other schools – all while the administrations and “gedolim” possess a full knowledge of such behavior. The way that the cardinal  featured in the film went out of his way to defend and protect the offenders for the supposed greater “good” of the church reminded us of the many instances that Haredi rabbis and leaders have shown up to court to defend molesters because they feel that it is wrong to “take him away from his family.” The similarities were eerie, but not surprising.

Many times when I speak out passionately against the practices of the Haredi/Hasidic community, I am told to “stop being so negative” and to have more of an attitude of “live and let live,” but I am not so sure that this is the right thing to do.

There is a mentality within Judaism that has true Torah values in a stranglehold and is desperately trying to suffocate them and replace them with an evil doppelganger known alternately as “Toyrah” and “Yiddishkeit.” These people – whether knowingly or not – have taken a Near Eastern religion and have turned it into a Eurocentric phenomenon. The way they dress, the way they [mis]apply Jewish law, the way they censor and sanitize Jewish texts and history, their ascetic and ostensibly catholic ideas about sex, and their cult mentality of “Daas Toyrah” – all of it is literally destroying Judaism from the inside out. And if we are honest with our history, the mentality of “live and let live” is how we got to where we are in the first place. If we continue to allow this movement to speak for and represent Judaism, then we are all headed for disaster, God forbid. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, I am completely serious.

It’s not child sexual abuse alone that is proof of how out of control the problem is, there are many more. Judaism is a religion of law, and yet almost every facet of halakhah has been infiltrated by these impostors and has been redefined. Kashrut, Shabbat, Taharat HaMishpahah, Tefillah, and the list goes on – everything is being re-invented and re-interpreted to levels of absurdity that have never before been sanctioned or tolerated by mainstream religious Jews in history.

If we want our reasonable, intelligent, compassionate, honest, and morally-sound Judaism back, then we need to take it back. We need to stop giving our money and resources to Haredi and Hasidic institutions. We need to stop buying their books and their sefarim. We need to stop sending our sons and daughters to their yeshivot and seminaries. We need to stop attending their shuls and kollelim. We need to stop paying their salaries through our dues. And most of all, we need to stop kidding ourselves that the problems these communities and individuals present are being perpetrated by an unfortunate minority.  We need to come to grips with the fact that the “gedolim” are not the true spokesmen for authentic Torah Judaism and its values – not in any way. The Haredi/Hasidic system is one that subsists almost entirely on fear and welfare. If the givers stop giving them either their allegiance or their money, then the system will ultimately shut down. And if we give our time and resources to those who are working to heal Judaism and restore authentic expressions and values, then truly Torah-based institutions and their rabbinic leadership will eventually flourish.

Many who speak out against the things taking place in Judaism are angry people – and, in my opinion, understandably so – but too often they are branded as “trouble-makers” and “naysayers,” being cast aside while their words fall on deaf ears. I want to go on record right now and say that I love Judaism and I love the Jewish people. I care very much about the futures of my children and my grandchildren. I also am not a fan of conflict. It turns my stomach to have to fight and – like most everyone else – I would rather just leave all of these issues alone.

“Live and let live” is the easy option and not rocking the boat has the added advantage of allowing one to pass through the orthodox world undetected. But the problem is that, like all the catholics in Boston who decided to remain silent in the face of blatant corruption and evil within the church learned, such silence only makes things worse. The philosophy of “live and let live” is how we got to where we are in the first place.

I might be indignant and passionate, but I’m not “angry.” I may be expressing harsh criticism of the Haredi/Hasidic world, but I’m not flying the flag of “Dati Leumi” or “Modern Orthodoxy.” And lastly, I am not denying that there are truly good Jews in the Haredi and Hasidic camps because there certainly are (and many of them share my sentiments on these issues). I am just trying to say that if we truly love each other as Jews, if we truly love God, and if we truly love the Torah, then “live and let live” is simply not an option.

I would love to be able to speak about these things in more positive terms, but honestly, when what we are talking about here is a truly negative subject, how can we truthfully speak about it in any other way?

May HaShem help us all to be more vocal and to do what is right.

Parashat Vayetze: HaMakom – God’s Place or the Place of God?

From Parashat Vayetze arises the source for the well-known title for God Ha-Makom (“The Place”).  This title is traditionally used in the Haggadah Shela-Pesah and is sometimes translated into English as “the Omnipresent.” But how does the Hebrew phrase “the place” give rise to the concept of omnipresence?

The popular teachings of the Kabbalah and Hasidism have postulated that HaMakom is a veiled reference to Panentheism and the central Lurianic doctrine known as “tzimtzum” (i.e. that God somehow made a “void” in the midst of himself into which he placed the created universe). This idea, of course, is completely without basis within the teachings of Hazal and its explanation entails the setting aside of several tenets of Judaism and principles of pure monotheism. This misunderstanding of the meaning of HaMakom is based on a passage from the Midrash Rabbah that says “He is the place of the world, but the world is not His place” (Bereshit Rabbah 68,10). But does this passage really support a panentheistic view of God and creation?

On the surface, it really does seem to. However, there are many places where the exponents of the Kabbalah take passages of the Torah, Na”Kh, talmud, and midrashim out of context and re-interpret them to their own ends. One example is that of Iyov 31:2 which refers to “a portion of God above.” The kabbalists (and subsequently the leaders of Hasidism) made the bold claim that this “portion of God” being referred to is the soul which is actually composed of God Himself (and specifically the highest level of the soul known as yehidah – taken from yet another passage of the midrash which lists five names of the soul in the Tanakh). However, when the passage is looked at in context, we see that it has absolutely nothing to do with the human soul. The passage in its context reads:

בְּרִית כָּרַתִּי לְעֵינָי וּמָה אֶתְבּוֹנֵן עַל בְּתוּלָה. וּמֶה חֵלֶק אֱלוֹהַּ מִמָּעַל וְנַחֲלַת שַׁדַּי מִמְּרֹמִים? הֲלֹא אֵיד לְעַוָּל וְנֵכֶר לְפֹעֲלֵי אָוֶן? הֲלֹאהוּא יִרְאֶה דְרָכָי וְכָל צְעָדַי יִסְפּוֹר?

TRANSLATION:

“I have made a covenant with my eyes, how can I then look upon a virgin? And what will be my portion of God above, the inheritance of the Almighty from on high? Is it not misfortune to the unjust and disaster to the doers of iniquity? Does He not see my ways and count all of my steps?” (Iyov 31:1-4)

This passage has nothing to do with souls, pieces of God, or the Kabbalah. Rather, it is Iyov’s acknowledgment of God’s punishment of the wicked, a punishment which he would “inherit” if he should act wickedly in his life.

The contention that this passage from the Midrash Rabbah somehow supports a panentheistic view of God is similarly contrived, as we will see. However, upon a closer look at the entire passage, it becomes clear what the intention of Hazal was when they constructed this instructive allegory.

BERESHIT RABBAH 68:10 –

BR 68-10a

BR 68-10b

TRANSLATION:

And [Ya`akov] reached the place – Rav Huna said in the name of Rabbi Ammi, For what reason do we use a kinnui for the name of the Holy One Blessed is He, calling him Makom [“Place”]? Because while He is the place of the world, the world is not His place – from what is written (Shemot 32) ‘Behold, [there is] a place with Me…’ So, the Holy One Blessed is He is the place of the world, and the world is not His place.’

Rabbi Yitzhak said, ‘It is written (Devarim 32) – The Eternal God is a dwelling-place.[i] We do not know if The Holy One Blessed is He is the dwelling-place of the world or if His world is His dwelling-place. [The matter is clarified] from what is written (Tehillim 90), ‘Adhonoy, You are a dwelling-place…’ So, The Holy One Blessed is He is the dwelling-place of the world and His world is not His dwelling-place.’

Rav Abba bar Yudan said, ‘[This may be compared] to a soldier who is riding on a horse and his weaponry draped on either side. The horse is secondary to the rider, the rider is not secondary to the horse, as it says (Havakuk 3), ‘For you ride upon Your horses.'”

________________

[i] “Ma`onah Elohei Kedem – מענה אלהי קדם” can apparently be understood as either “A dwelling-place [for] the Eternal God” or “The Eternal God is a dwelling-place.” And the word translated “dwelling-place” does not just indicate a place to exist, but a “refuge” or “abode.”

We can already see that the simplistic quotation of the phrase “He is the place of the world” does not carry with it the panentheistic meaning that has been attributed to it. In fact, such a reading should be clearly undermined by the second part of the statement, which says, “…the world is not his place” since Panentheism maintains the very real immanence of God throughout the entire world.

The commentaries below the text are divided with one giving the standard kabbalistic notions and the other, the Matanot Kehunah, gives a simpler approach, even relating a portion of it to the version found in the Talmud Yerushalmi.

MATANOT KEHUNAH – BERESHIT RABBAH 68:10 –

Matanoth Kehunah - BR 68-10

TRANSLATION:

“The girsa in the Yalkut reads: ‘…and His world is not His place. Rabbi Yossi ben Halafta said: We do not know if The Holy One Blessed is He is the place of the world or if the world is His place.’ From what is written etc. – That is to say, from what is written ‘Behold, there is a dwelling-place with Me’ it is inferred that the place [being referred to] is located ‘with Him’ and not that He is in the place [referred to]. Who is riding etc. – It is a remez that hollow spaces of the world and everything that they contain are secondary to Him. And in the Yerushalmi it reads: ‘The horse does not whip the soldier, rather the soldier whips the horse.’ “

It is abundantly clear that this midrashic passage was meant to communicate something other than Panentheism and perhaps even its opposite, i.e. that we should not think that the name HaMakom indicates that HaShem is within physical space (which is not possible because, as the Rambam clearly writes אינו גוף ולא כח בגוף), but rather that everything is secondary to him and that he is metaphrically our dwelling-place of refuge. We turn to God in times of difficulty because the entire world is subject to him and we turn to him in times of happiness and blessing for the same reason. There are many passukim in the Tanakh that communicate this same idea:

  • Tehillim 91:1-4
  • Tehillim 46:1-12
  • Tehillim 18:1-7
  • Devarim 33:27
  • Mishlei 14:26
  • Mishlei 18:10
  • Yesha`yahu 25:1-4
  • Yerimiyahu 16:19
  • and others…

Like a horse is ridden and steered by its rider, HaShem “rides” on the world in complete domination of it, steering it and whipping it in direction of his will. He does not dwell within the world, being somehow contained in it, but rather the world exists within space and is limited by the will of HaShem. If we think about it, all the names we use for God – both of Biblical and Rabbinic origin – are meant to communicate the ultimate position, power, and authority of HaShem. None of them refer to where he supposedly is located since “location” – like color, smell, or body parts – simply have no relevance to him, the Supreme Master of everything.

This message is as pertinent today as it was in the ancient world. No matter how advanced we get as a species, we still cannot escape the primitive pitfalls of attributing physical limitations or properties to the One Transcendent Creator of the universe, may he be blessed.

During Pesah we think of Him as HaMakom – the master of the world who bent all the forces of nature to our benefit and programmed the miracles of the exodus into the world from the six days of creation.

UPDATE: There entire concept of God occupying physical space, or having any category of spatial reference apply to him was completely rejected by pure Judaic monotheism. Most traditional commentators on the Humash at Bereshit 28:11 completely ignore the reference to ha-makom as explained by the midrashic passage noted above. Instead, the usual interpretation presents the words vayifga ba-makom as a reference to something other than a name of God. I have presented the commentary of each one below in a very abbreviated fashion to illustrate this point.

  • Rav Saadia Gaon understands vayifga ba-makom as a reference to that particular location, not God.
  • Rashi understands ba-makom as referring to an actual place and not as a name for God. He interprets vayifga, like the Midrash, as a veiled reference to Yaakov praying and thereby instituting Arvit, the evening prayer. Makom is viewed here as referring to God (i.e. he approached God in prayer), but it is not explained according to Panentheism.
  • The Baal HaTurim sees the three mentions of the word makom as a hint (remez) pointing toward the three pilgrimage festivals to be instituted later on that specific location (i.e. Mount Moriah).
  • Sforno breaks apart vayifga ba-makom into two phrases: vayifga, which indicates that Yaakov did not intend to necessarily end up there, and ba-makom which supposedly alludes to rest stops that were commonly on the roads between cities in ancient times.
  • Daat Zekenim views the language vayifga ba-makom as a reference to the evening prayer, much like Rashi.
  • Rashbam simply states that vayifga ba-makom means that Yaakov happened to reach a location outside the city of Loz.
  • The Kli Yakar cites various sayings of Hazal to the effect that vayifga ba-makom refers to Yaakov reaching a special place which would in the future become the site of the Beit HaMikdash and the source of blessing for the entire world. He further explained that vayifga ba-makom is a certain reference to prayer and the institution of Arvit.
  • The Ohr HaHayim explicitly says that the peshuto shel-mikra is that vayifga ba-makom refers to a certain place for Yaakov to dwell. He then proceeds to explain that the equation of the makom mentioned in the verse with Mount Moriah does not present a contradiction.

None of these explain “Makom” as a special name of God indicating his immanence in all of creation. Those that seem to uphold the reading of “Makom” as a reference to God, do so only in an ancillary sense with regard to their reading of vayifga ba-makom as an indication of prayer by Yaakov. It can only be assumed that they understood “Makom” as properly explained by the Midrash Rabbah: an indicator of God’s supreme rule in every location, and not as an allusion to Panentheism.

In fact, the Ibn Ezra explicitly rejects such an interpretation of vayifga ba-makom and instructs the reader to ignore midrashic methods of expounding Bereshit 28:11. After giving the peshat of the verse he says,

“…we do not find anywhere in the Scripture that HaShem is called ‘Makom,’ and do not pay any attention to derash. [For if this were so, then the phrase in Megillat Esther 4:14] ‘mi-makom aher – from another place’ [would be problematic]. But [this reference, i.e. in the Megillah] has nothing to do with HaShem.”

Lastly, Rav Saadia Gaon, in a passage from his famous “Beliefs and Opinions” (HaNivhar Emunot Ve-Deot, I:11) says the following:

“And I say concerning the concept of place* (ha-makom) that it cannot be that the Creator needs a place that he might be in it, and this is so for many reasons. First, because he is the Creator of all place and also because he alone is The Pre-Existent One (ha-kadmon) even before there existed any place, and his creation of place did not affect any change in him. And further because that which needs a place is the body* that fills every [space] that meets it and comes into contact with it, and it will be that each one of these things in contact with one another is a place for the other – and such cannot be so for the Creator. And that which is said by the prophets that he is ‘in heaven’ [is not literal], but is a way of communicating greatness and exaltedness because from our perspective the heaven are higher than anything else known to us, just as it is explained by Scripture, ‘For God is in heaven and you are upon the earth’ (Kohelet 5:1), and “for the heavens and the heavens of heavens cannot contain you’ (I Melakhim 8:27). And this was also the meaning of their statements to the effect that he dwells in the Beit HaMikdash, ‘and I will dwell among the children of Israel’ (Shemot 28:45), and ‘HaShem dwells in Tzion’ (Yoel 4:21) – all of this is to confer honor upon that place and upon that nation. And in addition to this, he already displayed there his created brightness/light, which we mentioned above is referred to as shekhinah and kavod.”

May we all diligently negate all physical reference or category from the one transcendent blessed God – to whom neither space, time, motion, or physical qualities whatsoever have any relevance. Amen, selah.