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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Guest Commentary of the RABAM: Further To Sheitlach....



Guest Commentary of the RABAM: Further To Sheitlach....

Rabboisai – the following is the commentary of the Esteemed RABAM, my rabbinic colleague who leads the Yeshiva’s West Coast branch in San Francisco, on last week’s drasha. It’s great having a personal commentator – He is a bit like RASHI -- combined with Bill Maher -- combined with George F. Will. He also has excellent taste in Chinese delicacies.

Further to Sheitlach…

The best are made with real human hair (low to medium four figures), inferior ones with heavens knows what (as cheap as a few hundred). No matter the expense, the effect is twixt old-country dowdy (UO) and New Jersey gangster wife stylish (MO), and highly recommended in any case.

There has recently been a groise machloikes over sheitels made with hair from India.

The problem was that the hair (either all, or three symbolic tufts) was shorn from Hindu women at religious ceremonies - don't ask, I haven't a clue, I'm a rabbi tatenyu, not a pandit! But it had to do with purification for idolatrous rituals, and temple profits from the sale of the hair, and thus shmecked of avoidah zara (strange service, hence idolatry). It is issur to partake of, share in, or in fact have anything to do with idolatry. Especially monetarily! That is strictly the purvue of the Rabbanic Retirement Fund.

Why is hair from India used in wigs?

The two main sources of hair used in wigs and hairpieces are Europe and India. The desirability of Indian temple-cut hair lay in the length, strength, and alignment.

Hair that is aligned (that has all its cuticles pointing in the same direction - called Remy hair) can be used for high quality wigs that have a natural look, whereas hair that is not aligned will need to be chemically stripped of the cuticle layer to keep it becoming tangled.

Note: to dye hair, it has to be stripped and bleached; this is never done to Remy hair.

Keeping hair aligned is done by tying it with ribbons prior to cutting; this was in fact customary at the temple. The hair was then sold, and the money benefited the idol served at that temple.

Aligned hair is more expensive than stripped hair, and is used for better wigs, whereas stripped hair is often also chemically bleached, dyed, and conditioned.

So the problem is this: if your sheitel is glossy, black and expensive, it probably is made of Indian Remy hair. If it is any other colour but did not cost an arm and a leg, it nevertheless also may be made of Indian hair.

Is all hair from India suspect?

Only ten percent (more or less) of the hair purchased from India comes from the temple in question (Tirumala). Because a much larger percentage of Remy hair from India is temple hair, it might be argued that a wig made from dyed hair (remember, Remy hair is not dyed) should contain far less temple hair. But there is no way of telling - a sheitel of dyed hair could be all temple hair, because not all temple hair is Remy.

In the same way that one can not assume that a piece of meat is kosher without evidence (presumption based on place purchased, trust in the merchant having full knowledge of the derivation, and verifiability based on trusted agents who oversee and examine), one can not blithely assume that because the sheitel is not Remy it is safe.

What about European hair?

Hinduism is not prevalent in Europe, and there are no religious practices in Europe in which a woman cuts off long hair. So, based on currently known data, European Remy hair should be considered Halachically acceptable.

Several ravs have spouted psak and teshuve ad nauseum, most either coming out against Indian hair wigs except under certain circumstances (psak l'issur), or stating l'heter that they were acceptable unless it was definitely known that the hair was tainted by A.Z., or in fact outright takruves (offerings) to the getchkeh (idol).

Some went on for several pages, quoted multiple authorities most marvelously, without actually saying anything. And a few proved nothing more than that an obsession with hair is not unusual among poskim, so if you have a fetish, you're in good company!

There are several common fetishes: panties, feet, hair, snoods, sheitels, corsets, tefillin..... nothing like some good clean fun.

Rav X in Antwerp, in his considered opinion of the issue, may have said something to the effect that 'de milde toepassing van de wet verdient de voorkeur' (the mild application of the law deserves precedence), but he said it in over twenty pages of densely written Ivrit - this he expects women to read?

This he expects ME to read????

Shroyb es oyf Fleymish oder mameloshn, zeyt azoy git! And be brief; I still have to read next week's parsha!

That a lenient ruling should be made is in keeping with the decision made by rebbeyim over fifteen years ago (AND thirty years ago) when this issue came up before. But it may be that, at that time, the poskim were not fully aware of the details of the issue, hence their being matir.

In mittn drinnen, most gedolei ha poskim (greats among the orthodox halachic decisors) have aza yechechishe yad that whatever they write cannot be deciphered - there ARE typewriters for Hebrew, frevinseyks, or hire a safir!

There are some very fine sheitlach made from Chinese hair (which is as strong as Indian hair, but has a softer look), but if you must have a head of Chinese hair, best keep the Chinese person attached. Believe me, you won't regret it. I haven't.

Halachic sources are still undecided about the permissibility of Chinese persons in the house. On the one hand, it's like nittelnacht every nacht, on the other hand, it's also like nittelnacht every nacht.....

Most poskim are meikel, because of the mitzvah of pru urvu. Who knows more about pru urvu than the Chinese?

On the other hand, hair from a harlot, or from a murderess shorn at her imprisonment, would also be perfectly acceptable - as long as she was not intimately involved in idolatry.

Taking care of your sheitel is crucial. Many women use a sheitel liner in between their head and the actual wig, which keeps it cleaner and prevents their own hair from intruding on the elegant, sexy lines of the sheitel. Synthetic hair is easier to clean, but bear in mind that synthetic wigs end up looking ratty and eccentric within a year, whereas a good real hair wig maintains its looks a bit longer.

If you wish to wash your wig yourself, instead of taking it to your local sheitel macher, do so every five or six weeks. It is best to place the thing securely on a Styrofoam head (use pins), wet it with warm water, lather with shampoo, and rinse gently. Conditioner can be applied, but apply AWAY from the root. Rinse after a minute or so. It can be air-dried, but in moist environments it is advisable to speed up the process with a blow dryer on low heat - also good for styling.

Why a wig in the first place?

Rabbinic law states that married women should cover their hair before all save their husbands, for reasons of modesty.

In the eighteenth century, when ultra-orthodoxim first started wearing sheitlach, the deceptively real appearance of certain wigs was manifestly not a problem; wigs were observedly unnatural, and no immodesty could be imputed.

Many orthodox rebbeyim at that time opined that covering one's hair was more effectively done l'halocho with a sheitel than with a tiechel (headkerchief) or hat, as the sheitel can cover all of the hair, while also being convenient for wearing indoors.

Since then wiggery has become a firm custom, which many do not have the confidence to discard, and yet do not think deeply about. And there are those who, b'hiddur mitzvah, also wear a kerchief or a hat, in addition to their perruque.

Yet a good wig can mislead other women (who cannot see that it is fake, and may therefore assume that if a woman who is known to be respectable and frum is showing hair, it is acceptable to do so), and may in fact be as immodest in its effects as flaunting a luxurious head of hair for men to see, to smell, nay even to brush their faces against on the bus, inhaling deeply of its delicate aroma of perfumed shampoo.

Finally, if showing hair is tantamount to immodesty, I have to wonder whether it is not best for men to expose their big (!) bushy (!) beards (!) only to their wives, and only in the home.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ask Rabbi Pinky – On the Wearing of Shaytels (Wigs)



Ask Rabbi Pinky – On the Wearing of Shaytels (Wigs)


This week’s shailah comes from my esteemed rabbinic colleague, the RAGU:

Dear Rabbi:

A non-Jewish colleague at work told me that I should convert to Christianity. His view is that Jews are being punished with cancer because they have not accepted Jesus as their savior. He says that the proof is that so many Jewish women wear wigs because Jesus's father has punished them with cancer and they lost all their hair during chemotherapy.

What do you recommend I should respond to him?

Your humble follower, the RAGU.

Eppis, this is a most disturbing shailah, and a difficult choice! Worship the Rebbonoisheloilum, eat lettuce and tuna out of a can at the finest restaurants, and sleep with a woman who is constantly reminding you of what a disappointment you are as a husband; OR adopt Yushka Pandra, eat shrimp and lobster, and get hot shiksa action every night. Hmmm, now THIS is a tough call…

Before we can responsibly address this shailah, we should review the basis for head covering in women and the significance of the mitzvah of wearing a shaytel. As background, we should probably also go out for a little traifus and surf porn on the internet, just so we can better understand our alternatives.

Shtatyt in Possuk – it says in the Toirah -- in Bamidbar, Perek Hay, Pussook Yud Khess, that when a Koihain is preparing to place a woman through the process of Soitah to see if she has cuckolded her husband, the Koihain should “Parah” the woman’s hair. There is great debate over the meaning of this term, but it is largely viewed as the presumptive basis for head covering.

Moreover, a Medrish in Beraishis Rabbah suggests that when Chava causes for herself and Adam to be cast out of Gan Eden, it is not because she ate of the Pri Etz HaDaas, the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Rather, it is because she uncovered her hair, that miserable slut, which caused the snake to extend fully, if you know what I mean.

Similarly, RASHI tells us that the reason that Rachel Imainu could not conceive is because she would walk around with her hair exposed, causing the Reboinoisheloilum to punish her by making her gain ten pounds in her butt, leaving her unattractive to Yankif Avinu, who was, to quote Rashi, “not into the whole Hispanic ‘Big Ass’ thing.” Shoyn.

So what is the essence of hair covering? A Mishnah and Gemarrah in Kesubois address the varying halachois requiring a woman to cover her hair, but the underlying reasoning is discussed by the Rishoinim. According to the TUR, hair is considered to be a form of Erva. Says the Tur, if a man sees a woman’s exposed hair, it is as if he sees her nakednedness. And if a man sees a woman naked, it is as if he has been mezaneh with her. And if a man sees a woman’s hair, and sees her naked, it is as if he is mezaneh with her twice in one day, an act which I have not been able to perform in thirty years.

The RAMBAM, however, disagrees. He holds that LeOylum, a woman’s hair is not Erva. If the issue was one of modesty, then all women, unmarried and married, would be required to cover their hair. Rather, women are encouraged by the Toirah to cover their hair so that they will not waste their husband’s money on fancy hairstyles. Says RAMBAM, yeshiva tuition is costly enough, and men should save whatever money they have left to buy single malt scotch and to pay for flowers for their pilegesh.

Which brings us to the issue of shaytlach, wigs. In our Toirah-true lifestyle, we know that shaytels are the essence of Yiddishkeit. Indeed, according to the Sifsey Chachomim, the mitzvah in the Asesres Ha Dibrois, the Ten Commandments, ordering us not to covet another man’s wife actually refers to the woman’s shaytel, not the woman herself. Says the Sifsey Chachomim, “the wife talks back, argues, and never knows when to shut the gehennim up, but the shaytel always sits there on the styrofoam head, ready to lend an uncritical, sympathetic ear. Who wouldn’t covet that?” So, according to the Sifsey Chachomim and many Poiskim, wearing a wig is a Dioraisa, and is indeed comparable to Aishess Ish, making it YeHuraig VeAll Yaavor, a mitzvah for which one should be willing to sacrifice his or her life.

However, this is nisht azoy pashoot, it is not so simple, you ignoramus. Because, there are many Poiskim who are in fact against the wearing of a shaytel, suggesting that this circumvents the basic intent of hair covering. This includes: Reb Yankif Emden, the Vilna Goyn, Reb Shloimoi (Big Hank) Kluger, the Chassam Soifer, the Maharshal, and none other than Oivadiya Yoisaiph before he became an oiver-buttel farbisseneh. (This is all true, by the way. Look it up, you michutziff.)

However, the Brisker Ruv was dismissive of this position, suggesting that any man who opposes women wearing shaytels is a chashash of Mishkav Zachor, a man who perhaps likes to spend a bit too much time in the mikvah every morning before davening checking REALLY, REALLY CLOSE to see if the other men have chatzitzahs on their schvantzels. His shita is supported by the Vizhnitzer Rebbe, Reb Moishe Feinstein, and Pat Robertson.

So Halacha LeMaaseh, the vast majority of Poiskim support the notion that a true Bas Toirah covers her hair in a shaytel. According to the Tzitz Eliezer, the shaytel should preferably be made of real hair and come from a hot shiksa. In the words of the Tzitz, “a Yiddishe woman should adorn herself in the finest coverings, to match the beautiful neshamah given her by Hakadoshboruchhu, and should cover her hair with the magisterial flaxen locks of a gentile woman, to complement the generous proboscis provided by the Reboinoisheloilum.”

However, the Schvantz Mordechai holds farkhert. If the purpose of hair covering is to ensure modesty, he asks, then what is the logic of a woman covering her hair with a shaytel that looks real, perhaps even better than the woman’s natural hair? And, he continues, if a Jewish woman parades before a Ben Toirah showing off the hair of an idol worshipping shiksa, could this not lead a Jewish man to intermarriage and idol worship? Or even worse, paying retail? Says the Schvantz Mordechai, wearing a real hair shaytel “makes about as much sense as waving a live chicken over your head.”

Rather, the Schvantz Mordechai holds that a woman should indeed wear a wig, but one that is easily distinguishable as a substitute for real hair. Citing a Gemarrah in Sukkoh, he suggests that women wear wigs made out of that stuff that Esroigs used to come wrapped in or out of leftover Hoishaiynois.

And this brings us to your question. Clearly, it is troubling that a goy, a shaygitz, an Oivaid Alilim, should infer that faithfulness to the Aimishteh is bringing a plague of cancer upon Klal Yisroel. Is this indeed true? And if it is not true, should we not still be worried about what the goyim are saying, for, as it says in Tehillim, “Lamah Yoimroo BaGoyim, ‘Ayeh Nah Elohayhem?’”

Well, to be honest, we cannot address this shailah without speaking with leading experts in the medical field. So I spoke to the guy who sits next to me in shul, and his brother in law knows someone who once worked as a nurse’s aide in Brooklyn Community Hospital, which is a really decent institution. And she insists that there is no link between shaytels and cancer, at least in lab mice. And that is good enough for me.

So as this allegation is not true, there are several options we should consider. Perhaps every Bas Yisroel should walk around with her hair uncovered, like a street shiksa. At the same time, maybe she should eat a ham sandwich and carry a flashing neon sign that says in bright letters, “I AM A SHIKSA – COME BE MEZANEH WITH ME!!!” I should think this is NOT an option, chass v’sholom!

Or perhaps we should ignore the taunting of the goyim. Let your colleague think that shaytels are a sign of cancer. Maybe this will get Klal Yisroel discounts on groceries and better seats on the subway, as well as select government subsidies. But, of course, Yiddishkeit is all about proclaiming the majesty of the Rebboinoisheloilum, and we would not want the shkutzim to think that Yiddishkeit causes cancer. We must go about our everyday lives, not by ignoring the goyim, but by leading them, so that in Yemois HaMashiach they will continue to follow us around while holding our tzitzis.

So the best mode of action for your wife, and for every Bas Yisroel, is to adopt the wearing of a burka. After all, this is a form of tzniyus that is consistent with the Toirah’s concerns for feminine modesty. The gentiles will no longer suspect that Bnois Yisroel have cancer because they will not be able to see any of them. This will prevent Aishess Ish because, Aimishteh knows, no one will be attracted to a woman underneath her burka garb. And this will remove the need for real hair shaytlach, leaving hair on the heads of the hot shiksas, the way Hakkadoshboruchhu originally intended.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ask Rabbi Pinky – On Death and the Afterlife



Ask Rabbi Pinky – On Death and the Afterlife


Richard G. asks: On Yom Tov, a time of holiday and celebration, what kind of simcha is it to say Yizkor? Or does it have to do with fundraising?

Richard G.

Reb Richard,

Thanks very much for your insightful question. But before I address your question, I must ask YOU a shailah: So, what kind of Yiddesheh numen is Richard, anyway? Are you so ashamed of your heritage that you have to wave your arms at the world as if to say, “I AM A SHAYGETZ! PLEASE LET ME INTO YOUR COUNTRY CLUB!?” Have you no shame, you mechutziff? I haven’t seen such self-hate since Moishe Rabbeinu married a shiksa in the desert! I guess your Hebrew name of Reuven or Yerachmiel was a bit “too Jewish” for you. Let me ask: Have you also had a nose job? Did you have a new foreskin grafted onto the tip of your Schvantzl?

For your sake, I hope that at least your wife engages in certain “goyishe practices” that I have been begging my wife to do for years, if you know what I mean. At least that would make it all worth it…

Nisht gerferlach.

You indeed touch upon a profound topic that is deeply rooted within the Jewish tradition. Your question, more than anything else, is about Klal Yisroel’s attitudes towards death and the notion of an afterlife. How are we to understand the end of life from a Yiddishe perspective? How should a shtarkah Yid relate to end of life, be it of a stranger, a friend, a loved one, or one’s own life? Beyond receiving an inheritance, cashing in on a life insurance policy, or taking over a deceased’s coveted seat in shul (right near the aisle, out of sight from the Rabbi), how else should we view the impact of the Great Inevitable on out lives? Is there an afterlife? You know, easy questions…

Of course, we look to the Toirah for this wisdom. In Toiras Moishe, we can see multiple characterizations of the moment of death. They include:

-- Avraham Avinu: “VaYigvah VaYamuss Avraham BeSayvah Toivah Zakain VeSaveyah VaYahaseif El Amuv.” – “And he expired and Avraham died, with good fulfillment, old and satisfied, and was gathered to his people.” (Beraishis, Perek Chuff Hay, Pasook Khess)

-- Yankif Avinu: “VaYokhal Yaakov LeTzavois Ess Bunuv VaYe’esoif Ragluv El HaMitah VaYegavah VaYayasaif El Amuv.” “And Yankif finished issuing directives to his sons, and he gathered his feet into the bed, and he expired, and he was gathered to his people.” (Beraishis, Perek Mem Tess, Pasook Lamud Gimmel)

-- Moishe Rabbeinu: “VaYumuss Shum Moishe Eved Hashem Ba’Eretz Moiav Al Pi Hashem…Va Moishe Ben Mayah Va’Esririm Shanah BeMoisoih, VeLoi KuHatuh Einuv, VeLo Nuss Likhyeh.” “And Moishe, the servant of the Reboinoisheloilum, died there in the land of Moiav, at the word (literally – mouth) of Hakadoshboruchhu…And Moishe was 120 years old at his death, and his vision did not fade and his strength had not gone. (Devarim, Perek lamed Daled, Pasookim Hey, Zayin )

I ask you, you mechutziff, what does the Toirah tell us about the afterlife? Nothing. Shoom Davar. Goornisht. Bupkis. All it says is “gathered to his people”. That can mean anything. It can mean that he joins the dust in which all his people rest eternally; that he goes to Shamayim to eat the Levyasoin -- deep fried in beer batter -- and washes it down with a nice Heineken; or that he gathers with his people at a Stones concert and drops acid. We do not know; it is not clear. (Mamesh, who wrote this stuff, anyway? Could He at least have taken some sort of writing class, or had a good editor do a quick review?)

In reality, we have to look to the later writings, to the Neviim and especially to the Kesuvim, to find a solid reference to the notion of an afterlife. However, since you are typically too busy drinking scotch during the Haftoirah, you Nevailah, I will not cite those references. Rather, I will focus on the writings of the Rabbis.

Chazzal were clearly troubled by the ambiguity surrounding death and the afterlife. As a consequence, they developed a very broad set of perspectives on Oilum Habah, fleshing out the idea of the World to Come, while at the same time taking out life insurance policies on all of their elderly relatives.

According to Chazzal, there are many things that entitle one to Oilum Habah. A Mishnah in Avois tells us, “If one saves a life, he gains a Chaylek (a share) in Oilam Habah.” A Braisah in Eiruvin tells us, “If one checks the Eiruv before Shabbos, he gets a share of Oilum Habah, plus an option to buy five shares of Google at the average closing price of the last six months.” And a Gemarrah in Kesubois tells us, “If a man brings his wife to her,” errr…, “fulfillment before he achieves his, he is entitled to Oilum Habah. And if he is really lucky, sloppy seconds.”

Essentially, the Rabbis aligned their views with the Pharasaic notion of an afterlife linked to reward and punishment. In their quest to understand the ways of the Reboinoisheloilum, they confronted the ultimate truism of life: Life is fundamentally not rational. And, Chazzal deduced, if life, and human society, and experience on earth, are not rational due to unfair individual fates, plagues, war, etc., there must be an unseen part of the equation that provides balance to the inequities of the fragile human experience. And if that balance is not in this life, Oilum Hazeh, it must exist in another dimension, Oilum Habah.

And who can say they were wrong, you minuval? You can’t even tie your own shoes without reading the Shulchan Aruch! Meilah, there are many things in the world that are invisible to the human eye. If I told you a hundred years ago that our bodies are governed by DNA, strands which are shaped like double twisted staircases (or like Duvid HaMelech consummating his special “personal treaty” with Yehoinasan on HaMelech Shaul’s couch) would you have believed me, you mechutziff? No, you probably would have checked my brain for Shatnez!

No. Rational thought, as represented by what we can observe with the naked eye, or, in the modern day, by science, can only take us so far. Science can explain to us the “how” and the visible. But it cannot explain to us the “why” and the invisible. Consequently, no matter how rational you think you are, you vilda chaya, you still don’t have all the answers.

So Chazzal, struggling with these issues, built upon earlier ideas in Tanach and other insights (often borrowed from the wisdom of other cultures) to imbue in our tradition an appreciation for the unseen, a speculation about how everything in the rational universe, including humanity, is part of a greater whole. Much like a cholent, there are many ingredients mixed together and simmered in a crock pot for twenty hours, yet are individually recognizable as their original form when removed from the pot. Yet they contain the flavor, and contribute to the essence, of the entire recipe. And whether or not they are the meat or the potatoes or the barley or the beans, they all cause the same flatulence.

In considering this topic, Reb Shimoin Bar Yochai suggested that we are all connected to the Reboinoisheloilum through the Ten Sfirois, the ten attributes of the Aimishteh, which link on one end to the Ain Soif, the unknowable aspects of Hakkadoshboruchhu, and on the other end to the universe as we see it and experience it.

As the Kabbalists understood, within the Ten Sfirois, there are multiple factors in play that impact life on Earth. Picture the Sfirois as the Reboinoisheloilum’s body – whatever happens in His body has an effect on the world. When there is a blockage between Din and Chesed -- BOOM! -- chest pains, which result in a earthquake in our world. If Bina gets hit, Chochma also hurts, resulting in a landslide or a plague. And when Keter has a headache, Yesoid doesn’t function the way it used to when the Reboinoisheloilum was fifteen years old, if you know what I mean, resulting in erectile dysfunction for all of Klal Yisroel, chass v’sholom.

“So what does this have to do with attitudes towards death?” you ask, you impatient Neveilah. Well, when someone leaves this world, their essence returns to the broader whole. Yes, part of their essence is the observable matter, the physical body that becomes the dust in the ground and the nourishment in a worm’s belly. But, in our tradition, we also acknowledge the unseen part of a person’s essence. It is not clear what that means, whether after death one retains his individual identity or simply becomes part of a broader collective consciousness. But he exists in some other dimension. And, in our tradition, we acknowledge that unseen essence in numerous ways, including through the reciting of Yizkor.

So when do we recite Yizkor? Four times a year – on Yoim Kippur, Sukkois, Shavuois, and Pesach. Farvoos? We recite Yizkor to call upon the unseen essence of our loved ones in order to appease the Reboinoisheloilum, as embodied in the Ten Sfirois, so that we will enjoy the Aimishteh’s benevolence. Or at least not be blown into little bits though global nuclear destruction resulting from Hakkadoshboruchhu’s cosmic indigestion.

What does this mean? On Yoim Kippur, originally the only day when Yizkor was recited, after 20 hours of fasting the Reboinoisheloilum gets a little cranky. And who can blame Him? How do you feel by Mincha time, you Mamzer? So we pray on behalf of our dear departed to influence the cholent that is the collective, so that the Aimishteh’s empty belly doesn’t cause Him to crush us like ants because he finds our howling at dusk completely disingenuous.

On Sukkois, by the fifth day the Reboinoisheloilum is getting tired of eating his afternoon snack of pretzels and juice in the cold Sukkah. So we say Yizkor so that the chill within the Ten Sfirois does not translate into a chilly reception for Klal Yisroel. Similarly, on Shavuois we worry about the Amishteh’s crankiness due to lactose intolerance. And on Pesach, we worry that Hakkadoshboruchhu is in a horrible mood because He is completely backed up. After all, He MUST be an Ashkenazi, and would certainly never eat Kitniyois!

With regard to your final question, about whether Yizkor is all about fundraising – such a suggestion is a total shandah! You should be ashamed of yourself, you minuval! However… as you are preparing for Yizkor you should always remember Yeshivas Chipass Emess, especially by buying copies of my book at to donate to your shul. After all, what better way to guarantee a spot in Oilum Habbah?

Ah Gutten Yuntif, You Minuval.

Second Pesach Drasha



Second Pesach Drasha


I start today's drasha with a sad and embarassing admission -- my own personal viduy in front of you, you minuval.

Over Chol Hamoed Pesach I was driving my einiklach to the pick up spot for the rabbinically sanctioned avoidah zorah -- idol worship -- known as Six Flags Great Adventures. Along the way, I dropped a quarter in the car. Since it is a Chiyuv Dioraisa, a biblical requirement, to pick up loose change, I reached down to the floor to retrieve the quarter, and behold -- I found half an M&M. It was this moment of temptation that started off a terrible cycle of sin and debauchery not unlike being mezaneh with an underage Parah Adumah.

Yes, at that moment, I was taken by an incessant urge to bite into the forbidden delicacy and indulge in the chometz delights of a treat that is crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and unlikely to lead to hours of painful stomach cramps. And as you know so well, you mamzer, Aveirah goreres Aveirah, one evil deed begets another...

One M&M, of course, is never enough. After dropping off the einiklach, I got down on my hands and knees and prostrated myself on the floor of the station wagon with the same fervor with which I had cleaned out the car one week earlier, searching for just one small bite of chometz. Boruch Hashem I found two crushed Cheerios in the ashtray, which I consumed immediately.

Alas, the Yetzer Harrah caught me on a weak day.

Still craving the delicious taste of chometz, I rushed home, and Boruch Hashem, no one was there. I headed straight for the kodshei hakadoishim of chometz, the vacuum cleaner. Would the bag containing all the crumbs of recent weeks of cleaning still be inside? I prayed to the Aimishteh for it -- and it was so. My Bashert, so busy spending her days teaching a class in Bais Yankif, her evenings serving as the mikvah lady, and her nights working at the 24 hour Kinkos, had forgotten to remove the lest vestiges of chometz. The careless bitch.

With great satisfaction I dove into the vacuum bag. Breadcrumbs! Leftover pieces of cookie! It was the most fun I've had committing an aveirah since my chavrusa and I studied the true meaning of "abomination" for extra credit back in high school, if you know what I mean. The utter joy of eating straight from the bag was only slightly tempered by the big lump of lint that got stuck in my throat.

After coughing up the fuzz ball, I became deeply troubled. I needed more chometz! I wouldn't dare go down to the basement to attack the food storage, since the goy who bought the chometz might show up at any moment and demand that which he rightfully paid for. The anti-Semite.

I had one more chance. I knew that with with all of the pre-Yuntif mayhem, my bashert likely forgot to vacuum the upholstered dining room chairs. I rushed to the dining room, got on my hands and knees next to the first chair, and positoned my head above the crack between the seat cushion and the wood chair-back.

And that's when my wife walked in. She shrieked in her loudest Ball-ha-Buster voice, "Pinky, how many times have I told you not to put your tongue in a strange place??!!"

So went my Chol Hamoed Pesach.

This maiseh shehoyo is indeed reminiscent of a halacha broaght down by the Kley Yukkur in his seminal work, Tzeddek Tzeddek Tirdoif," loosely translated as "Never miss an opportunity to judge others."

As he points out, it is indeed ironic that on a holiday dedicated to the celebration of freedom, we adopt an additional layer of stringencies to our already complicated lives. The Kley Yukkur goes on to tell us that in designing many Mitzvois, the Reboinoisheloilum is not testing our complicity with His will; rather, He is testing our common sense when commanded to do the nearly impossible.

Ah gutten Yuntif, you (Pey) Tzaddik.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Pesach Drasha



Pesach Drasha

Rabboisai -- Before I begin this week's drasha, I must share with you a new experience I had this year. This year, instead of selling my chometz to a shaygitz down the block, I used a new approach, taking Hilchois Pesach into a new millenia. I sold my chometz on the Internet -- on E-Bay.

Ich vais, you should have seen -- every goy in America was putting in a bid. 50 cents. 60 cents. I tell you, Klal Yisroel can make a killing this time of year. Next year, in addition to selling my chometz, I am also going to try to get rid of those old chairs that have been sitting in the attic for years.


Why is this night different from all other nights? Ma nishtana? Farvoos iz de nacht foon Pesach foon alla nacht foon a gantz yur?

Why don't we ask this question on other holidays? Yom Kippur for example: Why am I starving half to death while missing game two of the World Series? Sukkus: Why does the Aimishteh insist I sit outside and have flies pick at my kneidlach? Shavuos: If I have to stay up all night, why must it be with overweight, bearded men? And Chanukah: Why am I celebrating the rise of the despotic regime that stole Malchus Bais Dovid, the monarchy historically assigned to the Davidic lineage, when I should be out drinking eggnog and making out with hot shiksas under the mistletoe?

We don't ask these questions on those other nights because there is something sacrilegious about the whole idea:

-- You: Oh Aimishteh, why should I do your Mitzvois?

-- Aimishteh: Shut up you minuval before I make your wife be mezaneh with the Mikvah lady (chass v'sholom).

-- You: But Rebboinoisheloilum, I am really curious.

-- Rebboinoisheloilum: What do I look like, Google?

No. We don't ask this question the rest of the year. But on Pesach, paradoxically, we do ask such a burning shayla. And we do this because the answer is more shocking than the question.

On Pesach we celebrate assimilation.

Once upon a time our ancestors sat in bondage in Egypt. By day, they labored over brick and mortar -- dressed in the flimsiest of work clothing, while cowering under the harsh supervision of a sadistic taskmaster named Ahmed. By night, they labored over other, more colorful tasks -- dressed in black leather, a spiked collar and a muzzle, while cowering under the the harsh supervision of a sadistic dominatrix named Fatima.

In this state of subordination, both our bodies and our souls were denied independence. We spent years dominated under the harassment of a cruel and unsympathetic power, which cared not for our daily struggles or basic needs. This resulted in a psychological state of inferiority, as well as recurring insomnia and frequent impotence. (Indeed, this whole thing sounds uncomfortably similar to the average marriage.)

Indeed, it took a great leader to end this harsh cycle and lead our people to freedom, a leader who was insulated from the travails that had beaten down all of his brethren from Klal Yisroel, a leader who was, in fact, very much assimilated.

Moishe Rabbeinu grew up not as a slave, but as an Egyptian prince. No doubt he grew up the typical Egyptian prince: MTV, smoking in the pyramids, driven by his Yetzer Harrah. But had he not lived like a Mitzri, the Aimishteh would not have chosen him to lead the Bnei Yisrael. Look at his brother, Aron Hacohain. He was raised amongst Klal Yisroel, suffering their same fate, yet ultimately his job was to hold Moishe's stick, speak for him on occasion and take his messages. In essence, he was a schlepper.

So we celebrate assimilation on Pesach, even more than on Purim, which commemorates a time when Esther HaMalka curried the favor of the king by giving up her Bisulta.

And because we celebrate assimilation, we must also realize that the opportunity that confronted Moishe Rabbeinu can happen to any of us, in any generation. You can be sitting in your office, minding your own business, eating traifus and reading Golf Digest, but you never know, you might be called upon to save Klal Yisrael. Or even worse, you might be asked to donate money to a Yeshiva that has more Rabbeyim than Talmidim.

Yet, it is with trepidation and discomfort that we embrace assimilation. Sure, you would LOVE to be learning in the Bais Medrish and wearing Tfillin all day, but who would get your salary, draw on your expense account, and get your frequent flyer miles?

So to echo and enforce the discomfort of our ambivalence, we eat matzo every day for eight days.

We start off enthusiastically, consuming our share of Matzo under the rigorous guidelines set forth by Chazzal, in their deepest learned malevolence. We reenact the struggles of our ancestors, in an effort to internalize their travails.

Yet as the days progress, our yearning for freedom grows. It builds up inside us, more and more each day. This sought after passage into freedom is not like a quick everyday event, but grows. With every bite of matzo, we feel the pressure and yearn to explode, free at last.

And finally, when that release and freedom does come, perhaps with a little help of fruit compote, we celebrate freedom itself and wipe the sweat off our brow.

Ah Gutten Yuntif, You Minuval.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Birchas HaChama



Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Birchas HaChama


This week I respond to a shailah from a Minuval who did not even have the courtesy to reach out to me directly, but rather sent a random e-mail to a bunch of Shkutzim from his shul, in the hopes that either I or the Reboinoisheloilum would somehow answer his plea. Clearly he never heard of Wikipedia. But luckily for him, one Sheygitz in his crew knows a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who once received Metzitzah Bipeh from my Shviger’s Sheytelmacher. So, like the Urim V’Tumim, I am able to answer his ignorant question.

Josh S. asks:

“Birchat Hachama commemorates the return of the sun to the exact location that it was in when the world was created. Since we are celebrating this next week, it seems that the world was created in the Spring. So why is Rosh Hashanah in the fall? Doesn't Rosh Hashanah mark the number of years since creation? Was the world created in the fall or spring.?

“Ideally, I'd like a serious answer but those of you who know Rav Pinky, I'll take his response as well. Thanks.”


First of all Yehoishua, you Minuval, who are you to decide what a “serious” answer is? Do you have Smicha from a fine Rabbinic institution like I do? Have you spent years learning Toirah and doing Mitzvois, preparing yourself for a lifetime of serving Klal Yisroel, like I have? Or have you spent the best years of your life watching television, with your hand at the ready on your “special” fleisch remote control, if you know what I mean, with the hope that someday, somehow, there will be another “wardrobe malfunction” so you can spill your seed and delay Moshiach’s arrival for the rest of us?

With regard to the essence of your question, I must first challenge your underlying assumption. Where, exactly, does it say that Roish Hashanah is the day that celebrates the creation of the world? There is absolutely no – that is ZERO – notion in the Toirah SheBichsav that identifies the festival that we celebrate as Roish Hashanah to be a commemoration of the creation of the world. Farkhert! The Toirah tells us, “U’Bachoidesh Hashviyi Be’Echad La’Choidesh Mikrah Koidesh Yihyeh Lachem, Kol Milechess Avoidah Loi Sa’Asu, Yoim Teruah Yihyeh Lachem” (Bamidbar, Chuff Tess, Pasuk Aleph). “And on the first day of the seventh month you shall have a holy day; you shall do no work; it shall be a day of Teruah (Shoifar blowing).” There is nothing about the creation of the world! On the contrary, the Toirah speaks of the seventh month!” And if you look elsewhere throughout the entire Toirah SheBichsav you will find no other reference to such a commemoration, I promise you -- Not in the Chamishei Chumshei Toirah, not in Neviyim, not in Kesuvim, and not in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Further, we are all familiar with the first Mishnah in Maseches Roish Hashanah that says, “Arba’ah Roishay Shanah Haym…Be’Echad Be’Tishrey Roish Hashana La’Shanim.” “There are four New Years… On the first of Tishrei is the New Year for counting the years.” Some may be familiar with the second Mishnah in Roish Hashanah as well: “Be’Arba’ah Perakim Haoilum Nidoyn…Be’Roish Hashanah Kol Boyay Haoilum Oivrin Lifunuv Kivnei Maroin.” “At four junctures the world is judged…On Roish Hashanah all who walk the earth pass before Him like members of a flock.” Do you, Professor Genius, see any reference to the creation of the universe in these words?

So, it is clear from our Mishnah that the festival we call Roish Hashanah, perceived as the “New Year”, is a late Bayis Shaynee “Rabbinic” understanding. And it is not even clear when the notion of the commemoration of the creation of the universe even came into being. So why does the Mishnah give such emphasis to Roish Hashanah in the first place? Well…we all know that...ummm…Reb Yehudah HaNasi was prone to creating the occasional religious holiday so he could get an extra day off from work to play golf without having to take another vacation day.

However, it is certainly clear in the Gemarrah that many of the Amoraim shared the Mesoirah from Moishe on Sinai that there is great cosmic significance to the Yuntif that we all celebrate as Roish Hashanah. Indeed, according to a Medrish in Vayikra Rabbah, Rabbi Chiya held that Roish Hashanah does indeed commemorate the original date of the creation of the world. And while everyone in his neighborhood spent both days of Roish Hashanah in shul doing Teshuva and davening for Kapparah, Rabbi Chiya spent both days going through the papers in his office, the garage, and the attic trying to find the warrantee so that he could renew it, just in case the world stopped functioning properly over the course of the coming year.

Rabbi Zayrah, however, held farkhert. According to the Medrish, Rabbi Zayrah believed that the notion of Roish Hashanah marking the creation of the world, is, in Western Aramaic dialect, “Narishkeit”, unquote. For, his logic goes, “no one was around to see the creation of the world. So how can we know when it was created? Tell me that, huh?” Rabbi Zayrah was of course considered one of the more arrogant of the Amoraim, along with Rabbah, and that stuck up schvantzel Reb Chisda.

So what does Roish Hashanah commemorate? Says Rabbi Zayrah, Roish Hashanah does indeed commemorate an event of enormous significance – It celebrates the birth of the Reboinoisheloilum. And, the Medrish tells us, to celebrate Hakadoshboruchhu’s birthday, Rabbi Zayrah would always bring a Carvel cake to shul to make Kiddush on right after the Haftoirah. According to Reb Hai Goyn, it was a standard Carvel ten inch party cake. However, according to Reb Sherirah Goyn, it was a Fudgie The Whale cake. He cites as proof the fact that Rabbi Zayrah was the Assistant Rabbi at the only gay synagogue in all of Pumbedisa.

Rav Puppa, in a Gemarrah in Makois, offers more detail on the Aimishteh’s birth and upbringing. He cites a Braisah that notes that the Reboinoisheloilum was born in Scarsdale to parents named Jeff and Susan. And, Rav Puppa notes, Jeff wasn’t even Jewish, though Hakadoshboruchhu was raised according to His mother’s religion, went to Sunday school, and was even Bar Mitzvahed at the local Reform Temple.

So the notion of Roish Hashanah as marking the creation of the world is Nisht Azoy Pashut.

With regard to Birchas HaChama, the blessing over the alignment of the sun, let me first make a complete disclosure: I LOVE THIS MITZVAH! This is my favorite of all the 613 Mitzvois, even ahead of Pru Urva on Friday night with my Bashert, Feigeh Breinah, her twin sister, and a young goat. Why do I love this Mitzvah so much? Because to me, it is very similar to Kiddush Levanah, just instead of looking like an idiot and howling at the moon once a month, you only have to do this once every twenty-eight years or so. And if you do it really well by, according to the Mechaber of the Shulchan Aruch, staring into the sun, you never have to worry about doing it again, since you will go blind as a bat.

So what does Birchas HaChama commemorate? Is it the creation of the world? O course not – it is the creation of the sun! And when was the sun created? Well, according to my reading of Beraishis – perhaps you have a different Girsah – the sun was created on the fourth day of creation. But unless you are a literalist like Reb Yoiseph Elyashiv, Reb Pinchas Sheinberg, or Rev Pat Robertson, you cannot take the notion of days literally, so we have no idea when, exactly, in the history of the universe by our current measurement of time the sun was created. So Chazzal, in their wisdom, their commitment to finding every opportunity to celebrate the partnership between Klal Yisroel and the Aimishteh, and their desire to make a killing on knock-off sun glasses imported from China, fixed a time and set a tradition to recognize a return to the original alignment of the earth with the sun, the planets, the stars, and the colony on New Caprica prior to the Cylon invasion.

Rabboisai, this leads us to a far more important question than when to be Mevoirach the Chama or whether to charter a plane if it is a cloudy day and you cannot see the sun. This brings us to an essential question of philosophy. (Please note: Stupid people are now dismissed from my shiur, as you might hurt yourself on the next few paragraphs.) What is Halacha? Is it fixed in time? Or does it evolve as we gain new scientific and philosophical understandings of the world?

This is the core of a famous Machloikess between the RAMBAN and the RAMBAM:

According to the RAMBAN, all of Toirah was given to Moishe Rabbeinu on Sinai. This included Toirah SheBichsav, Toirah SheBaalPeh, and Dianetics By L. Ron Hubbard. This included not only the Mitzvois as they are written in Tanach, but also the Mesoirah that follows. In essence, Halacha both begins, and in some way, ends at Sinai. And all of the Halachois cited in the Mishnah and the Gemarrah, all of the Machloikoisim and Halachic debates of the last 2000 years reflect an effort to remember and preserve the Laws which were given over, in their entirety, to Moishe Rabbeinu by the Reboinoisheloilum Himself. How do we define the notion of “work” which we are not supposed to do on Shabbos Koidesh? Hakadoshboruchhu told Moishe. What is the minimum size of a Lulav? The Aimishteh already answered that one. Can I use a remote control on Yuntif for my new 52 inch LCD HDTV? Moishe learned the answer, too. We just have to tease it out of the body of Toirah which captures all that he received from the Melech Malchei Hamelachim.

The RAMBAM, on the other hand, holds that Halacha only begins at Sinai. Moishe Rabbeinu was given the Toirah by the Aimishteh, but that only represented a base set of tools. Over time Klal Yisroel developed new understandings and traditions, as times changed and circumstances changed. They were exiled to Bavel from Eretz Yisroel and had to develop a new interpretation of the first half of Yishayahu, who vowed that Yerushalayim would never be destroyed. They were exposed to Persian notions of theology, and that changed how they understood the nature of the Reboinoisheloilum. They learned Greek philosophy and science, and that further evolved their understanding of the world. They were exposed to mystical notions, and that further refined their perception of the relationship between the Reboinoisheloilum, Klal Yisroel, and the universe. They had new inventions and new questions, for which they employed their best efforts to answer, based on the Toirah, their historical traditions and their evolving world view. They were also introduced to the Indian Kamma Sutra, and boy! did they try out all those new positions!

And as we have evolved our understandings, our Halacha and our practices changed and evolved, sometimes through conscious decisions, sometime as a result of changing dynamics, such as socio-economic factors and community circumstances. Many of us live in wonderful Yiddisheh communities, Boruch Hashem, and would never think of eating Gevinas Noitzrim, non-Kosher cheese. But it is well known that Rav Soleveichik, not too many years ago, used to eat Kraft. Mamesh. We all force ourselves to eat a Kazayis of horseradish at the Seder. But many people are aware that Rav Aroin Kutler, a generation ago, used to eat iceberg lettuce for Marror. This is the Emmess. We diligently check all of our Shabbos snack foods for an OU heckser, an OK, a CRC, or, ChassV’Sholom, for a Chuff-K. But, as some are aware, Reb Moishe Feinstein used to sit at his table every Friday night after Benching, and read the Algemeiner Journal while eating Rolets Pork Rinds. This is a Maiseh Shehoya, really.

So, according to the RAMBAM, Halacha and our relationship with the Aimishteh are not just what has been handed down to us, but they are also what we make of them. Every generation is a partner to this relationship, as is every member of Klal Yisroel. Even you, Yehoshua, even if you are groisseh Mechutziff.

So, as you go outside to make Birchas HaChama, do it because you are linking with your brethren and sisteren to celebrate the Reboinoisheloilum’s creation of the sun, whether or not we have the exact date and time right. After all, the Tanaim and Amoraim had a much more primitive understanding of the universe than us. We, on the other hand, are enlightened and liberated. We have science and technology. We have modern medicine. We have advanced forms of art. And we have a refined and developed economic system that, because of our financial and social progress and deep understanding of the behavior of markets could never possibly fail under own ignorance, stupidity, and greed.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.