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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Cultural Assimilation



Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Cultural Assimilation


This week I address the critical question of cultural assimilation.

Mike S.. writes:

"Dear Rabbi Pinky,

"The following question has been troubling me for some time. If the newspaper delivery boy delivers the paper on Shabbos and tosses the paper on the second step, which is less than ten tefachim (Ed. -- approximately 36 inches) off the ground (the anti-Semite does this every Shabbos but never during the week), and if I accidentally kick it up the stairs and into the front hallway, can I read the sports section too, or am I limited to looking at the pictures of Kate Moss wearing nothing but a Prada handbag that I tore out of the Style section after I caught my wife, may she live to be a hundred and forty, studying it with a gleam in her eye? (Sigh, no, I'm not that lucky you pervert, she was only eyeing the handbag.)

"Your sagacious and twisted advice would be greatly appreciated."

Reb Mike:

Voos iz givehn ah newspaper?

Do you mean to tell me that you would desecrate the Shabbos Koidesh, the timeless gift of the Aimishteh, the sacred bounty of the Rebboinoisheloilum, with the polluted ways of the goyyishe velt? You NEED to read a newspaper, and the stock market isn't even open until Monday??!!

Indeed, your question is quite troubling, and is fundamental to our very existence as Jews, who participate in public society and lead in all endeavors -- from medicine to business to film making to tax evasion -- but due to our Divine Covenant are forbidden to reap its key benefits, aka, hot shiksas and cheeseburgers.

Allow me to restate your question and broaden its scope: Should we open our cultural and daily lives in order to be better assimilated with the broader secular society?

Indeed, Chazzal, our holy sages, pondered this question endlessly, as it took a long time for cable to arrive at Sura and Pumpedisa, and the XBOX had apparently not been invented yet. They read holy books, they debated endlessly, they meditated on the topic with yogis, and they engaged management consultants. But they were never able to reach a satisfactory conclusion once Hooters opened up in Babylon.

On this topic, Rav Yoisi Haglili is quoted in a Braisah in Mesechta Shabbos suggesting, "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." No one has ever understood what the gehennem he meant, but that obviously never prevented any comment from being included in the Gemarrah. Commenting on the quote, Abaya suggests that Rav Yoisi was hit on the head with an apple and was delirious when he made this statement.

Rav Shayshess, in a Gemarrah in Soitah, however, discusses this question directly. He notes that Hakkadoshboruchhu created the world for Klal Yisroel to live in, contribute to, and enjoy to its fullest. He suggests, however, that the Aimishteh's idea of fun apparently includes persecution, yeshiva tuition, having our wives cover their hair with $3000 wigs, and eating tuna out of a can during business lunches at the finest restaurants in the city.

Rav Puppa, however, disagrees. He suggests that the Rebboinoisheloilum does not want us to participate in the activities of the outside world, and prefers instead that He pay us our rewards in the World to Come. Says Rav Puppa, this is a wise choice by the Aimishteh, so that in the short term He can invest His capital elsewhere to incur a lower risk and secure a higher rate of return.

Sherira Goyn, commenting on this machloikess hundreds of years later, suggests that the disagreement between Rav Shayshess and Rav Puppa was not about assimilation at all. Rather, it was about who had the sillier name. According to Rav Shayshess, "Puppa" was such a silly name it was akin to torture, since anyone who heard the name laughed so hard that shnot would shoot out of his nose. But, according to Rav Puppa, "Shayshess" was the sillier name, and he would have chosen to kill himself if he had been given that name.

However, according to Meshulum ben Klonymous, the tenth century scholar, liturgical composer, Kabbalist, and male exotic dancer, the argument between Rav Puppa and Rav Shayshess was indeed about assimilation. But, Reb Meshulum suggests, neither of the two sages were correct, since they never spent a day outside the Bais Medrish, the Rabbinic study hall, and as a result, says Reb Meshulum, "didn't have a freaking clue as to what the real world is about." Shoyn.

In our day, how should we address this question? I would like to suggest that we are indeed very fortunate in modern times in that we can truly balance the greatness of Toirah lifestyle with the marvels of science, philosphy, and the tax-loss carry forward. We can go to Tokyo and daven in a minyan. We can go to London and find a eiruv. We can travel to Saudi Arabia and never once be offered pork. We truly do live in special times.

And in order to help celebrate these times, and enhance the outside world while preserving a Toirah true lifestyle, I have decided to embark on a magnificent business venture....err, I mean Toirah endeavor. I would like to introduce a new Hashgacha that will give the highest seal of approval to kosher food worldwide.

Introducing: The Yushka K. The Yushka K is Yeshivas Chipass Emess's new kosher certification symbol. We stand for: Food so good, it tastes like traif.

How do we guarantee you the finest quality kosher certification? First, we send in a swat team of bearded Rabbis to raid the kitchen of each product's manufacturer. They check every ingredient for kosher contents, every nook and cranny for hidden traifus, and every drawer for loose change in order to bring you the finest kosher certification. But we don't stop there. We bring in a team of gentile chefs and their hot shiksa dates to taste the product. To avoid any favorable bias, we always make sure that at least one is a member of the KKK and another is a member of the PFLP-CS, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- Culinary Squad.

Only when a product meets these exacting standards does it earn the label "Yushka K".

So, indeed, our unique lifestyles can accommodate both our heritage and the world outside. So, yes, Mike S., you should pick up that newspaper on Shabbos and find out what is going on in the outside world. You can even do the crossword puzzle during the Rabbi's speech. Don't worry, you won't be branded a heretic. In all likelihood, everyone else around you will be fast asleep.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Simchas Toirah Drasha



Simchas Toirah Drasha


This week we celebrate the conclusion of Sukkois and the completion of the annual cycle of Kriyas HaToirah by getting stinking drunk and dancing with members of the same gender.

Rav Moishe Chaim Luzzato asks: Why do we dance with other men, which is a clear violation of Lifnei Iver for Mishkav Zachor, an unacceptable temptation that may lead to playing “bury my Sukkah pole in your Schach,” if you know what I mean?

There is a famous machloikess that addresses this question. Reb Yisroel Salanter comments that the completion of the Toirah cycle is meant as an Ois, a microcosm, of Oilum Habbah. With the completion of the Chamishei Chumshei Toirah, we experience a moment that is a foreshadowing of Biyas HaMashiach and Oilum Habbah, the dawning of the Messianic era and the World to Come. As such, we know that when Moshiach comes, many of the Halachic restrictions of Oilum Hazeh will fall away. Just as Tisha Ba’Av will shift from being a day of somber mourning to our greatest day of celebration, Biyuh SheLo KeDarko with another man will shift from being an “abomination” to a “Mitzvas Asei SheHazman Grummah.” It will also be a great way to reward your Chavrusa for knowing all the latest dance steps to “Zara Chaya VeKayama.”

Rebbe Nachman MiBreslov proposes a similar approach. He suggests that we do not dance in celebration of completing the annual cycle of reading the Toirah, since in ancient times much of Klal Yisroel followed a triennial cycle, completing the Toirah in three years. Rather, Rebbe Nachman states that we dance with other men to signal the end of the long holiday season. He writes in his famous treatise Likutei MoHaran that “Shmini Atzeres and Simchas Toirah clarify the essential differences between men and women. At this time of year, while men are busy trying to eke out a living without being fired for missing work, building the Sukkah, preparing the Arba Minim, etc., their wives are constantly calling them with requests, such as:

-- ‘Reuvain, can you please pick up bok choi on your way home from work’

-- ‘Shimoin, I don’t think we have enough dessert for the fourth meal we are hosting; can you pick up some brownie mix?’

-- ‘Layvee, I have to stay late at the office; can you come home early to give the kinderlach a bath?’”

Says Rebbe Nachman, “If I can trade being called fourteen times a day by my wife and being incessantly hen-pecked in exchange for engaging in Mishkav Zachor with another man, I will gladly play catcher in Biyuh SheLo Kedarko with a big sweaty Yeshiva Bochur named Lazer.”

However, the Vilna Goyn suggests that Rav Moishe Chaim Luzzato and Rebbe Nachman MiBreslov probably spent a bit too much time hanging out at the Mikvah on Erev Yoim Kippur. He writes farkhert in Chuddushe HaGruh, “In Klal Yisroel, we don't have homosexuals. We don't have that in our Kehillah. In Yiddishkeit, we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who's told you that we have it.”

Instead, the Gruh points to the seasonal nature of Shaloish Regalim as the true reason we celebrate on Simchas Toirah. He notes that just as Peysach is Chag HaAviv – the Spring Festival, and Shavuois is Chag HaBikurim – the Harvest Festival, Shmini Atzeres -- and especially Simchas Toirah -- celebrate something critical in the calendric cycle of Klal Yisroel and of Kol HaOilam Kooloh in general.

To make his point, the Gruh cites a famous machloikess. The Tur asks, “What is the most important Aliyah during Kriyas HaToirah?

According to Reb Yoisaiph Karo, the most important Aliyah is Rishoyn, the first Aliyah, since it is the Aliyah reserved for the Koihayn, the representative of Klal Yisroel designated by the Reboinoisheloilum to bless His chosen People.

According to the Bais Yoisaiph, the most important Aliyah is the second Aliyah, the Aliyah of the Layvee, since he silently enables the holy activities of the Koihayn by washing the Koihayn’s filthy hands and smelly feet.

According to the Keseph Mishnah, the most important Aliyah is the third Aliyah, since it is typically reserved for the biggest tzaddik in the room. Or, more frequently, it goes to the guy who writes the biggest check to the shul, even though everyone knows he frequently schtupps his hot shiksa secretary while eating pork, and makes his money by selling variable mortgages to eighty year old widows who live off of Social Security.

However, the Shulkhan Arukh holds that the fourth Aliyah is the most important one. His reasoning: Unlike the first, second, or third Aliyahs, the fourth Aliyah is an RBI position. He is batting clean up, while the others simply have the responsibility of getting on base. He has to drive them home, an awesome responsibility. As proof, the Shulkhan Arukh cites the fact that the last Aliyah is typically reserved for a Bar Mitzvah boy or a light hitting shortstop. Or for a pitcher in the National League, Chass v’Sholom. These mamzerim are likely to get out anyway, so we may as well put them in a position where they can’t do any damage.

Continues the Goyn: On Simchas Toirah, we echo the external calendar and combine the completion of the Toirah cycle with the completion of the Major League Baseball season. Consequently, there is a strong Minhag for men to dance together and jump on top of each other in victorious celebration. There is even a Minhag amongst the Sephardim to pour champagne over each others’ heads, although us real Jews celebrate by drinking scotch and making Mei Raglayim in the Ezras Nashim.

I am reminded of a famous Maiseh Shehoya. Reb Elchanan Wasserman once took a break from the Simchas Toirah celebrations at his Yeshiva and ran home for a quick snack. When he arrived, the house was empty. No one was in the kitchen and no one was in the living room. He went upstairs, opened the door to his bedroom, and to his surprise, he found his wife Chraindie naked, rolling around in bed with the wives of his three Talmidei Muvhak, his leading student protégés. In shock, he asked his wife, “Voos Tootzuch Mit Der Gefilte Fish Party”?

His wife Chraindie responded, “Elchi, you are off in Yeshiva celebrating the end of the Toirah cycle, while we are here celebrating the end of our cycles.”

Pausing for just a moment, Reb Elchanan told his wife, “You are indeed an Eishess Chayil!” He then ran back to the Yeshiva, passed through the Bais Medrish amidst all of the Freilechin dancing and singing, and joined his three Talmidei Muvkak in his private study off the Bais Medrish. Together the four of them intently watched a playoff game on TV for the next hour and a half.

Ah Freilechin Yuntif, You Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

SPECIAL BONUS DRASHA: Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Eating Milk and Meat



SPECIAL BONUS DRASHA: Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Eating Milk and Meat

Rabboisai, Tanya G. writes:

"Dear Rabbi Pinky,

"Rabbi -- I have been wondering: If a man just ate dairy and his wife just eat meat -- can they kiss, or do they have to wait six hours?"


Meideleh, thank you for your well thought out and engrossing question, which gets at the heart of both Kashrus laws and the rules which govern the relations between man and woman. Your deep question echoes the primal lesson of Adam and Chava (Eve), the foundational relationship between Avraham and Sarah, and the quickie between Yehuda and Tamar.

Ironically, your name "Tanya" brings to mind a great text which reflects on the essence of Toirah, mitzvois, relationships, and the worship of dead rabbis.

It is written in the Tanya, Perek Chuff, that man and woman are fundamentally different in the way the Aimishteh perceives them. Yes, in the eyes of Hakkadoshboruchhu, not all flesh is equal.

The Tanya compares women to fish, and man to beef. One must ALWAYS eat the fish prior to eating the beef, and may eat the fish with other foods, dairy for example. Indeed, many Gediolim hold, and my bashert Feigeh Breinah agrees, that meat is somehow special, and must be eaten rarely, only to mark special occasions. Or never at all. But fish must be eaten as frequently as possible.

Says the Tanya, fish and beef are fundamentally different, yet they are both flesh. Such is Klal Yisroel -- similar to other nations, yet quite distinct in its own nature.

There is a Braisah in Maseches Shkalim that tells us that Rav Yose Haglili once fasted for three days in repentence for using a clean meat knife to cut salad that was later eaten with dairy. Upon learning of this, Rabbi Akiva stated that "Rebbi (Yose Haglili) should go back to cooking school." The Gemarrah then brings down a famous Machlokess, Rabbinic debate, between Rav and Shmuel on how best to understand this Braisah. According to Rav, Rabbi Akiva's statement implied that he totally rejected kosher laws. However, Shmuel holds farkhert: Rabbi Akiva was a big advocate of kosher laws, but was absolutely offended that Rav Yose Haglili used a steak knife to cut salad.

So why don't we eat meat and milk together? There is a Pussook that tells us "Loi Sevashel Gedi Bechalaiv Imoi," a calf must not be cooked in its mother's milk. How do we know that the proper interpretation is the warning aganst mixing dairy with fleish? According to the RAMCHAL, this Pussook is actually properly understood as reflecting a pre-Israelite cultic ceremonial sacrifice celebrating the first born of the flock in spring. Of course, the RAMCHAL later retracted this comment in exchange for a shorter sentence and a reduced fine.

A different interpretation, offered by the Akaidas Yitzchuk, suggests that the Pussook does indeed warn us about eating, but actually goes beyond milk, to include any bodily fluids. This is indeed consistent with laws stated elsewhere that prohibit the consumption of meat that contains any blood, which of course is the essence of the kosher requirements of draining, soaking, and salting meat before it may be eaten.

I am reminded of a maiseh shehoya. Rabbeinu Gershom, when he was not busy opening other peoples' mail, was reknowned as a Poissaik, a Rabbi who could rule on the contemporary questions brought forth by commoners. One evening, a local townswoman dropped off for inspection for Toomas Nidah a pair of underwear -- a thong. As was the practice at the time, the underwear was given to Rebbetzin Gershom, who later brought it to her husband after dinner. The next day, on his way home from shul, the townswoman came up to Rabbeinu Gershom and enquired, "Nu, Rebbe, can I be mezaneh with my husband tonight?"

Rabbeinu Gershom, looked up at her, astounded. "Rebboinoisheloilum, is that what that was?" he answered. "I thought it was dental floss. So I can't tell you if you are pure of Mei Nidah, but my teeth have never been cleaner!"

So, Meideleh, to fully answer your question, we must understand the roots of the tradition of waiting between milk and meat. As is well known, the waiting period differs by sub-culture. Jews of Polish and Russion descent wait six hours; people from Germany wait three hours; people from Holland wait one hour; and Latinos wait about twelve minutes.

Some say this has to do with cuisine and the spacing between the traditional mealtimes in different societies. But I believe that to appropriately address your shailah, we should rely on a minority opinion which suggests that this practice is not a cultural marker denoting times between meals, but between Maiseh Beyuh, if you know what I mean. In Poland and Russia it was really cold, so no one dared stray from under the blanket for at least six hours. In Germany, efficiency dictated prompt and structured increments of three hours. And in Spanish speaking countries, they may as well not have bothered putting their pants on.

I, the RAPAS, would like to humbly suggest that in our days, where the historical residence of our grandparents is largely a nostalgic question rather than a practical one, we must adopt a new approach to separating between meat and milk, especially as it relates to marital relations. So as a general rule, your question should be addressed by age: If a man is in his 20s -- wait one hour. If he is in his 30s -- wait two hours. 40s and older -- wait six hours. But if a man is sneaking out for a little traifus or a rendezvous with a hot shiksa, he needn't wait at all.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

On Priestly Responsibilities (And Minding One's Own Business)



On Priestly Restrictions (And Minding One's Own Business)


This week I address a complex question posed by a Talmid with a bit too much time on his hands. Due to the delicate nature of the question, I have taken the liberty to modify some of the original text in order to respect personal privacy.

The Talmid writes:

I am a devoted Talmid. I recently learned that the President of my shul is a Kohain married to a Gerusha. Initially, the Kohain divorced his first wife and the Gerusha divorced her first husband. Both couples lived in our community. After the divorce, the Kohain and the Gerusha began a relationship, but couldn’t get married under Jewish law.

Eventually, the Kohain wanted to be frummer and so he shopped different Bais Dins until he found one that would grant an appropriate psak that would allow them to marry. The Bais Din found a premise upon which the woman’s first marriage could be annulled. No longer a Gerusha, they wed.

What I don’t understand is how the gerusha can be married to the Kohain, and how he can then be President of the shul? Even if the psak is legit and she’s not a gerusha, they had a relationship prior to the wedding, right? So he still can’t be married to her.

Please help Reb Pinky, because all the wise men of our community are baffled by this issue.

With Humility,
A Loyal Talmid


Well, my dearest beloved Talmid. I guess you don’t have nearly enough to keep you busy in your community, so you have to worry about the personal matters of others. Did it ever occur to you that while you spend time on the phone discussing this with your friends, your wife, out of sheer boredom, is probably being mezaneh with the mikvah lady?

But I am certain that your question is motivated by a deep concern for the well being of your community. After all, instead of focusing on: improving the quality and impact of Jewish education, raising money to make a decent Jewish education available to more students, helping the needy, helping the unemployed, helping the elderly, supporting the Jewish community, fighting sexual abuse of children in the Jewish community, improving relations with the broader American society, fighting anti-Semitism, saving the whales, or making any other organizational, intellectual or cultural contribution to the world, you identified the one issue that all communities should be focused on. Shkoiyach.

Not that the issue you raise is unimportant. After all, the next time I bring a Karban, I will want to make sure not to use your Shul president.

Now, with regard to the essence of your question, there are a number of components that require a deep halachic perspective. The first, or course, are the marital restrictions placed by the Toirah on the Koihanim, the male priestly class. How should the biblical instructions be implemented in a world defined by shades of grey?

As this question has arisen over the years, there have been multiple rabbinic approaches. The more rigid have applied a black/white screen – when in doubt, marriages are blocked or broken up, no matter the consequences on the couple or their children, and no matter how hot the woman is.

A more progressive approach relies upon a creative solution applied for centuries that is based upon the rich, diverse, and not-always-pleasant history of Klal Yisroel. As our people were cast from country to country, in and out of our dispersion over millennia, many of our customs and traditions became confused. As such, the identification of who is and who is not a Kohain in our day is not a certainty. Consequently, some rabbis permit the man and/or the male offspring of such a marriage to step down from the Kehuna and become Yisraelim. Clearly, the trade off is: Lose a couple of aliyas a year, but gain some hot, biblically frowned upon adult action. You make the call. (I already know which one I would choose. Let me give you hint; it would NOT require Birchas HaToirah, but might involve chocolate pudding.)

This third approach that you refer to in your note is unfamiliar to me. It relies upon a technical loophole not lying in an area of my Rabbinical expertise. Quite frankly, in Yeshiva, while some colleagues majored in marriage and divorce law, I did my PHD in something far more relevant to Klal Yisroel: The laws related to Tumas Kli associated with leprosy during Yoivel for those people living in the Babylonian suburbs. Shoyn.

The second component of your shaila that needs addressing is, thankfully, more straightforward. Essentially, what are the qualifications and requirements for a Shul President? Luckily, the RAMBAM in Mishneh Toirah dedicates an entire section to this topic, which is followed immediately by Hilchois Kiddush Club.

The RAMBAM specifically tells us what to look for in a Shul President. Says the RAMBAM:

(Aleph) Anyone can become a Shul President, as long as he writes a big enough check and is a respected member of the community.

(Baiz) When is this said? When the person has not been convicted of a white collar crime. But if the person has been convicted of a white collar crime, he must write a REALLY big check.

(Gimmel) A Shul President must never abuse his authority; for example, he must not have an affair with a female congregant – That is the exclusive privilege of the Rabbi.

(Daled) The Shul president should be over 30, married, and have children, so that he may know the weight of social responsibility. If the Shul is a gay synagogue, the president needn’t be married, though he must either be in a committed relationship, or share a house on Fire Island during the summer.

So, as you can see, my beloved Talmid, Chazal clearly allowed a wide range of characteristics for Shul Presidents. So the situation you raise does not go against any Halacha.

Finally, there is another point that you touched upon in your note is of great concern to me. You noted that the Kohain only decided to marry after he “wanted to become Frummer.” Are you suggesting that he should not have become Frummer? Are you suggesting that he should have continued in his self hating, traif eating, pagan lifestyle so that you and your friends would be less disturbed during one minute of announcements every week, while you and your friends are counting the seconds until you can run out to the door to know off three liters of single malt scotch? Or are you suggesting that you do not respect his Teshuvah, you Minuval?

Ich Vais, I wish I had your level of Kiddushah!

I am reminded of a famous Medrish in a Gemarrah in Baba Basrah. The Medrish tells how Rabbi Akiva entered Shamayim upon his death. At the entrance to the Aimishteh’s First Class section, Rabbi Akiva was denied entry. “But Rebboinoisheloilum,” Rabbi Akiva said, “I was one of the greatest leaders of Klal Yisroel. I organized all of Halacha into a standard order. I kept Toirah scholarship alive after the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. Why can’t I go in, while you just let that schmuck Rabbi Meir in ahead of me?”

Hakadoshboruchhu looked back at Rabbi Akiva, and, with a glint in His eye, He said, “Rabbi Akiva, you disappoint Me – all of My Toirah that you learned wasn’t reward enough? Why don’t you spend 1,000 years sitting in Economy Class, right between a garbage man from Tiveriah and a prostitute from Beer Sheva.

So, my beloved Talmid, my very simple advice to you: Next time you are in Shul, please spend a little less time looking up on the Bimah at the President, and a little more time looking over into the ladies section at the fresh talent. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to be the next person in the community to get a little biblically frowned upon hot adult action.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Sukkois Drasha



Sukkois Drasha

On this holiday, the yuntif of Sukkois, we wave fresh fruit at the sky for seven days, and eat in an open air beehive. We cap it off by dancing cheek to cheek with a bunch of bearded men. (I have a date with a talmid named Yerachmiel; I hope I get lucky!)

According to Chazzal, Sukkois is the time when Moshiach will come. And according to Reb Hai Goyn, it is the holiday when you are supposed to separate yourself from the secular world. He cites as proof the fact that you are forced to take off so many work days right before end of year reviews, you might as well start polishing up your resume.

The RI holds that Sukkois is actually a celebration of homosexuality. When Klal Yisroel were preparing for the long winter, planting in the fields by day and sleeping in huts at night, at the end of a long day they would sit down bichavrusa (in pairs) and study a little Talmud. One minute they are on daf yud baiz, amud alef, and the next minute they are on the floor, committing Mishkav Zachor. And who can blame them? I get excited by a gevaldik Toisfois myself!

The RI cites various Sukkois practices as proof for his position:

- We wave our phallic lulavim on the faces of all the other men, boasting about how ours is the biggest in the shul;

- Alongside our lulav is our esroig, where the gemarrah tells us that the more bulbous and full of veins, the better;

- We commit a sadomasochistic act with a handful of willow branches;

- We dance around the Toirah with other men, our fingers firmly entwined with others' hot, sweaty, hairy hands.

However, most Rishoinim disagree with the RI, referring to his rather abrupt departure from his position as director of the all boys Orthodox summer camp in Northern Lithuania (although they settled out of Baiz Din, so no one can prove a damn thing).

The RIF points to the beauty of the Sukkah celebration as a unique mitzvah within Yiddishkeit. Fresh fruit. The outdoors. Many Rishoinim hold that you should live in the Sukkah for eights days. It says in the Gemmarah that Rish Lakish would move into the Sukkah, and use it as an excuse for not having to deal with his mother in law all week. Rav Ashi, on the other hand, insisted that his mother in law sleep in the Sukkah, and take one or two of the kids with her.

The Sukkah offers many opportunities to be Hiddur Mitzvah, to go above and beyond the letter of the commandment. It is customary to decorate the Sukkah with pictures and other decorations. (Vooz iz givehn plastic fruit, anyway? I understand the Reform decorate their Sukkahs with shrimp.)

According to Rabbeinu Tam, it is actually a Mitzvah Dioraisa to buy Christmas decorations in January at fifty percent off, to be used in decorating the Sukkah the following year: Flashing lights. Ornaments. Candy canes. Indeed, one year the Vilna Goyn decorated his Sukkah with a nativity scene he bought for six dollars.

There are other things that one can do with a Sukkah. A Braisah brings down a story of Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah, who, as a teenager, had the roof removed from his family's minivan so that he could drive down to the beach and be mekayaim the mitzvois of pleasuring his girlfriend and eating in the sukkah at the same time. What a tzaddik!

Yet the most beautiful element of Sukkois, and the aspect most shrouded in mystery, is the mitzvah of esroig. I still can't figure it out. It looks like a lemon. It smells like a lemon. It even tastes like a lemon. But it costs as much as heroin. How come it is easier to buy fresh peaches from Antarctica than it is to buy an esroig at a reasonable price?

And how many times in your life have you heard of esroig jelly. I bet you have heard of it all your life, but have NEVER seen it. You know why? Imagine this boast to your friends and neighbors: "I took 100 esroigim that last week retailed for a total of $5,000, mixed them up with a little sugar and pectin, and now it's worth about $1.50." Really impressive.

For this reason, I have a personal minhag. Two days before Sukkois, I buy 5 pounds of lemons in the supermarket, take them home, and then take a baseball bat to them. After about ten minutes of beating the crap out of them, I have plenty esroigim for myself and the kinderlach, and sell the remainder in the shul. With the extra money I buy some cologne, so I can smell nice for my dancing partner on Simchas Toirah night.

Ah Gutten Yuntif, you Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Yoim Kippur Drasha



Yoim Kippur Drasha

You good for nothing Minuval, you have sinned all year long, and now you are going to pay for it!

From Kol Nidrei at sundown until the blowing of the Shofar, you will be cramped into an overcrowded room surrounded by unshowered, unshaven men whose empty stomachs are growling louder than the chazzan. But look at the bright side: at least you get your exercise. Between the frequent and incessant beating of your chest and the four instances of full kneeling, you have become a Moslem Tarzan. Shkoiyach.

Chazzal spent many, many hours contemplating the true meaning of Yoim Kippur, while awaiting the horses to reach the finish line. There is a famous machloikess (rabbinic debate) in Yuma on the subject between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel. Bais Shammai holds that the true commandment of the Toirah is that you should sin all year long, and then repent on Yoim Kippur. Bais Hillel, on the other hand, holds that you should strictly avoid sin all year long, and then enjoy a nice honey glazed ham right after Kol Nidrei. Of course, this is one of the fourteen instances when we hold like Bais Shammai (along with such critical issues as not using toilet paper on Shabbos and the infield fly rule.)

The Reshoinim struggled to define the metaphor by which we can understand how the Jewish People should look upon a single day in which they can redeem themselves for past mistakes and plan for the next year without the aid of a good tax advisor or financial planner.

According to the Rabbeinu Tam, Yoim Kippur is like an all day telethon, where the Aimishteh is raising funds and support for the coming year, and you are asked to contribute of your soul. The ROISH disagrees, using the same metaphor, but reversing it. Says the ROISH, YOU are hosting the telethon, and are appealing to the Rebboinoisheloilum for his support, and you refuse to go off the air until He is ready to write you a check. (And if He pledges 75 dollars or more, you'll send Him an autographed CD of Luciano Pavoratti in concert.)

The RIF holds that the true metaphor for Yoim Kippur is that of the annual performance review. Hakkodoshboruchhu is your manager, and at review time, He reaches out to your colleagues, your superiors, your subordinates, and your clients, soliciting feedback on your performance. He looks at your numbers. He checks how often you have been absent or late to shul. He then synthesizes the information and decides your fate. Will you be terminated? Will you get a raise? Will you get a better bonus? Will you get a hot new secretary?

But how can you protect yourself as the Aimishteh's employee? How can you best ensure a positive year? According to the Pas Akum, this metaphor explains one of the age old questions, which is: Why does Sukkois so closely follow Yoim Kippur? Say the Aimishteh decides to terminate you. What can you do? Can you prove wrongful dismissal? Says the Pas Akum, we stand before Hakkodoshboruchhu four days after Yoim Kippur and wave our phallic looking palm branches at heaven as if to say, "if you terminate me, I'll sue you for sexual harassment!" And in the current politically correct environment, even He has to be careful.

We prepare for this holiest day of days with the greatest degree of sobriety. We set aside Ten Days Of Atonement for spiritual introspection. We say Selichois, special prayers beseeching the Aimishteh for forgiveness. We blow the shoifar, which is intended to strike an internal chord of repentance. And we wave a live chicken over our heads.

In the time of the Second Temple, there was a great debate over this strange practice. The Prushim (Pharasees) held that before Yoim Kippur, every Jewish male should take a chicken by the legs, wave it over the heads of his loved ones, as if to absorb their sins, and then send the chicken off to slaughter. We have recently learned from the Dead Sea Scrolls that the Essenes, on the other hand, held that before Yoim Kippur every Jewish male should choke the chicken, if you know what I mean. Given that the Essenes are not doing too well these days, I guess that was the wrong approach.

There is a famous story of Rabbi Chaim MiVerlozhin. Reb Chaim was traveling from town to town in Inner Mongolia, trying to raise money for his Yeshiva's IPO. When Yoim Kippur came, Reb Chaim went to the only shul in town just in time for Kol Nidrei. "We're sorry," he was told, "but you can't get in without a ticket." Not having purchased a ticket in advance, Reb Chaim was sent away, denied the opportunity to daven on Yoim Kippur in a minyan.

The next morning, as Reb Chaim went downstairs in the small hotel in which he was staying, the host greeted him saying, "Rabbi, please join us. The missus just made up a huge breakfast, including a fresh batch of muffins." Reflecting on his experience the night before, on his rejection at the shul and at the prospect of having to daven for the next sixteen hours by himself, Reb Chaim took off his yarmulke, sat down at the table, and began to serve himself.

That night, the Aimishteh came to him. "Reb Chaim," the Aimishteh said, "why did you sin today?"

"I'm sorry, Aimishteh. I was so drained by the ticket thing I just had to grab a bite to eat," Reb Chaim responded.

"No, you fool," the Aimishteh replied. "Why did you let all that nice bacon go to waste?"

Repentance, and sin, are somewhat in the eye of the beholder. So when you are standing before the Melech Malchei Hamelachim at Neilah, don't just mouth the words; picture it as a conversation, one on one. Before you beg for forgiveness, establish rapport. Tell a couple of jokes. Ask the Aimishteh how He's doing. Ask about the wife and kids. Sure He's busy, but a little brown-nosing never hurts.

Gmar Chassima Toivah, You Minuval


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

On Teshuvah



On Teshuvah


There is a famous story in the Zoihar Hakadoish that describes the ritual in Shamayim whereby the Ain Soif delivers an annual report immediately prior to Roish Hashanah before a joint session of the Sefirois, the Malachim, the Tzaddikim, and the Neshsamois of the unborn. The Zoihar also reports that one year, during this annual gathering, Hakadoshboruchhu noted that the world was expected to have a peaceful year, without any additional persecution directed at Klal Yisroel. Suddenly, the spirit of Nosson HaNavi shouted out, “You lie!” towards the Aimishteh. Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon forcibly removed Nosson HaNavi from the room, and after numerous apologies to the Reboinoisheloilum and his Chief of Staff, the Buddha, he was banished to Eretz Yisroel, where he is fated to spend all of eternity as one of the guys who do random ticket inspections on Egged busses.

There is also a Medrish in Medrish Tanchuma that talks about the annual PYW (Pumbedisa Yeshiva World) Awards. One year Rava was honored with the “Chiddush of the Year” award for his “Yeyush Shehlo Mida’as Loi Havei Yeyush” insight. As he was standing at the Shtender to accept his award, Rav Huna burst onto the Bimah and screamed out to the crowd of Yeshivah-Yingeleit, “Sure, Rava, your Chiddush was okay. But Rav Ashi really deserved the award for his ‘Yoim Toiv Shaynee Shel Goliyois Does Not Apply In Antarctica’ Chiddush. No offense, Dude.” After being booed off the Bimah and having a sandal thrown at his head, Rav Huna apologized for his outburst and blamed his behavior on the Besomim-laced mead he had been drinking all day, and also on the fact that he had not been adequately molested by his Rebbe when he was a teenager.

Finally, there is a famous story in a Gemarrah in Gittin that describes the detailed ruling associated with the Bavel Open, the annual sporting contest where leading Rabbis would throw turbans at each other across the Bais Medrish in Sura. The Gemara notes how one year Rav Chisda was disqualified in the quarterfinals against Rav Pappa by the line judge, Mar Zutra, when he threatened to “ram his turban so far up Mar Zutra’s ‘Bor’ that Mar Zutra would have to make an Eirev Chatzayrois every time he needed to go to the bathroom on Shabbos-Koidesh.” He later explained that he had been misunderstood, and that he really meant that Mar Zutra would need to make an Erev Tavshilin before eating on a Shabbos following a Yoim Toiv. But Rav Chisda finally apologized to Mar Zutra after Rav Shayshess threatened to make him pay a fine of thirty thousand zuzim and three goats. Shoyn.

I share this collection of stories as we engage in the spiritual exercise known as Teshuvah – repentance. Every year, after a full twelve months of being Mezaneh with hot shiksas -- at least in your mind you Minuval, after eating pork or shrimp or lobster, or cottage cheese that’s not Cholov Yisroel, Chass V’Sholom, or after murdering your neighbor for 12 dollars in loose change, cutting up his body into little pieces, and burying the pieces in the backyard between the rose bushes and the apple tree, near where you once buried the bunny rabbit that your cat had killed just to shut your children up already, Reboinoisheloilumdammit…. Ummm…sorry. After a year of committing Aveirois, you get in front of Hakadoshboruchhu, and ask Him for forgiveness.

But, as in the famous stories in the Gemarrah and the cosmic history recorded in the Zoihar, you must ask yourself, “Is my Teshuvah sincere? Do you mean it when you say “Selach Lee Kee Pushahtee”, “Forgive me for I have sinned”, and by implication, you will never do it again? Are you in fact sincere in your Teshuvah, or are you simply reciting a medieval liturgical formula, simply biding your time until the Chazzan finishes reciting the sections where the Aron Koidesh is open, so you can finally sit down and rest your aching feet already?

RAMBAM addresses this question in Hilchois Teshuvah of Mishnah Toirah. He notes that sincerity is a prerequisite for real Teshuvah, and he advises all his followers “MiSpharad Ad Mitzrayim”, from Spain to Egypt, to engage in penitence through prayer and acts of mortification, such as fasting and self-flagellation. He states, however, that the Jews of Eastern Europe should, quote, “not bother doing Teshuvah, as Hakkadoshboruchhu can never grant forgiveness to people who have names like Yankel, Berrill, Shprintze and Chraindie, and sing songs with the lyrics ‘Ai Digi Digi Dai’”.

The RAMBAN, living in the golden age of Kabbalah, writes that Teshuvah can only be achieved when the Sefirois are aligned, with Kesser, Chochmah, Chessed, Netzach, and Yesoid on one side, and Binah, Da’as, Tiferess, Gevurah, and Malchus on the other. In that way, the cosmic aspects of the Aimishteh are in perfect balance and may collectively engage in the act of forgiveness in the human realm, as well as participate in a pick-up basketball game.

The MAHARAL, however, disagrees with the RAMBAN, and suggests that before writing his opinion, the RAMBAN must have popped some of the pain killers he always carried in his medical bag for house calls. He suggests that real Teshuvah emanates from purposeful introspection joined with concrete actions. He points to the liturgical reference in the Nesaneh Toikeff on Roish Hashanah and Yoim Kippur “Oo’Seshuva, Oo’Sefillah, Oo’Tzedakah Ma’Avirin Ess Roiyah Hagezeyrah”, “And repentance, and prayer and charity deter the evil decree.” The MAHARAL notes that the juxtaposition of the three words connected by the term “and” highlights the underlying belief that the actions cited must be combined – It is not enough to commit Teshuvah OR Tefilla OR Tzedakah. But to have real impact, they must be committed by a human being as complementary acts of repentance emanating from the soul, prayer emanating the heart, and charity emanating from the bank account (Ed. Note: Preferably in a check made out to “Yeshivas Chipas Emmess”).

The Abudraham argues farkhert, that repentance is an inner process, enabled by inward contemplation, prayer, and uniting with the Reboinoisheloilum through Hisboidedus. But he notes that Teshuvah is quite separate from Tzedakah, stating that “The act of giving Tzedakah is an outward gesture, absent the soul. Nu, Bernie Madoff gave lots of Tzedakah, and trust me, you don’t want to be where he is going.”

So when we examine the words of Chazal, we discover a range of ideas centered on the notion of exorcizing sin from the soul, of sincere Teshuvah as inner commitment. Even prayer is not a substitute for inward change – at best it is a catalyst. This point is clear when we examine the actual words of the liturgy. On Yoim Kippur we spend hours in the Viduy, the Jewish form of “confession”. But do we say “I sinned, I committed Act Aleph, Act Baiz, or Act Gimmul?” No, you ignoramus! We frame our confession in the form of the plural collective: “Ashamnu”, “Al Chaiyt Shechatahu Lifanecha” – “We have sinned”, “(We repent) for the sins which we have committed before You.” The listed sins are formulaic, and include many sins that most of us would never commit, unless we got really lucky. So reciting the formulas cannot be equated with personal repentance. Rather, Viduy, listing and repeating these sins again and again and again, is itself an act intended to inspire a mood, to incite an action, to encourage a behavior. It is like porn, but for Yoim Kippur.

So how else can we ensure sincerity in our Teshuvah? I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya. Reb Issur Zalman Meltzer, the Even HaEzel, was once walking home from the Central Synagogue in Slutsk when he was accosted by a group of three Communist youths. “Rabbi”, they teased him, “Who were you just praying to – the boogieman?” They then held Reb Issur Zalman down and forced him to listen to the first two chapters of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. With every word he heard, Reb Issur Zalman became more incensed. When the brutes finally let him go and turned around to walk away, Reb Issur Zalman attacked them from behind. Using his Masechta Baba Kamma, he crushed the skull of one of his assailants, killing him instantly. He used his Yoireh Dayah to break the jaw and knock twelve teeth out of the mouth of the second assailant. And as the third assailant ran away, Reb Issur Zalman threw his Mikraois Gedoilois at him, hitting his spine, and crippling him for life.

That night the Reboinoisheloilum came to him in a dream. “Issur Zalman”, Hakadoshboruchhu called. “What do you have to say for yourself?!!”

Reb Issur Zalman replied, “Oy, Aimisteh, I am so sorry. I did not mean to really hurt those boys. But all that talk about the redistribution of wealth really upset me.”

“No, you schmendrick” the Reboinoisheloilum retorted. “I am not upset that you killed one of those thugs and mortally wounded the others. But you let my holy Toirah fall on the floor. And for that you will lose your Christmas bonus this year!”

“That’s ok,” Reb Issur Zalman said, his ears turning red with anger, “as long as you share it with the underprivileged Proletariat hordes, you Opiate of the Masses!”

Rabboisai, real Teshuvah is not easy. If it were, we would not have ten days dedicated to repentance, as well as many long hours in shul that perhaps could have been better been spent learning Toirah, doing Maiysim Toivim, or surfing porn. But our mission at this time of year is to become better human beings. But we cannot become better people simply through empty apologies, no matter how many times they are repeated, and wherever they are repeated – even in Shul or on Oprah. Or in smug press releases or internal reports that ring hollow.

When we talk about Teshuvah, we are talking about real change, which is ultimately a function of humility. We must realize that we are all fallible, especially you, you Michutziff. We are all simple grains of sand passing through the winds of time. As written by the Paytan, “Kee Heenay KeChoimer BeYad HaYoitzer”, “We are like clay in the hands of the potter.” And only when you realize your true insignificance will you be able to undergo real Teshuvah, real change, and perhaps become a bit more tolerable for the rest of us.

Gmar Chassima Toivah, You Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Monday, September 02, 2013

On Faith and Reason

On Faith and Reason


I would like to begin this week’s Drasha with a beautiful Maiseh Shehoya. Reb Shlomo Kluger had a beloved Talmid named Beryl who was a brilliant student of the Gemarrah, an Iluy – a genius. Beryl was one of the close coterie of students with whom Reb Shlomo shared the inner secrets of the Kabbalah, and one of the 5 Talmidei Muvhak -- trusted principal students - who accompanied Reb Shlomo everywhere: To the Mikvah, to be Mevaker Choilim, and to the strip clubs of Brody, Galicia. Indeed, it was Beryl who was charged with carrying Reb Shlomo’s Talis, his towel, and a large wad of singles.

One day, Reb Shlomo was awoken in the middle of the night and was requested to come immediately to the local constabulary in Brody. Beryl, his beloved Talmid, had allegedly murdered his own wife and two children, put their flesh into a big pan, covered it with mashed potatoes, onions and eggs, and cooked and served them up as a human Yapchik. (The fleish-lined potato kugel was apparently very well received at the local Shalom Zachor the previous Friday night, and Beryl received many compliments.)

Shocked, Reb Shlomo asked the police to be left alone with his Talmid Muvhak. “Beryl”, Reb Shlomo asked, “What did you do?”

Beryl, sitting behind bars, in his cell, responded. “Rebbe, I was going for a walk, taking out the garbage, minding my own business. When all of the sudden the Reboinoisheloilum came to me in a vision and commanded that I show my love for Him by slaughtering my only son, just as Avraham Avinu had been prepared to do in Parshas Vayayra. And He also ordered that I show my gratitude to Him by slaughtering my only daughter, just as Yiftach had done in Sefer Shoiftim.”

“And what about your wife?” Reb Shlomo asked, focusing his deep, penetrating glare on his student.

“Oh, that was my idea. That bitch made a terrible cholent every week, and that really detracted from my Oineg Shabboskoidesh, forcing me to violate one of the Aseres HaDibrois.”

Reb Shlomo emerged from the prison, shaken. He immediately gathered his supporters in the conference room of his Yeshiva, and lowered the volume on the TV playing ESPN in the background. After sipping from his Gleizeleh of tea filled to the top with Shlivovitz, Reb Shlomo addressed the group. “Rabboisai – A great injustice has been committed. Reb Beryl sits behind bars for following the explicit words of Hakadoshboruchhu! He sits in the custody of the Goyim, Yimach Shmum. And, on top of that, he owes me money, which I will never see unless he gets out.”

“But Rebbe, Beryl admitted to killing his wife and two children!” one of the Talmidim declared. The statement was followed by a momentary hush of silence

“ADMITTED?!” Reb Shlomo screamed in a booming voice. “Do you think you can trust an Aimishteh-Damned word that Minuval says?!”

Rabboisai, I share this famous story because Yiddishkeit is under assault. It is not under assault by the Egyptians or the Persians or the Greeks. It is not under assault by the Romans or the Crusaders, or the Germans or the Arabs. Klal Yisroel is under assault by its own traditional leadership, the ophthalmologists….errr…..I mean, the rabbis.

It seems like at every turn a new travesty committed in the name of Yiddishkeit comes to light, is defended by our “Gedoilim” and tolerated by the mindless masses.

-- Three months ago, it was the guilty plea by Yosef Kolko on sexual abuse of a minor. Kolko, after admitting his guilt to therapists, had claimed innocence leading up to the trial, and had the full support of the rabbinic leadership of Beis Medrish HaGadol and the broader community of Lakewood. It was only when additional witnesses surfaced that he altered his plea.

-- This was followed by the continued insistence by Yisroel Belsky of Yosef Kolko’s innocence. Belsky is not an obscure figure – he is a Rosheshiva of Toirah Vodaas and is one of the three leading Poiskim of the OU, so his behavior is a model for many in the Orthodox community. His dug-in position sends a message: Sexual abuse of children is tolerated in the Jewish community, as long as you have the right friends.

-- And just last week, Yeshiva University issued its long awaited, long promised report on sexual allegations carried out and covered up by Yeshiva University Rebbes, teachers, and administrators. Instead of exceeding the frankness and openness of the Penn State internal investigation -- the aspiration set forth by the Yeshiva University administration months ago, Yeshiva University's report rivals similar reports of the Catholic Church -- it adds no new information, acknowledges wrongdoing without outlining any consequences, and urges the public to trust them to implement a new set of policies and procedures. (An old joke -- Question: How does a lawyer say "Fuck You?" Answer: "Trust Me...")

I am often approached by my Talmidim citing such examples of behaviors and attitudes that run counter to contemporary sensibilities as reasons for abandoning Yiddishkeit. Just this week I was party to the following exchange (this is true, by the way): “It was bad enough when I was arguing with the Ultra Orthodox. This is worse. It seems the "leaders" of Modern Orthodoxy are no better. My Charedi friend's advice that I should not let the Jews interfere with my Judaism, isn't helping.”

I would like to share with you, my beloved Talmidim, that as much as you believe you are the first to have such sentiments, you are not. Such ideas are echoed in the words of the Nevi’im, who quote the Reboinoisheloilum as rejecting religious piety without human decency as false behavior. Bain Adam LaMokoim without Bain Adam LeChaveiroih is like getting into a car that has no gas: It will go nowhere. It is like eating frosting without eating the underlying cake: It is empty calories. It is like being Mezaneh with an inflatable Bashert: It may feel good, but it is making love to air. It is an empty act. It has no meaning. At best, it is a falsely pious form of masturbation.

I am reminded of a famous Machloikess in a Gemarrah in Mesechta Shabbos. Dof Lamed Chess Amud Baiz cites a Braisah with a Machloikess between Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah and Rabbi Akiva. According to Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah, one may not masturbate on Shabbos because it is a Melachah MiDioraisa, an primary act of work directly banned by the Toirah. However, Rabbi Akiva holds that one is allowed to masturbate, as long has be does not use a Kli Rishoiyn.

The subsequent discussion in the Gemarrah tries to understand the two positions. According to Rav Pappa, Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah holds that masturbation is a Melachah because it is an Issur of Lach, kneading. However, Rav Sheyshess holds that it is an issur of Memachek, smoothing. Finally, Rav Huna holds that masturbation is not any of the identified Lamud Tess – thirty-nine – Melachois banned by the Toirah because they mirror activity involved in building the Mishkan. He holds that masturbation is actually a fortieth Melachah associated with building the Mishkan, What does this mean, asks the Gemarrah? Very simple, says Rav Huna. When the Leviyim were engaged in every activity associated with building the Mishkan – Zoirayah, Choiraish, Koitzer, etc. – they worked very hard, often performing backbreaking labor. But Levite union rules required that they have a break every three hours. And what did the Leviyim do during their mandated breaks? Why, they masturbated, of course! And since break time is part of the work day, one must consider masturbation an Av Melachah, no less than Bishul, Melabain, and Makeh B’Patish! It’s Gevaldick!

And what of Rabbi Akiva, who holds that masturbation is permissible on Shabboskoidesh? This is the topic of a famous discussion amongst the Achroinim. According to Reb Shmuel Yehoishua MiSlovakia HaKoihain-Priest, the SHEIS-KUP, Rabbi Akiva allows masturbation because it is only a De’Rabbanan, a Toildah of Boineh, and since the act contributes to one’s Oineg Shabbos, masturbation on Shabbos is indeed permitted by Chazal!

And what of the act itself? The NewAge Chassid says a beautiful Vort. He suggests that the Toirah itself alludes to masturbating on Shabbos. The two versions of the Aseres HaDibrois use two different verbs when commanding the celebration of the Shabbos because Hakadoshboruchhu acknowledges two different approaches to masturbation. When the Toirah commands “Zachor”, the Aimishteh is alluding to masturbating while thinking about a past sexual encounter. But when the Toirah commands “Shamor”, Hakadoshboruchhu is also inviting one to masturbate while fixated on an imaginary situation – Your sister in law, your wife’s best friend, your mother-in-law Chass V’Sholom, or your neighbor’s three goats. As long as the image remains in your imagination and you do not act upon it outside of the privacy of your own bedroom or bathroom, they you are not only permitted to masturbate, but you are Mekayaim the Mitzvah of Oineg Shabbos. Shoyn!


Rabboisai – As long as we are discussing the Aseres HaDibrois, the Ten Commandments, there is one commandment which is critical to the underlying topic. In Sefer Shmois, Perek Chuff we read, “Loi Sa”Aseh Lechah Pessel, VeChol Temuna Asher Bashamayim MiMa’Al Ve’Asher Ba”Aretz MiTuchas, Va’Asher BaMayim MiTachas La”Aretz. Loi Sishtachaveh LaHem, VeLoi Su’Uvdaim...” “ Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them…”

My beloved Talmidim – Many of our contemporary “Gedoilim”, leading rabbinic figures, would take offense at the above satirical Drasha and object to its off-color humor. Yet they will defend child molesters. They will cover up abuse. They will break up families, stealing children away from a parent because the parent does not fully subscribe to their philosophy of religious practice. They will use financial pressure, social pressure, and even violence to enforce their objectives. And they will continue to enclose Judaism, smothering out the new ideas and philosophies that give new life and new meaning to our beautiful tradition. Rather than open the doors and windows to new thoughts and ideas like Sa’adya Goyn and the RAMBAM and many of the greatest thinkers in Jewish history, they aspire to smother ideas and Truth, in order to retain control and to retain power (and often to ensure financial gain).

This is not Judaism. This is the worship of false gods. Many of the “Gedoilim” of today have indeed become the Psalim and Temunot – The graven images and likenesses that the Toirah warns us about. Blindly following their words is not Judaism, it is nothing less than Avoidas Alilim – Idol Worship.

We have been given a world and are inheritors of a grand tradition that seeks to understand and embrace the Divine, to attune our lives to the ultimate Truth. For some, that is done through strict adherence to the evolved rabbinic formulae; for others, it involves a different kind of quest, one of a more personal nature.

But when we disregard reason, when we disregard common sense, when we defend those guilty of abusing children, Yisroel Belsky, when we believe that our knowledge of the Gemarrah gives us the right to disregard the secular legal system and ignore heinous crimes, that is not Judaism. When we believe that our religious institution is "too big to fail" no matter what its crimes and moral responsibilities, Yeshiva University, that is not Toirah. That is idol worship.

So, my beloved Talmidim, do not be confused by the actions of certain so-called “Gedoilim” who function through threat and intimidation. That is not Judaism. Stand up to their idolatry. You are empowered to do so – The rabbis have no exclusive rights to Judaism or Toirah. Judaism and Toirah belong to us all. And we have the right, and, indeed, the moral and ethical responsibility, to take it back.

In the words of a famous very wise non-Jew, Mohandas Ghandi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.

A Chessiva V'Chasima Toivah, you Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

Roish Hashanah Drasha



Roish Hashanah Drasha

I have recently returned to the Bais Medrish in my Yeshiva, where our talmidim are studying twenty-two hours a day in preparation for the Yomim Noraim (High Holidays), as well as for their upcoming Real Estate license exams.

This week we will celebrate and embrace Roish Hashanah, the New Year, pray for forgiveness of our past sins, and moan about the need to pay extra for seats when we are already spending too much as it is on annual synagogue membership.

In a famous Mishnah in Masechta Roish Hashanah, Rabban Gamliel asks why synagogues charge for seats on the High Holidays -- shouldn't they embrace all who attend services and not put up any potential barriers to their participation? In the Gemarrah, Rav Pappa builds on this question, pointing out that Jewish communal responsibilities also include Yeshiva tuition, kosher food and paying off the annoying schnorrers who show up at our doors uninvited. So why must shuls engage in Lifnei Iver and chase away any returnees to the faith?

Toisfois offers a gevaldik answer to this question, based on lessons we learn from Yaakov and Eisav. As Eisav returns from a day of hunting empty handed and hungry, Yaakov tricks Eisav into surrendering his birthright by giving him a bowl of lentil soup in exchange. Says Toisfois, we must choose to be like one or the other -- either fiscally bankrupt like Eisav, or morally bankrupt like Yankif Avinu. And clearly most shuls in our day choose the latter.

This rabbinic shakuvetaria (discourse) very much helps to define and capture the essence of our existential quandary at this time of year. The question really is: why do we have one special point in the year for repentance and renewal; are we not always encouraged, and even invited, to improve ourselves, or to at least make a healthy donation? Indeed, what is the nature of the choice that confronts us? How does Roish Hashanah help us along a new path?

(And an additional key question is: why was I assigned THAT seat, next to that guy I can't stand, and so far from the aisle that I may as well pee in my pants during mussaf?)

The classical answer is that the sound of the shoifar-- the ram's horn -- is intended to awaken within us our innate desire to embrace the Aimishteh through repentance and the fulfilling of Kol HaToirah Kooloh. Clearly, whoever came up with this response never heard the shoifar blown in the Yeshiva where I received Smicha (rabbinical ordainment), where, to insure that each shofar note is 100% koisher, they repeat the blows again and again. And again. And again. It's enough to make the Rosheshiva himself pray to Yushka for salvation.

Reb Hai Gaon offers an alternate answer, suggesting that Roish Hashanah is like a woman getting a facial. Sure she can put on makeup every day, but the act of spending eighty-five dollars to get her pores cleansed makes the meeskeit at least FEEL prettier.

Rabbi Akiva Eigar points to the three central themes of the Roish Hashanah liturgy as providing the answer: Malchiyois, Zichroinois, and Shoifrois. Malchiyois represents the father, Zichroinois the son, and Shoifrois the holy ghost. Of course, Reb Akiva is known for his secret affinity for Catholicism and his attraction to hot nuns.

But the Chassam Soifer points to the same three themes. He says that Malchiyois, the theme of the Kingdom of heaven, is like your father, who, no matter how successful you have become, is always ready to tell you what a disappointment you are. Zichroinois, the theme of heavenly remembrance, is like your mother, who, no matter how old you are, will always remind you of how you used to wet your bed. And Shoifrois, the theme of the sound of the shofar, is like your mother-in-law, whose constant talking and picking and nagging and complaining leaves a mind-numbing, deafening ringing in your ears.

Of course, we set the pattern for the coming year on Roish Hashanah. My alter zeidey used to tell me not to sleep on Roish Hashanah because that would cause me to have a farshlufinah year. I have always taken that lesson to heart. Consequently, I have a personal minhag to ride my bashert, Feigah Breinah, like a shtender in the afternoon of Roish Hashanah, in order to guarantee a new year with LOTS OF HOT ADULT ACTION. All the while, the einiklach and kinderlach are out poisoning the fish with leftover challah from last week.

It is also critical that our Teshuvah be sincere and complete, not like your usual insincere prayers, you Vilda Chaya, when you anxiously await the guy who knows all the sports scores to show up at shul. We need to commit to renouncing sin in our everyday lives in order to be true Bnei and Bnois Toirah. A few suggestions for the coming year:

-- Stop buying from Macy's. Macy's sells shatnez, and if you continue to buy there, someone may mistakenly assume you are buying shatnez, and believe it is okay to buy shatnez too.

-- Start using your 500 dollar set of Shass more. If not for learning, at least for the benefit of lifting those heavy books. Reboinoisheloilum knows, you can stand to lose a few pounds.

-- Don't let your wife distract you from Toirah. You should seek every opportunity to go into the other room and pick up a Chumash, or go to your weekly shiur. Watching your twelve kids so your wife can have a ten minute break and go to the Bais HaKeesay is no excuse for Bittul Toirah!

-- Grow your payiss to be long enough to have monkeys swing from them. You never know when you'll be at a Chassanah at the zoo and you'll have the chance to be Mesamayach the Chussen and Kallah.

-- Next time you sneak out for a little traifus, remember to make a Shehakol on your pork. After all, the Aimishteh created it too.

-- When you are in the middle of being mezaneh with your wife, instead of delaying your passion by thinking of baseball players, think of famous Chassidic masters instead. Unless, of course, you get excited by bearded men with shaved heads. In which case, stick with the baseball players.

In taking these measures, we will greet the new year with a deeper commitment to making the world a better place and embracing all mankind, in order to maximize our tax deductions, improve interest rates in the coming year, and bring peace between the Eskimos and the Mongolians.

A Chessiva V'Chasima Toivah, you Minuval.


Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess