Friday, November 20, 2009

Happenings at the Yeshiva


This week, in our morning learning, we wrapped up the topic of checks, bedikot, and began the topic of tvilah, immersion, starting with the question of the source of tvilah for a niddah and a zavah (a woman with irregular bleeding), and whether we rule tvilah bizmanah mitzvah, that it is a mitzvah to immerse on exactly the first day, that it is the right time and that it is possible to do so. In the afternoon we continued addressing the teenage years and sexuality, and addressed the topics of zera li'vatalah, masturbation and "wasting of seed" and negiah, sexual touch between non-married individuals.

Following Rabbi Riskin's visit of last week, we had another guest from Eretz Yisrael and Yeshivat Hamivtar this week. Rabbi Chanokh Waxman, a teacher of Gemara at Yeshivat HaMivtar, visited on Thursday and gave the parsha shiur. Rabbi Waxman looked at the episode of Yaakov's deception of Yitzchak in order to receive the blessing, and presented two competing reads of the story - one, that Yaakov acted correctly, as he was following the Divine prophecy, "The older shall serve the younger," and the other that he acted incorrectly, incorrectly assuming that the ends justified the means. Rather, deceit is never the right course, and he should have allowed God to ensure that the prophecy would be fulfilled. A close reading of the later episodes with Yaakov, especially those in the house of Lavan, support the latter reading as they seem to show how Yaakov suffered and was punished midah ki'neged midah, measure for measure, for his deceit.

Dr. David Berger has written a very insightful article on this topic ("On the Morality of the Patriarchs in Jewish Polemic and Exegesis," in Understanding Scripture, 1987. It can be viewed on Google Books). There he shows how in the past, when the Divinity and morality of the Torah were assumed by all, Jews and Christians alike, traditional commentators felt a need to defend the morality of Yaakov (and, by implication, the Jewish people). However, in more recent times, when the Divinity and morality of the Torah have been under attack, traditional commentators have felt a greater need to defend the morality of the Torah, and in so doing, have been more prepared to state that Yaakov did not act properly, and that the Torah (and God) did not condone his actions, and hence to read the stories that follow as a punishment of Yaakov for his actions and deceit.

Also this week, on the professional side, we had an intensive two-day training session run by Makom to train our students to be Israeli-engaged rabbis in the Golah. This will be followed by a project and field work in the context of students' internships, as well as another two-day intensive training session in the Spring. We are thrilled to be partnering with Makom on this important part of our curriculum.

And finally, on the simcha side, Rob Golder was engaged to Sarah Steinberg of Highland Park, NJ. We had the pleasure of having Sarah and her parents at the yeshiva on Monday, and we danced and sang with them after Mincha. Mazel Tov!

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