Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Thought on the Parsha

Defined by Ourselves or Defined by Others?

If the book of Breishit is about family, then the book of Shemot is about nationhood.  While it opens with re-enumerating the children of Yaakov, the narrative immediately turns to the birth and the history of the Israelite nation.  The very phrase bnei Yisrael undergoes a metamorphosis in the first verses.  In the opening verse we read "And these are the names of bnei Yisrael, the children of Israel (i.e., Yaakov) who came to Egypt with Jacob..." (Shemot 1:1),  and then, 6 verses later, this children of Israel, children of Jacob, have undergone a metamorphosis and have become the Children of Israel, the Israelite People: "And the Children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly and multiplied, and the land was filled with them." (Shemot 1:6).  The transformation of the phrase parallels the transformation of the people, from a family into a People, into a nation.

It is also in this week's parsha that Bnei Yisrael are called a nation, an am, for the first time.  "And he [Pharaoh] said to his people, Behold, the people of the Children of Israel, 'am Bnei Yisrael are more populous and mightier than we." (1:9).   They were recognized as a people, and as a separate people.  And because this people was seen as a threat, they were persecuted and enslaved.  It was perhaps this persecution, this "othering," that strengthened their identity, their internal cohesion.  As when one applies pressure to gas in a container, the external pressure excites the molecules and brings them closer together, so with the Children of Israel: " But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew" (1:12).   Oppression brought the people together, and forged their identity as a distinct people.  It is thus the outside, the chief oppressor, Pharaoh, who is the one who is the first to call them a people.  They first became a people because they were defined as such by others, they first cohered as a people because they were oppressed by others.

To have one's identity defined by others, and by being seen as "the other," by being different and separate, is perhaps necessary at an early stage of formation, when individuation is necessary to prevent assimilation.  Indeed, had Bnei Yisrael not lived in Goshen, apart from the Egyptians and Egyptian society, they would have doubtless assimilated and never have become a people.  As it was, they barely held on to markers of their identity.   As the Rabbis teach, they were idolatrous just like the Egyptians were idolatrous.  It was only because they preserved some external vestiges of their distinct identity - they did not change their names or their language (or, according to other versions, their clothes) - that they had not totally assimilated.  In the end, living apart, being held apart, being hated and marked as different, was what preserved their Israelite identity.

[Of course, although such hatred and oppression is good for communal identity, it is horrific for the material and societal well-being of the people.   It was this hatred that led to their enslavement, and this enslavement became possible through casting them as subhuman, as completely other.  Ramban (1:10) already deals with how the Egyptians managed to enslave a free people, and he describes a process that is evocative of the Nuremberg Laws and Nazi Germany.  What he does not describe is how Pharaoh had also laid the groundwork for this enslavement, as the Nazis had, by propaganda that demonized the people and cast them as subhuman.    Their population growth is described in terms similar to that of animals, of insects: " And the people of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, va'yishretzu, and multiplied, and became exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them."    The root of the word, va'yishretzu, is sheretz, a bug - the multiplied like bugs.  The phrase pru u'rvu, be fruitful and multiply, occurs twice in Breishit in reference to humans (1:28 and 9:1), but the verb yishritzu is applied only to animals (Breishit 1:20-21 and 8:17).  When it is said that "the land was filled with them," while echoing the blessing in Breishit of "fill the land," from the perspective of the Egyptians, whose land it was, this was nothing more than having their country being overrun by animals.  They were multiplying like cockroaches!  And thus, "And they were disgusted by the People of Israel." (1:12) - the sight of an Israelite  caused disgust and revulsion.

By dehumanizing them, Pharaoh was able to enslave them and then to begin his program of genocide.  If they were not fully human, it was not murder to kill them.  The Hebrew midwives, however, we able to use this in their defense: "And the midwives said to Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are animals, chayot hena, and deliver before the midwives come to them." (1:19).  You have said they are animals - indeed they are, and thus they give birth in the field without a midwife.  A temporary stay of the decree was achieved, but ultimately, the program of genocide continued.]

Being hated by, and oppressed by the other is not a good, it is an evil.  It was one that Bnei Yisrael needed to be redeemed from, and one that they would devote their existence as a nation to fighting against.   While this oppression was true and perhaps necessary at the time of their national origin, this was not how they should seek to achieve cohesion and identity as a nation.  As a nation, we must define ourselves.

It is only necessary to be externally defined when we have no internal definition.  If we have no mitzvot, and no vision, then all we have is our clothes, our language and our names.   External markers are needed when no internal distinctiveness exists.  The goal is not to live separate, and to be defined by the other and by one's separateness, the goal is to live in the world, and to be defined by oneself and one's commitments.     We must decide - will we be defined by what we are against, or will we be defined by what we are for? 

The answer, at least for Moshe, was unquestionably the latter.  Moshe was a person who did change his name, his language and his clothes.  Moshe was given his name because "And she called his name Moshe, for I have mishitihu from the water."  Many commentators try to find the Hebrew root for this verb, mishitihu, but this makes no sense since Pharaoh's daughter obviously was speaking in Egyptian.  And in Egyptian, the word means "born" - "For I have given birth to him from the water."  [Hence the suffix -mses of the Pharaoh's names, means "born of," so Ramses is "born of Ra".]  His name was Egyptian, and having grown up in Pharaoh's house, his language and clothes must have been Egyptian as well.  Hence when the daughters of Yitro see him, they tell their father "An Egyptian man saved us from the shepherds."  (2:19)

And yet.  It was this Moshe, this Moshe who had no external markers of his Israelite identity, that was to become the leader of Bnei Yisrael.  And the reason was not because of external definition, not because he lived apart from those who were not his people, but because he was driven by an inner mission, an inner drive, a deep love and care for his people and for justice.  "And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brothers, and looked on their burdens; and he spied an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brother..." (2:11)  
To be redeemer, once must have inner definition, inner drive.  To be a redeemed people, we must have a purpose, a mission which defines us.  "When you take the people, the am, out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain." (3:12).  Our true identity as an am would not be defined by Pharaoh, it would be defined by our relationship to God, by our receiving of the Torah.  "And I will take you to Me as a people, li l'am."    (6:7) In the end we are an 'am not because of Pharaoh, but because God has called us to be God's am

And hence, when we are about to receive the Torah at Mt. Sinai, we are not only called a people, but a nation.  "And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priest and a holy nation, goy kadosh." (19:6).  Our identity as a nation is to be holy.  Not to be separate, but to be in this world, to stand for God and to emulate God:

"For what nation is there so great, who has God so near to them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for?
And what nation is there so great, who has statutes and judgments so righteous as all this Torah, which I set before you this day?"
(Dvarim 4:7)

To receive the Torah, to live by the Torah, to connect to God, to emulate God - that is our true identity as a nation.  It is a challenge, undoubtedly, to do this while fully engaged and integrated into the larger world.  To do so requires a strong inner definition; it is not for those who need to be defined by others, or who need to define themselves by being apart, by what they are against.  However, for those who have - as the Torah wants and demands that we have - a strong inner definition, for those who define themselves by what they are for - those are the ones who will carry God's message and God's Torah into the larger world, who will engage the world and bring kedusha to the world.  Let us all strive to be who we are because of what we are for.

Shabbat Shalom!

Torah from Our Beit Midrash

This week I discussed with my Yoreh Deah students a practical kashrut question I had been asked just last Shabbat in shul.  Someone came over to me and asked me the following question -  he had marinated a 4 pound roast in wine, roasted it, and then discovered that the wine was not kosher.   This was to be his Shabbat meal.  What was the status of the roast?

To answer this we first estimate the proportion of wine to roast - was it more or less than 1:60?  I asked him how much wine he used, and he said not more than 8 ounces.  For the measurement of 60 we go by volume, and 8 ounces is about 1/3 of a bottle of wine.  So 60 times that would be 20 bottles of wine, and there was no question that the roast was not that large.   He then stated that much of the wine evaporated when the roasting began, and suggested that maybe we could measure it based on the wine that remained after the evaporation.   This was not an option, because while Shulkhan Arukh (YD 99:4) rules that we determine the ratio of forbidden to permitted food based on the current state of the mixture, Taz (ad. loc., note 4) clarifies that when the permitted and forbidden food get absorbed or evaporate at different rates, and we know what the proportions were at the beginning of the mixture, you must use those original quantities in determining the 1:60 ration.

So, it looked like the roast was forbidden.  However, during our discussion, it came out that he had tasted some of the meat last night before realizing the problem.  I asked him if, when he tasted it, he could taste a wine taste, or whether - while the taste of the roast had clearly been altered because of the wine - the actual taste was not a distinctively wine taste.  He answered that while he could tell it had been marinated in wine, it was not a wine taste per se.  I debated whether this would be sufficient to permit the roast.  Poskim differentiate between: (a) the taste of the forbidden food per se and (b) a taste which is different from the forbidden food's taste, but results from the mixture of taste of the forbidden food and the permitted one.   The first case is forbidden, based on taam ki'ikar, the taste is like the thing itself, while the second case is, in theory, permissible.

At least in theory.  But, I was not prepared to allow this case for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, the roast had been marinated in this wine, so clearly the wine was added to add a flavor and a powerful one.  Although it did not taste like wine per se, it is doubtful, in my opinion, that this taste, even mixed with the meet, was not "winey" enough to constitute ta'am ki'ikar.  Secondly, when he tasted it, he was not focusing on detecting the taste of wine or not.  Thirdly, as Ashkenazim, we as a rule do not attend to the actual experienced taste but always go by 60.   While Shakh states that we can rely on the tasting of a Jew, at least b'dieved, it is questionable if we can do that in such a case - where there was a lot of wine, and the taste had definitely been affected.

So, I told him that the roast was not permitted.  However, as I went to sit down, it occurred to me - what was he doing with non-kosher wine in his house?  So I went back and asked him - was this really non-kosher wine, or was it just eino mevushal that had been handled by a non-Jew.  He said it was the latter - that it was eino mevushal that was left over from last shabbat, and the bottle had been opened, and his non-Jewish babysitter had since been in the house.  Well, I told him, that changed everything.   In a case of eino mevushal wine, the concern is only that the non-Jew poured it, as it is impossible to stick one's finger down the neck of the bottle and touch the wine.  Now, pouring wine only constitutes kocho, the force of the person, but not actual touching.  We generally consider kocho like touching, but it really is less severe.

The base rule is that when non-mevushal wine is poured by a non-Jew, because of kocho, the poured wine is forbidden.  But that is only the wine that was poured.  Here the concern was for the wine that remained in the bottle.   That - which was not affected by kocho, would only be forbidden on the basis that it was connected to the poured stream, a principle known as nitzok chibbur.  Now it is a debate whether we say this principle by stam yaynam.  While the Shulkhan Arukh rules this way (YD 125:1), Rema (ad. loc.) states that there are those who are lenient.  Rema advises being strict unless we are talking about a case of great loss.  The case of a 4 lb. roast for one's Shabbat meal should definitely qualify, so there is already a reason to be lenient based on not being strict for nitzok chibbur

There is another reason to be lenient as well.  Rema states in YD 124:24 that given that non-Jews nowadays are not true ovdei avodah zarah, and do not use wine for religious libations under normal circumstances, that we can be more lenient when they only touch the wine unintentionally or indirectly, and in such cases, when it is b'dieved and when there is a loss (or serious loss) involved, the wine does not become forbidden.  Now, kocho is even less severe than indirect touch, and the Shach in 125:2 states explicitly that b'dieved, in cases of loss, even not serious loss, we can be lenient in a case of kocho.  This was clearly such a case, so I was able to tell him that the roast was permissible.  Just another lesson in how a posek has to find out all the details before rendering psak.

Happenings at the Yeshiva

We began this week with a simcha, as Avi (year 4) and Rachel Rosenfeld celebrated the birth of their baby daughter with a baby naming after kriyat haTorah during a special Shacharit.  The baby was named Meital Chana Bahira.  We all enjoyed a breakfast afterwards with Avi and Rachel's family and friends, and then the students got down to some serious learning.

We also share our mazel tovs with Rabbi Chai (YCT '10) and Rachel Posner who had the bris for their new baby boy this Wednesday.   The bris took place at Beth Tfiloh in Baltimore, where Chai serves as an assistant rabbi.  The boy was named Eliram Yosef, and we wish him, Rachel, and their families much simcha and nachas.

This week is chazara week, and students have been intensely chazering for their bechinot.  During this chazara week there are no afternoon classes, so students can use the entire day for chazara.  Those who are learning Yoreh Deah are taking a two-part test.  The first part began last Wednesday, when each chavruta was given 3-4 practical questions, 1 large one and 2-3 smaller ones, to analyze, research, and render a ruling on.  This week, on Tuesday, the chavrutas presented their psakim to the entire class, and they were discussed and debated.   Through this process, we covered dozens of practical cases, and everyone learned from everyone else's work.  The larger questions included: whether one needs to use separate sinks, or a tub, or whether a rack suffices; the issues around copepods and whether NY water needs to be filtered; the halakhic status of gelatin; and whether a mashgiach can give a hekhsher to a factory that will not kasher its machinery but will wait until it is more than 24 hours since the last use.

Rabbi Avi Gisser, the director of the Council on Mamalakhti-Dati Education in Israel, and head of a new institute for training dayanim who are critical and broad-minded scholars, an which seeks to bring Torah civil law into the academic and judicial spheres in Israel, visited the Yeshiva on Wednesday.  He gave a brief shiur to the students, speaking on the centrality of mishpat to society.  Specifically, he looked at the concept of kofim al midat Sdom - forcing someone to not act like they did in Sdom, where they said "what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours."  In other words, can a court force someone to do a favor that costs him nothing?   Can they force someone to forgo his legal claim when he is not hurt by this?  The prinicple of kofim says that there are times when this can be compelled, and he showed how a case decided in Israel based on this principle, and then publicized through a monograph of his institute, had influence Israeli law in this regard.  I was left wondering whether this is necessarily a good thing, as it removes the predictability of law, since my rights can always be overridden by a judge that decides that I need to forgo them.   Such a rule makes sense in a religious system of law, but does it make sense in a secular one, even a Jewish secular one?  These are questions that we really need to grapple with.

Also this week, in my Modern Orthodoxy class, students presented their semester-end project - a critical reading of a text informed by the issues we have been covering in class.  Most students chose to focus on the interplay of values, policy, and halakha.  Two of these presentations make an interesting pair.  One student, Ariel Berkowitz, presented a teshuva of Rav Moshe Feinstein on smoking marijuana, and showed how the content, language and rhetoric signaled that his strong declaration that it was forbidden was more a statement of Torah values than of halakha per se.  Another student, Dan Milner, presented two teshuvot of Rav Moshe regarding smoking cigarettes, and showed that while Rav Moshe's halakhic approach should have led to a blanket prohibition, Rav Moshe realized that the behavior was too deeply entrenched in the yeshivish community, and thus - using the principle of dashu beh rabbim, the masses have become habituated to this dangerous practice - did not forbid smoking to those who were already smokers.  He did, however, forbid those who were not smokers to take up the habit, and similarly exhorted parents not to allow their children to become smokers.  This was a pragmatic approach by  a posek who realizes the challenges of issuing a psak that will be rejected out of hand, and shapes his psak in a way that can hopefully have the proper long-term impact.    Taking these teshuvot together we see that In one of the teshuvot he is stricter than the sources warrant, and in another he is more lenient.  The common denominator is that in both cases he is not only acting as a posek, but also as a community religious leader, and thinking in terms of the larger societal impact that his teshuvot will have.  Whether, and to what degree, one should use halakhic language for such cases, or clearly eschew the use of halakhic language for religious leadership which is not halakhic per se, is an issue that has been a major topic of conversation.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Thought on the Parsha

Character, Fate, and Free Will

These last few weeks we have been exploring the character of the different protagonists in Breishit - Yaakov, Reuven, Yosef, and Yehuda.  In this week's parsha, VaYechi, which brings a close to the Yosef story and to the book of Breishit, we have an opportunity to explore the interplay between character, fate, and free will.   How much does the character that one is born with determine whether he or she will be good or evil?  Is it ever possible to change who we are, our essential character, and - if not - can we at least find a way to rise above our natural shortcomings?

We have already seen in the person of Yaakov that there are times when a person can - through challenging life experiences and through strength of will - truly change their character.  How they can go from being a Yaakov to becoming a Yisrael.  Even in such cases, one wonders if it is possible to fully leave one's old self behind.  Thus, we find that for the rest of Breishit Yaakov is referred to both as Yisrael and as Yaakov, perhaps a function of which aspect of his personality comes most to the fore in a given situation. 

What is clear is that such complete transformations are extremely rare.  It is close to impossible to fully - or even partially - change our character.  As Rav Yisrael Salanter said: "It is easier to go through all of Shas than to change just one character trait."

Most of the time drastic changes are beyond our reach.  We know that there are certain parts of our character and personality that we would like to change but feel that we cannot.  Some of these may be character traits that we were born with, some may be due to our environment and early life experiences, but right now they are a part of us, and we are stuck with them.  In such cases, the key is not to try to disown a part of ourselves, but to consider how we can best channel and direct such traits to a good purpose:

R. Hanina b. Papa expounded: He [the angel who is in charge of conception] takes up the drop of semen and places it in the presence of the Holy One, blessed be He, saying, 'Sovereign of the Universe, what shall be the fate of this drop? Shall it produce a strong man or a weak man, a wise man or a fool, a rich man or a poor man?' Whereas 'wicked man' or 'righteous one' he does not say, as R. Hanina states. For R. Hanina stated: Everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of God.
(Niddah 16b)

Our genes and our environment may determine our physical strength, our intellectual abilities, even our character traits, but they do not determine what type of a person we will become.  That is in our hands:

"He who is born under Mars will be a shedder of blood." R. Ashi observed: Either a surgeon, a highway bandit, a ritual slaughterer, or a mohel. Rabbah said: I was born under Mars (and am none of these)! Abaye retorted: You too inflict [judicial] punishment and have people executed.
(Shabbat 157a)

The Rabbis referred to the stars, we refer to our genes, but the point is the same - some part of who we are has been determined before we are born, but it is we who choose who we will become.

Nowhere does this play out more clearly than in the lives of Shimon and Levi and their descendants.  Shimon and Levi were violent men, and, fueled by their righteous indignation over the rape of their sister, they had wiped out the city of Shechem.  At the time, Yaakov was appalled at their actions, but only criticized their actions insofar as they endangered  the family: "And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, You have brought trouble on me to make me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and I being few in number, they shall gather together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house." (Breishit 34:31).   It was only on his deathbed that Yaakov found the strength to criticize them for the immorality of the violence itself:

Simeon and Levi are brothers; instruments of cruelty are their swords.  O my soul, do not come into their council; to their assembly, let my honor not be united; for in their anger they slew a man, and in their wanton will they lamed an ox. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel; I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.
(Breishit 49:5)

This curse - as were the blessings to the other brothers - sees their character as fixed, and possibly determinative for their descendants.  Hence the punishment that will be visited on their descendants is also predetermined - " I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel" - and the portion of the tribe of Shimon, in the land of Israel, was scattered throughout the territory of Yehudah, and the tribe of Levi received no portion per se, only the cities of refuge, and were destined, as Rashi puts it, to "go roundabout to the threshing floors collecting their trumot and ma'asrot."

While it may be that their violent nature was a fixed part of their character - consider the Rabbis' statement that it was Shimon and Levi were the ones who hatched the plot against Yosef, and that Shimon was put in jail by Yosef to prevent him and Levi from destroying Mitzrayim - nevertheless, it was not their destiny.  They could still choose, in the words of R. Ashi, whether to be a surgeon or a bandit, whether a mohel or a murderer.   While Shimon chose the path of destruction, it was Levi who directed the trait of violence in the service of God.   When Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Shimon, defied God's and Moshe's authority, flagrantly fornicating with a Midianite woman in front of the Mishkan and shattering any boundaries of decency, it was Pinchas, a kohen of the tribe of Levi, who rose up and - in his religious zeal - executed Zimri and brought an end to the plague.  It was Pinchas who was able to use the trait of violence in the service of God.

Now, violence in the service of God is a very dangerous concept, especially in today's reality of fundamentalist violence and terrorism.  It is important to note that, in the case of Pinchas, it is doubtful whether the Pinchas acted, as the Rabbis would have it, based on his own zeal, or whether he was following the command of Moshe to the judges to execute - as a matter of law - those who had transgressed (Numbers 25:5).  Even according to the Rabbis, such violent zealousness was to be discouraged and severely limited.   Similarly, the revolt of the Maccabees, led by Matityahu, began with an act of religious zeal and violence against a Jew who offered a sacrifice to the Greek gods, in which Matityahu is explicitly compared to Pinchas (cf. Maccabees II, 2:26).  While this act was the spark which started the revolt and ended in the miracle of Chanukah, it is interestingly absent from the Rabbinic literature.  Violence in fighting against the occupying Seleucid Greeks was praised, whereas violence against those who transgressed was bracketed.  Violence is a dangerous trait, especially when fueled by religious zeal, but sometimes it does prove necessary.

This trait, then, is a dangerous one, but for the most part the Levites learned how to use it correctly, and how to use it in the service of God.  They followed Moshe's call to defend God's honor at Har Sinai after Israel had sinned with the Golden Calf, this time acting on direct order and in a judicial context, and - in the Temple - they became involved in the daily spilling of blood in the service of God- in the tamed and sublimated form of animal sacrifices.  Thus we find that in the blessing of Moshe, the blessing of the tribes at the end of Devarim, Levi is blessed, while Shimon is passed over in silence.  The tribe of Levi had redirected its character, and its curse was transformed into a blessing:

And of Levi he said, Let your Tummim and your Urim be with your pious one, whom you did test at Massah, and with whom you fought at the waters of Meribah; Who said to his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; nor did he acknowledge his brothers, nor knew his own children; for they have observed your word, and kept your covenant. They shall teach Jacob your judgments, and Israel your Torah; they shall put incense before you, and whole burnt sacrifice upon your altar.
(Devarim 33:8-10)

Thus, even the curse of Yaakov, to be scattered in Israel, turned into a blessing, " And the Lord spoke to Aaron, You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any part among them; I am your part and your inheritance among the people of Israel.  And, behold, I have given the sons of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, the service of the Tent of Meeting." (Bamidbar 18:20-21).  They have no inheritance in the land because they have God as their inheritance. 

Our future, its specifics, its meaning and its significance, is not fated, is not predetermined.   It is what we make it to be.  It can be a curse, or it can be a blessing.

And our traits are not who we are in our core essence.  They are not our soul, they are not our identity.   "'Cursed is their wrath' - Even when he criticized them, he only cursed their wrath [and not they themselves]." (Rashi, Breishit 49:7).  People may have bad traits, but it is the traits, and how they are directed, that needs to be labeled as "bad."  As Jews, as parents, and as people working on our own self-improvement we need to believe that people - ourselves, our children, those we care about, all people - can always choose to be good.  Their traits may be bad, their actions may be bad, but as long as we retain our belief in the potential goodness of every person, as long as we criticize the traits and not the person, we can hope for and work towards change.  And if we cannot change our traits per se, at least we can find ways to direct them to the service of God, and to live up to the model of Levi, the tribe chosen by God to serve God in God's Temple.

Shabbat Shalom!

Torah from Our Beit Midrash

This week we wrapped up our learning of how taste transfers according to halakha.  When a forbidden food gets mixed up directly with a permissible one - they are blended together, or cooked together so they all become one mass, there is no question that the forbidden food is present, and that the mixture will be forbidden unless the forbidden food is less than 1/60th of the whole.  But what about when it is not clear if the forbidden food transferred its taste into the mixture?  Say a treif piece of meat falls into my chicken soup and then I remove it - under what circumstances would I say that the taste of this treif meat transferred into my chicken soup?

Rishonim focus primarily on two criteria that may be required to transfer taste - the heat and the vessel.  Both of these principles are derived from Talmudic discussions regarding cooking on Shabbat.  The Talmud (Shabbat 40b) states that cooking of liquids only occurs when the liquid reaches the temperature of yad soledet bo, when the hand would draw back from touching it.  There is debate as to how hot this is, with Rav Moshe setting the range between 110-160 degrees Fahrenheit, and Shmirat Shabbat KiHilkhata quoting Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach who states that it is not less than 113 degrees Fahrenheit.  Now, while the Gemara only states that this is how to define that a liquid has been cooked, we assume that it is also the temperature necessary for a liquid to cook something else.  Thus, if I put a raw vegetable or instant oatmeal or the like in liquid less than 110 or 113 degrees, there would be no problem of cooking on Shabbat.

As far as the vessel itself is concerned, halakha defines the vessel that was on the fire - the pot, the frying pan, etc. - as a keli rishon - the first vessel.  After that, every next vessel the food is poured into is defined as the next ordinal number - the pot that cooked the soup is the first vessel, the soup bowl is the second vessel (keli sheini),  and so on.   Now, for Shabbat, the general rule is that cooking only occurs in a keli rishon (see Shabbat 42b).  Ramban, on the basis of the Yerushalmi, goes further and states that the Biblical melakha of cooking only occurs in a keli rishon while it is still on the fire (it would still be Rabbinically forbidden to cook in such a vessel once it is removed from the fire).   We rule against Ramban, and rule that it is a melakha to cook in a keli rishon even if it is off the fire.

Thus, if I put a raw vegetable in the pot that my chicken soup was cooking in, I would have done the melakha of cooking only if the soup was yad soledet bo and the pot was the same one that the soup was cooked in, even if now it is removed from the fire.  It would not be cooking if I put the vegetable in my soup bowl, even if the soup was still very hot and yad soledet bo.

The reason heat is necessary is obvious - things don't cook without heat.  But why does it matter if something is put in a kli rishon or a kli sheni?   Tosafot (Shabbat 40b, s.v. u'Shma) asks this question and states that a kli rishon, because it had been directly on the fire, retains the heat of what is inside it better than a kli sheni does.  This is obviously correct - my soup stays hotter in the soup pot, even off the fire, than it does in my soup bowl.   Most things, even if put on the fire or in a hot liquid, need time to go from being raw to being cooked.  Thus, states Tosafot, for halakhic cooking to occur, one must use a vessel that normally can create the environment to cook something over a period of time, and thus a kli rishon is needed. 

To al large degree, Tosafot's approach is based on an assessment of the real-world issue of whether something will cook in a keli sheni.  An alternative, more formalistic, approach would be to borrow from Ramban's position that true cooking is over a fire.  Thus, even when we rule that cooking can occur off a fire, we would still insist that it take place in the context of, or with a connection to, a fire.  Thus, if one puts oatmeal in a kli rishon, like a pot that has boiling water in it, even though it is off the fire it is considered cooking, because it is as if it was cooked on the fire.   Halakha can consider this to be a formally defined act of cooking because it occurred in a vessel heated on a fire, so it exists in the same ambit of the act of classic cooking, which occurs directly on the fire.  If, however, if one puts oatmeal in a kli sheni, for example, in a bowl that one poured hot water from the kettle into, then although it may be cook in real-world terms, she would not have done a halakhic, formally-defined act of cooking, because fire was not involved.

The two ways of understanding the need for keli rishon explains a number of debates.  First, there is the question whether anything can cook in a keli sheni.  The Gemara (Shabbat 42b) raises this issue without coming to a clear conclusion.  The Yeraim is very concerned with this possibility, and rules that we must be consider any food to possibly be something that can cook easily - kalei ha'bishul - and therefore if the water is yad soledet bo, we should not cook on Shabbat in that vessel no matter what type of vessel it is.  If it is a concern of whether the object will really become cooked or not, there is no difference between a keli sheni and a keli shlishi or ri'vi'ee.  The only issue is the heat of the water.

We do not follow the Yeraim li'halakha.  We rule (Orah Hayim 318:9) that it is not considered cooking on Shabbat unless one uses a kli rishon.  Nevertheless, the Rema (ad. loc.) and the Mechaber (318:5) mention that it is appropriate to be careful about 2 things that might cook more easily than others - salt (not an issue today when our salt is processed and already cooked) and bread, and that li'chatchila one should not place these in a keli sheni if the water is yad soledet bo.  Allowing for these exceptional cases, although initially only as chumrot, opened the door for Yeraim-like concerns.  Thus the Magen Avraham, and following him the Mishne Brurah, are concerned, like the Yeraim, that almost everything may be kali ha'bishul and able to cook in a keli sheni.   Unlike Yeraim, they are not generally concerned with a keli shlishi.  If, however, we see that something does cook in a keli shlishi, that may also be considered cooking.  This question -whether a keli shlishi could ever cook - is central to the debate around using tea bags on Shabbat, and Arukh HaShulkhan, for one, forbids using them on the basis that they always cook when the water is hot, regardless of the keli.

What is at the root of the debate around the keli sheni and keli shlishi is the question of why a keli rishon is important.  If, as Tosafot says, it is because of the reality of whether the heat will be retained long enough to effect cooking, then it is possible that there are some foods that do not need a long time to cook - kalei ha'bishul - and thus could cook in a keli sheni.  That is, if one is real-world oriented, the halakhic definition will change based on different circumstances.  On the other hand, if the need for a keli rishon is to consider the process of cooking as if it took place on the fire, or was connected to the fire, then this formal definition - e.g., "cooking is the act of placing food on a fire, or in a vessel that was heated on a fire, to transform or prepare the food or to make it edible." - does not change even if the food does get cooked in real-world terms.  The hardest position to understand is the compromise one that we adopt, that states that cooking may occur in a keli sheni but does not occur in a keli shlishi.   This may be a claim about the real-world ability for a keli shlishi to effect a change in the food (hence the exception that some make to this rule when it comes to tea bags), or it may be that this approach also adopts a formalist definition, although a broader one, "cooking is the act of placing food on a fire, or in a vessel that was heated on a fire, or in a vessel that is one degree removed from the original one, to transform etc."   However, it is hard to understand why, were we to adopt a formal definition, we would adopt this one.

This issue - whether the definition of cooking is a formal one or a real-world one - may also be at the center of the debate around the status of iruy, pouring from a keli rishon.  Rabbenu Tam is of the opinion that iruy is like a keli rishon, and it effects cooking on the food that the water is being poured on.  Rashbam, on the other hand, is of the opinion that it is like a keli sheni and does not effect cooking on the poured-on food.  (See Tosafot, Zevachim 95b, s.v. Eera).  If one adopts a formal definition, then the case of pouring from a keli rishon should qualify as cooking, since that process still connects to the vessel that was on the fire.  This is further evidenced in the qualification, introduced by Tosafot, that this applies only if it is lo nifsak ha'kiluach, if the stream hitting the food is connected to the vessel at the other end.  Once the stream is disconnected from the vessel, the process no longer relates to the vessel and no longer relates to the fire.  This would be the position of Rabbenu Tam.  On the other hand, if it is a real-world concern about the retention of heat, once one is pouring the liquid out of the vessel, and in such a short-duration process - the ability of the vessel's walls to retain heat should be irrelevant.  This would be the position of Rashbam.  [It should be noted that it is possible to take Tosafot's concern of retention of heat and use it in a formalist definition as well.]

Now, all of the above are discussions around the melakha of cooking on Shabbat.  How does this apply to the world of ta'arovet, mixture of kosher and non-kosher foods.  In this world, our concern is not a cooking process (unless we are talking about the Biblical prohibition of cooking meat and milk together).  Our concern is whether - in the real-world - taste transfers from one food to another - from the pork into the chicken soup.  Here, a formalistic definition of the process of cooking would be irrelevant.  Similarly, the concern for retention of heat should be less, because transfer of taste does not take the same amount of time as it does to actually cook something (consider how long it takes to cook a roast in contrast to when the slices of potato with the roast have a meaty taste).  So, what we should find here is that taste transfers regardless of the vessel, and perhaps even in temperatures lower than yad soledet bo.   Such is actually the position of Ramban (Avoda Zara 74b, s.v. vi'Od) and Rashba (Torat HaBayit 4:1. 1b-2a), and it is important to note that nowhere in all of the Talmudic discussions regarding transfer of taste is there any mention of terms keli rishon or yad soledet bo.  The only term mentioned for the minimum degree of heat required is roteyach, seething, (Hullin 8b) which may be more or less than yad soledet bo (the Rashba assumes its less, and it seems to be based on the specific case to which it is applied), but it is not the same criterion.

Tosafot, however rules - this is implicit in the debate of Rabbenu Tam and Rashbam, above - that even for transfer of taste one needs a keli rishon and for the water to be yad soledet bo.    Interestingly, in terms of psak, not only does Rema rule like Tosafot, but Shulkhan Arukh does as well (Yoreh Deah 105 and 91), both stating that no taste is transferred unless one of the foods is yad soledet bo and unless they are in a keli rishon.  This position is somewhat limited by later rulings regarding davar gush, solids, which are considered to retain their heat better than liquids and act like a keli rishon, and regarding the ladle used to extract the soup or stew to also be a keli rishon.  Regardless, the baseline psak is that taste does not transfer outside of a keli rishon.

There is real irony regarding the practical halakha that emerges from all of this.  In the case of Shabbat, almost everyone (Yeraim excluded) rules that one needs a keli rishon for a process to be considered cooking, and the need for a keli rishon can be explained both on a real-world basis (cooking takes time and retention of heat is needed) and on a formalistic basis (the classic act of cooking is done on a fire, so the process requires a connection to the fire), and Shulkhan Arukh rules that a keli rishon is needed.  Disregarding all of the above, we, in practice, do not put uncooked foods in a keli sheni if the water  is yad soledet bo.   On the other hand, when it comes to ta'arovet, where there is no Gemara that talks about keli rishon, and Ramban and Rashba explicitly state that it is not a factor, and there is no basis - either in real-world terms or in formalistic terms - to require it, we nevertheless rule and practice that transfer of taste does not occur outside of a keli rishon.

What is too explain this ironic, almost illogical, conclusion?  It seems that the halakhic weight of the issues may play a factor.  Although we rule that ta'am ki'ikar, that taste of forbidden foods is forbidden, it is probably not the same prohibition as the food itself, and according to some may, under certain circumstances, not be Biblical.  Certainly, in terms of the religious psyche, it is not as weighty as eating pork itself, and it is certainly not as weighty as violating Shabbat.  To cook on Shabbat is a profound violation, both objectively and psychologically, and thus it is not surprising that we find a more stringent approach in terms of practical halakha.  Another factor, one suggested by my student Mishael Zion, is that our practice on Shabbat relates to how we act lichatchila - we don't put uncooked food into a keli sheni.  Our position regarding ta'arovet - that a mixture in a keli sheni is not a problem - relates to the b'dieved situation: the mixture already occurred.  And, in fact, when it comes to the lichatchila question the answer is the same - one should not, li'chatchila, put treif food in a keli sheni with hot kosher food.   So the practices can be seen as consistent.

Nevertheless, it is still bizarre that we care about keli rishon in the field of ta'arovet when the only concern should be a real-world one.  In practice, I have no problem with the keli rishon criterion when it comes to transfer of taste in and out of vessels.  As we discussed in a previous post, one can understand that the issue with non-kosher vessels is also a formalism - defining the vessels as treif and prohibiting their use - and thus we can say that unless they are used in a cooking-like act, their status, and the status of the food in them, does not change.  However, when it comes to the actual mixture of two foods -pork falling into the chicken soup - I have a hard time with the keli rishon criterion, and I would look more closely at all the real-world specifics of the case (how long did it stay in? how hot was the soup - boiling or just very hot?, etc.), and take these into account before paskening whether the taste transferred.

What is clear is that even in the world of taste of foods and their transfer, formal halakhic definitions do matter.

Happenings at the Yeshiva

The week began with a wonderful simcha- the marriage of Rabbi Steven Exler (YCT  '09) to Shira Billet.  The wedding brought together not only Steven and Shira, but also the many worlds that they are a part of - YCT, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, YU and the Young Israel of Woodmere.  There were over 1500 people at the wedding, and the chuppah was a true achdus event, with the joyous participation of a wide range of family, friends, and rabbonim, people and the inclusion of different minhagim from all these worlds.   The dancing was leibadich, and there were so many YCT students and musmachim present, that it felt like our annual reunion!  Steven and Shira make such a beautiful couple, and we wish the two of them much joy and love, and that they should be zokehboneh bayit ne'eman bi'Yisrael ad meah vi'esrim shana! to be

Continuing in the simcha department, there were two YCT births this week.  Avi and Rachel Rosenfeld had a baby girl this Tuesday here in Riverdale.  Avi is a fourth year student, and Rachel and his new daughter are doing well, and we expect the baby naming on Monday, with a simchat bat to follow sometime soon.   And then this Thursday, Rabbi Chai (YCT '10) and Rachel Posner had a baby boy.  Mommy and baby are doing well, and we look forward to this bris at Beth Tfillah in Baltimore this coming Thursday.  Both babies were born the old fashioned way - natural childbirth with a midwife and a doula.  We could not be happier for them.

In the yeshiva itself, we had a guest speaker for our Parsha shiur this week- Rabbi Rachel Cowan, the executive director of the Institute of Jewish Spirituality.  Rabbi Cowan talked about the parsha and then opened up a larger conversation on how we can connect to God and how we can develop our own inner spiritual selves to help us be better spiritual leaders for our communities.

As the Fall zman wraps up, most morning shiurim have ended and students are in the midst of serious chazara for their bechinot.  For Yoreh Deah, we are beginning the final with a research and presentation section, and  students are researching "new" topics (copepods, gelatin, etc.) and also analyzing real-world cases, and will be presenting their findings and psakim this coming week.   It promises to be an intense week of learning, chazara, and exercising of their paskening skills.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Thought on the Parsha

We saw last week that Yehudah and Reuven, while both taking initiative to deal with crisis situations, exhibited very different leadership styles.  While Reuven was rash and impetuous, Yehudah thought things through carefully, and when he took on a responsibility, his word was his bond, and he would see the situation through to its resolution.  This trait is no where better demonstrated than in the beginning of our parsha, Parshat VaYigash, when Yehudah steps forward - vayigash eilav Yehudah ­­- and does everything in his ability to live up to his commitment to his father, to ensure that Binyamin will return home safely.  His impassioned plea to Yosef is both the climax and the turning point of the Yosef story, and results in Yosef revealing himself to his brother, and ultimately in the entire family leaving Canaan and settling in Mitzrayim.

Yosef, after revealing himself to his brothers, attempts to put their minds at ease:

Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me here; for God did send me before you to preserve life... And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
(Breishit 45:4, 6)

His belief in God, and in God's hand in history and in his life and the life of his family, allowed him to see what had happened as part of a Divine plan, and to absolve his brothers of blame.  This approach stands in stark contrast to that of Yehudah, who does not talk about God, and who embodies personal responsibility.   How does one approach life, its good and bad fortunes, and his or her role in the world?  Is it "God working through us" or is it "the buck stops here"?   Is it "It is not in me; God shall give Pharaoh a favorable answer" (Breishit 41:16) or is it "I will be a surety, from my hand you may demand him?" (Breishit 43:8).  To take the former approach absolves one, and others, of responsibility for their actions, to take the latter is to remove God from one's world.

One answer is that both are correct, we are responsible, and we need to strive to see God in the world.   The key to resolve this contradiction is humility - we need to strive to see God in the world, not to presume to know how God works.  If we believe that we know what God's plan is, then we can do great evil.  We can go on holy wars, killing innocent people, because we know that it is God's will.  We can ignore the needs of others, our interpersonal responsibilities, even our ethical responsibilities, because we know what God's plan is. 

Even if not by acts of commission, we can fail to take the initiative to respond to real world events, because we will see all that happens as God's will.  In this regard, it is interesting to note that Yehudah is much more of an active character, and Yosef is much more passive and reactive.  Yosef is content to let events unfold, to not even tell his father for 22 years that he is in Mitzrayim, because he is content to wait for God's plan to reveal itself.  This is taking religiosity too far.  One's belief in God's hand in history may never compromise one's ethical responsibilities.

However, if we fully embrace our personal responsibility, and we are open, with humility, to the possibility of God acting in the world, we will live our lives both connected to God, and being proactive in addressing what is wrong in the world, in taking responsibility, in living up to it, and in never compromising our ethical obligations.

Yosef and Yehudah, then, represent the two components that are sadly often missing from an observant Jewish life - religiosity and strong and proactive sense of moral responsibility.  As Modern Orthodox Jews, we often are very wary of an approach that is "too religious."  We see how people can act when they believe they know God's will or that God works through them.  How people can wreak violence and murder, and justify the most heinous acts.   The answer, however, is not to remove God from the world.  The answer is embrace a humble religiosity.  To strive to see God in our lives, to look for those moments of connection, and at the same time to know that we are just human, and that - especially in a post-Holocaust world - that we can never truly know God's plan.   And when we allow ourselves to think that living a halakhic life is the beginning and end of our responsibility, we lose sight of the fundamental Torah mandate to do "what is right and just in the eyes of God."  Technical observance is not enough.  We must fully embrace a sense of moral responsibility - to take full responsibility for our actions or our failures to act, to see what must be done in the world, what rights must be wronged, and to act on it.   To be an embodiment of vayigash eilav Yehudah.

Shabbat Shalom!

Happenings at the Yeshiva

We began this week, on Monday morning, with the bris of Seth Winberg and Shoshie Lockshin's son, which took place at Ramat Orah, on 110th Street (the first location of YCT, oh so many years ago!).   Many of the YCT students and rebbeim were present at the bris, and were thrilled to share this moment with Seth, Shoshie, and their families and friends.

On Wednesday night, the eighth night of Chanukah, we had a Chanukah Chagiga at KCI - Davidi Jonas' shul here in Riverdale ("at the bottom of the hill").  It was a lovely gathering of YCT students, rebbeim, teachers, and staff, and their families.   There was food, crafts for the kids, dreidels and chocolate coins, latkes and sufganiyot, and with music provided by YCT students Daniel Milner, Avi Rosenfeld, Ari Hart, and Josh Strosberg.  The highlight of the evening, without a doubt, was the latke frying cook-off.  Organized by Jennifer Geretz, and emceed by Gabe Greenberg, Rabbi Helfgot, Rabbi Katz, and I competed against each other to see who could make the best tasting 30 latkes in 30 minutes.  We were each aided by students who served as our sous chefs - Josh Frankel (with me), Mordechai Harris (with Rabbi Helfgot) and Aaron Braun (with Rabbi Katz).  The judges were Michelle Friedman, Ruthie Simon, and Miriam Schacter.  And the winner was.... yours truly!    Much fun was had by all, and you can see pictures of the event here and a video here.

We also had a number of special Chanukah shiurim.  We were thrilled to re-welcome Rabbi Jon Kelsen back to our beit midrash, and he gave a shiur on Monday on Chanukah as the dialectic between innovation and tradition.  Rabbi Blanchard spoke on Wednesday on Chanukah as the symbol of standing up for what is right and true - of defying the "necessity" of one's circumstances, the fact that the oil could not last, the fact that Hellenism and Greek rule over Israel were a foregone conclusion. Chanukah teaches us that to be Torah-true Jews and leaders, we must shape and bend reality around the axes of truth and values, and not shape our values and morality to conform to our circumstances.  The special shiurim ended with a shiur on Thursday by Rabbi Helfgot on the themes and specifics of hilkhot Chanukah.

Torah from Our Beit Midrash

Last week was discussed the principle of ta'am lifgam - when the addition of a forbidden food to a mixture makes the mixture taste worse.  In such a case, the mixture may be eaten, because while the forbidden food itself, even if it has an off-taste, is forbidden, when we are only dealing with the taste of such food, and not the food itself, this bad taste is not forbidden.   As Rashba explains, this is because the taste - ta'am - is in a different category than the food itself.  Although we normally say ta'am ki'ikar - the taste is like the thing itself - this is only an analogy and not stating a true equality.  It is true that the taste is forbidden to eat, just like the food is forbidden to eat, but taste represents as an independent prohibition.  Thus, for example, although it is more forbidden to eat blood than to eat pork (the former is prohibited by karet, excision, and the latter by a negative prohibition), to eat the taste of blood in a mixture would be no more prohibited than to eat the taste of pork in a mixture.  They both share the same prohibition of eating the taste of forbidden foods.  Because we are dealing with an independent prohibition of eating the taste of forbidden foods, such taste is defined on its own terms, and something with a bad taste is not considered real taste, and is not prohibited.
Now, the principle of ta'am lifgam has great relevance to the case of cooking utensils, a case which seems to derive from the principles of ta'am but, like ta'am itself, may actually be its on category.  In the case of cooking utensils which were used to cook non-kosher foods, they cannot be used for kosher foods.  Presumably, this is because the absorbed taste of, say, the pork in the walls of the vessel will go into the kosher food and make it forbidden.  When the vessel is more than 1 day old, we assume that the absorbed taste has by now gone bad, is ta'am lifgam, and thus even were one to cook in it, it would not forbid the kosher food, because it would only impart bad taste.  Such 1 day old vessels are called eino ben yomo (not of the same day), and while one cannot lichatchila cook in them, if one did so they do not make the food forbidden. 

The same would apply to milk and meat vessels, and this is why when someone accidently cooks a fleishig food in a milkhig pot (or the opposite), the rabbi will ask when the last time the pot was used for cooking fleishig.  If it is more than 24 hours before this milkhig dish was cooked, the food is permissible because the meat taste that goes into the milk dish is ta'am lifgam.   

There are, however, reasons to think that these laws are more than just a straight application of the principles of ta'am (they will make the food forbidden because of the absorbed and transferred taste) and of ta'am lifgam (they won't make it forbidden after 24 hours because the taste is bad)?  Let's start with the problem of using the vessels in the first place.  This idea appears in the Torah in reference to the vessels that were capture from Midian (Bamidbar 31:21-24), and - as Ramban states (verse 23) - the context there is one of purifying the vessels, not of kashering them.  This is underscored by the fact that Chazal learn from the same verses the concept of immersing vessels purchased from non-Jews - clearly a ritual not related to removing the bad taste from the vessel walls.  Reflecting and reinforcing this is the Mishna in Avoda Zara (75b) which deals with kashering and toveling vessels all in the same discussion.   All of this could suggest that kashering vessels is somewhat conceptually related to purifying them and immersing them, and not about the taste in the walls.

While the juxtaposition of these laws is suggestive, it would not, in itself, lead to a reformulation of the operative halakhic principle where there not more concrete evidence that we are dealing here with something besides ta'am.  As it happens, there is such evidence, and it comes from the classic discussion in the Talmud regarding the prohibition of ta'am.  In its search for the Biblical basis of this prohibition, the Talmud (Pesachim 44b) suggests that the vessels of Midian provide such a source - they are prohibited because of the absorbed taste.  No, says the Talmud, perhaps that case is a chidush, an exception, because there - according to one opinion - the Torah prohibited the vessels even though they gave off a bad taste.  Now, when the  Talmud says that the case of vessels in an exception, it may be saying that it is based on ta'am but it does not follow those rules in all their specifics.  However, it may be saying something else - that because this case does not follow the exact rules of ta'am, it is not based on ta'am at all, but it is a completely separate prohibition.

The possibility that we are dealing with a completely separate prohibition is taken up by Ra'ah (Chezkat HaBayit on Torat HaBayit 4:1, 11a), a student of Ramban.  Ra'ah asks what he calls a "strong question."  How is possible, he asks, that vessels should be forbidden?  According to Chazal even the smallest amount of taste is forbidden, and this will usually be present in as little as 1.6% of the mixture.  However, he rules that the only time the Torah prohibits taste is when it is a kizayit bi'khdei achilat pras, roughly 11-12% of the mixture.   How, he asks, can vessels be a problem, since there is never that much taste absorbed in their walls?  His answer - in Ramban's name no less! - is that the Torah's prohibition to use such vessels is not based on the principle of ta'am.  Rather, the Torah did not want us to use vessels with an identity of treif vessels.  To change this identity we have to kasher them and immerse them.  This is why the laws of kashering are juxtaposed to and embedded in the laws of purification, because what we are doing is changing the identity of the vessel from treif to kosher.  

While this approach is unconventional, there is something compelling about it (and, it should be noted, Rambam's framing of the law of vessels (Forbidden Foods 17:1-2) indicates a similar approach).    First of all, it explains the context and juxtaposition noted above.  Secondly, it helps us understand the whole issue of "treif vessels," since it is often hard to really believe that tastes are absorbed into or exuded from, the walls of our cooking vessels.  According to Ra'ah, this would not matter, because at the end of the day, the vessel has an identity as kosher or treif.  This also helps explain an interesting fact about kashering vessels.  We rule, in accordance with Rabbenu Tam, that one need only kasher a vessel based on its standard use.  Thus, if one usually cooks in a pot, but every now and then fries in it, and now it needs to be kashered, say for Pesach use, one can kasher it by putting it in a boiling pot, and there is no need to treat it like a frying pan and to kasher by direct heat.  Now, if we were really concerned with the physics of absorption, the "majority use" should be irrelevant.  Since it absorbed by direct heat - when it was used to fry - then it should need to be kashered by direct heat.   However, if we are talking about a ritual that transforms its identity, and since it is primarily a cooking pot, we can understand that it will gain a new identity when it is kashered through a process of cooking.

This approach, as stated, emphasizes using a treif pot, and not the transfer of taste, as the problem.  This raises two questions: (1) Why is the food that is cooked in the pot prohibited? and (2) Since the concept of tvilat kelim, to which kashering is linked,only applies to pots of non-Jews, would there be a requirement from the Torah to kasher the treif pots of Jews?  Ra'ah addresses both of these questions, and states that (1) the Torah prohibited the food cooked in such a pot as a way to require us to kasher the pot and (2) that although the starting point is the pots of non-Jews, it is reasonable to assume that the Torah likewise prohibited the treif pots of Jews, and insisted that one only use a kosher pot.   What, however, would Ra'ah state regarding kosher pots which were milkhig or fleishig and used for the opposite item.  In such a case, the pot is not treif.  Would the Torah prohibit it?   It sounds from Ra'ah that the answer is no, and that the only problem would be a rabbinic one.  Presumably building on this, Ra'ah states that there is no problem - not even Rabbinic! - to use a milk vessel for meat, or vice-versa - if the vessel is more than 24 hours old (see Ritva Pesachim 30a).   We, clearly, do not rule this way.  Whatever may be the case on a Biblical level, we rule that the use of the wrong vessel, even when more than 24 hours old is always prohibited mi'di'rabanan.

Keeping these two approaches to cooking vessels in mind - (1) that it is based on ta'am and (2) that it is an independent prohibition, let's look at the case of the day-old vessel.  Why does such a vessel not make the food forbidden?  We have been assuming that it is because the absorbed taste has turned bad.  But how can we be so sure?   Also, according to Rashi (Avoda Zara 76a, s.v. Bat Yoma), the principle is not 24 hours, but whether it is the same day that it was used or a different day.  If I cooked treif at 4:30 PM, and then used it for kosher at 6:00 AM the next morning, it would not be a problem, since it is the next day.  What sense does this make?  How can the taste be a function of "same day/different day" and not a function of the passage of time?   The answer, according to Ra'ah, is that if the issue is the status of the vessel and not the absorbed taste, that status is different tomorrow than it is today.  Remember, according to Ra'ah, the taste absorbed in it is insignificant.  The status of the vessel, then, is based on how it was used.  Thus, today, on the same day it was used for treif, it is a treif vessel.  Tomorrow, however, it is just a vessel that once was used for treif, but its identity is no longer that of a treif vessel.   It is thus not surprising that Tosafot (ad. loc., s..v, Bat Yoma) compares this to the rule of sacrifices, which become invalid - that is, their status changes - the following morning.  This is about status, not about taste.

One final application is the difference b'dieved between the food and the vessel.   One the vessel is no longer a bat yoma, "of the day," it does not make the food forbidden, but it still may not be used.  Why are we more strict regarding the vessel than the food?  One cannot argue that it is a difference between lichatchila and b'dieved, since if the pot were ceramic, we would have to discard it, so the rabbinic prohibition to use the vessel would apply even in a b'dieved case.  According to Rosh (Avodah Zara 5:36) the explanation is a practical one:  we forbid using the vessel when it is not "of the day" so one should not come to use it in cases when it is "of the day."  Once people don't use these vessels at all, there is no need to prohibit the food that was cooked in a day-old vessel due to a concern of eating food cooked in a vessel "of the day," since, thanks to the Rabbinic prohibition,  it is highly unlikely that someone will come to cook in a vessel that is "of the day."    

Tosafot, however, gives a more formal reason that resonates with the approach of Ra'ah.  Tosafot (AZ 76a, s.v. mi'Kan) states that the vessel was used with forbidden food.  Thus, even after it is a day old, it remains forbidden.  However, food cooked in a day-old vessel never came in contact with forbidden food or forbidden taste, and thus remains permissible.  In other words, the day old vessel still has a (Rabbinic) status of a "treif vessel" and can never be used whereas the food never gets such a status and can be eaten.

While halakha generally follow the non-Ra'ah approach, and 24 hours is the required time to change the status of the vessels, the Ra'ah's approach still appears in various forms, and it certainly is how we psychologically relate to our vessels.  We consider vessels milkhig or fleishig, kosher or treif, and not in terms of their absorbed taste.  Perhaps this is because of the difficulty in relating to the concept of absorbed taste, and perhaps because it is an easier way to categorize things.  There thus exists and interesting tension between the psychologically attractive and formalistic approach of Ra'ah and the more "real-world" approach of absorbed taste, a tension that plays out in other areas of halakha as well.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Thought on the Parsha

In the story of Yosef and his brothers, starting in last week's parsha, VaYeshev, and continuing through this week's parsha, Miketz, and beyond, we are presented with two very distinct leadership personalities: Reuven and Yehudah.   Yehudah is the lion, the courageous one, the leader and the progenitor of the Davidic kingly line;  and Reuven is the one passed over, the firstborn, the one who should have been the leader, but who failed.     

Why Reuven was passed over is not hard to understand.  As Yaakov himself says in his deathbed blessing:  "Impetuous as water, you shall not excel; because you went up to your father’s bed; then defiled you it; he went up to my couch."  (Breishit 49:4).  Reuven's character flaw was that he was impetuous, always rushing into things, not thinking them through, not considering their consequences.  This was true in regards to lustful urges, but it was also true in regards to noble urges.  "And Reuben heard it, and he saved him from their hands; and said, Let us not kill him." (Breishit 37:21).  He saw a need to save Yosef, and he rushed in, and did in fact save him from death.  But he had no plan after that - he had not yet worked out a plan to "return him to his father" (Breishit 37:22).    Since it was only a quick-fix, the possibility of the brothers killing him was still very present, and Yehudah had to come in with another plan: " And Yehudah said to his brothers, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood?  Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh.  And his brothers listened."  This was a plan which at least got Yosef out of his brothers' reach and protected him long-term.  And where was Reuven?  Nowhere to be found: "And Reuven returned to the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he tore his clothes."  Reuven had a quick fix, and then could not think long term, could not even stay on the scene to try to control the situation.  He jumped in, did what immediately came to mind, and then walked away - perhaps contemplating how to fix it, but never able to reenter the crisis situation with a workable plan.

Reuven's role in this episode is further clarified in this week's parsha.  We find out, in a passing exchange when they are appearing before Yosef to purchase grain, that Reuven he had first tried to directly appeal to the brothers to save Yosef's life: "And Reuven answered them, saying, Did I not speak to you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and you would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required." (Gen. 42:22).  Of course they did not hear!  What were the chances that a direct appeal would work against brothers who were dead-set on killing this "dreamer of dreams."   Reuven, of course, had not thought this through, and only when rebuffed, was he able to come back with an alternative they could accept - don't kill him directly, throw him in the pit and  let him die there.

This flaw of Reuven's reasserts itself when the brothers attempt to convince Yaakov to send Binyamin with them. "And Reuven spoke to his father, saying, Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to you; deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to you again." (Gen. 42:37).  As Rashi succinctly puts it:  "Yaakov did not accept Reuven's words.  He say, my eldest son is an idiot (shoteh). He tells me to slay his two sons.  Are they perhaps his sons and not also mine?" (Rashi on Gen. 42:38).  But such is Reuven's way - he makes rash suggestions, without considering their absurdity, or how they would be received.  

Yehudah, on the other hand, represents a more thoughtful, considered, and deliberate leadership.  He is not the first to speak up, but when he speaks, people listen.   He convinces the brothers to sell Yosef, and Yosef is truly saved from their hands.  And when he speaks to his father, he waits until his words will be able to be heard: "And it came to pass, when they had eaten up the grain which they had brought out of Egypt, their father said to them, Go again, buy us a little food." (Gen. 43:2) - "Yehudah said to them - wait for the our elderly father, until there is no more bread in the house." (Rashi, ibid.)  A wise, thoughtful leadership knows when it is time to be silent, and when it is time to speak.  And when Yehudah does speak, he makes no rash promises, but rather lets it be known that his word is his bond: "And Yehudah said to Yisrael his father, Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and you, and also our little ones.  I will be surety for him; from my hand shall you require him; if I bring him not to you, and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever."  (Breishit 43:8-9).  Such a promise from Reuven would have not been meaningful.  It is only from Yehudah, who knows what it truly means to accept responsibility.  As opposed to just jumping in and reacting, accepting responsibility means seriously thinking things through, considering the consequences long- and short-term of one's actions, considering how one can best be heard and listened to, and - most relevant for the case of Binyamin - having patience, taking serious caution, and prepared to do whatever it takes to see through on one's commitment.   And, as we will find out next week, the trust that Yaakov puts in Yehudah is more than validated, when Yehudah  steps forward and makes a passionate plea, one that puts his own life on the line to live up to his pledge, and one that can, and will hopefully, be heard.  

This sense of responsibility was perhaps fully learned and internalized from his past, and only recorded, failure of leadership.  In the case of Tamar, we find that Yehudah had first shirked his responsibility to give her his son Sheila as a husband, and compounded this wrong by another failure to assume responsibility - rather than being straight with her, he chose to put her off with a false promise.  All of this comes to a head when she is brought before him because she has become "pregnant through fornication."   Without any hesitation, almost before the words are out of the people's mouths, he imperiously declares: "Take her out and burn her."   When his own daughter-in-law, a person to whom he had a  special connection, a person that he had wronged, is being accused of a crime, one that - even according to his understanding - he is partly to blame for, since he did not marry her off to his son, he does not bother considering the case, looking into the details, or taking his time, but he - Reuven-like, jumps up and spits out his sentence.  Of course, the greatness of Yehudah is that this was a slip, not his true character, and that when confronted by Tamar, he admits his error, he accepts responsibility, and he learns what true leadership is about.

Shabbat Shalom!