This week students wrapped up their learning and professional classes, as they head off into the final week of yeshiva next week, where will be devoted to chazara and the taking of finals.
We had two special guests this week. First, on Wednesday, we welcomed Rabbi Chaim Ovadia, rabbi of the Avenue U shul in Brooklyn, to deliver our final yahrtzeit shiur for the year. This year our lectures were devoted to non-Lithuanian Achronim, and Rabbi Ovadia spoke on Rav Yaakov Chaim Sofer, author of the Kaf HaChayim (what might be called the Sephardi Mishna Brurah), whose yahrtzeit (or "neshama") was a week ago last Wednesday. Rabbi Ovadia focused on the areas where the Kaf HaChayim addresses women's participation in various rituals - tikkun chatzot, saying berakhot on time-bound mitzvot, wearing tzitzit and the like. In a number of places the Kaf HaChayim was quite progressive and even actively promoting women's participation (such as tikkun chatzot and the saying of berakhot), whereas in other places he was not so (such as wearing a talit). Rabbi Ovadia's conclusion was that the rulings did not reflect a particular attitude towards women's participation, but rather the profound impact of kabbalah on the psakim of the Kaf HaChayim, so that when there was a positive Kabbalistic value for women to participate (for example, that it would tap into the feminine nature of the Divine), he would encourage it, and when there was not, he would not be interested in greater inclusion.
The lecture led to fascinating discussions about the impact of larger society on psak, and more to the point, the impact of Kabbalah on Sephardic psak and the reasons why it would have such an influence. It was a truly stimulating and horizon expanding lecture! A special thank you to Rabbi Marc Angel and the Institute for Ideas and Ideals for connecting us with Rabbi Ovadia and helping make this lecture take place.
On Thursday we welcomed, for the second time this year, Rabbi Chaim Rapoport. Rabbi Rapoport was visiting the States for various scholar-in-residence appearances, and made a special point of visiting YCT to connect with the students and to give some shiurim. Rabbi Rapoport engaged students in a machshava discussion around the question of halakhot that are challenging to relate to. Starting with Yom Tov Sheni in particular, but broadening the discussion to other areas, Rabbi Rapoport and the students explored what it means to find new meaning in certain practices when the old meanings no longer speak to us. In short, a move away from apologetics and towards transvaluing. The upshot was, that if we believe that halakha as we have it is an expression of God's will, then we can and must explore anew, in every generation, how this adds religious meaning to our lives, even if that meaning is different than what it was in the past.
After this thought provoking discussion, Rabbi Rapoport gave a shiur to students on mezuzah, looking at the legal-conceptual framing of the obligation, moving on to the debate in the Rishonim about whether we should mezuzah functioning as a type of protection (Tosafot), or whether this is a perversion of the idea of mezuzah (Rambam), and ending with an inspection of practical questions and cases that arise in the laws of mezuzah and different types of home and room configurations.
All in all a week of great learning, great guests and great shiurim!
And, finally, a big Mazal Tov to Shuli Boxer Rieser, Rabbi Weiss' Executive Assistant, and her husband Ari, on the birth of a baby girl Thursday morning. She'tizku li'gadlah li'Torah li'chuppah u'li'maasim tovim!