Thursday, November 28, 2013

Audio Shiur on Chanukah: Hod, Hadar, Dan, Yavan

This audio shiur is an expansion and elaboration of the notes at

The shiur was given this morning, the first day of Chanukah, at Khal Zichron Mordechai in South Monsey.

Listen here:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Why Dress Modestly? Kakha! | Eliezer Melamed | Ops & Blogs | The Times of Israel

Why Dress Modestly? Kakha! | Eliezer Melamed | Ops & Blogs | The Times of Israel

This article rubs me the wrong way. Certainly not my derech in chinuch. Reminds me of the Rosh Yeshiva who sent an underling to tell me I had to change my yarmulke, but I was not allowed to know why. (Note: This is not a yeshiva that is on my resume. I was only there for 2.5 months for a summer zman.)

Why Dress Modestly?

NOVEMBER 10, 2013, 2:21 PM

Dealing with Immodest Dress in Ulpanot

Q: One of the problems bothering teachers in ulpanot (women’s seminaries) and
public religious high schools is how to deal with girls who come to school dressed immodestly.
The conventional approach is to deal with the problem through education and explaining. Believing
that our generation is an amazing generation, full of wonder, with lofty ideals, we discuss the
importance of modesty and its spiritual virtues with the girls, attempting to minimize disciplinary
comments which create an unpleasant atmosphere and a sense of remoteness and distrust by
the girls of the teachers. The problem is, it usually doesn’t work. The girls repeatedly ask: Why
aren’t we allowed to wear these clothes? Why do you always lecture us about tzniyut (modesty)?
We’re sick and tired of hearing the same thing all the time! What’s wrong with wearing short
sleeves or a short skirt?

How should we answer them?

The Answer Is: Kakha!

A: It appears that the most fitting answer to the question is: Kakha! In other words, this is the
halakha, without including any spiritual explanations. Teachers and parents must get used to
saying “kakha”.

In the framework of Torah study and emunah (faith), numerous foundations are explained, but
faith in God and Torah also includes difficult matters which are hard to understand. The basic
premise is that in spite of man’s intelligence, he cannot understand everything. And if he wishes to
connect with God, and with eternal values, he is required to say “na’say v’nishma” (first we will do,
and then we will listen). This does not make a person less intelligent; on the contrary, he is then
able to connect to Divine intellect which deepens his human understanding.

The Power of Halakha

When all the stores in the shopping malls are filled with tons of clothes that do not meet halakhic
standards, and it’s hard to find “kosher” clothes that can compete in beauty and style with the
immodest clothing, and furthermore, the winds blowing out of the Western fashion centers dictate
immodest styles – it is very difficult for a young girl exploring the limits to overcome the
temptations. Therefore, the only way to deal with this is through commitment to halakha.
And don’t underestimate the power of halakha. Try persuading a heavy smoker to stop smoking
one day a week. Use all the explanations, and see how difficult it is. But when halakha declares it
forbidden to smoke on Shabbat – people don’t smoke. And amazingly, even heavy smokers don’t
find it that difficult!

Most children and teenagers love playing on the computer, but on Shabbat – miraculously – they
don’t! Why? Is it because they were lectured on the importance of Shabbat, and given profound
explanations about how playing games on the computer harms the sanctity of Shabbat? No! They
don’t play because halakha forbids it. As time goes on, details about the sanctity of Shabbat can
also be discussed.

True, when the foundations of emunah are rickety, halakha gradually loses its power.
When the heart is weak, blood fails to properly reach the small capillaries. Therefore, a
person is constantly required to carefully study emunah and mussar (ethics) as well, and
strive to understand Am Yisrael’s mission in the world, and the unique destiny of each and every
one of us. This is the role of derashot (sermons).

But when dealing with the temptations of the yetzer (desires), the power of halakha is greater than
that of derashot.

The Role of Principals and Teachers in Religious Schools

It is not the job of principals and teachers to chase after the girls once school is out. That is the
responsibility of parents and the girls themselves. But during school hours, a religious institution
must resolve that the boundaries of halakha are binding, and enforce them vigorously and
consistently. Whoever comes to school not dressed according to the rules is sent home.
Discipline also carries an important educational message. It expresses commitment to halakha
and mussar. Incidentally, dress codes are now customary even in secular high schools, and
seeing as the rules are strictly enforced, rarely do incidents of disobedience.

Without any connection to this, the importance of family and modesty should be discussed, just
as the values of honesty, kindness, faith and redemption are also discussed.

The Role of Parents

Parents must also set boundaries and uphold them consistently. When this is done,
dealing with problems becomes relatively simple. Just as religious people can walk past
a non­kosher shwarma stand without buying one, in the same way, they can also refrain
from buying “non­kosher” clothes. Independently, it is important to discuss the role of Am Yisrael,
the importance of Torah and halakha, the Jewish way to start a family, and the immeasurable
advantage of living in a religious framework over a secular one, with regards to marital
relationships and true love.


Friday, November 15, 2013

The "Why don't you live in Israel question?"

  • There comes a time in any American Yeshiva kid's sojourn of learning in Israel when the question arises (or should arise!) in his mind as to why doesn't everybody (or, at least, people whom he would - and should! expect to consider such issues)  make aliyah. One of thoughtful talmidim, Sruli Baum, who is currently learning (well! B"H) in EY and I had the following FB conversation on the topic:
  • Thursday
  • Sruli Baum
    Sruli Baum
    I would like to know any reasons for one not to make aliyah. Please let me know. Thank you
  • Thursday
  • Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer
    Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer
    In the good old days we would have had a written correspondence on this, which we would both cherish. Alas for the advent of this ephemeral technology!
    There are two schools of thought (broadly speaking).
    One maintains that the value of living in Israel surpasses all other values. To put it somewhat oversimplified, it would be better to be a falafel vendor in Eretz Yisroel than a Rosh Yeshiva in Chu"l.
    The other maintains that one must consider one's purpose in life and then decide where to live in order to best accomplish that purpose.
    About thirty years ago I went through the process of first considering which school of thought appeals to my mind and heart. It was the latter.
    It was (and still is) clear to me that my mission in life is one that, on the one hand, many talented people in EY are engaged in fulfilling, and far fewer in Chu"l.
    On the other hand, that mission in its personalized version for me, requires the capacity to transcend societal boundaries that, since then, have become ever more difficult to transcend.
    The state of Orthodox society in Israel is such that such transcendence is virtually impossible. It is still possible in Chu"l. There is almost no milieu in EY in which I can be as authentically - and, I hope, effectively - myself as in, for example, MTA.
  • Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer
    Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer
    And, there is almost no milieu in EY in which there is not an abundant over-supply of people with similar missions - albeit with different goals and methods, but sufficiently similar so as to create an appearance of over-supply - whereas in Chu"l that saturation point has not been reached.
  • Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer
    Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer
    That being said, of course, I love EY b'lev va'nefesh, and am so depressed every time I have to leave it. But to the extent that it is possible for flawed human logic and emotion to perceive, I believe this is fulfilling, in my case, Ratzon Hashem.
  • Today
  • Sruli Baum
    Sruli Baum
    Did you make that decision?
    Did you make that decision at 18/19 years old?
  • Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer
    Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer
    I'm not that young.
    Around age 22-23 (I will be 52 this Adar Aleph).
    Yes, my decision.
  • Sruli Baum
    Sruli Baum
    Were you already on that path when you made the decision?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Discovering Rav Elyashiv Revisited

In my JA article on RYSE zt"l I wrote, in its final section:

Reporting a MolesterIn 2004, the American posek Rabbi Feivel Cohen posed the unfortunately contemporary question of whether it is permissible to inform the authorities of the activities of a child molester (vol. 3, teshuvah 231).
relyashivRav Elyashiv bases his response on Teshuvot HaRashba (3:393), which states that when there are clear witnesses that someone has committed crimes, beit din is allowed—even in our day and age—to impose upon him monetary fines and corporal punishment. The Rashba asserts that this is part of our responsibility of kiyum haolam, sustaining the world. For were we to limit our punishments to the precise parameters that we find in Torah, our code of law would not suffice to maintain society. It is therefore appropriate for beit din to enact appropriate laws in addition to the laws of the Torah, so long as the government of that particular time and place gives us the authority to do so.
Rav Elyashiv adds that even if the government does not grant us such authority, it remains incumbent uponbeit din to ensure tikkun haolam. Therefore, even if the community cannot impose penalties, the tikkun haolamof curtailing molestation is sufficient reason to inform the authorities of the perpetrator (so long, qualifies Rav Elyashiv, as the charge is borne out by evidence).9
9. Rav Elyashiv indicates that the available evidence must at least meet the halachic criterion of raglayim ladavar (literally, “the matter has legs”). He does not define the criterion in this teshuvah. However, from Rav Elyashiv’s dissenting minority opinion in a 1968 case before the High Court of the Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel (Piskei Din Rabbani’im Mishpatei Shaul, siman 19) it emerges that one definition of raglayim ladavaris the presence of abnormal phenomena consistent with an assertion. I would venture that in the case of molestation, the criterion would be met by unusual behavior patterns on the part of either the perpetrator or the victim that are consistent with an occurrence of molestation.
JA received the following "Letter to the Editor" concerning this section:
Respectfully, Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer’s summary of Rav Elyashiv’s ruling on reporting a child abuser to secular authorities seems to confuse salient points (“Discovering Rav Elyashiv,” summer 2013).
In his letter to Rav Elyashiv, Rabbi Feivel Cohen carefully crafted several scenarios—the underlying premise of all being the reporting of a child abuser to the secular authorities without a prior rabbinic ruling—and accordingly, Rav Elyashiv’s response must be read in this context.
With this foundation, Rabbi Cohen presented three hypothetical situations:
1. An instance where one has absolute knowledge of the abuse.
2. An instance where one has a credible allegation of abuse (“raglayim ladavar”).
3. An allegation lacking even raglayim ladavar but instead is based upon some suspicion or rumor.
Rav Elyashiv responded that in instances where the matter is clear, one should report the child abuser to the secular authorities. However, allegations lacking even raglayim ladavar but based only upon eizeh dimyon, some imagined thing, may not be reported to the authorities.
One knows when one has clarity over a matter. This leaves us with the task of defining “raglayim ladavar.”
The term raglayim ladavar is introduced to this exchange by Rabbi Feivel Cohen and accordingly deference is given to his intended meaning of the term. Rabbi Cohen and Rav Elyashiv knew each other well and corresponded regularly; they understood each other.
Rabbi Cohen was recently asked to define the term raglayim ladavar as used in Rav Elyashiv’s pesak. He explained that the pesak directed one to “use his God-given common sense” to determine whether an allegation met the threshold of raglayim ladavar and should thus be reported to the secular authorities.
Indeed, Rav Elyashiv’s pesak is glaring in its absence of any directive to ask for a rabbinic ruling before reporting to secular authorities. Instead, working within the underlying premise of the she’eilah as posed, he provides guidelines for instances when one should report and when one may not.
Respectfully, Rabbi Bechhofer’s appendage of clear witnesses, beit din and evidence to this dialogue may confuse the implementation of a clear pesak.
Rav Elyashiv’s written ruling is an expression of his intent that cannot be challenged in good faith. In short: all credible allegations of child abuse should be reported directly to the secular authorities without first seeking a rabbinic ruling.
Only the secular authorities have the expertise to properly investigate allegations of child abuse and determine whether an arrest and prosecution are warranted, and the resources and policing power to protect children from this exigent danger.
Ben HirschBrooklyn, New York
Ben Hirsch is a co-founder of Survivors for Justice (, an organization that advocates and educates on issues of child safety.
Ed.: Please note that as of press time, we have been unable to reach Rabbi Feivel Cohen to corroborate the views expressed in Mr. Hirsch’s letter. 
I was not granted the opportunity to respond to the letter. This was the response I composed:
Mr. Hirsch and I are not as far apart on the halachah l'ma'aseh that emerges from Rav Elyashiv zt"l's  teshuvah on molestation. However, there is one statement in Mr. Hirsch's letter upon which I would like to comment - viz., " In short: all credible allegations of child abuse should be reported directly to the secular authorities without [author's emphasis] first seeking a rabbinic ruling." I am not sure what Mr. Hirsch means by "rabbinic ruling," but I feel it is important to note that as Orthodox Jews there is nothing that one "should" do "without first"  consulting a rabbi. 
"The Orthodox system is built on the notion of aseh lecha rav (Avot, chap. 1, mishnah 6), having access to spiritual leaders and guides" 
(Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky in Jewish Action, 
Every Orthodox Jew should have a rabbi that is wise, that he or she respects, to whom he or she can and does turn for counsel and guidance, and who he or she can consult on matters of the most serious nature. It may not be necessary to seek a ruling, but, to paraphrase Mr. Hirsch: "In short, after appropriate consultation with one's rabbi, all credible allegations should be reported directly to the secular authorities."
In the current issue, JA has printed Rabbi Feivel Cohen's shlita's response to Mr. Hirsch's letter (with their caveat):
This letter is in response to a request from Jewish Action that I state my view and, to the best of my knowledge, that of Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l, concerning the topic of reporting molestation.
What prompted this request was a letter published in the winter issue, in which the writer purports to set forth both my view and, more importantly, that of Rav Elyashiv on this topic.
Firstly, I thank the editorial board for making this request.
In order to set the record straight, I need to preface my comments with the following:
As is made clear in Rav Elyashiv’s written response (of which I have the original copy, and which was subsequently printed in Kovetz Teshuvos, a compendium of Rav Elyashiv’s responsa), his answer to the question posed to him is based on Teshuvas HaRashba (volume 3, siman 393; also quoted in the Beis Yosefon Choshen Mishpatsiman 2), in which the Rashba posits that any rav or group of rabbanim who have rabbinical jurisdiction over any locale have the Torah-authorized power to go beyond the punitive measures—both corporal and financial—generally set forth in the Torah for malefactors and impose such penalties as they deem appropriate.
This special empowerment is where one’s malfeasance tends to endanger the desired and called for societal contract among men.
It goes without saying that the aforementioned rav, or his appointed agent (“bo’rrim” in the Rashba’s parlance—not to be confused with the same term when used in the context of a beis din), must practice due diligence in determining the veracity of one who reports such conduct.
All of the above is adduced by the Rashba from numerous citations from the Gemara.
After quoting the Rashba, Rav Elyashiv clearly states that all of the above (that is to say both the nature of the penalty and the determination of the report’s veracity) is at the sole discretion of the rav, and at times, with the appointed agent.
The rav may find that it would be most valuable to seek the input of the secular authorities who have much experience in these matters and also to seek the input of individuals who are privately engaged professionally in these matters.
In conclusion, it is abundantly clear to me that according to Rav Elyashiv, it is absolutely forbidden for any individual to report any malfeasance to the secular authorities without prior authorization from a rav empowered to do so as described above.
Rabbi Feivel CohenBrooklyn, New York
Ed.: Please note the OU’s position, like that of the Rabbinical Council of America, is that “those with reasonable suspicion or first-hand knowledge of abuse or endangerment have a religious obligation to report that abuse to the secular legal authorities without delay.”
ודוק היטב. ישמע חכם ויוסיף לקח

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Orthodox woman’s plea for divorce | New York Post

Orthodox woman’s plea for divorce | New York Post

Not being a navi, I cannot know why HKB"H is bringing the agunah issue out into the open in a way that is devastatingly denigrating to Torah Judaism, and which flies in the face of manifesting ourselves as an am chacham v'navon. As Am Yisroel in Galus is likened to an Agunah, perhaps we are being told that the Geulah will not come until we deal with the distortions in middos tovos, in values, ethics and morality, that have brought us to great heights of Chillul Hashem.