The role of non-Jews in the synagogue

An intermarried couple joins the synagogue. What are the boundaries for participating in services?

Temple Beth Abraham

For comparison, having no boundaries is a characteristic of another, non-Jewish, monotheistic religion, Unitarian-Universalism. Not allowing any intermarried couples to join a synagogue removes the question entirely – which is the common Orthodox approach – but also drives the children of such couples eventually to other faiths.

Orthodox Judaism

Many Orthodox synagogues won’t allow intermarried couples or join. For those that do, a gentile may not become a member of a synagogue, nor serve on synagogue committees. For both halakhic and theological reasons, they may not lead prayers or recite a berakhah. Gentiles, however, are warmly welcomed to prayer services and communal events.

Conservative/Masorti Judaism

For both halakhic and theological reasons, non-Jews may not lead prayer services or recite a berakhah. They are welcomed to prayer services, and communal events. Conservative synagogues recognize that many intermarried families exist, and has created roles for non-Jewish parents/grand-parents who wish to participate in life-cycle events for their Jewish children/grandchildren.

This could include the recitation of a personal prayer, a relevant section from the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible.) The booklet “Building the Faith”, from the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, notes that non-Jewish family members may be given honors to open and close the ark that contains the Torah scrolls; they may dress the Torah in its cover, and may lead the congregation in various English readings. Many Conservative synagogues are now creating support groups for intermarried families.

Reform/Liberal/Progressive Judaism

In many Reform Temples gentiles may serve on Temple committees, and may count as full members of the movement. “In many congregations…non-Jewish choristers and soloists have occupied positions which seemed to make them into shelichei tsibbur [cantor, leader of prayer services].”

Various Reform teshuvot (e.g. “Gentile Participation in Synagogue Ritual 5754.5”) offer guidance limiting the role of gentiles in Reform prayer service, but leadership is not obligated to follow.  Surveys show that 87% of Reform congregations allow gentiles to serve on synagogue committees; 22% allow gentiles to have an aliyah to the Torah.

Survery conducted by the Commission on Reform Jewish Outreach, noted in “A People Divided: Judaism in Contemporary America”, Jack Wertheimer

Reconstructionist Judaism

Allows rabbis to officiate at intermarriages, and accepts patrilineal descent. Children of a gentile mother are considered Jewish; despite official policy, in many congregations this does not matter whether or not they are raised as a Jew. As such, non-Jewish children raised as Christians may nonetheless be accepted as “Jews” in Reconstructionism. [Feld]

Gentiles may become members of Reconstructionist Temples, they may serve on Temple ritual committees. They may sing prayers on the bima during prayer services. The JRF has issued a non-binding statement limiting the role of gentiles in services, “Boundaries and Opportunities: The Role of Non-Jews in JRF Congregation.” However these issues are ultimately decided by local lay leadership.

  • From “Can Halakha Live?” by Rabbi Edward Feld, “The Reconstructionist”, Vol.59(2), Fall 1994, p.64-72

 

Fake rabbis

Who is a rabbi? There are several types of rabbinical ordination within Judaism, but one of the most common themes is that a rabbi is trained in good faith by other rabbis, and has an extensive background in Torah, Talmud, halakhah (Jewish law), tefila (prayer), and Jewish theology.

Jewish Theological Seminary Rabbinical School and Cantorial School Class of 2004

Jewish Theological Seminary Rabbinical School/Cantorial School Class of 2004

When one goes to a synagogue, the rabbi can generally be trusted to be an actual rabbi. However there needs to be skepticism on this matter, as there is a phenomenon of fake rabbis.

For decades, there has been an evangelical Christian movement attempting to convert Jews by setting up various “Messianic” synagogues. Their leaders learn how to sing some Jewish prayers; they buy tallitot and tefillin, and may dress their churches up like synagogues. As such, one can enter a congregation which advertises itself as a synagogue, but the leader is actually Christian clergy..

There is a separate Hebrew identity movement. Some non-Jews decide that they no longer believe in the Trinity, and want to accept Jewish monotheism. They can of course do so on their own, join a Unitarian church; or go to a synagogue. But some within this group “self-convert” – they simply claim to be Jewish, and some even “self identify” as rabbis. A few have created websites and Facebook discussion groups which gain followers. And so we have a group of people claiming to be rabbis, who are neither Jewish nor rabbis.

A third category exists, which is more complicated, as this group of non-rabbis has gained some traction in parts of the Jewish community. There are some Jewish people claiming to be rabbis who merely purchased “modern rabbi certificates” from diploma mill. The Forward has a article on this phenomenon:
“Online-Ordained Rabbis Grab Pulpits” Josh Nathan-Kazis 12/3/12

Some people have allowed these supposed rabbis to officiate at weddings, Bar/Bat mitzvahs, and even conversions, not knowing that their rabbinic credentials are non-existent, and that their conversions and weddings are not accepted as real.

Readers should be aware of these diploma mills: they offers “modern rabbi” certificates:

* The New Seminary, in New York City. Founded in 1981 by Joseph H. Gelberman.

* “The Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute” http://jsli.net/

 

How can you tell if someone is a real rabbi?

If someone is an Orthodox Jewish rabbi then they would have learned with other Orthodox rabbis, and be qualified to be a member of an Orthodox rabbinical organization. Most of the Orthodox Jewish rabbinical groups are listed here:  Orthodox Jewish Rabbinical organizations

If someone is a Conservative/Masorti rabbi then they would be qualified to be part of the Rabbinical Assembly. or the Union for Traditional Judaism

If someone is a Reform/Liberal/Progressive rabbi then they would be qualified to be part of one of the Reform rabbinical groups, such as The Central Conference of American RabbisLiberal Judaism (Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues) or the Movement for Reform Judaism (until 2005: Reform Synagogues of Great Britain).

Individuals who pose as rabbis

* Lior Bar-El. Created a YouTube channel and became an Admin of a Facebook Judaism group. His followers posted his videos on other groups, leading many to assume that he is a rabbi. Bar-El makes attacks against real rabbis as “eiruv rabbis”, false rabbis:

https://www.youtube.com/user/vortex677 }

Here is an example of one of Lior Bar El’s screeds from 3/10/16:
> “I shall be discussing why it is not permitted and why u
> shouldn’t listen to the filth of the erev ravs {false rabbis}
> who pull new laws of abominations out their butts daily. I shall
> also have in the end a lecture and warning I give to all the
> sheeple out their that follow abominations …

* Yosef Mizrachi – A right wing Haredi Orthodox Kiruv (outreach) preacher, he makes his living lecturing at right wing Orthodox synagogues. He never received semichah (rabbinical ordination); no Orthodox yeshiva admits ordaining him as a rabbi. His own website refuses to mention why he calls himself a ‘rabbi’.

* Asher Meza is a self-styled rabbi on YouTube, but no Orthodox yeshiva admits ordaining him as a rabbi. He claims to be the leader of “Aish HaTorah College Of Jewish Studies”, but no such college exists. As seen on this video, Asher Meza accepts Christian fundamentalist Messianics as adherents of Judaism. This position is rejected by all of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism.

https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10153193302043228&set=vb.319582778227 }

* Judah Moshe works with Asher Meza on supposed “conversions to Judaism”, and is the leader of a website called “West African Jews of the Diaspora.” This is a non-Jewish, Black Hebrew Israelite organization, made of gentiles who self-identified as Jews in the early 20th century.

Felipe Gutierrez, claims to be an “Israelite Rabbi”

* Philip S. Berg is the founder of The Kabbalah Center. His name is actually Feivel Gruberger, and his training was to be an insurance agent. He married the niece of Kabbalist Rabbi Brandwein, and distributed his books. Feivel claims to have a Doctorate, but will not reveal the name of the universty that granted it. Feivel claims to have semichah (rabbinic ordination) from Yeshivah Kol Yehudah in Jerusalem, but that too has never been confirmed by the school. Feivel’s new-age Kabbalah Center has been acepted by celebrities such as Madonna. It has grown to have branches in New York City, Los Angeles, Toronto, London, and other cities. None of the denominations of Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative or Reform) consider his school authentic.

The importance of history in Jewish history

A work in progress

History of the Jews Graetz

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ”
― Michael Crichton

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
― George Orwell

Why is Jewish history important?

The Study of Jewish History in the Jewish Day School, Jon Bloomberg

The Importance of Remembering The best way to honor the memory of Holocaust victims is through Jewish continuity. By Lesli Koppelman Ross

Why is history important?

Why Study History? American Historical Association (AHA)

Why is the study of history important in Jewish history?

If one doesn’t respect the legitimacy of history, there’s no reason to believe in any part of the Jewish faith. If we don’t respect that our historical documents have a meaning, then:

  • there’s no difference between reading the Bible as a Jew, or as an evangelical Christian.
  • there’s no difference between approaching philosophy and science like a Jew – e.g. Maimonides – or like an atheist
  • there’s no reason to believe that the Holocaust happened, and neo-Nazi Holocaust denial would be an equally legitimate position
  • there’s no reason to deny anti-Semitic myths like the blood libel, or the Protocols of Elders of Zion.
  • there’s no reason to say “never again”

 

History confronted by deconstructionism

Bill Crouse writes

Postmodernism is characterized by fragmentation, indeterminacy, and a distrust of all universalizing (worldviews) and power structures (the establishment). It is a worldview that denies all worldviews (“stories”). In a nutshell, postmodernism says there are no universal truths valid for all people. Instead, individuals are locked into the limited perspective of their own race, gender or ethnic group…. the emphasis in this form of reading is never to learn the intended meaning of the author, but rather the subjective interpretation of the reader.

Deconstructionists argue that all writing is reducible to an arbitrary sequence of linguistic signs or words whose meanings have no relationship to the author’s intention or to the world outside the text.” Newsweek, 6/22/81

Objective reality cannot be known. There is no transcendence. The universe is a closed system. Reality is entirely subjective…. Language is a system constructed on the foundation of arbitrary symbols. That is, texts are collections of words and pictures (“signifiers”) that have no inherent meaning or connection to the objective world of things or objects (“signified”). Since language is the medium for communication, and since language constructions are unstable, interpretation is also uncertain. … since the meaning of words (“signifiers”) is derived from one’s social context, ultimate meaning likewise arises from one’s social context. Language can only convey cultural biases.

Consider this incredible description, from a deconstructionist literary critic..

“Until recently, an author was an unproblematic concept; an author was someone who wrote a book. Roland Barthes’ landmark essay, “The Death of Author,” however, demonstrates that an author is not simply a “person” but a socially and historically constituted subject. Following Marx’s crucial insight that it is history that makes man, and not, as Hegel supposed, man that makes history, Barthes emphasizes that an author does not exist prior to or outside of language. In other words, it is writing that makes an
author and not vice versa. “[T]he writer can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original. His only power is to mix writings […] in such a way as never to rest on any one of them” (146). Thus the author cannot claim any absolute authority over his or her text because, in some ways, he or she did not write it.”

Or how about this claim:

“To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing […] However. by refusing to assign a ‘secret,’ an ultimate meaning, to the text (and the world as text), liberates what may be called an anti-theological activity, an activity that is truly revolutionary since to refuse to fix meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases–reason, science, law.”

Rebuttal to deconstructionism

Texts are written by people, and they have a certain meaning. Of course it is possible for people to read new meanings into a text, but that says nothing about what the  author actually intended – It is only a reflection of the mind of the reader.

consensus and reality

Dialogue between deconstructionism and a historian

> I couldn’t disagree with you more — and neither could the scholars of
> mysticism, as I read them. There are different ways of knowing; the
> linear logic of traditional “empirical” scholarship is only one.

I disagree. We should not dismiss empirical scholarship. If one does so, then one loses the ability to defend any position. On a another forum I was involved in a discussion about the textual origin of the Torah. Some people claimed that logical analysis was not applicable to studying the history of the Torah. In response, Prof. Jacob Love wrote a stunning rebuttal:

As a historian, I also have to deal with an almost constant barrage of claims that history is not based on science, that history can prove that things happened one way and the opposite simultaneously, that nothing can be proven about anything, etc.

Take a look at alt.revisionism (I long ago stopped) and you’ll see what I mean. There is a commonality between the logical framework of the Creationists [religious fundamentalist] and the Holocaust Deniers. And this logical framework extends to most fundamentalist religions. You have to decide whether I, as a historian, can use logical and scientific principles to conclude whether the Holocaust happened, whether a given document is a forgery or authentic, whether an anachronism betrays the true date of a document and apply those principles uniformly to all subject areas. Because if I cannot apply them to yours, how can I do so elsewhere?

> Peshat is not the only interpretive understanding of the Torah.

Well of course. Later readers can bring new interpretations to the text. My point is just this: One should not assume that later interpretations were the actual intent of the
original author, that’s all.

> I’m confused here. Was there one original text whose contents have
> been lost, in your opinion, or was there never one original text? As I
> understand modern Biblical scholarship, it espouses the latter idea,
> so the concept of an “original text” is pretty much irrelevant.

The answer depends on which book you are talking about. As you know, some books were written by one author, others were redacted together from a number of earlier sources. Even those books that were written by one author likely didn’t start off as a pristine text; various prophets may have written down their thoughts in their own words; their friends (or people who listened to their preaching) might have written down their own version of what they heard. It is highly unlikely that all the written material was kept intact. Just like today, in the past one could find different editions of different books, some with certain material that only appears in one edition, some editions with material deleted, etc. A good modern analog is the textual history of the stories of Howard Philips Lovecraft. He wrote his books as recently as 1930 – yet trying to find an authoritative text for any of his stories is difficult.

> Literary critics claim that the original text and the author’s intention is *irrelevant*.
> The central concept of the literary (more specifically, the structuralist and
> post-structuralist) critiques of Scripture is this: language has no inherent meaning.

If that was true, then how could you object to any of my replies? How can you claim such a priviliged position for your own letters? You keep writing posts which expect that readers understand your meaning – yet that isn’t how you feel about the writings of others.

How would you feel if people claimed that everything you wrote was irrelevent? Perhaps those people may be unable to understand what you wrote, and attribute unintended meanings to your words, but none of that changes the basic fact: You obviously do intend your words to have a certain meaning. Why else would you be taking time to write these letters?

You are falling into the same logical trap that all deconstructionists fall into: You dogmatically claim that that the intention of the author is unknowable and irrelevant, yet you demand that others read your own words according to your intent.

> we deny the ultimate equality of persons, because a privileged
> reading implies a privileged READER.

Saying that one can understand an author is a denial of equality? That’s neo-marxist ideology, not rational thinking.

=======================

References: How deconstructionism threatens history

The Importance of History by David Crabtree

Deconstructionism: The Postmodern Cult of Hermes

Have Deconstructionists Destroyed History?; Can We Know What Really Happened in the Past? Skeptic Magazine, Issue 4.4

“The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists Are Murdering Our Past ” Keith Windschuttle, Free Press, 1997

Deconstructing Deconstructionism – Dr. Tom Snyder 

“How to think about weird things: Critical thinking for a new age”  Theodore Schick, Jr. and Lewis Vaugn

Chapter 4: Relativism, Truth and Reality

Overcoming Veriphobia – Learning to Love Truth Again, Richard Bailey, British Journal of Educational Studies, Vol. 49, No. 2 (Jun., 2001), pp. 159-172

Truth has had a hard time in much recent educational and social scientific writing. Veriphobia, the fear of truth, can be witnessed in the work of postmodernists, radical social constructivists, pragmatists, and others. Although it manifests itself in numerous ways, there remain certain frequently appearing symptoms, and these are examined in this paper. It is suggested that the veriphobic stance is inherently self-contradictory. It is also fatal for serious and meaningful research and inquiry.

References: How deconstructionism threatens science

The End of Science? By Theodore Schick Jr. Skeptical Inquirer Volume 21.2, March/April 1997

A House Built on Sand: Exposing Postmodern Myths About Science (Oxford University Press)

A House Built on Sand: Exposing Postmodernist Myths About Science Noretta Koertge (online essay)

Fashionable Nonsense Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science, by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont

Fashionable Nonsense Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science – article and review

Are Truth Claims in Science Socially Constructed?, Kenell J. Touryan
PSCF 51 (June 1999): 102-107

“Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrel With Science”, Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt , Revised edition, 326 pages 1997, Johns Hopkins Univ Press.

References: Deconstruction

Against Deconstruction by John Martin Ellis

Debunking Deconstruction, Philosophy and Literature 13 (1989): 430-34. Denis Dutton

Frank Lentricchia, “Last Will and Testament of an Ex-Literary Critic,” Lingua Fraca, September/October 1996, p.59-67

“Against Relativism: Philosophy of Science, Deconstruction, and Critical Theory”
Christopher Norris, 1997, Blackwell Pub.

Reclaiming Truth: Contribution to a Critique of Cultural Relativism
Christopher Norris, 1996, Duke University Press

“The Death and Return of the Author: Criticism and Subjectivity in Barthes, Foucault and Derrida” Seán Burke, 1998. Edinburgh Univ Press

“In contemporary thought, the death of the author has assumed a significance comparable only to the death of God in the nineteenth century, yet no clear statement of what is meant by this notion has emerged in critical theory. In this study, now extensively revised and updated, Sen Burke provides the first detailed explanation of anti-authorialism and shows how, even taken on its own terms, the attempt to abolish the author is fundamentally misguided and philosophically untenable. This second edition features a new section on Derrida and an epilogue dealing with the politics of authorship and issues of technology; and a fully updated bibliography.”

How is the Bible historically true

Which stories of the Bible are historically accurate; which are based on true stories yet not literally accurate; and which could be fictional? What does your religious community teach about this – and why do they teach this way?

archaeology

from Tel Aviv University International

There are three major schools of though

A. Biblical inerrancy

People in this group hold that all the stories in the Bible are historically accurate, including the lives of Adam and Eve. The hold that the Torah’s account of the Biblical patriarchs, e.g. Abraham and Sarah, and the Bible’s accounts of prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah, and persons such as King David, are accurate in detail, often down to the quotes.

B. Biblical minimalism

People in this group engage in a historical study of the land of ancient Israel, and it’s relation to stories in the Bible. They conclude that the Bible isn’t reliable evidence, in any way, for what had happened in ancient Israel. They often deny that the Israelite people even existed. Many deny that the kingdom of Israel even existed. They hold that the Bible’s stories are almost entirely later fictions, written to create a fictional past identity.

Minimalists write things like:

The Israelite nation as explained by the biblical writers has little in the way of a historical background. It is a highly ideological construct created by ancient scholars of Jewish tradition in order to legitimize their own religious community and its religio-political claims on land and religious exclusivity.
— Lemche 1998

People in the Jewish community, in particular, are concerned about biblical minimalism. Not because Judaism is theologically threatened by this – any academic can believe what they want if they are engaging in scholarship in good faith – but because in practice, biblical minimalism is often used by anti-Semites to attack the Jewish people, and the validity of the State of Israel.

Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review is one of the leading critics of the new school of biblical minimalism. In a letter first printed in Ha’aretz Magazine (Nov. 5, 1999) and later on the Biblical Archaeology Society website, Shanks writes that most Biblical minimalists are motivated not by history but rather by politics. Some of the leading Biblical minimalists are openly anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian. Many people use Biblical minimalism to promote anti-Semitism, while other people use charges of anti-Semitism in an attempt to discredit Biblical minimalists.

The scholastic position of Biblical minimalism itself is not anti-Semitic. Many Jews themselves hold this view. Some criticism of this school of thought comes about because some rabbis and scholars are concerned about the way that this position is being used to justify pseudo-historical and anti-Semitic beliefs. Other criticism comes about because the position brings cherished beliefs into question. http://www.fact-index.com/t/th/the_bible_and_history.html

C. Biblical maximalism

Biblical maximalism is a historical study of the land of ancient Israel, and it’s relation to stories in the Bible. People in this group hold that the Bible does contain genuine information about the Israelites and Israel. There is no denial of the existence of the Israelite/Hebrew people , or of King David and the kingdom of Israel. They do not claim that the Bible is inerrant, but they do hold that it’s as real as can be expected from a document written in that historical era, and they hold that archaeology shows that this is so.

Articles

Raiders of the Lost Relics

Tosafot expanding the Talmud

The Tosafot or Tosafos (תוספות‎) are medieval commentaries on the Talmud. They are printed in most Talmud editions, on the outer margin of the page. The authors of these commentaries are known as Tosafists (“ba’ale ha-tosafot”.) The period of the Tosafot began after Rashi had written his commentary; the first tosafists were Rashi’s sons-in-law and grandsons.

The word tosafot literally means “additions”. The reason for the title is a matter of dispute.

Some scholars, e.g. Heinrich Graetz, think the glosses writings about Rashi’s commentary on the Talmud.

Other scholars, e.g. Isaac Hirsch Weiss, note that many tosafot have no reference to Rashi. In this view, tosafot are an extension and development of the Talmud. Just as the Gemara is a commentary on the Mishnah, the Tosafot are commentary on the gemara.

Sources

List of Tosafists (Authors of the Tosafot) – Wikipedia

The Emergence and Development of Tosafot on the Talmud, by Aryeh Leibowitz

The Legal Thinking of the Tosafot: A Historical Approach, By: José Faur

The Tosafist Oeuvre and Torah u-Madda, Ephraim Kanarfogel, The Torah U-Madda Journal, Vol. 2 (1990), pp. 51-60

Collected Essays: v. 1, Haym Soloveitchik, The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

Thou Shalt Not Forbid, IV Four-Inch Matzah

By Rabbi Haim Ovadia

Everybody “knows” that matzah can be made only from closely guarded wheat which was ground under strict supervision and baked into thin crackers. We also expect the hand-made matzah to be almost burnt, and we are aware of many observant Jews who would not eat “Gebrakht”, or wet matzah. There are even those who constantly sweep matzah crumbs from the table into bags to avoid their leavening. In a conversation I had with a colleague about this strange practice, he commented that God is surely very happy upon seeing his fervent believers keeping his commandments with such zeal. I concurred that if we could attribute human emotions to God, there we be some happiness there, but, again in human terms, it would be more like “yeah, my favorite sit-com is on”.

The obsession with matzah dryness, thinness, and ash-like qualities has become an economic burden and a social divider, even though it has been around only for three or four hundred centuries. Here is what R. Yaakov ben Hakham Tzvi Ashkenazi of Emeden, aka Yaavetz (1697-1776), has to say in his commentary to the statement of the Tur that one should not soak wheat before grinding it, as was customary in Talmudic time to make the grinding easier[i]:

The ruling of the Gaon [that one can buy commercial flour for matzah] is correct, and it follows the clear ruling of the Talmud that one could buy unleavened dough baked by non-Jews. There is only a requirement that the matzah eaten for the mitzvah of the Seder-night [מצת מצוה]will be guarded from the moment of kneading. Therefore, if one bought commercial flour and kneaded it for the sake of the mitzvah of matzah, he doesn’t need any other matzah… some Geonim were strict regarding soaking wheat, but that is only for מצת מצוה, and even that is an exaggerated stringency which goes against the Talmudic discussion which indicates that it is an obligation to soak the wheat… I therefore cannot fathom the great concern of the Magen Abraham[ii] regarding the ruling of a rabbi who allowed people to use commercial flour, and even demanded that the rabbi would fast and repent for his ruling.
Why do those who take a strict approach toil for no reason to forbid that which is permitted according to the Talmud? They would not even allow it at a time of need, and they demand atonement for nothing.

As history proved, the toil of the strict rabbis was not in vain. The exorbitant prices of supervised matzah, the anxiety of those who fear that their matzah will turn to hametz right there on the table, and the religious walls erected between people based on the fine print on their matzah packages, are all a result of the push for stringency.
In that context, it is interesting to read the following words of Shulhan Arukh[iii]:

If, on Pesah, one found a piece of bread at home, and he doesn’t know whether it is hametz or matzah, he is allowed to eat it.

מצא פת בפסח בביתו, ואינו יודע אם הוא חמץ או מצה, מותר אפילו באכילה

The Mishnah Berurah explains:

דין זה הוא לפי מנהג זמנם שהיו אופין מצות עבה קצת ולא היו חלוקין בתארם מככרות של חמץ
This law is in accordance with their practice of baking thick matzah which looked like hametz loaves.

R. Haim Mordechai Margulies (1780-1820) attests to that practice, and explains that the concern about wetting the matzah applies only to those very thick matzot in which pockets of unbaked dough can hide: [iv]

There is no concern [of unbaked pockets] with thin matzah… in places where they still bake thick matzah, the rabbis should warn them not to make them more than four inches thick.

To summarize the discussion so far, these are practices of baking matzah which were prevalent in our not too recent past:

  1. Soaking wheat in water to make grinding easer.
  2. Buying commercial flour for matzah baking, if other flour is not available.
  3. Requiring supervision from the moment of kneading the dough only.
  4. To be strict, one would require supervision from the moment of grinding.
  5. Matzah would be made very thick.
  6. Avoidance of making the matzah wet applied only to thick matzah.

The question should be raised: were there negative consequences to the triumph of the strict approach, despite the warnings of Yaavetz, or was he the short-sighted one?

Part 2

Yesterday I posed this question: Were there any negative consequences to the triumph of the strict approach [not allowing commercial flour], despite the warnings of Yaavetz, or was he the short-sighted one?

It would be difficult to answer the question objectively, since the results cannot be measured in clear-cut numbers, quantities, or phenomena, and are rather a matter of attitude. I, however, do believe that had other rabbis heeded the call of Yaavetz, they would have saved observant Jews a lot of trouble and heartache.

While the ruling of Yaavetz was not a call to drop all cautionary measures and use only commercial flour, he wanted people to understand the definitions of hametz and matzah for two reasons:
1. To allow them to rule for themselves in changing circumstances.

2. To eliminate the hametz-anxiety factor.

Unfortunately, Yaavetz’s attempts have failed and as a result, we look back at centuries of increasing anxiety around matzah consumption. The anxiety manifested itself in the decision of many observant Jews to not eat matzah on Pesah [except for the first two nights], the war against the matzah-baking machine [which originally was no more than a dough flattening device], many years of inability to have matzah in the Soviet Union, exorbitant prices for “extremely kosher” matzah, the fear of getting the matzah wet [which also ruins the Seder and does not let one enjoy any meal], and ridiculous articles in the papers about the black-clad Hassidim watching over parched wheat fields in the driest parts of the U.S. We can just imagine the next generation of wheat grown on waterless diet under umbrellas.

In that context, it is worthwhile to present another famous and “daring” ruling of Yaavetz regarding Pesah, where he explains why were people baking very thick matzah. It was, you guessed it, the disastrous result of another “strict” practice[i]:

אי איישר חילי, אבטליניה למנהג גרוע הלז, שהיא חומרא דאתיא לידי קולא, ונפק מנה חורבא ומכשול (תחת אשר חשבו להתרחק ממנו מרחק רב) באיסור חמץ גמור! כי מתוך שאין מיני קטניות מצויים להמון לאכול ולשבוע, צריכין לאפות לחם מצה הרבה. בפרטות העניים ומי שבני ביתו מרובים, ולא יספיקו להם תבשילים הרבה לשבר רעבונם, מוכרחים על כרחם להספיק להם מצה די לחמם לביתם וחיים לנערותם. מתוך כך אינם נזהרים בעסה כראוי וכחובה, עושים אותה גדולה הרבה ושוהים עליה מאד, וקרוב הדבר שנכשלים באיסור כרת, רחמנא ליצלן. גם המצות עומדים להם ביוקר, ואין יד כל אדם משגת לעשותם די הצורך לבני ביתו… וקטניות נמצאים בזול בלי טורח ובהתר. ואתו לאמנועי משמחת יום טוב, בסבת חומרא שאין לה טעם וריח! לכן אשרי שיאחז צדיק דרכו, יתן אוכל למכביר ונפץ את עלולי החומרות הזרות אל הסלע

If I were able, I would abolish this terrible practice, which is a stringency that leads to a leniency. It is destructive and (instead of guarding themselves from it, as they have hoped) it causes people to stumble with the prohibition of consuming genuine hametz! Because the masses are not permitted to consume legumes, which would have sustained them and satisfied their hunger, they must bake large quantities of matzah, especially poor people and those with large families, who cannot afford meat and vegetables, and they need to rely on matzah as their daily bread. They therefore make large batches of dough [also: thick matzah] and they are not careful to bake it as necessary. Those people probably transgress the prohibition of not eating hametz.
[Commercial] matzahs are also very expensive and many people cannot afford buying them for the whole family, while legumes are cheap, and can be easily and permissibly bought.
They lose the joy of the holiday for a stringency which has neither flavor nor fragrance [i.e. meaningless.]
Blessed be the righteous man [who will permit the consumption of legumes on Pesah], will provide food in abundance, and will smash on the rocks the consequences of these alien stringencies.

The last sentence of Yaavetz is very powerful and it shows his frustration with the “stringent” practices which flourished around Pesah. He laments the fact that the rabbis do not look beyond the immediate halakha and do not assess the long-term consequences of their “strict” ruling. He does not only call for the abolition of the practice, but also for that of its “alien consequences”.

He emphasizes the importance of seeing the whole picture, and also uses a Hebrew term החומרות הזרות which resembles the term עבודה זרה- idolatry. In other words, he believes that those who choose to add prohibitions to the original requirements of halakha are practicing paganism.

It is a dire warning to all those who pile stringencies upon stringencies to stop and think whether they adhere to the intention and will of the Giver of the Law, or maybe they are erecting an altar upon which they worship alien gods, the embodiment of their own fears and anxieties.

[i]מור וקציעה סימן תנג: תשובה דגאון מתקנתא היא, אתיא שפיר אליבא דהלכתא כפשיטותא דגמרא דבצקות של גוים אדם ממלא כרסו מהם, ולמצוה הוא דלא נפיק עד דעבד שימור מלישה ואילך. הילכך אם לקח קמח מן השוק ולש אותו תו לא צריך למצה שמורה אחרת כמ”ש הרא”ש בפשיטות. והטור בודאי קאי ליה בשטתיה דאבוהי מסתמא, דלענין דינא לית בה ספקא. אלא שגאונים אחרים החמירו בלתיתה למצת מצוה בלבד, ואף זו חומרא יתרה היא נגד סוגית התלמוד דמסיק מצוה ללתות במצה דמצוה ורבא קבע בה מסמרות כדאיתא התם, אבל למלא כרסו מבצקות דגוים לית דין ולית דיין, דשרי אף לכתחלה ואצ”ל ליקח קמח מן השוק שלא בשעת הדחק, עאכ”ו בשעת הדחק, שאין בו בית מיחוש.
מעתה לא ידעתי מה החרדה הגדולה אשר חרד עלינו במג”א בהוראת חכם אחד שהורה ליקח קמח מן השוק, ושוב גזר תענית על שגגתו. ולא ירדתי לסוף דעת המחמירים הללו דטרחי בכדי במ”כ, לאסור את המותר מדעת חכמי התלמוד לכתחילה, ואתו אינהו וגזור תעניתא אף לדיעבד ושעת הדחק, כפרה בכדי לא אשכחן
[ii] R. Abraham Abele Gombiner, famous for his commentary on Shulhan Arukh, 1635-1682.
[iii]שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות פסח סימן תמו סעיף ד
[iv]שערי תשובה סימן תסא
וכבר כתבתי שהדבר שמואל כתב שברקיקין אין חשש נפוחה וכן נוהגים עתה שלא לדקדק כלל במצות רקיקין רק כשרואה האופ’ בביאת המצה לתנור היא מנפח ועולה כדרך עוגות חמץ והם בקיאים במעשה ידיהם להכיר אי הנפוח מחמת חימוץ או לא אך במצות עבות קצת יש ליזהר ולדקדק בחילוקים שנזכרו בפוסקים ובמקומות שאוחזין מעשה עבות בידיהם מוטל על המורה למדרש בפרק’ שיזהרו שלא תהיה עבה טפח