Category Archives: Haredi Judaism

The Use of Municipal City Water for a Mikveh

The Use of Municipal City Water for a Mikveh and a Case Study of the
Seattle Rabbinate in the 1950s

Rabbi Yossi Azose

The purpose of the following essay is twofold. First, we shall highlight an example of a lenient halakhic practice in America that had gained widespread acceptance among the Orthodox Jewish community throughout the first half of 20th century, and the subsequent opposition to this practice by leading Orthodox authorities in the 1950s who successfully challenged its legality, to the point where today it is generally considered beyond the bounds of accepted halakha.

Second, we shall focus on a critical juncture in American Orthodox Jewish history wherein a noticeable shift occurred in the paradigm of halakhic authority, from initially residing primarily within the domain of the community rabbi into the hands of the country’s leading gedolei hador and roshei yeshiva. The effects of this shift have laid the groundwork for a current trend in America that increasingly favors the authority of gedolim and roshei yeshiva over the local Orthodox rabbi.

As a backdrop to our analysis, we shall examine the circumstances surrounding the controversy that erupted over the kashrut of the Seattle mikveh
in the 1950s. This little known story, long ago forgotten by but a very few who are still around to remember, represents a vivid moment in the history of the American Jewish experience when the forces of these two aforementioned sources of authority collided with one another. Though the in-depth, technical halakhic questions involved in using municipal city water to fill a mikveh are beyond the scope of this essay, it is hoped that it will provide both a historical overview, as well as a general summary of the halakhic issues surrounding the matter.

Municipal City Tap Water for a Mikveh Rabbi Yossi Azose


Orthodox Jewish Rabbinical organizations

Right wing/Haredi Orthodox Rabbinical organizations

The National Council of Young Israel (NCYI)

Agudath Israel of America (aka the Agudah)

Agudath HaRabonim – The Union of Orthodox Rabbis Of The United States and Canada

Iggud Harabanim (Rabbinical Alliance of America) over 800 members.

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel

The Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC) Hardi, in former Soviet Union

The Conference of European Rabbis (CER) is the primary Orthodox rabbinical alliance in Europe. It unites more than 700 religious leaders of the mainstream synagogue communities in Europe.

Modern Orthodox groups

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), and The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Over 1000 rabbis.

The United Synagogue (United Hebrew Congregations of Great Britain and the Commonwealth)

Torat Chayim, Over 100 male and female Orthodox rabbis

International Rabbinic Fellowship (founded 2007) Over 120 rabbis affiliated with the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School (YCT)

Rupture and Reconstruction

Page of Talmud

Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy

Published in Tradition, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Summer 1994).

The author asserts that contemporary Orthodox Jewish religion and practice has undergone a major and profound change in nature during his lifetime. Where observance of Jewish law was once organic and transmitted through family tradition as much as by text and rabbinic literature, it has now become disconnected from family practice and connected only to the written word, the author explains. He explores the contours, sources and implications of this shift as pertains to Jewish (especially Orthodox Jewish) culture, philosophy, spirituality, education and relationship to the surrounding world.


This essay is an attempt to understand the developments that have occurred within my lifetime in the community in which I live. The orthodoxy in which I, and other people my age, were raised scarcely exists anymore. This change is often described as “the swing to the Right.” In one sense, this is an accurate description. Many practices, especially the new rigor in religious observance now current among the younger modern orthodox community, did indeed originate in what is called “the Right.”

Yet, in another sense, the description seems a misnomer. A generation ago, two things primarily separated Modern Orthodoxy from, what was then called, “ultra-Orthodoxy” or “the Right.” First, the attitude to Western culture, that is, secular education; second, the relation to political nationalism, i.e. Zionism and the state of Israel. Little, however, has changed in these areas. Modern Orthodoxy still attends college, albeit with somewhat less enthusiasm than before, and is more strongly Zionist than ever. The “ultra-orthodox,” or what is now called the “haredi” camp is still opposed to higher secular education, though the form that the opposition now takes has local nuance.

In Israel, the opposition remains total; in America, the utility, even the necessity of a college degree is conceded by most, and various arrangements are made to enable many haredi youths to obtain it. However, the value of a secular education, of Western culture generally, is still denigrated. And the haredi camp remains strongly anti-Zionist, at the very least, emotionally distant and unidentified with the Zionist enterprise. The ideological differences over the posture towards modernity remain on the whole unabated, in theory certainly, in practice generally.

Yet so much has changed, and irrecognizably so. Most of the fundamental changes, however, have been across the board. What had been a stringency peculiar to the “Right” in 1960, a “Lakewood or Bnei Brak humra,” as—to take an example that we shall later discuss shiurim (minimal requisite quantities), had become, in the 1990’s, a widespread practice in modern orthodox circles, and among its younger members, an axiomatic one.

The phenomena were, indeed, most advanced among the haredim and were to be found there in a more intensive form. However, most of these developments swiftly manifested themselves among their co-religionists to their left. The time gap between developments in the haredi world and the emerging modern orthodox one was some fifteen years, at most. It seemed to me to that what had changed radically was the very texture of religious life and the entire religious atmosphere.

the full article is here

Rabbi Haym Soloveitchik teaches Jewish history and thought in the Bernard Revel Graduate School and Stern College for Woman at Yeshiva University

Obsession with bugs in vegetables

Keeping kosher is how Jews bring holiness into eating. It is spiritually empowering, and shows our commitment to a 3000 year old tradition. Unfortunately, some Orthodox rabbis in the last 50 year have created unrealistic stringencies that make it impossible for Jews to eat healthy diets: these new stringencies make it nearly impossible to eat any fruits or vegetables, due to fears of insects.

Another story : “The War on Vegetables”, The Forward, Leah Koenigh

In an article on his website, Luke Ford writes about a new right wing Orthodox obsession with insects in food.

Jonah Lowenfeld writes in The Jewish Journal:

“The presence of even one whole bug, dead or alive, can render an entire vegetable treif — unkosher. On this matter, Orthodox rabbis are unequivocal. From a Torah perspective, eating a Big Mac or eating a salad with insects in it, the salad is worse,” Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz, who runs the nonprofit Kosher Information Bureau, told me when I met him at his home office in Valley Village.”
– 1/25/2012, Can we afford kosher lettuce?

Shaking My Head

The above is nonsense. Orthodox rabbis have different positions on bugs. The historical Jewish position on bugs in fruits and vegetables is that you wash them until you see no bugs and then you are free to eat. Bugs that you can’t see with your naked eye are not treif.

As we drink water and breathe air, we ingest microscopic bugs. This is not a sin. If we eat a salad with insects in it that we can not sin, we are not committing a sin. I challenge anyone to present a traditional source that says otherwise….

The Jewish Journal reports: “…the RCC’s guidelines recommend that people use lightboxes.”

Do you think our ancestors in Eastern Europe used lightboxes to check for bugs? What about the Israelites in the desert 3200 years ago?

The Jewish Journal publishes: ““You have to wash [the fruit or vegetable] with a food detergent,” Muskin said about checking non-certified vegetables.”

Do you think our Orthodox ancestors washed fruit and vegetables in food detergent? Many Jews in Eastern Europe were so poor that they could not afford wine for kiddush. Do you think they bought food detergent or vinegar with their last funds to clean their fruits and vegetables.

I can use a magnifying glass and examine tap water or distilled water and find bugs. Drinking this water is not a sin. If you examine meat or cheese or you name it with a magnifying glass, you’ll likely find tiny bugs.

Rashi’s teshuvot (rabbinic rulings) were published in 1943. About 500 copies were printed. Rashi says that you wash vegetables and this removes all the bugs prohibited by the Torah.

The Rashba says you wash them and check them and any bug visible is prohibited but anything not visible is not prohibited. Reb Moshe Feinstein’s position was essentially the same as the Rashba’s. When this bug insanity started in Lakewood in 1982, Reb Moshe would have nothing to do with it.

Worrying about bugs is a way to avoid the real challenges to the Jewish community such as Biblical criticism (and modernity’s other intellectual challenges), agunot (chained women) and converts.

Los Angeles has an Orthodox community of about 30,000 to 40,000, less than 10% by the most generous of standards. Ask anyone who grew up in Eastern Europe before WWII if anyone washed vegetables with soap or vinegar? Many of these people did not have running water.

Most communal Modern Orthodox rabbis in the United States don’t know much and they’re intimidated by their right-wing so they go along with this bug nonsense.

On a related subject see Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy: The author asserts that contemporary Orthodox Jewish religion and practice has undergone a major and profound change in nature during his lifetime. Where observance of Jewish law was once organic and transmitted through family tradition as much as by text and rabbinic literature, it has now become disconnected from family practice and connected only to the written word, the author explains. He explores the contours, sources and implications of this shift as pertains to Jewish (especially Orthodox Jewish) culture, philosophy, spirituality, education and relationship to the surrounding world.



Personal Thoughts on Noahides
Noahide rainbow
Noahidism is a monotheistic faith based on the Seven Laws of Noah, as interpreted within rabbinic Judaism. According to Jewish law, non-Jews are not obligated to convert to Judaism, but they are required to observe the Seven Laws of Noah.
Non-Jews who agree with this are referred to as B’nei Noach (בני נח‎‎), Children of Noah, or Noahides.
The seven laws are found in the Tosefta, and in the Mishnah, tractate Sanhedrin 56a
Do not deny God.
Do not blaspheme God.
Do not murder.
Do not engage in illicit sexual relations.
Do not steal.
Do not eat a live animal.
Establish a legal system & courts.
There have always been gentiles who rejected their faith, and accepted the Jewish Bible and God, but who did not want to, or were unable to convert to Judaism. Non-Jews who accepted our faith without conversion often informally became Noahides, and in many Jewish communities they were known to worship in Jewish synagogues.
In the 20th century, however, a new phenomenon developed, in which a small number of Orthodox Jewish rabbis began systematically reaching out to disaffected Christians, and offered the option to become Noahides, under their tutelage.
Some in the Jewish community have mixed emotions about this: If an individual chooses to educate themselves about rabbinic Judaism, they may end up becoming monotheists, and good friends of the Jewish people. But for many, core aspects of their theology, or methods of Bible interpretation, are still Christian. Often their interpretations of the Hebrew Bible skew fundamentalist. I’ve noticed that some became hostile to any forms of Judaism that are not ultra-Orthodox. So, for this group, instead of becoming friends to the Jewish people, they actually become hostile to those of us in rabbinic Judaism, such as Modern Orthodoxy, Conservative, or Reform Judaism.  For this group, they only become friendly to right-wing conservative, Haredi Jews, which is only a small percent of the Jewish people. One would hope that someone who wanted to learn about Jewish views of God would be friendy to all of Klal Yisrael, not just 10% of it.
Noahides generally aren’t invited to rabbinic Jewish study groups: They aren’t in a position to have fun discussing Mishnah, Midrash and Talmud , because they don’t yet understand Judaism’s oral law, especially in it’s historical context. Many just know what they hheard from an ultra-orthodox rabbi, who himself may know little about historical Judaism.

If one wants to become a Noahide and a friend to the Jewish people at large, it would be advisable to learn about the historical development of Judaism’s oral law, and how it is the basis of how all denominations read our Bible; and learn about the wide range of theological and social beliefs that historically have existed within the Jewish community.

The realignment of American Orthodox Judaism

Hmmm…provocative ideas. On his blog, Alan Brill writes:

At a recent conference, a speaker noted as a forgone conclusion that Chabad was the only force shaping the last decade of American Jewry. Prof Adam Ferziger responded strongly and loaded with data that the Yeshivish world has had a great influence in shaping the current American reality. His latest work Beyond Sectarianism: The Realignment of American Orthodox Judaism, examines this claim and in addition offers several other essays where he investigates the changes in American Orthodoxy of the last two decades.

….In his prior work, Exclusion and Hierarchy (excerpt here.) , Ferziger shows how 19th century German Orthodoxy evolved two different approaches toward the non-Orthodox majority. In the initial approach, that became associated with Ultra-Orthodox, the non-Orthodox Jews were simply excluded from the purview of the minority community.

In the predominant approach, which emerged in the context of Neo-Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy created space for the nonobservant but spawned a hierarchical culture in which some were seen as keeping the tradition better than others, and as such more “authentic” Jews than others. Hence only the top of the hierarchy could have public religious roles.

In his latest work, Beyond Sectarianism: The Realignment of American Orthodox Judaism, Ferziger arrives at the binary conclusion that American Haredi movements such as community kollels have been socially outgoing, pragmatically protean, and concerned with outreach.

In contrast, Modern Orthodoxy – once the pioneering Orthodox movement that engages the spectrum of American – has gravitated toward an inward looking, boundary drawing religious style , and is focused more on raising its own education level.

In short, the former has recast itself as outward and outreach oriented, while the later has become more centripetal focused on its own narrow enclaves.

The first part of the book is a collection of Ferziger’s articles on a wide range of topics in American Orthodoxy: Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Grunwald , the Lookstein dynasty, and the SSSJ- Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry.

The second part of the book is a theme and variations on the current approaches to sectarianism of American Orthodoxy. In 1965, Charles S. Liebman published a study dividing Orthodoxy into two groups, modern Orthodoxy and Ultra-Orthodoxy. Liebman based this division on the sociological distinction between a “church” group that seeks to be open and broad, as opposed to a “sectarian” group that is only concerned for its own members. Ferziger traces a narrowing of the gap between the two Orthodox trends and ultimately a realignment of American Orthodox Judaism.

Ferziger shows that significant elements within Haredi Orthodoxy have abandoned certain strict and seemingly uncontested norms. He shows how Yeshivish Haredi Jews in the United States are outward looking, non-sectarian, college educated and acculturated in American life. Much of the discussion focuses on the emergence of outreach to nonobservant Jews as a central priority for Haredi Orthodoxy pushing even its core population to new attitudes.

In his focus on Centrism, Ferziger has a long essay, first published a few years ago, on Rabbi Hershel Schachter’s creation of a social boundary by labeling feminism as heresy. Centrism [the right-wing of Modern Orthodoxy] uses this heresy boundary to police its own sect by hunting down violators.

He also shows how Rabbi Schachter created an entire historical vision and criteria for authority based on his own newly minted ideas of mesorah….

Beyond Sectarianism: The Realignment of American Orthodox Judaism

On a related topic see Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy