Thursday, December 04, 2008

Just how impractical is Jewish practice?

Posted on Hirhurim, Rabbi Gil Student’s blog, here:

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Death & Mourning - Pouring Out the Water

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

l'zichram shel kedoshei Mumbai, ztvk"l hy"d
On This Day of Funerals, Hirhurim Staff and Readers Join in the Mourning

There is an ancient Jewish custom to pour out any bottled water which one may have in one's home upon hearing of a death in the neighborhood.[1] The "neighborhood" in this context refers to those within a three house radius, in every direction, from where the death took place. . . . “

Posted by Commenter oisek 12.02.08 - 4:56 pm #s:

From Jewish Magic and Superstition, by Joshua Trachtenberg:

1. The custom of pouring out all the water in and near a house in which a death has occurred is not mentioned in Jewish sources earlier than the thirteenth century, and is evidently a medieval innovation. It was observed by Christians in Germany and France at a still earlier date, and was no doubt borrowed from them. . . . “

So it’s okay to borrow customs—and relatively new ones, at that—from non-Jews as long as the customs A) probably originated in superstition (segulot, anyone?); B) encourage wastefulness (Tashlich, anyone? Whatever happened to “bal tashchit,” the prohibition against wastefulness?), and/or c) make our lives more difficult?

This post reminded me of another one that I’d read on Rabbi Student’s blog some time back:

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Gloves on Shabbos

As the winter approaches, it is worth reviewing the little-known rules about wearing gloves on Shabbos. The Shibbolei Ha-Leket (107) writes that it is best not to wear gloves because it is very common for someone, while walking in public, to automatically remove a glove in order to scratch or otherwise use one's hand. At that moment, one would be carrying that glove in public, a biblical prohibition. This concern is very real; I see it happen on Shabbos not infrequently. (Of course, this entire issue does not apply in places where there is an eruv.) . . . “

So people who walk a mile to synagogue on the Sabbath and wear gloves because they don’t want to keep their hands in their pockets for half an hour straight get points off for committing a sin instead of scoring major points for schlepping to shul in a snowstorm to honor Shabbat?

Gee, thanks.


(Full disclosure: The skin on my hands has been known to crack to the point of bleeding in really cold weather. I wouldn't dare go outdoors in cold weather without wearing gloves!)

Seriously, how does the Orthodox community approach rulings of this kind? Rabbi Student is, I’ve been given to understand, perhaps to be described as left-wing Yeshivish. Do those further left on the “observance spectrum” accept (or “hold by,” as they say in Yeshivish) these customs and/or interpretations as binding? In all honesty, as someone who has never been Orthodox, I just don’t understand this approach. Is it necessary, from the point of view of halachah/Jewish religious law, to go out of one’s way to make one’s life more difficult? Or is Rabbi Student a member in good standing of the “Chumrah-of-the-Month Club”?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two thoughts, one contra you, one contra Gil.

Contra you: According to your logic, one could drive to shul and score "major points for schlepping to shul in a snowstorm to honor Shabbat". If one was certain to commit an aveirah on the way to shul, one should go out of their way to avoid it.

Contra Gil: I am solidly Modern Orthodox. I wear gloves to shul, with or without an eruv. If I guess wrong and it's too warm, tough, I'm stuck with 'em (assuming the eruv is down or I'm somewhere where there is no eruv). You can also stop moving, remove one's gloves, scratch, put one's gloves back on, and continue on your way, all without an aveirah.

Gil is not representative of pretty much anyone I know.

Fri Dec 05, 08:19:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

JDub, read the post, darn it--I wrote, in no uncertain terms, "So people who ***walk*** a mile to synagogue on the Sabbath . . . " Obviously, no one's gonna score points for driving to shul, from a halachic point of view. (And I speak as someone who loses points on a regular basis by taking the subway to synagogue on Shabbat. Just because I'm finding it more and more difficult to tolerate my local synagogue doesn't make me any prouder of breaking the law.)

"You can also stop moving, remove one's gloves, scratch, put one's gloves back on, and continue on your way, all without an aveirah." My thought, precisely--one can avoid the aveirah simply by being careful not to move while holding one's glove. To the best of my knowledege, the law against carrying refers to *moving* while something is in one's hand, not to simply *standing* with something in one's hand.

Fri Dec 05, 11:46:00 AM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I did read the post, but I was using a slippery slope argument! (One better than a "parade of horribles").

I find many of Gil's halachic posts to be near-nonsensical. They've all forgotten the fifth volume of the Shulchan Aruch called "Common Sense."

Fri Dec 05, 11:59:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I've often thought the same of some of Rabbi Student's posts, but I was wondering whether it was only me, since I'm decidely lacking in the Torah-education department. Thanks for the reassurance.

Fri Dec 05, 01:11:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He's not really a rabbi. he has smikha, kind of, but it's not a "real" smikha. he's an actuary and has a small publishing house that prints out of print books. he's certainly not a practicing rabbi

Fri Dec 05, 01:59:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Without relating to anything else here, I have to say loudly and clearly that jdub's last comment above about Gil Student's 'status' are motzi shem ra - the sin of slander at it's worst (best?).

Shame on you for making such a defaming and malicious comment, and shame on anyone else for letting that just go by.

Never mind the fact that the rationale to the comments is completely askew by any traditional Jewish standard.

Let's take, for instance, Rav A.Y. Hacohen Kook. His heter horaah/'semicha' came as a mishloah manot letter from the Aruch Hashulhan. I guess that's not a 'real smikha'. Or my hevruta years back was told in London that they didn't want to recognize his heter horaah for employment purposes because 'Rabbi Moses Feinstein (yes, Rav Moshe!)is not a recognized semicha granting institution.'

So, you know what I think of those first two sentences of jdub's.

Next, Gil works for a living and runs a business. That's a bad thing? That makes him less of a rabbi? The Rambam by his own description spent the vast majority of his day working, and had little enough time for learning and teaching Torah during some period of his life. Guess he wasn't a 'real rabbi', eh? Many of the members of the Rabbinical Council of America work in other professions. Rav Michael Broyde, a member of the RCA beit din, for instance, is a law professor. We have members who are lawyers, CPAs, business people, etc. So that whole comment is, to put it bluntly, stupid and uninformed. Unless, of course, we want to say that so many of the rabbanim in the world are not 'real rabbis' because of their other professions. If so, we insult them and the communities and individuals they serve. Funny, just this past Shabbat someone in our beit midrash said he relied on me MORE because I was working outside the beit midrash. Go figure...

Finally, if you simply visit Gil's business website, Yashar Books/, you'll find that he publishes more than just 'out of print books'. That comment is simply a lie.

If jdub's comments were only stupidly uninformed, I wouldn't bother responding. But they are malicious, wrong, and an embarrassment. I don't know the agenda behind them; but I know they are unjustified.

I haven't had much opportunity to visit here recently. What a shame this is what I find when finally have the chance.

For shame.

Sun Dec 07, 04:33:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Good grief, that's what I get for taking too long to respond to a post! I was going to respond on the assumption that JDub is not aware that many ordained rabbis never serve as pulpit or "practicing" rabbis, but, instead, choose other careers for the purpose of earning a living.

As for whether or not Rabbi Student's smicha is "real," he says he's Yeshiva University trained, and that's good enough for me. I refuse to participate in the "who is a rabbi?" debate. :(

Sun Dec 07, 10:14:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude, chillax. I'm going based on what Gil himself said. He said a neighbor gave him smikha to give him some credibility. It's somewhere on his blog, although where, I have no idea.

Shira: Gil does not have YU smicha. He went to YU undergrad. As noted above, he got smikha from a neighbor.

And by "real rabbi" I don't necessarily mean congregational rabbi or teacher. I mean someone who actually sat, learned, got smikha from a recognized rabbinic source, and is doing something rabbinical, other than running a blog.

Mon Dec 08, 06:26:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

" . . . he got smikha from a neighbor." Depends on the neighbor--many rabbis receive smicha from individual rabbis, rather than from rabbinical schools, so the fact that Rabbi Student didn't get smicha from an institution that trains rabbis is not necessarily relevant. Do you know for a fact that Rabbi Student didn't, to shift the tense of your quote, "sit, learn, and get smikha from a recognized rabbinic source"? As for "doing something rabbinical," he's not the only person with rabbinical ordination who does something "non-rabbinical" for a living. Whatever happened to "dan l'kaf z'chut" (rough translation: giving the benefit of the doubt)? Unless you know for a fact that Rabbi Student didn't earn his smicha legitimately, you have no justification for denying him the title of rabbi.

Tue Dec 09, 10:44:00 AM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


This focus on title is a very Conservative mindset that the title "rabbi" conveys something. Yes, Gil learns (as do many Orthodox Jews). He admitted that his smikha was a favor. The issue isn't that he works, it's that his smikha is irrelevant.

Calling him Rabbi Student elevates him from a mere blogger to something more. I know lots of folks with smikha. Unless they are shul rabbis or teachers, my kids call them "Mr. So and So". Let his posts stand (or fall) on their own. Many of the most learned people I know who deserve tremendous respect for their learning do not have smikha. "Mr." is a perfectly appropriate honorific.

Tue Dec 09, 11:50:00 AM 2008  

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