Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Shituff and the Noahide

The most consistently raised issue by the ‘Ger’ crowd against other Noahides is with regards to what is called Shituff. That is the technical term for the belief of Christians in the middle ages. It was coined to distinguish it from the type of polytheism that we find in the time of the Talmud which was the practice of the Romans and the other nations surrounding the Jewish people.

Some Ger people claim that other Noahides are akum (idol worshippers), and believe in Shituff and their Rabbis tell them they can believe in it. This is one of the things, the Ger people claim that makes them different/better than Noahides. As I mentioned in the previous article this is blatantly false. In this article I will clarify the issues around Shituff and how the Rabbis who rule on this and advise Noahides actually teach.


Before getting into the issue of shituff and where it comes from, and how a Noahide is required to act/believe, we need to discuss an issue that relates to how Halacha is discussed and decided.

Every action a Jew does falls into one of a few legal categories.  Likewise when a Rabbi makes a decision about whether an action is allowed or not, it is because that action falls into one of a number of possibilities. Let me list some of them. This is not the place to go through all of them in detail. Nor will I cover all the issues involved in making legal decisions. I want to include only those that clarify what will appear in the articles I will be writing.

First are those things that are forbidden and the violation of them is punishable. This is the status of all of the 7 laws themselves. Things like this are called issur (forbidden) and chiyav (punishable).

There are some things that are forbidden, but we don’t tell people about it because they will not listen. This does not apply to Torah commands it would only apply to Rabbinic prohibitions, so it is not relevant to Noahides.

Then there are things that are forbidden but not punishable. We call them patur (non-punishable) aval issur (but forbidden). This is an important category for Noahides, as will be discussed in future articles.

Next are things not forbidden, nor required, they are just permitted. They are optional. Some of these are practices that are so positive that we consider it a blessing for those who do it. Sometimes these are referred to as Chumras (stringencies).

Next there are things permitted that some even require, but which you can only do them if you are of a certain level of observance, where doing it would not be a sign of arrogance (yehorah).

Another similar type of permitted action is one that is permitted but because it could lead to something forbidden we do not teach it openly. We refer to this as “Halacha (it is the law) vAyn Morin” (but we do not teach it). In some cases only a big Talmud Chocham is allowed to do this action because we are not afraid he will err and do something that is forbidden if he does this.

Then there are acts that are not required but expected. This is very relevant to Noahides, and I will be discussing them in a later article discussing the prohibition of ‘baal tosef’ (not adding to the Torah) and how it applies to a Noahide

Finally there are those things required and their non-performance is considered a sin, and in some cases is punishable.

Not all of these categories will be relevant in our discussions about the Noahide laws, but they are good to have in mind. It should make us aware that categories like allowed or forbidden do not take in the whole range of actions.


Rabbis decide questions of law with the above in mind and also with many other principles. For example if the particular act could be a violation of a Torah law as opposed to a Rabbinic one. This is the source of many of the differences we find in Halacha and in approach to Noahides. For example, I know of someone who follows the Rambam even when later sources ignore his view, and even against the commentaries on the Rambam.

I would like to start to explain how I usually answer questions posed to me. My answers follow from some pretty simple principles. Most of what I say can be traced back to Rabbis who discussed these issues before the modern Noahide ‘movement’ started. Unlike the customs of Ashkenazim and Sefardim, which have a clear legal tradition, the Noahide laws do not have a clear tradition of how to rule.

The primary source is the Talmud and the commentaries on it. This gives the basic background to understand what the poskim are saying and the general principles involved. Then there is the Rambam and those commentators on him. When the Rambam disagrees with what is codified in Shulchan Aruch or other later rabbis, I favor them as opposed to the Rambam.

Rav Moshe Feinstein Z’L discusses Noahide laws in a number of places in his responsa, as does the Viener Rov Z’L (Rabbi Yonason Shteif) in his sefer on the Noahide laws. Their views seem to represent the majority or consensus view.

What I mean by consensus or majority is what the major Rishonim have seen as the Halacha based on the discussions of the Talmud. In the first article I discussed the mechanics of Halacha, and that is applied here.  Since there is no tradition to draw on, we have to follow the standard practice of following the majority/consensus.

I will also look into the more recent works written specifically for Noahides, of which I have many.

One of the reasons for following the majority is that there are sources that say we need to consider the 7 Laws for a non-Jew on the same level as a Torah law for a Jew. That requires us to not be more lenient than the majority view. No Jew would eat in the kitchen of another Jew who ran his kitchen based on ignoring the majority views and using the leniencies of individuals.

I am sure this will be confusing at this point, but we shall go through a number of issues over these articles and this will be clearer.


What is Shituff?

While polytheism says there are many gods, Shituff says that there is only one God but he has partners with Him. In Christianity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. This Christian belief was/is usually justified by appeals to Platonic or Aristotelean philosophical ideas, which were considered scientific fact during the Middle Ages (and still are in the Catholic Church.)

As far as a Jew is concerned, both polytheism and Shituff are exactly the same and are idolatry and worship of such a god is covered under the prohibitions of idol worship. This is indisputable. But with regards to the laws of Noach, there is a disagreement, and from that disagreement there appears in Halacha three distinct views.


Before we can discuss what the Halacha is with regards to Shituff, we need to know what exactly shituff is. The translation of shituff is partnership. For example: if Reuven and Shimon own a business or work together with each other; each of them is the shituff of the other. In the religious sense, however, it does not mean two or more gods working together on a project. The Greek gods often worked together but the Rabbis did not apply the word shituff to that.

One of the problems I have seen in the literature is an assumption of knowledge as to what shituff means, when that is usually not the case. The name shituff was introduced in the realm of religion in the middle ages for a specific purpose. To understand that purpose we need to discuss the history of idol worship.

Unlike Judaism and Christianity, the ancient pagans had no idea of exclusivity. They had their gods and accepted that the gods of other people were also real. In their stories they relate supposed exploits of their gods. For example in the Iliad of Homer the Greek gods divided as to which side they supported. Some supported the Greeks and some the Trojans. We do not refer to these ‘partnerships’ of gods as shituff.

Likewise, there were various levels of being a god in the ancient world. There were the major gods, than lower levels ones, and at the bottom were men who became gods, like the Emperors in Rome. Basically their gods, were gods because they had powers and were considered to be immortal. Jewish Rabbis were familiar with this and the law with regards to this kind of idolatry is well documented and is discussed at length in Tractate Avodah Zara and in Shulchan Aruch Yoreah Deah.

The problem was how to look at Christianity which has a total different theology. Many people today do not even see why there should be a problem, and the truth is that, at least in America where the overwhelming majority of Christians are Evangelical or have similar beliefs, it is easy to understand why some don’t see why there would be a question. Ask your local Christian who G-d is and the answer is ‘Jesus’. If you ask them who ‘Jesus’ is they will also answer God. They pray ‘in Jesus’ name’. When they say ‘god’ they think ‘Jesus’. This is clearly not shituff, but idolatry, both in practice and belief.

However in the middle ages the Christianity the Rabbis encountered (and at times debated with) had a theology strongly influenced by the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. If you would have asked the priest who is G-d he would have said ‘Father Son and Holy Ghost.’ Ask him who Jesus is, he will say the Incarnation of the Son. The formula of prayer used until today by the Catholic Church is ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ All three. When they say ‘god’ they mean all three. This is where the concept and terminology of ‘shituff’ comes from.

Shituff is the denial of the unity of HaShem and for a Jew the denial of the Unity of HaShem is idolatry. However there is a discussion among authorities whether it is the same for a non-Jew.


It should be noted that the problem is only with belief, and not worship. That is clear in the sources and is the unanimous view of the Rishonim and Achronim. To understand this distinction fully we need to look at two discussions in the Talmud and how they are understood by later authorities.

The Talmud in Sanhedrin 56b says: “Those things that a Jewish Beis Din gives a death penalty for (a Jew) a non-Jew is warned against (i.e. forbidden and punished); that which a Beis Din does not give a death penalty a non-Jew is not warned against (not punished but could still be forbidden.)”

This clearly forbids a non-Jew to worship in any way that is forbidden for a Jew. Worship of shituff is forbidden for a Jew by all authorities, hence that is the same for a non-Jew. Any act of Christian worship is therefore included.

But what about belief? Just believing in an idol and not doing anything is not punishable by death in a Jewish court. It is forbidden for a Jew, but what about a non-Jew? This Talmud passage does not address that issue.

This issue comes up as the result of a discussion of another issue. The Talmud in Sanhedrin 63b has a discussion based on Exodus 23:13 where the verse forbids even saying the name of an idol. The Talmud then relates that the father of Shmuel taught that it is forbidden to make a partnership with a non-Jew because it could lead to him making an oath in the name of his idol. This would then involve the non-Jew saying the name of his idol. This would imply that belief is also forbidden. That is, in fact the view taken by Rambam; the author of Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 156:1) and is the accepted view in Sefardic lands. This can be called View 1: no partnerships with idolaters (even believers in shituff).

However there is a Tosephus there which argues that today the law is different and it is allowed to make partnerships with them because “Even though they mention the name of heaven (i.e. God) and their intention is for something else (i.e. the Trinity) that Is not the name of an idol and also they understand that they are referring to the one who makes heaven (and earth). And even though they join together the name of heaven (i.e. God) with something else (i.e. the Trinity) we have not found anywhere that it forbids anyone to cause another to mention shituff (i.e. saying God and meaning Trinity). And ‘before the blind’ (lifnei aver) does not apply because Benei Noach (non-Jews) are not warned against that.” This leads to the famous comment of the Rema in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 156:1 that today we are allowed to make partnerships with non-Jews because even if they do make an oath, shituff is not forbidden.

Here we see that according to Tosephus a business partnership is allowed (and that is the view of Ashkenazim.) This view seems tied in to there not being any prohibition to make a believer in shituff mention their god. However the reason why it is not forbidden is the subject of some famous disagreements among the Gadolim of Ashkenaz. This leads to two more views.

The Shach and probably the majority of Rabbis in Ashkenaz understand Tosephus and the Rema as saying that shituff is not forbidden like idol worship as a belief for non-Jews under the 7 laws. (As I said above this does not mean that it is allowed, just that such a belief is not one that is forbidden.) Therefore partnerships can be made and if they want to make an oath by their god there is no prohibition because the belief in shituff is not forbidden for a non-Jew, only the worship of shituff. Those having this view include: Shach; Tzvi Chatos, Tashbatz and the majority of Rabbis of Europe. (It appears to be the view in Lubavitch also.)

There is another view by the Pri Magadim and others which maintain Shituff is forbidden but that we don’t worry about causing them to mention their god since even if they mention their god there is no prohibition on US for causing it. Therefore we can make a partnership, and if they need to make an oath by their god, this Is not a problem; the prohibition of ‘lifnei ever’ does not apply in this case. Those having this view include: Pri Magadim; Minchas Chinuch; Nodah bYehudah, Mishnah Berurah


As a question of practical Halacha: What should a non-Jew believe? What should we teach them? A majority of all the Rabbis forbid shituff and that is what should be taught. In Judaism we follow the majority of recognized authorities. But as I said above this discussion applies ONLY if the non-Jew truly believes in shituff. The majority of Christians in America do not. Therefore even those who would say that shituff is allowed, would forbid the Christian belief common in America.

If we look at the works on the 7 laws we see that even when they bring this disagreement the conclusion is that we advise the non-Jew that they should not believe in shituff. (Sefer 7 Mitzvos HaShem chapter 1 footnote 7)

However there is no support for a status change that is tied to shituff; those who forbid it say it is outright idol worship and hence a non-Jew is forbidden to believe it. Those who will say a non-Jew is not prohibited would consider it as being not punishable but not that it is fully allowed. And they do not assign any status difference in rejecting shituff. No Rabbinic authority say it is 100% allowed for any non-Jew.

To summarize:

1.     Shituff is forbidden to worship according to all opinions.
2.     The Sefardic Rabbis all follow the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch which would forbid belief in shituff.
3.     The majority of the European (Ashkenaz) Rabbis say belief is not forbidden.
4.     A significant minority of important Ashkenaz Rabbis disagree and forbid this belief.
5.     The majority of all Rabbis forbid.
6.     No Rabbi with any knowledge who is teaching non-Jews today will say that it is acceptable for a non-Jew to consider themselves a follower of the 7 mitzvos and believe in shituff. This is especially the case with those who call themselves Noahides because of their relationship with the ‘Noahide movement’.
7.     The common belief of Evangelical Christians is NOT shituff, but actually idol worship and polytheism.

My next few articles will deal with general issues of Noahides; what is the purpose of the Noahide Laws and what is a Torah based Noahide Spirituality.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Interlude – On Spirituality outside Halacha 2

I had not intended to discuss any further the strange and confusing ideas of Chaim Clorfene, but due to a number of discussions I have had, and also a second article of his which appears to state more openly his theories, I felt that it was needed, especially since a number of very sincere people I have been having dialogues with have been taken in by some of his distortions of fact. Most of the comments I have seen appear in this article and so I will address them:

Not everything he says there is totally false. Some of his ideas have sources, but there is much that is a problematic. He has written a third article ( which somewhat clarifies some things, but still leaves some issues in confusion and unanswered.

By his mixing good and bad interpretation of sources he is able to convince people that he knows what he is talking about; and that it is true, new and profound and they should make life changing decisions based on it. Let me go through some of the main ideas and distinguish what is true/false/confused.

First he says:

Exile and Redemption (Galut and Geulah) are opposites

That is not totally true, it is a bit more complicated. While the definition of each seems to preclude the other that is not the truth. Geulah is a process. It is not totally one or the other (until the final Geulah occurs.) This is a part of his creation of false dichotomies which Noahides are very comfortable with from their Christian backgrounds, but which is unknown to Judaism.

For example there is a Midrash that says that Moshiach was born on the day the Temple was destroyed. The commentators say that means that in the very depths of Galus, the Geulah can be found. The beginning of Galus starts the revelation and unfolding of Geulah.

In Kol HaTor the Gra is quoted as having a similar idea, seeing the Geulah as part of a process that occurs during Galus. (I believe this is what the late Rebbe of Lubavitch ZT’L meant when he said we are living in the times of Geulah. There will be a time before Moshiach comes when it will be possible tangibly to actually feel that it is coming, much like the sands going out of the top of an hour glass. Not everyone can see or feel it. He said that because he had felt it. Even though Moshiach could be days or weeks or months or years or even decades away from actually coming.)

We have left the 2600 year era of Galut and have entered the “new heavens and new earth” of Geulah.

This is false on two accounts: 1. Galus started less than 2000 years ago when the Temple was destroyed. No source in Niglah or Nistor (revealed or hidden) says different. As long as the Temple stood Galus had not started. (If you are saying it starts when Jewish autonomy ended, then that is 2200 years ago with the end of the Choshminoim Dynasty. 2. We are FACTUALLY still in Galus. There is no Temple, nor an autonomous Davidic Kingdom. Saying we are not doesn’t change it to fact. There are certain things that need to happen for us to say that Galus has ended and the Geulah Shelamah (complete redemption) has occurred. If he thinks that it is the case I need only ask him who is the Moshiach living amongst us today and ruling in Jerusalem on his throne?  

Ger is a prime factor in Geulah.
Ger did not exist in Galut.

It is not surprising that Clorfene does not attempt to bring sources or proofs of these statements for the simple reason that they do not exist. From the Talmud and in niglah and nistor, Geulah depends on tshuvah. His non-Jewish ‘Ger’ theory has no place except in the imagination, as opposed to the importance of the ‘ger tzaedik’ to Geulah, which is well documented in Niglah and Nistar.. And if his ‘Ger’ exists today, it exists in Galus.

These four points add up to the need to surrender one’s will to G-d in order to be worthy of Geulah.

I fail to see anything from what he said, even were it true, that leads to the conclusion he asserts.

However what he says about surrendering our will to G-d is true. That is in fact what our purpose is. The Holy Rebbe of Tzanz said that ‘a person should have no will for anything but to do the will of HaShem.’ (Sounds better in Yiddish J ) That clearly applies to everyone, even the Noahide. As Rebbe Mechele Zlotchover, one of the talmidim of the Baal Shem Tov taught it is the ‘I’ that separates us from HaShem.

Here he is confusing the issues again. Because the Holy Zohar says: ‘Israel, the Torah and the Holy One Blessed is He are one’, we have been taught in Chassidus that one can see the amount of love a person has for HaShem by his love for his fellow Jew. All he does here is create a new mitzvah (Baal Toseif) and tries to make that the foundation of Judaism and Geulah.

After this Chaim floats some ideas which are erroneous and unfounded and have more in common with new age ideas than Torah:

But in Galut we are stripped of our ability to love. The Jew in exile lacks the ability to love a goy. And the Christian in (spiritual) exile lacks the ability to love himself. I won’t mention Islam or any of the eastern religions because love does not seem to be a factor in them, although the Church of Hinduism talks about it a lot.

Of course we can love even in the Galus, and so can non-Jews. No support in Torah literature exists for what he says, just an assertion. As to relationships with non-Jews, this is also false. Many Jews have warm relations with Noahides. This is clearly the case with many of those Rabbis and groups that he considers ‘anti-Ger’.

Then he says:

In Galut, G-d conceals Himself. In Geulah, G-d is revealed. This is why exile and redemption are opposites.

This sounds good but in fact it is not quite true. The Baal Shem Tov taught that when we are aware of the concealment, then that concealment disappears, and HaShem is no longer hidden. (If something is hidden under a pillow, and you know it, than it is not really hidden.) This occurs at any time and any place, even in the Galus. G-d is unchanging and hence whatever hiddenness there is exists from us and not Him.  All this is known from Kabbalah and Chassidus.

The Baal Shem Tov brings a parable about a King who promised his daughter to anyone who could enter his palace. This palace was surrounded by 7 large walls. When the prince got through them all he turned around and saw that, in fact, they were not walls but mirrors that only made them appear as walls. The king was never concealed in the first place.

In Galut, it is as if there is no G-d. Hence, of necessity, religion is born, rabbinic Judaism in this case. All religions are the Church. They are all obsessed with ruling over others, not for the Name of G-d, but so that their will should prevail. Judaism, the best of religions, was born in Babylon in order to preserve the Jewish people in a world where G-d is concealed. The only way to do this was to take away the Jew’s free will. Otherwise, all the Jews except for the Levites would have run to avodah zara and the pit of destruction. Therefore, taking away Jewish free will was correct in Galut.

Here Chaim starts off with a serious distortion of what our rabbis teach and from that ends up attacking Judaism and Jews, and stating totally confusing things. It is taught in the Talmud with reference to the special place the Land of Israel has for the Jewish people and HaShem; ‘he who lives outside of the Land of Israel is as if he had no god; he who lives in the Land of Israel is as if he had a god.’ This is based on the verse which tells us that the eyes of HaShem are on the land of Israel from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. This has nothing to do with the ideas Chaim is trying to proclaim, and does not depend on Galus or Geulah.

He then goes on to attack Judaism, and in so doing makes a number of false statements. Rabbinic Judaism actually started in Judea, and not Babylonia. The Mishnah was from Israel, and many of the Rabbis of the Talmud were also, as is known to anyone who has learned Talmud. Judaism and the Torah are not to ‘preserve’ the Jewish people, although it has certainly helped do that, it is HaShem’s will for us. No more and no less. To think otherwise places you outside of the 4 amos of halacha and would be considered heretical by most religious Jews. The same Talmud that tells us about the ‘ox that gores’ tells us ‘these are those that have no place in the world to come.’

The rest is just incorrect. Jews have free will, and to think that we would worship idols if we didn’t is just not true. I take it he is trying to allude to the Talmud where we are told that HaShem nullified the Yetzer HaRah for idol worship, but not that we have no Yetzer HaRah anymore.

As to his remark about Judaism in the next article on his blog he seems to back off a bit from that negative assessment, but it is still a mass of confusion. I guess my problem is this: Does he believe that Halacha and Judaism are separated from truth, and Torah? Is there any other certain expression of G-d’s will for us outside of Halacha and Torah? If not from the Rabbis, scholars of Torah, how do you know what the Halacha is? Does he deny the Oral Law and it’s primacy?

While I am commenting on his last blog post I need to correct something for those reading who do not know the Orthodox Jewish world. First I have met Rov Ahron in the past before he died. He never was Brisker Rov. The Brisker Rov lives in Jerusalem and runs the Brisker Yeshiva there. However Rov Aharon was a descendant of the Rabbis of Brisk and he had a yeshiva called Brisk, and he also gave a shiur at YU.

As for Brisk, the Rabbis of Brisk were heads of yeshivas and NOT poskim. The Brisker ‘derech’ which Rov Ahron followed was a method of learning Talmud, and it was the method of learning Talmud taught in Brisker Yeshivos. It had nothing to do with deciding what the Halacha is. There is a BIG difference between a Rosh Yeshiva and a Posik.

As to the question he posed, it is simple that unintentional sin applies to a non-Jew raised in an idol worshipping house. That appears apparent from the Rambam. (I wonder how the Ger people feel about what Chaim said here? There is such an uproar about shituff, but outright idol worship is OK???) In any case, this is no chiddush to anyone who has learned Rambam and other sources on the 7 Laws.

As to his further discussion there about mercy, I wonder if he really knows what that means. Is it more merciful to warn someone when they are doing something that places them under a Divine death sentence, or is better to let them fall under Divine wrath when you could have warned them? The Torah would say the former, and that is why there is a mitzvah of warning people when they are doing something that is wrong. Then he says there:

Rav Ahron Soloveichik’s view of the law concerning an unknowing idolater is consistent with his view that there is a Ger Toshav today, thus permitting every righteous Gentile to observe the holy Sabbath.

This is absurd. Shituff is not consistent with Ger Toshiv, but idolatry is?

Back to the blog article I was talking about previously, he goes on to say:

A couple of weeks ago, a blogger attacked me (Chaim) for saying that in Geulah, rabbis will no longer teach us. G-d Himself will teach us.

I think he would find it interesting that I agree with him on this. There are a number of verses in Nach and Midrashim to back it up. However it is a subject of disagreement in the Talmud, and the Rambam explicitly would disagree. I can only say on that, I hope the two of us will be there to see which view is the correct one.

However I would NEVER casually and openly discount a view said by the Rambam in the way he has. The Rambam (and Shmuel in the Talmud which is the source) are far above either of us in knowledge of these things. Judaism teaches us respect for men like them.

The rest of the blog article just continues with his new age interpretations of Judaism.

What I would like to see, is a clear definition of what ‘Ger’ means without the new age blabber of meaningless phrases which at appear times to be self-contradictory. Many non-Jews may not know but what distinguishes the mysticism of Judaism and Kabbalah is that it is a ‘rational’ mysticism.

Before finishing this David Katz posted a blog article ( partly about his relationship to Chaim Clorfene and partly an attack on me personally. (I wonder if he found out I was a Levite it would have made a difference?)

I found it interesting and informative. However while I could spend a lot of time countering what was said, that is not my purpose in these articles. My purpose is to examine what texts actually say, and what is and is not within the limits of what is Toras Emes.

I need only make one comment that is that whether one is an amateur or professional has nothing to do with the title one takes (that’s Christianity), whether one knows how much milk needs to fall into a pot to render it forbidden, or how many years one learns how; It is whether or not the person knows the material and what the texts actually say. This is my primary problem with Katz. It has nothing to do with him as a person. It is not that we always disagree in our conclusions from the texts; but that from his explanations of texts it is clear he does not know the material.

I will bring a simple example, and just leave the full proof of this claim to the later articles where I will discuss those sources he claims prove his ideas.

Recently on FB I had a discussion with one of his people about the definition of Ger Toshav as it appears in the Talmud (AZ 64b). I mentioned that there are three views, but one is rejected outright in halachic sources. This fellow went back to Katz and asked him about what I said and he responded that none of the views was ever rejected. I will discuss this passage in the Talmud at length in another article.

However the third view of ‘others’ is ignored in Halacha. I would not expect Katz to be familiar with the responsa of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe in HaPardes in 1985 (this was a responsa to support his view of spreading the 7 laws). There the late Rebbe brings this gemara and he excludes the third view. But if Katz was serious in knowing how we look at this from a halachic viewpoint he would have known that the Rosh excludes it. The Rosh is one of the pillars of the Halacha in Shulchan Aruch and particularly for Ashkenazim.

I could go on about all the halachic sources that mention the view of the Chochamim, which is how we rule on this, and occasionally that of Rabbi Meir (first view) but exclude that of the third view. One need only look at note 17 in the Artscroll Talmud to see that.

I will not belabor this point at this time as I will have an article on what a Ger Toshav is and whether it applies today and to what extent. My point is that one’s ability to learn and on what level is to be seen from one thing only: Does the person show he actually knows the relevant texts needed to understand the Halacha or not. I contend that this example is not the exception with regards to issues involving non-Jews, but it is indicative of his lack of knowledge of the sources.

Next up is a discussion of Shituff (barring some response that will require me to respond.) 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Interlude – On Spirituality outside Halacha

It has always been my intention to answer from time to time any questions that are addressed to me from the articles that I have written on my blog. It appears that Chaim Clorefene has read my last article and decided to comment: (  

He addressed certain issues, which I would like to address here. I do not expect that Chaim will be effected by anything I write, but I hope some of the Ger people will consider what I write. I am especially interested in what Rabbi David Katz has to say, since the views that Chaim has stated in his response, do not seem to be in accord with his. Certainly that is the impression I have from his talks and writings.

While many may be unfamiliar with the history of deviant ideas in Judaism, the ideas that Chaim is pushing are quite old and have led to assimilation and abandonment of HaShem and His Torah.

Basically Chaim is trying to separate Halacha, the practice of Torah, and Spirituality. His new age speak just covers over a distortion of Judaism and Torah that was shared by many dead end movements including the Reform in Germany, Shabbtzei Tzvi, and not surprising Christianity, which after all started as a Jewish movement but separated finally over the issue of Torah observance. This is the false path he preachers.

What makes it amusing to me is that he tries to dress it up in the language of Kabbalah while preaching actions and ideas that are at total variance to Kabbalah, which I shall shortly explain.

To understand where Chaim gets it wrong, I want to relate a true story. Being involved in kiruv for 20+ years I have met many people and I also have had to help them understand the answers to problems they have, or just simply things about Judaism that bothers them.

One day I received a call from a sweet fellow who was a recent convert to Judaism. He told me that he was happy but that there is one thing he missed. When he was a Christian and in church it all was so spiritual, the singing and dancing and all that. But he doesn’t see that in Judaism. So I asked him, ‘What do you mean by Spiritual?’ He was stumped. As a Christian he viewed these types of actions as a sign of spirituality in and of themselves.

I explained to him that in Judaism ‘spirituality’ is connected to a concept called ‘deveikus’. Deveikus means attachment (to God). In Kabbalah this is the idea of Yechidim (unifications), and in Chassidus it is called ‘avodah b’gashmiyos.’ (Service with physicality)

I do not intend to give a course on Kabbalah or the deeper ideas of Chassidus here, but the general idea is pretty easy to understand. Everything in the word is divided into one of three categories. Either it is intrinsically holy, like a sefer Torah or tephilin or things like that. Because they are by nature Holy, there is no need to do anything with them to add to their holiness.

The second are things that are intrinsically unholy, like the unclean animals that can never become holy unless they become totally nullified. (This is the sod of bitul etc.)

The rest are things that can go either way, depending on what a Jew does with them. If a Jew takes a kosher animal, and it is slaughtered according to Halacha. And then a Jew eats it and makes the proper blessing, it enters the domain of holiness. If not it falls to the other side.

The usual parable is to a nut. There is the inner nut itself which is edible, and the outer shell which is not edible, and a thin skin which can be eaten or not. Sometimes this thin skin is called the ‘klipot nogah’. This moving something to be holy, is like making a vessel, but it still is not complete. Deveikus is when we take this ‘holy’ vessel and through proper intentions (kavanot) we add a ‘soul’ to it, and give it life.

For example, when a Jewish man puts on Tephillin, even without a conscious thought he is attached to holiness. That is because even if he did not consciously think of it, unconsciously he does. If we ask him why he is putting on Tephillin, he will say because it says in the Torah. Similarly, when a non-Jew takes upon himself to keep the 7 mitzvos he takes himself from the unclean to the clean, although not on the same level as Jew does when he keeps his mitzvos.

The point is that Holiness in inseparable with following Halacha. You can’t begin to enter into holiness without it. There is no spirituality without Torah observance. On the other hand, you cannot reach the highest levels of holiness without proper intention.

All of our Holy Rabbis knew this and lived it in practice. For example the Vilna Gaon was both a strict follower of Halacha and a follower of Kabbalah. The same with his famous Talmud Rabbi Chaim of Volozyn, who wrote the work Nefesh Chaim. It is interesting to note that the primary reason for the Vilna Gaon being against the early Chassidim was that he was falsely told that the Chassidim DID NOT combine action/strict observance and spiritual practice.

Of course the Chassidim of any flavor all uphold the unity of the Halacha and the spiritual. This is not surprising because that was the way of the Ari HaKadosh and all the Kabbalists like the Remak and their Talmidim. They taught us that it is through the performance of the Halacha that we raise this world to levels of holiness. There is no way to achieve holiness without serious practice of halacha. Just look at a work like Sefer Chereidim, by one of the big Kabbalists from Sefad, which is all about the mitzvos we can do today. He was also the author of some deeply spiritual poems which are still said today.

No matter what your hashkafah is, Sefardic, Chassidic, Litvish etc; if it is authentic and Torah based, then they all see things the exact opposite of what Chaim wrote. He says that “I consider Rabbinic Judaism a false world” But that is not the case with the real spiritual giants of Judaism. I will just mention some examples from the Chassidic world which I am most familiar with:

Rebbe Nachman’s Talmid Rebbe Nason wrote a sefer based on the deeper meanings of performance of the Halacha. It is well known Reb Nachman suggested the completion of all the Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch on a yearly basis.

The founder of Chabad, under the instruction of his Rebbe, compiled his own Shulchan Aruch, which is still used and studied today.

I could also add that among the Rebbes of Ziditchov/Komarna and their offshoots, whose teachings are based on Kabbalah, we find Rebbe Isaac of Komarna who wrote his own Shulchan Aruch called Shulchan HaTahor, in addition to his many Kabbalistic and Chassidic works.

Many Rebbes were Torah giants in their own right, the Holy Rebbe of Tzanz, and the Sefas Emes come to mind among the many I could mention.

Do these remarks from Chaim sound like what we would find in the works of the Spiritual giants of the past: “my intent has been to go as far away from Orthodox Judaism as I can”.

The Ari Z’L teaches that by sweating during making the matzos for the mitzvah of Passover one’s sins are forgiven. And also that those who are scrupulous and avoid even the smallest amount of chametz (leaven) on Passover will be assured not to sin the whole year.

I could go on and on with examples. In that article Chaim is not talking about true spirituality, but new age touchy feelyism. If his views are not apikorsus (heretical) then they are so close one needs a magnifying glass to see where they end and apikorsus begins.


I need to add another point. He makes the following claim:

Sloppy Six are worse than Ger because they do what they do to get Gentile money

I will not speak for everyone who signed those letters but I can speak for myself: In 20+ years of kiruv I have never once asked for nor received money from any non-Jews I have taught or helped. I never ask to be paid for any work I do. But this same person who falsely accuses me of this says this:

Support towards the production of the pilot podcast will be appreciated and certainly qualifies as tzedakah in support of a holy cause.

Is that not hypocrisy? Is this the sign of a serious and honest desire for the truth? There is nothing wrong with him asking for help for what he feels (wrongly) is a valuable project. But to at the same time castigate (and in my case falsely) others for doing the same is a sign of poor character and total dishonesty.

As it is, I do not expect Chaim to change, but I do not understand how Rabbi Dovid Katz, who values his attachment to Brisk, which comes from Volozyn and Vilna could be quiet when Chaim attacks the derech that Brisk is built on. We know (Yavamos 87b) being silent is an indication of support. If Rabbi Katz does not clarify that he disagrees, than I must conclude he no longer considers himself Brisk.

As always, comments are always welcome, just no personal attacks please.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Introductory Remarks - Noahide

Ger vs Noahide; Ger or Noahide; Ger and Noahide; which is it? Many people watching the discussions seem confused. Quite frankly I think many Ger people are also confused as to the relationship between Ger and Noahide. We certainly read many different views from disgust to kinship. I would like to define what ‘Noahide’ has come to mean to those who call themselves that; then why ‘Ger’ is not a good title for any movement, and especially how it is developing today.

To discuss this we need to first look at some important historical events that have led us to the situation we are now in. Everyone knows that 50 years ago there was no Noahide movement nor ‘Ger’ nor anything else. Discussions of what the Halacha is had real world implications, but with no one following these decisions. Occasionally a non-Jew would have a friendship with a Jew and would find out about the laws, but this was rare. Jews did not seek out non-Jews to teach them the laws. One of the reasons was that Jews were living in lands that had abandoned idol worship; respected and worshipped what they thought was the same god as the Jewish people. This meant, ignoring shituff, that they were essentially following the laws except for making a new religion. (We will discuss Shituff in the next article.) Also non-Jewish interest in Judaism usually led to conversion.

In the early 1980s the late Rebbe of Lubavitch ZT’L gave a call to his Chassidim to turn their attention to influencing the non-Jewish world to follow the 7 mitzvos. That was a total break from what Jews had done until then. In fact it was quite controversial then (and still is.) In a famous Sichah for parshas Yisro in 1983 he set out the justification for this campaign. (This Sichah is found in volume 26 and we will be referring to it a number of times in these articles. He also submitted to the journal HaPardes May 1985, the same ides in a more formal format.) One of the main implied principles (which all agreed to) was that following these laws was an individual activity. The idea of a ‘movement’ or structure of any kind, was unthinkable. (This has been confirmed to me by people in Lubavitch.)

As time went on many events occurred that effected the path this ‘Noahide’ movement would take. I think one incident exemplifies what happened. Rabbi Tovia Singer, a well-known counter missionary, was approached by a whole church in Texas that wanted to leave Christianity. He taught them the 7 laws and they continued in that path; making it a ‘Noahide church’. Many similar evens have occurred.

As time went on more and more non-Jews were attracted to the 7 laws, whether from Chabad; their leaving Christianity or the internet. This led to a serious problem: How do we deal with something that is not meant to be a ‘movement’ or organized group when it is becoming one? This led to private study groups and eventually to organizations of the new followers of the 7 laws.

As a group identification stated to grow, a name was needed. Bnei Noach would maybe be a good one, but it has a few problems. 1. It is Hebrew. Non-Jewish non-Hebrew speaking people using a Hebrew name could be problematic. This was a common thing among missionaries and no one wanted them to be associated with or mistaken for missionaries. 2. The name itself in Jewish literature is ambiguous. Sometimes it can mean all of humanity, sometimes all non-Jews, and other times non-Jews who keep the 7 laws. 3. Even when Bnei Noach refers to non-Jews keeping the law, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe ZT’L says in that Sichah it does not mean that they do it BECAUSE of belief in the Torah and Jewish Rabbinic traditions. These new followers wanted a name that would indicate their attachment/relationship to Torah Judaism and the one true God..

From this was born the name of Noahide. Noahide means a non-Jew who has taken upon himself or herself to follow the 7 mitzvos specifically because of a belief in HaShem and Torah including the Rabbinic traditions. All the organizations and people who call themselves Noahides are Noahides because they believe in the truth of Torah Judaism and worship HaShem only.

From this we see one of the main claims against the ‘Noahides’ that they are really akum (believe in Shituff) is just false. Because of their approach where they follow the 7 laws because of Torah and Rabbinic tradition, they do not believe in Shituff. (In the next article I will discuss Shituff and what Rabbis are saying about it and Bnei Noach.)

Another complaint also falls away from the above. A Biblical (or Rabbinic) term could not be used, because in fundamental ways the modern Noahide is different from what appears in seforim and the Torah. Even the ‘god fearers’ of 2000 years ago were not the same; they were individuals who frequented the local synagogues. While Noahides do go to synagogues, they are loosely associated with others like them, which does not seem to be the case with the ’god fearers’. (God fearers itself is a non-Biblical term.)

So what is wrong with calling themselves ‘Ger’? It is clearly an ambiguous term in Judaism. What does ‘Ger’ mean? We know of Ger Tzedik (converts to all the mitzvos of the Torah) and also Ger Toshiv. Those calling themselves ‘Ger’ are not Ger Tzedik, and there is no Ger Toshiv today. Much of the confusion this movement makes with regards to verses in the Tenach is based on these ambiguities and misrepresenting Rabbinic tradition as to the meaning. (This will all be discussed in depth in later articles,)

The best way to see the problem is to give an illustration. Let’s say Bob who considers himself a ‘Ger’ travels to New York to see what a community with thousands of religious Jews living there looks like. He goes to one of the many very Orthodox synagogues. When there someone notices that a person is there that does not seem to fit in. This person comes up to him and asks him about himself. So he says he is ‘Ger’. It’s Monday so he wants to give this visitor an Aliya. What happens next? He can try taking an Aliyah violating the law. If he gives a Jewish sounding name and gets found out, how do you think they will react? Not very well. He could end up in jail. If he says he is a ‘Ger’ not a Ger Tzedik they will see him as a nut job. They will not even be interested in hearing anything. The only thing that will happen is that he will be seen as a non-Jew who for some reason is trying to deceive Jews, and may in actuality be a missionary.

Now let’s say Bob calls himself a Noahide. Same story. He visits that synagogue, and when asked says he is a Noahide. Most likely the guy will say he doesn’t even know what that means. So Bob can explain to him, that he is a non-Jew who believes in the Torah and the G-d of Israel. This fellow may have seen a recent article in Ami Magazine about just such a person and becomes interested in Bob. This leads to a long and friendly discussion.

Which is the best way? Which way better accords with Torah? Obviously the one where Bob says he is a Noahide.

Having read many posts from people who call themselves ‘Ger’ I think some of them will answer like this: ‘I don’t care what they think, what G-d thinks is more important’. This actually represents a very serious problem with many Noahides, but even more with those calling themselves ‘Ger’ because it represents non-Jewish thought patterns.

Most of the Noahides or Ger come from Christianity which they rejected. But just because they have rejected the idolatry of Christianity does not mean they have rid themselves of the falseness of non-Jewish ideas, or have adopted a Torah world outlook. Non-Jewish hashkofas are rampant in the Ger movement and no one there addresses it, nor are the members of the Ger movement even aware of it. Non acceptance by Orthodoxy of the ‘Ger’ (as opposed to the Noahide) should be a cause for concern. It indicates they have yet to fully understand what the Torah requires and how foreign they are to Judaism. The idea that they can make a new movement and that somehow the rest of Orthodox Judaism will have to accept then, is a fantasy, which can only lead to heartbreak and disaster.

Let me give another example of the problem. There are a lot of barbs being directed to the eight signers of letters about the Ger movement. A bit of resistance and attempts to minimize its meaning is understandable. But the total lack of introspection is telling. What is interesting is that those six represent totally different parts of Orthodoxy, and in many point they actually have strong disagreements among themselves. I can’t imagine all six of us sitting at the same table for anything. And yet they are united in the belief that there is something wrong with ‘Ger’. Why is that? Why have the Ger people not considered it?

Consider this; Rabbi Wiener wrote what now is probably the classic work on the subject of the Noahide Laws. Any work written after that looks into what he has said to either agree or disagree, but it cannot be ignored by any serious student of the subject. But what is being hidden from those in the ‘Ger’ movement is that his views come straight from the late Lubavitcher Rebbe ZT’L. One need only look at his notes to see that it is strongly based on the Sichos of the late Rebbe. It is the best representation of what he taught, and what is held in Lubavitch as the Halacha for non-Jews. It would not seem to me prudent to attack the only group within Orthodoxy who believes in active outreach to non-Jews with regards to the 7 mitzvos. Those people who are theoretically the most accepting of them. Everyone else either ignores it or is involved in passive outreach.

On the other hand I represent that part of Chassidic/Chereidi Judaism that is not Lubavitch. And each of us is another community. When taken as a whole we represent the views of the overwhelming majority of Orthodoxy, and I am certain that were we to discuss with anyone left out there would not be much support for ‘Ger’. While this may not seem much to those who call themselves ‘Ger’ because they are so unfamiliar with the Orthodox world, it should be sending red lights off in your heads.

Let me give another example. There is a fellow who is strongly involved with ‘Ger’. He is really a sweet guy, and seems to me very sincere in his desire to do what is right. But he gives classes in Kabballah, which I have heard a little of and had to laugh at. It’s not enough we have to have Madonna and the Kabbalah center cult, we now have him?

There has long been a prohibition of teaching non-Jews Kabbalah and of them learning it, and restrictions in the learning of Kabbalah for Jews. There are restrictions as to from whom to learn it and how and which works one may learn. All this from past experience. (Look up Shabbtzei Tzvi if you need one example.) But learning Kabbalah is encouraged by the ‘Ger’ movement, EXPLICITLY. This will not bring the geulah, but push it off.

If we really think about it part of the work involved with teaching the 7 laws to non-Jews is to help them to understand and be able to relate to Jews as those ancient god-fearers did. I think in some ways those of us who have been teaching the 7 laws have ignored that the goal is that the non-Jew who keeps the 7 should be looked upon as ‘normal’ and be acceptable to Orthodox society in general.

There are many things we are doing that hinders this goal. It is not just ‘Ger’ that is a problem in this sense, even though they are an extreme example. I see it as a problem that we, because of our training in yeshiva and post yeshiva, look at ourselves ONLY as teachers of Halacha and not also as guiders of people’s lives to make them better people living in accord with Torah and HaShem’s will. We need to be both. The one will not work without the other. I am going to try and point this out in future articles, but let me mention one serious area which needs to be taken in consideration when we teach and interact with Noahides.

Noahides (Ger) come out of a non-Jewish world, which has hashkofos foreign to Judaism. Most come out of Christianity where they have certain views of what they think should be the truth, and ways of looking at Torah and religion that they think are correct, but are in fact wrong and inconsistent with Judaism. We will see this many times in these articles, but it is important for us as teachers to have it in mind, and of course for Noahides (Ger) to be aware of them.

One concept is that as Christians they believed in a doctrine called ‘Sola Scriptura’. That basically said: that true doctrine is arrived by the INDIVIDUALS looking into the Bible and seeing what it says. Judaism has no such doctrine, and in fact does not support such a doctrine. In true Torah Judaism our understanding of what the Torah says comes to us through a tradition. We don’t make things up based on what we read, but based on what we have received as the truth. When an argument occurs as to the meaning of any passage or Halacha, it is not what I say or you say that means anything, but what the person meant based on tradition.

Also there is egalitarianism. The Torah is not egalitarian. Not all Jews are equal some have more rules and privileges than others. That is true of the human race as a whole. But many non-Jews don’t get that.  Someone who is a learned Jew is not the same as a non-Jew in having a right to an opinion. This needs to be understood. Someone without formal training is not the same as someone who was formally trained and learned for 20 30 or more years.

A good example of these two is the sincere non-Jew I mentioned who for some reason was learning kabbalah seforim; clearly in English. He had it in his head that he actually knew what he was talking about (even more than I did.) But everyone knows that one can only learn this subject in the original languages and under the direct guidance of a qualified teacher who learned likewise, otherwise there is grave danger of spiritual damage. And even more to teach any subject in Torah one needs to have learned for many years from qualified teachers.

Similarly non-Jews seem to think the title of ‘Rabbi’ means something it does not. The Chofetz Chaim got his smichah a few years before he died, even though his halachic works and rulings were known and accepted long before that. The Chazon Ish never did. Lots of ‘Rabbis’ on the internet wouldn’t know ‘the blessing for a radish’. What is important is KNOWLEDGE. Do you really know what you are talking about? This comes from years of learning in addition to abilities that HaShem gives us.

Non-Jews can’t understand that differing views on Halacha are valid and that they can both be acceptable and that only views that are inconsistent or not based on the tradition are invalid. For example our argument with the ‘Ger’ leaders is not that we disagree on every and all points they say. I am sure in this series of articles people will see points of agreement. The problem is that their approach to Halacha and Judaism is just flat out wrong-headed. It is based on misunderstandings of texts, and at times just plain ignoring things said when they disagree with the desired conclusions.

For example, in a recent post on Facebook a view from Rabbi Avigdor Neventzahl that Ruth when she married the son of Elimelech was a Ger toshiv was mentioned. (I will not go into the problems with this view as they are not relevant, and the Rabbi also agrees that it has no effect on Halacha l’maasah.) But what is left out is that at the end of this discussion he states explicitly that there is no Ger toshiv today!!! Again no ‘GER’ today.

There are many more things I could add to this subject. In conclusion, it is clear that ‘Noahide’ is a valid term to be used, and in a real sense those who consider themselves ‘Noahide’ are closer to the true teachings of Torah than those calling themselves ‘Ger’. It is less of a problem then ‘Ger’. In fact the term ‘Ger’ will lead to discord with the majority of religious Jewish people.

In the next article I will deal with the issue of Shituff as I move into some of the texts and issues underlying the opposition to the ‘Ger’ movement. Again, I welcome any comments or questions. However personal attacks will be deleted. Unfortunately I cannot edit any comments, so if you place a personal attack in the middle of a long comment, all of it will need to be deleted. Please show respect. Thank you.

Shituff and the Noahide The most consistently raised issue by the ‘Ger’ crowd against other Noahides is with regards to what is calle...