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: (https://www.chaimclorfene.com/new-blog/2017/10/30/what-do-i-hear-about-hashkafa)  

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.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Introductory Remarks


The purpose of these articles are to cover issues of controversy with regards to Bnei Noach and the Laws for them; things that I see posing a danger to those sincere non-Jews who want to get close to the G-d of Israel. Primarily I want to clarify the issues with regards to the ‘Ger’ controversies. I intend to go through all of the sources that are involved and give easy to understand explanations.

Before starting there is one issue I need to address. There have been a number of actions reported to me that I consider inappropriate. I would like to address my remarks to those who respect me and will listen to me. There is no excuse for threats, or attacking those who disagree with you. Calling Rabbi Katz degrading names or worse is not acceptable and is close to a Chillul HaShem. I am publicly repudiating such behavior and I am asking that from this point on it should stop.

Someone may say to me, but look what they say about you or about X? My only answer to that is that among pious Jews it was the custom to learn the work called Tomer Devorah by the Remak during Ellul and Tishrei. In the first chapter he tells of how to apply the 13 midos of Rachamim. One is that of not answering those that denigrate you, but the opposite accept without response, and this is spiritually beneficial. If you are shamed and don’t respond then HaShem will be mashpia on you Chesed and Rachamim from the 13 midos.

I would ask of Rabbi Dovid Katz he should ask of his followers to act in the same way. However whether they do or not, I will say this. I will not forgive anyone who will answer any personal attacks on me in kind. That is all I will say on this subject.

***

This article will be an introduction and foundation to what will come after it. It will be a discussion of the halachic process in Judaism. Essentially I will answer the question of how do we get from a passage in the Talmud to a Rabbinic decision on what may or may not be done.

All Jewish law traces itself back to the Talmud. How this plays out in a practical manner is interesting. I am forced to simplify things here, but what follows is a good overview of how it is done. (I learned in a Kollel for Halacha, and this is based on what we did there and if you look at the responsa literature that is how they work.)

***

The Talmud has two types of commentaries. First you have Rashi and Tosephus, with others of that period like the Ritva, Ramban and Rashba. (There are more but these are the main ones we hear of from the period we call the Rishonim.) Their main goal is to explain what it is that the Talmud is saying and the views of those Rabbis quoted there. Tosephus is slightly different in that he tries to reconcile conflicting views in the Talmud or Rashi. (The Tosephus were from Rashi’s descendants and Talmidim.)

The second are the halachic commentaries, primarily the Rif, Ran, and Rosh. (For Ashkenazim I can add the Mordechai.) The Rif is sometimes called Talmud Katan (small Talmud). He goes through every tractate and excerpts the conclusions that lead to the halacha. The Ran is the main commentary on the Rif. The Rosh is similar to the Rif but he has more discussion about the Talmud and quotes from other sources like Rashi and Tosephus.

Outside of the Talmud are a number of important works, but usually only the Rambam is learned. The Rambam is like a Kitzur Shulchan Aruch of the Talmud. An important commentary on the Rambam is the Ravad, who points out when he disagrees with the conclusion the Rambam has. Besides that there are other commentaries: Kesif Mishnah from Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch; also the Maggid Mishnah and Lechem Mishnah. These later commentaries discuss the sources used by the Rambam.

Other important outside works that impact halchah are Smag (Sefer Mitzvahs Gadol); Smak (Sefer Mitzvos Katan) and many responsa works from the Gaonim and Rishonim. For Ashekenazim the Sefer Maharil is important for establishing the customs of Ashkenaz.

***

While the Rambam was the first major composition trying to systematize halacha, in some senses the more important is the Arbah Turim (sometimes just called the Tur). This was compiled by the son of the Rosh and was organized into 4 sections covering all of Jewish life and law as it applies today. (The Shulchan Aruch would later follow this division and use the same chapters.) In each chapter he brings the major views on the halachos. There are a number of primary commentaries on the Tur. First is the Beis Yosef, by Rabbi Yosef Karo (this is key to understanding what he says in Shulchan Aruch.); Darkei Moshe by the Rema (author of the glosses to Shulchan Aruch); the Bach one of the Gadolim of Ashkenaz and the Drishah/Perishah a running commentary on the Tur.

By learning the Tur and its commentaries; the Talmud and all the accumulated discussions and applications of these principles for over 1000 years; the halachic issues are brought together and we see where the Rabbis are going on almost all of the issues that will appear in Shulchan Aruch.

***

The basic sefer of Jewish Law today is the Shulchan Aruch. It has two parts: The Shulchan Aruch itself by Rabbi Yosef Karo and glosses on it by the Rema, representing where the custom in Ashkenaz is different. The reason for that is that when the Shulchan Aruch first came out there was a problem. In deciding what the Halacha would be Rabbi Yosef Karo took the majority view of the three major Rabbis: Rif, Rosh and Rambam. The problem was that this did not reflect practice in the lands of Ashkenaz which had halachic traditions that were different. The Rema by adding his glosses made the Shulchan Aruch a work that could be used by all Jews. If one has learned from the Talmud through the earlier sources to the Tur, when you look at the Shulchan Aruch there are rarely any new ideas.

The Shulchan Aruch was not enough by itself so there were added a number of commentaries to clarify, and at times to point out alternate practices. Some of the main ones are these: Mogan Avraham, Taz, Shach, Bar Heitiv, Pri Magadim.

Later other rabbis came along and wrote modified Shulchan Aruchs to take into consideration these commentaries and other issues. The three main ones are Mishnah Berura, Aruch HaShulchan and Shulchan Aruch Harav.

***

When it comes to deciding on what the halacha is a Rabbi will need to be familiar with the Talmud and all the sources that are key to understanding the Shulchan Aruch. If not what he will say will not reflect what the true Halacha is.

However with regards to the laws of Noah it is not as simple. Those laws which have a similarity to Jewish law can be found the same way as Jewish law, following the tradition of the halacha from the Talmud to Shulchan Aruch. But in many cases the tradition stops with the Rambam, and is picked up in other sources outside of the Tur. In that case we turn to the commentaries on the Talmud and Rambam, and later Responsa works.

***

When looking at the above sources, especially when it refers to the 7 laws, we find many times that there are disagreements as to what to follow.

In Jewish law there are some general principles that come into play. For example, if it is a Biblical law as opposed to a rabbinic one, we will be more stringent. If the majority or consensus is that it is forbidden, we will forbid it, unless in cases of emergency. If a minority forbid, the pious will refrain from that action even though strictly speaking it is allowed.

In the overwhelming majority of the cases the disagreements of the rabbis are based on how they understand these rules to play out, or where there is a local custom to act different than the rule. This is actually why there is disagreement among the scholars of the Laws of Noah as to the application of the laws in many situations.

***

Why is ‘Ger’ is different? Why don’t those Rabbis who disagree with it see it as the same as any other Rabbinic disagreement? I have heard this asked in different forms, and it is a valid question. There are two reasons for this:

1. Having read Katz’ books and also listened to many of his videos on the subject the biggest problem is that he is very unclear about what he is trying to say. His followers are even more unclear. Being familiar with the sources and reading his stuff, I am at times confused as to his point. Does he agree with the majority or not and why? The Appendix of his new book is certainly an attempt to rectify this, but there are problems, which I will address in later articles.

Just to exemplify this point let’s look at this: What is the difference between a ‘ger’ and a ‘Noahide’? The only practical difference seems to be that the former rejects Shituff and the later does not. But I don’t understand that. Many of us involved with Noahides say that a Noahide MUST reject Shituff. I will devote a whole article on this subject later. But even those who maintain that the Halacha is according to those who say it is not forbidden, do not maintain it is allowed. They will also tell a Noahide that he should not have that false belief. So what is the difference? If there is, Katz’ writing is so poor that no one can figure out what the difference is.

2. More importantly, all the Rabbis I know who are involved read the same texts, and understand them basically the same way except in a few cases where the problem is an ambiguity of the wording and not a fundamental reading of the text. That is not the case with Katz. He will many times say a text says something, but when the text is looked at what he claims it says is not there.

Let me give an example which was asked of me a few days ago. In The World of the Ger on page 34 Katz claims that the Vilna Gaon maintained that the halacha was that a ger toshiv living in Israel was required to keep the mitzvos including circumcision. His source was from the work of the Vilna Gaon called Adras Eliyahu on Deuteronomy 32:9. Here is the text in the Hebrew original:


I will translate it, but before that we need to know two things: First is that according to Judaism there are 70 nations and each one has his own ‘prince’ or angel overseeing it. (See Daniel 10:13)

The second is that in 2 Kings 17 we are told that after the people were exiled from the northern kingdom the Assyrians brought in a foreign people who were idol worshippers, But they were attacked by wild animals, which they believed was caused by their not worshipping the god of that land. So they instituted worship of their old gods and also the God of Israel.

Now here is the text:

Because the Lord's portion is His people Jacob, the lot of His inheritance.” Above there is a portion (land) for each prince. Each prince of a people has chosen to take his own people.

And He took the land of Israel as His portion and gave it as a gift to Israel, as it says “all those who live outside the land (of Israel) are like those who have no god’ (Kesubos 110b) because they are under the princes (of those lands.)

But in the land of Israel there is no control over her by the 70 princes therefore even the nations (goyim) who dwell in the land of Israel need to keep all the mitzvos as it says with regards to the Kitim, “(they do not know) the law of the god of the land.” (2 Kings 17:26).

This is what it means, “because the Lord's portion is His people”, what HaShem takes as His portion (the land of Israel) He gives to His people.


If we look at the text in the Tenach these people were still idol worshippers, and not ‘gerei toshiv’. Also there was no halachic requirement for them, just a question of self-preservation. This passage has absolutely nothing to do with the issue of ‘ger’ and proves nothing. This is typical of the many sources that are cited, as we shall see in later articles.

***

In the next article I will deal with something the Ger people make a big issue of; that is the word: ‘Noahide’. Following that I will start to deal with some of the main sources used to support the ideas of ‘Ger’. I will then look carefully at the book Laws of Ger Toshiv. I will start in the Appendix and then go back to the text. While doing this I will try to touch on many issues of importance and disagreement. I will address any questions that people will pose to me.

I hope that this has been helpful and look forward to further discussions with you.


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