History often goes in cycles. In the beginning of the 20th century religion, was highly discredited. It was something you did in private or just on the week ends. The whole modern involvement with cults began in the 1960's when going into a cult was the "in thing" to do. Religion had lost its shame and became the popular thing. But a lot of it was directed towards Eastern cults. But some of that energy was dissipated in different directions, and some people instead went into the Orthodox Judaism  and other into different varieties of other religions.
Now the pendulum is swinging backwards as people are seeing what is wrong with the religions they went into. Many want to swing into anti-religion and become reform Jews and support the Democratic progressive party which supports Islamic Fascism. This seems to me to be an undesirable option.

  And this brings me to the other point about cults and religions. Their major good function is to save one from other cults and religions. This is like the purpose of the original nation states. They did nothing to help one in life's daily problems. All a nation state did was to protect one from other nation states that would take one and kill him or enslave him and rape his wife and then enslave her too.
This is one thing that is good about Torah. It saves from other cults and evil ideologies.
That is until it starts to morph into a cult instead that one joins thinking it will protect him, but the he finds himself enslaved and his wife stolen from him.

  In essence this is sad because in fact there is nothing wrong with the basic classical Torah books that are deemed holy. It is only that after Shabatai Tzvi teachings and energies of the Sitra Achara (dark side) got mixed up in it. The  Geon from Vilnius tried to prevent that development but he failed.  His warning went unheeded until this very day.

I make an exception for Nachman from Uman who I think is very important, and I think he rose above his origins. So my opinion is that the sitra achara [evil realm] is just too much a  part of Hasidim because of the many teachings of Shabatai Tzvi that are  apart of Hasidim.


How to learn Talmud-

  Soncino Talmuds are excellent.
Also you might want to get a large Hebrew English dictionary and a Jastrow (for Aramaic). This is just for a general introduction. The minimum level of learning everyone needs to get to in Talmud is to read and understand every Tosphot on the page and to be able to see the obvious questions.

The secret of Tosphot is that in every Tosphot there is some place that on the surface seems problematic. It is either a phrase or an idea that Tosphot introduces that seems to be out of place. It is in these spots that Tosphot plants the deepest ideas. (I learned to spot these areas when I learned with Rav Naphtali Yeger in Far Rockaway. Later when in the Mirrer Yeshiva in NY, I discovered that most people are not aware of the deeper aspects of Tosphot, but there there still was very high level of learning. But every person can discover this for himself if he is willing to spend the time on a Tosphot that is required. For people like me that is a lot of time. Like a week usually.)

Also, it is important to know that on every tractate there are one or two major akhronim (later authorities written after 1520) which are very important to learn. (Though I do knock the so called later authorities, but I am not referring to people that wrote on the Talmud itself. When I knock acharonim (later authorities), I am referring usually to people that wrote on halacha (like modern day pseudo halacha books). I would never dream of disparaging people like Rav Shach, R. Akiva Eiger or the Pnei Yehoshua (פני יהושע).

As for the Hidushei Ha'Rambam (חידושי הרמב''ם) of Rav Haim Soloveitchik, (commonly called חידושי רב חיים)-- it was the path of Reb Shmuel Berenbaum (of the Mir in New York). But this path has a great danger to it. It is easily misused by people that don't understand the Gemara itself. Quoting Reb Soloveitchik, or making up principles (yesodot) along his lines, provides an easy way for sounding like one knows how to learn (i.e. understand the Gemara). It is like giving a weapon into the hands of children.

So to learn Gemara you need to take just one Tosphot and learn it until you can answer these basic questions: What is Rashi saying? What is the Ri (R. Isaac) saying? Why does the Ri (R. Isaac Hazaken) disagree with Rashi. This is called learning. Most people skip this step. They think by jumping into questions of Reb Haim Soloveitchik that they can sound profound without understanding the basic page of the Talmud. And by skipping this step they are skipping something important for our day and age. Because inside of Tosphot  is a whole sub-layer which does not get revealed until you start noticing small questions inside the Tosphot. This layer is something that people during the Middle Ages learned how to include in their writings without openly saying so.

If you have gotten to that step, the next step depends on faith. If you understand Tosphot, then you believe that there is a whole sub-level inside of Tosphot that you are missing. And you keep working and repeating the same Tosphot day after day. At some point you start noticing things that you did not notice before, and a whole sub-level opens up. [This last step can be really frustrating. Sometimes it happens when you notice that there are lots variables flying around in the Gemara that Tosphot is not mentioning but they make a difference when it comes to understanding Tosphot. But sometimes no. This last step is hard because there is no way to predict how long you have to keep on reviewing one Tosphot until something that seems simple you see starts to becomes complex.] If you absolutely can't spend this type of time on it, then at least learn the Maharsha and the Pnei Yehoshua (or the major akhron on that tractate. Like for Yevamot go to the Arukh LaNer.)-and then go on. (That is incidentally how I did it. I admit to get through Shas I could never have spent this kind of time on every Tosphot. But if one is not exposed to this type of learning at a young age, he never discovers this depth inside the Talmud. That is why at least some time has to be spent with people that can do this deep learning inside of Tosphot. The sad thing is they are hard to find. )

[If I could do so today I would have a separate session in  Rav Shach's Avi Ezri word for word until I have finished the whole set. But  in those early days, I was driven to finish Shas with the more basic people-the Maharsha and the early akhronim. And, I admit, I did not finish Shas with all those people. I got married and moved to Israel, and so the only tractates I did with most Tosphot and Maharasha were Ketubot, Yevamot and Shabbat.] [For example, on Nedarim there was ידות נדרים and for Ketubot and Yevamot I used the Aruch LaNer ערוך לנר. There is usually one major akhron [later book] for every tractate.]

Ketubot was basically done with the Maharaha, Tosphot, Pnei Yehoshua. Towards the end, I did a lot of Tosphot HaRosh because he would basically quote Tospohot, but with small differences. These small differences were a great help for me to understand Tophot, and the difference between Tosphot and the Rosh. I don't recommend this because it is just characteristic of my own mentality that I need some other commentary to put any commentary into perspective. This happens to me all the time. I can't understand Tosphot until I do the Maharsha. Then I can't understand the Maharsha until I do the Pnei Yehoshua etc.

[Traditional learning means to "calculate the sugia." This is very different that the Reb Haim path of finding yesodot (foundational ideas). Yesodot/foundations are ideas that the argument between people depend on. You find this in the Gemara itself quite a lot--when it asks what is the סברא logic behind  certain idea.]


There are two approaches to Talmud. One began with R. Haim Soloveitchik. I must say that I did not learn this way personally. I heard countless lessons along the lines of Reb Haim. But when I got back to my shtender (seat), I plowed through the Talmud with the Tosphot and Maharsha and the early akhronim (like the Pnei Yehoshua). Sometimes I would go over and over a Pnei Yeshoshua about ten or more times until I got it.
But even this way could not be called traditional. The traditional way of learning was different. The principles were these: (1) Learn Tosphot. (2) It is forbidden to add any so called "principles"("yesodot") to make Tosphot make sense. He wrote it to make sense on its own. If you have to add outside concepts, then you don't understand it.  (3) There is a point that you get to when you understand Tosphot that something comes up almost by magic. Some thought or question. It is that magical point that is called "learning." For me it is very hard to get to that point.
The way of Reb Hayim was different. He did add "yesodot" or principles, but from elsewhere in the Talmud itself. And he did it in a way that does fit.

 If one  wants to learn the best halakha book, the Tur with the Beit Yoseph is the best thing out there.

For Reform and Conservative Jews that don't have time for this, but still need a basic introduction, I suggest as I mentioned above to take one page of Talmud and do it with the Tosphot. After that you need to find the people on the page from this selection: Akiva Eiger, Reb Haim Soloveitchik [from Brisk], Rav Shakh. This will give a good basic introduction to what learning Gemara means. Of all the above, probably Rav Shakh's book, the Avi Ezri, shows in the most basic simple way possible what it means to learn Talmud. [I don't agree with skipping Tosphot. Not for anyone, and especially not for Reform Jews who have limited time to spend on learning Torah.]

[I also believe Physics is important but I do not have an system for it except what the Sages already wrote לעולם ליגרס אדם עא''ג דמשכח ואע''ג דלא ידע מאי קאמר "One should say the words in order and go on even though he forgets and even though he does not even understand what he is saying." And it has been noted before that learning Talmud with ethics (Musar) is important, for otherwise the whole point is lost and in fact has a bad effect. For the whole purpose here is to gain good character and compassion and fear of God. When Talmud is learned together with Musar, it has the above named effects. Without Musar it not only lacks this effects but causes the opposite traits. So I am definitely on board the idea of the Lithuanian Musar Yeshiva.]
Ideas in Talmud, Ideas in Shas    Ideas in Tractate Bava Metzia, chapters 8 and 9 [For some reason you can not preview this book but you can download it.]

In these two books I am pointing to a new direction which I think learning Talmud ought to go. That is to concentrate on  Tosphot. I feel Tosphot is simply ignored way too much. Or that people simply skip over something troubling inside of Tosphot without realizing the depths of what he is saying.
I would like to correct that. And in these two books I show the way to do this  a little bit. But I highly regret I have not had time to write similar books on all of Shas. But I hope people will come after me that will continue this great work.

There is one basic yeshiva edition which is called the "Vilna Shas" It has no English and is the standard kind that they learn in all Litvak (Lithuanian) yeshivas like Haim Berlin.  There are all kinds of modern editions which are no good. You have to be sure to get the right kind of thing.

I should mention my approach does emphasize Tosphot. Yet there is a whole other world of Reb Haim of Brisk (Soloveitchik) up until Rav Shakh that emphasizes the Rambam, but is based on preliminary knowledge of Tosphot. It is perfectly legitimate, and the best representation of the school is Rav Shakh's Avi Ezri  which I think ought to be learned straight.

[I might mention that my first reaction when I encounter a hard Tosphot is to look at the Maharsha. Also having a learning partner with a high IQ is helpful. Without either of these two aids, I really do not know what to do. The best bet  is just to review the Tosphot every day without worrying about it too much. Just run through it. Maybe eventually it will make sense. In my two books on Gemara you will notice  answers to questions brought up by my learning partner, but that is only because I had a learning partner. On my own I admit it is hard to even see what the issues are inside of Tosphot  to even begin to think about them.]


My idea of Talmudic law is thus: the x axis is Talmudic material. The y axis is Natural Law (natural law as I see it is with a goal of human flourishing, and this means Democracy as in the concepts of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson of limited government). The z axis is spirituality.
There will be at least one point where they intersect. There might be several of these points and in fact all the points of intersection can form a curve. Now in theory, the halacha might be anywhere in which all three intersect. However I suggest that there will be a cusp point where all three functions are maximized.
But now that we have come this far I want to go further and suggest that these three axis are not enough to accommodate all values. (See the polynomic theory of value.) In practice you want each value to have its own axis and then to maximize the function. E.g. you want the God axis to be the z axis and justice to be the y one and beauty the x axis and so on for other modes of value.


Electricity on Shabat

On the subject of Electricity on Shabat: if you invent elaborate enough evasions, you can make any idea at all work.
What happened is no one cares about the Chazon Ish but forbidding electricity on Shabat is a good way to de-legitimize Reform Jews.

Orthodox Judaism encountered, and failed, its first great test of whether it had the qualities a truly religious person is supposed to have: humility, and respect for the truth. (Sorry the first great test was Charles Darwin. No sorry the first one was the Rambam. At least that test the Jewish people passed well enough. Though his philosophy is not taken seriously by any Jewish group, at least he is accepted as part of the cannon.)

But I can understand why someone would want to be strict like the Chazon Ish just from faith that he knew what he was talking about (faith in the wise), but personally I have never been able to make any sense out of that particular place where he says using electricity is binyan בנין.
(It fits with the Gemara but it introduces an outside principle not implicit in the Gemara-- plus it is against all the Rishonim. Given enough ad-hoc postulates, it is possible to make any theory, no matter how bizarre, work.)

I once thought the Chazon Ish had some support from an argument in Kelim between the Rambam and Raavd. But subsequent thought convinced me that neither the Rambam or Raavad gave him any support.
And the problem is in fact greater than this. The problem is that in the Chazon Ish most of the time he is absolutely brilliant. But then sometimes out of the blue he writes stuff that just makes  no sense.

Reb Shelomo Zalman Aurbach  spent a lot of time in his book trying to disprove  the Chazon Ish, but then put in some statement at the end to make it politically correct--(not for halacha he wrote)

The best reason to forbid electricity I could ever come up with to say that electricity should be forbidden is in the fact the basic act of work of lighting a fire is when it is in order to make coal [as was done in the Tabernacles], so that a light bulb would be forbidden by מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופה  work done not for its own sake. If electricity was fire then this would in fact be forbidden. The problem really comes from the fact that electricity is not fire

Rebitzin's husband: Adam,
What do you mean, don't quote R' Shlomo Zalman? Of course in Meorei Esh he attempts to completely disprove previous halachic understandings of electricity, including that of the Chazon Ish. However, what do you mean that his psak forbidding electricity was to be "politically correct"? He forbids on a Torah level an incandescent light-bulb as you mention, and forbids ALL other electrical devices because of minhag. I am pretty confident that just as he davened maariv every night, he did not use electricity on shabbat.

Me: True he also noticed that particular Rambam about the burning coal. If that is what he is standing on then you are right-a light bulb is forbidden according to that Rambam.

Later I heard Rav Shach [Menachem Eliezer Shach] discusses this and in particular brings that Rambam about the coal. But I don't have his book.  In the meantime I did a little work on "work that is not necessary for its purpose" concerning coals. This area of investigation is totally separate from the making vessels or building aspect on things and here I admit that I did not finish. The reason being that we were in the middle of that Tosphot in Yoma, [You know which one. The biggest Tosphot in Shas, page 34.] and then I saw the Rabbi Akiva Eiger who tries to prove the opinion of the Aruch. At that point I gave up and decided to go to Sanhedrin. I admit there is still plenty of work to do on this issue but so far I have not seen a thing which would indicate any problem about electricity.
I must have written on some blog some of the issue that came up in those days. The main area of investigation at this point seems to the page in Tractate Kritut and the Reb Chaim Halevi Soloveitchik.
The major point that comes up is that burning of a fire is liable when one's intension is to make coals. And this seems to be the case no matter how you look at מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופה.
That is to say there is an argument how to understand this basic concept. But no matter turning on an electric light is not going to be considered needed for its sake in any case.
So since we go by Rabbi Shimon this at least is not liable. And the Rambam that thinks it is liable is because he does not decide like Rabbi Shimon.

But so far all we have is an electric light which is far anyway from electricity in general


The higher root of sex.

higher root of sex. Freud insisted in seeing animal urges in all higher human aspirations. And he had to do this because the teleology of Aristotle had been rejected by science for many years and Freud wanted his steam engine model of human psychology to be respected as a science. But this resulted in the amazing failure of psychology to see goals and principles in human beings. And in the Orthodox Jewish frum world the attitude towards sex comes from the Puritans--also no insight.

Many people thought by psychology they would reach sexual happiness. This was the sexual revolution. Instead it left people with all the same problem but no way to even begin to understand from where those problems come from. So immediately after the sexual revolution came the extreme vilification of sex by the Feminist movement with an explicit understanding by therapists and psychologists that all men are sexual abusers and most men (expect of course psychologists and therapists) were all child abusers.
As opposed to all this stupidity and wickedness, the approach of the Torah is special and amazing and refreshing --that sex is powerful and holy but needs to be directed towards marriage. Because sex is the most powerful force in the universe and the most holy. It is like a atomic reactor. When it is running alright then there is a great energy and power. But when things get off track --then the result is nothing less than total disaster.