Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Archive for February 15th, 2009|Daily archive page

When are words dirty?

In Uncategorized on February 15, 2009 at 8:46 pm

Wallace Stegner arrives at an astute definition, and it was back in the 60’s, but still rings true.

Words are not obscene: naming things is a legitimate verbal act. And “frank” does not mean “vulgar,” any more than “improper” means “dirty.” What vulgar does mean is “common”; what improper means is “unsuitable.” Under the right circumstances, any word is proper. But when any sort of word, especially a word hitherto taboo and therefore noticeable, is scattered across a page like chocolate chips through a tollhouse cookie, a real impropriety occurs. The sin is not the use of an “obscene” word; it is the use of a loaded word in the wrong place or in the wrong quantity. It is the sin of false emphasis, which is not a moral but a literary lapse, related to sentimentality. It is the sin of advertisers who so plaster a highway with neon signs that you can’t find the bar or liquor store you’re looking for. Like any excess, it quickly becomes comic …

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More on Parshat Yitro

In Uncategorized on February 15, 2009 at 8:18 pm

For more on Parshat Yitro, take a look at the following which was posted on Myjewishlearning.com. The Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning gets the attribution, but it was written by me.

Classic Talmudic and Medieval Literature on War & Peace

In Uncategorized on February 15, 2009 at 12:38 pm

The Talmud has always had a moderating influence on the Hebrew Bible and it has been claimed that this accounts for the virtual pacifism of Ashkenazic Jewry up until the creation of Modern Israel. These arguments on whether people can be drafted for wars that do not answer imminent threats do not seem arcane, but downright current, as Rabbi Menachem HaMeiri (1249-1306) comments on a Talmudic dispute:

Where the rabbis and Rabbi Yehuda argue is in the case of a pre-emptive strike where we are fearful of the enemy that they may strike us, or that we know they are preparing to strike us. According to the sages, this is considered an obligatory war, and anyone engaged in the war is absolved from fulfilling other commandments while Rabbi Yehuda considers that as long as the enemy has yet to attack, it has to be an authorized war and one is not absolved from fulfilling other commandments.

Meaning that if someone is engaged in a sacred task, he cannot be drafted for this type of war. The Torah itself allowed for a type of conscientious objector–one who did not have the stomach for it. If your interested in a survey of the literature, and powerpoint click here

Remembering Shabbat According to Rashi

In parshat yitro, shabbat on February 15, 2009 at 4:51 am

On the Commadment זכור את יום השבת לקדשו (Remember the Sabbath in order to sanctify it) Rashi teaches that the way to do this is by keeping shabbat in one’s memory. How does one do this? One should set aside something for shabbat during the week.

Interesting that Rashi doesn’t quote the Talmudic passage that required us to make Kiddush on wine זכרהו על היין (Remember it (shabbat) with wine). Instead, he gives us the custom of Shammai the elder as quoted in the Gemara Beitza where he differs with Hillel.

If Shammai found a plump calf on one day, he would set it aside for Shabbat, while Hillel would use it on that day, quoting the verse ברוך השם יום יום (Praise be God everyday).


Shammai, however, did not create this custom in order to remember shabbat, but to honor shabbat. Why does Rashi seem to conflate honor with memory?

Rashi likes Shammai’s custom because it achieves both qualities simultaneously. Shabbat is honored materially by setting aside the animal, but in so doing, it fulfills the requirement of memory, removing it from being a passive activity to being an active one. He actively recalls the shabbat as he sets aside the calf. By saying this calf will be saved for shabbat, he is remembering that it is special and he honors it by preparing ahead of time. If he finds a nicer calf the following day, he will set that aside and eat the previous calf. Each day affords an opportunity where shabbat may be remembered, but it is guaranteed that this active memory will be invoked at least once.

Rashi understands that “Remembering shabbat” needs to happen outside of Shabbat and therefore it is part and parcel of honoring shabbat. It is the ideal way to invest every day with the purpose of preparing and remembering shabbat.

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In Uncategorized on February 15, 2009 at 1:28 am

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