• Home
  • Parashah Insights
  • Ask the Rabbi
  • Festivals & Fasts
  • Articles
  • Books
  • About
  •  

    Enemies & Obsessions – Rabbi Apple’s latest book

    November 26th, 2014

    downloadEnemies and Obsessions: More Memories and Musings (ISBN 9781496992239) presents Rabbi Apple’s reflections on his life, experiences, ideas and occasional battles. The book is short, pithy and readable, and somewhat provocative.

    Unlike the author’s earlier autobiographical adventure (To Be Continued), it does not follow any particular order, alphabetical, chronological or otherwise, but meanders through its subjects in a rather idiosyncratic manner. We find out who he considers to be his enemies and what he identifies as his constant obsessions, and discover the lost opportunities which might have led his career along different paths.

    The author is Australian and Jewish, and both strands figure largely in what he writes, but much of what he says has wider import and will be enjoyed by readers of all backgrounds and beliefs.

    The softcover and ebook editions of Enemies and Obsessions: More Memories and Musings are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and The Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).


    No chicken on Shabbat?

    November 23rd, 2014

    The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on 23 November, 2014.

    roast chickenWith all the publicity about Meatless Mondays, what about Shabbat?

    My wife and I find our friends and Shabbat guests incredulous: “You don’t eat meat on Shabbat? Not even chicken?” They admit that our non-fleishig soups are actually quite tasty, they even like our pareve cholent, but they still wonder if what we do can really be kosher.

    It’s not merely that there is an entrenched idea that Shabbat and chickens go together, but there is a view in the Talmud that Shabbat cannot be enjoyed without meat, and this is apparently the sticking-point.

    Everyone knows that God’s original intention was for human beings to eat vegetables (Genesis 1:29), and indeed the manna in the wilderness was vegetarian, though, strangely, the Bible says relatively little else about vegetables, though the Israelites had a strange fit of nostalgia in the wilderness and hankered after the fish, melons, leeks, cucumbers, onions and garlic that they had eaten in Egypt (Numbers 11:5), and King Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard in order to plant a vegetable garden – presumably for his own benefit and not that of the public (I Kings 21:2).

    For a true appreciation of vegetables in Jewish tradition we have to go to the Talmud. Both the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 17b) and the Jerusalem version (end of Kiddushin) discuss what facilities are essential in a properly equipped city, and both sources speak highly of vegetable gardens. The sages say that a Torah scholar in particular should not dwell in a place which lacks a supply of vegetables. Rashi explains that vegetables are inexpensive and good for you, and acquiring and preparing them does not adversely affect the time you can devote to Torah study.

    Many of the rabbis were experts in medicine and believed that certain vegetables were an aid to health, though they warned against the diarrhoea that might come from vegetables (presumably if unwashed). Some scholars were poor like Hillel and appreciated being able to eat well on vegetables, though they looked forward to being able to afford meat (Shabbat 140b).

    There is no question that the Torah permits the eating of meat. It lists animals which may be eaten and how to slaughter them. It establishes animal sacrifice as part of Temple worship. Most people cannot imagine living without meat, though they possibly recognise that in messianic times vegetarianism might be necessary. Meat eating gives a feeling of fullness and satisfaction, which is where the Talmudic assertion, “there is no simchah… without meat” (Pesachim 109a) comes in.

    Followers of the Kabbalah argue that meat-eating elevates the animal. Non-kabbalists discount this view. But what about statements requiring meat on Shabbat?

    Let’s look at the Talmudic discussion in detail. The Talmud says, “eat meat sparingly” (Chullin 84a); but this statement is not an argument against the principle of meat eating, only its quantity. Pesachim 109a tells us, “Our rabbis said, ‘A person is obligated to make his children and household rejoice on a festival… With what does he make them rejoice? With wine… Rabbi Yehudah ben Batyra said, ‘When the Temple stood there could be no rejoicing except with meat… but now that the Temple is no longer in existence, there is no rejoicing except with wine, as it is said, ‘Wine gladdens the heart of man’ (Psalm 104:15)”. In other words, meat is no longer essential to simchah, and the din is not about meat but wine. There certainly can be no simchah if meat eating causes a feeling of distress.

    Maimonides endorses meat eating on festivals “if one can afford it” (Hil’chot Shabbat 30:10), implying that a different menu would be acceptable if a person were poor or if it gave them pleasure. The Shulchan Aruch says that those who fast every day would feel pain if they were forced to eat on Shabbat, and we could also say that vegetarians would feel pain if they had to eat meat on Shabbat (Shulchan Aruch, Orah Chayyim 288:1-3).

    There is a health consideration. Vegetables are a source of protein, making meat unnecessary.

    Really good vegetarian cooks can do wonders with vegetable ingredients. The days when vegetarians were fobbed off at a simchah with the convenient but boring vegetarian schnitzels ought to be over. Caterers who only know meat should try a good vegetarian restaurant to see what can be done with vegetables. The easy availability of seitan, tofu and other vegetarian staples invites the development of imaginative recipes.

    Shabbat meals are perfectly possible without meat.


    Comings & goings – Vayyetzei

    November 22nd, 2014

    Jacob & his family leave Haran, by Charles Foster, 1897

    Jacob & his family leave Haran, by Charles Foster, 1897

    The portion begins with the phrase, “And Jacob went out from Beer Sheva and went to Haran” (Gen. 28:11). According to Rashi, it would not have been enough to tell us where he went to, Haran, without also informing us where he came from, Beer Sheva. So both his going out and his coming in needed to be specified. This tells us that when a good person leaves a place it is not only worthy of note: it also proves that on your departure, the place you have left is thereby diminished.

    It’s a phenomenon that has characterised all the many centuries of Jewish migration. Looking only at the last two centuries when millions of Jews moved from one country to another, we can trace not only the contribution they made to their new homes but also the negative impact their leaving made on the places they came from. Continental Europe is the prime modern example. The culture of the whole of Europe lost its lustre when it lost its Jews.

    It’s all very well for European nations to think they can manage without their Jews, but did (and do) they ever think of how much their Jewish communities did for them and how much they lack without the Jews of the past?


    Two ways of saying the name – Vayyetzei

    November 22nd, 2014

    Issachar IsacharOne of Jacob’s sons was called Issachar (Gen. 30:18), in Hebrew Yissachar. There is an alternative reading, Yissas’char.

    The problem is caused by the doubling of one of the consonants in the name. Since the Torah text has no vowels or indicative points we are not certain what to do with the double shin – or is it a double sin, or maybe a shin plus a sin? Can we ignore one of these letters altogether and leave it out of the reckoning?

    There are various guide rules which help the reader, but it is important to note that the verse itself gives a hint of what Issachar’s mother Leah had in mind. The birth of this son led her to feel specially grateful to God and to say, “God has given me my reward (s’chari)”. So Yissachar indicates, yesh sachar, “there is a reward”. In practice it is so difficult to pronounce a shin and a sin in succession, as would be the case if we said, Yish-sachar, so the shin has become absorbed in the sin and the name has a double sin.

    The Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi) sees theological significance in the words yesh sachar, which to him suggest the principle of sachar va’onesh, Divine reward and punishment. The question is what really is the question. Are we saying “Human deeds bring reward or punishment from On High”? Or “Do we take every reward as proof that the person has acted righteously and every suffering as evidence that the person has misbehaved”?

    If the second version is correct, this is the ancient problem of righteous people who suffer, yet their suffering can’t be evidence of sin, and of wicked people who prosper, which is unfair because it shows that crime does pay. Hence the ethical way of approaching the Biblical passage is to adopt the first version of the question as a warning, “Watch what you do, because you might incur Divine punishment”.


    Groupthink – Ask the Rabbi

    November 22nd, 2014

    Q. “Groupthink” is the name for pressure to conform to the group’s views. Isn’t this similar to a problem the Sanhedrin used to face?

    groupthinkA. Definitely. In the 1970s Irving Janis developed the concept of “groupthink”, which has a clear connection with the ancient Sanhedrin.

    To avoid giving “the group” an unfair advantage, junior members expressed their views at the Sanhedrin before the seniors, obviating the pressure to conform to the arguments of the “big boys”.

    A ruling was not final so long as anyone could come to Jerusalem with new evidence. A ruling could be postponed overnight even if a verdict had apparently been reached. A unanimous verdict of guilty was always suspect.