Wednesday, April 25, 2007


In a comment string on a Dovbear blog guest post by Ed (browny points to Dov for exemplary hachnoses orchim, by the way), I wrote that something reminded me of both Maoist propaganda from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution era, and Christian Sunday school pablum. After which I was somewhat critical of inspirational fluff and cotton wool.

SM, who causes havoc by sometimes showing up at black-hat shuls wearing a kippah srugah and a t-shirt, responded: "Read an Art Scroll 'Biography'. Or indeed a Feldheim 'Biography'. No wonder Charedim believe in daas torah. The people they read about never do anything wrong and are always right in what they suggest. I truly believe that in taking the non-critical hagiographic approach to such extremes you create a generation who cannot face the fact that their heroes have ever done anything which is not 100% pure and true. That is propaganda and Jews, of all people, should resist it."

This immediately reminded me of the biography of the Chofetz Chaim which I read three years ago. I shall NOT commit lashon hara by stating who the author was, or what utter soft-in-the-head balderdash it was, but merely mention that it failed to inspire, failed to intrigue, and but for a super-human effort on the part of the reader, failed to hold any interest whatsogevaltever.

What I'm fairly certain I did not gather from that book (because I had gathered it before I bought the book) was that the Chofetz Chaim was a Chassidic master from Radin in Lithuania (Rabbi Yisroel Meyer Kagan HaKohen, 1839 – 1933) and author of several works: Ahavas Chesed (loving kindness), Nidchei Yisroel (the scattering of Israel), and several others, including works on halacha (law) and haskafah (philosophy).

The work for which he is most famous is the one by the title of which he is known: Chafetz Chayim (choose life), which is about lashon hara (evil tongue – gossip, speaking ill others, and doing ill by speaking of others).
[A book which goes into any detail about something, even if in utter opposition thereto, can function as a ‘how to’ - the choice is yours. It’s a zesty subject. Watch Fox news for actual examples of lashon horo in practice.]

The term Chofetz Chayim is taken from Psalm 34:13 - 15 “Mi ha ish he chafetz chayim, ohev yamim lirot tov?” ('Who is the man that choses life, and loves days in which he sees good?'). “Netzor lashonecha me ra, u sfateicha midaber mirma,” (Hold your tongue from evil, and your lips from voicing deceit), “Sur me ra, va ase tov, bekesh shalom ve radefehu!” (turn from evil and do good, look for peace and pursue it).

Note, by the way, that ‘Kagan’ is a transcription of Kohen.

As a measure of his character, and veering somewhat into the sweet puffy cotton wool propaganda realm nevertheless, consider the following:
The Chofetz Chaim had a brilliant student at the yeshiva he founded in Radin, who married, and eventually stopped studying, as the needs of providing for a family took up more and more of his time.
One day the Chofetz Chaim ran into him, and urged him to resume his studies, even if only by joining a group for the study of one blatt (one folio page, side a and b) of Talmud a day. The student apologized, but indicated that this would be of little use – he used to devour ten blatt a day, surely one blatt would be as nothing? A mere one blatt! Myeh! Better to wait until he would again have all the time in the world, and then return to his studies.

The Chofetz Chaim told him of a man who was warned by his doctor to stay away from the baths, because in his weak condition they would prove too enervating. One day he passed the bath-house, gave in to temptation and went inside, enjoying the heat and steam for several hours. After a while, it affected him, so badly that he believed he would faint. Mustering all his remaining strength, he rushed to the Mikvah to cool off. But what was this? The door was locked! He wailed in despair. Someone came at his calling, with a basin of cold water to pour over him and relieve his discomfort.

Now surely this man did not say “that basin is not enough, what good will that do? I will have the mikva or nothing!” And so it is with study.
As Hillel says in Pirkei Avos (2:5), “Do not say ‘when I have leisure I will study’, for perhaps you may never have leisure.”

The Chofetz Chaim should actually be better remembered for the Mishna Berura (teachings clarified), which is a six volume gloss on Orach Chayim presenting a spectrum of opinions concerning the halachos of prayer, service, shabbes, and yomim tovim.
It is one of the major works. a sehr bavuste sefer.



Orach Chayim = A section of the Shulchan Aruch, the well-known compendium of Halacha by Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488 – 1575), containing also the opinions of his famous predecessors, and usually printed with the commentary of the Rama. The Orach Chayim deals with laws concerning daily living and holiday practices.

Shulchan Aruch = ‘The Set Table’; a monumental compendium of Jewish law, reflecting a Sfardic bent, hence subsequently augmented with the Mapa (tablecloth) by Harav Moshe Isserles (the Rama, 1530 – 1572), which gives the Ashkenazic points of view. The Shulchan Aruch is probably the most well known compendium of Jewish law, but tends towards Sephardic custom, which is why the Mapa is always printed in the same book for the Ashkenazic point of view. Custom (minhag) has the weight of the law of the land.

[Whence, by the way, that term 'set table'? From Psalm 23, second verse: "Gam ki eileich be gei tzal-mavet, lo ira ra, ki ata imadi. Shivteicha u mishanteicha, heimah yenachamuni. Ta'aroch le fanai shulchan, neged tzorerai, dishanta va shemen roshi, kosi revayah. Ach tov va chesed yirdefuni kol yemei chayai, ve shavti be veit Adonai le orech yamim." ('Indeed, though I walk through the dale of the shadow of death, I shall not fear evil, because You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they console me. You have set before me a table, opposite my enemies, You have anointed me head with balm, my cup overflows. Verily goodness and righteousness shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will settle in the house of the Lord to the end of days').]

The Rama (the ReMa) = Rav Moishe Ben Yisroel Isserless (born 1525 or 1530 in Krakow, died 1572). Author of the Mappah (tablecloth), which is a supplement to Yosef Karo's Shulchan Aruch (the set table).

Yosef Ben Efraim Karo (1488 – 1575), native of Toledo in Spain, who at four years of age left Iberia with thousands of others in the expulsion – an event which directly benefited the Ottoman empire (where Yosef Karo’s family settled), and a few generations later also proved a blessing to Amsterdam (when the “Portuguese” Sfardim settled along the Amstel river).

He is, in reference to the Shulchan Aruch, often called the ‘mechaber’ (author).

In addition to the Shulchan Aruch, Rav Karo was also the author of the Beis Yosef (a digest and commentary on the Arba Turim (four rows) of Rav Yakov Ben Asher, 1270 – 1340). In it, he analyzes the rulings and traces them to their sources in the Talmud. The Beis Yosef is frequently printed as commentary in the Arba Turim, which demonstrates how indispensable it is for study.

He was also the brother in law of Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz (1500 – 1580) and the teacher of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (the Ramak, born circa 1522, died 1570).

Rav Moshe Cordovero was the teacher of Rabbi Chayim Vital Calabrese, the author of Ohr Yakar (Precious Light; a commentary on the Zohar) and Pardes Rimonim (The Pomegranate Garden; a compendium of Kabala). Rav Moshe received smicha (rabbinic ordination) from Rabbi Yakov Beirav (circa 1474 – 1546).

Rabbi Shlomo AlKabetz (born 1500 in Salonica, moved to Tzfat in 1535, died 1580), also ordained by Rabbi Yakov Beirav, was the author of Manot HaLevi, Bris HaLevi, Beis HaShem, Avotos Aheva, Ayalet Ahavim, and, finally, a song - Lecha Dodi (Come, o beloved), for which he is perhaps most famous.


Looking Forward said...

you left out that the choffetz chaim was also quite the little zealot when it comes to women. I did not know that he was actualy chassidic, that may explain some things though.

Anonymous said...

Ihr habt eine schoene Webseite hier, und vielciht schaut Ihr euch auchmal meine an, ok Sex im Internet ist nicht jedermans Sache, aber eben meine erste Homepage. Danke und macht weiter so!

The back of the hill said...

That last comment let through ONLY because the politeness and humility of the poster.

Given that this post is too far back in time to attract anyones attention, scant harm caused by allowing a German to demurely post a smutty url.

The back of the hill said...

To the nudnik who keeps attempting to get urls for Russian sexual sites (ie: "opa pizda") published here:

It won't work. As often as you forward that crap, I will mark it as spam. Trust me. I am infinitely patient. And some of the things you are trying to busk should not ever be seen by anybody. In any case, they will NOT be viewable from this comment string.

Com mult' respetto,

------ATBOTH, s.r.g.

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