Thursday, August 31, 2006

Women's role in Judaism: servant of Hashem or servant of her husband?

In response to some of the comments on the post on female role models and to comments here, I decided to do a quick summary of what I think are basics about women's role in Judaism:
1) The focus of a women’s life should be fulfilling the ratzon Hashem – same as men. A woman is a servant of G-d, not a servant of her husband.
2) The way women fulfill the ratzon Hashem is by avoiding the 365 lavim and performing the mitzvos aseh she’ain hazeman gerama which they are obligated in. They also have the opportunity to glean additional schar (albeit a lesser schar than one who is metzuveh) from performing other mitzvos on a voluntary basis.
3) For women (as well as men) the only way to achieve dveikus with Hashem is through Torah and mitzvos. Vague feelings of subjective “spirituality” are not a substitute for the objective performance of mitzvos.
4) A woman (like a man) is subject to personal schar v’onesh based only on the degree to which she does mitzvos and learns Torah. One cannot attain reward based on someone else’s mitzvah performance, except to the degree that enabling someone else to perform a mitzvah is itself a mitzvah.
5) Even though women are not obligated in Talmud Torah, because the mitzvah of Talmud Torah is crucial to attaining the ultimate reward of Olam Haba, women have the ability to glean its complete reward by enabling their husband and children to learn. This does not supplant or minimize their obligation for their own spiritual growth and mitzvah performance, but supplements those obligations (Pnei Yehoshua, Brachos 17).
6) It is impossible for women (or men) to fulfill their obligations as a Jew in ignorance of halacha (Bais haLevi, hakdamah), Jewish thought, and knowledge of Torah. Although in previous generations the home provided the minimum level of knowledge needed to fulfill one's religious obligations, in our times this is no longer sufficient (Chafeitz Chaim, Likutei Halachos Mes. Sota). There is disagreement as to how expansive a women’s study curriculum should be and whether it should include Torah sheBa’al Peh, but it is indisputable that for the study of Torah sheB’Ksav, mussar, machshava, and halacha, a women receives schar as an aino metzuveh v’oseh (Rambam, Hil T”T) and this study is invaluable in enabling her spiritual growth and correct performance of mitzvos.
7) Women (like men) must strive for a balance between personal growth as a Jew and fulfillment of obligations to family and career aspirations. Halacha does not mandate specific roles for either gender; however, halacha does demand that women (and men) arrive at an individualized balance which best enables their personal growth as well as the growth of those around them in avodas Hashem.
Most of this is basic halacha, yet, many of the comments on previous posts indicate that not everyone is comfortable with these ideas. Some examples: The comment (made on my wife’s blog) that “the focus of a women should be noshim b’mai zacyin and eizhu isha keshara [osah retzon ba’ala]” contradicts #1, #4, and #5. The attitude that as long as the house is neat and the kids are encouraged to learn a women has met her spiritual obligations denies #2, #4, and substitutes a vicarious experience of Judaism through one’s offspring or through one’s husband for what one is personally obligated to achieve. The thought that since our bubbes could not read and were tzidkaniyos (which is itself probably a myth) women need not trouble to learn denies #6. The idea that halacha delegates the kitchen to the women and the workplace to the man ignores #7. The pursuit of “spirituality” without Torah learning or objective mitzvah performance contradicts # 3. You get the idea. My bottom line: women are responsible for their own spiritual growth through Torah and mitzvos independent of their roles as mothers, wives, homemakers, or their place in the workforce. So why do so many disagree? Why for boys are the role models roshei yeshiva and gedolim, but for daughters it suffices if they aspire to roles of ignorance of halacha and machshava, Judaism without intellectual growth and with an economy of mitzvah performance? What of the above (items 1-7) do you take issue with and why?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

chezkas marei kammah (II)

I should have clarified yesterday’s post a bit more. What is chezkas marei kammah? In the world of issur v’heter, we have a principle of chazakah that tells us that unless we know otherwise, we assume status quo - if a mikevh was once kosher, I can dunk in it assuming it is still kosher unless I measure it and discover otherwise. In the world of dinei mamonos we have a rule called muchzak which tells us if I have possession of an article and you want to take it from me, possession is 9/10 of the law and you need proof (the classic rule of ‘hamotzi me’chaveiro alav hara’aya’, though there may be more to chezkas mamom than that). What if I was once had possession of some article, but right now it is not in my hands or under my control – how does the halacha treat a challenge to my ownership? What if a cow which had been mine is found wandering down the road somewhere and you claim it is really your cow? On the one hand, I am not the muchzak because the cow is not directly in my possession. On the other hand, I did in the past have ownership, and you have no demonstrable proof that the status quo ever changed. This is the issue of chezkas marei kammah – the chazakah of original ownership. The Kuntres HaSefeikos (1:5) offers two possible approaches to understand such a claim. One approach is the dinei mamonos rule of muchzak – even though not directly under my control at this moment, the fact that an article had once been mine is sufficient to make me the muchzak unless you can prove otherwise. The other approach is the classic rule of chazakah – even though chazakah is normally an issur v’heter law (see Chulin 9), it implies that we can extend any status quo, including ownership. One approach derives it authority from the force of original ownership, the other derives its authority from the right of possession being 9/10 of the law. Tosfos (Baba Basra 32b) writes that in a case where two sets of witnesses contradict each other creating a safeik, we rely on chezkas marei kammah. But where we have a halachic uncertainty/safeik as to how to resolve an issue, we do not rely on chezkas marei kammah. What is the difference? R’ Akiva Eiger explains that Tosfos’s distinction depends on how one understands chezkas marei kammah. If chezkas marei kammah is a function of extending the status quo of original ownership, the classic rule of chazakah, then it cannot help in this scenario –the status of original ownership is not under debate, rather, there is a halachic issue we need to resolve. However, if chezkas marei kammah is a form of chezkas mammon, possession is equivalent to ownership unless we can definitively state otherwise, even a safeik in halacha is not sufficient to definitively transfer ownership.
Against the evidence of Tosfos (proving the point of the Meshech Chochma and R’ Akiva Eiger that chezkas marei kammah is derived from the classic rule of chazakah) there are other sources that indicate chezkas m”k is really a type of chezkas mammon. The rule with respect to classic forms of chazakah is ‘ruba v’chazakah, ruba adif’ – a rov constitutes better proof than a chazakah. Yet, a rov is not sufficient proof to remove money from someone’s possession as muchzak (‘ain holchin b’mamon achar harov’). R’ Elchanan Wasserman (Koveitz Shiurim #7) cites the Rosh who holds that a rov is weaker than chezkas marei kammah. If chezkas m”k is the same as the rule of muchzak, possession, then it is stronger than the proof od rove, but if chezkas m”k is a form of classical chazakah, why would a rov not be a stronger form of proof?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

safeik matnos ani'yim and chezkas marei kammah

Back to meat and potatoes. Chazal darshen on the pasuk “lo tashuv l’kachto” (24:19) by the mitzvah of shikcha that if one has a safeik if the wheat in question belongs to the poor or belongs to the ba’al habayis, the original owner, we assume it belongs to the ba’al habayis (following the GR”As girsa). This seems to contradict a Mishna in Pe’ah (4:11) which tells us if one finds wheat in an anthill and is in doubt if it belongs to the ba’al habayis or is leket and belongs to the poor, we assume safeik leket l’aniyim. The Meshech Chochma (basing himself on the Mahari”t) writes that we can distinguish between the case of the anthill, where the ownership of the wheat is in question, and the case of safeik shikcha, where we know the owner of the wheat was the ba’al habayis, but we question whether it was forgotten or fell and now belongs to the poor – a doubt is not sufficient to break the status quo of ownership, the chezkas marei kammah, in such a case. However, asks the Meshech Chochma, there is another Mishna (Pe’ah 4:7) which tells us safeik olelos belongs to the poor. Olelos are deformed grapes which do not form a proper cluster (see Mishna for the details) on the spine; according to the Rash, the issue in the Mishna is whether the particular case is a al pi halacha considered a normal grape cluster or not. Why do we not use the rule of chezkas marei kammah here and let the owner keep the grapes – why do the poor get to keep them? The Meshech Chochma answers that chezkas marei kammah works like any other chazakah kamaysa – just like in the world of issur v’heter the rule of chazakah tells us to maintain status quo until proven otherwise, so too in the world of dinei mamonos, we assume status quo until proven otherwise. That is well and good if our question is whether a change of ownership occurred or not (a safeik in metziyus). However, in the case of olelos, our safeik is a halachic safeik – do the grapes in question meet the standard of olelos defined in the Torah? Knowing who the current owner of those grapes are based on the status quo of chezkas marei kammah cannot in any way help us address that halachic safeik. This somewhat technical Meshech Chocha slips in almost by-the-way the assumption that chezkas marei kammah is rooted in the same chazakah world that exists by issur v’heter. Whether that is true or not is a major debate among many of the achronim – to be continued bli neder….

Shakespeare b'chavrusa

OK, before last week I don’t think I ever linked to an article before, and here is my third in a few days. No, I will not become a link aggregator for you or supplant your other news sources anytime soon : ) I happen to subscribe to a Shakespeare discussion list and one of the other members forwarded this article on the use of chavrusa study to approach English lit texts. I can't believe this has not been done before, and it certainly would make a nice approach in any yeshiva HS.
(Would it be such a bad thing if yeshivos fostered better pooling of resources among staff members so that an English teacher might become aware of the benefits of chavrusa learning and a Rebbe might benefit from becoming aware of some of the teaching methodologies used in a secular classes? I doubt things have changed that much from when I was in chinuch - Rebbes and secular teachers view themselves as different breeds rather than sharing the commonalities involved in the teaching endeavor. But that's another discussion...)

Monday, August 28, 2006

how much silver in a shekel

The Rambam (Shekalim 3:2) tells us that a shekel is the weight in silver of 300 barley seeds:

ב מניין כסף האמור בתורה באונס ובמפתה ובמוציא שם רע והורג עבד, הוא כסף הוא שקל הנאמר בכל מקום בתורה ומשקלו, שלוש מאות ועשרים שעורה

I always assumed this is some type of average, because given any 300 assorted barley grains you would expect some slight differential in the total weight. Live and learn - Peter Bernstein writes in “The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession” (p. 24), “Today the carat has been replaced by the grain as the conventional unit of weight [for gold and other precious metals]. Grains of barley or wheat in the middle of the ear have the same remarkable attributes as the carat – a standard weight regardless of the size of the ear.”
I never knew that!

new interview with R' Ahron Lichtenstein

New interview with R’ Ahron Lichtenstein published by Arutz-7 here
If you are familiar somewhat with R’ Ahron’s shitos (I did not learn in Gush so I do not claim more intimate knowledge than can be gleaned by reading) there are no surprises here; if not, this is a pretty nice overview of a few topics: the Brisker derech, secular studies, women’s role in Judaism and Torah study, attitude toward the State and disengagement.
One cute tidbit: he quotes R’ Chaim Ozer as having said that R’ Chaim Brisker had greater bekiyus than the Rogatchover. Bekiyus is not about memorizing a lot of facts, but about the understanding and depth of knowledge that grows from them. (Interesting to compare that to R’ Chaim Brisker’s own comment on bekiyus, which we once discussed.)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

the second sefer torah of the king

Heard over Shabbos an interesting question on the Rambam's formulation of the mitzvah of a king to write a second sefer Torah. The gemara (Sanhedrin 21b) implies that both the sefer of each individual as well as the sefer of a king must be written by them and not inherited from a parent. The Rambam is clear in hilchos sefer Torah that each individual must write his own sefer and not merely inherit one. Yet, when it comes to the king, the Rambam writes (Melachim 3:1) that the mitzvah is to write a sefer "in addition to the sefer left [to the king] by his father...If his father did not leave a sefer or it was lost, the king must write two toros". What does the Rambam mean by the words "in addition to the Torah left by his father" - the king is obviously not yotzei his mitzvah to write his own individual sefer with the sefer inherited from his father, and is not yotzei writing a second sefer either through inheriting one?! The Kesefe Mishne as well as Minchas Chinuch raise the issue - M.C. offers no answer; KS"M rereads the whole gemara b'dochak.
While on the topic, the Rashash sometimes throws a radical curveball at you, and this mitzvah is one of those places. He writes (Sanhedrin 21) that the king could not shlep around a full sefer Torah with him. This second sefer was no more than an abridged version listing the 613 mitzvos. You definitely do not get this impression from any of the rishonim!

Friday, August 25, 2006

female role models for avodas Hashem (II) - cross currents and gender stereotypes

Earlier this week, I challenged, “If you have daughters, take a moment and think of 3 contemporary female role models who inspire your daughters with their wisdom, insight, and intellectual acumen in Torah. I would bet you couldn't name three.” Almost too good to be true, my point was underscored when the very first comment came in (and I hope the author is not offended by being quoted – if you are, I will change this post and ask mechila) – “However, for what it is worth, I can name you some compelling and "inspirational" female rolemodels, who are also very intellectually-minded yet promote personal growth and a love of Torah: Rebbitzen Tzipporah Heller..., Rebbitzen Shira Smiles. There is also a Rebbitzen, I forget her name…”
I don't count as three names Rebbetzin Heller, Smiles, and what’s her name… My point was that no one would have the same degree of trouble naming three Roshei Yeshiva, male role models. And as I wrote, “…I do take issue with those who do not see the harmful effects produced by the dearth of role models and lack of serious learning opportunities open to young women.”
Contrary to my view, Avi Shafran weighs in this week with the following: “There is certainly no dearth of Orthodox women role-models who shoulder important responsibilities in bona fide Orthodox communities.” Indeed! So where are these inspirational leaders and role models? Shafran explains, “They fill the fundamental, vital positions of homemakers (in the word’s most literal and sublime sense), wives and mothers…” Yes, inspiration in the kitchen! There is the sublime of the laundry and dirty dishes! What can be greater avodas Hashem then doing laundry, baking challah, and scrubbing the floor when you are done? I shouldn't be so cynical, but the fact that anyone can write this stuff is amazing.
Chores are not avodas Hashem - they are chores. My wife happens to do much of the work at home, but is not naive enough to believe that this should be the totality of her religious experience. The fact that she reviews parsha with a different peirush every year, learns and knows Nach better than I do, and I know where to find the good R' Tzadok's in Pri Taddik based on her underlining in the sefer says far more about her avodas Hashem then the fact that she bakes good challah. This is certainly not the derech for every women. I don't know if it is the derech for most. I do know that whatever her derech is or the derech my daughers choose for themselves when they get older should not be based on gender stereotypes that come from the world of 1940s TV sitcoms. A person needs to seek out his or her own path to fulfillement. For some, baking challah is enough. For others, women as well as men, a more intellectual approach is yearned for. For these women, the kitchen is not the answer to religious fulfillment.

the authority of a navi vs. the authority of nevuah (II)

When can one listen to a Navi who says to disobey the Torah? The gemara in Sanhedrin (89) tells us that the reason Bnei Yisrael listed to Eliyahu at Har haKarmel to offer a korban outside the Bais HaMikdash and the reason Yitzchak listened to Avraham to agree to the akeidah was because Eliyahu and Avraham were ‘muchzak’, they already had established their bona fides as Nevi’im. The gemara in Yevamos (90) asks why we cannot derive from this halacha that Bais Din also has the right to uproot a mitzvah b’kum v’aseh, and answers that the law for a Navi is different because the Torah specifically mandates “eilav tishma’un’, to listen to the Navi. Asks the gemara further, why not use this as a binyan av for Bais Din as well (see Tosfos), and answers that the case of Eliyahu and Avraham was l’migdar milsa, just an emergency measure, which would be permissible for B”D as well, but not as a general rule. Tosfos puts the two gemaras together and writes that emergency measures allow the Navi license to act, but the validity of the Navi’s assessment of what constitutes ‘l’migdar milsa’ can be made only by a Navi who is muchzak.
Tosfos asks: how could the gemara in Yevamos try to derive from the Navi’s right to override Torah law that Bais Din could do so as well – the Navi acts under the direct command of G-d, which Bais Din does not have?! Tosfos (Sanhedrin 89b) answers that the gemara’s assumption is that the Navi does not always have a direct command from G-d either, but must still be obeyed in even violation of Torah law based on the Navi’s own assessment and da’as of what is correct. The Minchas Chinuch points out that from the Rambam (Yesodei haTorah 9:6) it seems that the mitzvah to obey the Navi is limited to where the Navi speaks “b’dvar Hashem”, through direct prophecy.
There seems to be a fundamental issue at the core of this debate: is the gavra of Navi a person invested with authority who must be obeyed even in matters that he intuits based on his da’as, or is it nevuah, the cheftza of prophecy, which we are commanded to obey? Reflecting back on the issue raised yesterday, R’ Soloveitchik’s distinction between the cheftza of nevuah and the cheftza of Torah seems to assume the latter approach to the mitzvah. However, according to the former approach, that the person of the Navi is invested with authority, irrespective of the subject matter of the Navi’s command, the mitzvah of obeying the Navi still might apply.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

rebelling against a navi (I)

The parsha of melech warns a Jewish king not to deviate from “the mitzvah” (17:20), meaning (as Rashi explains) not to ignore even a small command issued by a Navi. Indeed, we know that Shaul lost his position for failing to follow the command of Shmuel, and Yoshiyahu met his tragic death for ignoring Yirmiyahu’s warning to let the Egyptian army cross through Eretz Yisrael. Later, in the parsha of the Navi, (18:19), the Torah prohibits any member of Klal Yisrael from ignoring the words of a Navi. In light of this issur on any member of Klal Yisrael to disobey a Navi, why does the Torah place a separate issur on the king? And why in the case of Shaul did he suffer only a loss of his status when the punishment for ignoring a Navi is death? The Minchas Chinuch suggests that the issur of disobeying a Navi applies only to a rebellious act done in defiance of the words of the Navi. Merely failing to fulfill the words of the Navi properly is not an act of rebellion. However, the Torah applies a higher standard to the leadership of the Jewish people and demands that a king not err even in this regard.
The Minchas Chinuch proves his point by asking why any violation of any issur in the Torah is not also punishable as a violation of the words of the greatest navi, Moshe Rabeinu? Obviously, Minchas Chinuch writes, we cannot define any transgression as an overt act of rebellion against the Navi. R’ Soloveitchik offered a different solution to this question raised by the M.C. Although Moshe was indeed the greatest of prophets, that does not mean every charge he gave had the status of prophecy. Torah and mitzvos are not words of nevuah, but are a separate cheftza shel Torah, a distinctly different form of Divine communication. It is only words of nevuah, not words of Torah, which the prohibition of rebelling against the Navi addresses.
To be continued, bli neder…

thoughts on cosmology and evolution from the former head of the vatican observatory

A bit off the beaten path of my usual topics, here is an article by the (former) director of the Vatican observatory trying to reconcile his belief in scientific cosmology and evolution with his religious faith. I write "former" in the preceding sentence because as of this week, he was replaced (supposedly) in part because his views are inconsistent with Church doctrine. In affirming that the scientific worldview is not inconsistent with creationism, Father Coyne acknowledges that he is forced to reinterpret the whole concept of a “designer G-d” that Genesis suggests – even though the scholastic philosophers did adopt such a view, he finds support for his approach in earlier Church writings like Augustine. The money quote – “But, if we confront what we know of our origins scientifically with religious faith in God the Creator – if, that is, we take the results of modern science seriously – it is difficult to believe that God is omnipotent and omniscient in the sense of many of the scholastic philosophers. For the believer, science tells us of a God who must be very different from God as seen by them.” He further writes, "If they respect the results of modern science and, indeed, the best of modern biblical research, religious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator God or a designer God, a Newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly."
I am not going to enter the debate which is ongoing in the our Jewish world on these same issues other than to say that I think much of the reluctance to accept scientific theories that reread ma'aseh Braishis is rooted in the clash Father Coyne notes between the scientific approach and the concept of G-d as omniscient and omnipotent. Father Coyne is honest enough to admit that acceptance of "modern science... and biblical research" forces a philosophical reassessment and is not simply a matter of how to read Genesis; I think many Jewish supporters of evolution or intelligent design are not sufficiently attuned to the philosophical consequences of the theories they choose to embrace.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

interesting article about R' She'ar Yashuv Cohen

This is a fascinating article based on an interview with R' She'ar Yashuv Cohen, Rav of Haifa and son of the famous Nazir, the great talmid of Rav Kook - worth taking a look.

mitzvos - duty or inspiration?

A thought question regarding teaching about torah and mitzvos (or you can even reflect on your personal experience): which would you say is more crucial – helping people find some emotional or inspirational meaning that drives them to perform mitzvos, or helping people strengthen their sense of duty and commitment to do mitzvos even if they find them uninspiring or make them uncomfortable?
(No, I do not mean to present this as an either/or false dichotomoy. It’s a matter of emphasis…)

d'mai - issur gavra or issur cheftza

The gemara (Chulin 6) tells a story of Rav Asi being served a mixture of eggs and wine (which had the status of d’mai) at an inn. R’ Zeira did not eat the mixture but R’ Asi did. When R’ Zeira asked how R’ Asi ate d’mai, R’ Asi answered that his action was inadvertent as he had not considered the situation. Asks the gemara: hashta b’hemtam shel tzadikim ain HKB”H mavi takalah al yadam, tzadikim atzmam lo kol shekein – we know Hashem does not let a tzadik come to an inadvertent sin of eating something prohibited, so how could this have happened?! R’ Yosef Engel and R’ Elchanan focus on this question and relate it to our chakira of whether issurei derabbanan are issurei gavra or issurei cheftza. D’mai is food which comes from an am ha’aretz, someone not completely trustworthy when it comes to being mafrish terumos u’ma’asros k'halacha. In truth, rov amei ha’aretz m’asrin heim, most people did take off terumah and ma’aser properly, but the chachamim made the takanah of d'mai to be chosheish for the minority. Given that background, it is strange that the gemara should compare d’mai to eating ma’achalos asuros. The fact that Hashem does not allow tzadikim to stumble might simply mean in this case that the d’mai which was served came from an am ha’aretz who was properly mafrish terumah and ma’aser and therefore there was nothing wrong with the wine. From the fact that the gemara does not consider this possibility, it seems to indicate that once the gezeira of d’mai is in place, irrespective of the truth of whether teruma and ma’aser was properly taken, the food becomes a chefzta shel issur, something inherently prohibited. Does this mean issurei derabbanan should be treated as issurei cheftza, or can you distinguish between d'mai and other types of issurim?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

the mitzvah to obey chazal and ma'achilin lo hakal hakal techila

The Minchas Chinuch presents a radical chiddush in this week’s parsha. The halacha is that if someone is dangerously ill and issurim must be violated to help that person, it is better to minimize the extent of the issurim violated – ma’achilin lo hakal hakal techila, we feed the ill person the lighter issur first. The Rishonim debate how one measures which actions entail greater or lesser issurim – is it the number of issurim violated or the severity of the issur? For the sake of his argument the Minchas Chinuch presents the Ran’s view that the number of issurim violated is the determining criteria. If so, given that in our parsha there is an issur of ‘lo tasur’ for violating the words of Chazal and a mitzvas aseh to listen to the words of Chazal, one might very well have a situation where a law derived from a derasha carries more weight than a law which is explicit in a pasuk. Minchas Chinuch’s example: if one eats a non-kosher bird in violation of explicit pesukim in the Torah, one violates a lav and and an aseh (the mitzvas aseh of eating only kosher food). The gemara learns from a derasha that that there is a lav and mitzvas aseh not to eat the bird which was shechted as part of the ceremony of being metaheir a metzora. Since these two issurim are derived from a derasha, violating these issurim would also be a violation of the mitzvas aseh of listening to Chazal and the lav of disobeying their words. So 4 issurim to 2, it is better to feed a sick person a non-kosher bird than to feed a sick person a kosher bird shechted properly which was used for taharas metzora!
There are a few reasons one might argue on this chiddush, but I won’t spoil the fun of letting you mull it over. R’ Elchanan discusses in Kuntres Divrei Sofrim 1:35-39.

Monday, August 21, 2006

on female role models and chinuch

If you have daughters, take a moment and think of 3 contemporary female role models who inspire your daughters with their wisdom, insight, and intellectual acumen in Torah. I would bet you couldn't name three. Now switch gears and name role models for your son(s) and I am sure there is no shortage of names of prominent Roshei Yeshiva which roll off the tongue. I cannot help but view together the reaction of many to the woman featured in this article with the story I overheard on Shabbos from a father bemoaning his teenage daughter’s lack of interest in ruchniyus. I am not entertaining a debate here over the issue of woman as Rabbis – that is a political question and I don’t do politics. But I do take issue with those who do not see the harmful effects produced by the dearth of role models and lack of serious learning opportunities open to young women. Lessons on tzniyus and baking challah don’t make for a serious and profound commitment to Judaism for the intellectually curious any more than knowing how to put on tefillin and wear a kippah would satisfy an intellectually gifted ben Torah. I admit my bias to thinking of Judaism primarily as an intellectual experience - if you disagree, you should probably not bother reading this blog : ) I do not mean to suggest that every girl needs to be thrust into a demanding regimen of learning when she has other interests. Nor do I mean that every girl needs to learn gemara or shach and taz. Even for those who want to learn, there is plenty to go through without ever learning gemara. For those who can excel in limudei kodesh and have a willingness to do so, why should they not be afforded every opportunity to succeed personally, to share their knowledge with other young women, and to serve as role models of avodas Hashem for the entire community? How can you expect a young lady raised in a modern orthodox home to feel good about Judaism when she might be attending a high school and taking AP physics, AP History, studying for the SAT, but has never met a woman who knows more than basic chumash and Rashi and some halachos heard orally which the sources for remain unknown? Judaism without thinking, Judaism without role models who have a deep intellectual commitment and understanding of Torah, seems to me to be a sterile experience and an experience we should not force upon young women who aspire to a deeper and more profound connection to avodas Hashem.
(Yes, I am in a bad mood, which leads to these type posts. I will snap out of it and get back to learning topics soon, I hope).

issurei d'oraysa: issur gavra or issur cheftza?

The Mishna in Nedarim tells us that one cannot take a shavua to do or not do a mitzvah or issur because one is already mushba m’har Sinai, bound by oath from mattan Torah to obey mitzvos, and one shavua cannot be chal on top of another pre-existing shavua. However, one can take a neder on a mitzvah – e.g. one can take a neder from sitting in sukkah even though one is already bound to do the mitzvah of yeshivas sukkah. The difference is that a shavua is an issur gavra – it relates to the act of sitting in sukkah, in direct contradiction to the Torah’s command; a neder is an issur cheftza – it addresses the sukkah as an object, but does not directly address the mitzvah act of sitting in sukkah.
A neder is made through hatpasa, saying X is assur like Y, where Y is something that one has created an issur on by a neder or some other declaration, e.g. hekdesh. One can take a neder not to eat food on day X just like one does not eat on day Y, provided day Y is one which has previously been demarcated as a fast day though a neder. The gemara (Shavuos 20b) discusses a more complicated case where day Y is the day on which Gedalya ben Achikam was killed - even though one would not eat on that day anyway because it is a fast day, if one also took a neder not to eat on the day of Tzom Gedalya, it can serve as a term of hatpasa for the neder saying day X is like that day. How does this neder not to eat on Tzom Gedlaya work? Rashi writes that just as a neder is chal on sukkah because it creates an issur cheftza, so too, the neder adds an issur cheftza to the prohibition of Tzom Gedalya which already exists. Tosfos disagrees with Rashi's blanket rule and holds (based on a girsa change rejected by Rashi) that this chiddush is true only by issurei derabbanan like Tzom Gedalya, but not by issurei d’oraysa. If one were to take a neder not to eat neveila or not to eat on Yom Kippur, according to Rashi such a neder is chal; according to Tosfos it is void.
Returning to the discussion from last week re: issurei gavra and issurei cheftza, perhaps this is the issue here. According to Rashi, all issurim, both d’oraysa and derabbanan, e.g. Tzom Gedalya and issur neveila, are issurei gavra, and a neder is chal on top of them to add an issur cheftza. According to Tosfos, only issurei derabbanan are issurei gavra, but issurim d’oraysa like neveila and achila on Y”K are issurei chaftza which a neder adds nothing to and cannot be chal on. A middle position is taken by R’ Akiba Eiger (Y”D 215:6): neveila is an issur cheftza which a neder cannot be chal on, but Yom Kippur is an issur gavra, as it is the day which creates a temporary issur, but the food is fundamentally heter.

Friday, August 18, 2006

eivar hayarden and yishuv eretz yisrael

The Meshech Chochma in the opening to this week’s parsha addresses a kashe raised on the Ramban's opinion that there is a mitzvas aseh of yishuv Eretz Yisrael. The gemara in Sota asks why Moshe was so anxious to enter Eretz Yisrael – did he desire to eat the fruit of the land?! Obviously not – his desire was to fulfill the mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz. According to the Ramban, even without mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz Moshe should have wanted to enter Eretz Yisrael simply to fulfill the mitzvah of kibbush and yishuv ha’aretz! The Meshech Chochma answers that Moshe had already fulfilled yishuv ha’aretz by conquering the land of Sichon and Og. The simple proof he offers is that it is unthinkable that the tribes of Reuvain and Gad would want to completely abrogate the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz by living in Eiver haYarden – it must be that these lands too are included in the mitzvah of yishuv. What the Meshech Chochma takes as a given is a major debate in rishonim and achronim. The Mishna in Bikkurin has an argument between Tanna Kamma and R’ Yosi whether bikkurim can be brought from Eiver haYarden. R’ Yosi holds that these lands are patur because this land is not “zvas chalav u’devash” – does this mean these are not included in the borders of Eretz Yisrael, or simply that these lands, although part of Eretz Yisrael, do not produce choice produce and are therefore exempted by the pasuk? Rashi (Sanhedrin 11b) holds that the korban ha’omer could be brought (b’di’evad) from wheat grown in Eiver haYarden, while the Ran (Nedarim 22) disagrees. The Parashas Derachim notes Moshe’s sevara for davening to enter the Eretz Yisarel after defeating Sichon v’Og was based on “neder sh’hutar miktzato hutar kulo”, a neder which has been partially been annulled is completely void. Clearly, the logic here assumes that entering the Eiver haYarden was already a partial termination of the neder, yet at the same time Hashem did not acquiesce to this sevara! I have not done a full survey of the mekoros on this topic - just wanted to call attention to the issue for now. Yishma chacham v'yosif lekach

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

kaltuhu mechitzos and kedushas yerushalayim

As previously discussed, the din of kaltuhu mechitzos teaches that once ma’aser sheni has entered Yerushalayim, it can no longer be nifdeh if removed from the city but must be eaten in Yerushalayim. This halacha is the basis of the Ra’avad’s critique of a fairly well known Rambam. The Rambam paskens (Hil Bais haBechira ch 6) that the gemara’s debate whether “kidsha l’shayta” or “kidsha l’asid lavo”, whether Eretz Yisrael was endowed with permanent sanctity or whether that sanctity was null and void after the Land was destroyed, applies only to those areas outside Yerushalayim. However, writes the Rambam, Yerushalayim has permanent irrevocable sanctity. The reason for this distinction is based on the nature of the mekadesh – the Rambam poetically explains that Yerushalayim is sanctified by the presence of the Shechina, and just as the Shechina is permanent and unchanging, so too, the city remains sanctified for eternity. The Ra’avad disagrees, and while his final argument, “sod Hashem l’yereivav” leaves little room for debate, his other proofs are interesting. Ra’avad points to a gemara (B.M. 53b, cited by the Rambam, Hil Ma’aser Sheni 6:16) regarding ma’aser sheni which entered Yerushalayim and was then removed from the city, and then the walls of Yerushalayim were destroyed. The ma’aser sheni cannot be nifdeh because of the din of kaltuhu mechitzos, but at the same time cannot be eaten because there are no mechitzos left around Yerushalayim. Doesn’t the fact that ma’aser sheni cannot be eaten in Yerushalayim after the destruction of the city walls prove that the kedusha of the city has been nullified? The Rambam may very well have taken issue with the very assumption behind this question. The din of kaltuhu mechitzos may not at all be dependent upon the kedushas hamakom of Yerushalayim, but upon the existence of physical walls – literally, kaltuhu mechitzos, it is the walls themselves which hold the ma’aser back from pidyon. If ma’aser sheni had entered the city after the walls fell, then according to the Rambam even though there is still a kedushas makom to the place, the absence of walls cancels the din of kaltuhu mechitzos (see Moadim u’Zmanin vol 5, #348).
Just as an aside, it is worth seeing the Ra’avad’s language in Hil Bais haBechira because it reflects a certain ambiguity regarding entering the Har HaBayis. Ra’avad writes that there is no kedushas hamakom and therefore one who enters the area is not liable for an issur kareis – does that mean it is permitted, or just one incurs no issur kareis for doing so?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

issurei derabbanan - issurei gavra or issurei cheftza?

Following up on the previous post, the Yerushalmi (which Rambam quotes l’halacha, Ma’aser Sheni 2:12-13) adds one additional important detail not mentioned yesterday. If ma’aser sheni became tamei either in or out of Yerushalayim from an av hatumah, or from a vlad hatumah (see yesterday’s post) outside Yerushalayim, the halacha is that we do not apply the din of “kaltuhu mechitzos” – you can be podesh the ma’aser sheni even in Yerushalayim and eat the food anywhere. (The exception noted yesterday is if it became tamei in Yerushalyim from a vlad hatumah, you must be podeh the ma’aser sheni, but the food must remain in Yerushalayim because of kaltuhu mechitzos). The Yerushalmi adds that if the food is tamei from a vlad hatumah, the owner of the food must make a tnai and stipulate that the din of kaltuhu mechitzos not apply upon his entrance to Yerushalayim, otherwise the default din of kaltuhu mechitzos will take effect.
R’ Yosef Engel in Esvan D’Oraysa (#10) cites this halacha as proof to the question of whether issurei derabbanan are issurei gavra or issurei cheftza. If the din of kaltuhu mechitzos does not apply to food which is tamei, why should whether or not the owner stipulated anything make a difference? However, if one assumes that food which is tamei m’derabbanan is not the same as a chefzta of food which is tamei min haTorah – tumah derabbanan is really tahor food that the chachamim impose restrictions on the gavra from using, then we can understand why an additional tnai is required to remove from this cheftza of tahor food the default din of kaltuhu mechitzos. R’ Yosef Engel brings a number of proofs in the rest of the essay to the opposite position, namely that issurei derabbanan are indeed issurei cheftza.

Monday, August 14, 2006

sheni l'tumah - d'oraysa or derabbanan?

This post was instigated by my brother-in-law, who noted it makes a good yediya to post on my blog, so here it is. There is a din by ma’aser sheni that “mechitzos koltos”, once ma’aser enters the walls of Yerushalayim, it must be eaten there. Of course, if you remove kedushas ma’aser sheni, then the food could theoretically be eaten anywhere, but the halacha is that you cannot be podeh ma’aser sheni in Yerushalayim. The only exception is if the food becomes tamei, in which case, based on a dersaha, pediya is allowed even in the city. The Yerushalmi has what I thought is a fantastic chiddush in the name of Bar Pada (daf 18) – if food becomes tamei only as a “vald hatumah”, i.e. tamei from a rishon so it is only a sheni l’tumah, since it is tamei we allow pediya, but since min haTorah this food is still tahor, we still apply the law of mechitzos koltos and the redeemed food must be eaten in the city. Seems pretty clear from this din that a sheni l’tumah is only a din derabbanan --I am tempted to add exclamation points here, because I certainly was baffled when I learned this. My BIL was kind enough to point out my ignorance of the Rambam, who indeed paskens exactly like this gemara (hil ma’aser sheni perek 2) and writes that a "vlad hatumah" is only m'divreihem (derabbanan). As he remarked, doesn't picking up interesting yediyos like this make learning Yerushalmi worth it? (The truth is no, yediyos like this just leave me perplexed, and I don't have enough time to devote to delving into them). Not being quick enough on my feet when talking this over 5 minutes before seudah shlishis (we were both at another relative's bar mitzvah), I had to wait until this morning to e-mail my BIL back to explain upon further reflection why taking this Rambam k'pshuto is next to impossible! The Mishna in Sota (5:2) proves from pesukim that a sheni l’tumah causes a shlishi l’tumah – if food falls into a kli cheres oven which has a sheretz dangeling in it, the sheretz is matamei the oven (rishon), the ovens airspace is matamei the food (sheni), which in turn the Torah says is ‘yitma”, causes other things to become tamei. All this is on a d’oraysa level, as the Rambam writes in hil Avos haTumah ch 11. So how can you say a "vlad hatumah" is only derabbanan?! This difficulty is raised by the Mareh HaPanim right on the daf, who changes the girsa in the Rambam to fit the rule in avos hatumah. But, as my BIL pointed out originally, the meforshei haRambam take the words and girsa k’peshutan, so what in the world do they do with the Mishna in Sota?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

kerias shema and kavanah (II)

Apologies for not finishing this topic sooner (or very coherently) - swamped with too much other stuff on my plate right now! Continuing from last post...
Unlike the Ramban (Milchamos R"H ch 3) who understood the sugya's debate over kavanah in kerias shema as the same as the general debate over whether mitzvos tzerichos kavanah, R' Soloveitchik explained (as David also commented on the previous post) that the Rambam held that kerias shema requires a unique higher level of kavanah by virtue of its being a fulfillment of kabbalas ol malchus shamayim. This is why although the braysa quotes a number of opinions as to the shiur of kavanah for kerias shema - the first pasuk, the first perek, etc. - the gemara never relates these opinions to the general debate of mitzvos tzerichos kavanah. Acceptance of Hashem as King (kabbalas ol) by definition is a mental act which requires intent; the debate over mitzvos tzerichos kavanah is whether a physical act of mitzvah performance requires accompanying intent to define it as a mitzvah. The Rambam understood the case of korei l'hagiha not as mitaskek (Rashi) or as improperly pronouncing the words (Tosfos), but as simply reading without this higher level of intent for kabbalas ol, which is sufficient outside the requirements that apply to the first pasuk.
R' Soloveitchik used this same idea to explain the Rambam's opinion regarding someone who falls asleep in the middle of kerias shema. The gemara writes that R' Yehudah instructed that if he dozes off, he should be woken up to recite the first pasuk of shema with kavanah. According to many rishonim, he would recite the rest of kerias shema, but he was not concerned with the intensity of kavanah for the remainder. However, the Rambam writes that one must be woken to read the first pasuk, and then if one dozes, one is not obligated to recite the remainder of k"s at all. According the the simple reading of the Rambam (in perek 1), all three parshiyos of k"s are d'oraysa, so why must one be woken only to read the first pasuk? The Rav explained that if one falls asleep one is patur from mitzvos becuase of ones, and this ptur is relevant even for the mitzvah of k"s. However, there is a specific din in kabbalas ol malchus shamayim which supercedes the exemption of ones and requires being woken to recite the first pasuk.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

krias shema and mitzvos tzerichos kavanah

The mishna in Brachos (13) tells us that someone who is reading the torah and gets to the parsha of krias shema fulfills the mitzvah of k"s only if he has kavanah to do so. The gemara suggests that we can deduce from this mishna that mitzvos tzerichos kavanah, intent is required to fulfill any mitzvah, but then rejects the proof - perhaps the mishna is speaking of a case of 'korei l'hagiha', reading with no intention whatsoever (Rashi) or stumbling over the words (Tosfos), which is not accurate reading. The mishna's requirement of kavanah refers to simple cognizance that one is performing an act of reading, but has nothing to do with the general disagreement whether intent to fulfill a mitzvah is required to be yotzei. The Rambam (krias shema 2:1) seems to pasken exactly the opposite of the gemara's conclusion. Rambam writes that as long as one had kavanah while reading the first pasuk of krias shema (which is derived in a braysa as mandatory according to some Tanaim for just the first pasuk, according to others for the first perek) one fulfills the mitzvah of k"s even if one is "korei l'hagiha" through the rest of the parsha. To be continued...

Monday, August 07, 2006

the Ohr Sameiach on nacheim and nachamu

The Rosh asks: why is it that we only recite nacheim in the shmoneh esrei of mincha on 9 Av - if it is akin to "me'ein hame'ora", a tefila based on the character of the day, we should recite it in all our tefilos just as we recite ya'aleh v'yavo in every tefila of rosh chodesh and al hanisim in every tefila of chanuka? The Ohr Sameiach (hil tefila) answers this question with a gemara in Ta'anis (30). Shmuel haKatan declared a fast, and after a full day of tefila it began to rain. The tzibur assumed this was due to their good grace, but Shmuel haKatan warned otherwise. He gave a mashal to a Master whose servant needs a certain request granted - rather than grant the favor immediatly, the Master let the servant sweat out the day in suffering and pleading and only then consented. Explains the Ohr Sameiach: if we were to say nacheim at night and again in the morning, and then follow with the leining of "ki tolid banim" and "asof asifeim", it would seem that Hashem is piling suffering on before granting our wish. By not saying nacheim until mincha at the end of the day, we go immediatly from the close of our tefila of 9 Av of "nacheim" to shabbos nachamu, where Hashem offers the response of "nachamu nachamu ami".

ahavas Hashem through Torah lishma

In the middle of explaining the mitzvah of ahavas Hashem in last week's parsha, the Ramban cites the Sifri that one should not learn Torah in order to be called wise, in order to sit in yeshiva, or for some other reward, but rather one should learn for its own sake. It seems according to Ramban that the concept of "lishma" is not a din in hilchos talmud torah or in the specific mitzvah being performed, but rather is part of the general obligation of ahavas Hashem. This idea is reflected in the Rambam as well, who cites the halacha of "lishma" not in hilchos talmud torah, but instead in the last chapter of hilchos tshuvah. Based on this, perhaps we can explain "mitoch shelo lishma ba lishma" means that talmud torah or any mitzvah done "shelo lishma" fulfills the basic prerequisite of the mitzvah, but lacks the additional kiyum of ahavas Hashem that is possible had the mitzvah been done with proper motivation.

new blog to have a look at

I was asked to participate in a new joint blog venture, which you may want to have a look at. Seems we are off to a good start, with an interesting debate on whether pikuach nefesh is more significant than talmud torah and how that relates to whether yeshiva students should serve - ayen sham! I am not giving up posting here, but will try to do both and see how it goes.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Nachamu Nachamu Ami

It’s post 9 Av, erev Shabbos Nachamu, and the neighborhood is already filled with the happy hum of washing machines, the music in every camp is queued up to start playing at chatzos, and the unshaven look will be gone for many of us before Shabbos. Nachamu Nachamu Ami… The Midrash tells us that the Jewish people are doubly-consoled (hence the repetition “nachamu nachamu…”) because they sinned doubly and were doubly punished. G-d meets out perfect justice - how is it possible to be doubly punished!? And if a double sin means sinning 2x, the punishment is not double-punishment, but a single punishment for each sin? Chardal's blog hit the nail right on the head, but I will add my 2 little cents. Seforim tell us that the 600,000 paradigmatic Jewish souls of Am Yisrael correspond to the 600,000 letters of a sefer Torah. Just as if one single letter is missing or defective, the entire sefer Torah becomes pasul, so too, if one Jew is defective in his observance, the nation as a whole is deficient. Our chataim are indeed “kiflayim”, doubled – when we sin, we taint not only ourselves, but we taint and weaken the soul of the Jewish nation. And when we are punished, we bear the punishment not alone, but the pain of each Jew has a doubled effect in creating suffering and weakness in the Jewish nation. “Nachamu nachamu AMI”, Be consoled, be consoled MY NATION. A single perfect letter is a pasul sefer Torah, for all its hiddur and beauty, is lacking in kedushas sefer Torah – only when the sefer as a whole is complete is that single letter also endowed with kedusha. And only to the extent that we view ourselves not as isolated individuals responsible only for our own religious fate, but as part of the greater nation of Am Yisrael, can we be receptive to the comfort of Nachamu.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

galus and geulah

I usually have a very difficult time fasting - hope everyone else has an easy fast tomorrow.
I think there is one message that is not communicated so well in the way 9 Av is taught and learned about, at least judging from my kids' education. We have the wrong impression that living in a nice home in NY is "normal", and the Jewish people living united on their homeland is some dream that can only take place through a great miracle. MaHaRaL writes just the opposite: galus is abnormal. Only because of Hashem's miraculous intervention have we been able to survive 2000 years spread across the globe outside our natural homeland - the "normal" state of the Jewish nation is to be united in our own homeland. Galus is like a rubber band stretched to its limit and poised to snap back - only the force holding it in place prevents that from happening. One cannot compare a pauper who dreams of riches and an escape from his life to a prince who has been exiled from the palace and yearns for a return to his rightful place. Remove the force and the rubber band snaps back; remove the spiritual obstacles holding us down and the Jewish nation naturally will return united to its homeland. Lets work to make it happen.

seudah mamafseket (III) - learning torah erev 9 Av

A careful reading of the Ramban seems to belie the understanding that bathing is prohibited from the time of seudah hamafeseket because the seudah is a quasi- state of aninus. Recall that the Ramban explains that bathing, as opposed to wearing shoes, is prohibited from seudah hamafseket because the enjoyment of feeling refreshed extends into 9 Av itself, not just at the time of washing. Why does the Ramban need this sevara if the seudah obligates nihugei aveilus? I think the answer to this question is that the Ramban is not offering a new sevara to explain the reason for the issur, but is simply offering an indicator (siman, not sibah) why only the aveilus pratice of washing was prohibited but not wearing shoes, etc. However, in Moadim u’Zmanim, R’ Shternbruch takes this sevara of the Ramban at face value as the reason for the issur – it is the hana’ah which comes afterwards, on 9 Av, which creates the issur of bathing beforehand. This too suggests R” Shternbruch, is the reason for the prohibition of wine and meat – not because of aninus, but because these foods provide relish and enjoyment long after the meal has ended.
The Rama paskens that on erev 9 Av one should learn only material dealing with bad events or aveilus which are also permitted on 9 Av. The GR”A describes this as a chumra yeseira, an excessive prohibition, and the Aruch haShulchan as well does not seem to accept this Rama. Wwhen someone accused R’ Chaim Brisker of being too machmir, he offered a list of kulos he held of, among them the leniency to learn anything one wishes until nightfall on erev 9 Av. R’ Shternbruch writes that based on the Ramban, we can perhaps understand this Rama. Pekudei Hashem yesharim, mesamchei lev – we cannot learn Torah on 9 Av because there is no greater joy than engaging on Talmud Torah. Just as one cannot bathe, eat meat or drink wine on erev 9 Av because that enjoyment extends into the ta’anis itself, so too, the talmud torah of erev 9 Av would undoubtedly fill one with joy even after nightfall. The difficulty of this approach is why these issurim do not apply to Shabbos when 9 Av follows on Sunday. Regardless of whether the Moadim U’Zmanin’s sevara is correct in lomdus, it certainly is a powerful mussar to take away from hilchos tisha b’av.

seudah hamafseket (II)

Following up on yesterday’s discussion, we left off with the Ramban who holds that the issur of washing starts at the time of seudah hamafseket. As was pointed out in the comments, the gemara (Ta’anis 30) tells us that the issurim of washing, anointing, not wearing leather shoes, and not having relations are not only prohibited because of the issurim of ta’anis, but are prohibited based on hilchos aveilus – on 9 Av we adopt the halachic practices of actual mourning. This question, however, remains – why must we adopt the practices of mourning (at least with respect to washing) during the seudah hamafseket when the day of 9 Av does not begin until nightfall? M’mah nafshach - if one has accepted the fast from seudah hamafseket, then why is eating and drinking permitted until nightfall, and if one has not accepted the fast, why is washing prohibited?
One approach (see Keren Orah, Brisker Rav, and Chaim Markowitz’s comment from yesterday) is that the prohibition of aveilus from seudah hamafseket are not due to the acceptance of the fast, but are because dinei aveilus apply to the seudah itself. The Rambam (ta’aniyos 5:9) describes how the seudah hamafseket is eaten as if “one’s dead is before him” – what halacha would define as the status of onein. Although the RI”F and Rambam hold that an onein is not obligated in nihugei aveilus until after the deceased is buried, the Ramban disagrees, and holds that an onein must immediately practice the prohibitions of aveilus which will not interfere with his preparing the meis for burial. An onein is permitted to wear shoes to expedite movement to carry out the tasks needed to prepare for kevurah, but is not permitted (according to Ramban) to wash. Therefore, although eating and drinking are permitted until the fast begins, the seudah itself must be observed in a state of animus/aveilus, which prohibits meat/wine/washing.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

r' tzadok's fasting to avert the churban - setting goals in avodas Hashem

Chazal tells us (Gittin 56) that Rav Tzadok fasted for 40 years to try to forestall the impending tragedy of the churban, yet in the end, despite R’ Tzadok’s great tshuvah and avodah, the Bais HaMikdash was destroyed. The Radomsker (Tiferes Shlomo) asks: does this mean that those 40 years of fasting were for naught? We might ask ourselves the same question – despite all those who are davening, returning to do tshuvah, and learning for the sake of peace in Eretz Yisrael, the daily rocket barrages continue. Is our avodah for naught?
The Radomsker writes that the answer to this question is a basic yesod in avodas Hashem. R’ Tzadok did NOT make a 40 year effortof fasting to avert the churban which failed. Rather, R’ Tzadok made a 1 day effort of fasting and tefilah to avert the churban each and every day which was successful for over 39 consecutive years!
Each day is its own spiritual battle. Our task is to focus on the moment, the day, what can be done now, and measure success against that yardstick without looking at what will be in the next week or month or year. For example: a person who sets out with the goal of finishing shas at some point is going to lose steam and have second thoughts – the burden of the goal seems so distant and overwhelming. But if instead of setting the goal at finishing shas, a person sets his goal at learning just 1 blatt today, and repeats that goal the next day and the day after, a person can have hundreds of successful accomplishments in talmud torah regardless of whether they reach the cumulative goal of one masechta, one seder, or all of shas.
If a person thinks that by his or her tefillah the entire war will be won, peace in Eretz Yisrael completely achieved, or some other overwhelming result, he/she is bound to be disappointed and left with nagging doubts whether his/her avodah is making a difference. But if one thinks of the one rocket that landed in a field instead of on someone's house, the one soldier who may have escaped harm, etc. , then I think one can draw chizuk from the many "little" things our tefillos and teshuvah surely have played a role in influencing.

seudah hamafseket before 9 Av

The gemara (Ta'anis 30) quotes a braysa: 'kol she'hu machmas 9 Av asur l'echol basar, lishtos yayin, v'asur lirchotz' - In a meal due to 9 Av one cannot eat meat, dring wine, or bathe [afterwards], but in a meal not due to 9 Av these would be permitted. R' Yishmael b"r Yosi in the name of his father holds as long as one may eat, one may wash.
The Rosh (4:38) cites the Ramban who interprets the tana kamma of the braysa to mean that once one eats the seudah hamafseket before 9 Av, one is also prohibited from washing. Even though the seudah is eaten before dark and the laws of 9 Av are not yet in effect, since one has accepted some of the practices of aveilus (i.e. not eating meat or drinking wine), the prohibition of washing applies as well. This applies only to washing, where the enjoyment of feeling refreshed and clean from bathing before the fast would give one pleasure on the actual day of 9 Av itself, but not to wearing leather shoes or other aveilus practices.
The Rosh writes that this interpretation is a 'davar teima', a baffeling idea. How can it be that even after finishing the seudah hamafseket one is permitted to eat and drink right up until the very moment it gets dark and 9 Av begins, yet by eating the seudah hamafseket it becomes prohibited to wash? Clearly the aveilus practices of not eating meat or drinking wine during seudah hamafseket do not trigger the 9 Av prohibitions on eating and drinking to apply, so why should the aveilus practice trigger the prohibition of washing to apply?
Bli neder to be continued - comments welcome.