Many years ago, I had the opportunity to spend a short sabbatical in Israel which changed my life. I spent the Omer that year studying giyur at the Hartman Institute. For the first time in my life, I sat in on exciting discussions about the process of halachah. The room was alive with generations of rabbis and scholars in addition to the people present. This was such a different way of approaching halachic decision making from that of my yeshivah youth, where the focus was almost exclusively on absorbing the decisions found in the codes so that we would know what to do. I was so inspired by this experience that, just before we left Israel, I bought the smallest complete versions of the Mishneh Torah, the Tur, and the Vilna Shas (the only size I could afford at the time) along with a magnifying glass.

What I loved most was not the central text so much as the commentaries that surrounded it. Taken together, the texts and their commentaries constituted a multi-generational and geographical conversation about how to connect the details of life with the flow of redemptive energy which we believe began with the exodus and Sinai revelation and will end with the liberation of all people under the umbrella of the Divine source. This love grew deeper when I began to facilitate the course in Integral Halachah for the ALEPH Ordination Program along with collaborating with Reb Zalman on the book of the same name. It was then that I discovered how the responsa literature enriched this already amazing exchange of ideas and because of which Reb Zalman gave me a second semicha as a Dayan.

Almost twenty years ago, I promised myself that if no Orthodox rabbi did so by the time I turned 65, I would write an essay to show that the only way to fully balance the process of giving and receiving a get was to establish a takkanah which would permit a woman to divorce her husband, thus ending the unilateral control husbands had over the gittin process. It is seven years past my due date and still no Orthodox authorities that I know of have taken this step, continuing to put their hopes in pre-nuptials and in claims of disgust and abuse in order to force husbands to grant a get when they are not willing.

My goals also changed somewhat during these past years. I encourage my students to write what I call “real” t’shuvot, that is responses to specific questions rather than essays prompted by such questions. And so, when a real person came to me with a real request to divorce her husband, I accepted the challenge to respond to her specific situation. In so doing, I hope to contribute a somnething to the contemporary halachic discussion around gittin without making a blanket pronouncement.

Below is a link to my t’shuvah, available in the ALEPH ReSources Catalogue elsewhere on this website.

During the week of Netzach, 5779


A Personal Introduction to Integral Halachah

Affirming the Halachic Process is certainly one of the more difficult things for many of us in ALEPH. Like so many others, we are weighed down by the insistence of our more Orthodox colleagues that Halachah is self verifying and contained due to its Divine origin in the nighttime teachings that the Holy Blessed One imparted to Moshe Rabbeinu after each day’s writing of the written Torah. Each succeeding generation is farther from the origin moment and thus more prone to confusion and increasingly dependent on the rulings of those who have gone before us. Thus, the Halachah of the moment is uncovered by a careful analysis of the texts from the past and each new situation must be comparable to some concept or precedent from that past.

While totally aware of this phenomenon, Reb Zalman z”l was still committed to the halachic process by which we link the needs of the moment to the precedents of the past. He also believed that this was possible only by instituting a new principle which would allow the past to continue to speak to us while also providing a greater degree of freedom in determining our responses to the questions of our time. Thus, what he originally called Psycho-Halachah and which we renamed Integral Halachah was born, a new principle which both included and transcended the past and which acknowledged the paradigm shift in which we are living.

Streaming Shabbat Davvenen

The current discussion on the OHALAH list with regard to streaming and recording the services at next year’s kallah has been interesting to follow.

Preface: A Little History

For many years, my portfolio in ALEPH included the ALEPH ReSources Catalog. One of the things I really wanted to offer were recordings of live services so that people who were interested in Jewish Renewal could at least listen to a real service and get some idea of what davvenen meant to us. For a time, the catalog offered recordings of a service at Shir Tikvah in Michigan and the davvenen at the 75th birthday weekend for Reb Zalman z”l at B’nai Jeshurun in New York. We also offered “studio’ recordings from P’nai Or of Philadelphia and Reb Zalman’s Audio Siddur (which is the only one still available from the ALEPH catalog).

Of course, this was before live streaming and the video recording which is really inseparable from the streaming itself.

Wedding on Chol Hamo’ed Sukkot•2014

I received the following question from a colleague:

A real life couple would like me to officiate at their wedding on Chol HaMo’ed Sukkot in October of 2014. They are Jewish farmers who will celebrate Sukkot at most on days 1 and 2 of the chag.

They are interested in that weekend because it is the Columbus Day weekend. Officiating in mid October, would also give us more time to prepare as the groom is converting to Judaism.

I looked at Bar Ilan Responsa Project, and I think I understand the notion of “Ein M’arvin Simcha be Simcha”.

I am not sure this principle applies to them. Might you offer your thoughts?

(The couple are living together but not legally married.)


Birkat Kohanim at Ordination Ceremony

At the end of the ordination ceremony in Colorado last month, Hazzan Jack recited the Birkat Kohanim / the priestly blessing, while facing the musmachot / ordainees with his tallit over his head and without shoes. This prompted the following series of questions from Jalda Rebling, which I will take up one at a time.

First Question: When the priestly blessing is recited by the shali’ach tzibbur, there is no special blessing that precedes it and the congregational response to each of the three individual blessings is kayn y’hi ratzon / may this be the Divine will. When the priests give the blessing, what is called duchanen, there is a blessing and the congregational response to each of the three units of the blessing is amen. Why is that?

The Shulchan Aruch,Orach Chayyim 127:2 says clearly that amen is only used when the priests themselves are reciting the blessings. The Mishnah B’rurah explains: Amen is the correct response to a blessing, which occurs when the priests are the reciters. When the shali’ach tzibbur is the one, then it isn’t actually a blessing but rather a request, a plea that this blessing should be granted us.