February 23, 2005

by Reb Yudel
Little humor for a little Purim

Over in Cross-Currents, Emanuel Feldman puts the katan back into Purim Katan with a piece, Halakhic Creativity: An Intercepted Letter, that is at best only a little funny.

Very little, actually.

I'd really much rather hear what the editor of the Tradition makes of the current haredi creationism nonsense. Surely that's not how he was taught to interpret Torah when he was taking Old Testament courses, along with my mother and me (in utero) at Emory back in '64....

Closer reading shows that maybe this was joke directed at the author's own Cross-Currents community after all.

Consider, for example, this mock responsum:

DAILY PRAYER: A man submitted the following question to our office: It is frequently quite difficult for him to don his tefillin, recite the morning prayers, and eat his breakfast, all in the short span of time that is available between his getting out of bed until he leaves for work. Would he be permitted occasionally to skip his tefillin and prayers if he has a particularly important business appointment at an early hour?

Predictably, most traditionalist decisors would be insensitive to the needs of this questioner. A typically hidebound response would undoubtedly suggest that the man get up earlier. Some decisors might even go so far as to suggest that he abbreviate or entirely skip his breakfast. But such a response displays complete callousness, and would only turn a contemporary Jew away from his heritage.

It is the view of SHICR, however, that the challenge for Judaism today is to show the compassionate face of halakha. By applying the newest tools of halakhic jurisprudence, our creative halakhists propounded the innovative view that Judaism is a religion of life, which means that a person should not only get a good night’s sleep, but also a hearty breakfast. This is embodied in the Torah law, “and you shall guard your well being"(Deut.4:15), which stresses the crucial importance of preserving one’s good health. When the requirements for tefillin and/ or prayer prevent a good night’s sleep and a full breakfast, the Torah’s intent is quite clear: health concerns clearly override the requirements of tefillin and prayer. In our case, the issue is made even more urgent by the potential for monetary loss - to which the sensitive decisor applies the additional principles of compassion that are an integral part of the Torah.

The funny thing, of course, is that a pretty clear halachic argument could be made for donning tefilin during lunch hour, and only reciting shma itself before the meeeting.

That would seem to be the approach taken by the mishna in Berachot. A Hassidic psak would likewise put kavvanah first, decide that arising before coffe would be detrimental, and likewise urge that full davening be postponed.

It's only today's Haredi litvaks who seem to believe that a full-fledged tefilah, with birchot hashachar and all, is the most important part of a healthy breakfast.

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