Monday, April 30, 2007
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Thank you all so much for voting!
According to the preliminary results, I get to advance in the category of Best Student Life Blog!
However, when it comes to Best Small Blog, I lost the second place advancement position to Wolfish Musings by one vote! Now, as I nominated Wolfish Musings, I can't feel too bad about this- in fact, I am amazed that I was that close.
And now come the Best Posts!
Here are the categories in which I am nominated:
Best Jewish Religious Post (mine is Off the Derech)
Overall Best Post (mine is Off the Derech) - however, I'm up against On the Main Line's amazing post and Ben Avuyah's post, both of which I love/nominated. So if you vote for those, that's also good.
Best Live Event Coverage Post (mine are The Rav's Vision: The Lonely Man of Faith, a Documentary and History, Truth and Religious Commitment by Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter)
If you liked any of those posts, please vote for them! Thanks.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
I will not name him for I do not wish to use his given name, and any name of my own invention does not suffice. I shall simply tell you of him in an effort to pay tribute to who he is as a person and to the beauty of his soul.
He was kind before I ever met him, for he cautioned me that if I would write freely about my life and my thoughts, it was quite possible that certain Yeshiva University students would figure out who I was. He took it upon himself, therefore, to clarify this to me, in case I was unaware that these students read my blog. He also welcomed me to the university and intimated that if I had any interest in various clubs or organizations, he was more than willing to tell me about them, and simply presented himself as an honest, upfront, helpful individual.
When I did meet him, I realized that he was more than kind. He is handsome, funny, entertaining, rather brilliant, sarcastic, cynical and droll. He possesses a quick wit and a quicker tongue; he grasps concepts as soon as they are presented, analyzes them, and is immediately able to retort. His comebacks are always very sharp, and it's a pleasure to hear them simply because they are so right and demonstrate how well he understands a particular situation. His summations of the caliber of the people in the room are extremely amusing, as is his ability to realize the flaws in a particular approach while simultaneously seeing a solution.
With all these assets at his disposal, it's a wonder that he's not arrogant. In fact, he's quite the opposite. He's extremely considerate of the feelings of others. Upon my changing something due to his suggestion, he was immediately contrite, desperately informing me that I shouldn't "change on account of haters." More importantly, he is able to respond when people are unhappy, sad or otherwise melancholy. I was particularly frustrated by a paper that I had to write on Plato's "Euthyphro." He immediately sent me his own paper on the topic, explaining that he hoped it would "help jar some thoughts loose." Although I was not allowed to look at other student papers before writing my own, the thought was much appreciated.
Another time, I was feeling miserable for no particular reason, and asked that he please tell me something amusing. He responded immediately, telling me a very funny anecdote that had me in gales of laughter. Incidentally, it is not very easy to make me laugh, as I don't respond to most jokes (even though I understand them.)
He is extremely smart. My friend thinks quite a lot and is very persuasive when he argues. He writes with great clarity, cleverly suggesting points and proving them, and sometimes asking questions in order to force you to recognize the truth of his points.
He challenges me, and this is what is most exciting. He doesn't let me get away with sloppy or vague answers to questions. His questions are always very pointed so that one has to give very precise, clear answers.
He is different from me. The most important way in which he differs is his focus. Mine is decidedly individualistic; I go after the special individual, the one who is chosen for a specific purpose, a particular character. He believes it to be his responsibility to help the community on a whole, to act in a manner that gives back, supports and builds a relationship with all Jews. While I often base my views on textual sources, his views are derived through his upbringing and personal experiences. The care he feels toward others impresses me; I admire his firm commitment to the idea that "each individual Jew must be responsible for and take care of the rest of the whole."
But he is most amazing in that he is not afraid of me. He pushes me to be more than I am, and is not afraid of my angry response. I have had teachers who have done this to me before, and it is the most necessary part of my growth, but I have never had a friend who felt comfortable enough (and was adept enough) to do this. To illustrate, let me give you an example.
In twelfth grade, I had an excellent AP English teacher. I had to write a paper on Seamus Heaney. I did not like Seamus Heaney; I did not feel like I understood his poems or his views. I wrote an entire paper about him, but it wasn't the best I could do. My English teacher understood this at once and forced me to rewrite the paper, to delve into the subject and begin entirely anew. I threw a temper-tantrum. I ranted, I raged, I was angry, I decided I hated her. She was unhappy about this, and she offered me an extension, but she stood firm. And that completed, brilliant, utterly different Seamus Heaney paper was one of the best papers I have ever written. I still feel very proud when I look back on it, because it was one of the most difficult papers I ever wrote. But she knew that I had the capacity to do it, and she forced me to do it, and I am the better for having been forced.
This year, I was placed in the same situation. On a day when I was supposed to give my English teacher an outline, I handed her a ten-page paper. She read it, then informed me of something I had already known but refused to admit- that I would have to rewrite the paper. I had deliberately done something I knew was unacceptable- I had treated a character in a very black and white fashion to prove a point, even though I myself knew the point wasn't true. My English teacher wasn't going to let me off so easily. She forced me to write a completely different paper. Again, I cried, I ranted, I raged; I was truly, truly angry. But the end result was brilliant- again, one of my best pieces. And I feel proud of that paper, too, and am glad that my teacher believed in me and forced me to do this.
My friend has the rare ability to push me to go farther than I wish without my deciding he's an utterly worthless human being whom I will never speak to again. In a certain circumstance, when I had knowingly done something but refused to accept the consequences of my action, I resorted to my usual temper-tantrum. I was angry, I cried, I threw a fit- to no avail. When I nastily suggested a way of getting back at him for not giving me what I wanted, he coolly informed me that if I did that, I would be acting like a "jerk." That gave me pause. A jerk? I don't think I have ever had a friend who has called me a jerk before.
But he was right. I looked at what I was doing, why I was complaining, and realized that to some extent what I had done was my own fault. And I would be acting like a jerk if I put my revenge plan into play. He showed me how to act and I learned. He also, in his way, offered me a solution, suggesting a kind of compromise. I didn't fulfill his terms due to the reward he offered, but because I knew that he was right and I was wrong.
Now, lest you think that the way to win my friendship is to refer to me by less than complimentary names, let me explain that I generally do not react well to criticism. My friend happens to have a rare quality which enables him to critique me and for me to understand and appreciate his criticism, even if I do not like it. His casual sarcasm allows him to do this; although initially hurt by one of his remarks, I grew to appreciate and enjoy his very clever, very smart sense of humor. As I said, he's not afraid of me. He'll call me on my behavior or engage in very clever dialogues where he gets the better of me, and I enjoy it immensely because it's such fun.
The only thing I wish is that I could know him better. He's such a unique and rare individual that I wonder who he is, what he is, what matters to him, why he is the way he is. But he is a very private person and he will not share this information freely. That is another way in which we differ- when I write, I reveal myself; he, in contrast, will not necessarily put a name to his opinions. Perhaps it is because he wishes others to consider these opinions on their own merit, and not due simply to his name. As I said, he is very honest.
It constantly amazes me that he doesn't take offense when I bother him (or if he does, he's too polite to show it.) I needle him constantly, after all, because I'm very curious by nature, and I'm especially curious about him.
He is a truly wonderful person- caring, considerate, kind and insightful. I am blessed to have such a friend, and I am going to miss him when it comes time for him to move on to bigger and better things. He makes the world a more beautiful place, and I consider it an honor to know him. I wish him all that is good, and thank him for helping me to grow and to be a better person. I have learned so much from him.
He is one of the best people I know.
Friday, April 27, 2007
Kneeling, staring into the puddle of translucent water, the rain sluicing over his form. A crash of thunder, the driving storm forcing him to stay down, bent, though he could not move if he tried. A bolt of lightning cracks through the sky, a jagged line through the thick dark clouds, purpling as though bruised. But he remains unmoved, the silver white rain falling all around him, dancing over his brilliant form.
An angel fallen from heaven, cast out by God. He is white, opalescent, pearly, a sheen to his skin, androgynous and handsome but bowed, kneeling, weeping tears that are not made of water but of shadow, falling only to disappear in mid-air. The rain dances all along his body but does not touch him, unable to make contact with the silvery flesh. His eyes are silver; he is all silver and white light, an angel, a true angel, kneeling before the storm.
He places his hands on the ground, feeling the rough earth, chafing against his silvered hands. He weeps, more shadow-substance, and again looks into the puddle, his face a bright reflection, a silvery lock of hair pushed over one ear. His skin is made of swirling white murkiness; it is not translucent but eddies with rainbows. His hair, nails and eyes are all silver.
He rises on one knee, runs his hands over his flesh. The glow is slowly leaving him, the white pure beauty of his skin seeping into the clouds that roil above him, washed away by the graying rain. His eyes lose their heavenly tint, turning grey, soft. His flesh hardens so that it seems human, still strange to the touch, still touched by soft tints that speak of rainbows, but now more a trick of the light. At last he rises, seemingly human; his skin glowing with life as though blood flowed through, his eyes grey with shadows, his hair still curiously silver.
He has lost his wings.
He stands and almost loses balance; he must learn how to walk without his wings, the two great silvery wings, large and perfect. He places a hand upon his naked back and feels two nubs where his wings used to be, slowly they are shrinking until they are hardly there, simply bumps upon the smooth surface. He weeps and the shadow-stuff transforms so that there are tears, salty on his skin. He presses a finger to them and licks it, almost in disbelief.
He does not speak or cry out, simply remains bowed over the puddle of water, watching himself change, watching as he resembles the forms of those he will come to now. He stands again and is still unsteady, but now it is easier, perhaps he will be able to walk. His nakedness is glorified; in this he is still an angel and will always be. He feels no shame, no sorrow.
The rain still drives him, stabbing at his back, but now it can touch him, an impact upon the soft skin. He starts as though he has never felt the rain before. He smoothes back his hair and a silver tress lays flat, caught by the water droplets. He blinks his eyes and his long silver lashes remain wet. The heavens themselves seem to dance glory upon the world.
He embraces the lightning, the thunder. “Asriel! Abniel!” he cries, as though he knew the ones who act as God’s assistants, the ones who throw down the lightning and create the thunder. But there is no answer; there is no sound.
He stands there, wild and fierce and strong, an angel, not a man, but an angel without his wings. He cannot attain heaven; he can never go back- he is an outcast, cast out by God, forced to wander the earth. There will be no end to his servitude; he cannot die and he cannot remain in one place for very long.
He throws back his head and laughs, a harsh sound, painful and cruel from so pure and perfect a being. His skin flares with a sudden light, illuminating two painful grey scars where his wings used to be. His heart pulsates; his fingers flare. He is sobbing, a horrible noise from so divine a creature, sobbing with all his heart. His tears mingle with the immortal rain, and as they mix it seems as though trails of fire wet his cheeks, so purely and brightly do they glow.
He lies insensible on the ground, waiting for the morning sun to rouse him, escaping the storm through sleep. In the morning he awakens, and upon arising, begins, painfully, unused to the movement of two legs, to walk.
“I am Cain,” he says to the two men who stand in front of the fruitstand, eagerly choosing their wares. They assess him and one of them spits tobacco juice on the ground.
“Where ye from?” he asks, still chewing on the plug. “You’re nekkid.”
The angel looks down at himself, almost in surprise. “I suppose I am,” he answers, a lilt to his voice, pleasant and sweet and utterly pure. “I am looking for work.”
“You ought to put on some clothes,” the other man says, and rummaging beneath the counter, hands the angel a pair of trousers and an apron. The angel looks at the trousers confusedly and tries to put his hands through them.
“Ye’re not from around here,” the man grunts, looking suspiciously at the newcomer’s silver hair. “Thas na’ how ye put on trousers.” Coming over to the angel, he demonstrates, miming placing one leg into the pants, then the other.
“Ah,” says the angel in a tone of slight distaste. He places his legs inside the trousers, then throws the apron over his head.
“Well, get to work then,” says the man chewing tobacco.
“What am I to do?” the angel asks gracefully.
“Whatever I tell you to,” the man replies, and showing him to the barn, he demonstrates his duties- Cain will feed the animals, milk the cows, help in the dairy, cut wheat, assemble grain into piles- whatever the man wishes.
The angel, still shining, looks down on his mortal employer. This man has never seen the glory of God, never witnessed the beauty of heaven, never seen the marble streets and silvering balustrades. He knows nothing of the Orient, nothing of the wonders that exist throughout the world, nothing of the Hallelujahs of the other angels, of the sweet songs that all beings sing to the Creator. This man does not know of his exalted station; he does not even know that he is an angel. This man knows nothing at all.
Still, Cain sets out to work, fumbling at first, then learning the slow rhythm that is the world of men, the dull routine that is their lot. There are no glorious paeans, hymns and songs, no dazzling displays of light and color, no beauty that echoes the beauty of heaven. Everything here is a shadow, a dark world that holds no joy.
After his allotted time, Cain moves on and leaves. He does not tell his employer that he is going, nor does he take anything with him other than the clothes. The clothes he feels he deserves; he has no need for money.
“Kevin,” she calls laughingly, dancing toward him, “come in out of the sun! Though it’s mighty queer,” she muses, “that you never do sunburn, and your hair always remains fair.”
“Don’t worry, Betsy,” the angel answers, shutting the door to the lion cage. His face is timeless, ageless, though Betsy does not know that. “And how are you, sweetheart?”
He has learned endearments in his time on earth, learned how to love women and to be loved by them. He has found an occupation that allows him to be consistently on the move; he manages a circus, complete with lions, unicorns, daredevils, freaks and dwarfs. At times he feels low, surrounded by all this, all this that mimics the grandeur that was heaven, the lies that he transposes for that reality. He uses fireworks in an attempt to recreate the gorgeous lights, firecrackers and poppers for sudden noises, has candles that burn different colors and cast different types of smoke, some that glitter, some that make the air swim, and some that fizzle, but none of this suffices. All these are lies, paltry tricks to mimic what he once knew, what he once saw. In fact, a good deal of the time it depresses him.
But there is Betsy, and Betsy is young and innocent, and though she does not know he is an angel, she cares for him as much as she can. The first time they made love she looked at the scars on his back and kissed them, and laughingly said, “Who did that to you? I’ll go and kill the man,” and he kissed her to silence her, because she did not know it was God who did it, and she could not kill God.
Her curls fall to her shoulders and they are golden, her laughing face and open smile, her big blue eyes and infectious humor; all these qualities serve to ground him, to give him some solace. She is excellent, besides; she performs in the circus as a trapeze artist, extraordinarily graceful, though never as graceful as the angels themselves. The two of them head to the mess tent, where cook has set up a meal; she twines her fingers through his silver hair and he smiles.
“It’s been a long day, Kevin,” she says, “and I’m excited for tomorrow. I love the first performance; it’s the most wonderful one, don’t you think?”
He smiles and nods, pleased by her happiness. She busies herself in greeting each of their employees, smiling at the dwarves and freaks, calming the dancers and officiously ordering about the clowns. He goes outside to look at his animals, false though they are. He himself has pasted the horn to the unicorn’s head, and he strokes the poor horse fondly.
Finally, she joins him in sleep, snuggling against him in their tent. She looks up at him with her laughing eyes and her red, red lips and then she is silent, quiet, softly breathing, sleeping. He sees the first crack of lightning dart across the sky, hears the thunder and remains awake. He always remembers when there are thunderstorms; he remembers that first fall, that sudden awakening as he found himself on land and felt himself change.
She nuzzles against him, her fingers playing against his chest and he turns to focus on her. Betsy, his Betsy, sweet and clever and beautiful, the Ringmaster’s wife. He, the owner of the circus, the ringmaster, the one in charge of this monstrous parody of heaven, of the glory that was his and that he lost.
Lost in heavy thoughts, he simply glances at the roof of the tent, feels the pounding rain driving against its fragile walls. He is simultaneously pleased and disgusted with his life; he loves Betsy but he cannot reconcile himself to the ugliness that he creates, the ugliness that was not his original lot.
At last he joins her in sleep, their gold and silver hair twining together, her cheek against his.
She wears a costume, all in white, with dazzling gems and mica chips sewn on to reflect the light. She is heavily made-up, sparkling blue eyeshadow and bloodred lipstick; her cheeks deeply pink. She smiles at him and he touches her eyelids, runs his hands along her black eyelashes, so much at contrast with the gold of her hair. He smiles and kisses her, wishes her luck with her act, with the performance.
She begins her act, dancing on swings, whirling from one rope to another, gliding on silken scarves. She flips three times, then lands gracefully, then somersaults, always floating through the air, always perfect.
But this time there is a mistake; she misses the bars and begins to fall. He is not seriously concerned because there is a net, but then he sees that the net is not adjusted as it should be, so he lunges in the air as though he could fly, still expecting to feel the strong beating of his wings so that he could save her, but instead he simply falls flat and she keeps on falling, falling through the net to slam against the ground.
She is dead, of course; his Betsy is dead. Men immediately surround him but he pushes them away and runs toward her, kneeling over her. She is dead and he feels numb but not broken; he grieves but strangely, not in a human sort of way. He grieves for the loss of her life but he also grieves because he knows the Angel of Death is there, so close that if he reached for him, he could touch him, but he cannot see him.
The men think that he is shocked, stunned; they think his tears are for his wife, as they should be. But he cannot love as humans love, and he sheds them more for his loss than for hers, for the wings he wished and thought he had, for the Angel of Death whom he cannot see.
They bury Betsy in the place she loved best, near her home; her mother comes out, weeping, and gives him a look when she sees him standing, so cold, so aloof, so seemingly unmoved. Her mother never liked him, he knows; she will be glad to see him go. He turns over ownership of the circus to another man, and he begins to wander anew.
An architect now, he pushes back his hair against his face, wiping his hand against his forehead. He reaches for a glass of water and drinks mechanically out of it, as he would were he truly thirsty, and puts the finishing touch upon the plans. He does not like designing these buildings, so ugly and useful; he would rather design the buildings he knew in heaven, grand spires that reached upwards, ever upwards, made of gold and opal and silver, scented with the grandest spices.
He must meet with clients and he thinks this is yet another one, but this one is different. He is a wealthy businessman, but he seems different; after all he came in person to see him instead of sending an envoy. Kevin loosens the tie around his neck and pushes back his white sleeves, rolling them up above his arms.
The businessman explains his proposition; he has a rather wild idea; he would like a kind of palace for himself, something beautiful but more gothic, not so modern. Could Kevin make something like that? The angel nods eagerly; of course he could. Designs dance through his mind instantly as he recalls the grand domes, the stately spires and pinnacles and balconies.
But he is interrupted by the businessman, who stares at him in awe. “Your skin,” he says, barely breathes. “It’s shining.”
And Kevin looks down at his arms to notice that the light has hit them in just such a way as to create the eddying rainbows that dance across the surface. He smiles apologetically at the businessman. “A trick of the light,” he says, and rolls down his sleeves.
“No,” says the businessman, and moving closer, looks at Kevin’s hand. “It is shining,” he says, but his tone is not accusatory, only glad, very glad. “You are the first person I have seen who has managed to make me glad,” he says, and looks at Kevin gratefully. “Your skin is shining. You are an architect with skin that shines.”
He looks at Kevin as though he sees a friend, someone with whom to speak and talk, someone who will not flatter him in order to get money from him; someone who will treat him with respect. He doffs his hat.
“I am excited that you have agreed to work on the project,” the businessman says. “I can see that I will enjoy working with you.”
“You were cast out of heaven?” Adam breathes, sweeping his hand through his dark brown hair. “What for?”
The angel looks at the businessman and smiles strangely. “I can see that you believe me, and you are not mad,” he says. “It must be that you are close to the angels. Perhaps the descendant of Jacob, who wrestled with one.”
“Was that you?” Adam questions, curious, his green eyes alive with wonder.
“No, that was not me,” said the angel, sighing. “I was cast out of heaven before then, for I protested the creation of Adam and Eve. I said that they would sin. Then, once created, I said that they were right to reach for the forbidden fruit, that if not for their action there would be no world, no life. I said they should not die, but live immortal. And so I was punished. Stripped of my wings, I was sent to Earth so that I might live out my days as I had wished them to, live in this broken Earth that they created, so different from Paradise. I would come to understand that mortality in such an Earth is a blessing, not a curse.”
“But surely there have been other angels since that time?” Adam continued. “What about the nephilim? The angel who wrestled with Jacob? Jacob’s ladder?”
“The nephilim became fully human and died out,” the angel answered, “and the others retained their wings. I cannot see any angel who bears wings, even if I know they are close to me. And they will not answer if I speak. I am alone.”
“Tell me of heaven,” Adam demanded, his eyes afire.
“Heaven,” said the angel, and paused, then closed his eyes, as though to recapture a memory. “Heaven is a feast for the senses, even though one has none. All that is beautiful in this world is a thousand times more beautiful there; there is music beyond compare, light that dazzles, a music impossible to recreate on earth. The stars themselves are jewels, jeweled maidens that light up the skies. All that exists sings to God; it is our greatest honor to be chosen to praise Him. I am more bound up with God than I can explain; my very soul and essence longs for Him, my very being shivers at every touch of the ground. All this is so unnatural to me and remains unnatural, so that every day I curse my rash pronouncement, and would that I had never spoken.”
“But Heaven?” Adam persisted.
“Heaven has all things within it- gold, jewels, diamonds; all that is beautiful. The castles there are dazzling; each one has windows of stained glass, the greatest masterworks and masterpieces hang in the corridors. There are plush carpets and gleaming wooden floors. And everywhere the righteous poring over their tomes, engrossed in their learning, seated in the study hall, fascinated by all. We angels look over them and some of us are in charge; one of us allows them admittance to the study hall, checking carefully that they qualify.”
“And what do you look like?” Adam asked.
“Ah! I am only a pale shadow of a shadow of who I truly am. When I was in Heaven, I was mighty and powerful, a gleaming figure in alabaster white, translucent and gleaming with rainbow light that glazed my skin. My eyes were silver pinpoints of light; my wings enormous and strong. I was the angel of Truth. Initially I protested the making of man, but once they were created, I decided it was good that they would sin, for they would have the world. So God sent me to walk among the world, to spread Truth. It is a punishment for me to be here, but it also has repercussions for them and for those like you, for where I walk, the truth follows. Whatever doom has been allayed, whatever concealed secret- all this arises. Only I abused my truth and engaged in falsehood, earning my living through lies, through creating creatures and donning masks. A Ringmaster, I was a Ringmaster!” He smiled. “But that was a long time ago.”
“You see, I have lived in stages. At first, when all was new to me, I saw the Earth as pathetic in comparison to the grand Heaven from whence I had come, and regal and proud, I refused to bow to anyone. I worked, yes, but I scorned m work, and saw myself as mightier than all. I could not accept the loss of my wings, the fact that God had hurled me to the Earth. I could not accept that I must walk among men, never to return, separated from God.
“I could not accept that so many men were liars, practiced at deceiving one another through terrible doings, that my name was profaned, that Truth was maligned everywhere, misrepresented and hurt. All these things I could not accept, and I felt a deep and abiding hatred of man.
“But I learned. I learned to feel for man, to feel compassion, and to love him, in the strange, queer way that I can love. My love is tempered with justice, and though I know mercy, it is the merest hint, for I cannot be bribed, I cannot be changed. I am Truth and must remain as Truth. Though I attempted to rebel, I paid a price. I never liked the lies I told, never could reconcile myself to the unicorn with its pasted-on horn. My wife- I had married- died in that circus, and I knew that I could never deliberately pervert my nature again.
“And so I walk the Earth forevermore, never to be released from bondage. I do not grow old but remain always as you see me; a man with strange skin and silvery hair, my grey eyes disconcerting and knowledgeable. I cannot ever truly love as you can, though I can miss you when you are gone and realize that you are dead. But what I miss more are the Angels that I knew, and when someone dies, I desire to see the Angel of Death. This I cannot do.
“Truth has no partner- it is lonely, hated, reviled. I walk the Earth as Truth, but I am lonely, and though you listen to me, you cannot understand.”
Kevin gracefully rose and looked at Adam, who gave him a sad smile, expressing a sentiment that cannot be conveyed in words. Then he rose and hugged the angel, a fierce hug as though to express the love he felt, the love he felt but could not convey, and that Kevin could never feel.
It has been many years now since I began to walk the Earth, and many years since Adam died. At times I meet others, others touched by God or by angels, and I speak with them and converse with them, and they know me for who I am.
But all this does not suffice; as much as they try to understand me they only glimpse me, a portion, a piece, a part of who I am and what I was. No matter how I try, I cannot convey the grandeur that was Heaven; I cannot explain what Earth is like in comparison. I meet people and speak with them; they offer me kindness and understanding, and I accept that, for it is good of them. But it does not suffice. For who can understand an angel? Especially one who has been cast out by God; the only angel who has no wings.
I am a very lonely angel.
And I am tired of masquerading as a man.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
(With thanks to the amazing Michael Teitcher, who gave me a table.)
THESE NOTES ARE UNOFFICIAL AND UNEDITED. ANY AND ALL MISTAKES ARE MINE.
Introduction: Hello and welcome to the YU Medical Ethics society…if this is your first time at one of our events, I welcome you- for those of you who have participated in past functions, thank you for support and encourage you to stay involved- sign up sheets are available- our website, www.yu.edu/medicalethics has recordings of all of our prior events. Please check this website in coming weeks for a full day conference on ____ at the beginning of next year. As many of you are aware, the YU MedEthics society is a student-run society…medical issues as relate to Torah issues and halakha- strives to make YU an educational resource for laymen, doctors, Rabbis, etc- surrogate motherhood often overlooked by others- we want to bring it to the fore.
Rabbi Brander received special ordination from Machon Puah in the field of Medical Ethics, etc. Dr. Adrienne Asch- introducing this night’s event- professor of Bioethics at YU’s school- professor at Einstein- following tonight’s lecture will be a question and answer session. Audience should please turn off their cellphones. Thank board of YU MedEthics society. Also thank CJF, student organization of YU and TAC council- also like to thank Yonah Bardos, student president of MedEthics society- without his vision and truly tireless work the YU Medethics society would not be here today. I am proud to congratulate Yonah on his election as the Yeshiva College president.
Dr Adrienne Asch: Thank you to the MedEthics society for inviting me to speak and to Rabbi Brander for encouraging me to speak- he has been a wonderful colleague- my colleague as director of research David Wasserman is also here and I would like to acknowledge him as a very important center for ethics staff- have some brochures I can give out at the end of the evening if you’d like.
What I’m going to do for a very brief time- and someone can tap me on the shoulder as I’m about to exceed my time- about not so much the – there’s no one secular perspective on the topic of surrogate motherhood- there are many different perspectives- people have written on this topic in USA, Europe, Australia- can’t count number of articles and books that have been produced on the topic from many different vantage points- some very supportive of the notion that women should be encouraged if they wish to gestate children for other people- many saying they should be paid for their physical labor- that they should be expected to keep their agreement with the people that they gestate children for- and if during the pregnancy or during the birth of the child they come to regret the decision and want to retain custody of the child, many people say should not be the case.
Twenty years ago, first very well-known case of surrogate motherhood- case of Mary Beth Whitehead in New Jersey- woman decided she didn’t want to relinquish custody of the child- many people said that a contract was a contract and she should give up the child- that’s one perspective and it’s a perspective that features as its hallmarks the notion that women should be free as any other people are to make decisions about their bodies and their lives- that they should not make these contracts without a very clear sense of what is going into them- should only do this with a sense of informed consent- and once the contract is made, they should honor it. A very autonomous notion- notion that says that what women do with their bodies- pregnancy, even if very physically involving work- doesn’t mean that pregnancy means the psychological involvement of wanting to be the mother of the child who results from the pregnancy. A notion that separates physicality of gestation from the emotional commitments of bearing a child.
Other perspectives stress that pregnancy is a very deeply-involving activity – that women can’t undertake it without changing their lives in certain ways to be – to guarantee the health of the fetus that they are carrying- if they drank wine, they stop drinking wine to be careful so that the fetus doesn’t have alcohol or caffeine- many would say that pregnancy and gestation is very involving work- no wonder that women during the course of that gestation might change their minds about how disconnected from the fetus they could be after it’s born- once they see a real, live baby- even if originally they intended to give it to someone else- a very deep connection to the baby, often known as “bonding.” That perspective says this is something that women shouldn’t agree to in advance in a binding way because like in any other relationship you might change your mind- like friendships you make that don’t last- it changes, who knows why? You can’t promise that you will be friends for someone for life- even in marriage, even when you take vows- marital bonds are undertaken with the expectation that they will continue for life; they won’t always. Divorce is not looked on favorably but it is not something that is impossible to happen because human relationships are complicated and don’t always survive. Pregnancy is a kind of human relationship.
This perspective stresses the kind of relationship that goes on- even if only in the mind of the woman. Also says that it is something that a woman should not be paid to do- typically, women are not paid to form relationships- if they want to do this as a voluntary act, perhaps they should. But the payment is not good for the women to do and not good for the child to come- does the child want to find out later that the person who bore it was paid $20,000 dollars to bear it- might not be a very good feeling for that child.
What kind of relationships the women who gestate children should have with the people who are raising children- should they be family member? Some think that family arrangeme4nts- if a sister gestates a child for another sister, that might be a good thing- but there are many situations when those family relationships could be very complicated- someone who gestates a child for her sister may not ultimately feel that the sister is raising the child the way she wants her to. What kinds of family friction could this create? Should it be anonymous? Should you have no relationship? Should the parents tell the child that s/he came from someone who was not their married parents? Some say yes, you should always tell- some say that no, you shouldn’t tell- the people raising the child are the true parents.
More complicated questions- whether the surrogate is using her own egg artificially inseminated with someone else’s sperm or is she using an embryo from the couple- very complicated questions as to universal health insurance as well- without coverage for reproductive services of all sorts (not true in Israel but is true in USA). Wealthy people can get services for surrogate motherhood- but people who are not wealthy may not have the money- this is not supported by government insurance. So should there be government funding?
The reason some would say there should is that it would make surrogacy available to other people who want to be parents and can’t carry children. The people who say they shouldn’t say there are many problems with this and it’s not medically necessary to have children- you might want them, but you don’t NEED them- no reason medical insurance should cover that and not cover all these other things that need to be covered. So what kind of funding should there be for this activity?
That is a view of many different questions that people in the field of bioethics do talk about when they talk about surrogate motherhood- whether autonomy should reign- what kinds of things would resolve custody disputes- whether payment should be done for this service.
Okay, thank you.
Rabbi Kenneth Brander: I too would like to begin my remarks by thanking Aaron for the work he has done and is beginning to do on behalf of undergrad MedEthics society and to thank Yonah for the unbelievable work that he has done. A little more over a year ago making trips back and forth to Boca Raton- was in apartment in Morgenstern 2 years ago? Time flies when you’re having fun. Yonah knocks on my door and says he wants to speak to me for a few minutes and an hour later finished sharing his vision for a Medical Ethics society. He has not only created an appropriate venue for it but he has found many special students who will continue to empower this undergrad Medical Ethics society- thank him for what he has done for YU.
Last time I spoke, I gave a class on PGD. It was in 501. Of course, there was dinner beforehand. About 2 months ago, a student came over to me and said, ‘I get a mazel tov- I got engaged.’ I didn’t really know who the student was but gave him a mazel tov, then asked why he was telling me that he was getting engaged? After all, I don’t really know him. So the person told me he met the person that he was going to marry at the PGD conference, so I’m hoping to get 1000 here, fellows. (Laughter)
Want to thank Dr. Asch not only for her unbelievable, insightful remarks but for the clarity of vision she brings to her ethics. She is a world-class ethicist- nothing that she talked about was secular; everything that she talked about was holy. Her capacity to share those ideals and set them up for us in ways where we can look at them through the prism of Jewish thought is totally kodesh, totally holy and is in no way secular. I want to thank her for the cogent way in which she shared some very important issues in such a way.
I prepared some sources- they are there for you- let’s begin and share some Torah for the next hour.
First page of our handout starts with a very important midrash that I’ve shared with some of you in the past and that is the recognition of the fact that God did not create a perfect world, but in fact created an imperfect world. God wished that we have partners and those partners that God wished is humankind. And while God creates an imperfect world, it’s up to us to perfect that world- we say that every time we daven- we’re here to be involved in tikkun olam.
Clearly medicine- clearly the idea of surrogacy- clearly actualizing the gift of a couple having children- is a celebration of the capacity for us to be partners with God using science.
Idea also highlighted in the Gemara in Bava Batra – a very famous dialogue between Turnis Rufus and Rabbi Akiva- Turnis Rufus was a very famous government and Rabbi Akiva represented the Jewish people before the destruction of the people of Beitar.
Turnis Rufus: The Jewish people are condemned to hell because they help the poor. See, if a king imprisoned a person and said not to give him food and water, and someone gave him food, the king would be upset. So if God makes someone poor, and you give him money, then you are going against God!
Rabbi Akiva: What if the king incarcerated not a subject but his CHILD. And he said no one should give his child food or drink- but someone sneaks in food and drink- wouldn’t the king be happy someone had saved his children? And we are called the children of God.
Rabbi Soloveitchik once explained this by saying that when someone has their fate set out for them- they’re poor, they can’t have children- how are we supposed to look at that.
Turnus Rufus says- you’re supposed to wear the glasses of God- God wants these people to be poor, and you help bring them out of poverty- you’re going to hell. Rabbi Akiva says it’s not our job to wear the glasses of God. It’s our job to be God’s partners and to empower him to help- if we can help get someone out of poverty- if a couple wishes to have children, we should support that dream through the gifts that science has given us- we should not look at this as changing destiny but rather as a celebration of the notion of tikkun olam.
Meiri in Sanhedrin has a very famous comment in his definitions of witchcraft and what is forbidden- he makes a very famous comment in Source #3- one should know that anything that is done through science is not considered magic, even when, as we know from Kabbalistic literature that there will come a time when we will learn how to create human beings WITHOUT having a sexual relationship, it is permitted to do this- because anything that happens through science is not considered magic. Anything that comes through the normal process of medicine is not considered an Amoraite action.
So in my introduction I have indicated that we can help others to have children- but it is not a halakhic mandate, if a couple cannot have children naturally, they do not have to find scientific ways to have children.
There’s a list of question after 120 years and one of them is “Tzipita l’yoshua’ –did you wait for the yeshua, the redemption of human kind? The second is “Asata b’pirya u’rivya?”meaning did you try to have children (not did you have children.) One is not halakhically mandated to use the gifts of science (financial/ psychological challenges) to do this. One sees that idea from a Tosfot in Pesachim- it says there that if a person is uncircumcised and cannot eat from a Paschal sacrifice- he is not obligated to go to an ubnormal degree- “heroic measures” in order to be able to fulfill commandments. That is particularly true by the idea of having children.
However, should one decide to do that, then there are certain issues, and what I would like to do is to share with you and contrast with you the notion of paternity and maternity. It’s very hard to discuss surrogacy without contrasting it to the concept of paternity. So we’ll spend a few minutes on the definition of paternity and then move to the idea of surrogacy.
So turn to source 5- we’ll notice that there’s a pasuk in Esther that says that Esther had no parents “Ki ein la av v’eim” and further, when her father and mother died, her mother died in conception, Mordechai took her as a child. So the Gemara asks- why the need to repeat twice in the same verse that she had no parents?
Gemara answers- source 6- to show that her mother died at childbirth and father died when she the child was conceived. This idea shows that they are parents even when they were not involved in rasing the child.
Source #7 is very important. Greatness of Talmud is that it does not always focus on real life events as much as it does in creating halakhic paradigms so that one can learn principles through which one can build up Jewish approaches.
“A high priest is not allowed to marry anybody that had sexual relations- whether the woman was divorced or widowed. So Ben Zoma was further asked- can a high priest marry a virgin who has become pregnant?”
So there’s a whole give and take- maybe it LOOKS like she didn’t have relations but she really did have relations. Gemara says no- there is the possibility that she never had relations but she conceived in the bath- so there is this idea, and I don’t think the Gemara means this in an exact way- is that one can bifurcate the sexual act and the concept of being pregnant. Trying to show you the difference between the gavra, the relationship, and the status quo of the woman.
So Gemara highlights this idea of woman becoming pregnant without having a relationship.
Source 9- based on this Gemara any single time a woman becomes pregnant without having a sexual relationship, the sperm donor is considered the father for all things. “Me’aviv nishma d’havei b’kol davar”- considered the father simply by having donated the sperm even if there is no sexual act at all.
Turn to next page- the Tashbetz in the 1300s amplifies R’ Shmuel Feivish and says the same thing- the sperm donor, even without a sexual relationship is considered the father- considered genetic donor.
Minchas Yitzchak, who is not known for his leftist tendencies or Modern Orthodox tendencies, but who is one of the greatest poskim of the past generations- speaks about a situation where a person has a limited sperm count and who in order to have children has an IUI- Interuterine Insemination (always uncomfortable speaking about this in front of others here who are well-versed in this) but basically an IUI where instead of sperm having to travel all the way up the fallopian tube, the sperm is put in a syringe, shot into a woman’s womb and placed at the entrance of the fallopian tube. Because, in layman’s tube, when sperm travels up the fallopian tubes, it’s like traveling the FDR- lots of potholes, a lot can die along the way- so the sperm will be destroyed and none might reach the fallopian tube to fertilize the egg. So the IUI is no need to travel on the FDR drive, we’ll create a flyover so that it can get to the fallopian tubes safe.
The Minchas Yitzchak therefore says that in any case of an IUI, “peshita li d’kayim ha’mitzvah”- they’ve definitely fulfilled the mitzvah of having children and the husband has definitely fulfilled the mitzvah, considered father even though there was no sexual act. Only thing is that you want to make sure that there’s certain hashgacha- certain supervision in the labs- so you want to make sure that you don’t fertilize the egg of the woman through IVF (when you harvest the egg of the woman and fertilize it within the lab and 3rd or 4th day afterwards it is returned to the womb of the woman)- won’t know which sperm is used if there’s not proper hashgacha, so you won’t know who the father is. So there has to be some hashgacha within the fertility lab- even though there are strict rule and regulations- the halakha requires stric OU supervision in labs (that’s not a joke- that’s halakha)- Cornell does it, Maimonides does it.
Next source- sperm donor is the father. So much so that R’ Zalman Auerbach says what happens if wife wishes to have children but the husband has no sperm. Where should you get sperm donation from? Since the definition of paternity is the sperm donor, both R’ Moshe and R’ Shlomo Zalman suggest that the sperm donor should be from a non-Jew. Because otherwise Yankel will donate his sperm, child will be born, and the child will go out with someone else Yankel donated sperm to or Yankel’s own child and then you could be marrying halakhicaly your own sister or brother. So R’ Moshe says that you should use non-Jewish sperm so that problem doesn’t arise.
Look at source 12- you’ll see that R’ Shlomo Zalman has a few things. First thing, you can inseminate the wife through IUI even when the woman is a niddah because there is no sexual act, so no concern over those issues. Then number daled- if you have to use sperm (I’m not saying he endorses it with a full embrace, because he has some issues about it) he says you should use a non-Jew.
R’ Moshe also says that you should use a non-Jew. R’ Moseh Feinsteins’ house was actually fire-bombed because of this teshuva by a sect of Orthodox Jewry who was not pleased with this teshuva.
R’ Shlomo Zalman’s house was not fire-bombed. One could ask why. Because R’ Moseh Feinstein’s work are more popular than R’ Shlomo Zalman’s first volume of Noam, which is not as well-known. SOY Sefarim sales all have Igros Moshe- Noam I haven’t found at any of the SOY Sefarim sales.
The most exciting thing about the paternity peace is an unbelievable idea found in the 1700s in the NOdeh b’ Yehudah. R’ Yechezkel Landau asked the following question:
We know that there’s a notion of ______. That when a woman is widowed and childless, she waits 3 months before she gets married again to see if she is pregnant by the first husband. Why do you wait 90 days? You ought to wait 93 days! The Nodeh b’Yehudah says. Because he passed away- it takes 3 days for the sperm to fertilize the egg in the Fallopian tube- so you should wait 3 days for the egg to be fertilized and then 90 days. Most Achronim ask this question and say 90 is a rounded- off answer.
Nodeh b’Yehudah has an unbelievable chiddush. If the woman is inseminated but the husband dies before the time of conception, and she was inseminated before he died, even though she could become pregnant with the sperm of her dead husband, she still goes through the act of chalitzah- because at the moment of death there was no child/ no conception. So you can have a case according to Nodeh b’Yehudah where the woman can be 5 months pregnant, but conception happened posthumously (after husband died.) According to Nodeh B’Yehudah, that woman would go through chalitzah because at the moment of death there is no child.
However, even though the woman goes through the process of chalitzah, this child is still considered the child of the father l’kol davar- if the father was a kohen, the child is a kohen. He says it’s a diyuk in the pasuk. And the point that’s important for us here is the idea of posthumous paternity.
You can have the idea of someone who expresses sperm and freezes it for a hundred years and then that sperm is injected into a spouse or another woman. The man could be dead- he could be a soldier and day. The wife who is a widow can say I want to have a child- and take her husband’s frozen sperm and have a child posthumously- according to the Noreh b’Yehudah- he is that man’s child. Even though that father was not around for conception, let alone his life.
The next page of the source- the Keren ha’Orah- basically disagrees with the Nodeh b’Yehudah- says he agrees with the notion of posthumous paternity- but says that the woman does not go through chalitzah right after husband dies.
Next page, 13C, see that R’ Shaul Yisraeli is furious that in one of the newspapers of HaTzofeh- a group of poskim said that if the person who expressed sperm died and now that sperm is inserted within a woman, the dead person is the father “l’kol davar.” The Rabbanim in Israel paskened that based on this Nodeh B’yehudah and Keren ha’Orah…R’ Shaul Yisraeli disagreed with this because he says the Nodeh b’Yehudah is not a good paradigm because the sperm was already within the woman when the husband died. But in our case, when you have to defrost the sperm (I’m using layterms, not scientific terms)- and then inject into the womb of the woman- that requires too much work to allow that person to become a posthumous father.
The jury is still out on this idea- some disagree with R’ Shaul Yisraeli- the bottom line that I want to show you is that it is clear that the genetic donor when it comes to the definitions of the father is the father- so much so that even in the 1700s that is the case.
Now how does that compare to the notion of paternity? There we have 4 different approaches. The jury is still out. I asked Rabbi Schachter today- he said the jury’s still out, machlokes among poskim.
In the case of a surrogate, in our simplistic definition of that, where the egg is a donation from one woman and the host mother, the one nurturing the fetus, is another woman. One woman donates the genetics- the other hosts the fertilized eggs. So you have a host mother and a genetic mother. Some say there is no mother. Others say that there are 2 mothers. Those are not normative approaches. The normative approaches are that the genetic mother is the mother or the host mother (the one doing all the work, the one who is nurturing, creating that bond)- THAT is the mother. As opposed to the father, where there is only one paradigm, and that is a genetic gift- and therefore the genetic giver is the father- when it comes to the m other if it can be bifurcated, there are those who say that the one who does the nurturing should be considered the mother. So that is the most normative approach. But there are major poskim, including the Eidah Charedis and Rav Goren who both say that they are genetic donors (probably the onoly time that Eidah Charedius and Rav Goren agree on this).
Let’s look at source 14- Targum Yonatan ben Uziel-I normally wouldn’t use this because it is Aggadata, usually don’t use Aggadata to define Halakha, but on the next page someone else used this aggadata for his approach- so I bring it down for intellectual honesty.
This says that when Leah was pregnant with Yosef, Rachel was pregnant with Dinah. (I’m happy that you’re perplexed.) The Targum Yonatan ben Uziel says that initially Leah was pregnant with Yosef, Rachel was pregnant with Dina. Leah realized that she was carrying a male, which meant that Rachel would contribute less to the 12 tribes than anyone else.
So look at source 14 where I have underlined- God heard the prayers of Leah and there was a change within the fetuses from one womb to the other and Yosef was then switched and put into the womb of Rachel, and Dinah was put into the womb of Leah. (I’ve ended your perplexity here.) So we would never hear anyone say that the mother of Yosef was Leah! The mother of Yosef is Rachel! But who donated the genetics for Yosef? It was LEAH who donated it. The host mother was Rachel. This is a proof, says R’ Shaul Yisraeli – this aggadata is the proof that the definition of maternity is the host mother, not the genetic donor.
Source 15- comment by R’ Ahron Soloveichik where he said the following. If you have a choice of defining the mother as host mother or real mother- post 40 days must do it, because pre 40 days the fertilized egg is not even considered a fetus, but only a sac of water. That is why it is permitted in stem cell research and it should be encouraged. So since there is this notion in halakha, therefore the mother that was involved in the development of the fetus in the first 40 days, namely the genetic donor, should not be considered the mother, especially when there is a woman who is involved with the development of the child post 40 days. You should view the genetic mother’s gift as “tozeret Yapan” – made in Japan. Do not in ANY WAY associate the genetic mother with this fetus. That is very important because then it allows the genetic donor not to be a Jew. Because if Judaism defines Jewish identity by the mother- if the genetic giver plays no role in that, then as R’ Ahron Soloveichik says with great clarity in source 16- last few words in the 6th line- count 6 lines from top after 1st word- you should not relate to the genetic gift no different than a synthetic material that says “made in Japan.” Therefore, a child born to a surrogate mother who has a genetic gift from a non-Jewish mother doesn’t need geirus- it’s a waste of time to do this.
This idea of the surrogate mother being the host mother is also found in a much-more complicated approach in a Gemara in Yevamos- found in an article in Techumin, the 5th volume- an exceptionally important volume on the notion of surrogacy- several articles there, very, very complicated that anyone who wants to be holy in these issues must go through, but happily we are blessed with Talmidei Chachamim who we can turn to for guidance.
Source 15- twin brothers who are converts- what’s the halakha? A ger, it’s as if they have been born anew. So if a family decides to convert after the children have been born, halakhically there is a severing of the relationship between parents and children even if they all convert- it’s as though you are reborn. What happens if a woman converts when she’s pregnant? So the mishna says there is some severing between those fetuses and the father. Why is that? Because the minute you go into the mikvah, any relationships that have been fully established have been severed on some level. So since the father’s relationship has already been established- given sperm, established paternity- relationship is severed. But the Gemara says that the relationship between the MOTHER and the fetus is not severed- it remains.
Asks R’ Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg- why is this? Because the father’s relationship with the children is already established by giving gift of genetic sperm- but the mother’s relationship is evolving by the nurturing of fetuses with her womb. So the relationship is not yet established- for that reason, the definition of maternity is not the genetic giver but rather the surrogate mother.
A source I did not bring down- R’ Elyashiv who is not a fan of IVF- but for those who are interested, brought down in Nishmas Avram- if already done, the definition of the mother is the host mother, the surrogate mother. This idea is highlighted by R’ Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg- this is known as the 5th Shulchan Aruch- there are great Jewish thinkers who think that the definition of the mother should be no different than the definition of the father- the “genetic gift.” Other great Jewish thinkers who think that the definition of the father and mother need to be different. Question, though- what if the mother is non-Jewish?
So, according to HIS point of view, you don’t need to convert them. But there’s a whole group of people who think otherwise! So I don’t want to create babies that are only kosher according to one approach- all the sudden you’ll have babies where it’s only kosher according to one rabbi, and non-kosher according to another baby. I don’t want there to be little Jews that are walking around and this one had a Jewish surrogate mother but non-Jewish donor, this one had a non-Jewish surrogate mother, etc.
So even though I believe that the definition of maternity is a host mother, any time the genetic mother is not Jewish, the conversion should be done. And then, because we are on the cutting edge of this issue- in 20 years from now when the child gets married- or 18 years old- I’m not trying to put any pressure on anybody despite my introductory comments- then we’ll decide whether that conversion was necessary or not because there are halakhic ramifications of who you can marry based on this. So R’ Zalman Goldberg is trying to have his cake and have it all. Personally, I always followed R’ Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg in his approach because it makes sense.
We’ve discussed the notion of maternity, paternity- where perhaps that genetic donor can even be a posthumous donor- now we’ve discussed issue of maternity- in case of maternity where genetic donor and host who nurtures fetus, there is a split between focus 4 ways.
1. No mother
2. Two different mothers (have to sit shiva for both)
3. Normative approach- host mother (but recognition that there’s a substantial group who say it’s the genetic mother- so there’s people like R’ Soloveitchik who don’t want to include this and others like R’ Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg who says that you should do a conversion l’chumrah- without blessings.)
4. Genetic mother
Thank you very much.
1. Question for Rabbi Brander- one thing we didn’t speak about are issues of mamzerus- place where the father donates sperm to a surrogate mother and the surrogate mother is both the egg mother and the pregnancy mother, but the surrogate was already married to someone else or in category of zonah or divorced- what about mamzerus?
Rabbi Brander: That’s a very good question. It seems that I actually gave a 2 and ½ hour class on that issue to the Rabbis of Yarchei Kallah. It would seem that if there are no issues of intimacy between the man and the woman, then you do not create mamzerus. Mamzerus requires intimacy- woman is married and you do not use non-Jewish sperm. That’s why R’ Moshe and R’ Shlomo Zalman want you to use non-Jewish sperm- but even if you use Jewish sperm, child is not considered a mamzer because there was not a physical relationship there.
Does everybody agree with that?
Brander: No, not everyone agrees with that. No one ever agrees with everything. It’s the normative approach and even in the summary that I gave to you- R’ Shlomo Zalman is a heavyweight- by the way, I DID bring you the source from R’ Elyashiv and that is on the back page, on page 20. But to give you the source that you asked about- if you look at source 12- you’ll see that in the middle there it says- “Ulam ein hazrah chashuva k’znus”- it’s really not zenus because it is not a sexual, intimate relationship.
One deiah in the Rishonim that says you don’t need it but 99% of poskim don’t use it.
Who would disagree?
Brander: It’s one of the Rishonim, you’ll excuse me if I forget who it is.
2. What I don’t understand is how you can feel that you feel so self-confident over who is a Jew and who is not a Jew. I lived in Israel for 11 years, sold my chametz, thought it was to a non-Jew, ultimately turned out, back in 70s, this person was indeed a Jew. I don’t mean to be offensive but this is basing people’s lives and communities on this- subquestion is that you’re still talking about siblings- doesn’t really matter whether that sibling is biological halakhically- I have found in my own family that there are very serious issues here that are ignored and are upsetting me.
Rabbi Brander: Well, I am sorry about the last bit, am willing to discuss with you- clearly discussing this in 45 minutes does not allow us to dwell on all these issues deeply. Removing the emotional components of this, which are very deep and need to be dealt with- in terms of sensitivity- but halakhically, R’ Moshe Feinstein asks that question about whether the sperm can come from a non-Jew. He says that if the sperm bank is based in a place where the majority of the inhabitants are non-Jewish, then one can consider the sperm non-Jewish. He is willing to discount that issue once you have the notion of “rov.” That particular issue is not seen in the small section of the source that I gave you from R’ Moshe Feinstein but if you look at the source, you’ll see he deals with that issue.
3. You said according to halakha, you are supposed to be “osek” b’pri u’reviyah- what if for example there’s a wealthy person who can finance the surrogacy that would otherwise not happen. Would he be- if he or she- if they didn’t have their own children, would it be considered osek b’pri u’reviyah?
Rabbi Brander: I think they would be- my point is that one is not halakhically obligated to go through- whether wealthy or not- psychological issues are important. Issues of surrogacy is a psychologically draining issue. It’s not a walk in the park. Especially in a case where the couple- the woman has to harvest the appropriate amount of follicles- has to trick the body into ovulating more than one at the same time- halakha does not require one to go through the psychological trauma in order to fulfill the mitzvah using IVF surrogacy. If you wish to, it can celebrate that. My point was that simply through trying to have a child in a natural way, one has fulfilled one’s necessary capacity- one does not need to use these issues- you can, but you don’t need to.
I’m talking about a third party- if a third party financed this pregnancy- would this fulfill his peru u’revu?
Rabbi Brander: That’s a great question- I don’t know the answer- I don’t think so but I don’t know
4. By R’ Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg- what he says- if it’s too feminist for you, then you don’t have to answer it- he says in vav – the word “ben”- what would you say about what he means- is he just using general terminology?
Rabbi Brander: Definitely “ben” or “bat.” Definitely one or the other. Whether you like the Hebrew or not, a lot of times when you speak in general about something, you’ll use one gender more than another- it’s definitely “ben” or “bat.”
Well, yeah, but I was just thinking- he’s being so specific…
Rabbi Brander: Well, this is the challenge of taking a thirty page article and giving you five pages. So if you read most of the article then you’ll see he means both. I’m not into doctoring the language
5. If you have a couple who is getting ready for an IUI or IVF, does halakha place restrictions upon the method of extracting sperm on the husband?
Rabbi Brander: That’s a great question. That is not a topic that I would feel comfortable discussing in this forum like this. Just to let you know, there are protocols discussed- different protocols in Yerushalayim vs Bnei Brak- my training on these issues is Israel-centric, not USA-centric. There are differences; clearly we try to make sure that the sperm is expressed without compromising the integrity of the sperm- so if we can do it in a way where husband can have relations with his wife and still capture the sperm, that would be the best way. Otherwise, protocols. Overarching goal is tzniut- focus on end game- appropriate and as many gametes as possible- in order to be able for the couple to have children.
Thank you very much.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
It is commonly assumed that Adam was not present when Eve faced temptation by the snake. There are even suggestions as to where he was- he had performed his natural functions [a euphemism for intimate relations] and was asleep, or God had taken his hand and was leading him about the world. But if you look at the actual text, you will notice that nowhere does it say that Adam is not there. It is simply that if he is there, the serpent does not address him, and he does not speak.
In fact, an actual reading of the text suggests that Adam is there, but he is a silent witness, simply listening.
ו וַתֵּרֶא הָאִשָּׁה כִּי טוֹב הָעֵץ לְמַאֲכָל וְכִי תַאֲוָה-הוּא לָעֵינַיִם, וְנֶחְמָד הָעֵץ לְהַשְׂכִּיל, וַתִּקַּח מִפִּרְיוֹ, וַתֹּאכַל; וַתִּתֵּן גַּם-לְאִישָׁהּ עִמָּהּ, וַיֹּאכַל.
6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, [emph mine] and he did eat.
The problem, of course, is the addition of the word עִמָּהּ , with her. We have all been taught that the Torah does not put in extra words. The verse would have read just as well if it had merely stated "and she gave also unto her husband and he did eat."
So what does it mean that Adam was with her?
A variety of interpretations are given. One commentator explains that Eve was immediately concerned over the fact that she would die, and she desired Adam to be with her at all times, even in death (also, she was jealous- she didn't want Adam to have another wife who would live forever alongside him.) Most interpretations range along those lines- that Eve wanted Adam to be with her forever- in fact, she even gave the animals of the fruit, and all the animals ate it and became mortal, excepting the hol, or phoenix, which is why it is immortal. Aznayim L'Torah has a very interesting statement regarding the fact that all the animals ate of the fruit, as did the humans, but of them all, only the human's eyes were opened to knowledge of good and evil (while animals act on instincts alone.) Aznayim L'Torah then explains that the nature of a human is fundamentally different to begin with- hence, while everyone became mortal from eating of the fruit, only humans could acquire higher knowledge (which then leads to the question as to why the blessing suggests that a rooster can understand the difference between good and evil, but I digress.) Abarbanel, incidentally, claims that Eve simply handed Adam a piece of the fruit, as though she had come back from her foraging mission, and he, thinking there was no need to ask questions, ate of it- and then his eyes were opened, only then did he realize from whence it had come.
Very good. But I think that there is room to suggest, at least from the literal reading of the words, that Adam was with her all along.
And he was silent, passive; he ate of the fruit that his wife gave him.
But no! you cry. After all, if Adam were there, why wouldn't he protest his wife's action? Why wouldn't he correct her when she states that God said not to "touch" the tree by explaining to her that he had added that to the prohibition; God had only said not to "eat" of the fruit? Why would Adam remain silent and acquiesce? And most importantly, wouldn't God rebuke him for this silence, and yet God does not seem to say anything about Adam silently observing the drama played out between his wife and the snake.
Aha! But that is until you look at what God actually says to Adam.
יז וּלְאָדָם אָמַר, כִּי-שָׁמַעְתָּ לְקוֹל אִשְׁתֶּךָ, וַתֹּאכַל מִן-הָעֵץ, אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִיךָ לֵאמֹר לֹא תֹאכַל מִמֶּנּוּ--אֲרוּרָה הָאֲדָמָה, בַּעֲבוּרֶךָ, בְּעִצָּבוֹן תֹּאכְלֶנָּה, כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ.
17 And unto Adam He said: 'Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying: Thou shalt not eat of it; cursed is the ground for thy sake; in toil shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.
I read this verse a number of times today before realizing that it did not say what I always thought it said, but something quite different.
This verse does not say, "Because thou has hearkened unto the voice of thy wife to eat of the tree."
Instead, it makes two separate points:
1. Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife
2. Because thou hast eaten of the tree
Now, if you look at the text- the literal text, mind you, not the Midrashic interpretation which waxes prosaic about Eve's wiles and how she beguiled Adam to eat the fruit, crying and screaming and bothering him until he acquiesced- you will notice that Eve does not speak when it comes to convincing Adam to eat the fruit.
The verse states, "she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat. "
Adam, too, states that she "gave [emph mine] me of the tree, and I did eat."
Therefore, Adam could not have "hearkened unto the voice" of his wife when it comes to the eating of the fruit (at least literally speaking) because she did not speak, she only gave.
This means that the only place where Adam could have "hearkened unto the voice" of his wife was earlier when she was engaged in the conversation with the serpent.
Which means that yes, God did rebuke him for his part in this little play. "Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife"...and didn't stop her, the reader can almost add in. Because you did nothing. Because you were silent. Because you were passive, and did what she wished you to do, because you ate of the fruit when she gave it to you. Because of all this, now you shall be punished.
Incidentally, it is not necessarily surprising that Adam would be passive. If you look at Adam's function throughout, he is a Name-Giver (I think I owe this concept to Elie Wiesel.) If you look at everything Literal Adam does, it has to do with assigning proper names to objects. Whenever he speaks (other than in his conversation with God, where he admits to fear and blames Eve), that is his function.
כ וַיִּקְרָא הָאָדָם שֵׁמוֹת, לְכָל-הַבְּהֵמָה וּלְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם, וּלְכֹל, חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה; וּלְאָדָם, לֹא-מָצָא עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ.
20 And the man gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found a help meet for him.
כג וַיֹּאמֶר, הָאָדָם, זֹאת הַפַּעַם עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי, וּבָשָׂר מִבְּשָׂרִי; לְזֹאת יִקָּרֵא אִשָּׁה, כִּי מֵאִישׁ לֻקְחָה-זֹּאת.
23 And the man said: 'This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
כ וַיִּקְרָא הָאָדָם שֵׁם אִשְׁתּוֹ, חַוָּה: כִּי הִוא הָיְתָה, אֵם כָּל-חָי.
20 And the man called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.
Adam is very good at assigning names, but once he is involved in an actual dilemma, a problem where someone or something is confronting his reason (in this case, the snake), he is unable to speak up, only listens as his wife converses with the creature. This passivity and inability to act is further echoed in the fact that he and his wife hide from God, unable to directly face the consequences of their actions. In that case, note the order of the words in the verse:
ח וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶת-קוֹל יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, מִתְהַלֵּךְ בַּגָּן--לְרוּחַ הַיּוֹם; וַיִּתְחַבֵּא הָאָדָם וְאִשְׁתּוֹ, מִפְּנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים, בְּתוֹךְ, עֵץ הַגָּן.
8 And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden toward the cool of the day; and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.
Notice who is placed first in that verse. It is the man and his wife who hide from God. The suggestion is that the man hides first, or that it is his idea to hide from God. Again, this suits Adam's nature. He is passive, silent; he listens and obeys. This is his flaw. Incidentally, the flaw is rectified because of Eve's curse, "thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." Formerly passive, formerly hearkening to Eve's voice without raising objection, new Adam will be toughened, strengthened. He will work the earth through the sweat of his brow; he will learn that at times he must rule over his wife. These curses serve a purpose; they are "fixing" human beings to make them into who they should have been in order to prevent the awakening in the garden.
Welcome, all visitors! Come visit in good cheer.
You are wondering, "Who is this *insert nasal French derogatory and condescending tone* Curious Jew? How does one characterize her blog? How dare she compete against moi? She is a Dark Horse! An unknown candidate!"
Well, perhaps you do not wonder in such an exaggerated and self-centered way, but that is what I would do. Hence the drama, flair, and dazzling lighting effects. (You don't see those lighting effects? Pity. The blog veritably emits radiance. Dark radiance, to make it even more exciting.)
That all having been said: I am an eighteen-year-old student at Yeshiva University. My tastes and topics in learning and writing are somewhat eclectic. I have been known to write about anorexia, Niddah, magic and passion. I have also written about events at YU, Yom Hashoa, various Holocaust books, and movies that affect me. In terms of Torah, I write about what fascinates me, ranging from a portrait of the evil inclination to Egyptian women and the alternative version of Akedas Yitzchak. I do have a sense of humor, contrary to what some believe, which manifests itself in my stories about Thanksgiving escapades, finals, and elevators. I write stories, such as The Bloody Rose and At the Zoo. I am a very curious person, as the name of the blog implies, and I wonder about a lot of things, especially about truth and happiness. My best post to date has been this one, Off the Derech.
I figure that there are two ways to campaign for the JIBs. The first way, of course, is to tear down everybody else, come up with evil slogans and begin a mud-slinging contest. This way does not appeal to me.
The second, of course, is to very respectfully request that if you like this blog, and have enjoyed any of the posts here, you might consider voting for me in the following categories at this time.
You may vote only once during this week.
Introduction: To start off, thank you for coming tonight. We’re going to have the presidents of the Student Council and the YU Israel Club carry the flags to begin our evening. Begin.
They called up 7 people who attend YU who formerly served in the IDF to light 7 candles to commemorate the 7 wars they have fought.
Alan Kleinerman: This year Yom Hazikaron carries more potent feelings- all bear witness- soldiers engaged in Lebanon- call upon Elyasaf Schwartz to recited Keil Malei to commemorate all those who lost their lives fighting.
Liz Shelton, Stern Student Council President: It gives me great pleasure to introduce our first speaker, Colonel Elam Kott- served 25 years, first Lebanon war, first and second Intifadas- established Israel ____ (maybe 'Connects')- foreign and logistic services to foreign press services- chosen by -----Agency and Vice President of the Jewish Education Fund – home in Petach Tikvah, resides in United States.
Elam Kott: Shalom and good evening. Today is a special day in Israel- it’s a very Israeli day- it’s very moving day. For me ___ seventh generation in Israel, also a very special day- a day when ___ in Israel, year after year, every year, I used to go to the army, to the cemetery- meet my friends, my army friends, those who I share with them some of my very critical and unique moments- there in the cemetery. I’m going from one grave to the other, giving hugs to the families, looking with sadness on the new graves, the new names and the new families who joined the family in sorrow since last year.
Since I came to my mission in the States 3 years ago, unfortunately not there as I used to be- very difficult for me- as a guy who served twenty-five years in army- these years symbolize whole meaning of being Israeli- joy, freedom, care for each other, a great friendship. For all my years in the army, I choose to tell you one small story from my part in the first Lebanon War.
It all started when one day it was the beginning of June 1982. I believe most of you were not even born yet. This was the day that I took my wife Nurit and we were on our way for a vacation- three days of vacation in city of Israel in Eilat. We were waiting for that for a long, long time. At that time I was a commander of the company, captain, twenty-six years old- served for a long time in Lebanon, for a long time we were doing a mission over the border- getting into Israeli settlements, were killing civilians.
So we put all the peklach on my car and we went down- 200 miles from Petach Tikva (center of Israel) so midst of the road, while we are driving we were talking and listening to music- but I don’t know why, something inside me, seventh sense told me not far from Eilat to change the channel of the radio and to listen to the news- and what I heard was that the Israeli ambassador to England, Shlomo Dov, Z”L was shot and injured. I look at Nurit and she said, “Oh no, not again.” She means that last time when we planned our vacation a year ago- we were almost going out to the car and there was a terror attack- no cell phone at that time, but the phone rang, and I answered it and then I went back to my base.
So she said- let’s go to Eilat, hotel, I’ll call my commander- called him and asked him is there anything new I need to know? He said, no, but do me a favor- don’t get so far from the hotel. We ate a good dinner and went to dance at the nightclub- then the DJ announced, is there a guest by the name of Mr. Kott? I raised my hand and said yes. “Well, you have an urgent phonecall.” It was my commander- in a very cool voice he said, “My friend, you need to get back to the base-“I said “What’s going on?” He said “I can’t tell you- but give a goodbye kiss to your wife because you’re not going to see her for a couple of weeks.” So I took Nurit home, took some stuff, took my rifle, gave her a kiss and headed north. 1:45 PM I was at the base- asked what’s going on.
Well, we’re getting inside- government approved big operation in Lebanon- said tomorrow __ AM is when we’re going in. So I sat with my soldiers- not much time- but sometimes the relationship is very, very close when you’re a commander- I talked with them, tried to explain to everyone what everyone should do, what his job is- check that everyone has the right ammunition. To be a commander in Israel – saw a couple of guys and girls in the army here, you know what it is like- when you [as commander] are in your twenties- you are everything for the soldier- you’re the father, mother, teacher, Rabbi, mentor-you are everything- you have a big responsibility for them and for their parents- huge responsibility- huge commitment. You took them from home healthy and it’s your responsibility to bring them back home healthy and of course, alive.
Rest of the hours- looking at maps and even took a nap for 1 hour. At five AM, I got all the soldiers and talked to them about our mission- talk about National issue- why we are doing this. I told them, “Please turn around- what do you see? You see the Galil- people in Israel, people in the settlement- for those, you are going to fight” and I believe soldiers who hear these words get a lot of strength to go to war. My company – part of the 91st division to provide intelligence information on the enemy for the other forces- so need to be somewhere in the front of the division- move along the shore through the city of Tzor and all the way to the city of Sidon to capture the whole area and to claim it from terrorists.
Jump into ABC- told the driver to move, and he moved- behind us all the soldiers in their ABCs. The adrenaline was very high, I was very sharp in my orders- something I remember, I forgot- forgot to call Nurit so I told a soldier to please tell my wife everything is okay and I’ll be in touch.
At the beginning, everything was smooth- beginning of June, 20 degree Celcius, silent, not like a journey- cross the first Lebanon villages some civilians raise hands and say welcome- some kids were smiling at us. After 10 miles from city of Tzor massive RPG missiles and snipers were shooting on us. As we say in the army, the ceremony has just begun. One of the ABC got hit by a missile- some soldiers were wounded- told doctor and paramedic to move quickly and start taking care of them- paramedic and doctor in Israeli army are really, really something special- they gave morphine to one, put bandages to others. The rest of the company started to shoot and attack ahead- attack like panthers, lions- exactly how we exercised it months and weeks ago.
Imagine- snipers and terrorists shooting at you from unseen places, most of them from buildings and someone can say “Well, it’s very easy- send a missile to one of the buildings” and I agree but maybe in this building are women, children, babies- can’t do that, sorry- we can’t. So we fight, attack, run and we did. After forty minutes battle in this place is over- all my soldiers were there. Asked my doctor to take 3 serious wounded back to hospital.
For most of my soldiers, was the first time they were under real fire (for me, it was 2nd or 3rd time- I was a very young officer in Litanya (Netanya?) operation in 1978- joined just after Yom Kippur War- was very proud of them. Really they did a great, great job. Also now we feel like we have a blood-connection; something a stranger won’t understand unless he was with you in the army- call it “Achi” my brother.
People say after you experience it once, the rest is easier- after the first one, the second one is the same as the first one. The same feeling, the same care for your soldier, the same fear, the same pride when you complete your mission. That’s how I felt- everything is like the first time. I can tell you that everything in life is like the first time. Last time- I’m doing a lot of skydiving- hundreds of them and everytime I jump from 14,000 feet I can tell you that this is the first time. The same is in the battle in the field.
After we captured the city of Tzor- division rushing north- few more fights- on 6th day we complete our mission not far from International Airport of Beirut- one dead soldier, 6 wounded. Then ____ Jamaal was elected president of Lebanon; he was murdered. Three weeks after, if I remember correctly, me and my company were inside Beirut for another couple of months- one very nice anecdote I can tell you- when my grandfather was sent to do some research in Beirut somewhere in the nineteen forty before the world war. And my mother went, of course, with him. So when I was in Beirut I remembered him and said to Mom, where is the name of the neighborhood? So I took a picture of that neighborhood- sent my mother a picture of her place when she was a child in Beirut.
Allow me to jump 24 years to 2nd Lebanon War. We can talk hours about success of Israeli army- we had and we have the best, brave soldiers- soldiers will do anything to break any spirit of any enemy who wants to break us. Twenty two thousand three hundred and five are not statistics. Each of them has a face. Each of them has a name. All of them had ambitions. All of them had dreams. The family’s life will never be the same. Believe me, I know that- I went to visit them- every year- at the beginning they knew me as Elam, their Commander. Then I had my first child, second child, then I celebrate 40s and then 45. And they left with their memories- for them, Gadi and Amos and Neil are still in their twenties- beautiful, brave, young but looking on us from heaven.
So because of the horrible price we paid- we must in every single day make it a better day. Make every day, not to miss any opportunity for better Israel, better life. That’s the fallen legacy. That’s pray that next year we will stand here and the number of the fallen will not increase even in one. The 2nd Lebanon war did not end- because the kidnapped soldiers are still in Lebanon. Just before I came here I spoke to Karnit Goldwasser about how she feels in Yom Ha’atzamut, I mean Yom Hazikaron. She said, “You know, it’s funny- I’m in the middle- I have no sign of life- I can’t do Yom Hazikaron or be a part of Yom Ha’atzmaut.” Let’s pray that very soon- very soon- at least we’ll have a sign of life.
I believe that at this moment Yom Hazikaron ends and this is the moment we do the transition to Yom Haatzmaut. I was asked more than once how it is possible to celebrate Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut right after one another- one saddest day, one happiest. The answer lies in the question- Israel would not have been established without this heavy toll. Even today we need to keep Israel strong- each of you, in every way- donate a thousand dollars, celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut- anything you can do, do, to strengthen Israel.
Thank you very much for letting me share my feelings with you. Oseh Shalom b’mromav hu ya’aseh eilenu…Happy Independence Day.
Rachel Goldstein (Stern Israel Club President): As we now transition from sadness of Yom Hazikaron to Yom Haaztzmaut, must keep in mind those who gave their lives so Israel would exist. Also need to keep in mind our three chayalim who were kidnapped last summer (lists them.) Who are unfotunatley in our enemies hands this Yom Ha’atzamut. In our devar torah, R’ Nachum Leibtag comments on proximity of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut- “even though doesn’t seem fair to either day, independence gives us strength to cope with Yom Hazikaron at the same time terrible price shows us how to channel our thoughts.
[Now we see a short movie on Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Hazikaron to mark this transition.]
The six-day war was barely two-days old, Egyptian army disintegrating…Israeli advance showed no sign of letting up. By Friday June 9th, Egyptians had been driven back across Suez Canal- Israel captured West Bank and Suez Canal after 2 days of fighting. By Saturday June 10th, Israelis had taken Golan Heights- they hit concealed artillery positions- extraordinary story of Eli Cohen, Isaeli’s most famous spy. Agent 008 was known in Syria as Khalam…
He was given free hand in access everywhere- he had all the detailed plans. He was able to pose for this photograph- all the while gathering valuable information- then caught sending coded transmission from house in Damascus- he was tortured and executed. What did he achieve?
He made a strong suggestion to Syrians- plant trees by every artillery site so as to protect our boys from the sun, nothing too good for our boys in the field- and Israelis watched these trees grow up seeing where ever artillery placement was.
Now call upon the SOY President Josh Vogel to raise the flag of Israel.
Josh Vogel: The Jewish State is at the center of our hearts. Tonight the Torah of Yeshiva University and the Torah of Israeli join together. R’ Goldwicht, with his bright, insightful divrei Torah and his cheerful smile- confident that R’ Goldwicht will take us around the world, back here and back again with his annual Yom Ha’atzmaut derasha. Enjoy.
[Now, for the very simple reason that Rav Goldwicht spoke in Hebrew, I don't type Hebrew and therefore had to attempt to translate his thoughts into English and write them down, I'm not going to include his speech here. It wouldn't be at all accurate and would in fact do him an injustice.]