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Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Law or a Loophole?

A friend of mine invited me over to her house last night. Her husband was making a siyum, (celebrating the completion of a Talmudic tractate) and therefore, due to the happy occasion, the restriction on eating meat during the Nine Days the days was lifted for all present at the meal. We all enjoyed a great barbeque, with steaks , burgers, chicken, and more. At first glance, this probably seems like a sham. Doesn't using this "loophole" of a siyum to avoid the restriction on meat and wine seem like a betrayal of the spirit of the Jewish Law, if not the letter of it?

First, let's go into the definition of the word "loophole". When shrewd accountants and attorneys use legal "loopholes" to get their high-paying clients major tax breaks, the government can do nothing about this circumvention of the spirit of the tax law. In reality, though, these deductions were created by the lawmakers precisely to be used, as a means to stimulate economy. It is only the perversion of these laws that create the negative connotations that have dogged the word "loophole".

Jewish Law directs us how to behave. If halacha tells us that a celebration in honor of finishing a tractate of talmud is a time of simcha (joy) that supercedes the mourning practices of the Nine Days, then so be it. Assuming that the timing of the siyum falls during the Nine Days, and hasn't been rushed or pushed back in order to specifically enjoy a meat meal, it is a happy occasion that emphasizes the positive commandments, even during a time of sadness. Just because halacha at times seems to us to follow God's "intent" - abstaining from meat and wine to mourn the destruction of the Nine Days - does not mean that we can try to understand God's "intent" when halacha is interpreted to allow such "loopholes". One of the ways to understand God's "intent" is to actually follow the letter of the law.

There is a story brought down in The Rav's "Halakhic Man" about the Vilna Gaon, that is very illustrative of this concept. The Gaon learned of the death of his brother on Shabbos. Even though he was obviously going through a tremendous personal loss, he did not allow himself to show any outward sign of grief, as it is forbidden to show any signs of aveilut (mourning) on Shabbos. After Havdalah, however, he burst into tears. Was his enjoyment of Shabbos a "loophole" that allowed him to ignore his obligations as an avel (mourner)? No. His enjoyment of Shabbos was a positive commandment that superceded any outward signs of grief.

So if you have a siyum to attend during the Nine Days, enjoy eating that meat. I know I did.


Blogger Enigma4U said...

While you were enjoying your carnivorous meal during the Nine Days, you should have gone all out and allowed yourself a glass of whiskey, preferably one that is chametz which was sold to a non-Jew over Pesach. I hope you also had some Israeli pickles with your hamburger, probably ones that grew during a Sh’mitta year in a Jewish-owned farm which was temporarily sub-leased to an Arab in order not to transgress the laws of Sh’mitta. I’m assuming you haven’t been negligent about your personal hygiene this week; Halakha clearly states that one should not bathe this week, but loopholes such as the one you’re using to avoid feeling and smelling like a homeless person were invented to make this decree more bearable. While you’re benefitting from halakhic loopholes, enjoy the rising interest rates your CD is earning at your Jewish-owned bank. Halakha is replete with loopholes because reforms are an integral part of any social system which seeks to stay viable. The issue that I have is that Orthodoxy refuses to acknowledge loopholes as necessary reforms, thereby making it an obsolete system for today’s life.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

Nice post. But keep in mind that the Torah also includes ideas like "v'asisa hatov vhayashar" and "kidoshim tihiyu" which have been interpreted as a command to act morally even where the law doesn't require it. The "letter of the law" sometimes requires us to go beyond it.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Just Passing Through said...

I hear what you're saying but I still think that a majority of the siyumim violate the spirit of the law.

I think you'll agree with me that most siyumim (and I can't speak for the one you attended last night) are practically arranged to fall out on the 9 Days. Another example that rubs off on me the wrong way is the new fad of 'a cappella music'. While it may not violate the letter of the law, it certainly violates the spirit.

Also, would you find yourself participating in this 'joy' of completing a tractate during the year, or would such an event not be on your usual social calendar.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Renegade Rebbetzin said...

One of the ways to understand God's "intent" is to actually follow the letter of the law.

You rock my world as always, babe. :-) Next time, have an extra 3 steaks for me... we're dying over here.

Just passing through: The law's so-called "spirit" can manifest itself differently for different people. The letter is what everyone has to follow, no matter what.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Just Passing Through said...


Good comment but Im not sure I understand your final parting sentence. How is Orthodoxy "refusing to acknowledge necessary loopholes for reforms" when you just listed numerous 'loopholes', created by Orthodoxy to do just that?

1:03 PM  
Blogger Just Passing Through said...

Next time, have an extra 3 steaks for me... we're dying over here..

You mean hubby couldn't finish one of the 'easy masechtas' like everyone else does?

1:12 PM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

tonight at my suim i will be speaking about,how a suyim is wonderful during the 9days,bec. it negates the 2 reasons the batei mikdash were destroyed.No kovad hatorah(making a suim is the greatest form of KH)and sinas chinam(so we invite people over and carry them on our merit.what greater simcha is there?
so i say,if you finish a mesecta and are having others over then the avalus of the 9 days is mildly and deservingly lifted from you

1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

enigma : you forgot pruzbul. That is also a good one.

just passing thru - the point is that while the conservative and reform acknowledge that change in halacha is necessary, the orthodox deny this and instead create "loopholes". Amounts to the same thing, but somehow the frum world is WAY better and holier than everyone else.

2:05 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Also, would you find yourself participating in this 'joy' of completing a tractate during the year, or would such an event not be on your usual social calendar.
Absolutely. This particular friend makes siyumim for friends and relatives several times a year.

2:13 PM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

just passing-
during the year?yes or no,the suim during 9days has it own simcha.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Enigma4U said...


All of the loopholes I listed (and many which I didn't - Pruzbul is one - thanks, Onion) were established centuries ago and adopted by mainstream Orthodoxy; Contemporary Orthodoxy has stubbornly impaled itself deep in the dark ages, refusing to adapt to the needs of evolving society. It has effectively disabled its only means of maintaining viability by closing the books on any changes necessary in am ever-changing world. Orthodoxy is unable to help itself out of this miserable position because it dictates that no changes be made since its adherents have decided that Chazal are the only ones allowed to tamper with its set of laws. Since Chazal are no longer with us, Orthodoxy has closed the books on any necessary alterations. In practical terms this means that although women in general society have been making great strides in reaching equality, Orthodoxy continues to serve as an insurmountable obstacle to this goal. It also means that Orthodoxy has remained with stone-written Halakhot which are racist, sexist, xenophobic, cruel and unusual, with no means to excise them other than offering the rehashed apologetics to reconcile them with modern thinking.

2:20 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

" just passing-
during the year?yes or no,the suim during 9days has it own simcha."
Thanks, Amshi. That is correct, especially in Chassidic circles, where some are noheg to make a siyum every night of the Nine Days. The only caveat is that one is not supposed to rush or delay a siyum solely to partake in meat on the Nine Days - and that is not even held by all.

2:32 PM  
Blogger ari said...

WHat do you think if Chazal were alive they would change the dinim 4 women?!?And the Torah is racist?I don't know why you are venting but please be logical:Beacuse you can think of maybe 5 takanas that were created in a span of thousands of years don't think that Chazal just changed anyhting that was needed.And alot of those Takanas you mentioned had mnay opponents who were vehementaly against changing the laws.

2:37 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

enigma and onion soup:
the point is that while the conservative and reform acknowledge that change in halacha is necessary, the orthodox deny this and instead
create "loopholes".

Absolutely incorrect. These "loopholes" are within the parameters of Halacha. The difference is that in Orthodoxy, we create our Hashkafa to match halacha, loopholes and all. Reform and Conservative Judaism create theory first and change halacha to fit.

2:46 PM  
Blogger DovBear said...

I disagree with this:

(1) First, going without meat is not a hardship. I hate to say it, but you all sound spoiled rotton. There's plenty of good food to eat that isn't meat.

(2) The Mishna Brurah says plainly that you can't time a siyum special for the nine days, so "finishing an easy mesechta" is out.

(3) It also says you can't make a larger celebration than you might have otherwise, and that you can't invite people that you wouldn't have otherwise.

(4) Though I don't think the siyum loophole is a real loophole, when the MB's criteria are met, when the MB's criteria are ignored it's certainly cheating.

(5) The other loopholes to which engma object certainly exists, and Orthodox Judaism would be stronger is we would just admit it already and get over ourselves. Orthodoxy benefits from changes in law and practice, without admitting that these changes in the law and practice have occured. That's fundementally dishonest. (and yes, OM, Orthodoxy doesn't change law and practice as permiscuously as Reform and (to a lesser extent) conservatives do, but it happens, and we gain nothing by pretending otherwise.

3:12 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

I'm not really sure what I said here that you could disagree with. The person making the siyum makes several a year, to which I am always invited. We don't eat meat at the seudat mitzvah because going without is a hardship! That's the whole damn point! We eat meat because we are celebrating the joy of a siyum! Sigh.

3:18 PM  
Blogger DovBear said...

I don't know the details of your siyum, so I was speaking generally. If this was a siyum that was not made expressly for the nine days, and if the baal simcha did what he would normally do, with the people he would normally invite, than it's not a loophole. That's the letter of the law, per the MB.

You didn't say going without meat was a hardship. The Ren Reb did. She's the one I had in mind when I said people were acting spoiled.

3:23 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Got it. I posted some of the details upthread. Well, then carry on with doing your thing. It's what makes you you.

3:28 PM  
Blogger Enigma4U said...


Let me quote God’s plain words to you. This is from Deutoronomy 23:19-20:

“Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury.Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it.

God does not say anything a possible scenario where not being able to charge interest to a fellow Jew may hinder the economy. God does not suggest a way to bypass this decree by allowing one to write up a Heter Iska and charge his fellow Jew interest at reasonable rates. God says it plainly and simply: Don’t charge a fellow Jew interest. Period.

Hillel, the original reform Jew, comes along with a creative loophole to bypass God’s decree. Any which way you look at it, what Hillel instituted is REFORM.

And Dov Bear is right on. The reason Orthodoxy won’t accept that its ancient laws have undergone any kind of reform or change is that once you acknowledge that God may have overlooked how society will benefit from changes to His law at a future time, you are essentially pulling the string that unravels the sweater.

3:31 PM  
Blogger DovBear said...

Hillel's pruzbal was certainly a reform, but he did it without violating the letter of any exisiting laws. Same as with Heter Ishka.

That sort of cleverness doesn't exist anymore, and modern Rabbis are too timid to try.

3:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's no lack of cleverness out there, but the fear factor undoubtedly trumps it. Just look at the sad tale of R. Slifkin.

Meanwhile, the lack of a sufficiently clever and (universally) acceptable solution to the aguna question remains, for lack of a better characterization, a boosha and a herpa on Orthodoxy. I can't imagine how one might defend the status quo.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I might have missed something, but isn't the reason halacha is no longer dynamic as it could be because the mechanisism of change has been abolished due to the galut? We do not have a a Biet Hamikdosh of a San Hedrin and therefore we suffer as a result. Halacha was not supposed to be staid but it was supposed to be moving...halacha is aderivative of to walk. The current state of affairs is a result of the iniquities of the Jewuish people, and being driven from the land. Kind of seasonal.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Renegade Rebbetzin said...

I'm going to stay out of the obnoxious drivel being spouted here, but I shall say the following:

JPT: My husband could have, if he wanted, finished all of the mesechtot and made as many siyumim as he felt like. He doesn't need to rely on "easy" ones, being an unbelievable genius and tremendous talmid chacham (just felt a need to make that clear).

Dovie: You don't have to preach to the converted. I said "we" are dying over here because of my hubby. He enjoys plenty of food that isn't meat, but the bottom line is, he's one of those people who still feels a little unsatisfied from "lighter" foods like fish, and as such he's spent this whole week in a constant state of mild physical discomfort. He hasn't complained once, mind you; it's just me feeling badly for him, because, well, I'm a Jewish wife and mother, and that's what I do.

7:50 PM  
Blogger DovBear said...

Wow. RenReb visited OM twice in one day. Money must be changing hands, right?

Anyway, RenReb, I hold that a *good* piece of fish is better than chicken, and equal to most beef dishes. If your husband isn't mekabel this vort perhaps you need some new recipes?

(I hope I didn't just offend the RenReb)

9:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The term "loopholes" as you correctly point out is pejorative because it implies that although the person is within halacha, s/he is somehow violating the spirit of the law. This begs the eternal question of what does G-d want. And who gets to decide what G-d wants and whether G-d wants change or not.
Take the selling of chometz on pesach. If a nonJew walks into your home during the holiday and opens your chometz closets and helps himself to the contents, you would probably...call the cops, not gently remind yourself that he actually owns all of it. So you are technically within halacha, but to be honest with yourself, the stuff still really belongs to you, at least psychologically.

The agunah example is also a great point. Don't you think that G-d would be very happy with a nice halachik way out for these women ? Where's the loophole for them ? Does the fact that there is no loophole mean that this is the way G-d wants it to be or is it just that the rabbis of our times are at fault for not working on this issue ?

11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ortho how many times can you serve tuna casserole?My freind told me that RMoshe Feinstein used to make a siyum for the whole camp

12:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Take the selling of chometz on pesach. If a nonJew walks into your home during the holiday and opens your chometz closets and helps himself to the contents, you would probably...call the cops, not gently remind yourself that he actually owns all of it. So you are technically within halacha, but to be honest with yourself, the stuff still really belongs to you, at least psychologically."

Well, first of all, we don't sell "chametz gamur"... we finish it or destroy it. But other than that, if the nonJew to whom I had sold my sort-of chametz items knocked politely on my door requesting access to "his" chametz, I would gladly let him in and show him to it. Because otherwise, I wouldn't feel comfortable with the whole "sale" thing.

But I'm strange... the whole concept of "bidieved" bothers me, so I avoid it whenever possible, instead of going looking for it. I will agree that far too many "Orthodox" Jews approach life with a bidieved point of view, but not all of us.

We didn't make or attend a siyum this past week, although my husband would have appreciated it, since he caan't eat dairy and was restricted to fish and tofu all week. Oh, and I did "neglect my personal hygene" and actually cried this morning when I got dressed because it wasn't midday yet and I couldn't take a shower. (Aren't you glad you didn't need to interact with me this week?)

Which reminds me, I have tons of laundry to do, not having washed any of our household's clothing for a week and a half except cloth diapers and whatever baby clothing wound up in with the diapers.

Momof4, glad you enjoyed the siyum, and don't let them bother you about it. (Not that my opinion counts... DovBear hates me anyway because my 2 year old son has long hair, and will until next Adar.)

7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know, it's very much after the fact, but enigma4you, for the record:

grew during a Sh’mitta year in a Jewish-owned farm which was temporarily sub-leased to an Arab in order not to transgress the laws of Sh’mitta

heter mechira is NOT universally held by frum Israeli Jews.

Including many who hold that the original psak was valid for then , but that the reasons no longer apply, invalidating the psak for nowadays.

I was in E"Y for shittah '93-'94, and the badatz certified produce stands bought from the local Arab farms. And we were starting to get otzer bais din fruits for real cheap when I left.

And a bank, as an institution, is different from an individual concerning interest. Business loans are different from personal loans; when my father's company borrowed money from me for business needs, we were advised to have a heter iska written up, but when I lent a friend a higher sum to pay off credit card debt, there was no interest involved, and she just made sure to pay it off before shmittah.

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