Monday, May 12, 2008

Part Two: Issur Sirus and Yishuv Eretz Yisrael

The Torah is so broad and all-encompassing that it affects every area of life. As I said in the last post, many people are unaware of the dinim that are involved in owning pets. The issur to spay or neuter a pet is one. Others are the rule that you can’t feed them basar be’chalav (except according to the Rambam's 'Nekudah Hanifla'ah' that treif meat bechalav is not assur be'hana'ah, a shittah which we don't rely on,) or chametz on Pesach, resulting in the strange experience of seeing dog food at the local Kosher Food store that is chazer-treif and labeled Kosher for Pesach. Also, there are muktzah issues, and the requirement to feed your animals (if they depend on you for their food) before you begin your meal.

In every mitzvah in the Torah there are two separate areas of thought: the technical rabbinic area, and the philosophy. What is the philosophy of the issur of sirus?

There are those that learn from this din that there are certain rights, whether you call them 'Natural Rights,' or 'God-given Rights,' that are fundamental and inalienable (see Chinuch 291). They are so basic to the meaning of existence that we forbidden from interfering in them by any means. The right of any organism to propagate itself is so central to its existence that the Torah forbids us from sterilizing it. Imagine that! The torah teaches us Animal Rights!

Mankind, the Gentiles, the nations of the world, have not only this right, but also a mitzvah. This is the Mitzvah of Sheves; lo sohu be’ra’ah, losheves yetzoroh: God did not create the world that it remain a wasteland; He created it and entrusted Mankind with the mitzvah to be fruitful, to propagate mankind and settle the world, to make it hospitable. The Jewish People, too, have the mitzvah of Sheves; but our Sheves is both greater and more narrow. Our mitzvah is to propagate both our fate and our destiny.

Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik wrote a famous essay, called “Kol Dodi Dofeik.” In it, he points out that there were two covenants with the Jewish People. The first was Yetzias Mitzrayim, when we were isolated, separated from the rest of the nations. This is our inescapable fate, the result of the covenant of Mitzrayim, the external compulsion to live a separate existence. The second covenant was that of Mattan Torah; this was the covenant of our destiny. Our destiny, which stems from ethical teachings and the mitzvos of the Torah, is our ability to yearn to emulate God, to imbue ourselves as a nation with the holiness of Judaism. Milah is the covenant of Mitzrayim, and Tevilah is the covenant of Mattan Torah. Destiny transforms the separation and isolation of the Jewish people into a consciousness of a shared purposeful existence. We change from a machaneh into an eidah. Our mitzvah of Sheves is not to settle and improve Boro Park, or even Lakewood. Our mitzvah of Sheves is primarily in Eretz Yisrael.

(From Shem MiShmuel; I didn’t say this at the drasha in shul, because it was just too much to throw in.
Nisan is the month that corresponds with Reuven, and the redemption of Nisan was an observed fact, it was seen, just as 'Reuven' alludes to 'Seeing'. Iyar corresponds to Shimon, whose name alludes to 'Hearing,' and the work of Nisan and the Sefiras Ha'Omer period is to listen, to contemplate, and to understand the purpose of the geulah, to realize that the purpose of our nationhood is a different kind of sheves; it is the mitzvah to create a spiritual paradise in Eretz Yisrael.)

The Medrash (Vayikra 13, but more complete in the Yalkut Shimoni) says Omad vayemodeid oretz, Hashem carefully examined all the people of the world, and found that no people is fit for the land of Israel but the Jews, and no land is fit for the Jews but the land of Israel. The land has remembered this; Eretz Yisroel was Tohu, a wasteland, under the many nations that occupied it in our absence; it was only with the kibutz goliyos of the last century that it has begun to flourish. Eretz Yisroel cannot be developed without us, and our mitzvah of sheves is in Eretz Yisroel. For us, "lo tohu be'ra'ah, losheves yetzarah," does not refer to the World as a whole: for us, there is no world other than our land, and for that land, there is no people but us; and it is that land we are bidden to settle and improve and make into a physical and spiritual paradise. This is not "just another mitzvah." Just as the issur of Sirus and the mitzvah of sheves are fundamental obligations which goes to the essence of life and existence, so, too, our mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael is a fundamental and essential obligation.

Rav Yakov Emden, in his siddur, says that we all face Eretz Yisrael when we daven. This symbolizes our yearning to physically be encompassed in the kedusha of the Land of Israel. If a person, he says, has the opportunity to actually be in the land, and he doesn’t take advantage of that opportunity, then why is he facing it when he davens? It is a sham, and lie. My father, HK’M, used to say (and I later saw it brought that Rav Sonnenfeld once told this to Rav Breuer) that in Musaf on Yomtov we say "Umipnei chata'einu galinu mei'artzeinu, venisrachaknu mei'ahl admaseinu." The first, galinu, was imposed by Hashem. The second, the nisrachaknu, is our indifference, and that is our own fault; we did that voluntarily, and that is as great a tragedy, because it shows that we have given up, we have doubled the depth of our galus by acceding to it.

It is nice for me to stand here in America and talk about Yishuv Eretz Yisrael. The reality of responsibilities and inertia sometimes makes it hard to act on your beliefs. But Yishuv Eretz Yisrael does not only mean that you live there or that you are buried there. There is a difference between the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael and Yeshivas Eretz Yisrael. Yishuv Eretz Yisrael means the improvement of the land. Every one of us must resolve to seek opportunities to improve the physical and spiritual life of those that live in Israel. Examples we should be inspired by and aspire to are (the late) Rabbi Novick's clothing chesed called Bigdei Yisrael, and my sister's Adopt-A-Soldier program.

I believe that the great contribution we, in America, can make to life in Israel, is sanity. It seems that somehow, it’s hard to be sane in Israel. Maybe it’s the conditions of its creation– the two parties were diametrically opposed on the question of religion. The result is that in Israel, if you disagree with someone, even regarding relatively trivial or purely personal matters, you demonize him, you want to throttle him. It is the American yishuvim, the American style schools in Israel, that are the hope for the sane future of Israel.

But it doesn't really matter what you choose: plant a tree; beautify a highway; adopt an unwanted child, or support the fertility programs for couples that need help conceiving. Whatever you find, act on it, and contribute to the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael, so that the day will quickly come when we will all be zocheh to live there and experience the coming of the Moshiach.


  1. Unfortunately americans who make aliya slowly fall into the same trap of polarization. It is apparently the chet of bayis sheni that galus has not yet eradicated - nay - maybe even exacerbated. Lets hope it stops at shefichas domim mamash as it has reached the other kind.

  2. RE: Issur sirus

    Can someone explain what is a KOSHER capon (defined as a castrated rooster). Has the procedure been-- throughout history--keeping with Shabbat 110b? Is this the way of making kosher capons today?

    Shabbat shalom,

    Consumer of Regular Chickens

  3. Good point. I assume they purchase them fixed, just as we slaughter steers. There are ways around the issur, but I really don't think anyone relies on them. I will ask around to find out, though.

  4. But meanwhile, here's a link to the instructions that came with a 1922 Sears Caponizing kit.

  5. RE: Issur sirus

    The issue of capons has been on my mind for months and I asked a rav who was in Pesach (food/kashrut) mind-set. He did not know. He thought that Kosher capons were just raised to be extraordinarily fat. He had never had one. I asked a shochet in EY. He did not know what capons were.

    My original thesis was that making capons was a Roman development, but Shabbat 110b indicates otherwise.

    Shabbat shalom,

    Mesorah fanatic and Consumer of Regular Chickens

  6. RE: Issur sirus

    Very interesting, this Easy On Capon Kit! Who would have known?

    Makes me wonder how R' Yochannan's method was discovered.

    Shabbat shalom,

    Mesorah fanatic and Consumer of Regular Chickens

  7. I spoke to several people this morning who used to raise chickens, and they said they bought the chickens caponized and raised them afterwards. Apparently, sexing and caponizing chickens is a specialized skill. I also remember talking to someone many years ago who raised cattle; he told me that he sells it to a goy for sirus.

    Please see the post, towards the end, items #3 and #5. From what I've heard, the practical halacha is to rely on either double derabanan or selling to a goy, like mechiras chametz and shevi'is.

    In any case, all this only is relevant to the farmer. Eating them is muttar, unless they are doing an issur and you are aiding and abetting by purchasing. I'm sure that they know of the issur and avoid it by one of the several means available.

    Anyway, I'm told that capons are happier than roosters. Like Gloria Steinam, asked what the world would be like without men, once answered, "It would be full of fat and happy women."

  8. A friend, inspired by the idea of clipped capons, sent me a link. It is not educational.

  9. Next, the copper capon clipper caper.