Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks vs. The Atheists

In 2010, R. Jonathan Sacks made a pre-Rosh Hashana for-TV program called “The Case for God” in which he discussed religion with 4 atheists. I don’t remember too much of what went on in that program, but I remember that anti-Sacks Youtube commenters said things like “Let’s see him do this with Dawkins.”

He did:

(In case you’re interested, I’m embedding the 2010 program in 2 parts below.)


Explaining “Do Not Consider it a Sin” 2

Part 1

Previously, we analyzed the words “אל נא תשת עלינו חטאת אשר נואלנו ואשר חטאנו” which are found in selichos and found that, if we are to assume that the selichos usage of the phrase is similar to its original usage (Bamidbar 12:11), then – at least according to R. Samson Raphael Hirsch – the phrase is both an admission of guilt and a plea for forgiveness.

In the Artscroll Edition of the selichos, the commentary on the words “ואשר חטאנו” says:

Though we cannot deny that we have committed sins, we beg God not to reckon them against us, for we have been motivated more by foolishness than by a desire to do evil.

While this is, perhaps, open to interpretation, the wording of the the commentary seems to imply a more limited request for forgiveness than that which we attributed to R. Hirsch. While our interpretation of R. Hirsch has the plea asking for forgiveness categorically, Artscroll – by specifying the rationale by which we ask for forgiveness (i.e. we were motivated foolishly without desiring to do evil) – limits the scope of the request.

The limited request would include, presumably, sins of laziness (skipping tefila), sins of convenience (i.e. partaking of non-kosher food when kosher food is unavailable) and sins of lust. On the other hand, more significant sins – i.e. those of a rebellious nature – would be excluded from this particular request for pardon.

Explaining “Do Not Consider it a Sin”

As part of the selichos prayers, we recite the words “אל נא תשת עלינו חטאת אשר נואלנו ואשר חטאנו.” Artscroll translates these words as “Please do not reckon for us a sin, what we have done foolishly and what we have sinned.” This plea, though understandable when coming from someone who has sinned and fears retribution, is a bit peculiar.

Frankly, what is it asking? Is it asking for forgiveness for “foolishly done” sins or for all sins? And what – if anything – distinguishes between a “foolishly done” sin and one that is not done foolishly?

The text of this plea  is first found in Beha’aloscha (Numbers 12:11). After Aharon and Miriam have been informed by G-d of Moshe’s special prophetic role (special even when compared with other prophets, such as themselves), Aharon asks his younger brother for forgiveness.

R. Samson R. Hirsch’s Commentary on the Torah deals with this pasuk. He asks what the plea means: Aharon stated explicitly that he sinned – how could he ask for it not to be considered a sin? R. Hirsch suggests that Aharon was simply asking for a pardon from retribution – perhaps specifically a pardon from the tzara’as described in the immediately preceding verse.

If we are to assume that the plea for forgiveness we say in selichos is similar to that of Aharon, according to R. Hirsch we are not distinguishing between “foolishly done” sins and other ones. The request is, instead, a broad acknowledgement of guilt as well as request for pardon.

Metzizah B’Peh Consent Waiver Hullabaloo

Bris – Should the metzitzah be with a sterile pipette or with direct oral contact?

Once again, metzitzah b’peh is the hot topic in Orthodox Jewish circles, and this time it looks like things are getting kind of ugly.

In case you didn’t hear, New York City’s proposed amendment to the Health Code, requiring parental written consent in all instances of direct oral suction, has created quite a furor in the right wing Orthodox communities. Offense duly taken by some, a kol koreh has been issued decrying the proposed amendment.

Frankly, I believe the opposition to the amendment is misguided. At this point in the metzitzah debate, we are all well aware of the halachic authorities permitting (or advocating) sterile forms of metzitzah in lieu of direct oral suction. On the other hand, we’re also aware that there are those who stridently insist on the classic metzitzah b’peh.

Which view you prefer or I prefer is not the point. Which is right (if either) is not the point.

There are three things that are worth noting about all these goings-on:

  1. This bill is not attempting to legislate religious matters. It is not saying what can or cannot be done.
  2. As reported here, the Department of Health has received complaints from parents who were unaware that metzitzah b’peh was to be done to their sons.
  3. Though the kol koreh has many names, many of those that are often seen on kol korehs are not on there. Notably absent are R. Shmuel Kamenetsky, R. Malkiel Kotler, R. David Feinstein, R. Aharon Schechter. Or, as put here, none of the signatories is a member of Agudah’s Moetzes.

What does all this mean? It’s hard to say. My visceral reaction to hearing about the kol koreh was negative, because requiring a signature is not tantamount to legislating religion and the slippery slope argument really requires that the slope be slippery. Really, people sign their lives away when they go skiing. Signing a consent form for a medical procedure done to an 8 day old hardly seems absurd.

The reasonableness of the amendment increases when you realize that, sometimes, direct oral suction is done to the baby without parental knowledge (and, of course, consent).

Frankly, I don’t think that opposition to the proposed amendment makes very much sense. And it looks like the Moetzes agrees with me.

What is This?

The Jewish blogosphere is a big place. There’s lots going on in it. This is my attempt at throwing my hat into the ring.

Topics should include matters of Torah, hashkafa, and current events. Maybe (quite possibly) other things as well. We’ll see what happens.