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About Me

Rabbi Chaim Coffman
Rabbi Coffman has helped people from all across the spectrum to prepare themselves properly for Orthodox Conversion to Judaism. His students admire his vast knowledge and appreciate his warm, personal attention and endearing sense of humor.
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Followers

Welcome to Rabbi Chaim Coffman's Blog!

I would like to thank you for visiting my blog, Beyond Orthodox Conversion to Judaism.

The conversion process can be a lengthy and daunting one to say the least and I want you to know that I am here to help you through it.

I have been teaching newcomers to Judaism for over a decade and over the last few years I have seen that conversion candidates really lack the support and knowledge they need to navigate the conversion process and successfully integrate into the Orthodox Jewish community.

I created my mentorship program in order to help make this whole experience as smooth and as painless as possible! (Can't do much about the growing pains, though ;)

Feel free to get to know me a little through the posts on my blog and visit the mentorship and syllabus page if you are interested in possible joining us.

I sincerely wish you all the best in your search for truth and spiritual growth.

Looking forward to meeting you,
Chaim Coffman

My Rebbe, Rav Moshe Sternbuch

In case you were wondering why I have all of these articles written by Rav Moshe Sternbuch, he is my Rebbe, and one of the gedolei hador (greatest Rabbis of our generation).

Rav Sternbuch fully endorses me and supports my mentorship program.

He is the address for all of my halachic or hashkafic (practical and philosophical) questions that I or my students may have.

The articles are based on his weekly talks on the Torah portion that the Rav gives in Jerusalem in his kollel. As a member of the kollel I get first dibbs on the photocopies and I type them up for my blog so you can all benefit from the Rav's erudition and insight.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Shailos UTeshuvos with Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Rosh Av Bais Din of Yerushalyim


Order in Court

Question: I am a lawyer and I sometimes receive non-religious Jewish clients. Am I allowed to represent them in court and what is the halachah if the opposition are non-religious Jews?

Answer: Defending a Jew in court generally violates the requirement to take all of one's legal disputes to bais din. There are certain exceptions to this rule, yet appearing in court is a potential Torah prohibition, and one may not do so unless he has the permission of a bais din or a rav.

Settling Out of Court

Jews are supposed to settle all of their judicial disputes in bais din. The Rambam clarifies: "Any Jew who presents his case in a secular court is considered to be a rasha (evil). By choosing to go to court, it is as if he cursed and blasphemed the Almighty and lifted his hand against the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu" (Sanhedrin 36:7)

The Shulchan Aruch rules like the Rambam and states that even if the two parties accept the ruling of the secular court, it is forbidden to judge before them. The Rama adds that someone who goes to court should be put in cheirem for his actions (Choshen Mishpat 26:1)

All this considered, two religious Jews should definitely resolve their issues in bais din. However, many of the Jewish clientele who lawyers deal with are secular Jews, who, in most instances, will not listen to the ruling of bais din and would not even consider going to bais din. How should they act in such situations?

Bais Din or Court?

The general rule regarding all cases is that one may not go to court unless he has permission from bais din or a rav. IF both sides are observant Jews, there are very few instances in which they will be permitted to go to court. If one or both of the parties are not observant, then there are certain cases when it is permitted, as long as one received permission beforehand.

One notable exception is a case in which Torah law is more lenient towards one of the parties that the secular law system is (e.g. one will not take money from another party unless there are two kosher witnesses). Judging according to Torah law is a privilege, and not everyone is entitled to this. Chazal tell us that if a non-Jew tries to free himself from paying money by taking his case before bais din as opposed to a secular court, bais din judges him according to secular law or sends him to court (Bava Kama 113a).

Another notable exception is if one of the parties is a Jew who does not follow the rulings of the Torah in other instances. Since he does not practice Torah, he should not be eligible to the leniencies that the Torah may offer. Under such circumstances, bais din would make sure that they are judged in a secular court and not in bias din, so that they should not receive the benefits of bais din without keeping the other mitzvos of the Torah.

The halachah that a non-religious-Jew may no take advantage of bais din is not a penalty. Rather, it is a decree that since they do not keep the Torah, they are not entitled to the benefits that the Torah offers. Therefore, even though in regards to many halachos non-religious Jews are treated as tinokos shenishbu and do not get the status of a mumar (heretic), this would not change the halachah in regards to this case.

While authorities agree that a non-religious Jew may not take advantage of bais din, it is not clear how far this ruling goes. Even if a Jew does not observe the Torah, it is forbidden to steal from him. Can we send him to a secular court even if they will take money away from him that according to halachah rightfully belongs to him, if we know that the secular courts will remove it from his possession?

Rav Akiva Eiger (Mishnah, Bava Kama 1:11) says that it is forbidden to send a non-Jew or a non-religious Jew to a secular court if they will unjustly take money away from him, for this is tantamount to stealing from him. The Rambam, however, implies that in all cases it is permitted to send them to a secular court, whether it is to prevent them from unjust gain or to take money from them according to the laws of the court system (see Even Ha'azel 5:8). Since each case differs and one is potentially transgressing a Torah prohibition, each case should be judged by a rav.

Business Law

In general, a lawyer should be versed in the laws of Choshen Mishpat, Jewish business law. Otherwise, questions will come before him and he may unknowingly violate Torah prohibitions. At times, he might cause money to be unjustly taken away or given to his clients or the individuals they are up against.

Even in instances when a lawyer is allowed to go to court with a non-religious Jew, he must make sure that the party he is going up against is not a religious Jew. Losing a tremendous amount of money is not a religious Jew to come to secular court. Only a thorough knowledge of these halachos and contact with a rav will save him from transgression.


Shailos UTeshuvos with Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Rosh Av Bais Din of Yerushalyim


Learning Tanach

Question: I am an avreich in kollel and I have been learning Gemara and halachah b'iyun for a number of years. I did not learn Tanach as a child and my knowledge of Nevi'im and Kesuvim is almost non-existent. I feel that there is something missing from my knowledge of Torah without Tanach, yet I am very busy with my other learning endeavors. Should I be spending time learning Tanach?

Answer: While learning Tanach is important, it can also be very dangerous. If a person is an accomplished talmid chochom (Torah scholar), then he should learn Tanach. However, if a person does not yet know Shas and poskim, he should focus his effort on them, and only learn Tanach afterwars.

Teach Your Children

The Rambam Talmud Torah 1:7 writes that a father is obligated to teach his son all of Torah Shbeksav (the Written Torah) and the Shulchan Aruch follows this ruling (Yoreh Deah 245:1) This implies that children should be taught Nach, yet the custom in many chadorim is not to teach it. What is the reason that we are seemingly so lax in fulfilling this halachah?

In truth, it is critical for every Jew to know Tanach. In fact, Rashi quotes Chazal who tell us that just as a bride is adorned with twenty-four pieces of jewelry, so too, a talmid chocham should be adorned with knowledge of the 24 books of Tanach. Yet, as important as it is to know Tanach there is also an inherent danger that lies in learning it.

Tanach explains many of the Almighty's attributes in physical terminology. While these references are anthropomorphic, there is always the possibility that one may take them literally and start to relate these characteristics to Hashem. Even if one realizes that these value, nonetheless, hearing these references over and over could lead us to a severe misunderstanding about the essence of the Almighty. For this reason, it is often more difficult to learn and teach Tanach than other sections of Torah.

Another reason why the learning of Tanach is downplayed is because the apilrsim (heretics) is downplayed is because the apikorsim have taken some of the pesukim of Tanach and twisted them to show that their crooked ways are true. The intentions of these apikorsim show that even the tzaddikim of Tanach transgressed, and that in the backdrop of all of the misdeeds that are found in Tanach, their actions are not so bad. Chas veshalom to be drawn after such perverted thinking!

The Chasam Sofer (Torah Moshe, Parshas Shemos) adds another dimension to this halachah. He explains that after the non-Jews had the Torah translated into Greek, the Jewish people started being drawn after the simple meaning of the verses of the Torah and started to reject the drashos of Chazal. We see the after-effects of this today and therefore must be extremely careful when it comes to learning and teaching Tanach.

Chazal, in fact warn us to restrain one's children from learning higayon (Brachos 28b). Rashi explains that this refers to teaching them too much Tanach, especially Neviim and Kesuvim. In this vein, Rashi writes that a father is only obligated to teach his son Chumash and not the rest of Nach (Kiddushin).

Tosafos in Maseches Kiddushin adds that since Talmud Bavli consists of a composite of Tanach, Mishnah and Gemara, one fulfills his mitzvah of learning all three of these parts of Torah through learning Shas. Based on this, the Shach (Yoreh Deah 246:5) explains why we do not teach Tanach to children. We rely on the fact that the Gemara contains pesukim of Tanach, and all the verses of Tanach that we need to know in order to fulfill the mitzvos properly will be seen eventually by someone who is learning Shas.

This restriction only applies to a person in his early years of learning. During this time, a person should focus on learning Chumash, Mishnah and Shas. Someone who has been studying Torah for a number of years and has already filled himself with Shas and poskim should set aside time to learn Tanach. In doing so, he adorns himself with the 24 seforim of Tanach.

When learning Tanach, one should keep in mind that without the aid of Chazal, it is impossible to understand Tanach properly. Metzudas, Radak, Abarbanel and Malbim are some of the meforshim that open up the stories of Tanach and help us understand their deeper meaning. Even with the help of their explanations, there are still many parshiyos in Tanach that are difficult to understand properly.
Thursday, August 11, 2011

Shailos UTeshuvos with Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Rosh Av Bais Din of Yerushalayim


Protecting ourselves from Murder

Question: What is a Torah perspective on the murder of Leiby Ketzky z"l that took place in Brooklyn and the recent murder of Rav Elazar Abuchatzeirah zt"l in Eretz Yisrael?

Answer: These incidents are a result of society's sensitization of the value of human life and the general state of impurity that exists in the world today. We must try and separate ourselves from this impurity in order to resensitize ourselves.

Unbridled Killing

Rav Elazar Abuchateirah zt"l was a grandson of the Baba Sali and a son of Rav Meir Abuchatzeirah. Thirty years ago, Rav Meir reported that Rav Shimon bar Yochai came to him in a dream and told him that Rav Elazar would be murdered. Unfortunately, this week that dream became a reality.

The person who killed Rav Elazar was supposedly a rebbi in a cheder and considered himself to be a religious Jew. How can a person reach such a low level to commit one of the most serious transgressions in the entire Torah? We can ask the same question about the recent murder in Brooklyn.

We can gain some insight into these incidents from Moshe Rabbeinu, who set aside three arei miklat (cities of Refuge) on the side of the Jordan River across from Eretz Yisrael. In the whole of Eretz Yisrael, Moshe Rabbeinu only set up three of these cities of refuge. Why was there the same number of arei miklat across the Jordan River if the number of Jews living there was significantly less?

Chazal tell us that the reason that three cities of refuge were needed across the Jordan was because there were many murderers in Gilad. However, this does not seem to be sufficient reason to set up these cities. These people killed bemeizid, intentionally, and the arei miklat were only for those who killed beshogeg, unintentionally.

The vast numbers of murders that took place in Gilad lessened the severity of this transgression in the eyes of the populace. Once killing was not considered such a grave transgression, people were not careful to guard themselves from it. As a consequence, in addition to all the people killed intentionally in Gilad, many were killed unintentionally as well.

Maintaining Sensitivity

We live in a world where people are constantly exposed to murder on the internet, in the media, and in movies. As a result, killing no longer has the same gravity it once had, and in the past weeks we have seen the results with these murders that have taken place. How can we regain our sensitivities and ensure that we will not be dragged along with the tide that is sweeping the world?

The Torah tells us that when people come to testify that a person must be killed for a transgression, the witnesses must be the ones who actually carry out the punishment. IN doing so, one fulfills the command of "Uvi'arta hara'ah mikirbecha", which, on a simple level, means destroying the evil amongst you. What is the deeper significance of this command?

Rav Meir Simcah, the Ohr Same'ach, explains that seeing a transgression takes place will inevitably numb the senses of those who witnessed it. Carrying out the capital punishment will help them regain their sensitivities to the seriousness of the sin that happened. By doing so, they accomplish "Uvi'arta hara'ah mikirbecha" on a personal level. They remove this evil influence from within themselves.

We must try as much as possible to distance ourselves from contact with things that dull our senses towards murder. Fortunate is a person who can stay away from these influences and not let his sensitivities be destroyed. By guarding one's eyes from seeing many of the abominations which are dragging the world down at a rapid pace, he has a chance of protecting himself from this evil.

We must try as much as possible to distance ourselves from contact with things that dull our senses towards murder. Fortunate is a person who can stay away from these influences and not let his sensitivities be destroyed. By guarding one's eyes from seeing many of the abominations which are dragging the world down at a rapid pace, he has a chance of protecting himself from this evil.

A person who works in bringing Jews back to Torah may be forced to come in contact with these negative influences. While he is certainly performing critical work for Klal Yisrael, he should remember that when a person touches things at that are not clean, his hands will inevitably become dirty. They must take special measures to ensure that their sensitivities are not destroyed.

Gehennom under his Feet

It is well-known that Rav Yitzchok Zeev Soloveitchik, the Brisker Rov, lived with constant recognition of the reality of gehennom. So much so that people described the Brisker Rov as living with gehennom under his feet. How did the Rov achieve this level of sensitivity?

When the Brisker Rov was six years old, his father, Rav Chaim Brisker, explained to him what gehennom was like. This conversation had a major impact on the young Yitzchok Zev. For the rest of his days, he lived with a constant fear of what gehennom would be like.

We live in a world where immorality is rampant, and the severity of transgressions is increasing daily. Just a few hours before the murder of Rav Elazar Abuchatzeirah, 1,500 sinners paraded on the holy streets of Yershalayim, flaunting the fact that they engage themselves in one of the most heinous transgressions of the entire Torah. This abhorrent act took place a short distance away from the place of the Bais Hamikdosh.

Events such as these drag down the entire generation and take away sensitivities towards holiness. We must try and do whatever we can to avoid the impact of their actions and preserve feelings of kedushah. The more we can hold on to these feelings, the less we will be harmed from their destructive influence.
Thursday, August 4, 2011

Footsteps of Moshiach

By Rav Moshe Sternbuch


42 JOURNEYS


“These are the journeys of the Bnei Yisroel...and Moshe wrote their goings forth, stage by stage, by the commandment of Hashem” (33:1-2).


The Torah is usually very sparing with its words, and yet in this parsha we find 42 journeys in the desert enumerated, together with all the place names. The Medrash says that all these places were mentioned because, in the future, Hashem will cause these arid places to flourish. The fact that the Bnei Yisroel settled in these places accords them importance and sanctity. All the more so, concludes the Medrash, do the homes of people who host talmidei chachomim acquire sanctity. The very presence of a talmid chochom in a house elevates it.

In the days of Moshiach, Hashem will lead the Jews into Eretz Yisroel through these very same places in the desert. They thus served as a preparation for the future redemption. We also have a tradition that all the tragedies and misfortunes of this bitter exile are hinted at in the 42 journeys of this parsha. When Moshiach comes, the secrets of Hashem's Providence will be revealed to all.

On the plain level, the enumeration of these 42 journeys teaches us that neither Eretz Yisroel nor the future redemption are acquired easily, but only following many stops on the way accompanied by much suffering. Rav Yechezkel Abramsky zt”l used the following parable: People who swam across the Channel separating England from France would be awarded a prize. There was one swimmer who, just before reaching the French side, declared that he just could not swim any further. People tried to encourage him and convince him of the folly of giving up his prize just before attaining it, after having invested so much time and energy. Similarly, we have suffered so many tragedies during this long exile. All we have to do is hang on with determination and perseverance, because we are almost there.


AHARON’S DEATH

“In the fifth month, on the first day of the month” (33:38).

The Torah does not mention the date of death of anyone else, not even of the forefathers. Because of his peace-loving nature and ability to reconcile even sworn foes, Aharon’s death was felt universally by the whole nation. The Torah emphasizes this fact by mentioning the date of his death and thereby implying that even though it was Rosh Chodesh, on which no eulogies are ordinarily held, an exception was made for Aharon due to the enormous impact of his passing.


MITZVAS YISHUV ERETZ YISROEL


“And you shall drive out the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein” (33:53).

The commandment to dwell in Eretz Yisroel is made conditional on driving out not only idolatrous inhabitants, but also idolatry. Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfed zt”l was once asked why he did not call for all the Jews in the Diaspora to come and live in Eretz Yisroel in order to fulfill the important mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisroel.

He replied that we can learn from the precedent of the mitzvah of bris milah, which is not less important than mitzvas yishuv Eretz Yisroel. After all, it even overrides Shabbos, and yet if someone had two sons who died as a result of the performance of this mitzvah, the third son is not circumcised. Similarly, concluded Rav Sonnenfeld, unfortunately, many people suffer a spiritual death, which is worse than physical death, due to the heretical atmosphere prevalent in Eretz Yisroel, and so I cannot encourage people to come and live here, because a person is not obliged to expose himself to such a danger, and he must wait to fulfill this mitzvah until he is certain that no danger will be posed to the spiritual future of himself or his family as a result of living here.


CONDITIONAL SANCTITY

“This shall be the land that shall fall unto you for an inheritance” (34:2).

The Medrash says that this teaches us that Hashem showed Moshe all future events that were due to take place in Eretz Yisroel, and the leaders of each generation, both righteous and evil. What connection does this have to showing Moshe the nature of the country?

Moshe Rabbeinu did not yearn to see Eretz Yisroel like a tourist wishing to enjoy some beautiful scenery. What he wished to experience was the ways in which the Shechinah dwelled in Eretz Yisroel. Hashem showed him that the degree of sanctity in this country differed from generation to generation, in accordance with the sanctity of its leaders and of each specific generation as a whole. The extent to which the Shechinah would dwell in Eretz Yisroel in future generations depended on the level of the nation at any particular moment in time.

Anyone learning or supporting Torah in Eretz Yisroel participates in the mitzvah of conquering the country from the powers of tumah which seek to defile it and lower it to a level considered to be corrupt even by the standards of the metukanim (those with a basic degree of morality) among the non-Jews and thereby cause the Shechinah to dwell in Eretz Yisroel.


NO BRIBERY

“You shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer (35:31).

It seems strange that the Torah should have to state that a murderer cannot achieve atonement by paying compensation to the relatives of his victim. Of what value is money compared to the life of a person?
The posuk is actually coming to warn the wicked person against deluding himself into thinking that he can atone for his sin by giving charity. Only by repenting completely for his sins and receiving the punishment allotted to him by the Torah can he cleanse his soul and achieve complete atonement.
Similarly, we must realize that the Creator cannot be “bribed,” not even with mitzvos. A mitzvah cannot extinguish a sin, and a person's sins can only be erased with complete repentance, which purifies a person from all his iniquities.

SINNING IN ERETZ YISROEL

“You shall not pollute (literally: flatter) the land” (35:33).

Some people imagine that due to its great sanctity, Eretz Yisroel atones for all sins committed in it, and that by observing mitzvas yishuv Eretz Yisroel, they receive atonement for all their sins. In reality, the opposite is the truth: The blemish caused by sins committed in Eretz Yisroel is actually far greater than that of sins committed in chutz la’aretz, as is the punishment for transgressors in the Palace of the King.

ZIVUGIM>


Let them be married to whom they think best; only into the family of the tribe of their father shall they be married” (36:6).


There is an apparent contradiction here. The first part of the sentence implies that they can be married to whomever they wish, even if he is not a member of their father’s tribe, whereas the latter part seems to limit their choice to members of their father’s tribe.

The daughters of Tzelafchad were exceptionally righteous, and therefore their zivug (predestined marital partner) was prepared for them forty days before conception. Hence, Hashem would guide events in such a manner that they would choose their zivug, so that the person whom they favored as a husband would, by definition, also be a member of their father’s tribe, because their zivug could not possibly be anyone outside that tribe.

Nowadays, most people marry not their zivug, but the person whom Hashem deems worthy of being their partner based on their deeds, because even the first marriage of most people these days has the status of a zivug sheini (which is based on the deeds of the people involved).


MANSLAUGHTER ON THE ROAD

The arei miklat (cities of refuge) were designated only for someone who unintentionally killed another person. If a person acted so recklessly that his action was deemed to approximate a deliberate act (shogeg karov lemeizid) rather than a completely inadvertent action (shogeig), the perpetrator was not entitled to seek refuge in an ir miklat. Moreover, even someone whose action was accompanied by the requisite degree of inadvertency was still permitted to be killed by the go’el hadom (person avenging the murder) should he step outside the ir miklat. Clearly, even completely inadvertent manslaughter is a grievous sin.

Thankfully, despite two recent anomalous events (concerning which the reader is referred to the “Shailos Uteshuvos” in this week’s Yated), it may be assumed that almost none of us have descended to the level where our nekudas habechirah (level of free choice, a coin termed by Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt”l) would permit us to murder someone intentionally. However, when it comes to manslaughter, there is another area relevant to all of us, which must be emphasized.
Traffic laws overseas or in Eretz Yisroel are not only binding halachically, but Torah legislation in fact mandates much stricter laws to ensure the safety of car passengers and pedestrians, so that anyone who does not abide by even the minimal standards of non-Jewish (or Israeli) regulations, whether they pertain to speed limits or any other matter, is a wicked sinner, and the magnitude of his sin should something, G-d forbid, happen due to his negligence cannot be overestimated. Especially during the period leading up to Tisha B’Av, we are required to take special care in this area.