Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Novelty of Orthodoxy

Is Orthodox Judaism a new phenomenon? Many Jews believe that Judaism has always been Orthodox. In the academic study of Jewish history, on the other hand, Orthodox Judaism is widely considered to be a modern phenomenon, beginning with figures such as Chatam Sofer - but some have recently challenged this view.

I am pleased to announce the e-publication of a new monograph, "The Novelty of Orthodoxy," which explores this topic. The monograph can be downloaded after making a donation via PayPal. The recommended donation for readers of this website is $5. There are some people who, incredibly, always pay only one cent, but others, who feel that they have gained much from the Rationalist Judaism enterprise, express their appreciation with a larger donation, which is gratefully appreciated.

You can make a donation via PayPal or credit card by clicking on the following icon. After the payment, it will automatically take you to a download link for the document.


In other news, this week I am beginning a mini-series of live internet shiurim at WebYeshivah, on various topics relating to Judaism and zoology. Click here for more details and registration.

41 comments:

  1. Can you post a formal abstract?

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  2. Check out the Canadian Yeshiva and Rabbinical School's definition of "Classic Judaism":
    http://www.cdnyeshiva.org/home.do?ch=content&cid=318
    I'd be interested to hear what people think.

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  3. This leaves me with the question 'what are you calling orthodox?' The term is used and abused to the point where it's almost meaningless. If you understand 'orthodox' to merely mean someone who is upholding the basic traditions and laws of Judaism then by definition what we term 'Orthodox Judaism' has existed in some recognizable form since at least the Talmudic era. If, however, you're talking about the social movement of isolationism, hard-line traditionalism, black hats, tznius patrols, and all the other lovely socio-political factors that have been pasted on to Jewish tradition since the 19th century, then obviously this is a fairly new movement - just like every other Jewish group. If you want to talk about authentic Judaism, you probably need to view the observance as separate from the social movement. In other words, an authentic Jew is someone from any of today's social movements (conservative, orthodox, reform, etc.) who lives according to Halacha. They may interpret it differently and live radically different lifestyles, but they still have authenticity in their study and application of Jewish tradition in their daily lives.

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  4. "Check out the Canadian Yeshiva and Rabbinical School's definition of "Classic Judaism"

    I would focus less on definitions and instead see how closely they are affiliated with UTJ and the right wing of Conservative Judaism.

    Nevertheless, the Canadian Yeshiva and Rabbinical School's analogy to Coke Classic is interesting! In fact, R. Yaakov Horowitz uses the same analogy to bring back "Charedi Classic, It's the Real Thing",(Mishpacha, 2/16/09) and his article has some elements of Dr. Solveitchik's "Rupture and Reconstructing" ("One knew it automatically, for one had seen it eaten at one's parents table on innumerable Passover eves; one simply did as one's parents had done") in it as well. As R. Horowitz writes about the older generation:

    "At our Pesach sedarim, you didn’t distribute ‘matzoh cards’ to make sure that we had the proper shiurim or share profound divrei Torah with us, but your eyes brimmed with tears when you spoke to us about our glorious mesorah. ... You didn’t deal much with segulos for parnasa like ‘chai rotel’ and ‘shlissel challah’ but always stressed the importance of ehrlichkeit in our financial dealings, living below one’s means, and scrupulously giving tzedaka."

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  5. As I always ask, please say how many pages the monograph consists of.

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  6. The monograph is a 16 page PDF, but the first two pages have no content and the last two pages are a bibliography. So there are 12 pages of writing.

    Yakov - the entire essay discusses the definition of orthodox. The word Orthodoxy in the title "The Novelty of Orthodoxy" is what the average frum Jew on the street considers to be orthodox today.

    R Slifkin - I'd be interested to read your essays entitled: Maharal’s Multiple Revolutions in Aggadic Scholarship, The Sages’ Legendary Powers of Life and Death, Arguing with God: When May Students Dispute Teachers?
    Do you plan on publishing these?

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  7. The first one will hopefully appear in Hakirah, the second will hopefully appear here at some point, and the third is slated to be published in a memorial volume.

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  8. I would wish to read this, but $5 for 12 pages of writing is a bit too much. Also, you are probably going to include all these essays in your book on rationlist Judaism, so why buy it twice?

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  9. Pay whatever you feel appropriate. The stated figure was for regular readers of the blog - the idea is that the payment is not just for this monograph, but for all my writings on this website. I can't charge people to read the website, so this is a way for me to make parnasah as a writer.

    This monograph won't appear in the book, by the way. It's not really connected to Rationalist Judaism.

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  10. For those who pay 1-cent, following is my 2-cents:

    A - Paypal charges 30-cents for each transaction of incoming funds when your account is setup to receive funds. So what you are doing when "paying" 1-cent, is actually costing Rabbi Slifkin 29-cents for the transaction.

    B - I would venture to guess that you consider yourself a "Torah True Jew", a person with good middos, someone who works on themselves in both Bein Adam L'Makom and Bein Adam L'Chaveiro categories of behavior fitting a "Torah True Jew". I would therefore surmise that you are of the opinion that one should not do anything online that they would not do in person. So, I ask you – as a person of the stature of which you consider yourself – would you stand and face a person and give him a penny for something which has a recommended donation of $5? You do not need to answer me, but, be honest with yourself.

    C - Your payment of 1-cent is certainly fodder for the presumably large accumulation that Rabbi Slifkin has by now of the negativity addressed to him and his work. But have you ever considered that it is a poor reflection of you, or of the "Torah True Judaism" you represent?

    Rabbi Slifkin does not need anyone to defend him, and least of all myself. And your $5 may not make “the” difference in him making ends meet. However, it's not about him, it's about you. How does this affect you?

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  11. "is what the average frum Jew on the street considers to be orthodox today."

    No such thing. Chabad, Lakewood and YU all consider themselves to be the default meaning of "orthodoxy."

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  12. As an aside: at Chief Rabbi Sacks' talk this afternoon at the 92Y in NYC, an audience member asked him to clarify what he meant by Orthodox (in the context of 70% of Jews in the UK have Orthodox affiliation).

    He responded that these Jews ranged from Charedi to completely non-observant. For the latter it is the shul they don't go to [but he did not explain further that the shul to which they belong but do not attend will provide for their burial after a long life].

    The point being that "Orthodox" means different things in different places.

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  13. Yeedle: there's an expression for people like you - "tighter than a fat lady's sock."

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  14. Been reading your post for quite a while, also get your email's, good stuff. However, this rip in the Jewish community ( orthodoxy, reformed, conservative, etc..), I thought the objective was ehad. In the classic Sephardic world these categories exist among individuals, but not in the Bet Hakenesset. You either are or are not religious, but all pray in the same house. This may not be the case in Israel, and of course, of some individuals. Have more to say but I'll start with that.

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  15. The article is interesting, but I'm wondering about its practical implications. I'm sure you're aware that Conservatives use the same kind of argument to justify what they are doing. In fact, they claim that their approach is the closest to traditional Judaism!

    Even if Orthodoxy is in some ways an innovation, isn't it still possible (and important) to argue that Orthodoxy is the only valid, authentic Jewish stream? This is important because I presume you don't want to influence people to abandon Orthodoxy, and because we need to know where to draw the lines between what is kosher and non-kosher Judaism (for example, for the purpose of determining which conversions are valid). Some streams of Orthodoxy, such as the charedim who have banned your books, may represent a significant departure from, even a serious distortion of, traditional Judaism. But at least they have not fundamentally undermined core traditional beliefs and practices, as the Conservatives have.

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  16. "But at least they have not fundamentally undermined core traditional beliefs and practices, as the Conservatives have."

    I think that is completely false. While conservative Judaism might have undermined core halachic principles such as driving on Shabbat, "Gedolim" Judaism has undermined core halachic values such as avoda Zarah.

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  17. "Even if Orthodoxy is in some ways an innovation, isn't it still possible (and important) to argue that Orthodoxy is the only valid, authentic Jewish stream? "

    Polemics against other streams don't lack polemicists. Why is it his job to polemicist against Conservative Judaism as if it's 1955?

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  18. I echo Michapeset's thoughts about the "1 cent" people. It's a reflection of poor middot - not just in the sense of being a slight to R. Slifkin (which it certainly is), but also in the same way people complain about having to pay $0.99 for an iPhone Siddur app, rip music and movies without paying, etc. There's a culture of wanting everything for free - and "taking" it even if it's not free - and this spills over into the frum world, where either people simply don't care, or else rationalize heterim for themselves. I'm not sure which is worse.

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  19. I will be honest; I am one of those "1 cent-ers". Before you all begin shouting me down, allow me to explain; I am a poorly educated beis yakov girl just beginning to feel my way in the world of intellectualism. I was amazed when I learned of the richness of the "goyishe" intellectualism, its tones, colors, paints, and commodious styles. I have spoken to many in the "Orthodox" world (whatever that means anymore), asking if they could recommend any Jewish venues that exhibit any admirable level of intellectual honesty and vibrancy. I was eventually directed to this blog and author. I am sorry to say that I am sadly disappointed. You seem (if I may be somewhat honest) a half-baked, half-educated extremist (in your own special way), preaching to a choir of ardent (if entirely UNeducated) votaries who will basically cheer anything you utter, regardless of content. I donated the one cent with the hopes that I would be edified by your article, and in that event I would gladly donate more. But once again, I was sorely disappointed by this display of Jewish intellectualism. I admit I am no expert (see above where I admit to being a poorly educated individual) but it seems to me that an article that footnotes every major claim to another book, thereby providing no internal support for its own points, deals with such major issues as the evolution of the Orthodox's view of secular education in a measly, two short hyper-simplified paragraphs, is in no way comparable in literary style to any truly scholarly essays of the "goyishe" world, is not worth very much. Perhaps I am naive, unworldly, and narrow-minded to think that the Jewish world can compete with what is "out there". Oh well. So much for the naivete of youth!

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  20. If I have offended anyone, I ask for mechila!

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  21. Seeker - I don't think that R. Slifkin set out to write a comprehensive study of Orthodoxy (which would take an entire book) or even of the evolution of the Orthodox's view of secular education. It seems to be simply an overview of the general issues relating to the development of Orthodoxy. If you want something more in-depth on any of the subtopics, why not just look up the sources that are referenced?

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  22. Seeking, I can't comment on R' Natan Slifkin's current essay since I haven't read it. However, your characterization of him and of his readership based on reading one essay is more than unsophisticated, it is unjust. While many, including me, tend to make snap judgements in private. Doing so publically is both unwise and undesirable. Private thoughts can be easily altered given more thought and data. Public pronouncements, however, attain a life of their own. Ownership of written comments makes retraction more difficult, besides the offense that it engenders.

    I consider myself relatively well educated having graduated with honors from a liberal arts college and then from an Ivy League university (Ph.D.)in science (chemistry)- besides the many years of attending a traditional yeshiva (secular education was not neglected in my day). I find that R' Natan is both highly intelligent, modest, and highly knowledgeable in the areas in which he has specialized - despite his late start in advanced secular education. He is one of the rising stars in the serious MO world.

    I realize that you appear to have found a new beguiling world now that you have left the confines of your Bais Yaakov education. With more experience and maturity, you will probably be disappointed in much of that new world, as well. Glibness is not the same as wisdom, although there is certainly much wisdom to be found in the secular world. It is a question of culling the good from the bad. It's easier in the hard sciences where there are objective ways of testing for truth. In other areas, it is a question of what values appeal to you, and whether a given exposition is self-consistent and in agreement with other information that you have accepted.

    Good luck and good choices.

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  23. Seeking, with "her" commodious rant, isn't fooling me one iota with her "honesty." In case anyone was fooled in their naivete - I hope this edifies you.

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  24. Y. Aharon-
    Regarding your first paragraph-the mussar shmooze about "snap decisions"-I would like to point out that you clearly didn't read my comment very carefully. "Your characterization of him and of his readership based on reading one essay is more than unsophisticated, it is unjust..." Let us examine my previous comment even cursorily: "I was eventually directed to this blog and author. I am sorry to say that I am sadly disappointed.....But ONCE AGAIN, I was sorely disappointed [after reading your article] (capitalization added) The fact is I have read much of this blog (and its accompanying comments), and my comment clearly indicated as such. I believe you have "engendered" some "offense" that you might wish to retract.
    Regarding your second point (your, if I may be so bold as to say, vainglorious recounting of your degrees and years of study) does not impress me much; everyone knows a real education is not all about (if at all) receiving degrees from universities. Many people, from Arthur Eddington to John Ciardi to Albert Einstein cautioned of the limited value of a formal education !
    Your third paragraph was a somewhat ill-defined argument; I would respond to it if it were more fully formulated.

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  25. "Seeking, with "her" commodious rant, isn't fooling me one iota with her "honesty." In case anyone was fooled in their naivete - I hope this edifies you."

    Silence Dogood

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  26. Seeker, you call everyone here "entirely uneducated sycophants," and you call R. Slifkin a "half-baked extremist," and then as an afterthought, you ask for mechilah "if" you have offended anyone. LOL, is this some kind of Beis Yaakov thing?

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  27. "Come Off It" alias Benjamin Franklin alias Silence Dogood, master of the random placement of quotation marks (which at times start but do not end [see second comment- "seeking] or end but do not start [see end of second comment- you"]), what precisely are you implying? That I did NOT attend Bais Yaakov? That I am not indeed a "she"? If so, please explain how you happened to come by those conclusions. (As explained above your comment and implications are messy and unclear. Are the words misused? Not sophisticated enough? Too sophisticated? I am at a complete loss. And most interestingly, I would like to know how they determine my GENDER as you seem to imply with your '"she"')
    And Mr. Baruch, yes, it is a Beis Yaakov "thing".
    I would just like to point out that no one has challenged me on the CONTENT of my comment (i.e. defending the article's worth.

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  28. I did. You're complaining that a 12-page article is not a book!

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  29. I am new to this board and have not read any of Rabbi Slifkin’s books. I have read some of the posted articles, though, and have, so far, enjoyed them very much.

    Seeking, you pointed out that no one has challenged the content of your comments.

    I cannot possibly defend an article that I have not read.

    That said, regarding your complaint about the length of coverage, some have pointed out that we are talking about an article and not a book.

    Regarding the issue with the footnoting to older sources, I will have to assume (and I know “assuming” is a dangerous practice) that the approach is necessary, given the history of controversy surrounding Rabbi Slifkin’s writings.

    You criticized Rabbi Slifkin for being “half-educated.” Yet, when Y. Aharon mentioned his Doctorate and Ivy League background, you dismissed them too. And that’s fine, I guess. It’s just hard to tell what sort of education would meet your standards.

    You wrote that Rabbi Slifkin seems to be “A half baked, half-educated extremist (in your own special way), preaching to a choir of ardent (if entirely UNeducated) votaries who will basically cheer anything you utter, regardless of content.”

    I am not sure how someone is supposed to respond to comments like that that. It seems to be more “name calling” than an actual criticism of any article. I will say that I disagree – and I’m not an “entirely Uneducated votary” either (although I am a votary, more or less.) I won’t bother listing my credentials, as you have already established (via your response to Y. Aharon) that they would have no meaning, as far as you are concerned.

    EJB

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  30. whoever thinks that 'seeker' is really good old nunja-poshutahyid-etc. please say 'aye'.

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  31. I davka paid exactly what I feel your monograph is worth. One cent, and if it costs you 29 cents, then so be it.

    With one exception (a discontinued album that I had a clear heter to copy), I do not recall ever having stolen copyrighted material.

    You, on the other hand, provide something of no value whatsoever and try to charge money for it. If you're broke, ask for a gemach or donations. Someone might help you.

    But don't peddle a nonsensical essay, full of inaccuracies, for the same price some people pay for lunch. 12 pages of claptrap that any kofer from the JTS or HUC can turn out is worth -29 cents.

    Your work is of no real value. Even the totally reprehensible Yaron Yadan is more honest than you are.

    You're just a publicity seeker. You present your ideas the wrong way and then complain when you are shut out.

    When I see how you reacted to the heavy-handed banning nonsense compared to how Lipa Schmeltzer, who is and should be all about publicity, reacted, I see the difference between "rationalist" and "haimish" Judaism - and even though I have no problem with your views per se, I'll happily pay $20 for Lipa's next album if that's what he charges, whereas next time I won't even waste my hard-earned penny on your claptrap.

    Lipa's fully "haimish," yet fully modern entertainment and his new shul represent the real reforms that authentic Judaism needs as the European born generation that revitalized real Judaism is replaced by those born in freedom. I can't speak for him. but I'll bet he could care less whether there was or was not a mud-mouse himself.

    You represent everything that is wrong with modern Orthodoxy as its fringes move toward out and out heterodoxy. You posit yourself as some great innovator, when you are just regurgitating information that anyone who reads English or Ivrit can find on his own.

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  32. Such anger! Such insults!

    Interestingly, your critique is (still!) entirely lacking in substance. But even if you had a genuine basis for your dislike of the essay, it wouldn't account for your astonishing anger and rudeness. What's going on?

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  33. Addressing Caveat Emptor’s lengthy post:

    You wrote…


    “I davka paid exactly what I feel your monograph is worth. One cent.”

    “You, on the other hand, provide something of no value whatsoever and try to charge money for it.”

    “But don't peddle a nonsensical essay,”

    “Your work is of no real value.”

    “You're just a publicity seeker. You present your ideas the wrong way and then complain when you are shut out.”

    “You represent everything that is wrong with modern Orthodoxy”


    That’s an awful lot of name calling. Which, I suppose would be understandable if you provided some justification for it.

    But, mostly, you just talked a lot about Lipa, which seemed irrelevant.

    That said, as far as I could tell, you did make two actual criticisms.

    You wrote that the article is “full of inaccuracies,” but failed to provide a single example.

    You also wrote “You posit yourself as some great innovator, when you are just regurgitating information that anyone who reads English or Ivrit can find on his own.”

    I won’t get into how this apparently contradicts your comment about inaccuracies, but will say that I am not sure how that is a negative for an article about history. I’d be much more concerned if Rabbi Slifkin was just making stuff up.


    EJB

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  34. caveatemptor-nunja-poshutehyid-seekingbeisyaacov-etc.-etc. said:

    "... when you are just regurgitating information that anyone who reads English or Ivrit can find on his own."

    Wow! One of the best defenses of Rabbi Slifkin in ages. Who would dream that you would be one to admit it? And don't ever forget that the authors of the information that he 'regurgitates' were a million times holier than thou.

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  35. authors of the information that he 'regurgitates' were a million times holier than thou.
    ------
    I guess that Graetz and Geiger are holy to the new Orthopraxy or Scepticism or whatever borderline kefira is now called.

    The information in that pamphlet reminded me of their "shitta."

    You don't know with whom you are arguing. Suffice it to say that while I can easily translate any Lipa Schmeltzer song from Hymish or Yiddish into English or French (let alone Ivrit) with my eyes closed, I can also read, digest, and vomit or excrete the works of Graetz, Scholem or any one of a number of other characters whose opinions are the same as what is stated in the pamphlet for which I paid one penny (and which I deleted from my drive).

    I happen to have no problem with evolution. I don't care HOW Hashem created the earth, but when I listen to Rav Avigdor Miller speak about the apple, I know WHY He created the earth. When I look at a tiger or a zebra in the zoo, I refuse to accept anything but the deliberate design of a Creator. Those 2 animals did not need such beautiful patterns just to hide in the grass.

    On the other hand, I fear that human beings may be regressing, by finding all kinds of excuses NOT to accept Hashem, and thereby to slide into such socially destructive practices as toeva marriage. Once you start bending history and playing with semantics as is done in the eine-pfennig essay, the slippery slope begins.

    Actually, our ancestors were indeed not always what is now called "Orthodox." Ovdei avoida zoro hayu avoisenu......is that where we want to be again, except that "science" and "progress" take the place of Terach's getschkes? Science without Hashem gives us Zyklon B - and twisting history gives ammunition to reform and others who spread spiritual Zyklon B.

    PS: This is my second and my last comment here. I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. I have never commented here before my first comment above, and I really don't want to comment here again.

    You have a nice little cabal of followers, much like Failed Messiah and other wannabes. That is the flip side of using the Web for Torah - anyone can make themselves into an online godol or Rebbe by attracting a few virtual Chassidim. Enjoy them.

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  36. caveatemptor-nunja-poshutehyid-seekingbeisyaacov-etc.-etc. :

    I meant to say 'SOME OF the authors of the information that he 'regurgitates' were a million times holier than thou. I certainly don't think everyone he's quoted all these years is holier than thou even one time. After i sent my comment i regretted not having been more clear. But then i was awarded with your entertainment. And since that was your last comment, have a great life.

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  37. Reading the language and rhetoric that "Seeker" uses, it is very hard to imagine that she/he is really the naive Beis Yaakov she/he claims to be. But you never know!

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  38. im currently disliking my being a 16 year old and my dependence on my parents and inability to own my own credit card :( but for all of you who are earning their own income (im assuming im probably one of the youngest regular readers of this blog)and aren't paying the five dollars (anonymous) keep in mind that just because you disagree with something doesnt mean its valueless. Rationalism (slifkin's scientific explanations of science and torah) and Emotionalism (that how Hashem created the world is irrelevant, and only the study of WHY he created things the way they are is important) dont have to be contradictory. [just to end off on a hater note - u need this blog because without it you wouldnt have as much to argue with, and what would u do with ur time?]

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  39. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  40. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  41. Rabbi, Who is Rabbi Chareidi and how can one read more of his works. Thanks

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