Thursday, May 30, 2013

Letter to Yated

To the Editor:

In “The Identity of the Israeli People is at Stake - Understanding the Current Situation in Eretz Yisroel" (Wednesday, May 08, 2013), Rabbi Moshe Meiselman cites the Netziv as stating that the greatest defense of the country is our learning of Torah. To this it can be added that in Haamek Davar to Bereishis 49:14, Netziv notes that the tribe of Yissacher were not suited to war, and studied Torah instead.

However, Rabbi Meiselman omitted to mention the Netziv's views regarding those who are defending Eretz Yisrael with their Torah. In Haamek Davar to Devarim 33:18 he notes that they must actually accompany the soldiers to study Torah and pray at the front line (presumably either because the protective force of Torah is geographically concentrated, or in order to boost the morale of the soldiers). This is in marked contrast to the charedi community, which never sends any Torah scholars to the front lines, and in fact evacuated yeshivos during the Gaza conflict from the South to Bet Shemesh and Bnei Brak.

Furthermore, in Haamek Davar to Bereishis 49:15, Netziv states that Torah scholars who do not serve in the army must pay higher monetary taxes to support the military. He also states that they are to be available for whatever purposes the nation requires (i.e. some sort of national service).

This is fascinating, in light of Netziv's belief that learning Torah provides the primary protection. If they are providing the primary protection, why do they have to pay higher military tax and provide other services to the nation? Perhaps the Netziv recognized that you can't claim to be sharing the burden when you're not putting yourself out in a way that meaningfully matches the sacrifices made by others.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Why Was Rav Moshe Shapira Indicted?

There is a very strange story unfolding at the moment. I don't even begin to understand what's going on. But I do have a slight personal connection that may be relevant.

About two years ago, there were rumors of a pedophile ring operating in the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem. Eventually, one person was convicted and sentenced to fifteen years. But it seems that the tragedy was inflated to mass hysteria, Salem-style, leading to false suspicions about lots of people. It's difficult to determine what actually happened - and apparently, even the police had a very hard time figuring it out.

While everyone was up in arms, four men broke into the house of a 70-year old woman that they believed to be involved in the pedophile ring, as well as missionary activity. They severely beat her, breaking her arm and leg.

Today, news outlets are reporting that none other than Rav Moshe Shapira, one of the leading figures in the controversial ban on my books, was indicted for allegedly having told them to do it.

On the other hand, what the media does not reveal is that some months after the beating, Rav Shapira wrote a letter in which he condemned it in the strongest terms.

There are a range of possibilities here. The police presumably suspect that he did indeed authorize it, and the letter was an attempt to wash his hands of responsibility. The defense will be that he did not authorize it, and the assailants are merely trying to absolve themselves of responsibility. It seems that at the very least, Rav Moshe had some sort of connection - otherwise, why would he need to write the letter in the first place, and why would he be named as having ordered it? Another possibility is that he expressed some sort of disapproval of the woman, and his disciples took it too far. I have absolutely no idea what actually happened.

There is also another strange aspect to the story. The victim, about whom there are negative reports (although falling far short of pedophilia and missionizing) was the head of an institute for conversion that was associated with the infamous Leib Tropper. But Rav Moshe Shapira was also involved with Leib Tropper; they were both driving forces in the ban on my book, and Rav Moshe flew out to the US when Tropper made a wedding.

The case currently in the news bears similarities to Rav Moshe's involvement in the ban on my books. Reuven Schmeltzer was the person most involved in the groundwork of the campaign, collecting signatures for the ban. He was overheard saying into his phone, "I am a shaliach of Rav Moshe Shapira, being lochem milchemes Hashem!" Many important people who were opposed to the ban complained to Rav Moshe, and he responded to them that he himself is not involved and he does not have shlichim. But he told other people that he was very much involved and that Schmeltzer was indeed his shliach!

Schmeltzer also published the notorious Tropper-sponsored work Chaim B'Emunasam, which was directed against my books. In Chaim B'Emunasam, Schmeltzer edited the opinions of the Rishonim in order to claim that every word in the Gemara is from Sinai, nobody ever said that Chazal were mistaken in science, and to claim otherwise is heresy. This work bears an extraordinarily effusive approbation from Rav Moshe, who describes Schmeltzer as a "gaon" (!). It doesn't seem like he feels that Schmeltzer misrepresented him as authorizing his campaign.

Most significantly, Schmeltzer's book said that any such heretics, who deny the divine infallibility of certain statements in the Gemara (i.e. me), should be put to death by any means possible. (Thank God, nobody ever physically attacked me, but my wife and I were subjected to a terrifying phone threat.) Now, I truly don't believe that Rav Moshe thinks that someone should kill me. But on the other hand, as we see from the events in Nachlaot, there could well be people who would believe that and even act upon it, and who would claim to be acting on Rav Moshe's authority. As I once wrote in a post entitled "It's Not An Aberration," religious leaders who use or endorse violent language have a responsibility for violent actions that occur as a result.

Again, I must reiterate that I truly have no idea what actually happened in the Nachlaot incident. But I see that establishing whether someone is indeed a shaliach of Rav Moshe is rather difficult - even if you ask Rav Moshe himself.

UPDATE: I discovered that there is actually a video of Rav Moshe telling his followers to break into her home and destroy it. You can watch it at this link.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

God vs. Mechanics

In the previous post, I critiqued Eytan Kobre's nasty screed by the simple technique of cutting-and-pasting the entire article and switching a few phrases. (Alas, some people did not realize that I had done that, and were wondering at my unusually verbose and haughty style!) Satire can be a cheap way of writing, and sometimes facile in its comparisons and contrasts. However, in this case, I decided that his points were really much more applicable to the charedi community than to the Zionist enterprise.

In this post, however, I am inspired by a comment made by somebody called "Kevin from Chicago" to single out a paragraph of Mr. Kobre's article for detailed examination. I think that it sheds much light on why charedim approach the notion of Torah study vs. military service very different from those following in the legacy of the rationalist Rishonim. Here is the paragraph:
Welcome to Jewish reality — also known as reality, period — where spiritual causes bring about material effects, both positive and negative; where the “action” all takes place in the spiritual realms, with the ensuing this-worldly results, substantive as they seem to the human eye, being mere afterthoughts. Our deeds, ours alone, activate spiritual forces on high that, in turn, determine the course of human affairs. 
This is not a description of "Jewish reality." It is is a superb description of the mystical Jewish approach to reality, but it does not describe the rationalist Jewish approach to reality. Aside from the fact that the rationalist approach views the physical universe and the laws of nature as being very real and valuable, rather than an illusory deception that exists to enable free will, there is also a substantial difference with regard to the function of our deeds.

As I have written previously, there is a difference between the rationalist and non-rationalist/ mystical approaches to Judaism with regard to avodas Hashem, the service of God. Rationalists understand the purpose of mitzvos, and religious life in general, as furthering intellectual and moral goals for the individual and society. The action all takes place in this world, and the this-worldly results are no mere afterthought, but are the straightforward result and purpose.

Mystics agree that mitzvos provide intellectual and moral benefits, but see their primary function as performing mechanistic manipulations of spiritual or celestial forces in the celestial realm. For example, the mystical approach views shiluach hakein not as an act of compassion designed to perfect our character, but rather as an act of cruelty designed to manipulate angels, and in turn to manipulate God (unfortunately there's no better word for it) into being good to us.

When it comes to Torah, this difference does not just play out with regard to the essential effect of learning Torah, as discussed in a previous post. It also plays out with regard to how the effect is perceived as being actualized. Allow me to explain.

The mystical approach, based on the innovative view of R. Chaim of Volozhin, is that learning Torah creates all kinds of spiritual worlds and forces. As Mr. Kobre writes, "Our deeds, ours alone, activate spiritual forces on high that, in turn, determine the course of human affairs." Learning Torah effects a mechanistic manipulation of spiritual forces, in which God doesn't really play an active role. The consequence of this way of thinking is that learning Torah automatically provides a defensive shield for the nation, and kollel is automatically a good thing. After all, one is learning Torah, and Torah activates spiritual forces.

With the rationalist approach, on the other hand, mitzvos are performed and Torah is learned not to manipulate forces, but rather in order to fulfill God's directives regarding how to better mankind. Accordingly, there is no automatic assumption that learning Torah, while always increasing one's knowledge, is necessarily always a good thing. It depends on whether it is a fulfillment of God's will, in order to better mankind. And the Torah itself, and Chazal made it clear that certain other values play a role - such as sharing the military burden, and supporting one's family. Learning Torah is not bettering mankind when it is selfish and demands the extensive financial and military support of the rest of society, especially when there are no services or even basic gratitude offered in return.

It's not clear whether Chazal (and which of Chazal) should be described as being closer to rationalists or mystics, or indeed if these terms are at all applicable to the worldview of Chazal. But I would suggest that in this aspect, Chazal are closer to the rationalist view. The few scattered statements in Chazal about Torah providing protection do not mean it in the mystical sense of mechanistically activating spiritual forces. Rather, they mean it in the sense of it providing a merit in God's eyes. (I can't, as yet, conclusively prove this, but I'm working on it; and I certainly think that this is how many Rishonim, who had no concept of mechanistically engineering spiritual forces, understood Chazal.) And learning Torah only provides a merit if it's the right thing to do!

Welcome to the rationalist Jewish approach to reality. Unlike Mr. Kobre, I wouldn't be so presumptuous as to claim that my school of thought is the only one that has ever existed! My believing it to be correct does not require me to believe that all great people have always felt similarly. Other people are free to follow different schools of thought - as long as they are not claiming that theirs is the only Jewish approach, and making the rest of society foot the bill.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

First, Understand "The Burden”

(This post is a satirical mirror-image of an article by Eytan Kobre in Mishpacha magazine. Only a few key phrases have been changed from Mr. Kobre's article.)

Of all the aspects of the avoidance of work and military service by Eretz Yisrael’s bnei Torah, one must be addressed before all others. Before we consider whether there is any way to explain our worldview to chareidi Israelis in terms they can understand and accept, there is a far more important question to ponder: Do we, shlomei emunei Yisrael, accept and understand it? Do we perceive why this is evil? Do we appreciate just how great a danger this poses to our nation?

The unfortunate answer, to a very large extent, is that we do not. There is a huge, perhaps unprecedented misunderstanding about this issue. This is evident simply from the conversations one has and hears, as well as from numerous other developments. A sampling:

  • A magazine produced by and for Zionist Jews features an MK describing how charedim have a "right" to create communities that are educated towards poverty and financially supported by the rest of Israel, under the banner of "United Torah Judaism." To insist upon educating towards poverty in defiance of Chazal's statements about how one must teach one's son a trade, and about how one should support one's family and even take a lowly profession rather than live off charity, is not exactly Torah Judaism.
  • A frum website features a chareidi gadol's three prohibitions for Eretz Yisrael’s frum community: serving in army units (even chareidi ones), participating in national service programs (even chareidi ones), and enrolling in job-training institutions (even chareidi ones). It is an astounding exercise in selfishness and self-destruction which, when practised by disadvantaged populations in inner-city America, we all recognize as a a tragedy. But somehow, its author’s background as a Gadol HaDor is supposed to give him carte blanche to legislate such distortions. It does not.
  • The aforementioned politically-involved Gadol HaDor, whose policies sought, quite simply, to end the Religious-Zionist community as we know it, is eulogized with high honor in an American magazine aimed at ehrliche Yidden in the Centrist and Modern Orthodox community.
We must attain clarity on what is at stake and what precisely we believe. Let us begin with that on which both sides agree. Haredi spokesman Eytan Kobre recently stated that while Iran is “a formidable enemy,” it does not represent “an existential threat” to Israel. Rather, it is “the Zionist project" that “poses a greater threat than … Ahmadinejad.”

Let us ignore for now, if we can, the breathtaking demonization of fellow Jews that statement represents. The man is right — Ahmadinejad is not the problem. There is, indeed, a threat different not only in degree but in kind, an existential one, facing the Jews in Israel, but it is not that slithering Persian snake and his mad pursuit of a nuclear device with which to bring about his dream of a world without Jews. It is there, of course, that the meeting of minds with Kobre ends, and a gaping chasm wider than all the universe opens between him and us.

The great catchphrase that has all the wise men, all the ostensible Gedolim, shaking their heads and clucking their tongues in unison, is “Daas Toyrah.” By this they mean that the burden of defending our nation has been determined by the Gedolim to be effected by those who learn in kollel.

We dissent. The crux of the matter is not who protects our nation, but who threatens it. And now, stand warned: I will pronounce what is for many Jews an insufferable heresy. True, we live today in a Torah-oriented Jewish world, in which “Daas Toyrah” is invoked endlessly to permit the airing of the most outrageous of views in Judaism’s name. As a result, there’s very little anymore that’s still regarded as blasphemous, but I’ll now say something that remains so: Nevuchadnetzar couldn’t destroy the Beis HaMikdash, nor can Ahmadinejad destroy Eretz Yisrael. Only Jews, those most spiritually potent of creatures, whose “feet are planted on earth, but whose heads reach the highest heavens,” can.

There, I said it. Actually, I didn’t say it — Rav Chaim Volozhiner did, in his Nefesh HaChaim (1:4). But please understand: In speaking thus, Rav Chaim, the Vilna Gaon’s prime disciple, was stating an axiomatic truth of the Judaism of the ages, albeit with a kabbalistic framework that was unknown to most of the Rishonim and strongly rejected by some. He was expressing a principle so fundamental to the Judaic worldview that it leaps from the pages of every sefer in Tanach and every masechta in Shas: Spiritual reality underlies — indeed, gives rise to — physical reality and thus is the far more real of the two, with the latter mirroring the former.

Welcome to Jewish reality — also known as reality according to the
non-Maimonidean rabbinic authorities — where spiritual causes bring about material effects, both positive and negative; where the “action” all takes place in the spiritual realms, with the ensuing this-worldly results, substantive as they seem to the human eye, being mere afterthoughts. Our deeds, ours alone, activate spiritual forces on high that, in turn, determine the course of human affairs.

Whatever your views may be on the particular issue of the Israeli draft, if you identify as a genuinely believing non-Maimonidean Torah Jew, you subscribe to this way of seeing the world, and it informs the way you live your life. It is why you insist on not working on Shabbos and Yom Tov, believing that G-d will bless your household for declaring Him Master of your destiny; it is why you pray thrice daily for all your needs; it is why you trade the so-called “high cost of Jewish living,” as expressed in money, time and convenience, for the riches of a spiritually elevated life that connects you to the Eternal One and through Him, to eternity.

And so, if we are to be religiously consistent, it is through the prism of this irreconcilable divide over the fundamental nature of reality that the attempt to avoid military service and working for a living must also be viewed. What most threatens Israel’s future existence? The Torah is unequivocal on this: Not an Iranian mushroom cloud, but Jews — and especially fervently religious ones, who are more accountable for their actions — acting un-Jewishly.

Incidentally, one need not be a benighted Religious Zionist, his big tomes of Scripture and Talmud in tow, to believe that Israel’s fate is bound up with its inhabitants’ conduct — one can even be, say, Eytan Kobre. Not unlike a Southern Baptist preacher, the lawyer-turned-Torah-spokesman has only the Gedolim to guide him, yet he has famously, and admirably, stated that he believes our claim to this land to be based on adherence to the Torah and Talmud. Well, now, they say “talk is cheap,” but ought he not to be held to his words?

So we open the Torah and read: “You shall observe all My decrees and all My ordinances and perform them; then the land to which I bring you will not disgorge you” (Vayikra 20:22). Let’s charitably assume for the moment that transgressing “all My decrees and all My ordinances” doesn’t, G-d forfend, include things like avoiding paying taxes and shirking military service without one of the Torah's explicit exemptions (as Moses himself said, "Shall your brothers go to war while you remain here?"). But surely, at a minimum, it refers to the litany of sins set forth in the immediately preceding verses: sexual immorality and all the rest.

So when we read that Agudath Israel has instructed rabbis not to report suspected pedophiles to the authorities without the permission of rabbis who have no training in such matters, and who have proven completely incompetent and to have covered up for molesters in the past, what are we to think? What does the estimable Mr. Kobre think of his community serving as a blight unto the nations? Does he ever ponder what the Author of Leviticus thinks of the fact that just minutes from Kobre's law practice in Brooklyn, countless minors are abused for unspeakable purposes — or can’t he spare a minute from plotting the next diatribe against the Zionists?

And what guarantees Israel’s safety? Jews acting like Jews and doing those things that Judaism teaches bring blessing and peace and sustenance and every manner of good fortune into the world. And among these, our Sages teach, none can remotely compare to Torah study for the protective merit and abundance of blessing it affords. Which is why one wonders why charedi yeshivos fled the beleaguered Ashdod and Netivot region as soon as troubles started with Gaza, and why they are so desperate for financial help from the Zionist government rather than relying upon the abundance of blessings afforded by Torah study. Perhaps it is because they are aware of the deficiency of their Torah study; as our Sages teach, Torah study is most beautiful when accompanied by derech eretz. Moreover, as wonderful as the modern invention of the kollel is for their contribution to the contemporary profusion of Torah learning, there’s no gainsaying the Torah's clear pronouncements, codified by Rambam: the only exemptions from military duty are for men with new homes, new vineyards or new wives, and not for those who wish to learn Torah. Furthermore,
there’s no gainsaying Chazal's clear pronouncements: kol Torah she'ain imo melachah sofo betelah vegoreres avon, any Torah that is not accompanied by work leads to neglect and sin; and that kol she'aino melamed es beno umnos ke'ilu melamdo listos, one who does not teach his son a trade is as though he has taught him to steal.

So let me understand: Now, as this fragile little country, whose 65-year history has been a string of wondrous miracles, faces the apocalypse being feverishly readied by the lunatic of Teheran, now is the opportune time to insist that the temporary measures invoked after the losses of the Holocaust must be concretized into a complete and permanent reformation of traditional Torah society? Now, with the returns of the Charedi project in, and the result a country where hundreds of thousands of Yidden are condemned to poverty with all its associated problems of shalom bayis, theft and other tragedies; where charedi youth are so disenchanted with the lifestyle that is forced upon them that many rebel and come to a tragic end in Yerushalayim’s holy streets; where the drive to segregate themselves from wider society is so strong that reporting serial molesters to the authorities is regarded as mesirah — and all the while vicious enemies encircle us — is this the moment to insist upon the negation of the traditional Jewish community, where working for a living is considered normative and praiseworthy, and everyone is united as one people to follow the Torah's laws and values which stand between us and a violent vomiting out of the inhabitants of this most spiritually sensitive of lands?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What Does The Torah-Tribe Do?

As noted previously, the charedi community in Israel claims justification for its lifestyle from none other than Rambam. Rambam speaks about how the Tribe of Levi was devoted to spiritual pursuits and was supported by others, and adds that anyone can be like a Levite. Of course, as noted previously, Rambam did not mean that they can receive a halachic exemption from military duty, nor that they can receive funding from the community.

But let's put that aside for the moment, and discuss a different angle. What exactly did Rambam see such people - whether the tribe of Levi, or those emulating them - as actually doing?

Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey Woolf recently published a superb article in which he pointed out that according to Rambam, the tribe of Levi was not sitting and learning. Instead, they were teaching. As Rambam says:
Why did the tribe of Levi not acquire a share in the Land of Israel and in its spoils together with their brothers? Because this tribe was set apart to serve God and to minister to Him, to teach His straight ways and righteous ordinances to the multitudes, as it is written: “They shall teach Jacob Your ordinances and Israel Your Law” (Deut. 33,10).

In light of the immediately previous post, regarding the rationalist reasons for learning Torah, this is eminently understandable. Learning Torah is immensely important because it teaches theology, improves character, and perfects society. But it does not provide any mystical spiritual force-fields or anything like that.

Accordingly, only teaching Torah provides benefit to society, such that the Levites are supported by the rest of Israel. Learning Torah is wonderful for individuals; but they are not providing any benefit or service to society. According to Rambam - and, frankly, most other Rishonim - this does not justify communal support.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Learning Torah: Rationalism vs. Mysticism

One difference between the rationalist and non-rationalist/ mystical approaches to Judaism is in avodas Hashem, the service of God. Rationalists understand the purpose of mitzvos, and religious life in general, as furthering intellectual and moral goals for the individual and society. Mystics agree that mitzvos provide intellectual and moral benefits, but see their primary function as performing mechanistic manipulations of spiritual or celestial forces.

In the past, I have mentioned several examples of this. One is the mitzvah of mezuzah. For the rationalist Rishonim, mezuzah serves only to remind one of one’s duties to God; whereas with the rise of mysticism came the idea that it also serves as a metaphysical protective device for the home. Another example is netilas yadayim. For the rationalist Rishonim, the mitzvah of washing one’s hands in the morning serves only hygienic and psychological purposes, whereas with the rise of mysticism came the idea that one is removing harmful spiritual forces. A third and potent example is the mitzvah of shiluach hakein, sending away the mother bird before taking the eggs. For the rationalist Rishonim, this was all about practicing compassion, whereas with the rise of mysticism came the idea that it is all  about engineering a celestial process involving angels and God.

But there is another mitzvah in which the difference between the two schools of thought is reflected, and it's perhaps the most significant of all: the mitzvah of learning Torah.

For the rationalist Rishonim, learning Torah serves to increase one's knowledge, and to refine one's character, via moral lessons and learning the commandments. (See my post on The Rishonim on Torah Study.) That is it, and that is all. Which is not, of course, to trivialize these functions - from a rationalist perspective, this is of immense importance!

With the rise of mysticism, on the other hand, came a new and primary function of Torah study. As  expressed by R. Chaim of Volozhin in Nefesh HaChaim, the primary function of Torah study was now seen as being to metaphysically sustain the universe, via the creation of spiritual "worlds." (See my post on The Goal of Torah Study.)

The ramifications of this difference are vast and far-reaching, affecting everything from one's study curriculum to the value and role of kollel. I plan to explore this in future posts. Meanwhile, chag same'ach, and for readers in Canada, here is my schedule over the next week:

Shavuos - Beth Zion in Montreal
Shabbos - Zichron Yisrael in Toronto
Sunday morning, 9am - "The Animal Kingdom in Jewish Thought" - at Shaarei Tefillah
Monday evening - Parlor meeting, relating to the Encyclopedia and Museum - please email me if you are interested in attending.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

R. David Friedman of Karlin: The Ban on Secular Study in Jerusalem

With the current brouhaha over charedim in Israel and secular studies, I thought it would be very appropriate to post a responsum from R. David Friedman of Karlin regarding a 19th century ban on secular studies in Jerusalem. It was translated and given an introduction by Rabbi Dr. Shnayer Z. Leiman, and originally published in Tradition. Here is the main text of the introduction and translation; you can download the original article, which includes numerous endnotes, at this link.

In 1856, the secretary and archivist of the Viennese Jewish community, the renowned maskil and poet Ludwig August Frankl, came to Jerusalem where he founded the Laemel School, the first Jewish primary school in Jerusalem to combine religious and secular study. Frankl’s efforts aroused the violent opposition of the Perushim— the approximately 850 members of the Ashkenazic Jewish community in Jerusalem. The Ashkenazi opposition culminated - on June 12, 1856 -with the issue of a ban against study at the Laemel or a similar school which incorporated secular study in the school curriculum. The text of the ban specified that it applied to “all present and future members of the "Kollel Ashkenazim.” Among the signatories was R. Samuel Salant (1816-1909), later officially recognized as Chief Rabbi of the Ashkenazic community of Jerusalem. In later years, especially under the aegis of R. Moses Joshua Leib Diskin (1817-1898), the ban was reissued and expanded.

The explosive growth of the Jewish population in Jerusalem during the second half of the nineteenth century, the abject poverty that characterized a goodly portion of that population, and the inability and unwillingness of European Jewry to provide indefinitely for the mundane needs of the Jerusalem community were only some of the factors that fed to a reevaluation in some quarters of the ban against secular study. Other factors included the growth of secular Zionism and its call for productivity and for an end to the halluqah system, and the influx into Jerusalem of a more moderate intellectual elite of Eastern and Western European Jews whose attitude toward secular study differed considerably from that of the Perushim. Not surprisingly, tensions mounted and herems abounded.

R. Yehiel Michal Pines (1849-1913) was a charter member of the more moderate intellectual elite alluded to above. Pines was an early exponent of religious Zionism and a leader of the Yishuv who openly supported the establishment of an orphanage in Jerusalem where secular study would be incorporated in the curriculum. When in 1882 a herem was pronounced against Pines by Rabbi Diskin, Pines approached his brother-in-law, R. David Friedman of Karlin (1823-1917), for moral support. R. “Dovidel” Karliner was a leading gadol and poseq, whose She’elot u-Teshuvot She’elat David (2 vols, Pietrkew, 1913) and Pisqe Halakhot (2 vols, Warsaw, 1898-1901) remain major contributions to halakhic literature. The passage translated here is drawn from his Emeq Berakhah, a halakhic monograph on the rules and regulations governing the issuance of bans.

The Babylonian Talmud nowhere prohibits a father from teaching his son the vernacular. To the contrary, it would appear that it is obligatory for a father to teach his son the vernacular, just as it is obligatory for him to teach his son a trade. Similarly, we find that Rabbi Judah the Prince said: "Why use Syriac in the land of Israel, either Hebrew or Greek should be employed?“ So too R. Jose said: “Why use Aramaic in Babylonia, either Hebrew or Persian should be employed?” Clearly, it is obligatory to master the vernacular. Indeed, the Jerusalem Talmud states: “Therefore choose life (Dt. 30:19)--this refers to learning a trade.” The one passage in the Jerusalem Talmud that prohibits a father from teaching his son Greek refers to a specific period in the past when Jewish informers collaborated with the Greco-Roman authorities. The latter had banned the observance of the commandments; thus, they could only be observed underground. Jewish informers—consisting of heretics and disciples of Jesus—informed on those Jews who secretly observed the commandments. The rabbis therefore prohibited a father from teaching his son the vernacular, lest the son communicate with the governmental authorities. Indeed, the rabbis warned: “Seek not intimacy with governmental authorities.” The ban was issued against teaching young children who in their innocence could reveal damaging information to the governmental authorities. Thus, the ban was against teaching children the vernacular, and not against individual study of the vernacular. In our day, we have nothing to hide from the governmental authorities and nothing to fear. We participate with Gentiles in all our business affairs. Every child, as he matures, will have to master the vernacular in order to make a living. Thus, in our day there isn’t the slightest prohibition against teaching children the vernacular, mathematics, and whatever other scholarly disciplines they need to master in order to succeed in business and in life. The only constraint is that these studies be pursued under the guidance of God-fearing teachers who will know how much time to devote to such study, at what age, and at what level. in general, one needs to distinguish between different types of students. For some, Torah study will be primary and secular or professional study will be secondary; for others, secular or professional study will be primary and Torah study secondary. In this manner, they will fulfill the rabbinic teaching alluded to above: Therefore choose life (Dt. 30:19)—this refers to learning a trade.

In the light of the above, it is clear that the ban issued in Jerusalem was not valid. The Jerusalem ban was issued without constraints or qualifications. The study of all foreign languages was banned, even the vernacular. Moreover, the ban was issued for all time, to be applied to future settlers in Jerusalem. Regarding this last point, those who issued the ban had no authority to do so, without first receiving the approval of the majority of the diaspora Jewish community. All Jews in the diaspora aspire to settle on Jerusalem, all laws in the diaspora pray facing Jerusalem, and all Jews in the diaspora are regarded as residents of Jerusalem. It was inappropriate for one group of Jews to issue a ban that the rest of Jewry finds intolerable. Indeed, the ban discourages Jews from settling in the land of Israel and is, in effect, an enactment designed to prevent Jews from fulfilling a mitzvah. Indigent Jews in the land of Israel will be forced to seek employment outside the land of Israel. Worse yet, they will be forced to settle in distant lands, such as America and Australia, where they will assimilate and ultimately become extinct.

Now those East European rabbis in the diaspora who banned the study of languages and secular study, never issued a blanket ban, to be applied under any and all circumstances. They kept secular study at a distance so long as circumstances warranted it. Even in this guarded approach, they were not successful, for many students could not cope with the ban and were led astray when exposed clandestinely to secular study. Far more successful were the West European rabbis, leaders of the Orthodox Jewish community, who were zealots for the Lord and His Torah. They established educational institutions that provided Torah study on the one hand, and secular study on the other. Nonetheless, as indicated, the East European rabbis never issued an unrestricted ban against secular study. Moved by the Divine spirit, they understood that at certain times and under certain circumstances the majority of Jews would find it necessary to combine Torah study with secular study. Indeed, even those who would ordinarily engage in Torah study alone will have to engage in secular study. Some will be forced by circumstances to engage extensively in secular study. God, however, will come to their aid so that they will not forget their Torah study or abandon the commandments. “Let the clusters pray for the leaves, for if not for the leaves, the clusters would not exist.”

In sum, in my opinion the Jerusalem ban does not apply at all to Jews from the diaspora who choose to settle in Jerusalem [after the ban was issued]. The rabbis in Jerusalem had no authority to issue a ban that affects the majority of diaspora Jewry, in effect preventing Jews from settling in Jerusalem. Indeed, it is incumbent upon those who issued the ban to rescind it. For in these times when there are not sufficient funds to support the Ashkenazi community in Jerusalem, it is essential that Jews work for a living… I would advise that they rescind their unrestricted ban. Instead, let them institute rules and regulations governing the appropriate requirements and age for, and type and amount of, secular study. Torah scholars should be appointed to oversee the implementation of the rules and regulations. All this should be done calmly, without bans, for “words spoken softly by the sages are heeded” (Koh. 9:17). So shall peace be restored among the Jewish people.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What's Wrong If Someone Wants To Support People In Kollel?

In an earlier post, we explored one aspect of the propriety/ impropriety of kollel from the perspective of the person in kollel. There are many other aspects to be examined, but in this post, I'd like to switch to the perspective of a prospective donor. Supposing someone wants to fund people in kollel - is there anything wrong with that? Surely not, argued a commentator by the name of Warren, in a response to an earlier post:
I agree that kollel for the masses is not viable in the long term and there will come a breaking point when more bnei Torah will have to go out and join the workforce.
But if there are donors whom are happy to support those in full time learning, well frankly why not?
No one is asking you to support them, but people like myself who have matured and think wisely about their money, have come to the conclusion that supporting an avreich bent over a ketzos is frankly the best investment a jew can make.
Two other commentators offered excellent responses. First was AHG:
1. We disagree with your conclusion. It's a perversion of Torah-true Judaism and are duty-bound to speak out against it. (In the same vein that Agudah feels that need to speak out against the left wing Orthodox groups.)

2. Rabbi Slifkin, while perhaps addressing the entire kollel system, probably has mostly in mind his situation in Israel where avreichim in kollel are largely funded by taxpayer subsidies. If the most recent election is any indication, the donors have spoken and they are not pleased.

3. As you already have acknowledged, those who want to sit and learn will, (or have already, IMO) surpass what willing and able donors like yourself will happily support.

4. Even if there was sufficient wealth to go around, there is still a problem with a certain group deciding it's their entitlement and way of life.

5. As long as it's not personal to you, we're entitled to have our conversation, analyzing the system, and drawing our own conclusion about what are worthwhile causes in a frum community. You don't have to agree with our conclusions, but don't dissuade us from making our own analysis.
Second was "Lion of Israel":
Warren - Your sentiments are understandable. However, please remember that by supporting the Kollel guy:

1 - You're consigning his children to poverty, especially if the Kollel guy educates his children to the same ideal.

2 - Said Kollel guy will not be paying taxes, meaning, among other things, that he will be taking health insurance money from the government, w/o having contributed to the fund from which the money is taken. Because he is taking from but not contributing to the pot, certain medicines will not be available to sick people, many of whom are contributing to that pot.

3 - Said Kollel guy will need financial help from his parents, in the event that any unexpected expenses come up (and they will). This often means less help from his parents for his siblings.

4 - Said Kollel guy will not be able to help his siblings deal with their parents, when they reach old age. He will apologetically say that he just doesn't have that kind of money.

And on and on.

I'm not saying that everyone needs to spend their lives making as much money as they can. But there's a point where the decision to be "mistapek b'muat" makes someone a real burden on his family and on society.
To all the above, I would like to add the following (and my comments are primarily oriented towards the setup in Israel; I understand that in the US, it may be somewhat different). Rambam says that the highest form of charity is to enable someone to become independent. Supporting the charedi kollel system is the exact opposite - preventing people from ever being able to be independent.

The majority of people in the kollel system today are not on track to become Torah leaders and educators. When you support a charedi man in kollel, it's not something that can be simply ended at some point, with the merit points waiting in Olam HaBa. There are long-term consequences to what you have done. By supporting him, you have enabled him to advance in years while lessening his ability to be employed. Furthermore, by supporting the charedi mass-kollel fantasy, you have effectively encouraged him to ignore Chazal's teachings and to bring up his children without the knowledge, qualifications or desire to work for a living.

As Warren correctly acknowledges, kollel for the masses is not viable in the long term and there will come a breaking point when more bnei Torah will have to go out and join the workforce. But that breaking point is extremely painful and causes tremendous problems. Men in their forties who are desperate to make a living but are unemployable, because they never got an education or held a job; people who are having heart attacks because they can't afford to marry off their children (each of whom needs an apartment already paid for in order to get a shidduch); etc., etc. This is a time-bomb, and the longer it's put off, the harsher the damage that it causes.

If someone wants to support advanced Torah study, there are ways to do that without running into these problems. You can support Torah MiTziyon kollels, or Kollel Elyon - in which you are not harming the candidates' future employment prospects, nor those of their children. But to support the charedi kollel system is not a personal choice with no harmful effects. Rather than being "the best investment a Jew can make," it's something with drastic and cruel long-term consequences - on society at large, and on kollel families in particular.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Who Represents Ner Israel?

Way back during the Great Torah-Science Controversy of 2004-5, one of the strangest aspects of that entire distressing episode (which a certain rabbi recently likened to "a hundred-car pile-up in the fog") was the role of Rav Aharon Feldman, Rosh Yeshivah of Ner Israel in Baltimore. I had known Rav Feldman for many years. When the troubles began, he somehow found out right away, even before any pashkevillim were posted, and called me to offer encouragement. He told me that "Anyone who reads your books properly knows that you are acting lesheym Shamayim and that you are being mezakeh the public." He also recommended that I move to the US, where I would not encounter opposition to my writings. In the ensuing months, he made extensive efforts to prevent the ban from snowballing, including unsuccessful meetings with Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, and flying to Israel for a day in order to personally meet with Rav Elyashiv about it.

However, six months later, Rav Feldman made a complete about-turn. He wrote an extensive and rather bizarre essay in which he attempted to entirely justify the ban.

Immediately preceding the release of this essay, Rav Feldman called me for a long meeting. He told me that he had spent the last few weeks in Israel and that he had come under fire for supposedly supporting me. He wasn't happy with that and wanted to make it clear otherwise. And he was upset that the Gedolim had been painted as fools.

Still, even with his explanation, it was a rather strange reversal. Some people told me that Rav Feldman has two conflicting aspects to him: the Baltimore side, and the Bnei Brak side. It was the Bnei Brak side that had prevailed.

But did Rav Feldman's final stance - that it is heresy to say that the universe is billions of years old, that evolution occurred, and that the Sages were fallible in science - reflect the attitude of Ner Israel?

Many people assured me that it didn't. A number of rabbis who are alumni of Ner Israel told me about conversations that they had had with the legendary late Rosh Yeshivah of Ner Israel, Rav Yaakov Weinberg. He had told them that the world was obviously much more than a few thousand years old. He had also told them that there was no problem in saying that man evolved from animals, as long as one accepts that man is on a higher spiritual plane. A number of people told me that although Rav Feldman had been brought in to Ner Israel as Rosh Yeshivah, he wasn't really representative of Ner Israel.

The reason why I mention all this today is that a firestorm has erupted over MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, who is a member of Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party, the nemesis of the charedim in Israel (although, in truth, probably the best thing that ever happened to them). Rabbi Lipman is a graduate of Ner Israel, from the era when Rav Yaakov Weinberg was Rosh Yeshivah. The Hebrew Mishpachah magazine printed a letter from Rav Aharon Feldman insisting that MK Lipman's positions do not at all reflect the approach of either Ner Israel or Rav Yaakov Weinberg.

Personally, I have absolutely no idea if Rabbi Lipman's positions reflect the approach of Ner Israel or Rav Yaakov Weinberg.

But I know that Rav Feldman's positions don't.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Is It Better To Be Supported In Kollel Or To Work?

Recently I came across a book called Priorities in Tzedaka by a Rabbi Moshe Goldberger. It bears an impressive array of approbations from across the Orthodox spectrum. I was curious to see how it deals with the issue of supporting people in kollel, which is currently a very hot topic in Israel. The topic is dealt with on page 70, and here is what it has to say:
Is it better for someone to sit and learn with support, at a kollel, or to get a job as as to be self-supporting and to continue to learn in his free time?
It is definitely proper for a person to accept support in order to learn full time (Ramoh, Yoreh Deah, 246:21). Our sages teach that it is sinful not to accept support when one can learn more with support. Those who think they know better are being led by the wiles of the Evil Inclination to distract them from more Torah study (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah, 2:116).
This took me by surprise, to put it mildly. It has been a while since I learned the topic, but I was pretty sure that this wasn't how I remembered it. Still, human memory can be notoriously unreliable, so I went back to check the sources that he quoted.

Let's begin with the Ramoh in Yoreh Deah, 246:21 that the author quotes as saying that "It is definitely proper for a person to accept support in order to learn full time." Here is what the Ramoh first says:
לא יחשוב האדם לעסוק בתורה ולקנות עושר וכבוד עם הלמוד, כי מי שמעלה מחשבה זו בלבו אינו זוכה לכתרה של תורה, אלא יעשה אותו קבע ומלאכתו עראי, וימעט בעסק ויעסוק בתורה. ויסיר תענוגי הזמן מלבו ויעשה מלאכה כל יום כדי חייו, אם אין לו מה יאכל, ושאר היום והלילה יעסוק בתורה. ומעלה גדולה למי שמתפרנס ממעשה ידיו, שנאמר: יגיע כפיך כי תאכל וגו':
He says that a person should work to support himself, leaving Torah study to other times of day and night, and that it is very praiseworthy to be self-sufficient. Which is not at all surprising, since Chazal taught that Torah study should be accompanied by derech eretz, and in numerous places stressed the importance of being self-sufficient: “A person should hire himself out for alien work rather than requiring assistance from others”; “The man who is self-sufficient is greater than the one who fears Heaven”; etc. The Ramoh continues:
וכל המשים על לבו לעסוק בתורה ולא לעשות מלאכה להתפרנס מן הצדקה, הרי זה מחלל השם ומבזה התורה, שאסור ליהנות מדברי תורה. וכל תורה שאין עמה מלאכה, גוררת עון וסופו ללסטם הבריות.

Here Ramoh drives home this point even further, noting that someone who decides to busy themselves with Torah and live off charity rather than working has desecrated God's Name and brought the Torah into disrepute. He adds that Torah which is not accompanied by work leads to sin and theft (presumably because the Torah scholar/student is incapable of making a living via honest means). Similarly, the Rosh, discussing someone whose Torah is his profession, such that he is exempt from paying various taxes, defines this person as someone who only takes time away from his studies in order to earn a livelihood, “which is his obligation, for the study of Torah with derech eretz is beautiful, and if the Torah is not accompanied by work, it will end in neglect and will cause sin." This reflects the normative position amongst the Rishonim in Ashkenaz, where financing Torah study was unheard of; virtually all Torah scholars were self-supporting, and even financing Torah teaching was only reluctantly permitted by some.

At this point Ramoh notes that there is an exemption for people who are physically incapable of working:
וכל זה בבריא ויכול לעסוק במלאכתו או בדרך ארץ קצת ולהחיות עצמו, אבל זקן או חולה, מותר ליהנות מתורתו ושיספקו לו.
Such people are allowed to receive payment for the Torah that they teach.

So far, Ramoh has been unequivocal that it is forbidden and evil to take money for Torah rather than to be self-supportive. But at this point he introduces a lenient view:
ויש אומרים דאפילו בבריא מותר (בית יוסף בשם תשובת רשב"ץ ח"א, קמ"ז, קמ"ח). ולכן נהגו בכל מקומות ישראל שהרב של עיר יש לו הכנסה וספוק מאנשי העיר, כדי שלא יצטרך לעסוק במלאכה בפני הבריות ויתבזה התורה בפני ההמון...
As Ramoh cites, there is a lenient view, based on R. Shimon b. Tzemach Duran (Rashbatz), that permits Torah scholars to receive funding. Note, however, that Rashbatz specifically limits this to Torah scholars functioning in the role of community rabbi. In the referenced responsum, he argues that since the Kohen Gadol receives material support from the community, how much more so should a Torah scholar be entitled to such support; after all, he is equally performing a service for the community. Ramoh writes that “a person important to the community may accept money from it... without violating the prohibition against benefiting from the Torah, for he is honoring the Torah, not using it." He is not talking about a kollel student!

However, Ramoh proceeds to note that there are those who are even more lenient and permit even students to receive financial support, in order to strengthen Torah study:
ויש מקילין עוד לומר דמותר לחכם ולתלמידיו לקבל הספקות מן הנותנים כדי להחזיק ידי לומדי תורה, שעל ידי זה יכולין לעסוק בתורה בריוח.
So there we have it; after stating the primary view, that it is forbidden and wrong for Torah scholars to receive funding, then noting a "yesh omrim," an alternate lenient view that it is permissible for rabbis to receive funding, we finally have a further lenient view that even students may receive funding. However, Ramoh notes that it is still preferable for Torah students to be self-supportive, if possible:
ומ"מ מי שאפשר לו להתפרנס היטב ממעשה ידיו ולעסוק בתורה, מדת חסידות הוא ומתת אלהים היא, אך אין זה מדת כל אדם, שא"א לכל אדם לעסוק בתורה ולהחכים בה ולהתפרנס בעצמו.
As Rashbatz writes in his responsa, “scholars and disciples who waive their entitlements and provide for themselves by the work of their hands, or by making do with less, will see great reward for their efforts, which are considered as piety. It is better for them to take a little time away from their constant study than to depend on the community for their livelihood.”

Thus, for Rabbi Goldberger, when responding to the question "Is it better for someone to sit and learn with support, at a kollel, or to get a job as as to be self-supporting and to continue to learn in his free time?" to summarize Ramoh's view as "It is definitely proper for a person to accept support in order to learn full time," does not seem particularly accurate.

Now let us move on to the view of R. Moshe Feinstein, in a responsum from 1964. He writes that it is "certainly fine" for kollel students to take payment, based upon this Ramoh. Which, I would humbly submit, is not exactly the Ramoh's position. R. Feinstein notes that R. Yosef Caro in Kesef Mishnah observed that Rambam's prohibition on Torah scholars receiving payment was not shared by other authorities, and permits a Torah scholar to receive funds. This is true; however, R. Yosef Caro specifies that this is only in a case where he is teaching students, acting as a rabbinic judge, or studying in order to take on a teaching/judging role (although elsewhere he appears to be more lenient).

R. Moshe notes that even if it is not permitted for a Torah scholar (/student?) to receive payment according to the sources, it is still permitted based upon Eis la'asos l'Hashem, heferu Torasecha - the license given to overturn Torah law for the sake of the greater good. He writes that the generation is spiritually weak, and that Torah greatness will not be achieved if people do not receive payment for it. And, as Rabbi Goldberger correctly reports, R. Moshe is indeed of the view that "Those who think they know better are being led by the wiles of the Evil Inclination to distract them from more Torah study."

Still, R. Moshe's primary sources are referring to Torah teachers, not Torah students. And he admits that his license may well be based upon emergency measures, rather than expressing the original laws and priorities. And one cannot necessarily extrapolate from the state of Torah-emergency in 1964 to the situation in the twenty-first century, when there are tens of thousands of people in kollel.

In summary, then: while Rabbi Goldberger presents an accurate representation of Rav Moshe's view, I don't think that Rav Moshe's sources or his view are necessarily relevant to the kollel situation today. And certainly, if we are looking at Chazal and the Rishonim, the traditional approach is overwhelmingly that it is much, much better for someone to support themselves by working than to be supported in kollel. It's truly astonishing that there are people who not only do not acknowledge that this was the traditional and dominant view, but are apparently entirely unaware of it!

(See too my monograph on "The Economics of Torah Scholarship in Medieval Jewish Thought and Practice")

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Kollel Guys vs. Lions; Plus, Some Announcements

Some people want to read critiques of guys in kollel, others want to read about lion attacks in light of Torah/science. How about a post that combines both?

In the previous post, we saw a reference to the following verse:
[Where is] the lion that tore prey for his cubs, and strangled for his lionesses, and filled his lairs with prey, and his dens with mangled flesh? (Nachum 2:13)
Although this verse appears as part of a metaphor, metaphors are intended to be genuine, i.e. to reflect actual facts. Furthermore, the Gemara certainly takes it as expressing facts about lion hunting.

But, as one reader pointed out, lions do not in fact hunt for their cubs and lionesses. It's the lionesses who do all the work!

This is yet another example of the same phenomenon that appears with Scriptural descriptions of hares and hyraxes chewing cud, dew falling from the heavens, the heart and kidneys as housing the mind, and the sky as a solid dome. As Rambam says with regard to Yechezekel's account of the heavens, which Rambam saw as scientifically inaccurate, prophesy appears via the worldview of the prophet. Or, to use another phrase: Dibra Torah k'lashon bnei adam, "the Torah speaks in the language of man."

But this is not enough. There always has to be an actual plausible reason why the errant belief arose. Why was it believed that lions do the hunting for the pride, if in fact it is the lionesses that do it?

The answer is obvious. It's because in human society, it is the male who is bigger and stronger, and who provides for his family. Naturally, then, the assumption was that with lions, where the male is likewise bigger and stronger, it is the male who provides for the family.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I would imagine that in every one of the hundreds (thousands?) of cultures over the world, over the ages, it is the husband whose role it is to provide for the family. That's certainly the traditional Jewish model, as enshrined in the kesubah. Isn't one of the complaints against Pharaoh that he inverted these normal roles?

And yet, in contemporary charedi society, this role has been completely inverted! Boys (I don't think that they can be called men) enter marriage with the absolute expectation that their wives will be the ones who work! And the girls are taught that their job is to support their husbands! Furthermore, they consider this the lechatchilah approach, and regard anyone who does otherwise as a lesser Jew!

*   *   *   *   *

And now for something completely different - a few brief announcements regarding programs in different parts of the world:

CANADA: I'll be visiting Toronto and Montreal on a lecture tour for twelve days over Shavuos. Details will be posted here when my schedule is finalized. If you live in Toronto and are interested in attending a parlor meeting regarding the Encyclopedia and Museum, please be in touch. I also have some windows of time available for meetings, presentations, etc.

USA - NY: This year, I only have one Shabbos available in the NY region - August 2/3. If you are interested in arranging for me to be scholar-in-residence in your community, please be in touch.

USA - CA: I'll be running several programs in LA in August, at Beth Jacob, the West Coast Torah Center, and probably YINBH.

AFRICA: There are a very small number of places still available on my African Safari. Please visit the Torah in Motion website for more details. Come watch a lion hunt in action!

ISRAEL: Last but not least, remember that I run programs for groups at my mini-museum in my home. See here for more details.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

When Lions Attack

(Yes, it's another arcane post on Talmudic Zoology, following my earlier post about when wolves attack. If this is not to your tastes, please accept my apologies, and come back another time! But if you're an accomplished Talmudist, I would like to request your input, on behalf of all readers of The Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom.)

How do lions hunt their prey? This has been extensively researched by contemporary zoologists studying African lions, and there is little reason to believe that it would have been any different for the Barbary or Asiatic lions that were familiar in Biblical and Talmudic times.

When a lion hunts its preferred prey – large herbivores such as cattle – it needs to first kill its prey in a safe manner so that it cannot be injured from its horns and hooves. The first stage in this process is to bring the animal down. Sometimes, the lion can do this by using its paws to drag the animal down. If the prey animal is too big for this, the lion will leap onto the victim’s flanks, using its claws to grip the victim, often using one paw to grasp its muzzle, while using its teeth to grasp the animal by its neck. This causes the animal to topple down onto the ground, and will sometimes cause it to break its neck. If the animal is still alive, the lion will kill it by biting its neck from the front, in order to clamp the trachea shut, or its muzzle, in order to seal the mouth, thereby causing asphyxiation. The lion will then usually eat its prey on the spot, but if it fears disturbance (as may well be the case when having killed cattle), it will drag its victim a considerable distance to suitable shelter.

The Talmud discusses two different types of lion attacks, one of which is considered normal and the other abnormal. The normal form of attack is rated in the legal category of shen – literally, “tooth” – which applies to damage sustained by animals eating their food in a normal way. This form of damage is normally very common, in terms of domestic cattle eating whatever produce they come across. As a result, the owners of the damaging animals are not liable if the food consumed was in a public domain – the person who left it there should have been more careful. This is a blanket exemption applied across the board to owners of all animals that cause such normal damage in the course of eating – even in the case of a pet lion eating its usual food, which could be someone else’s cow. On the other hand, if an animal causes damage in an abnormal way, this is rated in the legal category of keren – literally, “horn,” – and the owner of the animal is liable.

However, the terms that the Talmud uses to describe the different forms of lion attack are difficult to translate and understand. One type of attack is called dores, which literally usually means “trample,” while the other is called toref, which literally means “tear”:
Shmuel said: If a lion tramples and eats an animal in a public area, the owner is exempt (from full damages); if it tears and eats the animal, he liable. If it tramples and eats he is not liable – because it is the usual way for it to trample, and it is therefore equivalent to eating fruit and vegetables, which would be categorized as shen in a public area and exempt. But if it tore, this is not the normal behavior (and it is rated as keren, for which the owner is liable.) (Talmud, Bava Kama 16b)
The Talmud proceeds to query whether “tearing” is truly an abnormal way for a lion to eat, based on Scriptural verses which seem to present this as the norm, and explains that the verses are referring to particular scenarios:
Is it really the case that “tearing” is not normal behavior? Surely it is written, “The lion tears for its cubs” (Nahum 2:13)? – That is for the sake of its cubs (and not for its own food, which would be abnormal). “And strangles for its lionesses” – for the sake of its lionesses. “And fills its lair with its prey” – for the sake of stocking its lair. “And its den with prey”” – for the sake of its den. (Ibid. )
There are different opinions amongst the traditional commentaries regarding how to explain the differences in the terms “trampling” and “tearing.” Rashi and Tosafos explain “trampling” to refer to eating the prey animal while it is still alive, whereas “tearing” refers to killing it first; but in light of what is known today about lion attacks, that they always kill their prey first, this is difficult. Rabbeinu Chananel explains that “trampling” refers to a normal act of killing that involves the "venom" exuded by the claws, whereas “tearing” refers to an unusual form of attack in which the lion uses only its teeth. This can perhaps be made to work for the references to the lions trampling (which would then describe a typical attack that involves claws as well as teeth) but would be difficult to reconcile with the Gemara's description of a lion tearing for its cubs, lionesses and den.

I was wondering if it could be said that “trampling” means killing it first, as lions normally do, and “tearing” means tearing chunks off it while it is still alive? Or, “trampling” means killing and eating it immediately, while “tearing” means dismembering it and eating it later (but this may raise a problem with wolves, which are described elsewhere as “tearing” their prey)?

There are two other references in the Talmud to a lion "trampling" its prey which also need to make sense in light of whichever explanation we adopt:
Rav Acha bar Ada said in the name of Rav Yehudah: Whoever gives terumah to a kohen who is an am haaretz, is as though he gives it to a lion. Just as with a lion it is uncertain if it will trample and eat or not, so too with the kohen who is an am haaretz, it is unclear if he will eat it in a state of ritual purity or ritual impurity. (Sanhedrin 90b) 

One who marries off his daughter to a boor is as though he has bound her and placed her before a lion. Just as a lion tramples and eats and has no shame, so too a boor beats his wife and cohabits without shame. (Pesachim 49b) 
So, what is the best way to explain the difference between "trampling" and "tearing"? Your input is appreciated!