Ask The Rabbi, Part 12

For over a year, I have participated in an “Ask the Rabbi” panel responding to questions posed by the editor of the Jewish Press. here is the latest installment. This column, including the responses of my colleagues, can be read at

When publishing a deceased person’s writings, may one censor a tiny amount of material in order to vastly increase the number of people who will read and be influenced by the author?

The mature, sophisticated reader will not be injured by exposure to an author’s writings or thoughts in their full complexity and depth, which is not to say that every reader today is mature and sophisticated. Worse, “language archeology” has become today a most regrettable passion of certain individuals who literally dig through the writings of their targets in order to unearth words or phrases that meant no harm when uttered or recorded decades ago but can today be presented in a most unfavorable light in order to “cancel” them. Shame on these censors, but in such an environment making stylistic emendations is not improper.

A full answer to this question really depends on circumstances, particularly who is censoring and for what reason. Certainly the ideas, values and world view of the author should never be modified in a way that distorts his opinions or conceals his attitudes. It would be troubling to hide pertinent information about an author for fear that it would undermine a community norm that is not a halacha. For example, it would be wrong to hide the fact that the Netziv read Jewish newspapers on Shabbat, as his nephew recorded. It would be wrong to omit that a particular gadol did not embrace a chumrah that is popular in some circles, or did embrace a kula that some frown upon. We accept our gedolim in all their breadth.

Similarly, it is wrong to suppress writings of great Jews who supported the Zionist enterprise or the State of Israel, as it is misguided to camouflage the writings of gedolim whose anti-Zionism today sounds anachronistic. We should be able to learn from the Torah of all gedolim even if we don’t accept each of their pronouncements on broader issues. We should all strive to be mature and sophisticated.

Is listening to rap or heavy metal music appropriate?

No. Never.

In truth, my experience with these genres of noise (music it is not) is waiting at a traffic light with the windows down hearing these cacophonous sounds emanating from another car. I have been tempted to drive through the red light to escape, but I confess I never have.

Music should uplift. Writing as a Levi, one of our primary tasks in the Beit Hamikdash was to accompany the avodah with singing and instrumental music. That music touched the soul, as music should.

Rap and heavy metal are usually vulgar, boorish, crude and abnormally loud. Earsplitting noise, combined with lyrics that should make a sailor blush, appeal to the worst of our instincts. It is often prurient, degrades women, and offends the sensibilities of anyone with the slightest inclinations towards sensitivity, decency and kavod habriyot. I have yet to see its redeeming value nor have I detected much talent among the noisemakers. Mozart and Beethoven, it is not, and even mild exposure to it makes me long for Avraham Fried and Mordechai ben David.

In a generation that is oddly proud of its degenerate cultural offerings that do little more than debase the citizenry and dishonor the species, rap and heavy metal are particularly offensive. Profane, offensive words set to deafening and shrill noise is just air pollution. It is not my cup of tea (I confess to being locked into ‘70s music) nor that – one would hope – of any cultured person.

That is our mission as a wise and understanding people, a light unto the nations. Turn the noise off!

Is being on time a Jewish value?

Punctuality is a Jewish value, and not just for the obvious reason that minutes matter in Jewish law. The difference between Shabbat and chol, between the permitted and the forbidden, between chametz and matzah, or between something qualifying as a mitzvah or not can all be measured in a single minute. Our performance of mitzvot demands an acute sensitivity to time.

But it is even more than that. Punctuality reveals to all our personal attributes and the values we cherish. It is a true indication of an disciplined, orderly life. When our days are arranged methodically, we accomplish much more and are more fulfilled. Furthermore my Rebbe, Rav Yisrael Chait shlit”a, often said that lateness is a psychological compromise – often unconscious – between not wanting to do something but having to do it. We are caught in that trap – and lateness is the middle ground we adopt. (Think about those Jews who are habitually late to shul.) If we appreciate something or someone then we arrive on time for it or for them.

That means that elementary kavod habriyot (respect for others) demands that we respect the time of other people also. Being late for a date, a meeting or an event – and forcing others to wait for you – is disrespectful. Time is life, and lateness means the devaluation of the life of another person.

Rav Yisrael Salanter opined that one of the three things that we can learn from a train is that everything can be lost if we are late just by one minute. Consequently, punctuality is treasured by Jews (not just Jews of German origin) as a sign of respect for G-d, respect for ourselves, and respect for others. And if you are going to be late, notify the other party and apologize sincerely.

 Some people insist that Hebrew and Lashon HaKodesh are two different languages.  Is the assertion correct and is the motivation behind making this assertion commendable?

This is an obvious and somewhat incomprehensible mistake, as can be attested to by the Mishnah (Sotah 7:2) that states that certain passages must be recited in Lashon Hakodesh, among them Mikra Bikurim and Birkat Kohanim. Clearly, Lashon Hakodesh in that context, and every other, means Hebrew. This contrasts with other parts of our liturgy that can be recited in any language, such as tefilah.

It is hard to trace the provenance of such an error, except to note the profound nostalgia many Jews feel for the Yiddish language that was used by Jews in Europe for many centuries. But previous generations of Jews felt the same nostalgia for Greek (even to the extent that Chazal granted it special status), Aramaic (the language of much of the Talmud), Arabic (in which Rambam wrote all his works except for Mishnah Torah), Ladino, and others as well, including English. Yiddish is perceived as the mamme lashon, even if my mother speaks to me in English, but a mamme lashon is not a Lashon Hakodesh, which is a holy language.

Last I checked, the Torah was given in Hebrew, and the Kuzari (2:68) underscores that Avraham spoke Aramaic for mundane matters but reserved Hebrew – Lashon Hakodesh – for holy endeavors. Rambam, in his Mishnah Commentary (Avot 2:1), characterizes the study of Lashon kodesh as a mitzvah kallah, a simple commandment that is nonetheless not to be trivialized. Of course, he meant Hebrew, and in his Moreh Nevuchim (3:8) he explains why Hebrew is termed Lashon Hakodesh.

Is it a positive development that Hebrew has been restored as a living, spoken tongue in the modern era? Of course, and it is miraculous, unprecedented in history, and a sign of the wondrous times in which we are living. We should appreciate it and learn Hebrew.

Comments are closed.