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Jul 1, 2007

new criteria for "Who is a Jew": chulent

The Mishpacha (Hebrew) newspaper had a fairly shocking story this week. You will not believe it to be true..

I will translate it here to English. If you wish to see the original, bluke scanned it and commented on it.

In a baal teshuva yeshiva there was a student who has been learning there for the past 2 years, who came from a country with a mass aliya. This student has "strengthened himself" [i.e. become religious] and has been keeping all of the mitzvos. Over a recent shabbos he was a guest at the home of one of the married kollel students.

The avreich realized the student despised the chulent and could not even taste a little bit of it. He remembered the words of the Rishonim, that someone who does not eat hot food on shabbos [day] needs to be investigated to see whether he might be a heretic (source: the Baal HaMaor).
In addition, he realized that the student did not shuckle/sway when he prayed, and this too is brought down (in the Zohar) as being a custom of Jews.

Since he realized that this student came from a neglected country {i.e. ostensibly Eastern European, but it does not specify] , he connected the dots and decided that according to halacha this student was likely not a Jew.
Attempts to investigate the background of the student revealed nothing conclusive, so the avreich, at the behest of the student, approached Rav Elyashiv with the situation and asked what to do.

Rav Elyashiv answered that the student must go through a conversion as a stringency [because of the chance he might not be jewish]. However any wine he might have handled is not to be considered "yayin nesech" [wine handled by a non Jew which may not be imbibed by a Jew], as the student behaved like a Jew and considered himself a Jew the whole time, and it is only a "safek" that he might not be a Jew [so the issue of yayin nesech does not apply].

As I said, you would not believe it. So now we are deciding whether or not a person is Jewish by whether or not he likes chulent and whether or not he shuckles during shmoneh esrei.

Soon we might have measurements for how much of a sway is called a sway. The meikil opinion will say something like a sway of 7 centimeters is ok and the most machmir opinion will say probably a minimum sway of 11 centimeters.

And then there will be a debate what is called chulent. What if you make your chulent without barley? And if you use chicken instead of beef?

I took out my shulchan aruch and looked up the halacha. At the end of Siman 257 the Rama mentions the issue quoted from the Baal Hamaor in the story. He says that one who does not eat "chamin" - hot foods, but this word is used in modern day Hebrew to mean chulent, one is suspect of being an apikorus.

According to the commentaries and the explanations, the issue is not if one does like hot food/chulent. Rather, it is if one refuses to eat it becaus ehe is of the opinion that one is not allowed to heat up food on shabbos, using the method we consider permitted. The heretics held to the literal meaning of verses and decided that one could not heat up food at all on shabbos, while we are of the opinion that there are certain methods in which heating up food is allowed. One who refuses to eat hot foods on shabbos is suspect of being a heretic.

And before I continue, let me just say before some people jump down my throat, that I am sure Rav Elyashiv knows that section of shulchan aruch at least as well as me, if not 500 times better (though one does not need to be the gadol hador to quote a siman in shulchan aruch).

The halacha does not say one has to eat chulent. It talks about hot foods. Had they offered this student hot soup maybe he would have accepted. Had they offered hot shnitzel maybe he would have devoured it. According to the reported story, they offered him a food that he did not like.

As a matter of fact, and this might solidify my standing in the minds of some of you, we often in the summer shabboses do not have chulent. I have not made chulent for three weeks in a row now. It is just too hot for chulent in my opinion. Does that mean we might not be Jewish? Does it matter that we have hot soup for lunch? (hot soup is better than chulent because, even though it is hot, it is a lighter meal.)

As well, it does not say that one who does not eat hot food might be a gentile. It says he might be an apikorus. An apikorus is generally a Jew. A Jew does not need to go through conversion when he becomes religious.

It is possible that this student, who clearly grew up non-religious in a completely non-religious and even ostensibly a non-Jewish environment, did not like chulent because he did not grow up with it culturally.
So all of the sudden he is exposed to a new food he has never seen before, and chulent by any description is not a pretty food, he is turned off by it and refuses to eat it, and his Jewishness is suspect?

As well, maybe that avreich just made a horrible chulent!! I wonder if they tried to serve him different chulent recipes and he had to reject each one before they decided he was not a Jew. Or did he just not like this one chulent and that was enough to seal the deal?

As well, there are many people who do not sway when davening. Many German Jews do not. Bluke reports that Rav Moshe Feinstein was famous for not swaying when he davened.

These are ridiculous criteria to use to decide whether or not someone is Jewish.

That being said, my only conclusion can be that the newspaper got the story wrong. Completely wrong, I mean. Not just the "inaccurate details wrong" as in all newspaper articles, but completely wrong.

They must have been missing a major detail. There must have been another reason to suspect his background. I do not believe Rav Elyashiv bases geirus on someones like or dislike of chulent.

18 comments:

  1. i don't remember which gadol the following story is attributed to, but it's as follows....

    when asked why he davened shemone esrai ramrod still and straight, the reply was, When I was in the Polish/Russian army, we stood ata ateention perfectly still, so I learned from there the way to stand before god.

    maybe he really wasn't jewish either...hmmm.....

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  2. when asked why he davened shemone esrai ramrod still and straight, the reply was, When I was in the Polish/Russian army, we stood ata ateention perfectly still, so I learned from there the way to stand before god.

    I believe it's R' Moshe Feinstein, if one changes the part about being in the army to standing before a government official.

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  3. that must be then what bluke was referring to...

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  4. Someone in Makor Rishon two Fridays ago lamented the fact that we still have to have chicken soup and cholent even though we live in Israel and the weather is so bad, and that if we were to cook cholent during the week we would open the windows because it smells so bad after cooking for so long. . .

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  5. chulent smells bad? maybe you need a new recipe.. :-)

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  6. I have long said that not eating cholent on shabbas IS apikorsas....I was joking, however

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  7. B"H Um,...would you like to live in my small house with the plata on all Shabbath in the summer? I sincerely doubt it. I'm sure I would be considered "safeq" (HW"H) by some because when the plata is on during the summer, the Shabbath clock turns it off after lunch. Gee-waaaaald!

    Shuckling? Um, has this guy ever been in a Yemenite beth knesseth?

    I'm sure I'll definitely be considered an epikourus for bringing this up, but...

    1) The GR"A said that when there is a mahloqeth between the Zohar and Gemara, one goes by the Gemara.

    2) Oh, yeah, and we're not even talking about halacha here, just minhagim (now I'm really gonna get it!)

    3) This guy, if Jewish, sounds like a good example of a tinoq shenishba, one who would not necessarily be expected to know Shabbath nor prayer, let alone chollent and shucking.

    4) I sincerely believe that R'Eliyashiv based his decision on the additional investigation, not just on chollent and shuckling.

    5) It is said that when R' Aqiva prayed, he would end up in a completely different location then when he started. He was probably doing a lot more than shuckling, possibly kneeling and prostrating himself. Don't tell anyone though, you'll be called a heretic.

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  8. Hey! I guess that means my wife isn't Jewish since she doesn't like Cholent either! Not does my son!! And me a Kohen! Of course, I might not be Jewish either since I don't like a variety of "Jewish" foods, including herring (of any kind), Gefilte Fish, Kasha & Varnishkes, and chicken Schmaltz...

    I'd sure like to hear what the real story is hear, since, as you said, the mag must have gotten it COMPLETELY wrong!

    Thanks for the heads up on this article, Rafi...

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  9. Rafi if you don't eat tcholent during summer days this means you and your family have to go through conversion to raise the shailays. lol.

    And Am Kshe Oref is a bad bad kohen and a big apikoyres cause he does not like Ashkenazi food. ;)

    Me? I am a big apikoyres, am haaretz too, since I don't eat cholent. LOL. Not to mention I eat rice on Pesah. Oyyy!

    Here is what I think. People who were around this guy probably was jealous of his intellectual and intelligence level so the only way they can bring him down is attacking his "Jewishness". They did to a guy in Europe and he sued the people who did this to him including the rabbis.

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  10. My father used to bring leftover chulent to a "goy" at work, and he loved it. Maybe he was really Jewish....

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  11. Yes, I was referring to what Josh M. wrote.

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  12. My father learned in Munkatch in Europe and loves to tell the story that when he ate his first Shabbat meal at his uncle they served hot galla. To make it brief, when my father wouldnt eat it my great uncle ZT"L said (translating the yiddish) you must not have a Jewish organ in your body!

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  13. rebelwithacauseJuly 02, 2007 2:55 PM

    I hate hate hate hate galla. Ick. Feh!

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  14. is galla the same as p'tcha? I won't touch it...

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  15. I read FailedMessiahs post on the matter.

    Flabbergasting.

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  16. A halacha stated in a vacuum is lost. The Karaites who would not eat hot food on Shabbat as they would not have fire burning in their homes on Shabbat is the obvious target of this halacha. The halacha is simply raising a warning that one who does not eat hot foods on Shabbat could possibly be a Karaite and caution should guide how you relate to him/her. This is another case of the meaning of a halacha being lost because one focusses on the narrow reading of the words without a recognition of the full context of a halacha and thus its real purpose. The sad result is not only do we attack those who simply do not like cholent but we also ignore signs of other theological concerns because it is not stated in the Shulchan Aruch.

    As for shakling, the Rambam states that one should stand still as before a king and my understanding is that Briskers also daven in this manner of standing still.

    The real problem as such is that this avreich would seem to have been somewhat of an am haaretz and that is in itself frightening in that we are creating individuals who represent Torah scholarship who do not have the breadth to truly meet this standard.

    Of course, we do not know what Rav Elyashav told him but there seems to be this attitude that in order to keep people learning we have to encourage them even as they make mistakes.

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  17. nishma - you make a good point. But on the other hand, such people who clearly do not have complete knowledge definitely need to be learning so these mistakes will not be repeated!!! (though I understand your point to mean, they should not be the ones we support lin learning full time - they should be working and learning in their free time).

    As an aside, I just wanted to mention - my father sometimes says that we ashkenazi Jews missed the boat a long time ago. Whenever this conversation of conversions and yichus and the like comes up, he says we missed the boat. he says how do we have Jews nowadays with blond hair and blue eyes? Those are not jewish charachteristics (yes, I am familiar with the gemara that says King David was a red-head). We are so intermarried and our grandmothers were raped by cossaks and other pogroms, that we are mixed blood anyway and many of us are probably not so Jewish anymore halachically...

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  18. FEH! I rarely eat cholent.. summer or winter.. it gives me gas and diahria and arghh!

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