Bechukotai

May 14, 2015

The discussion about whether the Netziv read secular newspapers on Shabbat or not continues.

His nephew ( and later brother-in-law) writes in the Mekor Baruch that his uncle the Netziv used to read the secular newspapers early on Shabbat morning.

Part of the Mekor Baruch was translated into English and called “My Uncle the Netziv”. It is a very beautiful, moving book. Well worth reading if you can get hold of a copy!

I remember my rebbe, Rabbi Leperer telling me that he bought it. In those days, one subscribed, ie paid in advance before the book was published. Those were the days before a book had 10 pages of dedications. The book duly arrived only to be recalled! Naively , he sent it back only to receive a second, censored version, with the newspaper reading passage having been truncated!

It reminds of the fuss over the first edition of shemirat Shabbat kehilchata and his permission to make tea on Shabbat which was taken out in subsequent editions. ( I still have mine!)

Nevertheless, it is difficult to extrapolate from the Mekor Baruch to today for several reasons.

1. The Netziv besides being the Rosh Yeshiva was the Rav of the town of Volozhyin in a time before television, radio etc. most of the Jews didn’t even get a newspaper so the Rav was the source of what was going on in the world beyond the town.

I remember the late Rabbi Reuven Fisher zatzal telling me that his father Harav Mordechai Fisher was the Rav of a small shul in his home town of Grodno. In January 1939 during the height of the civil war in Spain, Barcelona fell to Franco’s forces. Rav Fisher passed this hot news to the Gabbai on Shabbat after Mincha. What was the Gabbai’s reaction? ” oh dear, did he break a leg. Should I make a mi sheberach?”
So you see the level of awareness of the Yidden as to what was going on in the world outside!

2. The secular newspapers in those days were unlike those of today. The writers knew what they were opposing or denying. Many had studied in Yeshivot and had a good knowledge of Bible and Talmud.

The Netziv was a major contributor, defending the Orthodox point of view to such publications like Brill’s ” the Levanon”. He had a wonderful pen and was greatly admired by the secularists for his wisdom, knowledge ad literary style.

As such, it was necessary for him to keep abreast of things.

3. Today’s papers are not in the same category. They are full of scandal and lies. and There may be the issue of shtarei hedyotos. – (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 307:12ff).

4. R’ Yaakov Emden [Responsa 306 of She’elat Ya’avetz] ruled that reading publications that have in them discussions of business is forbidden on Shabbat.

5. Many of the “alonim” distributed in the shuls here in Israel have very little Torah in them but are full of adverts for property, holidays, insurance, cars etc.
As such they are muktzeh on Shabbat. Anyone who touches them is mechalel Shabbat. Not a good idea in the synagogue on Shabbat!

Stick to the ones that have only divrei Torah and remember the first verse of our sedra with Rashi.

Chapter 26:3
If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them,
אִם בְּחֻקֹּתַי בחוקותי תֵּלֵכוּ וְאֶת מִצְו‍ֹתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם

If you follow My statutes: I might think that this refers to the fulfillment of the commandments. However, when Scripture says, “and observe My commandments,” the fulfillment of the commandments is [already] stated. So what is the meaning of “If you follow My statutes”? It means that you must toil in the study of Torah

אם בחקתי תלכו: יכול זה קיום המצות, כשהוא אומר ואת מצותי תשמרו, הרי קיום המצות אמור, הא מה אני מקיים אם בחקתי תלכו, שתהיו עמלים בתורה:

and observe My commandments: You shall toil in the study of Torah in order to observe and fulfill [the commandments (Torath Kohanim 26:2). This is similar to, “[Hear, O Israel, the statutes and ordinances…] and learn them, and keep in mind to do them” (Deut. 5:1) [i.e., learn the Torah in order to keep them in your heart and perform them].

Shabbat shalom

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One Response to “Bechukotai”

  1. Simon Jackson said

    Nice piece – yishar cochacha!

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