26 minutes | Dec 17th 2020

S1E113 - Dr. Michael Helfand on Sotah 49b:11-14 – “The Advantages, Opportunities, and Responsibilities of a 21st Century Jew”

Mark is delighted to welcome Dr. Michael Helfand to the podcast today. Michael is the Vice Dean for Faculty and Research at the Caruso School of Law, Pepperdine University, and an expert on religious law and religious liberty with a particular emphasis on clashes between religion and commerce. He is a frequent author and lecturer, focusing on how U.S. law treats religious law, custom and practice, and he also serves as both an arbitrator and consultant for the Beth Din of America. The passage he has chosen to discuss with Mark today is actually taken from the Talmud - Sotah 49b:11-14.   Michael begins the conversation by summarizing the passage, where it is found in the Talmud, and its significance for him. He and Mark examine the relative opportunities and responsibilities of the 4th century and 21st century Jew, stressing the obligation of Jews today to live their lives with Jewish values integrated throughout. They also explore the Beth Din, Michael’s involvement with it, and the application of Jewish as opposed to secular Laws. As all episodes do, this one ends with our guest sharing the lessons he has learned about humankind. From a passage that Mark had never known about comes a revealing discussion of the advantages and obligations of Jews in the world today – relevant, instructive, and truly inspiring for all who listen and take it to heart.   Episode Highlights:    ·   Michael’s summary of the passage, where it is in the Talmud, and its significance for him ·   Different expectations for those in positions of political import found in the passage and the reason for these expectations ·   The differences between being Jewish in the 4th century and the 21st century including the opportunities and responsibilities of the 21st century Jew ·   The Beth Din and Michael’s involvement with it ·   The difference between the application of Jewish Law from secular Law ·   Integrity and value based decisions ·   Religious commercial lives ·   Living lives of Jewish values ·   The lessons about humankind that Michael has learned   Quotes:   “You just looked, acted, and sounded different – that was the expectation.”   “If you’re close to political power, we understand that there’s a need to cover your identity, to hide who you are.”   “Every Jew should be a proud Jew.”   “It’s also a reminder that the 21st century doesn’t really look like the 4th century, which is something…I think we take for granted.”   “It’s a reminder of where we come from.”   “You have the opportunity to speak based on your values, to show who you really are. That means, I think, that we’ve got work to do.”   “Being a 21st century Jew is such a special opportunity.”   “99% of the cases are two Orthodox Jews.”   “Judaism is all about integrity.”   “Everything we do is a value decision. It’s an attempt to live a Jewish life of value.”   “The Jewish experience, literally, is outside.”   “Our Judaism isn’t meant to be small. It’s meant to be big.”   “It’s a difficult freedom.”   “People lie. They lie all the time.”   “People aren’t as bad as they are on their worst day.”   “My Judaism is on my sleeve.”   “Back in the day, we hid our values when it meant death, but that’s not what we’re dealing with now.”     Sotah 49b:11-14 It is understood from both the mishna and the baraita that it is prohibited to learn Greek. The Gemara raises a question: Is that so? But didn’t Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi say: In Eretz Yisrael, why should people speak the tongue of Syriac [Sursi], the Aramaic commonly spoken in Eretz Yisrael? Rather, they should speak either in the sacred tongue, Hebrew, or in the beautiful tongue of Greek. And Rav Yosef similarly said: In Babylonia, why should they speak in the vernacular tongue of Aramaic? Rather, they should speak either in the sacred tongue, Hebrew, or in the tongue of Persian, used by the authorities. The Gemara answers that there is a difference: The Greek tongue is discrete and Greek wisdom is discrete, and the Sages prohibited the latter but not the former. The Gemara poses a question: And is Greek wisdom prohibited? But didn’t Rav Yehuda say that Shmuel said in the name of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel: What is the meaning of that which is written: “My eye affected my soul, due to all the daughters of my city” (Lamentations 3:51)? There were a thousand children in my father’s house, the princes’ household. Five hundred of them learned Torah, and the other five hundred learned Greek wisdom, and there only remained of them, after the bar Kokheva revolt, me, here in Eretz Yisrael, and the son of my father’s brother, who lives in Asia Minor [Asya]. The fact that Rabban Gamliel allowed half of his household to study Greek wisdom indicates that it is permitted. The Gemara answers: The members of the house of Rabban Gamliel are different, as they were close to the monarchy, and therefore had to learn Greek wisdom in order to converse with people of authority. As it is taught in a baraita (Tosefta, Shabbat 7:1): One who cuts his hair in the komi style, which was the gentile fashion of cutting and wearing the hair, is considered to be acting in the ways of the Amorites, and it is prohibited to act in their way. However, they permitted Avtolos ben Reuven to cut his hair in the komi style, as he is close to the monarchy, and similarly they permitted the house of Rabban Gamliel to study Greek wisdom, because they are close to the monarchy. https://www.sefaria.org/Sotah.49b.11-14?lang=bi     Links:   The Rabbi’s Husband homepage: The Rabbi's Husband   Mark’s Twitter: Mark Gerson - The Rabbi's Husband (@markgerson)   The Rabbi’s Husband Newsletter contact: daniel@therabbishusband.com

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