Ken (Chanoch) Bloom's Blog

4th June 2008

Photos of my trip so far

For today, I've culled from the over 200 ohotos that I've already taken. I'll try to post some more stories and updates tomorrow.

Permalink | israel.
6th June 2008

Amukah and Yom Yerushalyim

Since about six months ago, Rabbi Azose has been telling me (from time to time) that I need to go to Amukah, to pray at the kever of Rabbi Yonatan Ben Uziel. Since Rabbi Yonatan Ben Uziel never married (he was married to Torah), yet held that it was a chiyuv from the Torah for a man to marry, davening at his kever is a particular merit for finding one's basheret. It happened that one morning in April when I decided to tell Rabbi Azose I was thinking of going to learn at Ohr Somayach for the summer, that he got to me first to tell me that I should go to Amukah. So davening at Amukah was one of my major goals for this trip.

Tuesday, there was a trip from the neighborhood (not affiliated with the yeshiva) to kivrei tzaddikim in the north. My guess is the main reason for this trip was to visit the kever of the Shelah haKodesh in Tiveryah, since he composed a prayer for parents to say for the education of their children, and it has become a custom to say that prayer on erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan. The trip visited a number of kevarim, including Amukah, Tzefat (including the ARI z"l, the Ramak, R' Shlomo Alkabetz, and the Beit Yosef), and Tiveryah (including R' Meir ba'al HaNes, and the Rambam and the Shelah).

On Sunday night, I walked to Rechavia (about 120 degrees rotation around the old city from where I am, a good 45 minute walk away) to meet a shadchan there, and got my first taste of a section of the city colloquially called "town" by the people here. Ohr Somayach is located in a very religious section of the city, and that character persists until you get close to Rechov Yafo (90 degrees away). "Town" is the more secular part of the city, where all the big hotels are, Ben Yehudah street, and nightlife in general. I didn't stay to explore the night life.

After meeting with the shadchan, she reminded me that it was Yom Yerushalayim, so after finishing with her, since I still hadn't davened Avrit yet, I went to the Kotel. I joined a minyan there. Shortly we finished, a group of a few hundred people came in to the Kotel singing and dancing to celebrate. So I joined them dancing for a half an hour or so before returning to the yeshiva. Ohr Somayach isn't a terribly zionistic place, so they made little mention of Yom Yerushalayim.

I've found a volunteer activity to do Erev Shabbat, going to an apartment complex behind the yeshiva to help pack Shabbat food for about 30 needy families. I went last week, and b"h I'll be doing it again this week.

Last week, one of the other volunteers there was asking me about where I am in my PhD program, and as I explained that when I return to Chicago, I have to do my thesis proposal, then do another couple years of research before I do my dissertation. As I explained, I let out a sigh, thinking of what awaits me when I return. I'm feel much happier here than I was in the PhD program.

The rabbis from Ohr Somayach who were in Chicago for a memorial day event there have now returned to the yeshiva, and I've been promoted to a more advanced morning Gemara shiur (Rabbi Shachar's shiur). The afternoon bekiut shiur has also gotten more manageable with the return of Rabbi Rockmill. We're learning Masechet Chagiga, and right now we're in perek Ein Dorshin (which includes all kinds of aggadot about creation and ma'aseh merkavah). Rabbi Rockmill is quite a character. He has already nicknamed me HAL, since he knows I work with artificial intelligence. There's a Sephardic rabbi here, Rabbi Peretz who does a Sephardic halacha shiur right before lunch which gets about 10 guys in attendance.

Permalink | israel.
7th June 2008

Running into people randomly

I was on my way to Kiryat Moshe (near the central bus station) for Shabbat, I had taken a city bus to the station, and needed to walk from there to where I was staying, presumably a few blocks away. But I didn't know exactly where I was going since my map doesn't have all of the street names on it. So I was walking toward Kiryat Moshe, looking for an English speaker who might know the area to ask directions. I spotted a soldier and decided to ask him directions. Lo and behold, it was Guy Berger who I haven't seen in like 5 years. He didn't know the neighborhood, but he gave me his map (which has a lot more street names), and his phone number.

Since arriving, I have also randomly run into:

  • Arik Bchiri at the Kotel last Shabbat. (As it happens I also randomly ran into him when I went to Los Angeles for Sukkot last fall. This guy is everywhere.)
  • Nachman at Meron on Lag LaOmer
Permalink | israel.
10th June 2008

Chutznik Yom Tov: The Wierdest Halacha Ever

I've never been a big fan of Israelis in the US who have been there for years and yet only keep one day. I've always kinda assumed that they were pushing the limits of halachic credibility trying to find a leniency to only keep one day of Yom Tov. Here I am now in Israel, and since I'm only here for a few months, Rabbi Raccah told me to keep two days of Shavuot. As has been my habit, I asked to be set up for as many meals out of the Yeshiva as I could, and so me and so I got set up with a chutznik family (along with a few other bachurim from the yeshiva) for second day lunch. This family, as it turns out has been here for 8 years, never really intending to stay this long. They're making plans now to move somewhere in the US to take a kiruv type job, but since they've always intended to leave soon, they've never kept one day Yom Tov. I asked them whether the fact that they've been here 8 years now should factor into the equation. They've asked, and apparently it does not. So I have to revise my perspective on how this works, because apparently there are some legitimate poskim that have some pretty wierd sounding shitas on the issue.

I think this is now the wierdest halacha I've ever seen. Even wierder than the date line issues in Japan (which I've experienced myself).

People keep telling me "Rav Ovadia says that if you'd marry an Israeli girl and stay here, then you can keep one day of Yom Tov." I've examined the issue, and that's only part of the equation. The crux of the issue is what happens if you have an open ended stay. R' Ovadia presents this case specifically geared to young yeshvia bachurim doing their first year away from their parents. It's a test of independance -- is the bachur independant of his parents (in which case he keeps one day) or still heavely dependant on family for decision making (in which case he keeps two). The litmus test is whether he could concievably marry an Israeli girl and stay in Israel. But for everyone else, you have to rely on other factors, like whether you have a return ticket booked, and the length of the intended stay.

Sometimes, on sepharadi halachic issues, people look at me like I have 3 eyes. On Shavuot morning (the 1st day), most of the yeshiva left at 4am to go to the Kotel and daven netz. We went in through Sha'ar Sh'chem (the Damacus Gate), which leads directly through the muslim quarter. Usually, Jews avoid the muslim quarter, but with thousands of Jews pouring through the gate, the Israeli police were heavily patroling the route to the Kotel to avoid problems. Apparently there are many people who don't know that it's also generally safe to leave through Sha'ar Sh'chem after Kabbalat Shabbat, because as we reached the gate there were a large group of people dancing very energetically at the prospect of going through the gate, and singing "Se'u sh'arim rasheichem". As I commented to a friend that the basic halacha is that it's assur to dance on Shabbat and Yom Tov (see Orach Chaim 339:3), he looked at me like "what are you talking about." He did later concede that I was probably right.

I wish I could speak to the experience of saying Musaf ("Umipnei chataeinu galinu me'artzeinu -- Because of our sins, we have been exiled from our land") while davening at the Kotel, but it is hard to have that kind of awareness when you've been up all night.

I will say that the Kotel was packed, all the way back to the entrances, and that after seeing that, and the parade of people into the kotel, I can only imagine the same kind of crowd a thousand times larger when the Beit HaMikdash stood and we were all chayav to bring the korban chagiga and the olat re'iah.

May we be blessed to perform the mitzvah of the pilgramage to the Beit HaMikdash speedily in our days. Amen.

Permalink | israel.
19th June 2008


I've been told by a number of my Rabbanim that Jerusalem would be a great place to date people who might actually be on target for me, and that there would be a large pool of people for me to date. Well, my first month here has not been evidence of that. Despite calling 5 or 6 different shadchanim, I've only gone on one date in the month I've been here.

The shadchanim I've called and gotten through to either claim not to be shadchanim, or they sound really hard pressed to suggest someone who might match me -- like they've got one person who might possibly match, but they feel it's unlikely. The "real" shadchanim whose numbers I have don't pick up the phone. Or they're otherwise unavailable when I call.

The upshot is that I've been to night seder far too often. I don't want to come back to the US empty handed, having only gone on two or three dates while I'm here. That would just be too disappointing.

What do I have to do to get a date around here?

(June 26: I originally composed this as an email to Rabbi Azose, but then I decided to use it as a tefilla. It seems to have helped. No prayer works better than the one you really feel, that expresses your true frustrations.)

Permalink | israel.
25th June 2008

Parshat Shelach

The following is a drasha that occured to me over shabbat during kriat hatorah. I've been entirely too busy to blog it until now:

In Parshat Shelach, Hashem permits Moshe to send spies to Eretz Yisrael to spy it out. Moshe selects 12 spies, one from each tribe, including his foremost talmid, Yehoshua bin Nun. Before this spy mission, Yehoshua's name was Hoshea, but Moshe Rabbeinu prayed for him that he not fall victim to the conspiracy of the 10 spies who would speak badly about the land. This implies that Moshe Rabbenu knew (or at least expected) that the 10 spies would speak badly about the land. If this is so, why did Moshe choose these spies? And why would he pray for only one?

I saw in the Abarbanel an understanding of this situation which changes the question. The Abarbanel suggests (and then rejects) the following interpretation:

The Jews in the desert tested Hashem's hashgacha repeatedly, Marah, at Midbar Sin, at Masah u'Meribah. The most recent and most pointed test was at Kivrot-Hata'avah (in Parshat Beha'alotecha), after leaving Sinai. It is the Abarbanel's suggestion that because of this test, the Jews were already not on the level to inherit the land, and this was simply intended as a way for them to fall and prove that fact. The Abarbanel does not like this explanation, since he finds it inconcievable that Hashem would give them a test they could not overcome, and since really did want the Jews to inherit the land, and since the generation that left Egypt was the forth generation, which would inherit the land, as promised by Hashem to Avraham in Parshat Lech L'cha (Bereshit 15:16).

Nevertheless, it appears to me that this explanation can be saved with slight modification. It is not necessary to assume that Hashem gave them a test they could not pass, rather we can say he gave them a test to determine their merit and repair the lacking they demonstrated at Kivrot-Hata'avah. In this vein, the Gemara in Sotah (14b) explains that the names of the spies allude to the ways in which they denigrated the land. Here too, we can say not that they would inevitably do so, but that this was their test in life and it was reflected in their names. Thus Moshe Rabbeinu knew that these men were to be tested in this way, and they were the men to send. To address the Abarvanel's last problem with this peshat, we can see Rashi in Parshat Lech Lecha, who is forced to interpret the promise of 4 generations in accordance with what actually happened when the Jews failed to enter the land immediately. These 4 generations are Yehuda, Peretz ben Yehuda, Chetzron ben Peretz, and Kalev ben Chetzron (who finally entered the land).

A new question on Parshat Shelach, for which I do not yet have an answer: on the sixth day of creation, Hashem described the world as טוב מאד (very good, Bereshit 1:31). In Parshat Shelach, Calev and Yehoshua describe the Eretz Yisrael, saying טובה הארץ מאד מאד (Bemidbar 14:7). What madrega does the phrase טוב מאד imply in Bereshit, and what additional madrega is implied by the second מאד in Bemidbar?

Permalink | torah.
26th June 2008

The park that makes you want to get married

It's been a few weeks since I posted an update, and I've hardly had the time or presence of mind to write an update since then. There hasn't really been an interesting story line to my visit beyond learning over the past couple weeks. I helped participate in a siyum mishnayot in honor of a shloshim. (I learned Mishnayot Yoma). I don't know if that counts as a siyum of my own, but if it doesn't then I'm on track to make ב״ה a siyum on Chagiga before the end of the summer.

I've been going to R' Yaakov Hillel's shiur on Tefillah on Monday nights, at his yeshiva in Meah She'arim. They're recording the shiur with the intention of eventually transcribing it into a book. This is how Ascending the Path on Mesilat Yesharim was written, and I've actually been thinking that it would be nice to pull together the resources somehow to do this with Rabbi Raccah's shiurim.

To get to the shiur, we walk across Arzei HaBira, along Rechov Yoel, through the Bukkhairian shuk, then down Meah She'arim. David Luna has described Arzei HaBira as "the park that makes you want to get married" when he sees all of the young couples with little kids playing there in the evenings. (Next time I upload photos, there will be some photos of this park at its peak.) Along Rechov Yoel, there's a Sephardic minyan factory that I daven at a few mornings a week, and also on the off chance that I miss mincha at the yeshiva for some reason. I've also gone there a few times to buy seforim from what is literally a hole in the wall bookseller. Seforim are really cheap here. I was able to get Mesilat Yesharim for 15 shekels (about $4.50), and the first volume of the Halacha Berura Kitzur for 35 shekels.

For those keeping score at home (Rabbi Raccah and Rabbi Azose), I've seen two volumes of Chazon Ovadia on Shabbat in stores, as well as the 9th volume of Halacha Berura, but haven't bought them. I may consider a purchase before I return depending on how full my luggage is.

Permalink | israel.
26th June 2008


In Parshat Korach, Korach, Datan and Aviram (and their families and all of their posessions) are swallowed by "the mouth of the earth". The Malbim notices a couple interesting issues with this miracle, which hint at the actual uniqueness of this miracle. When Moshe explains to Am Yisrael that the miracle that is about to happen is a sign of the truth of Moshe's leadership and of Torah, he does so by saying "But if Hashem will create a new creation (בריאה), and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them and all that is theirs, and they will descend alive to the pit -- then you shall know that these men have provoked Hashem" (Bemidbar 16:30). There most obvious peshat (reading literally) would suggest that an earthquake opened up a chasm beneath Korach and his followers and they fell in. But there are a couple of reasons why this cannot actually be the case.

The word בריאה indicates creation from nothing (יש מאין), as indicated by its original context בראשית ברא אלקים את־השמים ואת־הארץ (At first, God created Heaven and Earth, Bereshit 1:1). After God created heaven and earth from nothingness, every other act of creation was to create something from something else. As a side point, the mouth of the earth definitely wasn't created at anew at the time of Korach, because Avot 5:6 says it was created bein hashmashot on the 6th day of creation. But clearly if it's a completely new creation, it cannot be an earthquake -- somehting had to be added to existance, not just reconfigured a little.

Secondly, the purpose of the miracle was to reinforce that Hashem had really chosen Moshe, and that Moshe's transmission of Torah was true (he wasn't just making things up). We see that when Moshe Rabbenu announce the death of the firstborn to the Egyptians, he told them that it would happen כחצות הלילה (at around midnight, Shemot 11:4). According to Rashi, the plauge happened at exactly midnight, but Moshe was vague about the time, so that the Egyptians inaccuracte timepieces wouldn't lead them to believe the plague wasn't at exactly midnight and therefore the plague wasn't from Hashem. The lengths people will go to to disbelieve Hashem. So clearly the plauge couldn't even resemble something natural.

Lastly, we have the location of the people who were eaten. Korach was standing at the enterance to the ohel moed, with the 250 people offering incense. His tent was in the camp of the Leviim. Datan and Aviram were in the tribe of Reuven, so their tents were located there. They were standing at the enterances to their tents with their entire families. (The Malbim says that each of these 3 locations were 2000 amot apart.) But ותפתה הארץ את־פיה (the earth opened up its mouth (singluar), Bemidbar 16:32) and swallowed Korach, Datan, Aviram their families, and posessions, and nothing else (nothing in between). With an earthquake, there could not have been a single opening that hit all 3 locations and left everything in between untouched.

The Malbim describes the miracle that occured as follows: the Earth opened its mouth underneath Korach's tent and devoured it. The mouth looked like the mouth of an animal. It moves, and it opens and closes. After devouring Korach's tent, the mouth closed and stretched out 2000 amot to Korach himself, opened one end, and devoured him. Then it closed again, and streched out 2000 amot (I supposed in the opposite direction) to the tents of Datan and Aviram, opened one end, and devoured them. And any posession of Korach, Datan, and Aviram that someone else was borrowing was magnetically attracted to the mouth.

As an aside, Rabbi Itzinger mentioned to me another reason for כחצות הלילה (at around midnight, Shemot 11:4). Each Egyptian who died in the plague died at exactly midnight, but midnight hits different locations in Egypt at slightly different times. So not all of the firstborns died at once, rather they died in a wave across Egypt, following the progression of midnight across Egypt.

The secret word of the week is הבלה דאגמא (Bava Metzia 36b).

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