Letters Nov. II



Reader: Dear Rabbi, Just wanted to thank you for your response. It was brought to my attention by my teacher. I know the nations don’t posses knowledge of the Torah, however, I must ask: 

If we don’t study how are we to find the wisdom to rid injustice, be kind, merciful and come to correct ideas about G’d? I belief that Solomon’s dedication of the Temple was clear in saying, 1 Kings 8:41-43, “…those who are not of thy people Israel”, …. “are to also fear and know Hashem just like Israel does”. I don’t find the idea of convert there. Yes, one may choose to, but if all humanity converts just to study Torah then we miss the role that Israel plays in our life journey to acknowledge God. 

I understand your point of “blurring the lines”. I think, however, that it involves the Gentiles taking up the traditions and live life like Israel lives their life. That would “blur the lines”. The idea of studying Torah, which Jeremiah clearly says we will eventually come to ask about, would not blur the lines of culture. We are to learn how to live a moral life, not change our culture to be just like Israel’s culture. We lack “mesora”, therefore, we can’t claim to know what Israel knows first hand. Studying the Torah helps us understand and become more receptive of Israel because it teaches us why Israel is G-d’s chosen people; G-d’s only First Born Son and Servant. 

This is my reason for questioning the reasoning behind the statement of Gentiles should not study Torah. I thank you for considering my question and I thank you for taking the time to respond to it.


Humbly, Hiram


Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Hiram, you quoted accurately: “Those who are not of thy people Israel are to also fear and know Hashem just like Israel does”. I had mentioned last week that a wise Rabbi taught that in areas of perfection as the case you cite, a Gentile must study Torah, just as a Jew. This includes all areas of morality and knowledge of God.






Reader: Hello, and I have a comment Rabbi. In one of your answers to a questioner, who penned this to you:

“Moreover, many of the places supposedly founded by Noach’s children were in existence long before!!! How can we get around this problem? I have seen discussions of it on blogs, and the internet. But none have satisfied me. I looked at one of the blogs you have quoted in the past, but the rabbi there had a very strange approach that is hard to accept. What is the answer to this dilemma? Should I deny my mind? Thank you, Jonathan

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: You should ask yourself why you accept an account of 30,000-year-old civilizations, over accounts of the Torah. Why do you deem those more credible? What is your basis of reasoning?”


He was referring to a 4000 yr old dating account for the flood, just as the soul of man was created 5767 yr ago by literal accounting. Yet I have listened to discussion by religious men, such as Dr Gerald Schroeder, and Harold Gans, the mathematician, who have used dating systems referencing Nachmanides, for example- who’s dating system brought the age of the universe to something like 12-13 billion yrs old, and of course, the discussions of what is a ‘yom’ a day, and how to explain that difference in dating differences. I thought your answer was rather incomplete, and lacking in that regard.


Good Shabbos, Mark Goldberg


Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: This was a follow up of an ongoing dialogue. I was attempting to address one issue at this point, namely, his acceptance of secular accounts of 30,000-year-old civilizations, while not accepting Torah accounts. I meant to bring this inconsistency to the fore. I felt brevity would focus on that issue.

But the time discrepancy is addressed in the cover article of this week’s issue.

Good to hear from you Mark.





Mixed Up

Reader: Dear Rabbi Ben Chaim, I was in contact with you previously on issues of emunah, I have a question for you. Regarding the Rabbinical claim for the giving of the Oral Law at Sinai, what if this is contradicted by the Prophets? For example, Ezek. 44:


17. “ ‘When they enter the gates of the inner court, they are to wear linen clothes; they must not wear any woolen garment while ministering at the gates of the inner court or inside the temple. 18. They are to wear linen turbans on their heads and linen undergarments around their waists. They must not wear anything that makes them perspire. 19. When they go out into the outer court where the people are, they are to take off the clothes they have been ministering in and are to leave them in the sacred rooms, and put on other clothes, so that they do not consecrate the people by means of their garments’.”

However, the Rabbis claim that the Cohen Gadol – the High Priest – wore Shatnez i.e., wool mixed with linen. This is even how some Chumashim “translate” the laws, e.g. the Stone Edition. What do you think?

Regards, Eddie



Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Any one – prophet or otherwise – who institutes a permanent change in Oral or Written Torah has violated God’s words. This case however is in line with God’s words: Shatnez is not prohibited in the priest’s garments. Nor is it prohibited in Tzitzis. And this is not a violation, but part of the very laws of Shatnez.

For those who are unaware, wearing garments comprising both wool and linen is the Torah prohibition called "Shatnez".  

I believe the answer to your question is the same as to why fringes - Tzitzis - may include both wool and linen without violating Shatnez. (Rambam, Hilchos Tzitzis; 3:6)  

Our refrain from mixing wool and linen is how we remind ourselves of two elements, which we may not mix, that is, the emotions and the intellect. I heard from a Rabbi quoting Ibn Ezra who said that Shatnez recalls to mind those things, which are "planted in the heart" and should not be mixed. Separating these two parts of our makeup – our intellect and our emotions – we approach God. In other words, we guide our emotions - they do not guide us.  

But, Shatnez is required only during those times and activities when we are not engaged in the commands of God which are inherently perfect, and perfecting. If however, priests find themselves servicing God in the Temple, there is no danger of the emotions and intellect running awry. This being the case, garments, and curtains in the Temple are not subject to this law. While in the Temple, our thoughts are engaged with God, and we have the "check system" already functioning. Shatnez is then redundant. Similarly, when donning the Tallis or Tzitzis, we have no concern for the mixture of wool and linen. We are involved in God's commands, and are thereby removed from the corrupting forces of the instinctual - the emotions. Here too, Shatnez would be unnecessary.

Having brought up the topic, at this point, I will reprint an article on Shatnez.






This past week, my close friend Adam mentioned that he and his mother Jean were discussing the Torah law concerning Shatnez. Jean had asked what the idea is behind this law. This is an important question, as the Rabbis state, “Our own instincts and the idolaters target Shatnez with accusations against Judaism.” As if to say, “This law seems so bizarre. What can possibly be corrupt about wearing these two materials? Judaism is unfounded.” Ramban states that the masses do not understand Shatnez, although they agree that crossbreeding has a purpose. But Ramban adds that although a “statute” (commonly misunderstood as bereft of reason), “every word of God’s is tried”. (Proverbs, 30:5) This means that all of God’s commands contain reasons, including “chukim” or statutes.  


“Shatnez” refers to the Torah law prohibiting the wearing of wool and linen together. There are many parameters: prohibitions relating to a single garment woven of both wool and linen; wearing wool garments over linen garments and vice versa; what material finishing processes qualify to violate this law; and many other issues. For brevity’s sake, we will simply refer to “Shatnez” as all prohibited forms, without going into the Halachik distinctions.


We must note, that this law is not its own category. In the Torah, we find Shatnez mentioned twice, together with two other prohibitions: crossbreeding animals, and crossbreeding plants. Let us review the Torah’s words on these three laws.


Lev. 19:19: “My statutes you shall guard; your animals you shall not crossbreed mixed species; your field you shall not plant intermixed species; and a mixed garment Shatnez, do not wear.”


Deut. 22:9-11: “You shall not plant your vineyard with a mixture, lest the growth of the seed which you plant and the produce of the vineyard become forbidden. You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. You shall not wear Shatnez, wool and linen together.”


We learn from their repetition that these three laws are not joined coincidentally, and certainly from the Torah’s joining all three laws in a single verse: they share a common thread. (We have a tradition from the Rabbis that individual verses contain related ideas. All concepts found in a single, Torah verses are joined somehow, thereby, explaining why they are found together in one verse.) It is not hard to suggest how these three laws are related: in all three cases, one is prohibited from intermingling various species. However, I understand that I cannot crossbreed living things, as this is where reproduction of new species may occur. But regarding Shatnez, this case is the mixing of lifeless substances: the wool and linen are no longer attached to their life source. Why then must I not mix that which cannot regenerate new, crossbred species? Furthermore, where do we see that animal and vegetable can be interbred, even while living? (We will address Shatnez shortly)



Crossbreeding: Two Categories

From this general observation, we arrive at our first insight: the prohibition to crossbreed can take place in but two areas: animal and vegetable. This is because there are no other existences, which “reproduce”. Ramban also points to this categorization. Ramban cites many reasons, which justify this prohibition. For one, crossbreeding destroys the pure species, creating a new one, which is Divinely unintended. Additionally, the new species’ offspring cannot beget others. This is seen in the case of a mule; a species that is the result of crossbreeding, and cannot reproduce with other mules. This is also the case with vegetation. I suggest that perhaps this result of infertility is actually part of God’s design of nature: He designed reproductive species in a way, that when crossbred, the offspring cannot reproduce, thereby underlining man’s error. Had crossbred species’ offspring been fertile, nothing in nature would indicate a flaw in crossbreeding. However, as the offspring cannot reproduce, this infertility points back to the original sin. Thus, God’s system is not simply perfect in its normal function, but when abused, nature is designed to deliver a message to man regarding his precise abuse. Infertility of crossbred species teaches man that the Designer of nature does not wish crossbreeding: the act of intermingling in the fertilization process is signaled as an error, in the area of infertile offspring. I find this profound.


Ramban states that one who crossbreeds also violates God’s will that only certain species exists. God said in Genesis that each species should bring forth “liminayhu”, “according to their own kind”. This is a grave corruption, as man assumes he knows better than God. We understand the gravity Ramban places on violators.


Ramban also quotes Rabbis Simon and Chanina, who suggest a reason for the term “My statutes you shall guard”, as referring to the very natural laws which govern life. These Rabbis state that “Chukos”, “laws”, refer to natural law. These laws are the actual causes, which continue to govern all species in their reproduction of similar offspring. The maple tree, for example, does not reproduce maple trees, of its own. There is a law guiding this phenomenon, non-existent in the substance of ‘maple tree’. A law is of the metaphysical realm, which governs the latter. Similarly, what keeps rocks “solid” substances are God’s, created laws. We learned in chemistry that the very same molecules found in liquids, might be found in solids: lava is a perfect example. However, the Master of the universe has decided when a molecule should form part of each. His laws determine this. We tend to view the physical world as the be all and end all of creation. But as we learn in the first two chapters of Genesis, God describes two aspects of Creation. The first act refers to the substance, while the second “creation” refers to the laws governing those creations. Crossbreeding, then, violates and corrupts these very natural laws. Therefore, there is sound reasoning why God includes in the laws of crossbreeding the introductory, and rarely used phrase, “My statutes you shall guard.” For one who crossbreeds not only corrupts the physical species, but also creates new species, thereby, convoluting the laws of nature. (An example is the infertility of mules.) How does Shatnez fit into this? Shatnez doesn’t lend itself to interbreeding. Why is it prohibited?



What is “Shatnez”?

Quoting Rashi, and disagreeing with him, Ramban identifies three words from which the conjunctive term “SHaTNeZ” is derived. Spelled in Hebrew, Shatnez is “SH”, “T”, and “NZ”. “SH” refers to the word “Shua” – combed, “T” refers to the word “Tavui” - spun, and “NZ” refers to “NuZ” - twisted. Therefore, Shatnez refers to that which is combed, spun and twisted, meaning threads in a completed form. Ramban critiques Rashi, for according to him, only when all three processes are found, is there a prohibition. However, the Rabbis taught that if one does not complete all three processes, yet, the prohibition remains, as in a case where one takes two ropes, each one consisting exclusively of one material, tying them together. Ramban concludes: the three processes are “Scripturally” prohibited, but even in the case where all three are not found, a “Rabbinic” prohibition still exists.


Ramban offers the reasoning that Shatnez guards us from the other two prohibitions. It is a “fence” of sorts. By complying with the laws of Shatnez, we will be safeguarded. As we accustom ourselves to guard against mingling in clothing, and we will thereby be more sensitive to the mingling of species. Ramban then quotes Maimonides’ reasoning as being sourced in idolatry. I will quote Maimonides here (“Guide to the Perplexed”, Book III, Chap. 37):


“We have explained in our large work that it is prohibited to round the corners of the head, and to mar the corners of the beard, because it was the custom of idolatrous priests. For the same reason, the wearing of garments made of linen and wool is prohibited: the heathen priests adorned themselves with garments containing vegetable and animal material, whilst they held in their hand a seal made of a mineral. This you find written in their books.”


We may ask why those idolaters developed the practice of mixing animal and vegetable, while also seizing minerals. Perhaps they too recognized these categories, including animal and vegetable, substances we cannot live without, and sought in their foolishness to manipulate them, so as to better procure them. Although violating God’s will, idolatry has rhyme and reason, as it is caused by the human psyche, which follows precise behavioral patterns. However, these behavioral patterns are deviant ones.



Shatnez: Recalling Man’s Nature

On the subject of the psyche, a Rabbi once taught a remarkable idea on Shatnez, based on the words of Ibn Ezra. Ibn Ezra taught that Shatnez is a “remembrance” law, as are other laws, such as the Sabbath, which is a “remembrance of the Egyptian Exodus.” (Our freedom for Sabbath rest is due to God’s redemption of the Jews.) Ibn Ezra states that Shatnez is a remembrance to those statutes “planted in the heart”. This Rabbi asked, “What is planted in the heart, for which, we must have a remembrance via Shatnez? What is similar between Shatnez, and those things ‘planted in the heart’?”  He explained; “What are planted in man’s heart are the intellect, and the emotions”. “Heart” refers to both. We are commanded to “Love thy God with ‘all’ of your heart.” This refers to the command that man must devote himself to God with all his heart, or “both” parts, i.e., the intellect and the emotions. I understand that the heart refers to both faculties, but where does Shatnez come in? The Rabbi said that Shatnez is a law prohibiting the mixture of two, diverse species, hinting to our need to prevent the mixture of our intellect and our emotions. This means to say, that man must be guided by intelligence, undiluted by his emotional desires. His choices in life must stem from rational thinking, not emotional impulses. Shatnez, then, is a command, which reminds man to keep his intellect free from his emotions. This is what Ibn Ezra hinted to by his own words, “and here I will hint to you a fundamental” which is “planted in the heart.”


Ibn Ezra’s words about those things “planted in the heart” are found in his commentary on Abraham’s perfections, that he adhered to God’s “guards, commands, statutes and Torah.” In that commentary (Gen. 26:5) Ibn Ezra says “statutes” refers to Shatnez. Now, as Abraham had no Torah as we do, his act of keeping God’s “statutes”, means that he possessed this perfection of guiding his life by intelligence, and not emotions, in contrast to the idolaters. In his other commentary, (Lev. 19:19) Ibn Ezra says an enigmatic statement, “Know; that which is complete, is very complete, therefore it is said regarding Abraham, ‘and he guards My guards, My commands, My statutes and My Torah’.” Rabbi Reuven Mann expounded, “That which is very ‘complete’ is one who is completely in line with his intelligence. He does not dilute his intelligence with his emotions.” We now understand the teaching of Ibn Ezra.




Perhaps this is why Ibn Ezra made use of a subtle teaching, a “hint”, as opposed to spelling out his idea: he wished to convey that Shatnez is essentially a “hinting” type of command. Thus, Ibn Ezra used the teaching mode of “hinting”, which embellishes on the nature of Shatnez: it hints to something.


We may ask why must God give laws of such a nature, which only “hint” to an idea. Many others, like Mezuzah, are clearly understood, so their practice is clearly stated: we must contemplate God’s existence and His oneness. Where is the need in the Torah system for laws, which “hint”?


I suggest as follows: a “hint” implies that the matter hinted to, is obscure. Most individuals do not readily see it. Otherwise, it can be taught outright, like Mezuzah. Shatnez hints to that which is obscure: man’s nature. Freud once lectured on psychology, opening his discourse by admitting that his “subject”, the human psyche, may not be laid out as a cadaver, concretely. He anticipated and sought to defend his attendees’ critique on his “un-evidenced” theories. The study of psychology has this one, great hurdle: it is not as “empirical” as is biology, for example. We may visually examine the human body, but the human psyche has no visuals – it is greatly abstract. This is the case with regards to Shatnez: it refers to man’s “unseen” nature, and therefore must be alluded to, by ways of hints. The nature of man is not a matter readily ‘seen’, so Shatnez, the laws concerning it, allude to its obscurity by their very “hinting” nature.



The Exception

Why are Tzitzis and the Priest’s garments not governed by the law of Shatnez? In these two areas, one may combine wool and linen. My theory is that since one is involved in God’s will when fulfilling these two commands, Shatnez is superfluous. His very act of wearing Tzitzis or priestly garb is itself a manner of following his intellect, i.e., God’s will. Shatnez in these cases would serve no purpose.


We understand according to Ramban, Maimonides and Ibn Ezra that crossbreeding has many flaws. We also understand that crossbreeding may only apply in the two categories of existences, which are living, i.e., animal and vegetable. I suggest that these two commands not to crossbreed animals or plants function on one level: addressing the intermingling within a single category, either animal with animal, or vegetable with vegetable. But Shatnez is a case where one may not mix these very, basic categories of animal with vegetable. Perhaps this supports the Rabbi I mentioned earlier: Shatnez’s basic categories parallel two other basic categories which are greatly distant: intellect and emotion.