Saturday, 4 March 2017

Parshat Zachor: Choice in Destruction

Originally published 3/18/11, 9:58 am.
This article originally appeared in Nishma Update, March 1992 and is also available on the Nishma website.

Choice in Destruction

In Sefer HaMitzvot, Mitzva Asseh 187Rambam, when describing the command to destroy the Seven Nations that inhabited Canaan, uses the verb le'harog, to kill. The Chinuch, Mitzva 425, is similar. Yet both authors in describing the mitzva to destroy Amalek apply a different language. The command is to destroy the zerah, the progeny of Amalek and, what seems to be even of greater significance, to eradicate any memory of Amalek from this world. In Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 5:5, in codifying this law, Maimonides only mentions this latter part although in the Sefer HaMitzvot he mentions the first. What significance is there to this change in language? What is the actual essence of the mitzva

To answer these questions, at least according to the view of Rambam, it is necessary to look at a most controversial law that Maimonides codifies in Hilchot Melachim 6:1-4. According to Rambam, the Jewish nation's obligation to make peace before going to war applies even to battles with the Seven Nations and Amalek. How does this reconcile with the mitzvot regarding the destruction of these nations? The language of the Kesef Mishna is most revealing. While Ra'avad and others state that this agreement of peace must include the observance of the Seven Noachide Laws on the part of these nations, the Kesef Mishna presents a most interesting reason why - " for if they accept the Seven Noachide Laws they leave the category of the Seven Nations and Amalek and they are like bnei Noach ha'kesharim, righteous non-Jews". In terms of the Seven Nations, the mitzva is now fully understandable. The command is to kill the members of these nations, as Rambam states in Sefer HaMitzvot, they are the root of idolatry. Once someone accepts, however, the Noachide Code, they are no longer a member of these nations that are the root of idolatry and therefore there is no command to kill this individual ( in fact this would be prohibited just as it is prohibited to kill any non-Jew ). How, though, does one understand the mitzva regarding Amalek? 

On the surface the answer seems to be simple - the command regarding Amalek should be similar. The language in the Mishneh Torah and Sefer HaMitzvot however must lead to a different conclusion. Regarding the Seven Nations, the command is to kill them. If, however, the Seven Nations do not exist, because of something such as acceptance of the Noachide Code, then this mitzva cannot be performed. Encouraging the members of the Seven Nations to accept the Noachide Code may be praiseworthy and a part of the command to first reach out for peace, but it is not part of this mitzva - the language is clear. Regarding Amalek, however, the command is to destroy its memory, its progeny, its essence - its name. It would seem that any transformation of someone out of the category of Amalek would fulfil this mitzva of destroying this entity. I would argue, though, that the mitzva can only be fulfilled if the member of Amalek converts to become a Jew. While acceptance of the Noachide Code takes someone out of the category of Amalek and, as such, there is no command to destroy this individual, this acceptance would not utterly destroy the Amalek concept from this world. A subsequent rejection of the Seven Noachide Mitzvot, it would seem, could lead to this individual being re-classified as Amalek. Acceptance of the Noachide Code would simply, as in the case of the Seven Nations, mean there is no command to destroy this individual while he is in this state of a kosher Ben Noach. Amalek, however, is not fully destroyed. Becoming a Jew and receiving that classification, however, is irrevocable. As Maimonides writes in Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Issurei Bi'ah 13:17, even if a convert returns to idolatry, this person is still classified as a Jew. Conversion would destroy the Amalek name and as such would seem to be a method to fulfil this mitzva

The irony in this approach to the command is that attempting to do the mitzva in this way, through gerut, would seem to be a full rectification of the original mistake that led to the creation of Amalek. In T.B. Tractate Sanhedrin 99b, we are told that the creation of Amalek was a punishment in that our Avot, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaacov, did not accept Timna, the mother of Amalek, as a ger. Is it not a Divine paradox in that we may fulfil a mitzva through the conversion of her children? 

The major problem with this approach, however, is the Mechilta, Shemot 17:16, which declares that gerim, converts, from Amalek are not to be accepted. The Mechilta actually seems to imply that even a process of conversion would be inapplicable for David killed the Amalekite convert - a member of Amalek simply cannot convert. Rambam, however, does not codify this law when he discusses those who can or cannot convert in Hilchot Issurei Bi'ah, chapter 12. Maimonides' non-acceptance of the Mechilta is further substantiated in that in Hilchot Sanhedrin 18:6 he refers to the case of the Amalekite convert as an example of the Jewish king's power of summary judgement. The major issue with the Mechilta actually arises from T.B. Tractate Gittin 57b and Tractate Sanhedrin 96b which declares that the descendants of Haman ( who is considered an Amalekite) learned Torah in B'nei Brak. If Amalekites cannot convert, how could Haman's descendants have become Jews? While some commentators reconcile the Mechilta and the Talmud through maintaining the bar on Amalekite conversion, there are others who declare the Mechilta's position not to be universal. See Torah Shelaima, Parshat Beshalach, section 185 and, for greater detail, Sefer Ner L'Meah. It would seem that Maimonides would be classified within the latter. While converting Amalek may not be an option in fulfilling the mitzva to all, it would seem to be a feasible method according to Rambam, and one that many may find more tenable.

Is Parshat Zachor d'Oraitto? - 1

Actually this would be better phrased as:

"What Is the disposition of Parshat Zachor as per Shas and Posqim?"

Let's Start with Sources - Part 1:

See the texts in the Mishnah Brurah
SA O"Ch 685:7
Some say "Zachor" is d'oraitto.
Be'er Hagolah 10
Source: Tosafot Brachot 13
Ba'er Hetev 2 quibbles over Parshat Parah
He also quotes. Tosafot shantz that no other Q'riat Hatorah is d'oraitto other than Zachor
Quoting Magen Avraham - Also Parshat Zachor with 10 is more important than Megillat Esther...
Mishnah Brura 14
"And we learn in the Gmara that Zachor must be "amira mitoch hasefer b'libo"

Next post BEH
Positions of
Kaf Hachayyim
Aruch Hashulchan
Kitzur SA

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Re: Is Parshat Zachor d'Oraitto? - 2

See the Aruch haShulchan
Orach Chaim 685:6

And see the new edition with fn to Mishna Brura notes 4 and 5

Kaf Hachaim esp. #33
[Vol. 8 p. 156]

Citing Talmud Bavli Megillah 18a

«Therefore [as per Rabbenu Hannanel on the Talmud there] both reader and listener need to intend to fulfill the positive commandment of the Torah»

Also see Kitzur SA 140:3. Quoting SA, Rema et al.


Leining: Is it zeikher or zekher?

Originally published 4/2/08, 11:06 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.

I looked up ZECHER in the Even Shoshan Concordance - and in it I located 2 occurences of Zecher - and BOTH were proper names!

Zecher is clearly wrong. Rav Mordechai Breuer OBM has confirmed this with unassailable research While the Ma'seh Rav attests to this idea of Zecher Rav Haim Volozhiner protested this very attestation [albeit very politely]. In NO way were TWO readings ever suggested

But if safeik D'd'oraiito lehumra re: Zachor why not go all the way? [Reductio ad absurdum indeed- after all it is read around Purim time! So why not

  1. Read it from BOTH a Sepyhardic and Ashkenaic Torah...
  2. Read BOTH Scrolls with every permutation of pronunciation [e.g. litvisher, Hungarian, Yekkish, Sephardic Yemineite etc. etc.]?

The Vilna Gaon himself made fun of multiple pairs of Tefillin as ludicrous and came up with 32-64 possible permutations. Ironically we are beginning to perpetuate such a practice in his honor. [Incidentally, this proves there MUST be a God or else it would make no sense to practice such a minhag to honor the one who felt such permutation as unnecessary.]

One Rabbi insisted that whilst reading Ki Tetze both Zeicher and Zecher must be read TWICE, one for Shevii'i and once for Maftir! His argument? since we have changed the form [tzura] for Zachor therefore THAT becomes THE normative way to read it EVERY time we read the Torah, including Ki Tetze! No I am not kidding, I had a bar mitzva student who HAD to do it this way!

Kol Tuv / Best Regards,


Zachor: Zeicher vs. Zecher 1

Originally published 3/3/10, 9:13 pm.

Re: Repeating to read Zachor to accommodate both Zeicher and Zecher

There are those with whom I may never agree and in particular there is this one fellow with whom I often lock horns; he sent me a private email that expresses some of my own outrage on this matter...

I think it's safe to snip out these two points:

  1. The practice looks silly.
  2. The practice looks ... to be huqa utelula.

When you think about it, they are almost the same point.
Here is my similar reaction in a private email to a completely different colleague.
I still think it's a bad approach, a bad precedent and a bad example. We're making Reform & Conservative frummer with regards to the Masoretic text than we Orthodox Jews are. As we play more games with it, we thereby making it appear "less holy" and more susceptible to error.

Zeicher and Zecher on steroids. ;-)

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Zachor: Zeicher vs. Zecher 2

Posted with permission from the author.

This post speaks for itself. -RRW

«Re zeicher and zecher.

My brother-in-law, Prof. Jordan Penkower of Br Ilan University wrote an extensive article proving that the correct pronunciation is zeicher. It's way beyond my expertise although Jordan acknowledged as a leading expert in Bible studies, Jewish manuscripts etc.

I asked a member of my shul, who is also an expert in this field and who often is the ba'al korey on Parshat Zachor, if he had read the article. he said he had and that Jordan was "absolutely" correct. So I asked him (as Jordan had asked me to) whether he would read it only that way (zeicher) on Parshat Zachor. "Of course not," he replied; "what do facts have to do with minhag Yisrael?" And sure enough, he read it both ways.

Joseph Kaplan»

Zachor: Zeicher vs. Zecher 3

Zeicher vs. Zecher on Steroids

I attended a Bar Mitzvah on Parshat Ki Teitze. There, the BM boy repeated zecher-zeicher twice
• Once for sh'vii
• Once for maftir

I found this strange. The entire Rationale for the Mishnah Brurah's requirement of repeating this - is predicated upon the premise that Zachor is d'oraitto! That does not apply to Ki Teitze.

Also it would be simple to accomodate Zecher/Zeicher by doing one way during sh'vii and the other way during Maftir! Win-win! After all the Passuq was being repeated anyway.

I asked the local Rav. He claimed that once MB changed the tzurah of how to lain this passage, it gets changed across the board in the same tzurah. I found this incredulous! Would the MB ever have made that suggestion? Seems far-fetched indeed.

But we do see that Halachah or Minhag evolves even twice in several generations. First for Zachor alone and then for Ki Teitze.

Zeicher vs. Zecher on Steroids - INDEED ;-)


Zachor: Zeicher vs. Zecher 4

Originally published 3/7/10, 8:30 PM

Reb Ira Gruscott mentions that, "Of course , what he doesn't say is that prior to and even during the lifetime of R' Y.M. Kagan z't'l, it was never a minhag to repeat....even in Yeshivas Radun."

Check Marc Shapiro's post on this.
This can be spun two ways.Either
A: it's a frum shtick with  no basis either in minhag or grammar or halakha; or
B: Orthodoxy does have a halakha that is -to quote Shapiro- "dynamic" This, of course goes to the post on your blog re: how one "feels" regarding halakha


Look, we live in an ambiguous world!

Let's face the facts. Those who can tolerate ambiguity well,  will be fine, while those who cannot, will be frustrated, angry, railing, and dueling the windmills. Most of us fall somewhere in between! ;-)

Indeed I think "minhag Yisrael" is perhaps a poor choice of words.

What I think he was really saying is that Professor Penkower's academic analysis is irrelevant to the Halachah - one way or the other. Only a Poseiq can make that call, not a professor. As to how the Mishnah Brurah's ruling caught on fire - I do not know. I understand Lubavitch does this, and they are not known to be particularly deferential to the MB

Perhaps, as Hacham Sassoon might say: we believe in continuous revelation. Others might see the Hand of Divine Providence.

What bothers me about the Mishnah Brurah's method is that he presents the safeiq as even. It's not. And as Rabbi Noah G. has noted, a Halachic Safeiq is usually approxximately 50-50.
Here it's clearly not a 50-50. For example, I might say that Rabbenu Tam Tefillin might be 50-50, but Catholic Israel did away with that opinion.

R' Mordechai Breuer's article is brilliant on this matter. I have Professor Penkower's article but I have not yet had the pleasure to complete it.

As I understand Rav Halivni and Rabbis Feldblum and Price, we don't follow "science" when it comes to halachic practice, particularly in nusach. For example, This came up regarding "unetaneh toqef" and "kivnei maron" where Albeck and others suggest "kivnumerion" instead. R' Price dismissed this as academic and not halachic, and so subject to the shifting paradigms in science. For instance, is Pluto still a planet?

The story goes that in Breslau Seminary -
Proffessor Graetz read the Haftara with his emendation based upon science

And R' Z. Frankel apparently re-read the entire passage [iirc with brachot] to make the point that we don't emend Tanach on the basis of our scientific point of view - at least not during the liturgy

Anyway, we can safely say this:
  • The Masoretes deviated from the Talmud in a number of instances.
  • The Kimchi's Grammar deviated from the Tiberian grammatical system on several points.

- I believe segol is one of those areas. Anyway, as far as I know, the Kimchi's PRONOUNCED tzeire and segol the same - obviating any need for repetition. Perhaps our very hakpadah to distinguish the two vowels has led us to this safeiq, though many would claim that this is irrelevant.

'Nuff Said.

Zissen Pesach,

Zachor: Zeicher vs. Zecher 5

R David Bannett - from the Avodah List

I started learn to read the Torah some 75 years ago in Flatbush and was taught to read both ways. We did not repeat the entire pasuk but only the phrase "timcheh et zeikher Amalek". I don't remember if I was taught the order but, many years later, I decided to read the incorrect zekher first and then correct myself by saying zeikher the second time. Similarly, in the megilla, when the megilla has the incorrect bifneihem and laharog I read as written and then correct myself by repeating the phrase only: v'ish.... lifneihem and k'hashmid.... v'laharog. If the megilla is correct I read only once.

Anyone slightly interested in the subject should read R'Mordekhai Breuer's article. Those very interested should go directly to R' Prof Penkower's article. He gives the entire history, about 45 pages, including statistics on manuscripts from the time of ben Asher as well as customs of reading, etc.
The double reading evidently started slightly before the Hafetz Hayyim made it popular. Penkower cites a ba'al Kriah who was instructed by R' Sh'neur Zalman mi'Lublin to read twice. This R' Sh"Z died in 1902. The Mishna B'rura was printed in 1906.

I was delighted to read that R' Penkower read twice despite his indisputable proofs that zeikher is correct. A few years ago I gave a Friday night talk proving that there is absolutely no justification for double reading. On the following morning I read parashat zakhor and read zekher followed by zeikher. I too do as I was taught and do not allow myself to be confused with facts. I am overjoyed to find that I follow the derekh of the expert.

It should be pointed out that no eidah other than the Ashkenazi ever questioned the correct reading. AFAIK, Yekkes are the only Ashkenazi unaffected by the double-reading syndrome.

As to developments in Israel: One of my grandchildren told me his rosh yeshiva told him to read only once (based on Breuer). On the other hand I davenned this year at a yeshiva where in addition to reading in Abazit, Ashkenoz, Moroccan, and Yemenite they also had Parsi and what might have been Iraqi.

I have also heard a ba'al k'riah reading in mivta Ashkenazi repeat Machlas and Mochlas, and yahalom and yohalom. He told me that he was told to do so by Harav Nebenzahl. At this rate, it won't be long before we'll be hearing hundreds of p'sukim read twice.


Haftarat Zachor - Onomatopeia

Notice the Onomatopeia "MEH" as the prophet Sh'muel rebukes the King Sha'ul

שמואל א פרק טו

יד וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל, וּמֶה קוֹל-הַצֹּאן הַזֶּה בְּאָזְנָי, וְקוֹל הַבָּקָר, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי שֹׁמֵעַ. 
Kol Tuv,

Parsha: Tetzaveh, "Sh'qalim and Zachor"

When do we read both Parshat Sh'qalim and Parshat Zachor on the very same Shabbat?

When Tetzaveh is Zachor - the most common case - we read Sh'qalim at Mincha time.


Tetzaveh: One Action; Opposite Meanings

From the archives of Nishma's Online Library at, we have chosen an article that relates to the week's parsha, both to direct you to this dvar Torah but also for the purposes of initiating some discussion.

This week's parsha is Tetzaveh and the topic is the nazir and the kohain. While there is similarity in many of the laws that apply to these two individuals, there are also differences. One, for example, lets his/hair grow, the other has limitations on letting the hair grow -- the term, though, kadosh still applies to both. It would seem that actions may have multiple meanings and that similar meanings may even result from divergent and opposite actions.

 We invite you to further considerate this idea by reading an article on this topic at