OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.

Written and Submitted by Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple.




Question.  The Mishnah has a very negative attitude towards the “cheresh”, the deaf person. Does this apply in modern times when such good hearing aids are available?

Answer.  The “cheresh” spoken about in rabbinic literature is a deaf-mute who is considered unable to accept legal responsibility.

The rules about the “cheresh” did not apply, even in those days, to a person who was either deaf or dumb but not both (Ter. 1:2). In addition, the Talmud recognises that there are degrees of incapacity and that the “cheresh” is not on the same level of incompetence as is an imbecile (Shab. 153a).
Old Synagogue
Over the centuries there have been tremendous advances in “artificially” acquired hearing and speech and it is highly doubtful whether a “cheresh” in the original sense still exists. Modern halachic authorities hold that someone who can speak, however unclearly, is legally competent (e.g. Rav Moshe Feinstein, Ig’rot Moshe, Even HaEzer 3:33).

No-one would deny even a profoundly deaf person the opportunity to participate in religious life, and the introduction of the loop system in many synagogues enables many people to hear the service. For more detailed halachic material on the subject of the “cheresh”, see Tradition 16:5, Fall, 1977.


Question.  What makes a wine kosher?

Answer.  Kosher wines need rabbinic supervision. Originally there was a problem of “yayin nesech”, wine consecrated for heathen worship. Not only was a Jew not permitted to use such wine, but could not even derive any benefit from it.

At a later stage there came the further prohibition of “s’tam yeynam”, wine made or handled by gentiles. Wine drinking was part of social gatherings and there was a fear of mixed marriage. Hence wine had to be manufactured by Jews, or at least the crucial stages had to be performed by Jews and kosher wine had to be served by Jews.

However kosher wine used at Jewish functions is often “yayin m’vushal”, “boiled (pasteurised) wine” and does not need to be served by Jewish staff. The basis of this rule is that boiled wine was apparently not used by heathens in idolatrous worship.


Countless generations have found it amusing. Some are completely scandalised. The halachah tells us that on Purim one should imbibe “until one does not know the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai’”.

Maimonides does not take this too literally but thinks it means that one should drink enough wine to fall asleep. Those who like gematria (the calculation of the numerical value of letters) say that “Arur Haman” (“Cursed be Haman”) and “Baruch Mordechai” both add up to the same number, 502.

But there must be more to it than that. A feature of the Pesach Haggadah may indirectly suggest an answer. In the four sons, the wise is followed by the wicked, then by the unsophisticated son and the one who knows not how to ask. All but the wicked are judged by their intellect, the wicked by his ethics. The wise and the wicked are both clever, more or less on a par intellectually, but one is ethical and the other is not. They are reverse images of each other.

Similarly, Haman and Mordechai may be seen as reverse images of each other. They have things in common. Neither is a Persian: Haman is an Agagite and Mordechai is a Jew. Both are elevated to power as a result of events which they more or less engineer. Indeed both enjoy their power; at the end of the M’gillah the Jewish people’s praise of Mordechai is muted though the comment that he was “acceptable to most of his brethren” ­ to most, but not all, because some did not approve of what he had become.

But what differentiates Mordechai from Haman is that the latter tries to impose a sameness on the whole kingdom, with zero tolerance for difference and diversity. Mordechai does not insist that everybody give up their individuality. His power is used in order to draw the best out of every citizen. So Haman and Mordechai are similar, but in what really matters they are world apart. Only when you drink too much and lose touch with reality do you fail to see the difference.

Maybe, for one day only, you are allowed to get merry and show that even good leaders like Mordechai can be laughed at, but by the following day you have to put the right standards back in place.

Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple Blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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