When I mention to people that it is likely worse to smoke than to eat pork, I often get strange looks. And usually the more observant the person, the stranger the look. Knowing the centrality of kashrut—especially the aversion to eating pork—and the rabbinic debate as to whether smoking is, in fact, prohibited by Jewish law, this seems like a ludicrous claim. But ludicrous it is not—it is actually rather obvious.
Thoughts from the Daf
There are few, if any, semicha programs that require their students to learn shechita or safrut, and even fewer that require good penmanship. None would accept a student who did not know how to write. But the requirements of rabbis in Talmudic times were of a different nature than today.
One of the questions I am often asked by those of my students who do not keep kosher, is have you really never eaten non-kosher food? I generally reply along the lines that I have never knowingly eaten non-kosher food, have never eaten at McDonalds or Pizza Pizza and I have no idea what lobster tastes like (I hear it is very good) and I will not even eat some salad at a vegetarian restaurant.
Over and over again the Torah warns us not to allow avodah zara, idolatry, in the Land of Israel. Yet, as is often the case, things are not always quite so simple and at times there can be other considerations that outweigh a seemingly clear Torah command.
"It was for this reason that man was first created as one person [Adam]…to teach that no man is the same as another; therefore, every person must say, ‘For my sake the world was created’” (Sanhedrin 37a). The desire to be different and to make a difference is part and parcel of being human. We are unique individuals and must be allowed to express that uniqueness. The need for personal creativity helps explain why so many children of successful businesspeople strike out on their own.
In the fall of 1860, Rav Yaakov Ettlinger penned what is likely the most revolutionary responsa of modern times; one that opened the door to allowing, for the first time in Jewish history, those who publicly desecrated the Shabbat to remain part of the (observant) Jewish community.
That the role of a modern rabbi in the Western World is far different than that of the rabbi of Eastern Europe is rather obvious. The typical 19th century Polish rabbi, for example, did little pastoral work, did not deliver sermons, raise money for the shul, nor officiate at bar-mitzvas.
Masechet Chulin, a derivative of the word chol, translates as “The Secular Tractate”, and stands in contrast to the first two masechtot of seder Kodshim, those of Zevachim and Menachot, which deal with the laws of animal and grain sacrifices, respectively. With Jewish thought of the view that everything has the potential for holiness, masechet Chulin is a relative term. In fact, it is specifically by elevating the “secular” that we reach the highest level of holiness.
“It is said of the olah sacrifice of cattle, ‘rei’ach nichoach, an offering made by fire of pleasing odor’ (Vayikra 1:9); and [it is said] of the olah sacrifice of birds, ‘An offering made by fire of pleasing odor (Vayikra 1:17); and [it is said] of a grain offering, ‘An offering made by fire of pleasing odor’ (Vayikra 2:2), to teach you that whether one offers much or little [it matters little], so long as one directs o