First of all, I’ve touched these subjects in these two posts.
The technical answer is that the Yerushalmi’s nusach shmoneh esrei is sans את צמח דוד. Since I don’t want a powerful king (a voluntary privately funded Davidic figurehead is fine) I find it silly to dedicate a special bracha to one, and I don’t like davening for something I don’t want. I may as well be a Hare Krishna chanting stoner if I do that. Unlike the תפילה לשלום המדינה though, I will still say את צמח דוד if asked to daven in חזרת הש״ץ because I can self-interpret as praying for the return of a Davidic king who will set us free and then renounce power. This is what I think will actually happen. I cannot justify praying for State leaders in any way though, not to myself at least.
There are two sides to the machloket of malchut (kingship). The Bavli believes in a king as mandatory. The Yerushalmi does not, including the Abarbanel and the Ibn Ezra. But this is all trivia, interesting and fun, but doesn’t get to the point. Let’s cut straight to the heart of the matter. I don’t mince words or baffle with bull.
What is Halacha? What is the point of it?
Let me begin with an example that just happened yesterday, fortuitously or so set up by God, who knows. Not very often does a yoreh yoreh question come up in my house. It just happened to yesterday. My wife was looking for a gift for her mom’s birthday. She came across a site that sells gourmet licorice candy. No hechsher, so we looked at the ingredients. They all look fine, except for something called “shellac”.
We google it. It’s basically bug juice. For whatever reason I have never encountered the question of shellac before, though I admit I really should have, because it is ubiquitous. I tell my wife it can’t be kosher, because it is “a resin secreted by the female lac bug, on trees in the forests of India and Thailand”. That certainly sounds traif to me.
I say to my wife, pretty much these words, “Look, the only way it can be kosher is if some posek makes an argument that it’s equivalent to bee’s honey on the logic that the resin is basically bug feces instead of bug juice produced from the bug’s body. But that sounds really stretchy, and the only reason honey was ever considered kosher is that it’s in the Tanach way too many times and there’s no way that any authority can consider it traif. So they had to come up with some excuse.”
For a few minutes I just assumed it was traif and that we couldn’t get the licorice candy. But then I don’t know what happened, we Googled it again, and turns out, lo and behold! Rav Moshe actually paskins in Igros Moshe Yoreh De’ah II:24 (II is really volume 5) that shellac is indeed kosher, goes through all the sources, does his pilpul, weighs the sides, and shellac is kosher because it’s equivalent to bee honey etc. I found the teshuva
on hebrewbooks.org but annoyingly the meat of the teshuva is missing from the pdf file which inexplicably skips from page 31 to 34 and I don’t have a hard copy. (I still have my Yeshivish reading skills and they haven’t dimmed, so I can can still read this stuff pretty quickly.)
So here’s the issue nobody wants to confront. Did Rav Moshe really TEST whether shellac comes from digestion or whether it’s secreted from a gland like pig’s milk? Did anyone actually test it? Did anyone put the bug under a microscope and see where the shellac is coming from? Is there a lab test cited in any teshuva anywhere on the lac bug?
No. Absolutely not. There is no test. Nobody, at least no Rabbi or posek, knows whether shellac is feces or secretion. All they know is how to cite sources and make logical assumptions that follow, that could be completely wrong when up against physical reality. I’m not saying that shellac is either secretion or feces. I don’t know, and I don’t care. I’m saying that in order to arrive at his psak, Rav Moshe did not ask for a lab report on shellac. It didn’t matter.
The point is, whether shellac is kosher halachically or not has nothing to do with the actual physical, ontological question of what this stuff actually is. Conclusion: It’s all a game.
Halacha is a game. This is not to demean halacha, put it down, encourage people to break with the system or anything else. It is simply a statement of fact. Deal with it how you want, that’s what Halacha is. Its core is not ontological reality about what things are. Its core is shakla vetarya about what you can prove through sources that begin with the Gemara through a game of logic and quoting and rules of interpretation and how far you can stretch them. That’s it. That’s what it is, regardless of what you feel about it or want to believe.
At bottom – at the core of it – why is shellac kosher? Because it’s everywhere, in every fruit and vegetable waxed with shellac for presentation, in every candy, it is unavoidable by the average person who doesn’t want to grow his own fruit and vegetable garden. There is simply no way that Rav Moshe can possibly say that shellac is traif with the stuff being everywhere. So he came up with a halachic (game) reason why it’s kosher. Fine. He played the game, by the rules, and he found an answer.
Shellac is by far not the only manifestation of this. Why is turkey kosher? Because, according to the game, it’s a chicken. Is it a chicken? No, a turkey is not a chicken. But halachically it’s a chicken because somebody in the game said so. I eat turkey. You probably eat turkey. It is in no way a chicken. It just isn’t. It’s traif. But it’s kosher because by the time somebody asked the question, everybody was eating it already.
A woman that bleeds vaginally constantly, can she have sex with her husband, ever? Yes, because she is able to “intuit” if her blood is period blood or some kind of other abnormal wound. Is that real? Who cares. You can’t tell a couple to divorce because of this, so you just play the game.
Is a conservative or reform marriage a halachic marriage? If it is, half the Jewish people are mamzerim and can’t marry with the other half of the Jewish people, because they don’t do gets when they divorce and everything goes to hell if they have any kids from a second marriage. So Rav Moshe says there are no edim to anything at these “weddings”, it’s not a marriage, it’s just pritzus, and the nation stays together because the kids are not mamzerim. Are there really no edim? What about the hundreds of people watching? What if 2 of them are halachic? Do you have to test at each wedding? No. Why? Who cares. He answered how he had to answer. There was no other choice.
This extends into the issue of Agunot. This issue really pisses me off to no end. I hate men who don’t give their wives a get out of spite. I hate them and I understand the urge to beat them to within an inch of their lives until they give it over.
But I’m also against beating people who have not been violent. Refusing a get is not violent. It’s just assholery. It’s the equivalent of a boycott. So why not, for the love of God, set up a halachic court on the logic of the Rambam of כופין אותו עד שיאמר רוצה אני, spin in a little מקח טעות or whatever you want to say and have the court give the expletive get and end this misery!?
Halacha is a game. It’s a valuable game. Without the halachic game, there would be no Jewish people. We would not have survived. I believe we all have a chiyuv to play the game, and live within the rules of the game, up until the point where it conflicts with morality. That is why I consider myself a halacha following Jew. Anyone who disagrees is free to not count me in your minyan, one guy for not saying the Prayer for the State of Israel, another for saying halacha is a game.
But I do not confuse ontological reality as I perceive it, with a game. I don’t say את צמח דוד because I don’t want to. Because I don’t believe in it. If someone tells me that halachically, according to some game, a king has a right to just take my property because he’s king, or kill someone for insulting him, and quote me a bunch of Rishonim that say so, then the game has crossed the lines into being immoral and evil, and at that point I stop playing. I exit the game, I go into actual ontological reality, I draw my line, I’m telling you where it is, and that’s it.
Anyone can justify any murderous halacha any time. Eradicate Amalek, man woman and child, this people is Amalek here’s my pilpul, kill the babies, I’m yotzeh.
A Rabbi says I should be happy paying taxes because taxes go to chessed. Do I laugh at him for being ludicrous or do I play the game because he’s a halachic player? I laugh at him. A turkey being kosher I don’t care. I have no moral opinion about whether turkeys should be kosher or not. Let them players play. But I have a real moral opinion about whether taxes are good. They are not, and no Rabbi, not Moshiach himself, can convince me otherwise. So if Moshiach levies taxes, I know he’s a fake.
A State sponsored Rabbi, who makes his living through taxes, tells me it’s my religious obligation to pay taxes, do I listen to him because he’s part of some game, or do I tell him that really, he’s wong? He’s wrong. I won’t play the game anymore. I know when to play, and I know when to exit.
So let me get back to that paragraph. I do not recognize the right of Moshiach to have any power over me. I am human, he is human. He has a role, I have a role. Quote me whatever you want, I don’t play the game that far, not into NAP territory. Once you get to the NAP, I go into ontological reality and out of the halachic realm.
If there is a source within the game that justifies my position, good. In the case of את צמח דוד, there is the Yerushalmi, and Shmuel HaNavi, and Abarbanel and Ibn Ezra and whoever else I care to gather, I take that, regardless of whether “we” (whoever “we” is) paskin that way or not, and I adopt it. And that’s it. I’m out of the game at that point, so stop trying to bring me back in. I’m not playing anymore.
Pruzbul is a game. Eradication of Yibum is a game. Heter Mechira is a game. So is Otzar Beis Din. So you play it. That’s all legitimate out-of-NAP territory, pick your side, I don’t care. But don’t try to tell me that some guy has a right to steal from me because a game says so. I’ll find a source that says the opposite, and tell you it’s correct not because “we paskin that way” according to some made up rules, but because, ontologically, it’s correct.
The first time someone objected to me, in the smaller minyan, not saying the prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel, he said to me, after davening, “Halachically you have to.” So I said, “Then I’m against Halacha.” Because really, I’m not interested in playing a game about what is moral and what isn’t. I know what is moral and what isn’t. I judge it for myself. I decide personally. I have a mind, given to me by God, so I use it. Nobody else dare decide morality for me. They can help and advise if I ask, but I make the final decision with my own mind.
I have no interest in playing the Halachic game with people on the legitimacy of morality. I will play halacha as far as the NAP, and no further. Any further and I will find the sources to defend myself if I’m interested in doing so, just to show I’m not alone, and I’m not. There are anarchic sources for every position I have. For me at least.
Pick your values. Stick to them. Halacha is a value of mine. I believe God told me to play the game. I can’t prove that at all, to anyone. So I play it, because I value it. Without halacha there would be no Jews. And Jews are necessary for the liberation of the planet. But if halacha ever conflicts with my core values, I pick my values, and ditch the game.
I call on you to do the same.