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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Light Vice Versa Verse

"How odd / Of God / To choose / The Jews."
         British journalist (and communist) William Norman Ewer, 1885-1976

“It’s not so odd.  The Jews chose God.”
        -variously attributed

"But not so odd / As those who choose
A Jewish God / Yet spurn the Jews."
        -reply from Cecil Browne

“Not odd of God. / Goyim annoy 'im”
        Leo Rosten's perfect final words on the subject

Sunday, June 08, 2014

An Oral History of the Invasion at Normandy

I've had the great honor of having Mr. Lothar Kahn in my shiur for the past twenty seven years.  Before coming to my shiur, he attended my father's shiur for fifteen years.  Mr. Kahn came to the US from Germany in 1940, and three years later, at nineteen, he found himself on the beach in Normandy as a member of the combat engineers.

The recent article about Mr. Kahn in the Huffington Post is good, but there are many, many other amazing and wonderful stories about his years in the army that are not in the article.  While part of the Allied government, he founded the post war Jewish community in Bamberg, and as a native German speaker was a tremendous asset to the Jews and to the Allies.

One example of a story that didn't make it into the article- Mr. Kahn had the bad luck to be assigned to a unit that was entirely composed of Southerners- from Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and so forth.  Picture a young man with a German accent, coming from New York, joining this cadre of rebels.  He was immediately labeled a "Damn Yankee."  But this was only until they found out he was a Jew.  At that point, he became a Damn Yankee Jew."  They did everything to make his life miserable, until he finally picked out the biggest one among them, who hated him more than any of the others, and told him, look, we're going to fight it out.  So the other one put up his hands and began boxing.  Mr. Kahn said, if we want to prove who's strongest, we really ought to wrestle, because that proves strength more than boxing.  The guy said fine, I'll kill you either way.  Mr. Kahn was an athlete who had a great deal of experience wrestling, and he soon had the man on the ground with his boot on his neck.  He said, "Am I still a damn Yankee Jew?"  The guy said, no, not any more you're not.

Here's the article, from the Huffington Post.

D-Day Veteran's Brother Was Holocaust's First Jewish Victim

Lothar Kahn, D-Day Plus 70 Years

Lothar Kahn's backstory has all the ingredients of a Hollywood movie -- the Jew from Nazi Germany who returns in the vanguard of war to face his sworn enemies on D-Day. Inglorious Basterds proved it a marketable plot-line, but the reality is far more tragic, complex, and even unremarkable. But Kahn has, in fact, lived two of the most compelling narratives of the 20th century: the Holocaust and the D-Day invasion.
Seventy years ago, on June 6, T/3 Kahn approached the Normandy coast in an LCM filled with 28 seasick army engineers from the 146th Engineer Combat Battalion and sailors from a Naval Combat Demolition Unit. Orders were to land at low tide on "easy green" and destroy all obstacles -- Belgian Gates, posts capped with Teller mines, and rows of steel hedgehogs -- and create gaps for the infantry.

Gap Assault Team from the 146th ECB prior to the invasion
"[The 146th] landed in the first wave with floating tanks from the 741st and 743rd Tank Battalions, literally, in the first minutes of the invasion," said Joseph Balkoski, author of Omaha Beach: D-Day, June 6, 1944.
After weeks of rehearsals in Devon, the army's V Corps selected the Kahn's outfit to lead the initial assault on D-Day.
Some may even call it poetic justice, but Kahn's Gap Assault Team No. 7 could not effectively perform their tasks.
"The engineers knew very well that they would have 30-40 minutes to blow the obstacles because the tide was rising."
The settling smoke and dust from the massive Allied bombardment, which ended minutes earlier, afforded a clear view of Omaha Beach, but not the catastrophe that awaited them.
"The minute we jumped out of the boats the shooting started," Kahn told us. "Two or three German machine guns, overlapping, and raking the beach. All you heard was, 'Get off the beach, you're gonna be dead ducks' and then I was on my own."
The 19-year-old combat engineer lumbered under the weight of a rifle, helmet, a Hagensen pack crammed with wire cutters, gas mask, cartridges, an inflatable life belt, a canteen, drenched fatigues, and 50 pounds of C2 plastic explosives, with hooks and rope. He miraculously made it in one piece, beside a cluster of drenched and petrified Americans.
"I got against a cliff with six, eight people and there were guys lying around. I said to someone, 'Boy these guys must be tired' ... 
'Tired? These are dead people.' When I heard that, I jumped up and the guy pulled me down and yelled, 'Don't jump up you'll get shot.' I had never seen a dead person before and they were all around me."

Gemünden am Main, Germany

Kahn's path to D-Day was an odyssey in itself, which began in the lower Franconia region of Germany in a small town called Gemünden. The youngest son of Levi and Martha Kahn's four children, Kahn was expelled from public school the year he turned nine.
"The Jewish boys and girls were put in the last row, the teachers didn't ask us anything, and then they kicked us out of school altogether." Kahn told us. "I had to get up at 5 a.m. to catch an hour-long cattle train to a Jewish school in Thüngen, when it was dark and cold in winter time."
Like most Jewish youngsters who once imagined intellectual and professional careers at the time, Kahn instead traded his books for practical vocational training -- first becoming a locksmith and then a machinist.
The extermination of European Jews may have been formally outlined at the Wannsee Conference in 1942, but the Holocaust was immediate for the Kahn family when the eldest son, Arthur, was murdered in Dachau 10 weeks after Hitler became chancellor.

Arthur Kahn, and his gravestone

"Apparently [Arthur Kahn] was involved in anti-Nazi movements at the University at Wurzburg -- which was very typical of Jewish students at the time," said Timothy Ryback, author of Hitler's First Victims.

"The astonishing story is that he was planning on going into medicine -- cancer research -- had been studying abroad at Edinburgh University, and while back at Wurzburg getting his student records, was spotted by some brown-shirted SA, was snatched and put into a detention center. During Easter week, 1933, Arthur Kahn and three others, Ernst Goldmann, Rudolf Benario and Erwin Kahn arrived at Dachau. They were identified as Jews on arrival and beaten terribly. Five minutes after five o'clock on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 12, these young men were given shovels, marched out into the woods, and just gunned down. Arthur was the first one shot. These were the first four victims of the Holocaust. Their deaths involved intentionality, chain of command, selection, and execution, which are the constituent components for these processes we call genocide, and ultimately related to the Jewish population, the Holocaust."
Levi Kahn had to pay money to get his son's body out of Dachau for a proper Jewish burial. Even worse, Arthur's mother insisted that his sister, Fanni, an Au pair in England, return to Germany immediately. She eventually married and was later killed with her 7-year-old son in Minsk.

Thanks to relatives in the U.S., the family managed to obtain visas and emigrate to New York, minus two children, four weeks before the war broke out. Kahn immediately went to work to support his family and, like his brother Herbert, was drafted into the military in 1943.

Lothar and Herbert Kahn

Just as his Jewishness was sufficient to designate him a pariah in Germany, his vocational training there had everything to do with his eventual M.O.S (Military Occupation Specialty) and assignment to an engineer outfit.
"In England they put us in control of Assault Training Center in Saunton Sands. All of the divisions preparing for the invasion came through us. We built obstacles, they blew them up and we built them again. It was very hard work. During training I was carrying a full pack of dynamite and collapsed when a captain stood over me and asked, 'Soldier, do you smoke?' I told him that I did and he said, 'well, you have a choice. You can keep on smoking and get your ass shot off on the beach or you can stop smoking and you have a chance of getting off the beach.' That scared the daylights out of me and I stopped."
After weeks of rehearsals in Devon the army's V Corps of Engineers selected the Kahn's outfit to lead the initial assault on D-Day.
The irony of one brother being the first Jew murdered by Nazi policy, and his baby brother landing at H-Hour in possibly the key event to bring about Hilter's defeat is nothing short of ironic. Some may even call it poetic justice, but Kahn's Gap Assault Team No. 7 were unable to function once they jumped out of the landing crafts and infantry took cover behind the obstacles they were tasked to destroy. The first 30 minutes of the invasion amounted to total disaster. Hundreds of bodies of dead combat engineers, tankers, sailors, and infantryman peppered nearly three miles of Omaha Beach's tile flat. Wounded men drifting in the rising tide were too weak to fight the current and drowned in the surf, as German artillery and small-arms fire mowed down wave after wave of infantry.

"All I could hear was, 'Help me, help me,'" said Kahn. "We couldn't blow anything because behind us were Americans and they'd be killed. The floating tanks were picked off like ducks and the Rangers couldn't get through either. All I could do was try and stay alive until the infantry could eliminate the small-arms fire."

At 90, Kahn, who lives in Lincolnwood, Illinois, still speaks with a slight German accent, but his D-Day account reads like any other American veteran who landed on Omaha Beach at H-Hour. And by 1944, he was every bit the "citizen soldier" -- a term the late Stephen E Ambrose ascribed to Americans he dramatically asserted "wanted to throw baseballs, not grenades, shoot a .22 rifle, not an M-1." However entertaining the prose, the late historian wasn't entirely accurate.
Questions about revenge naturally arise when hearing the stories of veterans such as Kahn, who had long suffered under Nazism before fleeing Germany. 

"I knew they killed my brother. That I knew. Revenge, certainly, but I didn't want to get killed either. In those moments, especially on D-Day, it's a matter of preserving life. In fact, a day after the invasion they got me to interview some German prisoners (machine gunners) who told me, 'We killed them and they kept coming, there was nothing we could do.'"

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Kedoshim, and a Plan for a New Restaurant: FLAG Kosher

In consideration of the limits of internet attention spans, I have to make this clear from the beginning:
The Divrei Torah are valid, and the beginning and the end are serious, but the middle is written satirically, ironically.  The purpose of the post is to raise an important question, to highlight issues, and to stimulate intelligent and informed conversation.

On Pesach, our family discussed the marvelous products of food science available now- items that have no grain or kitnios but look and taste exactly like bread.  With a palette of various root starches and quinoa, and the use of chemicals and appliances that can make smoke into a brittle foam, making kosher for Pesach ersatz white bread and bagels and pizza is becoming practically quotidian.  The illusion improves every year; a friend told me that at one of the programs where kosher for Pesach beigels were offered, he saw a guest wash and say hamotzi on his shehakol bagel.

I was told that before Pesach, Rabbi Elefant was interviewed on a Jewish radio station in New York, and he said that one factor in the OU allowing quinoa was that quinoa is the only reasonable alternative to rice for making sushi, and if they couldn't make sushi, the caterers that run Pesach programs would lose a lot of money- ergo, hefsed meruba and the decision of the OU to be mattir.  It's easy to self-righteously say that such chametz replacements are inappropriate, and not in keeping with the spirit of the issur chametz.  But who among us doesn't have Shick's seven layer cake, or rainbow cookies?  They look like chametz too.  Our Mexican cleaning lady, who has gone through eighteen Pesachs with us, was shocked when she saw them.  But by now, we're all pretty used to them, and to other pseudo-foods, such as Bacos.

Instead of merely reacting instinctively, let's think about what issues may be relevant, and then decide whether the issues are problematic.

1.  Mar'is Ayin- it is assur to behave in a way where a reasonable observer might think you are doing a sin.
2.  Foods that the Torah prohibited are disgusting, and foods that mimic them ought to be equally disgusting to the Jewish sensibility.  Eating them diminishes our refinement, it makes us callous.
3.  If one eats what looks and tastes like a prohibited food, it weakens the psychological barrier and increases the likelihood he will eat real issurim.
4.  Issurei achila serve to create a vital psychological and social barrier between us and the gentiles, and without that barrier, our sense of separateness, our unique identity, will be attenuated.

Issue 1.  Mar'is Ayin.
The Gemara (Kerisus 21b) says that if you serve a container of fish blood, you must make it evident that it is not from an animal by floating some scales in it.  The Maharshal in Kol Habasar says that similarly, when you serve chicken in almond milk, as was the local minhag on Purim, you must have some blanched almonds in or near the milk so that nobody mistakes it for real milk.  The Rama in 87 argues with the Maharshal and says that this is only necessary by meat, not chicken, which is at worst an issur derabannan.  This is why some caterers put placards next to coffee whitener at a fleishikeh meal.

Even more lekulah, the Pri Chadash (there in YD 87 on the Rama) holds that we don't prohibit based on Maris Ayin beyond what we find explicitly prohibited in Chazal. True, many poskim disagree (such as Reb Moshe in the Igros OC 3:25 and the Maharik 115 and poskim brought in the Shaarei Teshuva OC 460:10,) but in any case, everyone agrees that all that matters is that people not make the mistake of thinking that what you're eating is treif.  The fact that it looks and tastes treif doesn't matter.  If everyone realizes that it is not really what it looks like, there is no problem of Mar'is Ayin.  This is why Pesach beigels and white bread, and soy bacon, and pepperoni and cheese pizzas, are all muttar.

Issue 2.  Foods that the Torah prohibited are disgusting, and foods that mimic them ought to be equally disgusting to the Jewish sensibility.  Eating them diminishes our refinement, it makes us callous.
Rashi in our Parsha brings from the Torah Kohanim the following:
 ואבדל אתכם מן העמים להיות לי
אם אתם מובדלים מהם הרי אתם שלי, ואם לאו הרי אתם של נבוכדנצר וחבריו 
רבי אלעזר בן עזריה אומר: מנין שלא יאמר אדם נפשי קצה בבשר חזיר, אי אפשי ללבוש כלאים, אבל יאמר אפשי, ומה      אעשה ואבי שבשמים גזר עלי  תלמוד לומר: ואבדיל אתכם מן העמים להיות לי, שתהא הבדלתכם מהם לשמי. פורש מן העבירה ומקבל עליו עול מלכות שמים
And I have distinguished you from the peoples, to be Mine:
If you are separated from them [through your observance of Torah], you will be Mine, but if not, you will belong to Nebuchadnezzar and his kind.
Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah says: How do we know that a person should not say, “I find pork disgusting,” or “It is impossible for me to wear kilayim,” but rather, one should say, “I indeed wish to, but what can I do-my Father in heaven has imposed these decrees upon me?” Because Scripture says here, “And I have distinguished you from the peoples, to be Mine”-your very distinction from the other peoples must be for My Name, separating yourself from transgression and accepting upon yourself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. — [Toras Kohanim 20:128]
The Toras Kohanim says that one should not say he is disgusted by pork, or kilayim.  Instead, he should say that they might be very enjoyable, but he refrains only because Hashem so commanded us.
If so, there is nothing wrong with saying you'd like to eat all these things that are assur, and if you can find a way that you can eat them without an issur, it is fine.
True, the Rambam says this only applies to chukim- מצוות שמעיות- and maybe bugs are different.  After all, we have Reb Yishmael (BM 62a) that says
דתנא דבי רבי ישמעאל אמר הקב"ה אילמלא העליתי את ישראל ממצרים אלא בשביל דבר זה שאין מטמאין בשרצים דיי א"ל ומי נפיש אגרייהו טפי מרבית ומציצית וממשקלות א"ל אע"ג דלא נפיש אגרייהו טפי מאיסי למכלינהו
so maybe שרצים are inherently disgusting.  But at least Chazir is clearly in the "assur but desirable" column.
What about blood?  The Seforno puts blood in the desirable column, too.  From Devarim 12:25-
רק חזק לבלתי אכל הדם - - לא תאכלנו למען ייטב לך ולבניך אחריך כי תעשה הישר בעיני ה׳. - - וכאשר תמנע מלאכול לא יהיה זה כמואס בו, אבל כדי שתעשה הישר בעיני ה׳, כאמרם ז״ל אל יאמר אדם קצה נפשי בבשר אסור אבל יאמר איפשי ואבי שבשמים גזר עלי

Issue 3.  If one gets used to eating what looks and tastes like it's assur, it weakens the psychological barrier and increases the likelihood he will eat real issurim.
We have what I call the Shibuta rule.  The Gemara in Chulin 109 brings a conversation between Yalta and her husband, Rav Nachman, which teaches that everything that for everything that is assur there is an equivalent that is muttar..
אמרה ליה ילתא לרב נחמן מכדי כל דאסר לן רחמנא, שרא לן כוותיה. אסר לן דמא- שרא לן כבדא. נדה- דם טוהר. חלב בהמה- חלב חיה. חזיר- מוחא דשיבוטא. גירותא- לישנא דכוורא. אשת איש- גרושה בחיי בעלה. אשת אח- יבמה. כותית יפת תאר. בעינן למיכל בשרא בחלבא! אמר להו רב נחמן לטבחי זויקו לה כחלי
It appears that Rav Nachman wasn't worried about getting used to eating things that taste assur.  She was curious what bassar b'chalav tasted like, and he didn't reprimand her.  He simply got some K'chal for her to eat.  (Or it just wasn't smart to get into an argument with her; see Brachos 51b, and Tosfos Beitza 25b DH שאני ילתא.  Also, she was the daughter of the Reish Gelusa.)
Anyway, that is everyone's complaint about making an Eiruv.  Kids will grow up carrying on Shabbos, and they'll never learn to be careful, and they'll end up carrying without an eiruv.  This concern never stopped anyone from building an eiruv.  It's just געבורטשעט.
Also, let's remember that the Gemara in Kerisus we brought above in Issue 1 says it's muttar to consume a container of fish blood, so long as the mar'is ayin problem is removed, and nowhere does anyone say that one should avoid it for reasons of mussar.

Issue 4.  Issurei achila serve to create a vital psychological and social barrier between us and the gentiles, and without that barrier, our sense of separateness, our unique identity, will be attenuated.
I want to point out that precisely in the Rashi that says how important it is to be culturally separated from the Gentiles, Rashi brings the Toras Kohanim about liking Chazir and only not eating it because of Hashem's commandment.
ואבדל אתכם מן העמים להיות לי  אם אתם מובדלים מהם הרי אתם שלי, ואם לאו הרי אתם של נבוכדנצר וחבריו. 
It appears that the הבדלה is that we keep Hashem's mitzvos.  There is no spirit of the law other than being faithful to Hashem's commandments.  Kosher is kosher, and the only barrier that matters is keeping the Mitzvos.

There does not seem to be any problem at all eating things that look and taste like they are assur, so long as what's going on is clear and there is no mar'is ayin issue.  The Gemara in Kerisus says there's no problem serving a container of fish blood; Rav Nachman gave Yalta udder meat to satisfy her desire to taste basar b'chalav.

What we need now is a practical and profitable application of this concept.  We need a restaurant that is dedicated to providing the Treif experience to Orthodox Jews.  Imagine a menu that offers pepperoni pizza, pork chops, cheeseburgers, shrimp or lobster salad, clam soup, bouillabaisse with all different kinds of mieseh shrotzim, bagels and white bread on Pesach... the list of chazerai is endless.

  • We could add the half-raw Tartimar Tartare Burger, served with Italian wine- a nice citrusy Trebbiano Toscano.  This would be large enough to satisfy the weight requirement of the half-raw meat (a tartimar) that makes a person a Ben Sorer U'Moreh.  The din of Ben Soreir u"Moreh, of course, only applies if the person who eats it is thirteen years old, and he bought the meat with money he stole from his father.  For everyone else, being a zolel v'sovei is not a problem.  And the truth is that a Tarteimar of meat is really not that much- not more than nine or ten ounces of meat as served.
  • If members of the wait staff are married women, we would have them wear Sheitlach that are indistinguishable from natural hair.
  • During sefira, glatt kosher a cappella sefirah music will be played.

A good business plan needs a name.  What shall we call this restaurant?  (Dr. Nachum calls it a bistro.  Maybe he's right- It's more of a tapas thing than a formal sit down.)

Here are some thoughts.

1.  Naval, subtitled Birshus HaTorah.  If we go with Naval, the accent should be on the Val, to make it sound French.  Nah-Val'.  Maybe NaValle, in cursive script.
2.  HaKol Be'Ha'arama Nishma.
3.  Kosher Triple Treif.
4.  Mar'is Ayin.
5.  Abizraihu (אביזרייהו).
6.  Reshock.  (That's Kosher, backwards.)
7.  My favorite-  FLAG Kosher.  FLAG stands for Fress Like A Goy.

Based on his introduction to our parsha, I guess the Ramban would not eat at our restaurant.  You have to be realistic about your demographic.  But even the Ramban would agree that it's kosher.  He might even give the hashgacha.

Someone told me that I'm thinking too small.  An idea like this shouldn't be limited to a restaurant- it should be a line of food that specializes in imitation maachalos assuros, festooned with hechsheirim.  (To add to the kashrus standard, it will not have a sell-by date, and it will have a little trans-fat, because what do the doctors know.)  FLAG Kosher- Coming soon to your local grocery store!

 But we can still have a restaurant.  We will call the restaurant The FLAGship.

This is a real opportunity.  As H. L. Mencken (not related to Rabbi Yaakov) is quoted as having said, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public."

Because there might be someone out there there are definitely people out there that doesn't don't do well with sarcasm, I need to point out that this is not a serious suggestion.  It is a mixture of sophistry and irony, a culinary innovation in the spirit of Swift's Modest Proposal.  Despite the manner of presentation, the question of where to draw the line is truly serious and complicated, and there is no definitive right or wrong, just as קדושים תהיו has no bright line definition.  It is a question that every individual has to answer for himself and his family.

There are a few more points that ought to be added.

Nobody wants to eat imitation poisonous or rotten or malodorous food.   The fear and revulsion caused by the real thing results in a similar revulsion at an imitation.  Many people feel that treif food is repugnant.  After all, Chazal say that מאכלות אסורות cause טמטום הלב, and if they cause טמטום הלב, if eating them is so injurious to the soul, then one ought to be repelled by even looking at them or anything that looks like them.   However, as we have discussed long ago, טמטום הלב is not at all simple.  Although many say that it comes from the nature of the treif food, many others (Reb Moshe and the Briskers) say that it is a result of the issur, not the nature of the food.  If it's muttar, it's not מטמטם את הלב.  If it's just the issur and not the nature of the food, food that looks like treifus should not be repulsive.

Furthermore, one might say that the Toras Kohanim brought in Rashi above teaches a tremendous lesson: when the Torah prohibits a food, it is not that the food is horrible.  The food is fine, but we won't eat it because we listen to the Ribono shel Olam, we are disciplined, not superstitious.  So now, here's an experiment.  Two people are faced with some tremendous yeitzer hara, and the yeitzer hara is very attractive and seductive, refined, intelligent, and perfumed- think about what Yosef HaTzadik faced.  Both people are kadosh and tahor.  One person's life-long scrupulous avoidance of issurei achila reflects a visceral disgust of issurim.  The other person was equally scrupulous, but he always felt that issurim are attractive and enjoyable, but he avoided them because the Ribono shel Olam told him to stay away from them.  Now they are both faced with a dvar issur that is a supreme physical and mental pleasure.  Which one of them is more likely to overcome his yeitzer hara?

But you have to wonder.  I think that the only attraction of these ersatz issurim is the thrill of the illicit.  If a person is happy and proud to be a member of the Mamleches Kohanim, why would he have even be interested in tasting things that are assur?  If you're happy in your marriage, why are you even thinking about other women?  What is the thrill in experiencing what Gentiles experience?  Are there not enough kosher foods that we can eat that we need to duplicate things that are assur because of the thrill?  Is this another case of והאספסוף אשר בקרבו התאוו תאוה?  Wanting to eat these things may not be a problem, but it may be a symptom of a problem.

There is something to be said for לא שינו את שמם/לשונם/מלבושם, even regarding things that are muttar, simply because of the cultural barrier.   Rabbi Yissochor Frand came across a most remarkable validation of this concept, as follows:

The following is excerpted from a column by the rabbi of a Reform congregation in Miami, Florida:
"We think that intermarriage leads to assimilation, but it is the other way around. We marry people like ourselves. The average middle-class Jew is as different from the average middle class Gentile as your average Hutu is different from your average Tutsi. I know Rabbis aren't supposed to say things like this. We are supposed to fight assimilation tooth and nail. But to be honest I am about as assimilated as you can get. Put me in a lineup of the average middle class goy [sic] and the only way you could tell us apart is to play a Jackie Mason tape and see who laughs. The truth is our kids don't intermarry. They marry people just like themselves. People who eat stone crabs marry people who eat stone crabs."
The rabbi has it exactly right. People are not intermarrying. They are marrying people exactly like themselves. The reason why a strictly religious person would not contemplate marrying a non-Jew (or vice-versa) is because they are so different. Those who follow the Rabbis' safeguards live in an environment nearly as different from that of the average middle class American non-Jew, as either of those environments are different from that of the average Tutsi. The cross-cultural divide is too great. The groups are too different from each other, so they do not intermarry. It would be like marrying someone from a different planet. But if someone eats like them and talks like them and dresses like them, then it is not intermarriage at all. It is marrying within one's own kind.
As the Ramban says, there is a spectrum from Halacha to Mussar, but it is a mistake to think that Mussar is less important than halacha.  Sometimes, an act can have a  small onesh but can cause terrible spiritual damage.  And finally, even if you have a great deal of knowledge of Torah, there's no substitute for seichel hayashar.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Humor and Learning Torah

When we began this website, many people were drawn here by divrei Torah, but then they were put off by the humor.  Since they could only recognize serious divrei Torah when they're bound in a black book, they never came back.  Others were drawn by the name Havolim, looking for letizanus, for jokes, and were put off by the serious divrei Torah.  What can I do.  The Beis Halevi first printed his teshuvos together with his divrei torah on the parsha, but in the later editions he separated them into two volumes, saying that the audience that was interested in the one was totally uninterested in the other.  Lehavdil, I've done something similar, and have begun posting the serious Divrei Torah on my other site, Beis Vaad.

But the truth is that there is no contradiction between humor and learning Gemara.

Stimulating the mind through humor is mentioned in the Gemara (Shabbos 30b) where it says that before he would begin the shiur, Rabba would say something that would make the students smile, and then his tone and demeanor would change, the mood in the room would shift from light-hearted to an extremely tense focus, and he would begin the shiur, expecting absolute attention, unforgiving of even the smallest lapse.
כי הא דרבה מקמי דפתח להו לרבנן אמר מילתא דבדיחותא ובדחי רבנן לסוף יתיב באימתא ופתח בשמעתא
Rashi says that one should begin with something comedic, and the rabbis/students would laugh, and their minds would open from the happiness.
 ובדחי רבנן. נפתח לבם מחמת השמחה
I don't think most people realize how wise and effective this method is.  It sounds, to some, like just another quaint story in the Gemara.  So for us, the modern thinkers, who don't believe anything if it's anecdotal, here are some interesting studies.

A 1976 study by the late professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University, Avner Ziv, (the author of the entry on Humor in the Encyclopedia Judaica) found that those who listened to a comedy album before taking a creativity test scored 20% better than a control group that had not heard the routine.

A 1987 study by Isen, Daubman and Nowicki asked participants to solve a creative logic problem.  In the control group, two of fifteen solved the problem.  The other group was shown a comedy film before being presented the problem.  In the latter group, nine of the fifteen solved the problem.

Remarkably, there are very highly regarded studies that show that laughter and humor increase the immune response significantly- not by some meaningless scale, but by increased lymphocyte blastogenesis and killer-cell activity (a good thing.)

So in that light, when you read the Gemara about Rav's method of teaching, you realize that no, it's not just another quaint habit of those ancients.  Chazal's life was the pursuit of wisdom and they lived to discern the truth; they were well aware of the benefit of humor in opening the mind, and they used it as a very serious means to enhance their students' learning.

Briefly, I want to point out that there are many ways to understand what Chazal mean when they say that בדיחותא enhances learning.  

First we have our famous Gemara, as we brought above, where a humorous word opened their minds.  
The Gemara seems simple enough.  But it's not, because there's a fascinating Ran on that Gemara in Shabbos 30b that has a very different way to learn it.
The Gemara goes like this:
כתיב טוב כעס משחוק וכתיב לשחוק אמרתי מהלל כתיב ושבחתי אני את השמחה וכתיב ולשמחה מה זה עושה לא קשיא טוב כעס משחוק טוב כעס שכועס הקב"ה על הצדיקים בעוה"ז משחוק שמשחק הקב"ה על הרשעים בעולם הזה ולשחוק אמרתי מהלל זה שחוק שמשחק הקב"ה עם הצדיקים בעולם הבא ושבחתי אני את השמחה שמחה של מצוה ולשמחה מה זה עושה זו שמחה שאינה של מצוה ללמדך שאין שכינה שורה לא מתוך עצבות ולא מתוך עצלות ולא מתוך שחוק ולא מתוך קלות ראש ולא מתוך שיחה ולא מתוך דברים בטלים אלא מתוך דבר שמחה של מצוה שנאמר ועתה קחו לי מנגן והיה כנגן המנגן ותהי עליו יד ה' אמר רב יהודה וכן לדבר הלכה אמר רבא וכן לחלום טוב איני והאמר רב גידל אמר רב כל תלמיד חכם שיושב לפני רבו ואין שפתותיו נוטפות מר תכוינה שנאמר שפתותיו שושנים נוטפות מור עובר אל תקרי מור עובר אלא מר עובר אל תקרי שושנים אלא ששונים לא קשיא הא ברבה והא בתלמיד ואיבעית אימא הא והא ברבה ולא קשיא הא מקמי דלפתח הא לבתר דפתח כי הא דרבה מקמי דפתח להו לרבנן אמר מילתא דבדיחותא ובדחי רבנן לסוף יתיב באימתא ופתח בשמעתא
מהולל. משובח: משחוק שמשחק עם הרשעים. שנותן להם שעה משחקת כדי להאכילן חלקן ולטורדן מן העולם הבא: שמחה של מצוה.כגון הכנסת כלה: שחוק. שחוק ממש שאין דעת שוחק מיושבת עליו ואפילו אינו של לצון מ"מ אין בו יישוב: קלות ראש. לצון: קחו לי מנגן. מצוה היא להשרות עליו שכינה: לדבר הלכה. צריך לפתוח במילי דבדיחותא ברישא: לחלום טוב.אם בא לישן מתוך שמחה מראין לו חלום טוב: נוטפות מר. מרירות מחמת אימה: ובדחי רבנן. נפתח לבם מחמת השמחה:

So a simple reading of the Gemara would be that there are two things that can benefit from בדיחותא; Hashra'as HaShechina and learning.  Rashi explained that בדיחותא opens the mind.  We have a Yalkut (ילקוט שמעוני מלכים ב׳ רכ״ו באד״ה כי לולי פני) that says exactly like Rashi-
כי הא דרבה מקמי דפתח בשמעתא אמר להוא לרבנן מילתא דבדיחותא כי היכי דליפתח ליבייהו

But the Ran (ד״ה לא קשיא) seems to connect those two things, the Hashra'as HaShechina and learning.
 ואיבעית אימא הא והא ברבה כלומר דרבה גופיה מיבעי ליה למיתב באימתא וה״מ לבתר דפתח בשמעתא אבל מקמי הכי בבדיחותא שאין השכינה שורה אלא מתוך שמחה וכן לדבר הלכה כדאמרינן לעיל:
He seems to be saying that the reason learning benefits from בדיחותא is because learning requires Hashra'as HaShechina.  Davka because Hashra'as HaShechina is enhanced by בדיחותא, learning is as well. The benefit to learning is not direct; the way it works is that the בדיחותא creates שמחה של מצוה (as I will bring from the Pnei Yehoshua); the שמחה של מצוה brings Hashra'as HaShechina.  The Hashra'as HaShechina then enhances the learning. This is very different than Rashi.  But we can understand why the Ran says it- after all, the idea that learning Torah involves Hashra'as HaShechina is a Mishna in Avos 3:7-
אבל שנים שיושבין ויש ביניהם דברי תורה, שכינה שרויה ביניהם, שנאמר אז נדברו יראי יי איש אל רעהו ויקשב יי וישמע ויכתב ספר זכרון לפניו ליראי יי ולחשבי שמואין לי אלא שנים. מנין שאפלו אחד שיושב ועוסק בתורהי, שהקדוש ברוך הוא קובע לו שכר, שנאמר (איכה ג), ישב בדד וידם כי נטל עליו

Second, we have a Medrash in Shir HaShirim (1:15:3) that says that when the talmidim dozed off, the rebbi would recapture their attention with some fantastic story.
  'רבי היה יושב ודורש, ונתנמנם הצבור. בקש לעוררן. אמר: ילדה אשה אחת במצרים ששים רבוא בכרס אחת... זו יוכבד, שילדה את משה ששקול כנגד ששים רבוא של ישראל
The Rashba says (תשובת סימן תי״ח) that this is a form of מילי דבדיחותא.
 החלק השלישי כל המאמרים המספרים בשום חידוש יוצא מן המנהג ועל הכלל בשינוי איזה טבע שלא ימשך לנו ממנו שום תועלת מבואר באמונה או שום חיזוק, אלא שיזכירו על צד הסיפור לבד לתועלת הרוחת התלמידים וצורך הכנסתם במילי דבדיחותא להניח מכובד העיון ועמל הגירסא וזה בסיפורי רבה בר בר חנה (ב״ב ע״ג ע״ב) וזולתם מהדומים להם רבים

And third, you have the Rambam, (at least we had this Rambam before Kapach said it's not in the original, but it's in the Meiri anyway,) that says that when the students are exhausted, you can give them strength with בדיחותא:
כמו שילאה הגוף בעשותו המלאכות הכבדות עד שינוח וינפש, ואז ישוב למזגו השוה - כן צריכה הנפש גם כן להתעסק במנוחת החושים, בעיון לפיתוחים ולענינים הנאים, עד שתסור ממנה הַ ּלֵ אּות. כמו שאמרו. כי הוו חלשי רבנן מגרסיהו, הוו אמרי מלתא דבדיחותא

As to what the בדיחותא consists of, I'm going to leave that to you.  Obviously, it is the type of בדיחותא that a Rebbi would tell his talmidim before a shiur, and involves chochma and torah.  Any other type, as the Pnei Yehoshua says in his introduction to Kesuvos, is מוקצה מהדעת.  And the truth is, it's hard to learn the Gemara any other way, because the Gemara comes to the idea of בדיחותא as a means of attaining שמחה של מצוה.  What kind of בדיחותא is שמחה של מצוה?  So the Pnei Yehoshua says that it either means a farfetched but seemingly logical dvar torah, or an interesting aggadeta.
אלא על כרחך צריכין אנו לפרש דהאי מילתא דבדיחותא צריך להיות בענין שמחה של מצוה דעליה קאי וא״כ יתכן לפרש באחד משני דרכים או שנאמר דהאי מילי דבדיחותא היינו ג״כ בדברי תורה שהיא שמחה של מצוה שמשמח הלב, אלא שהיה אומר לתלמידיו אף שלא אליבא דהלכתא אלא כדי לחדד בו לתלמידים כדאשכחן להדיא בכמה דוכתי ברבה גופיה
 דאמרינן ורבה לחידודי לאביי הוא דעביד, וכל זה הוי מקמי דפתח בשמעתיה אבל לבתר דפתח הוי יתיב באימתא וקא מגמיר להו אגמורי לאסוקי שמעתא אליבא דהלכתא, או שנאמר דהני מילי דבדיחותא שהיא שמחה של מצוה היינו במילי דאגדתא שמשמח לבו של אדם שאגדה מושכת לבו של אדם לד״ת

(The Pnei Yehoshua's proof is not 100% muchrach.  It could be that simcha shel mitzva is simcha that is sought in furtherance of a mitzva, like eating on Shabbos.  It's not the eating b'etzem that's the mitzva, it's the simcha for the purpose of being me'aneig es haShabbos.  Here, since the purpose of the simcha is to enhance learning, it automatically is called simcha shel mitzva, and it can be anything clever and humorous.  The proof to this is that the Gemara brings from David Hamelech 'והיה כנגן המנגן ותהי עליו יד ה, that it was music that brought him to Ruach HaKodesh.  Music is just music, but it brought ruach hakodesh because he had it played davka because he wanted to come to Hashraas HaShechina.)

Very parenthetically, when I was thinking about this article, I was reminded of Norman Cousins, the very liberal critic and author.  Mr. Cousins was an advocate of the curative power of positive emotions and laughter, and believed it extended his life far beyond what his doctors told him he could hope for.  He assiduously rejected his Jewish heritage, but, nebach, there was an essential goodness about him that no doubt contributed to his daughter recapturing her Jewish heritage for herself and her own family.  Her article is really worth reading.  After that article, read this one at Aish.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Green Kreplach and Self Portrait. Purim 2014

I don't think my Litvishe mother shetichyeh will touch them, to say nothing of eating them, so we made the usual kind too.

And the test-

My Rebbitzen's verdict:

My mother's verdict:
Vos ee dos???

Here's the Purim self portrait, as a shikereh poyer, but wearing a fedora.

It's not really me, although as a symbol, it may succinctly portray my life's work.  In any case, the statue is of Mr. Booker Noe, sixth generation bourbon master.

A Freilachen Purim.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Kiddush Question for Adar: Beer and Herring Pairing

When it comes to food and wine pairings, there are those who carelessly match any dish with any libation and those who painstakingly try to balance the flavors of the food with the perfect wine. But all would agree that a good understanding of ways to properly pair wine with your food can intensify the enjoyment of eating.

For example, here are fifteen rules I found in Food & Wine.
1. Champagne is perfect with anything salty.
2. Sauvignon Blanc goes with tart dressings and sauces.
3. Choose Grüner Veltliner when a dish has lots of fresh herbs.
4. Pinot Grigio pairs well with light fish dishes.
5. Choose Chardonnay for fatty fish or fish in a rich sauce.
6. Off-Dry Riesling pairs with sweet & spicy dishes.
7. Moscato d'Asti loves fruit desserts.

and so forth.  As Adar begins, the question that I've decided to boldly address is:  shouldn't we be giving more thought to herring and beer?  An almost-frozen cold beer with herring is a true oneg Shabbos.  But there is, after all, a plethora of disparate herrings, ranging from hot pink matjes to chopped brown to gray herring in cream sauce.  Clearly, each deserves its own particular kind of beer, and Beer and Herring Pairing deserves serious thought.  I am assuming that the therapeutic value of this blog will be needed more than usual in the coming weeks, and perhaps I will be able to offer a pictorial tutorial.

As always, I solicit reader input.  On questions such as this, there is no intellectual or scholarly threshold for suggestions.

Here what I've seen so far, but these are just suggestions for what beers go with herring in general.

Hansa pils
Sour Flemmish Red Ale, whatever that is.
Berliner Weisse
Berliner Weiss, New Glarus Brewing Company
Makeweight, Furthermore Beer
Whole Hog Imperial Pilsner, Stevens Point Brewery
Jinx Proof, Three Floyds Brewing Co.
Honey Pils, South Shore Brewery
Pontius Road Pilsner, Short’s Brewing Company
Home Town Blonde, New Glarus Brewing Company
Czech Pils, Royal Oak Brewery
Bohemian Lager, New Glarus Brewing Company

This is fine, but too general!   I need specific pairings for specific herrings, not generic "herring."

Here's what came in so far:
1.  Lambic (sour) beer with herring in wine sauce.  Good luck trying to find lambic beer, whatever that is.
2.  This is being written after Pesach, and has nothing to do with beer.  I found that a chilled Chardonnay goes very well with herring.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

A Rare Opportunity For Our Special Friends

For those of you that nebach didn't make it to Uman, here's a great opportunity.  This poster just appeared in my local shul.

They've been doing this for a while.  See this article, from two years ago.  I particularly liked this comment there:
 . ישנם דעות על שתי מקומות בארץ שהם קבורים שם, האם שלחו גם לשם מנין ? לא אתפלא אם ביום מן הימים ישלחו מנין לקברו של מרע"ה .

Monday, December 23, 2013

A New Law

Since I am moving the serious divrei Torah to Beis Vaad, the opportunity presents itself to use this site for things that do not fall under that heading.  In that spirit, I want to present a novel theory.

Analysis of fossil evidence reveals the existence of a massive dinosaur, named Argentinosaurus huinculensis.  This is the largest dinosaur ever discovered for which there is substantial physical evidence.  There is also Amphicoelias, but that is more speculative, being based on extremely scant fossil remains.

Argentinosaurus huinculensis is estimated to have been 115 feet long and weigh 100 tons.  Now please look at the drawing of it and other similar dinosaurs.

Please note how small their heads are.  Now think about how disproportionately small their mouths are.

What I don't understand is how a plant eater with such a small mouth could ingest enough calories to produce such a massive body.  Plant material is not calorie dense, even assuming a symbiotic or inherent means of metabolizing cellulose- I assume that however it was metabolized, it was done no more efficiently than what we have now.  It would have to eat ceaselessly, and even then, I don't understand how it could possibly get so big.  I've read that a 7.5 ton elephant eats around three hundred pounds of plant material a day to maintain that weight, and even that requires that the elephant grasp and push his food into his mouth with his trunk.  The equivalent here would be 4000 pounds a day.  Judging from the illustrations I've seen, their mouths were no larger than those of modern-day elephants.  This is like inflating an air mattress through a pin-hole.

To resolve this quandary, I propose the following.
Many of our Rabbeim tell us that these dinosaurs never existed  Therefore, their metabolic requirements were zero, and their net caloric surplus was 100%.  This net caloric surplus enabled them to accumulate enormous amounts of mass over time.

great Unknown proposed a fascinating corollary to this law:

You can determine if something never existed by seeing how massive it is.
In fact, one could postulate that an object's mass is directly proportional to how much it never existed.

This, he says, also helps to explain another phenomenon.
The reason I am accumulating mass is that I also am not all there.

I think we may have stumbled upon something important here.  This proposed law deserves a name.

Rabbi Dr. Stone suggests "The Mamash Doctrine."  This is an excellent name, neatly comprising the essence of the theory.  It economically describes the proposed mamashus that is associated with non-mamashus.  The name also alludes to one of the baalei hashkafa that says dinosaurs may never have existed, an essential element in explaining their mass.  I say that this proposal is יש בו ממש.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Change of Address

The name of this website, Havolim, is no longer appropriate for either its content or its writers.  Despite numerous reasons for having chosen that name, its denotation is at such odds with what it identifies that any symbolic or philosophical connotations don't matter.

That being the case, all content that was originally posted here has been copied to a new website, Beis Vaad, titled Beis Vaad L'Chachamim, at

I chose that name because while I initiated most of these Divrei Torah, the comments and letters I then received almost always resulted in the posts being rewritten and dramatically improved.   Over the years, I have benefited from the he'aros and mar'ei mekomos of Rabbis and Doctors and Rabbi Doctors great Unknown, Eli, Chaim B., Nachum Stone, Lakewood Guy, and many that remained anonymous.  Personal conversations with my children and sons in law, with my shiur, and with my friends, have added at least as much.  The classic example is the dvar Torah on Bris Milah, here and now here as well. In several cases, people let me know that not only did they disagree with me, but that what I wrote was a form of Avoda Zara.  In light of the collaborative character of these posts, and the quality of the criticism and comments, the name Beis Vaad LeChachamim fits.

This site has been up long enough to have developed a particular flavor, and I might begin posting other people's insights that have that sort of ta'am.

As I update the divrei Torah that are here, I am going to erase them from Havolim and leave them only on Beis Vaad.

For the moment, most posts will remain in both places.  Eventually, I'll remove the serious divrei torah from here and leave everything else.   That won't be as easy, because it's hard to definitively categorize many of these pieces as being one and not the other.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Vayechi, Devarim 49:15-16. The Tribe of Yissachar and Military Service. אי ספרא לא סיפא

The basic thesis of this post is that the tension between a life immersed in Limud HaTorah and military service is as old as Klal Yisrael- perhaps even older. The antiquity and obduracy of this tension imply that it is a fundamental and creative element of our national identity.

In Yaakov's brachos in Parshas Vayechi, he says to Yissachar
יששכר חמר גרם רבץ בין המשפתים וירא מנחה כי טוב ואת הארץ כי נעמה ויט שכמו לסבל ויהי למס עבד

Yissachar is a broad-boned donkey, lying between the boundaries.  He saw a resting place, that it was good, and the land, that it was pleasant, and he bent his shoulder to bear [burdens], and he became an indentured laborer.

The Ibn Ezra, echoed by the Abarbanel, says that the tribe of Yissachar did not join the army.  They were deeply bound to their land, and psychologically unfit for battle.  Because of the inequity of their not participating in the wars fought by Klal Yisrael, they paid a high tax to cover their share of the war effort- or they gave a tribute to placate threatening neighbors.

Ibn Ezra:

וירא מנוחה . כאשר ראה ארצו ומקום מנוחתו נעימים נטה שכמו לסבול כל משא כאשר ישא החמור ושב כעבד נותן מס וזה הטעם על יששכר שלא היו גבורים ולא ירצו לצאת למלחמה לעזוב מקומם. וכן אמר משה ויששכר באהליך.והיו נותנים מס למלך ישראל שלא יצאו או לגוים שלא יבאו להלחם עליהם

 והיה תכלית מאמר הזקן שזבולון  יהיה טבעו נוטה לסחורה ולכן לא תאות  לו המלוכה ואמנם יששכר היה גם כן בלתי  ראוי למלוכה לפי שאנשיו רובם יהיו עובדי אדמה ולכן קראו חמור גרם רובץ בין המשפתי׳  כי בביתו לא ישכנו רגליו אבל הוא כחמור  נושא סבל רובץ בין המשפתים שהם מערכות  האדמה לעבדה ולשמרה. בי משפתים הוא לשון  מערכה כמו י״י ישפות שלום לנו. ואמר וירא מנוחה כי טוב ר"ל שהיה יששכר אוהב המנוחה לא עמל המלחמות ואת הארץ כי נעמה ויט שכמו לסבול כחמור נושא הסבל ויהי למס עובד ר"ל שהיו אנשי יששכר נותני' מס למלך ישראל כדי שלא יצאו למלחמה וכמ״ש  הראב״ע וכמה רחוק זה ממה שיאות למלך ואפשר לפרש וירא מנוחה כי טוב ואת הארץ כי נעמה שהיו מבני יששכר חכמי' כדבריהם  ז״ל ולכן אמר עליהם וירא  מנוחה כי טוב  כי  מנוחה האמתית היא הנפשית והיא הטוב  האמתי וכן יהיו מהם עובדי אדמה רבים לכן  אמר ואת הארץ כי נעמה ויט שכמו לסבול  ולא היה דבר זה ראוי למלך. וי״מ שרצה  הזקן לשים הבדל בין זבולון שהיה יוצא למלחמה  ובין יששכר שלא ירצה להלחם עם האויבים  אבל ירצה לתת להם מס כדי שלא יבואי  עליהם למלחמה וזהו להיותו רובץ בין המשפתים שהם תחומי האויבים. 

The Sforno says almost the same thing.  But with his addition of one new idea, he presents Yissachar in an entirely different light- that their unfitness/unwillingness stemmed from their preoccupation with and passion for learning Torah.

from Sforno in 49:14-
יששכר חמר. בלתי מוכן למלחמה. כאמרם אי ספרא לא סיפא.

(The Radak might have presented this idea before the Seforno, but I am not sure whether that is what the Radak means.  I bring the Radak toward the end of this post.)

The Netziv develops this idea.  The reason the tribe of Yissachar did not send soldiers to join in the wars of Klal Yisrael was because they were consumed with a passion for learning Torah, and being in the army and preoccupation with Torah are incompatible.  But this calling did not relieve them of their obligation to share in the defense of Klal Yisrael.  Their alternative service was the payment of a high tax to cover the costs of whoever had to replace them in the army.

Netziv in Vayechi:

"יששכר חמור גרם" – בימי שפוט השופטים בעוד לא היה מלוכה בישראל היה הנימוס אשר כל שבט מפריש איזה סך חיל והוצאותיהם לשמור המדינה ושבט יששכר לא היה מפריש אנשי חיל.  כדמוכח מהא דבעת המליכו את דוד ובאו מכל שבטי ישראל לאלפים ורבבות ורק משבט יששכר לא באו כי אם מאתיים יודעי בינה וכל אחיהם על פיהם והיינו משום שלא היו אנשי מלחמה ומוכח עוד מדכתיב בס' דה"י א' ז' ולבני יששכר וגו'  גיבורי חיל לתולדותם מספרם בימי דוד, ולא כתיב כזה בכל השבטים והיינו משום שבכל השבטים הי' כזה גם לפי מלוך דוד  אבל שבט יששכר לא נמנו להיות גיבורי חיל עד שמלך דוד וגזר עליהם להמנות למלחמה.
וזהו דבר עקב "יששכר חמור גרם" – כעצמות חמור שאינו מסוגל להיות זריז כסוס שוטף במלחמה. אלא "רובץ בין המשפתים" – יושב במקומו  עמל בבית תלמודו. וזהו בין המשפתים מקום שאינו נקי ומהודר כל כך שיהא מוכשר לעוסקי בהליכות עולם. "וירא מנוחה כי טוב" טעם על שסירב להעמיד אנשי חיל משום שראה מנוחה כי טוב. והיא עסק התורה ואת הארץ כי נעמה.  ומי שיוצא בחל א"א לעסוק בתורה ומוכרח לצאת מארצו ויט שכמו לסבול. ותחת  זה הטה שכמו לסבול דעת ל ישראל מה שיטלו עליו  בשבל צורך המדינה ויהי למס עובד. ונתן מס הרבה לבעלי מלחמה משאר שבטים ולהוצאת מלחמה

The Netziv had previously presented this idea in his introduction to his pirush on the Sheiltos on Vayikra.

ונראה שהוא מברכת יעקב אבינו שאמר ליששכר וירא מנוחה כי  טוב ואת הארץ כי נעמה ויט שכמו לסבול ויהי למס עובד* וכבר פירש  ברבה דמנוחה זו התורה ־ וענין הפסוק • דזה היה דרכן של שבטי ישראל •  שיהא כל שבט מפריש איזה סך אנשי חיל והוצאותיהם • וידוע דאנשי חיל  אינן יכולים לעסוק בתורה וגם אינם יכולים לשבת בארץ ־ וע״ז אמר יעקב  שיששכר ראה מנוחת התורה כי טוב ואת הארץ כי נעמה י ע״כ לא רצה  לתת אנשי חיל כי אם אהב להיות רובץ בין המשפתים * והכי נראה מדכתיב  בר״ה א׳ י״ב בבוא מכל שבטי ישראל אנשי מלחמה ימה אלפים ומשבט  יששכר באו יודעי בינה לעתים מאתים וכל אחיהם הסכימו להם  עד שמלך דוד ועשה מהם בעלי מלחמה כדכתיב שם א׳ ז׳ ולבני יששכר וגו׳ מספרם  בימי דוד וגו׳  ותחת זה הטה שכמו לסבול ליתן מס לצרכי הכלל להוצאת מלחמת ישראל  

A few things I need to point out about the Netziv.

A. If the Yissachar/Zevulun arrangement were still in force at that time, then the fact that Yissachar paid for their share of the war and for their military stand-ins couldn't be called "a tax on Yissachar."  It would cost nothing to Yissachar and would just increase the burden on Zevulun. It must be that Yissachar did work to support themselves, and they worked twice as hard in order to pay the tax, but this left them the menuchas hanefesh to learn.

This explains why Yissachar paid the extra tax but Levi did not. Levi was supported by Klal Yisrael, so it wouldn't make sense to tax them. The burden would just devolve on the rest of Klal Yisrael. Another difference is that Levi did not receive any private agricultural land in Israel, so their exemption would not be seen as inequitable and would not arouse resentment.

-Important note: Eli, in the comments, tells us that from the pesukim in Divrei Hayamim it appears that David Hamelech ended the exemption of Shevet Levi as well, despite the fact that the Leviim were always supported by others and its members never received any private agricultural property.

-Another important note from Eli in the comments: Eli directs our attention to the Medrash Rabba 99:8-9, here and here, that indicates that there are two models of Zevulun's support of Yissachar. One is the money-in-the-envelope model, which is what I assumed, but the other is that Yissachar grew produce and delivered it to Zevulun, who then marketed it far away where it was more valuable. Zevulun was the entrepreneur who spent his time finding and exploiting markets, traveling and handeling, while Yissachar worked close to home.  If this was the case, then the tax might have co-existed with Zevulun's "support."

זבולן לחוף ימים ישכון הרי זבולן קדם ליששכר שכן מייחסן יששכר זבולן ולמה כן אלא שהיה זבולן עוסק בפרקמטיא ויששכר עוסק בתורה וזבולן בא ומאכילו לפיכך קדמו עליו אמר הכתוב (משלי ג) עץ חיים היא למחזיקים בה יששכר כונס וזבולון מביא באניות ומוכר ומביא לו כל צרכו וכן משה אומר (דברים לג) שמח זבולון בצאתך למה שיששכר באהליך שלך הן שאת מסייעו לישב בהן:

Eli points out that the latter model is consistent with the Rambam's advice to the Talmid Chacham.
ואמנם הדברים שהתירה אותם התורה לת"ח היא שיתנו ממונם לאדם לעשות בו סחורה בבחירתו ויהיה השכר כולו להם אם ירצה, והעושה זה יש לו שכר גדול עליו 

B. People ask on the Netziv from the Rambam (6 TT 10) that says that Talmidei Chachamim cannot be taxed.  The words of the Rambam:
תלמידי חכמים אינם יוצאין בעצמן לעשות עם כל הקהל בבנין וחפירה של מדינה וכיוצא בהן כדי שלא יתבזו בפני עמי הארץ. ואין גובין מהן לבנין החומה ותיקון השערים ושכר השומרים וכיוצא בהן ולא לתשורת המלך. ואין מחייבים אותן ליתן המס בין מס שהוא קצוב על בני העיר בין מס שהוא קצוב על כל איש ואיש
Great Unknown, in private communication, suggested that Talmidei Chachamim are only exempt from paying for defensive war, similar to paying שכר השומרים, while this was an expansionist war.  A better answer from Chaim B follows below in C-2-a.

C. I posted this discussion for informational purposes only. Any attempt to derive political capital from these sources would be self-defeating.  Even if the Netziv supported one side, all that would happen would be that the other side would passel the Netziv, just as they passel the Tiferes Yisrael and the Torah Temimah and the the Maharitz Chiyos and Reb Yosef Ber Soloveitchik and on and on.  But in any case, the words of the Netziv simultaneously support and contradict all current positions.  From the Netziv we see three things.

1. Preoccupation with learning Torah was a valid reason to avoid military service, even for large numbers of people.

2. People availing themselves of this exemption had to pay a very costly tax to fund their replacements.
a. Chaim B. points out that the Netziv in the Sheiltos makes a very important point, which he left out in his pirush on Chumash. He says that this arrangement was made with the agreement of the other Shevatim: וכל אחיהם הסכימו להם. It was not unilaterally imposed upon them by Yissachar by fiat.
i. I think that even though it involved the agreement of the other Shevatim, they would not have agreed if they did not approve. If they hadn't approved, then every rich shevet would avail itself of this option of paying others to fight in their place.  This indicates that the other Shevatim recognized the great value of what Yissachar was doing, but only to the extent that it deferred them from active participation.  They felt that Yissachar still had to pay for their replacements. But we cannot deny the fact that according to the Netziv, if the other Shevatim would not have recognized the value of learning, even if this was because their hashkafos were flawed, Yissachar would have no right to unilaterally impose their wishes on the Klal.
ii. Chaim's point might answer the question from the Rambam in B. The tax exemption for Talmidei Chachamim is not relevant to this "tax," which was a negotiated alternative to military service.  Proof for his excellent answer is from the Gemara in BB 8 (הכל לכריא פתיא אפילו מרבנן) that even Talmidei Chachamim are obligated to pay for local improvements and digging wells, because they directly benefit from them.  They only don't have to go out and dig themselves, but they would have to pay others who do their digging for them.  This is reflected in the Rambam's words as brought above in B, תלמידי חכמים אינם יוצאין בעצמן לעשות עם כל הקהל בבנין וחפירה של מדינה.
3. While this practice pertained throughout the time of the Shoftim and the time of Shaul, Dovid Hamelech ended the exemption as soon as he became king, and all the Bnei Torah had to join the army.
a. People who were obligated to leave their homes and yeshivos to join the army of Dovid Hamelech could be sure that Kashrus, nekiyus hadibbur, Tzniyus, and Shemiras Shabbos were observed at a standard as high as their own. That might not be the case today.
b. Even if C-3-a is true, that doesn't necessarily absolve people from finding or creating an alternative service that would satisfy their needs.

I have to reiterate the essential point:
It is clear that the tension between a life of immersive Limud HaTorah and military service is an issue as old as Klal Yisrael- perhaps even older, considering Chazal's "criticism" of Avraham Avinu's use of Talmidei Chachamim in the war against the four kings (Nedarim 32a, and see Sotah 10b.)  This will never be resolved.  One might even speculate that the tension is a formative dialectic of the character of Klal Yisrael.

Back to Tanach:
The reason I didn't mention the Radak is that I couldn't decide whether he belonged with the Ibn Ezra or the Sforno.
חמור גרם - ודמהו הדמיון הזה, רוצה לומר, כי תהיה ארצו טובה, כמו שאומר, ויתעסק בעבודת ארצו, ולא יצא למלחמה עם שאר השבטים כשיצאו, אלא יתן מס למלך ישראל, שיניחהו בארצו 
ורז"ל פירשו זה הענין שהיה שבט יששכר עוסק בתורה והיתה לו ארץ טובה, והוא משל שתהיה תורתו נעימה ושלימה ויגיעתו בתורה היתה לו מנוחה. ויט שכמו לסבל עבודת התורה והחכמה, ויהי למס עבד, שהיה עבד ישראל ושלח להם דברי תורה וחכמה.

In a different volume of the Netziv's introduction to the Sheiltos - this one is on Bamidbar/Devarim- he says another interesting thing about the role of Yissachar and other Talmidei Chachamim during the battle- they did not learn in their Batei Medrash and they did not go home at night.  They went out to the battlefield and sat and learned in the soldiers' tents, near the front line.  (He repeats this idea almost verbatim in his Haamek Davar (Devarim 33:18.))

ודבר זה מפליא היאך מצא חזקיהו לב לגזור כזאת שמי שאינו שעוסק בתורה ידקר בחרב. אבל הענין שידוע דבימיו היה סנחריב משחית את הארץ והיה שוטף כמה קהלות ישראל עד ירושלים, ועיקר מלחמתן של ישראל הוא בקול תורה כדאיתא במכות (י' ע"א) "'עומדות היו רגלינו בשעריך ירושלים', 'עומדות היו רגלינו' - שלא ימוטו במלחמה, שערי ירושלים שהיו מלאים בתורה", ואיתא במדרש (בראשית רבה פרשה ס"ה, כ') ששאלו את בלעם ואת אבנימוס הגרדי אם יכולין אנו להזדווג לישראל והשיבו בדקו בבתי מדרשות, אם מצאתם שם תינוקות מצפצפין בקולן אי אתם יכולין להזדווג להן, שכך הבטיח להם אביהם ואמר להם 'הקול קול יעקב' - בזמן ש'הקול קול יעקב' אין 'הידים ידי עשו' ואם לאו 'הידים ידי עשו' אתם יכולים להם. ולעולם זאת על ישראל בשעה שהיו יוצאין למלחמה היו מיחדים אנשים מוכשרים לתורה ולתפילה שיצאו עם הלוחמים לאהלי השדה ושם שננו חרב לשונם בקול תורה וכדאיתא במגילה ד'ד מיד וילן יהושע בלילה ההוא  בתוך העמק ואל״י שלן בעומק הלכה • וזה המקרא כתיב במלחמת מי  שנצרך יהושע לעצה ותחבולה כמבואר במקרא והכל הי׳ לצורך המלחמה כדי, לשנן ציר חרבם של ישראל׳ וזוהי כוונת ברכת משה לזבולון - 'שמח זבולון בצאתך' - למלחמה על שדה 'ויששכר באוהליך' - באהלי המחנה עוסק אז בתורה
הרי דנדרש  כח התורה בימי יחזקיהו לצורך מלחמתם עם סנחריב שראה שלא יחובל עול סנחריב מפני חרב לטושה ולא מפני כובד מלחמה אלא מפני חרב ישראל המיוחדת להם וכדאיתא שם בסנהדרין וחבל עול מפני שמן יחובל עולו של סנחריב מפני שמנו של חזקיהו שהי׳ דולק בביכ וב״מ . ואם כן שהיה צורך המלחמה היה אפשר לגזור על זה כמו שאפשר למלך לגזור על כל עמו ליטול חרב למלחמה בשעת הצורך.

Finally, Rav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch tangentially mentions Yissachar's military deferment, but the reason I reproduce it here is the beauty of his paean to the Jewish image of an honorable life.

יששכר אוהב לעבוד, אולם רק במידה ובאופן שיש ערך לעבודה בעם ישראל. בעוד יהודה מייצג את שבט המושלים, וזבולון - את שבט הסוחרים, מייצג יששכר את הגרעין העיקרי של עם ישראל, את החקלאי היהודי. אין הוא עובד כדי לעבוד ללא הרף ולצבור הון; איש העם מישראל לא ישעבד את עצמו לעבודה, הוא יעבוד כדי לזכות במנוחה. הוא יניח לזבולון להרוויח בתוצרתו מיליונים, אך הוא עצמו יעדיף לשבת בביתו; הוא יודע כי המנוח הנקנית לו בעבודתו העצמאית, היא היא רכושו הגדול, היא היא חלקו מכל עמלו; שכן המנוחה זוקפת את קומתו של אדם, - ובה ימצא האדם את עצמו. משום כך - "ויט שכמו לסבול", יניח ליהודה את שרביט המושלים, ולזבולון - את דגל הסוחרים. לבו לא יימשך אחרי תפארת מלחמה, ולא אחרי רווח המסחר; הוא מכיר כיבושים אחרים, ואוצרות אחרים, הנקנים ונשמרים רק בשעות המנוחה. לפיכך זכה דווקא שבט זה לשמור על אוצרות הרוח של האומה.

 בהתאסף שבטי ישראל אל דוד אחרי מפלת שאול, באו מכולם אלפים ומאות אלפים. יששכר שלח רק מאתיים, את ה"ראשים" - השאר נשארו בבית ועבדו - 

אך אלה היו "יודעי בינה לעתים" הם הביאו אתם "בינה" שעיקרה "ראיית ביניים", הכרת היחסים ההדדיים של אישים ועצמים, ותוצאות פעולתם זה על זה. הכרה זו ניתנה ליששכר בשעות מנוחתו; היתה זו "דעת בינה", ידיעה מוחשית, לא חידוד סופיסטי, אלא הבנה מעשית ביחסים האמיתיים של אישים ועצמים, זו הנקנית לאדם על ידי החכמה האמיתית של התורה.