Thursday, April 20, 2017

Why do we mourn the death of R' Akivas students but not the holocaust?

We are currently in the period of Sefira where religious Jews observe customs of mourning to mourn the death of R' Akiva's 24,000 students who died in this time period. And yet, there is no observance to mourn the 6,000,000 Jews killed in the holocaust, the question cries out why not?

The official Charedi answers are:
I. Chazon Ish - Igros Chazon Ish letter 97 - We really should make a day of memorial. However, to be קובע תענית is like to make תקנה דרבנן. Our generation is not on that level to do such a thing. And therefore he says we should not make any new day of memorial. We are not at the proper level to make such a תקנה. In other words, the proper response would be to קובע תענית, however we are not at the level to make such a תקנה. When chazal made dinim d'rabbanan they did it with soem aspect of ruach hakodesh which we lack.
This is the biggest problem that orthodox Judaism has today. The leaders are afraid of their own shadows and will not make any changes. This has led to the stagnation of Judaism and an inability to really adapt to the modern world. WADR to the Chazon Ish there is a time when you need to be a leader.
II. Brisker Rav - Tisha B'Av is the day of mourning for all tragedies including the holocaust. IMHO this is a copout as well. In fact, Sefira shows that this is not true, we don't mourn R' Akiva's talmidim on Tisha B'Av, rather we have a separate mourning period for them during Sefira. There is no question that the holocasut was a much greater tragedy. What is even more damning is that most Charedim don't even say a single Kinna for the holocaust and even those that do say 1 kinna at the very end when everyone has already had enough. If you really believe that Tisha B'Av is the time to mourn the holocaust then at least do something on Tisha B'Av to actually mourn the Holocaust. However, to say on one hand that Tisha B'Av is the day of mourning for all tragedies including the holocaust and then on Tisha B'Av ignore the Holocaust is mind boggling.

So what are the real answers that the Charedi world doesn't observe any mourning for the holocaust? IMHO there are a number of theological issues.  The holocaust poses some very strong theological questions, specifically related to Daas Torah, Gedolim, and Where was God?

  1. Daas Torah - The post war Charedi world is built on Daas Torah, that the Gedolim have all the answers to any question. Yet, the fact is that before the holocaust the Gedolim were very very wrong and there mistakes cost the lives of many Jews. The pre-war Gedolim were dead set against religious Jews leaving Europe. Mourning the holocaust would shine a light on these failures of Daas Torah. Here are some specific examples of the failure of Daas Torah.
    1. In 1939 R' Aharon Kotler was the Rosh Yeshiva of the Kletzk Yeshiva and had an American Talmid named R' Gedalia Shorr (who went on to become the Rosh Yeshiva or Torah Vadaas. That summer, R' Shorr received an urgent message from his parents to return home because war was about to break out. He could not ask R' Aharon Kotler because R' Aharon was away on vacation, so he sent a message to R' Aharon that he was leaving. When R' Aharon heard this he immediate;y wrote him a long letter saying ...he could calmly remain in Kletzk and that he did not have to worry about a war in the near future. WWII broke out less then 2 months later and if R' Schorr had followed R' Aharon's advice he most probably would not have survived (source: What did R' Aharon Kotler advise talmidim to do before WWII?)
    2. The Belzer Rebbe ran away from the Nazis and ended up in Hungary in 1944. His brother made the following farewell speech in Hungary before fleeing to Palestine: ... Concerning this I am obliged to tell you, dear friends, sages of Hungary, the absolute truth.  Anyone who is close to my brother and is part of his circle certainly knows that he is not leaving in flight, nor is he running hastily, as though he wished to flee and to leave here.  Rather, his wish and desire is to ascend to the Holy Land, which is sanctified with ten measures of sanctity.  I know that for much time he has longed greatly for Eretz Yisrael, and  his desire is so powerful and his pure soul so longs to go up to God's city, in order to arouse [Divine] compassion and favor there for the entire community ... "He saw rest" – the Tzaddik sees that there will prevail here, for the residents of this country [Hungary], rest and tranquility; "that it was good" – the Tzaddik sees that it is good, and all good, and only good and kindness will pursue and overtake our brethren, the house of Israel, who live in this country [Hungary]. In his address, the Rabbi of Bilgoraj presents the journey to Eretz Yisrael in a manner that is altogether removed from the situation in which he and his audience find themselves.  The claim that the journey is not motivated by any danger or fear is simply not credible, and even the biographers of the Rebbe admit this.  The second part of the speech, the blessing/promise by the Rebbe that peace would prevail in Hungary was simlarly wrong in view of what was destined to take place only two months later – the arrival of the Germans and the deportation of some 400,000 Jews (about 80% of the Jewish population) to Auschwitz. Some scholars have interpreted his words as deliberately concealing of what he knew to be true for the sake of saving his own skin, while others have seen it as a faulty reading of the situation, and certainly a failure in the foreknowledge expected of such a great Tzaddik.  Later on, printings of the derasha in Israel omitted this section.
  2. Gedolim as leaders - The Gedolim are portrayed in the Charedi world as the ultimate leaders and yet many of these leaders (especially on the Hasidic side) abandoned their flocks and ran away. The best example is the above mentioned Belzer Rebbe but he was not alone, the Satmar Rebbe fled as well as the Gerrer Rebbe. What is even more disturbing is that the Belzer and Satmar were saved by the Zionists and yet showed no gratitude and in the case of Satmar became rabid anti-Zionists. 
  3. Zionism - As mentioned above many Charedi leaders were saved by the Zionists, how could they explain this? 
  4. The biggest question of course is Where was God? How could God allow Hitler to destroy the Jews of Eastern Europe with the biggest victims being Haredi jews? The Satmar answer is well known and almost laughable but for most of the Charedi world the question is simply not asked and not answered. 
Mourning for the holocaust would bring focus on all of the above and therefore has been neglected. One Gadol who did real introspection about the Holcocaust was R' Soloveitchik (RYBS). In 1941 he gave the Hesped for R' Chaim Ozer in America which was probably the best enunciation of the idealogy of Daas Torah. And yet, after the war he was willing to admit that he was wrong, the Aguda was wrong and Mizrachi was right and he switched affiliations and no longer promulgated the Das Torah ideology. 

The truth is, that we are starting to see a change today because as the Charedi world has grown stronger and more self confident, these issues can be dealt with.




Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Not eating chametz that was sold to a non-Jew

This has become a very popular chumra in the Charedi world in Israel. However, it is all a fake. It is practically impossible to keep this chumra as manufacturers can put whatever they want on the label and no one checks whether it is actually true.

Kashrus organizations do not see a difference between cake sold halachically to a גוי and cake made after Pesach. Therefore there are no grounds for relying on the manufactures declarations. In fact, the kashrus organizations stance is usually to permit the manufacturers to write on the package whatever they want.

In other words the Kashrus organizations that almost all Charedim rely on like the Eidah Hacharedis, R' Landau, R' Rubin and others hold that this is a chumra with no basis and therefore have no issue with the manufacturers writing whatever they want. So even if the package says baked after Pesach you have no way of knowing that this is true.

Some people rely on checking product codes which tells them when the product was made. However, this is not that useful. All it says is that the product was made after Pesach. However, every Chometz product has chometz ingredients in it (at least flour which is most probably chometz because it was washed) and the consumer has no way of knowing when the chometz ingredients were made. For example even if you only buy cookies that were made after Pesach you have no idea what flour was used. It is very possible/probable that the flour used to make the cookies was chometz and was sold for Pesach. Likewise for all of the other Chometz ingredients.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Food and water in the Midbar - Updated


In parshas בשלח Hashem provides food and water for the Jewish people in the Midbar. Here are a few questions related to that:

  1. Manna was provided for the people.  What did the animals eat? The Torah states that each person got the amount of Man needed to feed the people in their household. This would seem to exclude the animals. Yet, we know that the Jewish people left Egypt with extensive livestock and they had to eat something.
  2. The Torah has a list of Korbanos (that were brough in the Mishkan) that require oil and flour (or loaves of bread) and wine (Mincha, Todah, etc.) . Where did the oil, flour and wine come from?  They could not have stored enough oil and flour and wine for 40 years in the desert when they left Egypt. In any case it would spoil. Additionally, on Pesach people needed to eat matzah to fulfill the mitzva, where did they get the flour from to bake Matzah?
  3. Water was provided by a rock. However, for a rock to produce enough water for 2.5 million people is simply not practical. People need at least 40 liters per person a day, that means 100 million litres a day flowing from a rock. For people to actually collect that much water per day would mean that this is what they did all day and nothing else. Can you imagine 2.5 million people queuing up to get water every day? This also leaves out the water needs of all of the livestock that they had. Did the livestock drink from the same source? How would that work?
In short, even with the miraculous Man and water from a rock, it is not possible that 2.5 million people would have had enough water or other food supplies.

Update 4/6

Tosafos in Menachos 45b discusses the issue of flour. Rashi in fact states that they had no flour in the midbar and therefore did not make the שתי הלחם. Tosafos disagrees based on a Gemara in Yoma 75b that they bought food from merchants in the midbar. Therefore Tosafos says they must have bought flour as well.

In truth, the Gemara in Yoma that they bought food from merchants seems quite bizarre. There is not even a hint in the text about this. Also, what merchants are there wandering in the desert to sell food to the Jewish people? One of the big questions about the whole midbar experience is where is the archaeological evidence. The answer I have always heard is that the Jewish people lived on Nissim (man etc.) which didn't leave any trace. However, if we accept this Gemara in Yoma suddenly everything changes. They bought food and other things from merchants. If so where is the evidence? 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The practical impossibilities of actually bringing the Korban Pesach

Korban Pesach is one of the most important mitzvas, one of only 2 mitzvos that if not done you are chayav kares. Yet, it is impossible to understand how the Korban Pesach was actually ever brought by a large group of people.

I will start with listing a set of facts based on the Mishnayon/Gemaras in Pesachim and other places:

  1. All times listed in the Gemara are based on a 12 hour day 6 to 6 (שעות זמניות)
  2. The first Mishna in the 5th perek of Pesachim (48a) states that on Erev Pesach they would start bringing the תמיד של בין הערבים at 1:30PM (7.5 hours) and finish at 2:30PM (8.5)
  3. They started bringing the Korban Pesachs only after they finished with the Tamid, meaning they only started at 2:30PM 
  4. Korbanos can only be brought until sunset which is 6PM (12 hours)
  5. The time alloted to bring all of the Korban Pesachs was 3.5 hours (2:30 PM until 6PM)
  6. The Mishna states that the Korban Pesach is brought in 3 groups
  7. The Gemara (Pesachim 64) states that they said Hallel while they were bringing the Korban pesachs and they never repeated Hallel more then 2 times
  8. The animals were suspended and flayed in the azara
  9. King Aggrippas counted the Korban Pesachs one year and came up with 1.2 million
  10. The Azara in the Beis Hamikdash was 135x187 Amos
  11. The entrance into the Azara was 10 Amos wide
According to the Gemara (9 above) they brought 1.2 million korbanos one year. That means that 1.2 million people needed to go into the Azarah with their sheep to sacrifice it. Lets do the math now.
  1. 3.5 hours is 210 minutes, 12600 seconds
  2. That is 95 korbanos per second, 5714 per minute. Note: To bring the Korban means to slaughter it, collect the blood, sprinkle the blood on the mizbeach, etc.
  3. The size of the Azara is approximately 25,000 square Amos
  4. Assuming a large Amah (2 feet) that is 50,000 square feet, Note: part of the azarah was the Kodesh Hakodashim which can not be entered and  there are also the Keilim
  5. A loose crowd, one where each person is an arm's length from the body of his or her nearest neighbors, needs 10 square feet per person. A more tightly packed crowd fills 4.5 square feet per person. A truly scary mob of mosh-pit density would get about 2.5 square feet per person.
  6. Based on the above (5) 
    1. Loose crowd - the maximum number of people is 5000, 3 groups would only get us to 15,000 people, we are 1.185 million people short
    2. A more tightly packed crowd - the maximum number of people is 11,111 3 groups would only get us to 33,333 people, we are 1.167 million people short
    3. A truly scary mob of mosh-pit density - the maximum number of people is 20,000 3 groups would only get us to 60,000 people, we are 1.14 million people short
  7. The entrance to the Azarah is 20 feet wide, meaning at most 8 can come in simultaneously. For 1.2 million to come in would require 150,000 rows of 8. This would require 12 rows to enter a second
  8. All the people who come in need to go out the same entrance
Even if we radically reduce the number of korbanos to 100,000 the numbers are still ridiculous

  1. That is 8 korbanos per second, 476 per minute. Note: To bring the Korban means to slaughter it, collect the blood, sprinkle the blood on the mizbeach
  2. Based on the crowd numbers above (5) 
    1. Loose crowd - the maximum number of people is 5000, 3 groups would only get us to 15,000 people, we are 85,000 people short
    2. A more tightly packed crowd - the maximum number of people is 11,111 3 groups would only get us to 33,333 people, we are 67,000 people short
    3. A truly scary mob of mosh-pit density - the maximum number of people is 20,000 3 groups would only get us to 60,000 people, we are 40,000 people short
  3. The entrance to the Azarah is 20 feet wide, meaning at most 8 can come in simultaneously. For 1.2 million to come in would require 150,000 rows of 8. This would require 12 rows to enter a second
  4. All the people who come in need to go out the same entrance
Now if we think about Pesach in the Midbar things get even worse. 
  1. The population was 600,000 men over the age of 20, giving us a population 2.5. -3 million people
  2. If we take teh Gemaras number of 10 people per Korban that would be about 250,000 korbanos
  3. The Mishkan was only 30x10 Amos with part of that the Kodesh Hakodashim. 
  4. There were only 3 Kohanim to bring 250,000 korbanos
What we see from here is that there is no way that massive numbers of Jews could have ever brought the Korban Pesach. It is simply not feasible. The whole thing makes no sense at all. The Gemara describes what has to happen, yet pays no attention to the sheer impossibility of it all. 

Some will answer, it was all miracles. There are 2 answers to this claim:
  1. The Gemara (Pesachim 64) has a dispute between Abaye and Rava if they relied on a miracle to lock the doors of the Azara or not. Abaye says yes and Rava says no. In all disputes between Abaye and Rava (except for 6) the Halacha is like Rava. If Rava says that we can't rely on this small miracle to close the doors, then certainly we can't rely on much greater miracles to allow us to bring the Korban Pesach
  2. There is absolutely no source for this. Nowhere does the Gemara say that the bringing of the Korban Pesach was miraculous. And in truth, these would be great miracles indeed.
The bottom line is that based on the numbers it is absolutely impossible for a large group of people to ever bring the Korban Pesach. The short time span plus the small Beis Hamikdash simply does not allow it to happen in any way shape or form.

Update 4/5

There are 2 more issues that I would like to raise:
  1. For every Korban that you are Makriv you need to burn the אימורים, the organs on the mizbeach until the next morning. To throw them all on the mizbeach requires 28 per second for the whole night. Of course after throwing on the first n the mizbeach would be covered and there is also the time needed for the אימורים to actually burn. Of course a pile of 1.2 million sets of organs would probably fill up a large part of the Azarah all by itself.
  2. In addition to the Korban Pesach everyone who comes to Yerushalayim is required to bring a korban reiyah (Olah) on the first day of the chag. While Korban Pesach applies to a Chabura these korbanot apply to every male, over the age of 13. This means many more Olas Reiyah were brought in comparison to Korban Pesach so if there 1.2 million Korban Pesachs there were at least 4-6 million olas reiyahs that needed to be brought on the first day of Pesach. Again it is absolutely impossible to bring that many Korbanos in a few hours. Additionally, you were supposed to bring Shalmei Simcha as well which adds even more korbanos.
Important note: All the dimensions I gave for the Azarah assumed for simplicity's sake that it was empty and could be completely filled with people, this is of course not true at all. For example, the Kodesh HaKadashim ws 20x20 amah which could not be entered. Additionally the mizbeach was 32x32 amah not including the ramp. So in fact, a significant part of the Azarah was actually not usable space for people greatly minimizing the amount of people who could actually fit into the azara.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Is halacha still binding if one accepts biblical criticism?

theTorah.com has a symposium on this very question with various learned answers. I have to say that IMHO all of the answers made no sense to me at all for the following reasons.

Anyone who learns Gemara knows that the basis for almost all halachos min hatorah is some kind of derasha, whether it is an extra letter or word, a different word, a גזירה שוה, etc. The underlying assumption of all of these is that the text is divine and therefore we can make derashos from them. The moment the text is no longer divine but rather, written by humans, all of these derashos fall by the wayside. This is even more so when considering teh documentary hypothesis. According to the DH the text we have is an amalgamation of a number of different sources edited to be a single document. Based on that, we certainly cannot ask why do we have this extra letter/word, etc. to make a derasha. Therefore, if all of the derashas are invalid/go away what are we left with? What is the halacha based on?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Not eating Kitniyos nowadays - a fossilized Judaism

Ashekenazim do not eat Kitniyos on Pesach even though the Gemara states specifically that they are not Chometz. 2 reasons are given for this minhag (source: OU).

    1. Kitniyos are often grown in close vicinity to the five grains (wheat, oat, spelt, rye and barley). As such, it was not unusual for a small amount of one or more of the five grains to be intermingled with kitniyot. Thus, it was possible that one eating beans or rice on Pesach could inadvertently eat actual chametz
    2. Kitniyos can be easily confused with chametz for several reasons. Raw kitniyot resemble the five grains in appearance. Furthermore, kitniyot are processed in a similar manner to the five grains. For example, mustard seeds are threshed and winnowed in a manner similar to grains. Finally, kitniyot can be milled into flour, made into dough, baked into bread or cooked into a porridge that may resemble chametz. Because of the similarities between kitniyot and actual chametz, the rabbis feared that people may mistakenly believe that if they can eat kitniyot on Pesach, they can also eat chametz on Pesach.
    Both of these 2 reasons no longer apply today in any way shape or form. Again from the OU:
    In our contemporary society, the original motivation for avoiding kitniyot is no longer relevant. Hundreds of years ago, when the custom was first instituted, there was concern about people confusing legumes and grains, and thereby unwittingly eating chametz on Pesach. But what would our ancestors say to the unbelievable variety of kosher-for-Pesach-food items resembling chametz that are ubiquitously available today? Until about fifty years ago, Pesach fare was limited to mostly chicken, eggs, potatoes, and matzah. Nowadays, one can dine on kosher l’Pesach cereal, pizza, pasta, lukshen kugel, cookies, cake and almost anything else we eat year round. Is there any benefit then to maintaining the minhag of not eating kitniyot? 
    The only justification offered is tradition, a link to Jewish history. IMHO, this is one of the problems with Orthodox Judaism. The religion has become fossilized, חדש אסור מן התורה, it has a very hard time adopting to the modern world. Tradition is great, but when it directly impacts people negatively it loses it's charm.


    Sunday, March 19, 2017

    Questions about the Parah Aduma

    We just read Parshas Parah so I would like to rise a few questions about the Parah Aduma.


    I. How many people can a Para Aduma be metaher?

    The Mishna in Para (3:5) states that there were 9 para adumahs in history. However, the distribution is very puzzling. The Mishna states that Moshe (really Elazar) made the first Parah Aduma and that Parah Adumah lasted until Ezra which is over 900 years and then Ezra made a Parah Aduma when they returned from Bavel to rebuild teh Beis Hamikdash.However, in the period of the second Beis Hamikdash they made an additional 7 para adumahs. This raises a number of questions:
    1. How is it possible that from Moshe until Ezra one Parah Aduma was enough to be metaher everyone while in a much shorter period from Ezra until the destruction they needed 8? 
    2. What changed between the period of the Shoftim and the first Beis Hamikdash and the second Beis Hamikdash that required so many more Parah Adumas in the second Beis Hamikdash? 
    3. The real question is how could 1 para aduma possible have enough ashes to metaher everyone for 800 years? Did people not become tahor in that time period?

    Additionally, the Rambam at the end of the 3rd perek of Hilchos Parah Adumah writes that the melech hamashiach will make a tenth Parah Adumah. It sounds like the Rambam holds that 1 Parah Aduma will be enough to be metaher everyone. There are more then 12 million Jews today and each
    person needs 2 "doses" which means to be metaher everyone will take at least 25 million "doses". There is no way that all of those can come from 1 parah aduma, yet that is the implication of the Rambam.

    In short, I don't see how it is possible for 1 Parah Aduma to provide enough ashes for a 900 year period, nor do I see how 1 Parah Aduma could provide enough ashes for all o fteh Jewish people when Moshiach comes.


    II. Preparations for the Parah Aduma were child abuse?

    The Mishnayos in Parah (3rd perek) describe the many precautions the Chachamim took in order to ensure that the parah aduma did not become tameh. One of those precautions was the following: They would take pregnant woman to a special cave (built on top of a hollow) to give birth and then raise the children there to ensure that they would not become tameh. The children were not permitted to leave the cave except to deal with the parah aduma. From a modern day perspective this would definitely be considered child abuse. They essentially locked children in a small cave for the first 8 years of their life not letting them leave for any reason except the parah aduma. How exactly should we relate to this?