Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Tu B'Av and Jewish Girls

The Mishna in Taanis (26) states the following:
(R. Shimon b. Gamliel): There were never days as festive as the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kipur:
1. The girls would dress in white garments that were borrowed, so as not to embarrass those who lacked any.
2. All the garments required Tevilah first.
3. They would dance in the vineyards, and say that the men should look at their families rather than their beauty.
The Gemara later states:
The Mishnah said that they would dance in the vineyards; those who lacked wives would go there.
1. The beautiful ones would tell them to pay attention to beauty, as a wife is for her beauty.
2. Those with Yichus would tell them to pay attention to that, as a wife is for her children.
3. The ugly ones would tell them to marry for the sake of Heaven, and to adorn their wives with golden jewelry.
The Mishna and Gemara states black on white that on Tu B'Av the girls would dress up and go out and dance IN FRONT of the available boys to catch their eye to get married.

Of course this story greatly offends the sensibilities of modern day Charedim who can't imagine such a scenario. There are 2 common answers given in the Charedi world to explain this:

  1. This Gemara is not meant to be taken literally. The Satmar Rebbe is quoted as saying the following: "The Jewish people has always been a holy people and therefore it is impossible to take this Gemara literally and if you don't understand this on your own, I can't explain it to you". 
  2. The people who lived in earlier times were on a much higher level then us and therefore we can't understand their actions or imitate their actions. This is actually part of a larger discussion about how we should learn Tanach, there was a big discussion in the more modern world whether we should learn תנ"ך בגובה העינים or not. 
IMHO, these 2 answers are very unsatisfactory. Regarding the first answer, as someone answered the Satmar Rebbe, how do we know that we should take the gemara of the 3 shavuos literally. This is a very slippery slope, the left wing, will take this to places that the Charedi world will not like. The second answer is just as bad, it means that we basically can't learn anything from Tanach. 

 

What script was the Torah given in and did it change?

This comes up in yesterdays daf (Sanhedrin 22) and I have a long post about it What כתב was the Torah given in?.

I would like to reiterate what I said there. IMHO, this is the best proof that the Tannaim/Amoraim had no mesora.  According to Chazal the second Beis Hamikdash lasted 420 years and the Tannaim lived a little before and after the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash. In other words, the dispute in the Gemara in Sanhedrin took place no more then 550 years after Ezra and yet they have no idea what really happened at the time of Ezra, did he change the כתב or not. This is not some minor dispute, this is a major dispute with huge historical ramifications. This is also not a dispute about which can be said אלו ואלו דברי אלקים חיים because this is a dispute about historical facts. According to R' Yosi all Sta"m during from the time of Matan Torah through the period of the first Beis Hamikdash were written in כתב עברית and only at the time of Ezra the כתב was changed to אשורית. This is major change. Every pair of tefillin, mezuza, sefer Torah needed to be rewritten in a new script. The whole nation had to be taught to read and write a new script that they had never seen before. And yet, we have R' Elazar Hamodai who denies that ANY of this happened. He believes that the Torah was given in אשורית and nothing ever changed. From Matan Torah until his day the only script used was אשורית. How can there be such a big dispute about simple historical facts? The only answer is that the Babylonian exile caused such an upheaval that the Jews forgot everything and therefore the Tannaim and Amoraim had to basically make things up as they went along.

Monday, August 7, 2017

King David was a big stud in his old age

Today's daf (Sanhedrin 22) relates the following story:
(Gemara - R. Yakov): Avishag (the girl picked for David) was permitted to Shlomo, for a king may use what another king used;
1.She was forbidden to Adoniyahu, for he was not a king.
(d)Question: What was her relationship with David?
(e)Answer: "Va'Tehi la'Melech Sochenes va'Tesharesehu."
1.She asked David to marry her; he told her that he may not take a 19th wife.
2.Avishag: That is a lame excuse! (Really, you are too old and weak to have intercourse.)
3."Va'Tavo Bas Sheva El ha'Melech ha'Chedrah" - David called Bas Sheva, and she cleaned herself 13 times (Rashi - they had intercourse 13 times and after each time Bat Sheva cleaned out the semen) in front of Avishag.
According to the Gemara King David, who was a weak old man at the time in his 60s was able to have intercourse 13 times in a very short period. Quite unbelievable.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Jewish Women and Pubic Hair

Believe it or not today's Daf (Sanhedrin 21a) has a bizarre and fascinating discussion about this. The Gemara starts with the following bizarre statement:
"Va'Yisna'eha" - (after he raped her,) why did he hate her? (R. Yitzchak): His Penis got caught on a (Pubic) hair, and it castrated him. She did not intend for this! Correction: She intentionally tied a hair to castrate him.
This is truly bizarre, the Gemara states that Amnon was castrated by Tamar's pubic hair. I am pretty sure that that is not physically possible to castrate someone with pubic hairs, certainly not, unintentionally. The Gemara continues:
Rava taught that "va'Yetzei Lach Shem ba'Goyim b'Yafyech" (Jewish women are know for their beauty) - Jewish women do not have hair in the underarms or pubic hair! Tamar was the daughter of a Yafes To'ar.  (and therefore was not born Jewish)
We see that Chazal believed that

  1. Jewish women did not have pubic hair but gentile women did
  2. Not having pubic hair was considered to be beautiful
The Rishonim/Acharonim are bothered by a number of questions:
1. A Jewish girl becomes an adult when she turns 12 and has 2 pubic hairs. If Jewish women don't have pubic hair how does this work? How do we know if any Jewish girl is an adult?

I saw 3 answers:
  1. They have only a little short hair
  2. They have no hair but the holes from which the hair would grow are there and that is enough to make them an adult
  3. They have pubic hair but they used to shave it (Maharsha)
Based on this, we can ask why don't they shave their pubic hair now? If Chazal said that it makes them beautiful why the change? Maybe I am missing something, maybe many frum women do shave their pubic hair?

2. The Gemara in Nazir says that it is an issur of lo yilbash if a man shaves his pubic hair because that is something that women do. However, if women had no pubic hair then why should it be prohibited for a man?

I saw 2 answers:
  1. According to the Maharsha (Answer 3 above) there is no question as the women shaved their pubic hair.
  2. Since having no pubic hair was considered beautiful for a women it is prohibited for a man.
The really obvious question is how could it be that Jewish women had no pubic hair and non-Jewish women did and of course nowadays even Jewish women have pubic hair? I saw one answer based on kabbala but nothing satisfying. Another instance of Chazal thinking that Jews were physically different then non-Jews (see for example Do gentiles have more teeth than Jews? Do they have less?).

I also wonder how Chazal actually could possibly have known this. When did they ever see a non-Jewish women naked or even a Jewish woman other then their wife naked? It is strictly prohibited to look at any part of a woman's body especially the pubic area. Is this another case where they simply speculated that something was true without actually checking it out?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Who can be on the Sanhedrin?

Believe it or not, no Charedi Rabbi of this generation or previous generations could be on the Sanhedrin. Yesterday's daf (Sanhedrin 17) states:
We put on a Sanhedrin only people of great stature and appearance, who are Chachamim, old, understand witchcraft, and know all 70 languages, so that Beis Din will not need to hear testimony through an interpreter. 

The Rambam understands that they need to some medicine and other wisdom as well as Torah.

I find these 2 criteria fascinating (the requirements to know languages and general knowledge), as these 2 disqualify almost all of the Eastern European gedolim from the last 200 years as well as all of the current Israeli Gedolim. Most of them only speak Yiddish, or Hebrew, they do/did not even speak the vernacular (Polish or Russian or English) let alone 70 languages. In addition they had/have absolutely no secular knowledge to speak of. Additionally, Rabbanim like R' Steinman (and in fact all of the previous/current Israeli Gedolim) would be excluded as they are too old, while the Chazon Ish and Lubavitcher Rebbe among others would be excluded because they had no children. Who is left?

So when Moshiach comes will there be anyone qualified to sit on the Sanhedrin?

In fact, given this criteria it is doubtful if there ever was anyone in history who qualified as the ability to speak 70 languages is super rare if not found at all, For example Google most languages spoken by a single person and look at the results.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Showering during the 9 days

In recent years, this topic has become more controversial in the Charedi world. The din in the shulchan aruch is that tyou are not allowed to wash your whole body during the 9 days. Therefore, people didn't take showers during the 9 days. However, recently, this has come up for debate with the mekilim claiming that times have changed along with standards of hygiene and people simply can't go 9 days without a shower. There is a famous quote from R' Shach who said that no one asks for a kula when sitting shiva so why should we be meikil during the 9 days? IMHO the answer is clear and obvious. When you sit shiva you go nowhere and do nothing. You sit in your house all day for 7 days. In contrast, nowadays the 9 days are regular work days and people go ut in the heat of the summer etc. Additionally, if you work with non-religious Jews or non-Jews it is disgusting to come in to work or anywhere else smelling.

In truth, I don't understand why anyone would be machmir. It is absolutely clear that hygiene standards are completely different nowadays then they were in the days of Chazal and even 100 years ago in Eastern Europe. The advent of running hot water at any time of day has completely changed how we look at bathing. Someone who doesn't shower for 9 days nowadays is considered not normal and probably mentally ill.

This is another example of the Charedi world stuck in time following the dictum חדש אסור מן התורה. What is interesting is that the change is coming from the people. My impression is that more and more Charedim are simply taking showeres during this period.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Orthoprax Chasidim

I was away for Shabbos and therefore went to a local Shteibel to daven on Friday night. Even though I know that there are orthoprax Chasidim it still was a shock to see them. In my home town, Mincha on Friday is davened 20 minutes before sunset. I figured in a shteibel they mght be a little later so I got there 10 minutes before sunset. The place was deserted. Around the time of sunset they finally got a minyan and started davening. The Chasidim rolled in late and davened in record time. One Chasid in particular fascinated me. He walked in after Mincha sat down in the back and started talking. He didn't daven a single word, he just talked and talked and talked. Other Chasidim came in even later and by the time Maariv rolled around, there was a whole group standing out in the hall shmoozing instead of davening.

I can understand how a Modern Orthodox person can be orthoprax as MO doesn't impose much on them or limit them much. You can have a TV, go to movies read books etc. You can also just take off your yarmulke and blend in. But to be an orthorpax Chasid sounds crazy to me. Chasidus imposes so many restrictions starting from the dress that it must be really stifling if you don't believe. You can never blend in and if you want something like a TV you need to hide it very well. I understand the social penalties of leaving are very high, but the price of staying seems very high as well.