Thursday, June 22, 2017

Were the Amoraim/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 6

Todays daf (Bava Basra 151) discusses a custom where a woman would 'hide' her assets before getting married so that the husband would not get the profits from the assets and would not inherit them.  The clear intention was not to give the assets to the other person as an irrevocable gift but rather to give it as a revocable gift in case the marriage fell through or she got divorced. The Gemara relates the following story:
Rav Zutra bar Tuvya's mother wrote her property to her son before marrying Rav Zevid (to hide her assets). He divorced her. Rav Zutra bar Tuvya did not want to return the assets to his mother, he claimed that since the wedding went through the assets became his. 
What kind of son doesn't give his mother her money back no matter what the legal technicality is?

The Gemara relates another similar story:
Rav Dimi bar Yosef's sister had a small orchard. Whenever she got sick, she would give it to him. When she recovered, she would retract.
Once, she got sick and called him to come to acquire it. He sent a message 'I am not interested.' She sent to him 'come and acquire it however you want (i.e. in a way that will not allow me to retract).'
He left part for her, and made a Kinyan on the rest. She recovered and retracted, and came in front of Rav Nachman. He called Rav Dimi to come.
Rav Dimi saw no need to come. Since she kept part, it was like a healthy person's gift, and he acquired!
Again, what kind of brother doesn't return the money to his sister when she makes it clear that her original gift was only because she thought she was dying and now she wants the money back? Even if technically he is entitled to the money it is certainly not the moral thing to do.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The fatal flaw in the argument from design

Yonasan Roseblum in his weekly Mishpacha column reviewed a book whose thesis is to establish the case for God. The sole purpose of the book is to establish the case for the Creator of the Universe – and to do so based largely on the words of the world's leading scientists themselves, even when they deny the evidence before them.

One quote from Rosenblum in particular struck me and in IMHO actually undermines his whole thesis.
Sir Francis Crick published articles speculating that the first living matter was sent to earth by a highly advanced extra-terrestrial civilization. Could a scientific genius on Crick's level have failed to notice that he had not solved the problem, but only removed it one level: From where did that extra-terrestrial civilization emerge according to the laws of physics and chemistry?
I would ask the same question of Rosenblum about God. Religious people have also not solved the problem but only removed it one level. If something as complex as man could not have arisen spontaneously without a creator, then how did a much more complex God (after all God created everything)  arise without a creator? In short, who created God, or how did God come into existence? Of course, the answer is God is the exception, he is God, but once you say that you can just as easily answer that life is the exception.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Were the Amoraim/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 5

Todays Daf (Bava Basra 149) relates the following story:
Isar (a convert) had deposited 12,000 Zuz with Rava. Isar was about to die, and he wanted to give to the money to his son Rav Mari. Isar had converted between the conception and birth of Mari. (According to Halachah, Mari was not Issar's son andtherefore would not inherit him.) Mari was away learning. Rava insisted that there was no way to transfer the money to Rav Mari in a halachic fashion and therefore Rava would be able to keep the money for himself. Rav Ika brei d'Rav Ami pointed out that there is a halachic way to transfer the money.  He (Issar) can admit that the money belongs to Rav Mari. Rav Mari will acquire through Odisa (Kinyan through (even a false) admission)! Word spread that Isar admitted that the money belongs to Rav Mari; Rava was upset that someone told him, causing a loss to Rava! (If not for the Odisa, the money would have become Hefker when Isar died, and Rava could have kept it.)
Let's think about this for a second. Rava knew that the money belonged to Issar and that he wanted to give the money to his (non-halachic) son. However, instead of trying to help and just give the money to Rav Mari, Rava instead tried to find a legal loophole to keep the money and was upset when Issar was told a halachic way of transferring the money.  Is this justice? Is this moral?

We can actually ask an additional question on Rava. Why did Rava become upset over such a thing? Rava certainly knew the dictum of the Gemara earlier (10a) which states that a person's income, including all profits and losses, is fixed for the entire year on Rosh Hashanah. Why did he become upset over this loss of money, if he knew that it was decreed on Rosh Hashanah?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Questions on Parshas Shelach

The beginning of Parshas Shelach has an interesting statement by Moshe where he changes Yehoshuas name from הושע to יהושע. Rashi comments that Moshe added a י as a prayer that Hashem should save Yehoshua from the sin of teh Meraglim. Rashi comments that Moshe changed his name and davened that Hashem should save Yehoshua from the עצת המרגלים.

This is very difficult for a number of reasons:
1. We see clearly from Rashi that Moshe knew that the Meraglim would sin, that is why he davened that Yehoshua would not be caught up in it. If so, why did he send them at all? After all Rashi comments שלח לך that Hashem gave Moshe the choice as to whether to send meraglim or not. If he knew they would sin why didn't he just cancel the mission?
2. Why daven only for Yehoshua? Yehoshua was probably the greatest of the meraglim, why would Moshe worry that he would sin? At the time that they were picked all of the Meraglim were tzadikim, why didn't Moshe daven for all of them?
3. How can Moshe daven that Yehoshua should not sin? Even if you come up with a theory of how prayer works for someone else, it still doesn't explain how Moshe can pray for Yehoshua not to sin, after all הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים, so whether a person sins or not should be solely in his hands and not be able to be affected by anyone else.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Charedim live off government handouts ...

in the US. We are used to hearing about how the Charedim in Israel don't work and live off government handouts. However, we don't hear that much about the situation in the US. I was recently in the US and spent some time with my Charedi nieces and nephews and I was surprised to hear that they are all living off government handouts. They were talking about food stamps, welfare payments, medicaid, section 8 housing, they are living off of all of these and are not at all embarrassed about it. I think if you actually add it up the US government is providing more money then teh Israeli government per family.

When I was growing up welfare, food stamps, etc. was something that other ethnic groups received but not religious Jews and anyone who did receive it was too embarrassed to talk about it. My mother was dumbfounded to her that her grandchildren are welfare queens.

You might ask what is wrong with taking government money if you are eligible? The answer is that these programs are supposed to be a safety net for poor people not a lifestyle choice. It is not meant for people who decide that they want to sit in kollel and not work. This is creating a culture of dependency on the government which is a bad thing long term.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The story of רות and conversion

The story of רות poses many problems for orthodox Judaism especially with regards to conversion.

When did רות and ערפה convert? There are 2 possibilities:
  1. They converted before they married Machlon and Kilyon
  2. רות only converted with Naomi much later
Both possibilities appear in Chazal and both are very difficult. The Medrash Raba states that they did not convert before marriage and this is the opinion that Rashi (on the Megilla) adopts. On the other hand the Zohar states explicitly that they converted before marriage and this is implied in the Gemara in Bava Basra as well which states that Machlon and Kilyon were punished for leaving Israel in a famine leaving out the much bigger sin of marrying non-Jewish women.

Issues with conversion before marriage 

1. The Gemara learns out many dinim of גירות from the conversation between Naomi and רות, yet if they converted before marraige why was an additional conversion needed?
2. If ערפה converted before marriage how could Naomi tell her to go home to her people and Gods, she was a Jew, a convert?
3. Naomi tells רות that she doesn't have another son implying that if she did רות could marry him, yet this situation is actually prohibited by halacha (see Rashi there)

Issues with a later conversion 

1. The Gemara calls Machlon and Kilyon Gedolei Hador, how could the Gedolei Hador marry non-Jewish women?
2. How exactly did Naomi convert רות, she is not a Beis Din and cannot convert anyone
3. It sounds like Boaz was מייבם her, yet if she was not Jewish when she married then there can be no Yibum as the marriage was no marriage and her subsequent conversion wipes out any family relationships that she had.


There is a clear contradiction in Chazal as to whether רות was מגייר before marriage or much later. Both options have very serious questions as listed above and would seem to indicate that conversion was a very different process then. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Until what age can a woman give birth?

Todays daf (Bava Basra 119) has a fascinating take on this. The Gemara states:
Rav Chisda taught that a woman that marries before age 20 will bear children until age 60. If she marries at 20, she will bear children until age 40. If she marries at 40, she will not bear children.
 There are a number of obvious problems with this:

  1. What is the connection between getting married and the ability to give birth at a later age? Getting married before 20 does not magically push off menopause until the age of 60.
  2. No woman can give birth through natural means until the age of 60
  3. There are plenty of women who get married at 40+ and have children naturally
This is another case where the Gemara contradicts reality as we know it today.