Thursday, September 28, 2017

Returning the lost object of a גוי

The Gemara in Sanhedrin (76b) states:
והמחזיר אבידה לנכרי - עליו הכתוב אומר (דברים כט יח) 'למען ספות הרוה את הצמאה לא יאבה ה' סלח לו'. 
Rashi explains:
והמחזיר אבידה לנכרי - השווה וחבר נכרי לישראל, ומראה בעצמו שהשבת אבדה אינה חשובה לו מצות בוראו, שאף לנכרי הוא עושה כן שלא נצטווה עליהם
We see a few things from this Gemara and Rashi:

  1. The clear prejudice and unfairness towards a גוי that we don't return his lost objects
  2. I would have thought that returning a lost object is something that we would do even if the torah didn't command us, and yet, Rashi says no, we should only do it as a mitzvah

 
 

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Yeshiva world and the Rambam

The Rambam holds a special place in the Yeshiva world and is the centerpiece of much of Yeshivish Torah. More ink has been spilled trying to explain difficult psakim of the Rambam then on any other subject and the Rambam is very much the focus of the shiur klali given by the Roshei Yeshivas. The Briskers in fact take this even further and are machmir on many/most issues to follow the Rambam even when he is a minority opinion.

And yet, there is no question that hashkafically the Rambam would completely disagree with current Charedi hashkafa. Here are some examples:

1. The Rambam is vehemently opposed to the practice of people taking money to learn (e.g. Kollel), he writes this both in the Perush Hamishnayos on Avos (4:5), where he has a very lengthy screed against this practice, and in the Mishna Torah (Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:10)
אמרו חכמים, כל הנהנה מדברי תורה, נטל חייו מן העולם. ועוד ציוו ואמרו, לא תעשם עטרה להתגדל בהם, ולא קורדום לחפור בהם. ועוד ציוו ואמרו, אהוב את המלאכה, ושנוא את הרבנות. וכל תורה שאין עימה מלאכה, סופה בטילה; וסוף אדם זה, שיהא מלסטס את הברייות.
2. The Rambam learned philosophy and included it in his sefarim. Believe it or not, the Rambam writes in the שמונה פרקים (his introduction to Avos) that his sources are chazal, the geonim, and the philosophers (meaning Aristotle). Of course, today philosopy and in fact, any secular studies are absolutely verboten in the Charedi world
3. The Rambam was a doctor who had extensive secular knowledge and practiced as a doctor
4. The Rambam not only knew the vernacular (Arabic) but he wrote Sefarim (פירוש המשניות) in it
5. The Rambam understands that many things that are written in Chumash and Chazal never happened but are allegories (for example the story with the 3 angels at the beginning of וירא) or dreams. In addition the Rambam holds that chazal can make a mistake in science.
6. The Rambam did not believe in magic even though the Gemara has many stories regarding magic, see yesterday's post Did the Tannaim and Amoraim believe in magic?
7. The Rambam did not believe in absolute Hashgacha (see my post Hashgocha Pratis, what does it really mean?), rather he believed that most people had no hashgacha. Of course, the Charedi world today believes that everything is a gezera from heaven and a leaf doesn't fall without it being decreed in heaven.

Does the Yeshiva world not know this? Do they just ignore this?

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Did the Tannaim and Amoraim believe in magic?

From the Gemara in Sanhedrin (67-68), just covered by Daf Yomi the answer seems clearly yes. The Gemara brings the following stories:

  1. (R. Yochanan) Witchcraft is called Keshafim, an acronym for MaCHchiSHim FaMalya (Shel Ma'alah, it contradicts (nullifies decrees of) the Heavenly Court, e.g. that a certain person should live).
  2. (Rav Ashi): I saw Karna's father (a warlock) blow his nose. Silk came out.
  3. Ze'iri went to Alexandria of Mitzrayim. He bought (what he thought was) a donkey. When he gave it to drink, the Magic ceased, and it reverted to a piece of wood. He requested a refund. The sellers: We will refund your money (due to your stature). We would not do so for others. In this city, a buyer should know to test the merchandise with water, lest it is made through Magic.
  4. Yanai (a a Warlock) went to an inn. He asked for water, and they gave  him water with flour. He saw that the lips of the woman who served him were moving. (He suspected that she was doing Magic.) He spilled some on the floor, and it became scorpions. Yanai: Likewise, I will give to you to drink! She drank, and turned into a donkey. He rode on her in the market, until one of her friends saw this and negated his Magic, and she reverted to a woman.
The Gemara clearly takes these stories literally, the proof being the following passage in the same Gemara:

(R. Chanina ): "Ein Od Milvado (there is nothing other than Hash-m)" - even witchcraft (has no power). A woman was trying to weigh the dirt under R. Chanina's feet (for the sake of Magic). He was not concerned. Question: R. Yochanan taught that it [Magic] contradicts the Heavenly Court! Answer: R. Chanina was different. Because his merit was so great, it could not affect him.
We see clearly that the Gemara took the idea of magic working literally and therefore asked how come R' Chanina  was not concerned.

The Rambam claims (in all his major works) that magic doesn't work. He writes (Avoda Zara 11:16):
ודברים האלו--כולן, דברי שקר וכזב הן; והן שהטעו בהן עובדי עבודה זרה הקדמונים לגויי הארצות, כדי שיינהו אחריהן.  ואין ראוי לישראל, שהן חכמים מחוכמים, להימשך בהבלים אלו, ולא להעלות על הלב שיש בהן תעלה
And these things [magic] are all lies and falsehood and this is what fooled the original one who worshipped false goods so that people would follow them. It is not worthy of Jews who are smart people to believe in these idiocies and to think that they have any effect.
However, the Rambam is pretty much alone on this front as all the other major rishonim disagree and state explictly that magic works. They cite this Gemara (above) as one of the major proofs. Likewise, the Gra (Yoreah Deah 179) says that the Rambam was led astray by accursed philosophy and that these Gemaras about magic need to be taken literally.
 

Monday, September 18, 2017

How do you tell if a woman is a virgin?

The gemara in Kesubos 10b has the following story. A newly married couple came to Raban Gamliel. The husband claimed that he had intercourse with his wife and she was not a virgin (because the husband saw no blood), she claimed that not only was she a virgin but she is still a virgin. Raban Gamliel performed the following test to determine if she was a virgin.

He took 2 women, 1 a virgin 1 not and had them sit on a barrel of wine. While sitting on the barrel he smelled their breath. The non-virgin's breath smelled like wine (because the odor of the wine went in through the opening and out through her mouth) while the virgin's breath did not smell of wine (because the odor of the wine could not get in because she was a virgin). He then performed the same test on the newly married woman and as her breath did not smell of wine proclaimed her a virgin.

This story is brought down l'halacha in Shulchan Aruch (Even Haezer Siman 68) and is discussed by the early Acharonim. Some of the acharonim discuss that this test did not already work in their day (one suggestion was that our wine is not strong enough).

The difficulty with the story should be obvious to everyone, we know now that this kind of test proves nothing and in fact is based on a completely false physiological premise. The fact that this story is quoted l'halacha indicates clearly that the gemara needs to be taken literally and cannot be reinterpreted as relating to pnimiyus hatorah etc.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Obvious questions that the Gemara doesn't ask

Many times when you learn Gemara there is an obvious question on the Gemara either in logic or a contradiction to another Gemara and the Rishonim work long and hard to answer it and come up with different contradictory answers. The question is why didn't the Gemara itself address this question.

Today's Daf (Sanhedrin 61) has a perfect example of this. The Gemara while discussing Avoda Zara brings a dispute between Abaya and Rava about someone who worships Avoda Zara out of love or fear. Abaya says he is חייב and Rava says he is פטור. The Rishonim ask an obvious question, Rava agrees later (74a) that a person must give up his life in order not to transgress the sin of worshipping Avodah Zarah. How can we reconcile this with Rava's statment here that a person is not liable for the sin of Avodah Zarah if he worships it merely out of fear of another person? Why does Rava say later that he must give up his life in order not to be coerced to serve Avodah Zarah if someone who worships out of fear is not חייב? This is such an obvious question that we need to ask why didn't the Gemara ask it. Of course the Rishonim give various contradictory answers:

  1. Tosafos - Rava holds that a person must give up his life in order not to serve Avoda Zara, however, if he does serve out of coercion he is not חייב.
  2. Ramban - redefines out of love or fear. He says that means that he is scared that he will suffer financial harm if he does not serve the Avodah Zarah. 
  3. Ran - Rava only says that you must give up your life if you will be forced to worship the Avoda Zara and accept it verbally as your God. However, just coercion to worship does not require you to give up your life.
  4. Rambam - redefines out of love or fear. "Out of love" refers to a person who worships Avodah Zarah because he feels a strong attachment to the beautifully crafted statue, and "out of fear" refers to a person who worships Avodah Zarah because he is afraid that the statue will hurt him if he does not serve it. 
We see from here that the fact that the Gemara didn't ask this very obvious question leads to tremendous confusion about how to answer the question. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

כדי לערבב את השטן

The din is that we skip blowing shofar on Erev Rosh Hashanah to confuse Satan. Similarly the Gemara states that the reason why we blow twice (תקיעות דמעומד and תקיעות דמיושב) is to confuse Satan (כדי לערבב את השטן)

Truthfully this sounds silly. How many years does it take Satan to figure out what we are doing? Can't Satan see that every year we follow the same pattern? Generally, we assume that Satan is very smart and tricky in his attempts to get us to sin, and yet, suddenly on Rosh Hashana he is a complete fool?

Monday, September 11, 2017

It's really hard to be a גוי

At first glance it would seem to be simple, they have only 7 mitzvos to keep (as opposed to our 613). But in reality their existence is much more complicated for the following reasons:

  1. What are the 7 mitzvos that they need to keep? Guess what, the Gemara in Sanhedrin (57) has a dispute about what the 7 mitzvos are. for example, one Tanna says that castration and כלאים are 2 of the 7 mitvzos. 
  2. They have no gemara, shulchan aruch, poskim to ask any questions. If a גוי has a question about the 7 mitzvos who can he ask? Who even knows the answers? Is there a mesora of psak on these topics?
  3. The Gemara keeps adding on additional things to the 7 mitzvos. For example, a גוי who keeps Shabbos is חייב מיתה, a גוי who learns Torah is חייב מיתה.
  4. All 7 mitzvos are capital crimes by a גוי. If a Jew steals, he returns the money and that is it. If a גוי steals, off with his head. 
  5. None of the regular provisions that apply to the death penalty for Jews that make it basically impossible to kill someone apply to a גוי. There is no need for:
    1. התראה
    2. יתיר עצמו למיתה
    3. 2 witnesses (even 1 is enough)
    4. 23 judges, even 1 judge is enough
    5. There is no disqualification of relatives as witnesses 
  6. One of the 7 mitzvos is Arayos, however, what the definition of Arayos for a גוי is a dispute and very unclear. Some TAnnaim claim that it is the same as for Jews, some have a much smaller list, soem have a bigger list. Rav Huna claims for example that a גוי can marry his daughter. R' Elazar said that a גוי is killed for having anal sex with his wife.  
  7. The Pnei Yehoshua has a famous opinion, that for a גוי marraige if for life. There is no divorce. He claims that since the institution of a Get is written only for Jews it doesn't apply to a גוי. 
In short, it practically impossible to be a God fearing גוי and really keep the 7 mitzvos, the devil is in the details, and the details are simply not well known and decided.