Thursday, December 29, 2016

Why do people live so much longer today then they did in earlier times?

I just read an interesting discussion on whether a person should go see a doctor when sick, or instead daven and ask Hashem to cure him. The discussion revolved around the opinion of the Ramban who seems to say in his commentary on Chumash that someone who has real faith should not go to doctors but rather rely on Hashem to cure him. In any case, even those who allow/promote going to doctors make it very clear that the person should feel that the cure is from Hashem and not really from the doctors.

This raises a very big question. The average life expectency in countries like the US and Israel today is around 80 years. In Classical Rome which was around the time of Chazal the average life expectency was 20-30 and if a child survived childhood his life expectency his life expectancy was 47.5. How can we explain the dramatic increase in life expectency, after all life and death are in the hands of Hashem? If all cures are from Hashem then how come in the last 100 years the efficacy of cures has gone up tremendously? It is very hard to say that our generation is more worthy as this is against the concept of ירידת הדורות, which postulates that previous generations were greater then ours (this is a subject for a separate post) and that we can't even understand how great the Rishonim were let alone the Tannaim and Amoraim. Why would Hashem want our lowly generation to live so much longer then the generations of Chazal who were so much greater?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Why is there no Maseches Chanuka?

Every other holiday (including Purim) has it's own maseches why not Chanuka?

A number fo answers are given:

1. The Rambam asks a similar question, why is there no separate maseches dealing with Tefillin and Mezuza and Tzitzis? The Rambam answers, the halachos of tefillin, tzitzis, and mezuzos, as well as the nusach of tefillah and several other areas of halacha are not included in the Mishna at all because these halachos are well-known to the masses; there was no need to include them. Some acharonim say the same applies to Chanuka as well. IMHO, this Rambam is very difficult, hilchos tefillin for example are very very complicated, the masses might have known the basics but certainly not the details. Similarly, why would Chanuka have been more well known then Purim?
2. It was not included in the Mishna for political reasons, Rebbe did not want to upset the non-Jews
3. One of the most famous answers given to this question is by the Chasam Sofer, who is quoted by his grandson Rabbi Shlomo Sofer in the Chut Hameshulash as having said many times that the reason why the miracle of Chanukah is not in the Mishna is because Rabbeinu Hakadosh was a descendant of David Hamelech and the miracle of Chanukah was through the Chashmonaim who illegitimately took away the kingdom from the descendants of David. Since this was not to his liking, he omitted it from the Mishna, which was written with Ruach Hakodesh.
4. EVen when Torah Shebaal Peh was written down, it was b'sieved and therefore they tried to minimize the information written and leave some things as Torah Sheb'all Peh. Some explian teh idea of חיסורי מחסרי in the Gemara with this. Chanuka, which is a holiday that has no basis in Torah Shebichsav, is only Torah Shebaal Peh, was left out for this reason.

In truth, none of these answers are very convincing, the question is better then the answers.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Avos were not very good fathers to their sons

When you read through the parshas in Sefer berishis, it's hard to escape the conclusion that the Avos did not do a very good job with their sons.

Avraham 

Avraham had 2 sons, while Yitzchak turned out fine, Yishmael did not. Avraham had to kick him out of his house because he was a danger to Yitzchak and he certainly did not follow in his fathers footsteps.

Yitzchak

Yitzchak also had 2 sons (froim the same mother) and again, one went completely off the derech. The Gemara in Bava Basra says the following about what Eisav did on the day that Avraham died. 

Rabbi Johanan said: "That wicked [Esau] committed five sins on that day. He dishonored a betrothed maiden, he committed a murder, he denied God, he denied the resurrection of the dead, and he spurned the birthright." (Baba Batra 16b)

This is not just going off the derech. Chazal describe Eisav as a truly evil person and yet Yitzchak couldn't see it all and in fact, even wanted to bless him. How could such an evil person come from a father like Yitzchak?

Yaakov

While none of Yaakov's sons went off the derech there still was tremendous dysfunction. Yosef's brothers were ready to kill him, and in the end sold him off as a slave expecting to never see him again. 

What can we take from this? On one hand it is refreshingly honest (unlike current hagiographies of Charedi gedolim), on the other hand you can't help but think, these people were not the super giants that Chazal made them out be. They were just like us, they were jealous, they had sex drives, they got angry, they made mistakes, etc. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Questions on Parshas Vayeishev

This parsha like many of the parshas in sefer Bereishis raises many questions.

I. The brothers and Yosef

The Torah describes how the other brothers hated Yosef and plotted to kill him. When push came to shove they didn't kill him but instead sold him into slavery. The question is obvious:

How could the brothers simply decide to kill their brother out of what is described as jealously? What does that make the brothers? Many of the mefarshim explain that they made a Beis Din and had a din and paskened that Yosef was chayav misa for various reasons (for example as an eid zomem). This is of course very difficult for a number of reasons:
  1. There is not even a hint in the text of such a thing
  2. How can you have a din torah against someone when he is not present to defend himself? What kind of din is that?  The chumash states explicitly that they decided to kill him before he arrived.
  3. If they did actually have a din torah and pasken that he was chayav misa how could they then not follow through with the gezar din and instead sell Yosef as a slave? 

II. Yehuda and Tamar

The Torah relates that after the death of his sons Yehuda is traveling and sees a woman who thinks is a prostitute, he negotiates a price for her services, has sex with her and leaves. He then tries to find her to pay her and can't. The later meforshim ask how could Yehuda have sex with a prostitute it is an issur d'oraysa. Some answer that he actually was mekadesh her and married her. That answer IMHO is pure apologetics, the Torah clearly states that Yehuda thought she was a prostitute, would Yehuda really marry a random prostitute he discovered on the road? 

Reuven and Bilha

After the death of Rachel, the Torah says that Reuven slept with Bilha his father's pilegesh. Most people are familiar with teh Gemara in Shabbas 55b that states כל האומר ראובן חטא אינו אלא טועה and that Reuven didn't really sleep with Bilha and they paint this as THE opinion of Chazal. However, that same Gemara says that whether he actually slept with Bilha is כתנאי, a machlokes tannaim and there are tannaim who state explicitly that he did sleep with Bilha. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Charedi father tries to explain Chanuka to his son

I saw this online, it is very funny because it is so true. It really shows the hypocrisy and how much change Charedism has introduced to Judaism. 

אבא חרדי ליטאי מסביר:
- אבא, איך ניצחנו את היוונים?
- בעזרת השם.
- אז בשביל מה המכבים?
- הם היו רק החיילים. השם עזר להם בעזרת השם, וברוך השם הם ניצחו.
- המכבים היו חיילים?!
- אה... חיילים של השם, צבאות השם.
- אז המכבים היו חב"דניקים?
- לא! לא! חס וחלילה!! הם היו ליטאים.
- ליהודה המכבי היה נשק?
- כן.
- אז יהודה המכבי היה חילוני או גוי?
- חס ושלום, מה פתאום חילוני או גוי?!
- אבל רק חילונים וגויים הולכים לצבא.
- פעם גם דתיים היו הולכים לצבא.
- למה המכבים הלכו לצבא ואנחנו לא?
- כי היום התורה שומרת עלינו.
- ואז התורה לא שמרה עליהם?
- אולי תלך עם מוישי לקרוא קצת משניות.
- המכבים למדו משניות?
- למדו תורה. הרבה תורה.
- ולא עבדו?
- חס ושלום.
- אז אנטיוכוס נתן להם כסף?
- לא. הם עבדו והרוויחו פה ושם.
- בשחור כמו דוד יענקי?
- יענקי לא עובד בשחור!
- אז במה עבד מתתיהו?
- הוא היה חקלאי.
- מתתיהו היה תאילנדי?
- ד' ירחם, מה פתאום תאילנדי.
- אז איך הוא עבד בשדה עם חולצה לבנה?
- ומנין לך שלבש חולצה לבנה?
- מוישי אמר לי שיהודי אמיתי הולך רק עם חולצה לבנה.
- אתה מבלה יותר מדי עם המוישי הזה. אבל הוא צודק.
- מה רצו המכבים?
- הם רצו מדינה יהודית עצמאית, שהם ינהלו אותה.
- זה גם מה שאנחנו רוצים?
- כן, אבל אסור לנו להגיד את זה. אנחנו לא ציונים.
- אבא, אני רוצה להיות מכבי, ציוני, חייל!!
- געוואלד! מה קרה לך?!
My translation into Yeshivish:
A Yeshivish Charedi father tries to explain Chanuka, A. are the fathers points/answers Q. is the sons questions/statements

Q. Tatee how did we defeat the Yevanim
A. B'Ezras Hadhem
Q. So why did we need the maccabim?
A. They were just soldiers, Hashem helped them and Baruch Hashem we won
Q. The Macabim were soldiers?
A. Ah, yes, they were soldiers of Hashem, Tzivos Hashem
Q. So the Macabim were chabdniks?
A. No, no! Chas V'Shalom, they were yeshivish
Q. Did Yehuda Hamacabi have a weapon?
A. Yes
Q. So Yehuda Hamacabi was a Goy or not religious?
A. Chas V'Shalom, why would you think he was a Goy or not religious?
Q. Because only Goyim or non-religious Jews go to the army
A. In the past religious people also went to the army
Q. Why did the Macabim go to the army and we don't?
A. Because today our Torah protects us
Q. And then their Torah didn't protect them?
A. Maybe you should go learn Mishnayos with Moishie
Q.The Macabim learned mishnayes?
A. They learned Torah, a lot of Torah
Q. They didn't work?
A. Chas V'Shalom
Q. So Antiochus gave them money?
A. No they worked and made some money
Q. Off the books like Uncle Yanki?
A. Yanki doesn't work off the books!
Q. So what did Matisyahu do?
A. He was a farmer
Q. He was from Thailand?
A. Hashem Yerachem, why would you think he was from Thailand?
Q. So how did he work in the fields with his white shirt?
A. How do you know he wore a white shirt?
Q. Moishie told me that a real Jew only wears white shirts
A. You spend too much time with Moishie, but he is right
Q. What did the Macabim want?
A. They wanted an independent Jewish state that they would run
Q. Is this what we want?
A. Yes, but we can't say that, we aren't zionists
Q. Tatee, I want to be a Macabee, a zionist, and a soldier
A. Gevalt!!! What happened to you?


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Chanuka and the miracle of the oil


One of the questions that bothered me for a long time about Chanuka was the text of Al Hanisim. It makes no mention whatsoever of the miracle of the oil. How can it be that the only addition to the davening that we make for Chanuka makes no mention of the main miracle of Hanuka? As I got older, I found out that that neither Maccabees I nor Maccabees II make any mention of the miracle of the oil. In fact, Maccabees II offers the following explanation for the celebration of 8 days of Chanuka:

And they celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the feast of booths, remembering how not long before, during the feast of booths, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals. Therefore bearing ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place. They decreed by public ordinance and vote that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year

It is only the Talmud Bavli some 600 years after the events that first mentions the miracle of the oil. According to R' Dr. David Berger the talmud is the only source for this miracle, it is not mentioned in any other source. 

Of course there are various apologetics to explain this but IMHO the simplest answer is that there was no miracle of oil but rather they celebrated 8 days commemorating the war victory and rededication of the Beis Hamikdash and the miracle of the oil was "invented" later". It is well known that many cultures have a festival of lights around the winter solstice, therefore the celebration of the military victory/rededictaion probably involved lights as well. After the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the loss of sovereignty the Rabbis decided to invent the miracle of the oil to justify continuing the celebration of Chanuka. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

R' Shteinman - Haredi girls learning University studies is like a pig with a shtreimel - continued

This comment to the article on Kikar Hashabbat sums up the situation perfectly:

גם אני הייתי.

היה מקסים,גם אם תכלס לדעתי כל הרבנים חזרו על אותם המילים פלוס מינוס,והרעיון בעיקרו קצת תלוש.

בסמינר מחנכים אותי להקים בית של תורה,להיות אשת אברך שרק ישב וילמד ואני אפרנס אותו,

איך זה מסתדר עם זה שמביאים לנו רק לימודי הוראה וגננות שכולם יודעים שאין בזה עבודה?

אני הרי לא אפרנס את בעלי בכנסים,מרוממים ככל שיהיו.

אני חושבת שאם באמת רוצים למצוא פתרון שיביאו את הלימודים לבית יעקב במסלולים כשרים,או שיחפשו מכללות שהן כן בסדר.אבל לשלול הכל מצד אחד ולא לתת פתרון ראוי מצד שני ,לא יחזיק מים.אולי שנה או שנתיים בנות יחזיקו,לא יותר.

I was also there.

It was great, and was very to the point. All of the Rabbis said teh same thing plus/minus but the idea is not realistic. 

In school I am being taught to create a house of Torah, to be the wife of a kollel man who will only sit and learn while I will support him. How will that work if the only options in school are classes in education or to become a pre school teacher (Ganenet) when every knows there are no jobs in these fields? As uplifting as these conferences are, I cannot support my husband with them.

I think that if they really want to find a solution, they should bring additional tracks in the Beis Yaakovs or they should find colleges that are ok. However, to simply say no without providing an alternative solution will not hold water. Girls will last maybe a year or two no more.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

R' Shteinman - Haredi girls learning University studies is like a pig with a shtreimel

There was an anti-academia conference of the Haredi spritiual leadership for girls where the leading Rabbis went on as to how girls must only learn in Beis Yakkovs and that academia was a terrible thing.

The Haredi leadership is burying their heads in the sand. There is a financial crisis in the Haredi world in Israel. The problem is very simple, the men sit and learn and make little to no money and the women need to go out and work and support the family on the very meager salaries that they can make without an academic degree.

Here are some of the statements of the Rabbanim at the conference:
R' Moshe Hillel Hirsh Rosh Yeshiva of Slabodka:
There is no doubt that the situation today makes it hard for households to function. On one hand the woman doesn't make enough money to afford more then the bare minimum and on the other hand the husband is an avrech kollel who barely makes any money. There are no answers [my emphasis]. By the way I have to say that thank god there is an initiative by American Baal Habatim to provide money to many families
... [he goes on to explain why Beis Yaakov is so important and why it can't change]

Unbelievable, he admits he has no answer for the financial situation but still will do nothing. Relying on American Baal Habatim is not a realistic solution.

R' Yitzchak Zilberstein said:
Rachel Imenu sat on the idols and didn't burn them. She wanted to denigrate the wisdom of the other nations, she didn't want to burn them, rather to teach the Jewish people, I don't need any outside wisdom and therefore she was priviliged with having Yosef who astounded the world with his wisdom which was solely torah based. 

We have to instill in our daughters: A jewish home that is free of any trace of non-Jewish wisdom and learns only Torah will never be hurt.

This is unbelievable and WADR stupid.  Who in the Haredi world is astounding anyone today with their wisdom? What has Haredi Jewry really contributed to the world? R' Zilberstein uses the fruits of non-Jewish knowledge every day of his life, whether it's electricity, telephones, cars, modern medicine, etc. This reminds me of this Could Shlomo Hamelech have invented cars? and this Could Shlomo Hamelech have invented cars II?

Mishpacha magazine in Hebrew recently published a column Where have the Yiddishe mamas gone? lamenting the fact that so many mothers are not home in the afternoon to greet their kids coming home from school, rather they are out of the house working and the kids are suffering because of this.

A week or 2 later the magazine devoted a whole section to responses mostly from women who were fed up. The basic point was how dare you blame the women! The women pointed out that they have little choice. The schools have brainwashed them their whole lives that they should only marry a kollel guy and that they need to support him. Then when they go out and do that they get blamed for not being good mothers. What can they do? If they don't work, they won't have money to pay the rent, buy food, etc. If they do work, they are neglecting their children. To top it off, they are also brainwashed to have as many kids as they can as fast as possible so their expenses keep on going up and up without an increase in income and making it harder to actually work.

I really believe that the Haredi world is ready to explode. The financial stresses are continously rising and no one in the leadership is offering any answers. In fact, the leadership is condemning those who are trying to solve the problem by getting an education and making a good salary.

Source: http://www.kikar.co.il/216994.html

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Apologetics about the role of women

See Will women's subordinate status be changed in Messianic Era?

My biggest takeaway from this is that like with every other important theological issue there is no consensus. Her thesis that today's women have changed and that is why they are not satisfied with their roles and want to become more intellectualy involved is clearly in dispute. Again on a critical issue there is absolutley no consensus and in fact there are radically conflicting opinions. What does ths say about the veracity of orthodoc Judaism?
 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

How could Yaakov have slept with Leah and thought she was Rachel?

In this weeks parsha ויצא, we have the famous story of Lavan tricking Yaakov into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. The Torah says that Yaakov only found out in the morning that it was Leah. That is  very hard to swallow. Yaakov had sex with Leah and thought she was Rachel? Really??? Can you imagine having sex with someone (who you knew very well for 7 years) and thinking they were someone else (if you were not really drunk)? He loved Rachel and worked 7 years for her and yet on his wedding night couldn't figure out it wasn't her? This also raises a halachic question, there is a halacha that a בן תמורה, a child born from a sex act where the husband is thinking about another woman, is considered פגום (see the Gemara Nedarim 20b). This would seem to be exact the case with Yaakov, he had sex with Leah while thinking about Rachel. Yet, nowhere is Reuven considered to be פגום.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Questions on Parshas Toldos


Toldos has always been one of the most difficult parshas for me because there are so many questions/inconsistencies that crop up.

I. Did Esav have free will to not be a Rasha?

If we look at Rashi at the beginning of the Parsha it seems that Esav had no free will and was a Rasha from before birth. 
  1. Rashi quotes the famous medrash that when Rivka walked by a house of idol worship Esav tried to get out (to worship avoda zara). Let's think about this. Esav is not even born yet, has no yetzter hara and yet wants to worship Avoda Zara. 
  2. Rashi on ממעיך יפרדו writes that already from when they were in the womb they were separated one (Esav) לרשעו and one (Yaakov) לתומו. Rashi writes explicitly that Esav was a rasha already in the womb. 
From the above Rashis it is clear that Esav had no free will to be a Tzadik rather he was a Rasha from before birth. This of course contradicts the fundamental principle in Judaism of free will.

Yitzchak and Rivka in Gerar

Because of a famine Ytzchak goes to Gerar and uses the same tactic as Avraham, introducing his wife as his sister. However, this raises a number of questions:

  1. Yitzchak was famous, he was the miracle child of Avraham who was very well known and who in fact made a treaty with Avimelech. Given that, how does Avimelech not know that Rivka was his wife? After all, Yitzchak was a miracle child born to Sara at 90 (and Avraham at 100) and they had no daughter. So how could Yitzchak pass Rivka off as his sister? Also, you would think that Yitzchak's wedding would have been a big event.
  2. Avimelech discover that Rivka was Yitzchak's wife by observing them having sex (see Rashi). The Meforshim on Rashi raise the obvious question, this was a gross violation of tznius. You aren't allowed to have sex during the day and even at night it is supposed to be pitch dark. So how could Avimelech have seen them? 

The Berachos

Towards the end of his life Yitzchak wants to bless his son, Eisav. Rivka however, wants the blessing to go to Yaakov and therefore uses subterfuge to cause Yaakov to get the beracha. This raises a number of questions:
  1. Rashi explains that Eisav fooled Yitzchak into thinking he was pious. However, the Medrash (and Rashi) portray Eisav as a really bad person, a murderer and an adulterer, how gullible could Yitzchak have been to want to bless Eisav? In fact, the Trah tells us that both Yitzchak and Rivka didn;t like his choice of wives. What does this say about his "daas torah"? 
  2. Why couldn't Rivka talk to Yitzchak and explain the situation? In parshas Lech Lecha, Sara tells Avraham to send away Yishmael and Hashem tells him to listen to Sara. Why could Rivka talk to Ytzchak and explain the situation? Why did she have to deceive her husband?  Even later, after the berachos, she still doesn't tell Yitzchak the truth. Instead of saying that Eisav wants to kill Yaakov, and therefore Yaakov should run away, she tells him that she wants Yaakov to marry her relatives. 
  3. How can a beracha gotten by deception actually work? Yitzchak thought he was blessing Eisav not Yaakov. Is a beracha magic? 
  4. What is the rationalistic explanation of the whole story/idea of the berachos? How do they work? 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The laws of Ribis and a modern economy

Daf Yomi just started learning the fifth perek of Bava Metzia which covers the laws of Ribis (interest).  Basically the Torah prohibits charging interest on loans and the Chachamim added a whole bunch of additional prohibitions. This is one of the more complex areas of halacha that most people know little about.

This leads to the following question, could a modern economy be run al pi halacha?

IMHO the answer is no. All modern economies run on credit. Interest bearing loans are the lifeblood of modern economies both for consumers, companies and governments.

Consumers take out interest bearing loans in a number of situations:

  1. Mortgages - Most people who buy a house take out a mortgage
  2. Credit Cards 
  3. Car loans/leases - Most people either borrow money (with interest) to buy a car or lease a car (which is also financed with interest)
  4. Home equity loans
  5. Savings accounts
  6. ...
Governments also run on borrowed money, government bonds which of course pay interest. Without the ability to borrow money governments could not function today. Companies run on borrowed money as well, corporate bonds which again pay interest. A halachic state would have to outlaw banks.

A Halachic state would prohibit all of these. We can try to work around the prohibitions with things like Heter Iska, however, there are 2 problems with this approach:
  1. It is against the spirit of the law. The Torah clearly and unequivically prohibits interest bearing loans. Even if we can find a technicality to get around the halacha, it is clearly not what the Torah wanted. The Torah is supposed to be a blueprint for an ideal society, if the laws in the torah don't allow for that then what does that say about the Torah?
  2. It is not clear that these workarounds actually work in all situations.



Sunday, November 20, 2016

Was Rivka 3 years old when she married Yitzchak?

We all know the famous Rashi based on the Seder Olam that Rivka was 3 years old when she met Eliezer and married Yitzchak.

The Sifri in וזאת הברכה says that Rivka lived 133 years. If you work backwards from her death she got married at the age of 14 (see Tosafos in יבמות ס"א for the exact calculation).

Why did Rashi pick the medrash that she was 3 against the gemara? It would seem that Rashi thought that was the simpler pshat in the pesukim. It all seems to hinge on when the akeida was. The following facts are mentioned in the Chumash itself.

1. Yitzchak was 37 when Sara died (she was 90 when he was born and died at 127).
2. Yitzchak was 40 when he married Rivka
3. Rivka was born around the time of the Akeida (see the end of וירא).

If the Akeida was when Yitzchak was 37 then Rivka was only 3 when she married. On the other hand if the akeida was 10 years earlier then she was around 14.

The notion that Rivka was 3 years old at the time of her marriage to Yitzchak is untenable.  Could a 3 year old girl go and water the camels? Could a 3 year old consent to marriage? It's just silly to read the dialogue in the Chumash between Rivka and Eliezer and what she is doing and believe that she is 3. Nowhere else in the Torah do we find any evidence that children matured more quickly then we do now, and of course from a scientific/reality point of view that is a non-starter.

The question is how could the Medrash have such an opinion and Rashi quote it when it is so patently ridiculous? Since Rashi quotes this this is the opinion that everyone knows.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Why is the Akeida such a big deal?

The Akeida is looked upon in Jewish thought as one of the seminal moments for the Jewish people. On Rosh Hashanah, the Yom Hadin, we ask Hashem to remember the Akeida.  It is considered to be one of the greatest tests that a person can pass.

However, when you really think about it what was so special about the Akeida? Hashem spoke to Avraham and told him to do it. Avraham listened. We find throughout Jewish history that Jews have accepted their own martydom as well as their childrens without hearing Hashem speak directly to them. Was Avraham's test greater then what we describe in the Kinos about the brother and sister who were going to be sold as sex slaves dying in each other's arms? Was it greater then parents killing their children during the crusades rather then losing them to Christianity? Was it greater then what went on in the holocaust? All of these things happened at a time of הסתר פנים, not only didn't  Hashem talk to these people and tell them to do it, Hashem was not visible at all. If anything, that makes their actions much greater then Avrahams.

The same question can be asked about Yosef's nisayon with Potiphar's wife. Yes, Yosef resisted sexual temptation, but so do so many other people. Sexual temptation is מעשים בכל יום, why is Yosef called a צדיק for that?

The only answer that I have seen is a mystical one that Avraham's (and Yosef's) actions are what made it so much easier for everyone else. They are the ones who pulled this strength down from heaven and made it available to everyone. without them paving the way no one would be able to pass any of these tests.

As with many mystical explanations you either believe or you don't. I don't. Additionally, there is a rationalist tradition in Judaism (e.g. Rambam and others) and they certainly would not accept this explanation. The problem is there is no rationalist answer.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Questions about בראשית

Over the next few weeks I am going to post some of my questions about the Parsha. Note, as I have done in the past I am going to be focusing on internal questions not external questions.

My big question this week is how did Adam sin with the עץ הדעת if before eating from it he had no free will? How can a creature with no free will sin? The Rishonim (Ramban, Rambam, Rabenu Bechaye) give IMHO unconvincing answers. The Ramban and Rabenu Bechaye write that man was like a מלאך before the חטא and even so he sinned just like מלאכים sometimes do bad things. WADR, that makes little to no sense. If you have no free will then how can you choose to sin? One answer given by the Nefesh Hachaim is that before he ate from the עץ הדעת the yetzer hara was external. He had perfect clarity as to what was good and what was evil. After the חטא the yezter hara became part of man and now the yetzer hara can convince us/trick us into thinking good is bad and bad is good. The problem is that if he had perfect clarity why did he sin?

Additionally, we can ask that if man was like a מלאך with no free will then what was the point of creation? Hashem already had מלאכים why did he need man?

In truth the whole story makes very little sense. Chazal say that if Adam hadn't sinned and had made it until Shabbos the world would have fulfilled it's mission. and none of us would be here. Lets think about that. God creates the world with a certain outcome in mind and then Adam sins and upsets the applecart and everything changes from a to z. The world becomes a completely different place with new challenges and a new way of life. Why would an omniscient God do that? Why would he create a world one way and a few hours after the creation of man change the whole world? If God knew that man was going to sin why not just create the world that way? The same applies to the Mabul, why create the world and destroy it a thousand years later? Why not just start from Noach?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The past few weeks were really tough

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur this year were very very hard. On one hand, as everyone reading this knows, I have become a skeptic and have serious doubts about Judaism. Therefore the whole idea of Rosh Hashana being the Yom Hadin and God judging everyone is hard to believe. [In fact, the Gemara has no source for Rosh Hashana being the Yom Hadin, the Ran says that Adam was created, sinned and judged on Rosh Hashana so therefore it became the Yom Hadin for mankind and Adam passed that bit of information along. Since it is patently clear that the creation story can't be taken literally then the Ran's explanation is completely untenable. Rosh Hashana seems to me a good example of the evolution of Judaism where the holiday evolved over the years into what it is now. ] On the other hand, it is hard not to get swept up at least partially in the atmosphere when everyone around you including your wife and older kids takes it very seriously and you spend 7 hours in shul on Rosh Hashana and 11 hours in Shul on Yom Kippur. As I davened on both RH and YK I felt very strange, I said the words but in the back of my mind a little voice was screaming, you don't believe this. You don't believe that God runs the world, you don't believe that God punishes people for their sins, you don't believe that the sins that you are beating your chest for are really sins...

Succos got a little easier as I enjoy building a succa and I took the pain free alternative in buying my 4 minim, I bought a closed box set that was supposed to be mehudar.

I have always hated Simchas Torah even when I was a true believer and learned 10-12 hours a days. I am by nature an intellectual and have never been able to really let go, dance like a maniac etc. The dancing on Simchas Torah never really gave me any pleasure, I would much rather have heard a good severa. This year, it grated on me even more because of my scepticism. For one of the hakafos they sang the song טוב לי תורת פיך מאלפי זהב וכסף which means that Torah is better then 1000 pieces of gold and silver. This year that song drove me crazy. Torah is intellectually interesting but is it worth more then other knowledge? No. It hammered home the point that the Litvishe world today doesn't actually worship God but worships the Torah, and not the written Torah but the תורה שבעל פה that is so clearly man made. The Rav of the shul gave a speech stating that the way to understand God is to learn his Torah, that Torah gives us insight into God. IMHO that is absolutely silly. Learning about שור שנגח את הפרה teaches us about God? If so, then God is not very godlike.

In short, I found it really hard to participate in the activities of RH, YTK, ST while realising/believing that none of is it it true.

I would love to know how everyone else (who is in the closet) deals with this conundrum.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Why does the Gemara give outlandish explanations for Mishnayos?

Anyone who learns Gemara knows that many times the Gemara has a question on a Mishna and answers by saying the Mishna is talking about a ridiculous corner case. I am learning Daf Yomi and 2 days ago I came across a perfect example of this which I would like to share.

The Mishna (Bava Metzia 12a) states:
מציאת עבדו ושפחתו העבריים ... הרי אלו שלהן
A Jewish slave who finds a lost object is entitled to keep it

The Gemara on 12b asks from a Baraisa which states that a worker who finds a lost object, the object belongs to the employer. The Gemara asks, if a worker who finds an object must give it to the employer certainly a slave must give it to the owner (as the owner is at least equivalent to an employer). The Gemara gives a number of answers:

  1. R' Yochanan says that the Mishna is talking about a slave who works with precious stones and therefore the owner doesn't want him to pick up lost objects because the slaves work time is so valuable. Therefore, the slave can keep the lost object and needs to pay the owner for his lost time. 
  2. R' Papa says that the Baraisa is talking about a worker who was hired to pick up lost objects.
WADR, there is no way that the Mishna wrote a general statement like מציאת עבדו ושפחתו העבריים and meant only a slave who works with precious stones and the Baraisa wrote מציאת פועל goes to the employer and meant only a worker who was hired to pick up lost objects.

Did the Amoraim really believe that these answers are what the Tannaim meant? Or did they not care about the historical truth and simply were looking for a logical answer to their questions? 

IMHO the Mishnayos are meant to be interpreted simply as they read and contradictions are simply that contradictions. When you are dealing with a work that was complied from a whole bunch of oral traditions, the fact that there are contradictions shouldn't surprise anyone. 


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Why are so many babies being forgotten in cars and dying?

R' Chaim Kanievsky is reported as answering as follows:

הסיבה לצרה כזו, היות ויש בשנים האחרונות הרבה פושעים ביננו, לכן באה כזה צרה לעורר אותנו לבער את הרע מקרבנו, ולשוב אל ה

The reason for these tragedies is that since in the last few years we have so many sinners among us these tragedies are coming to wake us up tid ourselves of the evil within the community and to return to Hashem

Really??? God is killing innocent babies so that the we should rid the community of sinners? Why not just kill the sinners? 

It is beyond me how anyone can think that they know why an omniscient and omnipotent God is doing anything.

Source: http://www.kikar.co.il/211629.html

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What sound is a Terua?

The Gemara in Rosh Hashana (34a) seems to offer 3 possibilities.
1. What we call a תרועה
2. What we call a שברים
3. What we call שברים-תרועה

The Gemara there then quotes an statement from ר' אבהו that he instituted the practice of blowing all 3 because of a ספק which is the correct תרועה.

R' Hai Gaon was asked the following question (quoted by the Beis Yosef  או"ח סי' תקצ)  :
נשאל רבינו האי: וכי עד שבא רבי אבהו ותיקן שיהיו תוקעים תשר"ת תש"ת תר"ת לא היו ישראל יוצאים ידי תקיעת שופר? והשיב: כך היה הדבר מימים קדמונים מנהג בכל ישראל: מהם עושים תרועה יבבות קלות, ומהם עושים יבבות כבדות שהם שברים, ואלו ואלו יוצאים ידי חובתם: שברים כבדות תרועות הן, יבבות קלות תרועות הן, והיה הדבר נראה כחלוקה, אף על פי שאינה חלוקה ולא היו מטעים אלו את אלו, כי חכמים של הללו מודים דיבבות תרועות הן, וחכמים של הללו מודים כי שברים תרועות הן. וכשבא רבי אבהו ראה לתקן תקנה שיהיו כל ישראל עושים מעשה אחד ולא יראה ביניהם דבר שההדיוטות רואים אותו כחלוקה.

R' Hai Gaon has a fascinating answer. He says that really all 3 are called a תרועה and you are יוצא the mitzva by blowing any one of the 3. תרועה means a crying type of sound and all 3 fit the bill. ר' אבהו was bothered by the fact that since different communities blew differently people would not understand and think that the other person is not יוצא, he also felt that it made it look like there are different Torah's. Therefore, he instituted a common practice of blowing all 3 different possibilities. This is how the Ritva and others explained that in Musaf the minhag was to blow תשרת for מלכיות and תשת for זכרונות and תרת for שופרות. If there really was a safek then you should need to blow all 3 after each section of the שמונה עשרה. However, according to R' Hai it makes perfect sense, since you are יוצא with any of them we are not מטריח the people to blow so many קולות.

The Rambam (and many other rishonim/acharonim) however disagrees with the Geonim and writes (פ"ג מהל' שופר הל' ב-ג)

תרועה האמורה בתורה נסתפק לנו בה ספק, לפי אורך השנים ורוב הגלות, ואין אנו יודעים היאך היא: אם היא היללה שמייללין הנשים בנהייתן בעת שמייבבין או האנחה כדרך שיאנח האדם פעם אחר פעם כשידאג לבו מדבר גדול או שניהם כאחד - האנחה והיללה שדרכה לבוא אחריה - הן הנקראים 'תרועה', שכך דרך הדואג מתאנח תחילה ואח"כ מיילל, - לפיכך אנו עושים הכל. ...נמצא מנין התקיעות שלשים כדי להסתלק מן הספק.

The Rambam states clearly that there was a real doubt as to what the sound of the terua was because of the long exile (and persecutions) and therefore ר' אבהו was מתקן to blow all 3 possibilities to alleviate the ספק.

This Rambam states an amazing fact, that at some point in Jewish history the people forgot and did not know what a terua sounds like. That means that there had to be a very long period of time when no one blew shofar. My 5 year old son can already make the sounds of all of the קולות and identify them by name, and I certainly would remember what a terua is even 50 years from now even if I never heard the shofar again. We can draw a number of conclusions from this:
  1. There were very long strectehes of time when the Jews did not fulfill basic mitzvos like shofar, so much so that they forgot the sound of a terua
  2. There is clear and long interruption of the mesora about an important mitzva like shofar. If the mesora was lost about shofar what else was lost?
This clearly lays to the rest the idea that there is an unbroken mesora back to Moshe Rabenu.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

אתרוג מורכב

Everyone has heard that an אתרוג מורכב is פסול. The poskim give various reasons for this among them that the resulting fruit is not an אתרוג. However, scientists have found that when you graft the branch of an אתרוג tree onto say a lemon tree, the resulting fruit is basically unaffected certainly not genetically. Therefore, any אתרוג grown from the grafted אתרוג should certainly be kosher it is an אתרוג. Additionally, DNA testing shows that all types of אתרוג that are used today have no lemon or other citrus fruit genes in them and therefore should be considered an אתרוג.

However, the poskim have not uptaken this position and in fact R' Sternbuch writes that all the Esrogim today are ספק מורכב and he is skeptical how anyone is יוצא the mitzva today.

Another interesting question that will come up is geneticaly engineered esrogim. What will the din be?

In short, we see that based on science there really is no such thing as an אתרוג מורכב, the poskim on the other hand ignore this information.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Should I say something?

My nephew got engaged recently to a rich girl, which is what he was looking for as he wants to sit and learn for the rest of his life (that is fodder for another post). When my mother told me the girls fathers name, I googled him as I usually do to get some information. To my great surprise what I found was that the girl's father had been charged (over 10 years ago) by the SEC with two different illegal schemes-an illegal offering scheme and a bank stock fraud scheme and that he had to pay a hefty fine/penalty and was permanently enjoined.  My brother and sister-in-law are very straight honest people, as are my parents, I am sure that they knew nothing about this, and if they had heard about this the shidduch would never have gotten off the ground.

The question that is really bothering me now is what to do with this information? On one hand I think it's important for them to know what they are getting into, on the other hand it is really too late. I don't see them breaking off the engagement because of this, so all I would do is upset everyone. I thought of sending an anonymous email with a link to the SEC litigation release but I am not sure that anyone would read it and again what would I accomplish?

What really gets me is that in the Charedi world (which my nephew is in) before a shidduch proposal is accepted both sides investigate. And yet, this information clearly did not come out in the investigation. I am sure that people who knew said nothing because they were afraid of loshon hara. The fact is that loshon hara has become the big savior for many people in shidduchim, people won't say the truth because of it. I would guess that there is another reason it didn't come out as well. In the Charedi world there is no little to no stigma attached to financial crimes. The father was involved in stock fraud, so what, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that he has a lot of money (possibly obtained illegally, but who knows) and is willing to support a son-in-law to sit and learn. Money cures all.

The bottom line is that I am not going to say anything and hope for the best.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Can a modern state be run according to Halacha?

A year and a half ago the Bostoner Rebbe spoke at a news conference and said the following:

אני מפחד מהיום שיהיו 61 חברי כנסת, כי אני לא יודע איך ניתן לנהל מדינה עם האחריות של שמירת התורה. לדוגמה, לסגור את שדה התעופה בשבת, בעולם המודרני אני לא יודע איך אפשר לעשות את זה". ובכנות הוסיף ש"ברוך השם שלא באים לשאול אותי שאלות כאלה".

I am afraid of the day when we have 61 MKs because I don't know how you can run a state with the responsibilities of keeping the Torah. For example, shutting down the airport on Shabbos, in the modern world I don't see how you can do that. And in a moment of candour he added "Thank God that no one comes to ask me these types questions"

This raises a rather important question abut Torah Judaism. The Torah is supposed to be the the perfect blueprint for a society and yet the Bostoner Rebbe (and it's not just him, it's all of the Charedi leadership) doesn't have answers as to how to run a modern state al pi halacha. What does this say about the Torah and the society that the halacha requires? If the Torah was given by God for all times and places, then surely it should have answers for a modern society.  The problem is that the Torah deals with an agrarian society and the world has moved on.

Unfortunately, this is emblematic of the modern Charedi leadership,  don't deal with the modern world, rather withdraw from it. Don't engage with the world, rather have a Shabbos Goy (or non-religious Jew, or a Baal Teshuva) do the work for you.

It's very interesting that the Bostoner Rebbe pointed to closing the airport on Shabbos as the big problem that he has no answer for. Truthfully, that is the least of the problems. Power generation, police and army activity on Shabbos are much bigger problems. How do you balance security against chillu shabbos? Imagine if the police just ignored all non-pikuach nefesh issues on Shabbos, (robberies, rapes, car theft, etc.). How do you deal with industries (for example Intel's chip factories) which can't be shut down once a week? How would you create a workable justice system given the Torah's rules of evidence? Would Israel be like Saudia Arabia and have public lashings? The role of women? Slavery? The list goes on and on.

Just as problematic are economic issues that need to be dealt with. Modern economies are based on credit and interest, for example, every modern state sells government bonds which pay interest and the central bank sets the interest rates for lending. The consumer economy is very much driven by interst based lending (credit cards etc.) What about the prohibition of ריבית? What is the status of a company in Halacha? What would be the status of the government? The list goes on and on.

In truth, I agree with the Bostoner Rebbe, I don't see Torah answers for these questions however, we draw very different conclusions.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A person's income for the year is decided on Rosh Hashanah?

This is what the Gemara in ביצה states, כל מזונותיו של אדם קצובין לו בראש השנה. Therefore, according to this, in December there is no reason to work overtime to get a bonus, after all it was decided a few months earlier how much money you will make so your hard work is completely irrelevant.

In fact, the Hirhurim blog a few years ago quoted Rav Feivel Cohen about this subject as follows:

R. Feivel Cohen (author of the Badei Ha-Shulhan) returned from a convention of Agudath Israel of America somewhat upset. It seems that there was a big discussion at the convention about what some were calling a "tuition crisis." R. Cohen pointed out that the Gemara in Beitzah 16a states the following:

All of one's livelihood is determined from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur except for what one spends on Shabbos, on holidays, and one's children's Torah education because [for these three things] if one reduces [the expense] they reduce [one's income] and if one adds [to the expense] they add to one's income.

Clearly, said R. Cohen, there cannot be a tuition crisis. The more you pay for tuition, the more one receives as income to make up for that expense. At least according to the Gemara and "We know what we call people who do not believe what the Gemara says."

So according to R' Cohen there can't be a tuition crisis because the Gemara says that Hashem will pay you back so you can pay any amount in tuition as you will simply make the money back.

While this sounds good in theory, in practice it doesn't work. There is a tuition crisis and most people including Charedim see a link between what they do and the financial results. In fact, the Charedi world is full of quick rich schemes and other illegal ventures. The Jewish Worker has a great post detailing some of these here Fascinating letters in yesterday's Yated.

The Gemara in Rosh Hashana seems to contradict the Gemara in ביצה. The Gemara on 16a states that there are 4 judgement days, on Rosh Hashana people are judged, on Pesach תבואה (which in those days was the equivalent of income) is judged etc. The Ran asks what is going on, if a person is judged on Rosh Hashana, surely that includes a judgement on his תבואה, if so what is the judgement on Pesach? He answers that the judgement on RH is for individuals and the judgement on Pesach is for the nation. The Turei Even asks, how does that answer the question? If everyone in the nation is judged on Rosh Hashana individually then in essence the nation was judged as well so what is judged on Pesach?  He gives the following ingenious answer. He says that on Rosh Hashana a person is judged and given not a specific amount of תבואה, but rather a percentage of the nations תבואה, e.g. 1%. On Pesach the nation is judged and allotted a specific amount of תבואה. Therefore your ultimate income is a combination of your personal judgement (the percentage) and the national judgement. With this he explains a difficult statement of Abaye. Abaye says that if a person sees in the winter months before Pesach that things are going well it is a sign that the judgement of the previous year was good and therefore, he should try to plant and harvest as much as possible before Pesach.  The question is obvious, how can you get more then you were given on Rosh Hashana? With the Turei Even's answer, we can understand this as well. Here is a simple example with numbers. On the Pesach before RH it is nigzar that your country will get 1,000,000 bushels of wheat. On RH it is nigzar that you will get 1% of that. The next Pesach it is nigzar that your country will get only 500,000 bushels of wheat. If you get 50% of your allotment before Pesach and 50% after Pesach you will end up with 0.5% of 1,000,000 which is 5000 and and 0.5% of 500,000 which is 2,500 for a total of 7500. What Abaye is suggesting is that you try to get 70% of your allotment before Pesach and only 30% after. If you do that you end up with 0.7% of 1,000,000 which is 7000 and 0.3% of 500,000 which is 1500 for a grand total of 8500. In other words even though you got the same 1% percent of your country's total in real terms you ended up with an extra 1000 bushels.

Many times, the word תבואה represents not just grain, but parnasa as a whole. If that is the case here then it turns out that a person's income is not fixed in absolute terms on RH. Rather, it is set as a percentage of the total income of the country. Therefore a person could increase their income by doing what Abaye suggested, shifting the distribution around. This could mean that there is justification for a person working harder to get a bonus in the winter, his hishtadlus really does increase his net income and this is not in contradiction to the fact that a person's income is fixed on RH because what is fixed is the percentage not the actual amount.

When I first saw this Turei Even when I was younger, I was blown away by this answer. It was brilliant and so neatly answered the questions. Now I am quite skeptical. Is this really the pshat in the Gemara? Is God really running a crazy scheme like this to provide people parnassa? He allocates percentages to every person in the nation and then an amount to the nation? Really? Does God really give you a way to game the system as Abaye suggested?  When you take a step back and think about how God should/could run the world, this kind of crazy scheme is not what would come to mind.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

What does bitachon really mean in Judaism?

You would think the answer would be obvious and self evident as bitachon is one of the fundamental tenets of the faith. However, this is actually a dispute between R' Yisroel Salanter and the Chazon Ish. R' Yisroel Salanter believed that a true believer would receive anything he asks for. If he wanted a gold watch and believed with all sincerity that Hashem would grant the request, then it would be granted. They tell the following story related to this. A poor man once came to R' Yisroel Salanter after one of his mussar speeches and said that he wants to change his life and sit and learn all day but he has no money. R' Yisroel answered that if he truly believes he should quit his job and buy a lottery ticket and he will win the lottery of 10,000 rubles. The man did as advised, but after a few days he had nothing to eat, R' Yisroel told him just hold out a few more days until the lottery. 2 days before the lottery the man returned to R' Yisroel and said I can't take it, my family has no food. R' Yisrael offerred to buy his lottery ticket for 5000 rubles. The man joyfully agreed. R' Yisroel answered, go back to your job, you don't have real bitachon. Someone with real bitachon would never sell a 10,000 ruble ticket for 5000.  We see from here that R' Yisroel held that if a person had 100% bitachon he would get whatever he asked for if he truly had bitachon.

The Chazon Ish on the other hand, dismisses this view of bitachon as incorrect. He held that Bitachon doesn’t mean you will get what you want, but rather it means to trust in Hashem that whatever He gives you - whether or not it is what you want - is for the best.

Again, we find a fundamental theological idea in dispute only 100 years ago. How can this be? How is it that we don't have a clear mesora of what bitachon is? This is not a machlokes in details, this is a machlokes in the fundamental concept of bitachon. In fact, how come we didn't see this machlokes in earlier sources? We see that even on basic fundamental ideas there is no clear mesora so kal vachomer there is no mesora on smaller issues.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Halacha and technology part 2 - Kashrus

In this post I would like to talk about modern technology and kashrut. There are a number of major areas that need to be addressed:

  1. Genetically engineered organisms
  2. Lab grown meat
  3. Absorption of pots etc.

Genetically Engineered Organisms

Genetically engineered salmon has been approved for consumption by the FDA. The genetic material inserted into the Atlantic salmon comes from two fish, the related Pacific Chinook salmon – which is kosher, and the ocean pout – an eel like fish that is not kosher.  There are a number of questions:
  1. Do the genes from a non-kosher animal render the fish non-kosher? 
  2. What would the status be of a non-kosher animal that was genetically engineered to have split hooves amd chew it's cud?
  3. What is the cut-off point to change the identity of an animal? A few genes, half the genes? 
These are very difficult questions which require a deep knowledge of science as well as halacha. Actually, it is not clear that the halacha really addresses this issue and it is very hard to find precedent. 

Lab grown meat

According to many of the articles that I have been reading, in 5-10 years lab grown meat will take over the world of meat production. Lab grown meat is created by extracting stem cells (the body’s master cells; templates from which specialized tissue develop) from a cow’s muscle tissue. These stem cells are cultured and multiplied with nutrients and growth promoting chemicals, and later coalesced, forming tiny strips of muscle fiber. The question is whether the meat is kosher and whether it is parve? What about lab grown pig? 

Again there is little to no real precedent here.

Absorption of pots

The basic halacha of Yoreh Deah is that pots absorb taste in the walls and therefore if you cook something treif the pot needs to be koshered etc. However, a number of Dati Leumi poskim (see http://revivim.yhb.org.il/2016/09/08/%D7%94%D7%9B%D7%A9%D7%A8%D7%AA-%D7%9B%D7%9C%D7%99%D7%9D-%D7%92%D7%9D-%D7%91%D7%99%D7%9E%D7%99%D7%A0%D7%95/ for an interesting discussion) have started to question this. They point out that the scientific evidence shows clearly that today's metal pots (stainless steel) do not absorb and do not discharge any taste. Therefore, they raise the question should we need to kasher pots today?

This is one area where I can easily see a split between the Charedim and more modern poskim. The Charedi poskim will NEVER change the din of kashering pots, whereas I can see more modern poskim (OO and even some MO) changing the psak based on the new reality.

Conclusion

Technology is changing the kashrus landscape rapidly and again the poskim will have to decide whether to be conservative and not make any changes or be bold and apply the technological changes to the halacha. In all 3 areas that I mentioned above, it would not shock me to see a split between the Charedi world and the more modern world. 

In any case, the poskim will have to make tough decisions with little to no precedent available. The Gemara, Shulchan Aruch etc. don't talk about genetic engineering or anything like it. The Gemara, Shulchan Aruch, etc. all assume that pots absorb and much of Yoreh Deah revolves around that. How the poskim deal with the change in reality that pots don't absorb will be fascinating to watch. It will be interesting to see how reality matches the claim that everything is found in Torah.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Pew study on the growth of the "Nones"

R' Yitzchak Adlerstein of Cross Currents has a fascinating article which addresses the latest Pew study which follows up on the reasons why so many Americans are leaving religion.

they’ve come to realize that religion is the opiate of the masses; understanding science obviates the need for religion; they find religious belief irrational or unfounded; they prefer to make their own decision, rather than rely on some external authority; as scientists, they cannot believe in miracles.

R' Adlerstein is concerned that this attitude is seeping into the Orthodox community and it's influence will only grow. Therefore, he believes that Jewish education needs to adapt and provide more sophisticated and better answers:

we need more educators who have sufficient grasp of the great works of the Rishonim that they can distill their essence and convey them in the vernacular to less sophisticated audiences. (Elementary school children don’t have to know about the Rambam’s Moreh, but I would submit that people who have not puzzled through it, the Kuzari, and R Sadyah Gaon are more likely to come up with philosophical pablum rather than anything of substance – even when speaking to children.) We need more rabbeim who have absorbed and personalized works that address modern and post-modern questions, like R Samson Raphael Hirsch and R. Kook. We need teachers who can convey the depth of the more intellectual chassidus, like Sfas Emes and R. Tzadok. We need to take our children out of classrooms that suppress questions, or offer dumb answers.

I believe that his approach is doomed to failure for a number of reasons:

  1. The Charedi world will never accept it. During the Slifkin affair R' Hirsch was described by a R' Moshe Shapiro as "not from our Beis HaMidrash". Likewise, R' Kook is persona non grata in the Charedi world.  Even the Moreh Nevuchim of teh Rambam is completely ignored in the Charedi world. There is no way that the Charedi world will change their approach.
  2. The Philosophical works of the Rishonim that he mention (Moreh Nevuchim, Kuzari, etc) are basically irrelevant today. Philosophy has moved on and thereofre the questions and answers that they deal with are not the questions and answers of today. Likewise for the later authors that he mentioned as well. They simply don't address the questions of today.
I would like to expand on point 2 above. The issues with Judaism today fall under the following general categories:
  • Contradictions between science and Torah - These are relatively new questions and we aren't going to find answers in the Rishonim or even the Acharonim.  Science has progressed so much since even R' Hirsch's time that he doesn't address the current issues. The fact is that there are no good answers to the science torah contradictions.  The only 2 approaches are outlined below and neither is very satisfactory: 
    • Bury your hand in the sand and deny any contradictions (the Charedi approach)
    • Admit that Chazal used the science of their times and then scramble to deal with the halachic issues. For example, much of classical kashrus Yoreh Deah is based on ideas about בליעה which are simply not true of todays materials. Once you go down that path is is a very slippery slope.
  • The historicity of the Torahs account - Again this is a relatively new question. Until the late 1700s the Torah was looked upon as a historical document and no one disputed the facts. Nowadays, the seminal events in the Torah are denied by historians and archeologists. The Rambam, Kuzari, R' Saadya, R' Hirsch, even R' Tzadok can't help here.
    • The numbers in the Torah (600,000 men, 2-3 million people) leaving Egypt is simply not believable given everything we know about population numbers at that time. Add in the medrash quoted by Rashi that only 1/5 of the Jewish population left Egyot (4/5 died) the numbers become simply ridiculous. 
    • Some version of the Documentary Hypothesis calls into question whether the Torah was given from God.  
    • There is no evidence that there was global flood, in fact, there is much evidence that there was no global flood.
  • Mesora - As I have pointed out in my numerous posts on this blog, the mesora which is the cornerstone of Orthodoc Judaism, is itself under question and the orthodox view of משה קבל תורה מסיני ומסרה ליהושע is becoming harder and harder to believe. 
  • Ethical and Moral concerns - The Torah is out of step with current Western values and seems to be morally and ethically deficient when measured against them:
    • Slavery - The Torah condones and actually promotes slavery (of non-Jews) including a prohibition to free a non-Jewish slave. 
    • Genocide - The Torah describes and commands genocide
    • Womens status - Halacha relegates women to a secondary status, there is no getting around it. In today's world where a woman is Chancellor of Germany, Prime Minister of England, and may become President of the United States, excluding women from positions of power in the Jewish world e.g. women rabbis) is seen as immoral and backwards. Divorce is another area where halacha is unfair to women.
    • Sexual issues - In today's world being gay or lesbian is seen as normal and driven by genetics.
R' Adlerstein proposes to use the existing intellectual mesora (Rambam, Kuzari, R' Tzadok, etc.) to help people deal with questions. IMHO this is doomed to failure because these issues are not really addressed by the existing Mesora. One of the most frustrating email exchanges I had was with a Charedi Rabbi when I asked him many of the internal questions that I raised on this blog. His response was that the Maharal answered my questions and he referred me to various Maharal's. I had a very very hard time convincing him that the Maharal did not deal with the questions I was asking him.  He finally agreed with me that the Maharal did not address the questions and neither did anyone else. 

The bottom line is that R' Adlerstein believes that there are answers, I and the people who read this blog, who are the people he is trying to reach don't see any good answers.