Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Poverty in Israel

The government came out with the annual poverty statistics and as usual there is a lot of hand wringing going on about how there are so many more poor people in Israel then in other OECD countries.

The fact is that these numbers are very skewed by the Charedim and the Arabs (I will not address the issue of the Arabs). The Charedim are almost 15% of all the poor in Israel and almost 50% of Charedim are living in poverty. However, Charedi poverty cannot be laid at the governments doorstep. Charedi poverty is by choice/idealogy.

There is no other subgroup in the developed world (that I know of) which believes in the following 3 ideas:
1. No secular education
2. Every adult male should ideally be sitting and learning Torah all day and not working
3. There is a mitzva to have as many children as you possibly can, financial consequences be damned

When you put these 3 together, it is a wonder that the level of poverty is not higher. If adult males do not work, that is asking for poverty and cannot be blamed on the government. Even if they do work, in the modern world, without higher education it is very difficult to make a living, period.

Therefore, if you take out the Charedi factor from the poverty statistics poverty in Israel would be very much in line with Western Europe.

The Charedi world wants to have its cake and eat it too. On one hand, have as many children as they can, teach their children no secular studies, and sit and learn and not go out to work, while on the other hand crying foul when the government decides to cut back the subsidies for that lifestyle. The Charedi world cannot expect the average Israeli taxpayer to subsidize their life.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The 13 Middos used to expound the Torah

Every day we say the ברייתא of R' Yishmael which lists off the 13 middos used to expound the Torah. These are the fundamental tools that Chazal use to derive halachos from the written Torah. In essence these are the basis of the oral torah.  Given that, you would think that everyone would agree on what these 13 middos are. However, there is a fundamental dispute among the Tannaim about the 13 middos.

R' Yishmael has

  1. כלל ופרט
  2. פרט וכלל
  3. כלל ופרט וכלל
As 3 of the 13 middos. R' Akiva on the other hand replaced these 3 with 3 different middos
  1. ריבוי ומיעוט
  2. מיעוט וריבוי
  3. ריבוי מיעוט וריבוי
The Rishonim and Acharonim point out that these are mutually exclusive. You either use 1 set or the other with very different results.

The obvious question is how can this be? The 13 Middos were given to Moshe to use to expound the written torah. How can there be a fundamental dispute about what they are? You can't answer אלו ואלו דברי אלוקים חיים because they are mutually exclusive. What happened to the mesora? How can there be a dispute about such a fundamental issue?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

What are the really important Mitzvos in Judaism?

The Gemara in Makos (24a) states that there are 613 mitzvos but that the Prophets boiled them down to a much smaller number of important Mitzvos.

Michah gave three Mitzvos for people to focus on - "Asos Mishpat..."
  1. "Asos Mishpat" is monetary laws;
  2. "Ahavas Chesed" is bestowing Chesed;
  3. "V'Hatzne'a Leches Im Elokecha" is escorting the dead and bringing a Kalah to Chupah;
Yeshayah later gave two primary Mitzvos - "Shimru Mishpat va'Asu Tzedakah." 

It is fascinating to see what the Prophets listed as their critical mitzvos and what they left out.

The Mitzvah of Talmud Torah is not mentioned in any of these lists. In fact, these lists are all interpersonal mitzvos, there are no mitzvos bein adam lamakom listed. 

It is unbelievable how far orthodox judaism has strayed from these principles.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

What is the significance of the 9th hour of the 9th day of the 9th month of the 9th year?

Matzav posted the following yesterday:
In the Sefer Bris Menucha (which the Ari HaKodosh said was written with Ruach HaKodesh), he states that the 9th year of the yovel and the 9th month of the year and the 9th day of the month and the 9th hour of the day/night is a time that is mesugal for an auspicious time for hatzlocha and brocha.
According to most poskim, the times are approx. 1:41 – 1:50 (AM & PM). It’s a time to utilize tefillah, learning and tears to our Father in Heaven.
May HaShem grant all your tefillos, l’tova, Amen!!
This is such a joke. This year is not the 9th year of Yovel because Shemitta was 3 years ago in 5775. In any case Yovel hasn't been observed in thousands of years and we have no idea when yovel is supposed to be.

What is really funny is that 6 years ago in 2011 the Charedi press made the same announcement

(if you look closely you can see the date at the bottom of the ad to be תשע"ב)

which just proves what a fraud it is as the 9th year of the Yovel cycle can't come twice in 6 years.

Someone tried to "answer" the question as follows:

This makes it into an even bigger joke if any 9 is good.

Monday, November 27, 2017

אין אדם דן גזירה שווה אלא אם כן קבלו מרבו

This is a Gemara in Nidda (19) as well as other places. Rashi adds on קבלה מרבו הלכה למשה מסיני, that he needs to have a tradition from his Rebbe going back to Moshe Rabenu.

However, this principle doesn't stand up. The Gemara in many places has a dispute about a gezera shava, one Tanna learns a gezera shava and one doesn't. How can that be if every gezera shava comes as a tradition from Moshe? The Gemara states in some places that Tanna A had one gezera shava and Tanna B had a different gezera shava and neither one accepted the others gezera shava. Does that make any sense if every gezera shava is from Moshe? It gets worse. The Gemara in Nidda (22) states rules about gezera shavas. The Gemara says that if it is מופנה מצד אחד למידיון ומשיבין  and if מופנה משני צדדים למידין ואין משיבים. The obvious question (asked by Rishonim and Acharonim) is these rules make no sense. If there is a tradition about a gezera shava (going back to Moshe) then everyone should accept it no matter what and if there is no tradition no should accept even if it is מופנה משני צדדים. The Rishonim and Acharonim give various difficult answers:

1. The Ramban in the second shoresh on the Sefer Hamitzvos explains based on the questions above that we can't accept the simple explanation of gezera shava. Rather he says the following. The Rabbis had a tradition that there was a gezera shava with a given pair of words (e.g. שחט שחט) but didn't know which iteration of the word in the Torah is part of the gezera shava. Therefore there are disputes about gezera shavas.

The difficulty is obvious. The Gemara enunciates a clear principle and the Rishonim emasculate the principle so that it is basically meaningless.

2. Tosafos Shabbos 97a states that the Rabbis knew that there were a certain number of gezera shavas and therefore they couldn't just accept every gezera shava from every Rabbi because they had to make sure that they had the right number of gezera shavas. The weakness and difficulty of this answer is obvious. 
  1. Why didn't chazal tell us this number anywhere? Chazal tell us how many mitzvos there are how many melachos, etc. but this critical point is left out. 
  2. If all Moshe got was the number of Gezera Shavas then אין אדם דן גזירה שווה מעצמו doesn't make any sense, every gezera shava is מעצמו
3. The הליכות עולם gives a similar answer to the Ramban but he states that sometimes they got more information then other times. Some gezera shavas had the words and the halacha and the place. Some had just the words, some had the words and the halacha. 

The bottom line is that the Gemara enunciates a very broad strong principle, however, in parctice this is contradicted all over the place and the Rishonim/Acharonim need to give weak farfetched answers. What we see is that the mesora even on something as simple as gezera shavas is non-existent.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Charedi hashkafa (ideology) takes away independent thought and decision

My wife and I were recently involved in a situation involving a family member and we had to make a difficult decision. The decision had nothing to do with a halachic issue at all, but was personal. My wife who is a smart well educated woman had 2 reactions to the situation which drove me crazy.

  1. No one has to take any responsibility for the situation because this is where Hashem wants us to be. In other words, she has adopted the Charedi maximal position of hashgacha that not even a leaf falls without it being from heaven. Therefore, our actions and everyone elses actions are a basically meaningless, a facade, and don't matter anyway. This drives me crazy because this is not even the authentic Jewish/Halachic opinion (see my post on Hashgacha Pratis) let alone a rational one.
  2. We need to ask a Rav for Daas Torah. The situation under discussion was not a halachic issue but a personal one, IMHO a Rav has no more insight then we do, and in fact, given that this was a personal family situation he would have much less insight into the situation. But, he has Daas Torah
Basically, if you are Charedi, nothing you do matters because everything is from Hashem, and you can't make any decisions independently because you have to ask Daas Torah. On one hand it makes life really easy, nothing is your fault, this is what Hashem wants, therefore you don't have to take any responsibility for the situation, and every difficult decision is made by someone else with Daas Torah. In a sense it makes life realy easy, but what kind of life is that really? Do you want to live your life with someone else making all the important decisions? Taking no responsibilty for the situation you are in because this is what Hashem wants? 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

How many Jews were slaves in Egypt?

The Gemara in Sanhedrin (111) makes a startling statement about the numbers of Jews in Egypt. It says only 2 out of every 600,000 made it out, all the rest died. When you do the math (600,000 actually came out) it comes out to an unfamothable 180,000,000,000 (180 billion) Jews were slaves in Egypt. Given that the world population in 2017 is only 7.6 billion and the population only rreached 1 billion in 1804 this number is so ridiculous it is silly.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Does Judaism believe in Reincarnation?

Reincarnation (gilgul) has become a common belief in today's orthodox Judaism. However, this was not always so. Daf Yomi just finished the last chapter of Sanhedrin which deals with the principles of faith including, Messiah, World to come, reward and punishment. One thing noticeably missing is reincarnation.  In fact, reincarnation is not mentioned anywhere in the Talmud, or Midrashim. R' Saadya Gaon said the following about reincarnation:
Yet, I must say that I have found certain people, who call themselves Jews, professing the doctrine of metempsychosis (reincarnation) which is designated by them as the theory of “transmigration” of souls. What the mean thereby is that the spirit of Ruben is transferred to Simon and afterwards to Levi and after that to Judah. Many of them would go so far as to assert that the spirit of a human being might enter into the body of a beast or that of a beast into the body of a human being, and other such nonsense and stupidities.
"Who call themselves Jews", "Nonsense and stupidities" this goes beyond just saying he had a lack of tradition and "was not convinced". Rav Saadia Gaon denies it even deserves a place in a discussion of Judaism:
I was wary about my words to mention their opinion, and they are worthy of such [neglect] because of their severe flaws, if I were not afraid of the foolish.
The Gemara in Bava Metziah (107a) comments on the pasuk ברוך אתה בבואך ברוך אתה בצאתך that it is teaching us that just like a person enters the world without sin he should leave the world without sin. The רש"ש there comments that this contradicts gilgulim. The reason being, that the premise of a gilgul is that a nefesh that already sinned comes into the world to be מתקן that sin. However, the gemara states explicitly that a person comes into the world without sin. 

So why does everyone now believe in reincarnation. The answer is that reincarnation is an important concept in Kabbalah. The Zohar and related literature are filled with references to reincarnation, addressing such questions as which body is resurrected and what happens to those bodies that did not achieve final perfection, how many chances a soul is given to achieve completion through reincarnation, whether a husband and wife can reincarnate together, if a delay in burial can affect reincarnation, and if a soul can reincarnate into an animal. The acceptance and proliferation of Kabbalah has cause spread this concept and caused it to be widely accepted.

This dispute raises a number of very difficult questions:

  1. How is it that such a fundamental concept like reincarnation is not mentioned anywhere in the Talmud?
  2. How can there be a dispute about such a fundamental point, whether souls reincarnate?
  3. How could such a great Gaon like R' Saadya Gaon not know about reincarmnation and deny it's existence?
We can only conclude that reincarnation, like many other ideas, has no ancient mesora and in fact Reincarnation is a foreign idea, imported into Judaism from other religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, where reincarnation really is a major tenet of the faith.

Friday, October 27, 2017

When did the events in לך לך happen?

If you just read parshas לך לך you would think that first Hashem told Avraham to go to Eretz Yisroel, then came the story with לוט, the 4 kings, etc. and then came the ברית בין הבתרים. However, the Tosafos (and other Rishonim) point out that if we take a closer look at the chronology from the medrashim we see that this is not true.

Hashem tells Avraham by the ברית בין הבתרים that his descendents will be in golus 400 years. Rashi points out that they were only in Egypt 210 years and therefore explains based on the medrashim that the 400 years started with the birth of Yitzchak. However, the Torah says in Parshas Bo that they were in Egypt 430 years. Rashi there explains (again based on medrashim) that the extra 30 years is from the ברית בין הבתרים, in other words the ברית בין הבתרים was 30 years before Yitzchak was born. We know that Yitzchak was born when Avraham was 100 years old which means that ברית בין הבתרים had to be 30 years earlier when Avraham was 70. However, at the beginning of parshas לך לך the Torah tells us that Avraham was 75 years old when he left Charan. This means that לך לך had to be 5 years after the ברית בין הבתרים. Tosafos in Shabbos 10b makes this calculation and says this is what happened. Avraham came to EY when he was 70 and went through the ברית בין הבתרים, and then he returned to Charan for 5 years until Hashem told him לך לך.

However, this is very strange for a number of reasons:

  1. Why did Avraham come to Israel at the age of 70 and then leave?
  2. לך לך was not the first time Avraham left his homeland, he already did it once before at the age of 70
  3. Rashi and the medrashim make it out as if Avraham had no idea where he was going when Hashem told him לך לך, yet he had already been there.
  4. Why would the Torah wrote the story in a backwards order? 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

When was Moshiach supposed to have come?

Based on the Gemara Sanhedrin 97 and the pesukim in Daniel, the Rishonim and Acharonim come up with various times that Moshiach was supposed to have come. Every single one of them has long since passed.
  1. Rashi - 978
  2. Yad Ramah - 803
  3. R' Sadya Gaon - 983
  4. Rambam (Iggeres Teiman) - 1212
  5. Ramban (in his famous debate) - 1358
  6. Malbim - offers a number of possibilities
    1. 590
    2. 1913
    3. 1928 - He suggested that the Geula would start in 1913 and complete in 1928
Yet we are supposed to believe that Moshiach is still coming.

How tall was Avraham Avinu?

In this weeks Parsha we are introduced to Avraham Avinu. Maseches Sofrim states the following:
"The man [who lived in Chevron] was the greatest of the giants" (Yehoshua 14:15) -- This refers to our forefather Avraham, whose height was equal to that of seventy-four men. The amount of food and drink he consumed was enough for seventy-four men, and he had the strength of that many men as well.
R' Chaim Kanievsky is his sefer on Tanach (טעמא דקרא) takes this medrash literally and in fact offers an explanation of the source.

However, it is clear that from a scientific basis it is absolutely impossible for a human being to be that tall.

The size that a person could grow to is limited by the strength of materials (particularly bone) and gravity. A person's size is ultimately limited by the cube square law. For simplicity's sake let's model a person as a box. A box's volume is a product of length x height x width so a box that has a length, width and height of 5 feet (our person model) will have a volume of 125 feet cubed. Now assume that he grows to 4x times these proportions (20x20x20). He will now have a volume of 8000 cubic feet, in other words quadrupling his length increases his volume by a factor of 64. Now we need to consider density and mass. It makes sense to say as a person grows his density stays the same (otherwise he would simply thin out into nothingness). To maintain a constant density means that mass must increase at the same rate as volume so quadrupling height increases weight by a factor of 64. The problem is that as weight increases the ability of the skeleton to support that weight does not. The strength of an object depends on how wide it is, it's cross-sectional area. In our case here volume and mass increase much faster then the cross -sectional area of the bones.

Let's take the following simple example of someone who is 6 feet tall and 185 pounds. A single vertebra can support approximately 800 pounds. Now lets increase his height by a factor of 10 to 60 feet. His volume and mass grow by 1000 while his cross-sectional area only grows by a factor of 100. His vertebra can now support 80,000 pounds but his weight is now 185,000 pounds, meaning that his skeleton can no longer support his weight.

The bottom line is that if Avraham Avinu was 74 times taller then the average man (between 370 and 444 feet tall) his body would collapse of it's own weight (well before 74 times). It is a matter of simple physics.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

How long will the Messianic period last?

Belief in the Messiah is one of the 13 principles of faith. However, when the Messiah will come and how long the messianic period will last is the subject of dispute. The gemara (Sanhedrin 99) offers the following suggestions for how long the Messianic period will last:

  1. R' Eliezer - 40 years
  2. R' Dosa - 400 years
  3. Rebbi - 365 years
  4. Avimi - 7000 years
  5. R' Yehuda - the amount of time from creation until the Messiah comes
  6. R' Nachman Bar Yitzchak - the amount of time from the flood until the Messiah comes
Interestingly enough the Gemara earlier stated that the world will last 6000 years, 
Sanhedrin 96B - Six thousand years were decreed upon the world: 2000 years of emptiness (without Torah), 2000 years of Torah, and 2000 years for Mashi'ach. This opinion of 6000 years is generally accepted, however, opinions 4-6 above clearly disagree with this.

The conclusion that we can draw from this is that like with many things Chazal had no clue about how long the messianic period will last and the numbers range from 40 - 7000 quite a large discrepancy. Considering that belief in Messiah is a principle of faith it is astounding that there is such a wide range of opinions. Of course, if Chazal had no clue about the Messiah what else did they have no clue about?

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.

It's not our fault, Satan did it ...

This is what the Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevez said after there were violent confrontations in the Yeshiva between 2 rival groups.

אנחנו עוברים ימים קשים, שעות קשות, למה דווקא בישיבת פוניבז׳ קורים כאלו דברים?, מי עושה את זה, הקב״ה?, הרי יש לנו כזה אלול יפה, האם הקב״ה לא רוצה את זה?, ודאי שהשטן הוא זה שעושה את זה, ודווקא אצלינו בישיבה הקדושה פוניבז׳, הוא לא עושה את זה במקום אחר, הוא רואה מה שקורה כאן, ישיבת פוניבז׳, עוד מעט כבר נהיה מלאכים, והוא אינו יכול לסבול את זה.בישיבות אחרות גם טוב, אבל את מה שקורה כאן הוא לא יכול לראות, כזו ישיבה, כזה גישמאק בלימוד, כזו הנאה מהלימוד, ותפילה מיוחדת כל כך, הוא לא יכול לסבול את זה, אז הוא נלחם, והוא עושה את בדרכים שלו, בשביל לנצח את ישיבת פוניבז׳ 
We are going through difficult days, difficult hours, why specifically in Yeshivas Ponevez do these things happen? Who does this, Hashem? We are having such a nice Elul, does Hashem not like it? It must be that Satan is doing it, and specifically in our holy Yeshiva Ponevez, he isn't doing it anywhere else. He sees what is going on here, Yeshivas Ponevez, soon we will be angels, and he can't take that. Other Yeshivas are also good, but what happens here he can't stand, such a yeshiva, such excitement in learning, such enjoyment from learning, such special davening, he can't take it and therefore he fights in his way to defeat Yeshiva Ponevez.
This is so ridiculous it is almost comical. It's not our fault the boys are fighting, in fact it's just the opposite, we are too good so Satan is pulling out all the stops. This is just silly. Everyone knows why there is fighting in Ponevez, it is a decades old battle as to who controls the yeshiva. It is about money and honor. To blame it on Satan is a sick joke.

This is however in line with current Charedi hashkafa that nothing we do matters (see yesterday's post). Everything is in the hands of Hashem and our actions are meaningless. We are simply clay in the hands of God and Satan.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Nothing you do really matters ...

This is the message that I took away from a story published in last week's Mishpacha magazine.

The story went as follows. A teenage girl becomes a baalas teshuva and goes to seminary. She comes away from seminary with the following take away. Before doing anything always ask Daas Torah. She finds a Rebetzin (married to a Rosh Yeshiva) whoom she adopts as her Daas Torah. This rebbitzen recommends a shidduch for her, a Baal Teshuva from another country. The girl is initially skeptical, they are worlds apart. The Rebbitzen says don't worry, he has good middos and is a good learner that's all that counts. With much trepidation she follows Daas Torah and marries the guy. From the start things don't go well. The clash of mentalities from different countries is overwhelming. The husband comes from a very patriarchal society and expects her to stay home in the kitchen and listen to him. She, living in America and can't deal with it. Finally, he decides that they are moving back to his country and she demands a divorce which is granted. Sometime later, the Rebbitzen (who pushed her to marry him) calls up and asks for mechila for pushing her into a disastrous marriage. The woman won't hear of it, this is what Hashem wanted and she came out of the situation closer to Hashem. Therefore the Rebbetzin bears no responsibility.

The message is clear, nothing we do matters, we are not responsible for bad outcomes. Hashem runs the world and everything that happens is his will.

As I have posted previously, I cannot live this way. It makes life into a joke. Why bother doing anything when all is from hashem and it doesn't really matter what you do?

The truth is that no one really believes this because when push comes to shove, in a medical or financial crisis, even the most religious people will move mountains to try to affect the situation when their hashkafa says your efforts are completely meaningless once you do basic hishtadlus. The reason is simple, it is almost impossible for people to deny cause and effect.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

אשת יפת תואר continued

This is one of those very morally troubling halachos that show up in Judaism, see my post yesterday אשת יפת תואר Torah morality.

One interesting point that I would like to add is that the Jewish man is allowed to take a married woman (non-Jewish) as a יפת תואר and the halacha just ignores the fact that she is married. In other words, not only does the halacha sanction her rape, but it sanctions taking her away from her husband and family and allowing the rapist/soldier to marry her.

Monday, September 4, 2017

אשת יפת תואר Torah morality

In last weeks parsha (כי תצא) the Torah has the mitzvah of אשת יפת תואר. The mitzva can broadly be defined as follows. After victory in battle, a group of soldiers passes some locals, and one woman catches a certain soldiers eye. He separates from his fellow troops to gaze at her outstanding beauty, and decides to approach her. Before she is able to react, he forces her into an alleyway and fulfills his war-driven sexual cravings. Subsequently, he travels back to his native country with her at his side, and proceeds to shave off her hair, grow her fingernails beyond their normal length, strip away her beautiful clothing, and dress her in sackcloth. He lives out his daily life, returning to his family and friends whom he left for war, while his normal surroundings embrace an additional character: his captive. After thirty days, he forcibly converts her to his religion and marries her.

In 2017 this kind of behavior is simply not accepted and is in fact considered a war crime. And yet, the Torah permits it.

All kinds of apologetics have been written about this mostly saying that the Torah law was an improvement over what was the standard practice of war. The Torah at least provided some protection for the woman in contrast to the standard practices which provided no protection for the woman.

While this may be true, it raises major questions about the suitability of Torah to the modern era. One of the 13 priciples of faith of the Rambam is that the Torah laws will not be replaced. in other words, this law of יפת תואר was not only meant for ancient times but is meant for us as well. Clearly we have moved beyond this and this law is not relevant even though it was given by God. What does this say about the morality of the Torah? Could it be that modern society has surpassed the Torah in morality? If so what does that say about God's morality?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Disputes in the Mishna, why?

Anyone who learns Mishnayos and/or Gemara knows that disputes are the lifeblood of Mishna and Gemara. However, there is a major question, why are there disputes? The Rambam (Mamrim 1:4) writes the following:
כְּשֶׁהָיָה בֵּית דִּין הַגָּדוֹל קַיָּם, לֹא הָיְתָה שָׁם מַחְלֹקֶת בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל; אֵלָא כָּל דִּין שֶׁנֻּלַּד בּוֹ סָפֵק לְאֶחָד מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל, שׁוֹאֵל לְבֵית דִּין שֶׁבְּעִירוֹ.  אִם יָדְעוּ, אָמְרוּ לוֹ; וְאִם לָאו, הֲרֵי הַשּׁוֹאֵל עִם אוֹתוֹ בֵּית דִּין אוֹ עִם שְׁלוּחוֹ עוֹלִין לִירוּשָׁלַיִם, וְשׁוֹאֲלִין לְבֵית דִּין שֶׁבְּהַר הַבַּיִת.  אִם יָדְעוּ, אָמְרוּ לָהֶם; וְאִם לָאו, הַכֹּל בָּאִין לְבֵית דִּין שֶׁעַל פֶּתַח הָעֲזָרָה.  אִם יָדְעוּ, אָמְרוּ לָהֶם; וְאִם לָאו, הַכֹּל בָּאִים לְלִשְׁכַּת הַגָּזִית לְבֵית דִּין הַגָּדוֹל, וְשׁוֹאֲלִין.
  אִם הָיָה הַדָּבָר שֶׁנֻּלַּד בּוֹ הַסָּפֵק לַכֹּל יָדוּעַ אֵצֶל בֵּית דִּין הַגָּדוֹל, בֵּין מִפִּי הַקַּבָּלָה בֵּין מִן הַמִּדָּה שֶׁדָּנוּ בָּהּ--אוֹמְרִין לָהֶם מִיָּד; וְאִם לֹא הָיָה הַדָּבָר בָּרוּר אֵצֶל בֵּית דִּין הַגָּדוֹל--דָּנִין בּוֹ בְּשָׁעָתָן וְנוֹשְׂאִין וְנוֹתְנִין בַּדָּבָר עַד שֶׁיַּסְכִּימוּ כֻּלָּן, אוֹ יַעַמְדוּ לְמִנְיָן וְיֵלְכוּ אַחַר הָרֹב, וְיֹאמְרוּ לְכָל הַשּׁוֹאֲלִין כָּךְ הֲלָכָה, וְיֵלְכוּ לָהֶם
The Rambam writes that when the Beis Din Hagadol was in existence there was no lasting dispute. Rather, every dispute would be taken to the Beis Din Hagadol and decided based on majority vote. The Rambam did not make this up, he based this on the Gemara in Sanhedrin (88b).

There is one major problem with this.  Throughout the period of the second temple (e.g. the period of the Tannaim who make up the Mishna) there was a Beis Hadin Hagadol. So according to the Rambam how can there be any unresolved disputes in the Mishna? Why didn't Hillel and Shammai and later their students simply go to the Beis Din Hagadol and resolve the dispute? How can the Rambam ignore the well known historical fact that the Beis Din Hagadol existed throughout this period as it is recorded in the Gemara?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Can a woman get pregnant from having sex standing up?

Interestingly enough todays Daf (Sanhedrin 37) says no. The Gemara states as follows:
it says "u'Vnei Yechanyah Asir She'alti'el Beno"; His son is called "Asir" because he was conceived in jail; "She'alti'el" - Hash-m was Shosel (planted) him in the womb unnaturally. Normally, a woman does not get pregnant having sex while standing, but his mother did. (There was no room in the jail cell for them to lie down.)
While this may seem to make sense this is of course medically not correct.

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.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Quality of life

Judaism believes that life is sacred no matter what the quality of life is. I have never thought that much about this until now. My father who is quite elderly, is in the hospital on a ventilator. When he first had breathing problems the people in the hospital asked about a DNR and talked about quality of life etc. I am really torn about this. I can see both sides. On one side is the argument that what value is there in life on a ventilator where you may be living but you can't communicate or do anything. Their is a financial aspect as well. Society has limited resources and spending hundreds of thousands to milions of dollars to keep an elderly man barely alive may not be the best use of resources. On the other side is the idea that every second of life is precious and we need to preserve it no matter what and who are we to decide what is quality of life. 

Truthfully, I believe that the Jewish position was founded in a completely different time and needs to be updated. In the time of Chazal, these issues basically did not exist. People either lived or died, no one lived with chronic illness and certainly no one lived for years in a a non-responsive state. In the time of Chazal my father would have been long dead. Chazal never imagined a state where we could keep someone alive for years with something like a ventilator. we have a similar problem with brain death. It is clear that Chazal did not understand the human body and therefore their discussions of death should be irrelevant. Of course halacha doesn't work that way and everyone tries to reinterpret various statements to support their position. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Charedi women speak

Mishpacha magazine published a whole set of letters from Charedi women in response to the column by R' Besser (see a discussion here and here). I will quote the letters as is and add in my comments in [brackets].

Letter #1

... as a frum regular (top) graduate from a regular (top) Beis Yaakov with absolutely no "progressive" feminist agenda, [why does she need to say she was a top graduate from a top Beis Yaakov, sounds very defensive] I"d like to make a suggestion ... to anyone who found this piece confounding.

Realize that not all of us in the Ezras Nashim have been blessed with the ability to so easily "feel real" in our "positions in yiddishkeit". [because their position is as second class citizens and in the modern world that is hard to swallow, where women can basically do anything]. Thank Hashem everday for granting you this gift of serenity and joy,  [which really means you are either clueless or completely brainwashed]which many sincere ovdei hashem sturggle to achieve, epsecially on Yomim Tovim.

I am thrilled for my husband and son on Simchas Torah, and love watching the joy on their faces as they dance with the Sefer Torah.  But there is a small part of me that yearns to actually express my deep joy, too. instead of sitting squished over, under, and in between the masses -- quite literally unable to move [this is a completely legitimate feeling, why shouldn't women have the opportunity to express their joy just like the men].   During Aseres Yemei Teshuva I of course aspire to reach the level of "the specter of din being so imposing so that I honestly do not notice where I am" [and yet the men are in shul and clearly do notice where they are, only the women are supposed to have this great sense].
But until I get there, I think that it's actually pretty normal to occassionally have some thoughts like I wish I were able to daven a full shacharis and mussaf in shul with a tzibbur, and hear all the tekios clearly instead of an abridged 19 minute shacharis on my couch and 30 tekios that are losing a competition with crying babies. Or, it would be nice to actually watch the paroches being pulled aside and see teh aron kodesh opened to reveal the sfirei torah, instead of reading Artscroll's "The ark is opened" in the machzor. 

Megillas Esther is leined in an early morning slot at my house so that I can take car of all my, kein ayin hara, beautiful children as well as prepare for the other mitzvos hayom [that is a big ppart of the problem, when you have 8-10 kids it i really a full time job for many many years]. I am so happy to be busy wth that, but I still do feel that pang when I think about how beautiful it would be to hear leining with a tzibbur (and at a time of day when I"m not half asleep [this is very sad. Her husband can't help her out? Why can't her husband get up ear;y daven vasikin and then watch the kids so that she can go to a later minyan?].

And Rabbi Besser didn't mention this part, but the singing .... Whether at a regular Yom Tov seuda (with my brothers-in-law) or at thevery load and hartzig Purim version, or the personal highlght of my year,  at the very end of the seder.... The singing is so beautiful that it physically hurts to keep my mouth closed and not to join as the men express their thanks to Hakodosh Baruch Hu for al of his blessings [This is so sad. I know that their is a halacha of kol isha but to apply it in this case seems ridiculous]. I know, I know, that's not what He wants from me -- that's why I am not doing it! But, it's hard.

To clarify, I am a regular,frum, (usually happy!) woman -- not remotely "religiously marginalized " or even bitter or resentful of teh position Hashem has chosen to put me in [but clearly you are, you just can't admit it because that would make you a feminist]. And yes, I do work hard on being truly content and deeply content with my role. But until allo f us who feel that way reach that madreigah it is refreshing and validating to hear some acknowledgment of our struggle from the other side of the mechitza

Name Withheld [this says it all]

IMHO what this letter shows best is the great brainwashing that Beis Yakkov's do. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Another source that the Torah was forgotten by the masses

IMHO, the best answer to the Kuzari proof is to deny the underlying assumption, that there is a mass mesora about Matan Torah.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin (21b) discusses whether Ezra changed the alphabet of the Sefer Torah from Ivri to Ashuri. The Ran there says the following:

ובאמת כי כשגלו ישראל לבבל כבר הלכו להם עשרת השבטים בחלח וחבור ונשארו מתי מעט ושנו את לשונם ואת כתבם ונשתכחה מהם התורה הלא תראה בימי עזרא שנשתכחה מהם התורה ואפילו המצות המפורסמות כסוכה כשקראו להם המצוה היתה להם כחידוש גדול ואז עזרא האיר עיניהם בדיני התורה ומצותיה והוא החזיר להם את כתבם שנשתכחה מהם

In Truth, when the Jewish people went into exile in Babylonia, the 10 tribes were already lost and there were only a small number of Jews left, they changed their language and alphabet and they forgot the Torah. We see that the Torah was forgotten in the time of Ezra and even the famous mitzvos like Succa [were forgotten]. When [Ezra] read the mitzva [of Succa] it was a big surprise to them. Then Ezra opened their eyes to the laws of the Torah and the Mitzvos and he restored the alphabet that had been lost.

The Ran says that they forgot even famous mitzvas like Succa and had no recollection whatsoever of it. They also forgot the alphabet and couldn't read it. In short, they completely forgot the Torah and Ezra restored it.

We see from here not only that there is no mass Mesora about Torah but a refutation of the fundamental principle of the Kuzari proof, namely, a charismatic individual came and reinvented the Torah for the masses and even restored a long lost alphabet.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

In the wake of Lakewood arrests, Lakewood honcho: "People are forced to find ways to bend the system."

Here is the full quote:
Duvi Honig, the CEO of the Lakewood-based Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce, said that thousands of Jewish families in the town need the public assistance to get by and that some people are tempted to take more than they need.
"The pressure of the community overhead – especially the (cost of) private schooling – is unsustainable," he said about the Jewish community. "People are forced to find ways to bend the system."
I can't believe a religious person/leader can make a statement like this. No one is FORCED to steal from the government. Instead take a little responsibility, get a job, have fewer kids, live a simpler lifestyle. Sorry, just because you want to have 8 kids and send them to private school doesn't give you a license to steal.

This is not one or 2 people, this is hundreds of people (from the same article):
In the last two days, hundreds of residents called township leaders asking how they can avoid arrest or get amnesty related to an alleged public-assistance fraud scheme that could stretch into the millions of dollars, according to one law enforcement with knowledge of the ongoing probes.

That source, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said that dozens have also called Ocean County Social Services in Toms River to cancel their public assistance or update their income information.
I really hope that they arrest these hundreds of people and don't offer any amnesty.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The number of letters and Pesukim in the Torah

The Gemara in Kiddushin (30) gives the following numbers/count:

The early Chachamim were called Sofrim (counters), for they would count all letters of the Torah:

1.The Vav of "Gachon" is the middle letter of the Torah;
2."Darash Darash" are the middle words;
3."V'Hisgalach" is the middle verse;
4.The Ayin of "mi'Ya'ar" is the middle letter of Tehilim.
5."V'Hu Rachum" is the middle verse of Tehilim.
6. There are 5,888 verses in the Torah.
7. Tehilim has eight additional verses [more then the Torah]
8. Divrei ha'Yamim lacks eight verses [less then the Torah].

Unfortunately, every single one of these is incorrect.

1. There are 304,805 letters in the Torah. The Vav of "Gachon" is not the midpoint letter (letter number 152,403). Rather, it appears nearly 5,000 letters later (letter number 157,336)!
2. The number of words in the Torah is 79890, and therefore the middle words would be 39990, 39991, however, Darash Darash areactually words 40921 and 40921
3. The middle verse is actually 160 pesukim before this (ויקרא ח,ח)
4. This is incorrect as well
5. The accepted number of pesukim in Tehllim is 2,527, the middle pasuk would be 1264, which is pasuk
 ויפתוהו בפיהם ובלשונם יכזבו לו
6. There are only 5845 pesukim in the Torah
7. As mentioned in 5 there are only 2527 pesukim in Tehillim less then half the number of pesukim in 
the Torah, even Tosfos cannot fathom how there can be so many verses in Tehilim. 
8. Divrei ha'Yamim has only about a third as many pesukim as the Torah

There are various answers to these problems (some more clever then others) none of them very satisfying. 

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.

Here are links to the previous posts in the series
Were the Amoraim really paragons of virtue?
Were the Amoraim/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 3
Were the Amoriam/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 4
Were the Amoriam/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 5

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?

Here are links to the previous posts in the series
Were the Amoraim really paragons of virtue?
Were the Amoraim/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 3
Were the Amoriam/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 4

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.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Chazal's simplistic notion of who is a Rasha

Todays Daf (Bava Basra 116) says that someone who has no sons to inherit him is a Rasha. The Gemara tries to figure out who said this, the Gemara suggests that it was R' Yochanan but rejects that possibility because R' Yochanan's ten sons all died in his lifetime and R' Yochanan would not have considered himself a Rasha. It is fasciniating to see how literally the Gemara takes this idea, it coul have said that R' Yochanan was an exception etc. but no the Gemara takes teh statement literally.

This is astounding. According to this opinion in Chazal, R' Yochanan was a Rasha, Rashi was a Rasha, the Chazon Ish was a Rasha, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was a Rasha, etc. because none of them had sons who inhereited them. How ca anyone make such a silly statement?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Are the middle perakim of Bava Basra relevent today?

IMHO, the answer is no. Perakim 4-7 of Bava Basra (which Daf Yomi has been learning) deal with the sale of various categories of things, describing what is included and what is not. The common denominator seems to be that these are solely based on the accepted business practice during the time of Chazal and what people expect to get when they consumate a deal. Even the various disputes between the tannaim and amoraim seem to revolve around what people expect to receive or what did they mean when they said they were buying x. There are few to no Torah based sources (e.g. pesukim) for any of these.

Here is a general outline of the perakim.

Perek 4 - Hamocher es habayis discusses what is sold when you sell real property (houses, bathhouses, courtyards, fields, etc.) and what is not, for example when you sell a house the Mishna states that you include teh door but not the key
Perek 5 - Hamocher es hasefina discusses the sale of movable objects, again detailing what is included in the sale and what is not (boats, wagons, animals, etc.)
Perek 6 - Hamocher peiros lachaveiro discusses the sale of agricultural products. It details how much spoilage/wastage there can be in grain and wine etc. It also discusses selling land to build things on it like a house, graves, how much land is given, what access etc.
Perek 7 - Deals with sales of real property how exact do the dimensions need to be.

Given the above, are these at all relevant today? A house buyer in 2017 clearly has very different expectations as to what he is buying in comparison to the times of Chazal as does someone buying wine, a field, a boat, etc. The same goes for every one of these categories.  This seems to be a case of the Talmud simply codifying the accepted business practices at that time which would make it completely irrelevant nowadays.

If I am correct, then we can go one step further. Why bother learning it? Why should I care in 2017 that someone who sold a house in the year 180 sold the door but not the key? What can I learn from this that relates to life today? Of course, you can ask this about a lot of Gemara's, but the difference seems to be that those are at least based on pesukim in Chumash. For example, the distinctions in damages between Keren and Shen Varegel is based on pesukim and therefore never changes. However, these dinim in Bava Basra seem to be solely based on the business practices of the time and are therefore irrelevant today.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Why do we celebrate on Lag Baomer and what is the connection to Rashbi?

Nowadays Lag Baomer has become this great day of celebration and hundreds of thousands of people go to Meron to the grave of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi) in Meron. However, the fact is that there are no early sources for these minhagim before the 1700s.

Traditionally, the sefirah period has been considered a time of mourning. The most well-known reason given by the rishonim is the mourning is due to the death of the 24,000 students of R. Akiva who died during this time of the year. Interesting enough,  for some reason all of these mourning prohibitions are lifted on Lag Ba-Omer. If we look in the Tur, the Shulhan Arukh as well as the various early commentaries on them, the only reason we find is that the students of R. Akiva stopped dying on Lag Ba-Omer. There is nothing mentioned about Rashbi or Meron in any early sources.

The most well known explanation to the connection between Rashbi and Lag Ba-Omer is the claim that Rashbi died on that day, and he was one of the students of R. Akiva. However, this is quite strange that we would celebrate Rashbi’s death. We don’t celebrate the yarzheit of Avraham Avinu, Moshe Rabbeinu, David HaMelech, or any other great people with bonfires. Rather, halakha states the opposite, to fast on a yahrzeit, especially on those days that great people died.

More problematic is that neither Chazal nor any of the Rishonim mention Rashbi dying on Lag Ba-Omer. This was pointed out by the Chatam Sofer in his teshuvot (Y.D. 233) and because of this, he was very skeptical of the way Lag Ba-Omer is celebrated. In fact, the main source for Rashbi dying is R' Chaim Vital in the Pri Eitz Chaim, however, this is actually a printing mistake. The Pri Eitz Chaim actually wrote the Rashbi was שמח on Lag Baomer and the printers mistakenly turned the ח into a ת and wrote שמת., that he died on Lag Baomer.

Another "new" minhag is that of the upsherin which has also become connected to Lag Baomer and Rashbi. This is another minhag that has no basis in earlier sources. This idea is mentioned nowhere in the Rishonim or any early sources. Professor Sperber [Minhagei Yisrael 8: 13-30] documents how this actually comes from many completely outside ancient sources (e.g. non-Jewish sources).

It is amazing to me how the Charedim truly believe that they are traditionalists and are doing exactly what the Rishonim, Amoraim, Tannaim, etc. did when in fact many of the popular Charedi minhagim like Lag Baomer bonfires and Meron, upsherin, etc. are new inventions and have no basis in earlier sources.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The hypocrisy of the Charedim about Shabbos is unbelievable

The Charedim claim to care about chillul shabbos and at various times even protest about chillul shabbos. However,, when it comes to them causing chillul shabbos for a silly minhag suddenly shabbos isn't important.

What am I talking about? This year Lag Baomer falls out on Saturday night and hundreds of thousands of people many of them Charedim are planning to go to Meron to celebrate Lag Baomer. The problem is that this causes massive chillul shabbos because to protect and organize an undertaking where hundreds of thousands of people descend on a very small area with poor roads requires a massive amount of people and organisation that needs to start working much before the event. Therefore, if the Charedim do their bonfires in Meron at 1AM when Shabbos ends at the earliest around 8PM, there will be massive chillul shabbos. The alternative is very simple, light the bonfires later, and have people come later, instead of 1AM make it at 4AM or later, this will prevent chillul shabbos. Are the Charedim listening? Up until now the answer is no. They don't care. In fact, they are making all kinds of excuses like, the police are mechallel shabbos anyway.

The fact is that the "minhag" of lighting fires on Lag Baomer and going to Meron is a relatively new minhag and in fact the whole Lag Baomer celebration is suspicious.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Worried about the future

I am very worried about the future for my kids. Judaism is an inherently optimistic religion in that there is a fundamental belief in Moshiach in this world and of course עולם הבא. Moshiach is supposed to solve all our problems and create a utopian world where there is no war etc. If for someone reason moshiach doesn't come before we die, we go to עולם הבא and then at some point תחיית המתים. Therefore, real believing Jews don't care much about things like global warming, political and financial instability, etc. because they have full faith that Moshiach is coming and will fix everything. In fact, just about everyone (Charedim, MO, etc.) believes that we are in עקבתא דמשיחא and that moshiach is right around the corner to solve our problems.

However, if we don't believe in Moshiach then the problems are very real and very worrisome. As I  wrote yesterday, I am a big science fiction fan and much of the science fiction produced today is dystopian. The futures depicted in The Expanse, The Colony, Travelers, Killjoys, Continuum, etc. are not ones I would want to live in and yet are what is envisioned today.  Given what is going on now in the world today, those futures don't seem that far out. The problems today are real and I don't see any solutions. The gap between the haves and the have nots is growing and will only get worse as robots/AI take more and more jobs. How will people have the money to survive?

In many ways I wish I believed because it makes life so much easier.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Most science fiction is anti-religious

I have always been a big fan of science fiction starting from a young age. When I was growing up there was very little "Frum" reading material. Therefore many charedi kids read science fiction which was considered "clean", little to no romance, no sex etc. I read Asimov, Heinlein, Star Trek books, etc. and no one had a big problem with it. While theoretically it was considered bitul torah it was understood that even masmids need some downtime and relaxation. My love for science fiction continues to this day and now I not only read science fiction but I watch every science fiction show that I can get my hands on (The Expanse, The Colony, Travelers, Battlestar Galactica, Stargate Series, etc.) surreptitiously on my phone. 

Now that I have matured I realize that almost all of it is quite anti-religious, some more open then others. The Stargate series is quite blatant, the series revolves around a battle against false gods (the Gould and then the Original) and the message is that there is no God just more advanced beings. Star Trek projects the same message in all it's series, for example, the Q are omnipotent beings with Godlike powers but are just considered a more advanced species. The Bajoran prophets/Gods (DS9) turn out to be aliens who experience non-linear time. Other series are not as blatant but the message is still there. 

It is fascinating to me that this genre was considered "clean" and "safe" when I was growing up when it is really quite anti-religious when you think about it.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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