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.

Conclusions

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.




Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Not eating chametz that was sold to a non-Jew

This has become a very popular chumra in the Charedi world in Israel. However, it is all a fake. It is practically impossible to keep this chumra as manufacturers can put whatever they want on the label and no one checks whether it is actually true.

Kashrus organizations do not see a difference between cake sold halachically to a גוי and cake made after Pesach. Therefore there are no grounds for relying on the manufactures declarations. In fact, the kashrus organizations stance is usually to permit the manufacturers to write on the package whatever they want.

In other words the Kashrus organizations that almost all Charedim rely on like the Eidah Hacharedis, R' Landau, R' Rubin and others hold that this is a chumra with no basis and therefore have no issue with the manufacturers writing whatever they want. So even if the package says baked after Pesach you have no way of knowing that this is true.

Some people rely on checking product codes which tells them when the product was made. However, this is not that useful. All it says is that the product was made after Pesach. However, every Chometz product has chometz ingredients in it (at least flour which is most probably chometz because it was washed) and the consumer has no way of knowing when the chometz ingredients were made. For example even if you only buy cookies that were made after Pesach you have no idea what flour was used. It is very possible/probable that the flour used to make the cookies was chometz and was sold for Pesach. Likewise for all of the other Chometz ingredients.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Food and water in the Midbar - Updated


In parshas בשלח Hashem provides food and water for the Jewish people in the Midbar. Here are a few questions related to that:

  1. Manna was provided for the people.  What did the animals eat? The Torah states that each person got the amount of Man needed to feed the people in their household. This would seem to exclude the animals. Yet, we know that the Jewish people left Egypt with extensive livestock and they had to eat something.
  2. The Torah has a list of Korbanos (that were brough in the Mishkan) that require oil and flour (or loaves of bread) and wine (Mincha, Todah, etc.) . Where did the oil, flour and wine come from?  They could not have stored enough oil and flour and wine for 40 years in the desert when they left Egypt. In any case it would spoil. Additionally, on Pesach people needed to eat matzah to fulfill the mitzva, where did they get the flour from to bake Matzah?
  3. Water was provided by a rock. However, for a rock to produce enough water for 2.5 million people is simply not practical. People need at least 40 liters per person a day, that means 100 million litres a day flowing from a rock. For people to actually collect that much water per day would mean that this is what they did all day and nothing else. Can you imagine 2.5 million people queuing up to get water every day? This also leaves out the water needs of all of the livestock that they had. Did the livestock drink from the same source? How would that work?
In short, even with the miraculous Man and water from a rock, it is not possible that 2.5 million people would have had enough water or other food supplies.

Update 4/6

Tosafos in Menachos 45b discusses the issue of flour. Rashi in fact states that they had no flour in the midbar and therefore did not make the שתי הלחם. Tosafos disagrees based on a Gemara in Yoma 75b that they bought food from merchants in the midbar. Therefore Tosafos says they must have bought flour as well.

In truth, the Gemara in Yoma that they bought food from merchants seems quite bizarre. There is not even a hint in the text about this. Also, what merchants are there wandering in the desert to sell food to the Jewish people? One of the big questions about the whole midbar experience is where is the archaeological evidence. The answer I have always heard is that the Jewish people lived on Nissim (man etc.) which didn't leave any trace. However, if we accept this Gemara in Yoma suddenly everything changes. They bought food and other things from merchants. If so where is the evidence? 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The practical impossibilities of actually bringing the Korban Pesach

Korban Pesach is one of the most important mitzvas, one of only 2 mitzvos that if not done you are chayav kares. Yet, it is impossible to understand how the Korban Pesach was actually ever brought by a large group of people.

I will start with listing a set of facts based on the Mishnayon/Gemaras in Pesachim and other places:

  1. All times listed in the Gemara are based on a 12 hour day 6 to 6 (שעות זמניות)
  2. The first Mishna in the 5th perek of Pesachim (48a) states that on Erev Pesach they would start bringing the תמיד של בין הערבים at 1:30PM (7.5 hours) and finish at 2:30PM (8.5)
  3. They started bringing the Korban Pesachs only after they finished with the Tamid, meaning they only started at 2:30PM 
  4. Korbanos can only be brought until sunset which is 6PM (12 hours)
  5. The time alloted to bring all of the Korban Pesachs was 3.5 hours (2:30 PM until 6PM)
  6. The Mishna states that the Korban Pesach is brought in 3 groups
  7. The Gemara (Pesachim 64) states that they said Hallel while they were bringing the Korban pesachs and they never repeated Hallel more then 2 times
  8. The animals were suspended and flayed in the azara
  9. King Aggrippas counted the Korban Pesachs one year and came up with 1.2 million
  10. The Azara in the Beis Hamikdash was 135x187 Amos
  11. The entrance into the Azara was 10 Amos wide
According to the Gemara (9 above) they brought 1.2 million korbanos one year. That means that 1.2 million people needed to go into the Azarah with their sheep to sacrifice it. Lets do the math now.
  1. 3.5 hours is 210 minutes, 12600 seconds
  2. That is 95 korbanos per second, 5714 per minute. Note: To bring the Korban means to slaughter it, collect the blood, sprinkle the blood on the mizbeach, etc.
  3. The size of the Azara is approximately 25,000 square Amos
  4. Assuming a large Amah (2 feet) that is 50,000 square feet, Note: part of the azarah was the Kodesh Hakodashim which can not be entered and  there are also the Keilim
  5. A loose crowd, one where each person is an arm's length from the body of his or her nearest neighbors, needs 10 square feet per person. A more tightly packed crowd fills 4.5 square feet per person. A truly scary mob of mosh-pit density would get about 2.5 square feet per person.
  6. Based on the above (5) 
    1. Loose crowd - the maximum number of people is 5000, 3 groups would only get us to 15,000 people, we are 1.185 million people short
    2. A more tightly packed crowd - the maximum number of people is 11,111 3 groups would only get us to 33,333 people, we are 1.167 million people short
    3. A truly scary mob of mosh-pit density - the maximum number of people is 20,000 3 groups would only get us to 60,000 people, we are 1.14 million people short
  7. The entrance to the Azarah is 20 feet wide, meaning at most 8 can come in simultaneously. For 1.2 million to come in would require 150,000 rows of 8. This would require 12 rows to enter a second
  8. All the people who come in need to go out the same entrance
Even if we radically reduce the number of korbanos to 100,000 the numbers are still ridiculous

  1. That is 8 korbanos per second, 476 per minute. Note: To bring the Korban means to slaughter it, collect the blood, sprinkle the blood on the mizbeach
  2. Based on the crowd numbers above (5) 
    1. Loose crowd - the maximum number of people is 5000, 3 groups would only get us to 15,000 people, we are 85,000 people short
    2. A more tightly packed crowd - the maximum number of people is 11,111 3 groups would only get us to 33,333 people, we are 67,000 people short
    3. A truly scary mob of mosh-pit density - the maximum number of people is 20,000 3 groups would only get us to 60,000 people, we are 40,000 people short
  3. The entrance to the Azarah is 20 feet wide, meaning at most 8 can come in simultaneously. For 1.2 million to come in would require 150,000 rows of 8. This would require 12 rows to enter a second
  4. All the people who come in need to go out the same entrance
Now if we think about Pesach in the Midbar things get even worse. 
  1. The population was 600,000 men over the age of 20, giving us a population 2.5. -3 million people
  2. If we take teh Gemaras number of 10 people per Korban that would be about 250,000 korbanos
  3. The Mishkan was only 30x10 Amos with part of that the Kodesh Hakodashim. 
  4. There were only 3 Kohanim to bring 250,000 korbanos
What we see from here is that there is no way that massive numbers of Jews could have ever brought the Korban Pesach. It is simply not feasible. The whole thing makes no sense at all. The Gemara describes what has to happen, yet pays no attention to the sheer impossibility of it all. 

Some will answer, it was all miracles. There are 2 answers to this claim:
  1. The Gemara (Pesachim 64) has a dispute between Abaye and Rava if they relied on a miracle to lock the doors of the Azara or not. Abaye says yes and Rava says no. In all disputes between Abaye and Rava (except for 6) the Halacha is like Rava. If Rava says that we can't rely on this small miracle to close the doors, then certainly we can't rely on much greater miracles to allow us to bring the Korban Pesach
  2. There is absolutely no source for this. Nowhere does the Gemara say that the bringing of the Korban Pesach was miraculous. And in truth, these would be great miracles indeed.
The bottom line is that based on the numbers it is absolutely impossible for a large group of people to ever bring the Korban Pesach. The short time span plus the small Beis Hamikdash simply does not allow it to happen in any way shape or form.

Update 4/5

There are 2 more issues that I would like to raise:
  1. For every Korban that you are Makriv you need to burn the אימורים, the organs on the mizbeach until the next morning. To throw them all on the mizbeach requires 28 per second for the whole night. Of course after throwing on the first n the mizbeach would be covered and there is also the time needed for the אימורים to actually burn. Of course a pile of 1.2 million sets of organs would probably fill up a large part of the Azarah all by itself.
  2. In addition to the Korban Pesach everyone who comes to Yerushalayim is required to bring a korban reiyah (Olah) on the first day of the chag. While Korban Pesach applies to a Chabura these korbanot apply to every male, over the age of 13. This means many more Olas Reiyah were brought in comparison to Korban Pesach so if there 1.2 million Korban Pesachs there were at least 4-6 million olas reiyahs that needed to be brought on the first day of Pesach. Again it is absolutely impossible to bring that many Korbanos in a few hours. Additionally, you were supposed to bring Shalmei Simcha as well which adds even more korbanos.
Important note: All the dimensions I gave for the Azarah assumed for simplicity's sake that it was empty and could be completely filled with people, this is of course not true at all. For example, the Kodesh HaKadashim ws 20x20 amah which could not be entered. Additionally the mizbeach was 32x32 amah not including the ramp. So in fact, a significant part of the Azarah was actually not usable space for people greatly minimizing the amount of people who could actually fit into the azara.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Is halacha still binding if one accepts biblical criticism?

theTorah.com has a symposium on this very question with various learned answers. I have to say that IMHO all of the answers made no sense to me at all for the following reasons.

Anyone who learns Gemara knows that the basis for almost all halachos min hatorah is some kind of derasha, whether it is an extra letter or word, a different word, a גזירה שוה, etc. The underlying assumption of all of these is that the text is divine and therefore we can make derashos from them. The moment the text is no longer divine but rather, written by humans, all of these derashos fall by the wayside. This is even more so when considering teh documentary hypothesis. According to the DH the text we have is an amalgamation of a number of different sources edited to be a single document. Based on that, we certainly cannot ask why do we have this extra letter/word, etc. to make a derasha. Therefore, if all of the derashas are invalid/go away what are we left with? What is the halacha based on?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Not eating Kitniyos nowadays - a fossilized Judaism

Ashekenazim do not eat Kitniyos on Pesach even though the Gemara states specifically that they are not Chometz. 2 reasons are given for this minhag (source: OU).

    1. Kitniyos are often grown in close vicinity to the five grains (wheat, oat, spelt, rye and barley). As such, it was not unusual for a small amount of one or more of the five grains to be intermingled with kitniyot. Thus, it was possible that one eating beans or rice on Pesach could inadvertently eat actual chametz
    2. Kitniyos can be easily confused with chametz for several reasons. Raw kitniyot resemble the five grains in appearance. Furthermore, kitniyot are processed in a similar manner to the five grains. For example, mustard seeds are threshed and winnowed in a manner similar to grains. Finally, kitniyot can be milled into flour, made into dough, baked into bread or cooked into a porridge that may resemble chametz. Because of the similarities between kitniyot and actual chametz, the rabbis feared that people may mistakenly believe that if they can eat kitniyot on Pesach, they can also eat chametz on Pesach.
    Both of these 2 reasons no longer apply today in any way shape or form. Again from the OU:
    In our contemporary society, the original motivation for avoiding kitniyot is no longer relevant. Hundreds of years ago, when the custom was first instituted, there was concern about people confusing legumes and grains, and thereby unwittingly eating chametz on Pesach. But what would our ancestors say to the unbelievable variety of kosher-for-Pesach-food items resembling chametz that are ubiquitously available today? Until about fifty years ago, Pesach fare was limited to mostly chicken, eggs, potatoes, and matzah. Nowadays, one can dine on kosher l’Pesach cereal, pizza, pasta, lukshen kugel, cookies, cake and almost anything else we eat year round. Is there any benefit then to maintaining the minhag of not eating kitniyot? 
    The only justification offered is tradition, a link to Jewish history. IMHO, this is one of the problems with Orthodox Judaism. The religion has become fossilized, חדש אסור מן התורה, it has a very hard time adopting to the modern world. Tradition is great, but when it directly impacts people negatively it loses it's charm.


    Sunday, March 19, 2017

    Questions about the Parah Aduma

    We just read Parshas Parah so I would like to rise a few questions about the Parah Aduma.


    I. How many people can a Para Aduma be metaher?

    The Mishna in Para (3:5) states that there were 9 para adumahs in history. However, the distribution is very puzzling. The Mishna states that Moshe (really Elazar) made the first Parah Aduma and that Parah Adumah lasted until Ezra which is over 900 years and then Ezra made a Parah Aduma when they returned from Bavel to rebuild teh Beis Hamikdash.However, in the period of the second Beis Hamikdash they made an additional 7 para adumahs. This raises a number of questions:
    1. How is it possible that from Moshe until Ezra one Parah Aduma was enough to be metaher everyone while in a much shorter period from Ezra until the destruction they needed 8? 
    2. What changed between the period of the Shoftim and the first Beis Hamikdash and the second Beis Hamikdash that required so many more Parah Adumas in the second Beis Hamikdash? 
    3. The real question is how could 1 para aduma possible have enough ashes to metaher everyone for 800 years? Did people not become tahor in that time period?

    Additionally, the Rambam at the end of the 3rd perek of Hilchos Parah Adumah writes that the melech hamashiach will make a tenth Parah Adumah. It sounds like the Rambam holds that 1 Parah Aduma will be enough to be metaher everyone. There are more then 12 million Jews today and each
    person needs 2 "doses" which means to be metaher everyone will take at least 25 million "doses". There is no way that all of those can come from 1 parah aduma, yet that is the implication of the Rambam.

    In short, I don't see how it is possible for 1 Parah Aduma to provide enough ashes for a 900 year period, nor do I see how 1 Parah Aduma could provide enough ashes for all o fteh Jewish people when Moshiach comes.


    II. Preparations for the Parah Aduma were child abuse?

    The Mishnayos in Parah (3rd perek) describe the many precautions the Chachamim took in order to ensure that the parah aduma did not become tameh. One of those precautions was the following: They would take pregnant woman to a special cave (built on top of a hollow) to give birth and then raise the children there to ensure that they would not become tameh. The children were not permitted to leave the cave except to deal with the parah aduma. From a modern day perspective this would definitely be considered child abuse. They essentially locked children in a small cave for the first 8 years of their life not letting them leave for any reason except the parah aduma. How exactly should we relate to this?

    Friday, March 10, 2017

    Girls on Purim - Stay inside and try not to be noticed



    In other words girls are not really people, they are sexual obstacles that we need to avoid. 

    It's a bit funny that the letter ends off with Be proud to be like Esther Hamalka, Esther was not exactly a paragon of tznius. This is the same Esther who participated in a beauty pageant and slept with the non-Jewish King.