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.

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. 

    Thursday, March 9, 2017

    Parshas Zachor - More Genocide

    Everything I wrote here Parshas Matos - Mass Murder applies to Parshas Zachor and the commandment to destroy Amalek. Every year we read how we are to commit genocide against Amalek, kill every man, woman and child, and no one cares. And yet, when this happens to us, we scream bloody murder. The Nazis did nothing worse then what the Bnei Yisrael did to Amalek at the time of Shaul (except maybe more efficiently) and are commanded to do even today. If we can wipe out Amalek, killing men, women and children, why can't the Nazis wipe us out? What is the difference?

    R' Aharon Lichtenstein addressed this problem as follows:
     I recall in my late adolescence there were certain problems which perturbed me, the way they perturb many others. At the time, I resolved them all in one fell swoop. I had just read Rav Zevin’s book, Ishim Ve-shitot. In his essay on Rav Chayim Soloveitchik, he deals not only with his methodological development, but also with his personality and gemilut chasadim (acts of kindness). He recounted that Reb Chayim used to check every morning if some unfortunate woman had placed an infant waif on his doorstep during the course of the night. (In Brisk, it used to happen at times that a woman would give birth illegitimately and leave her infant in the hands of Reb Chayim.) As I read the stories about Reb Chayim’s extraordinary kindness, I said to myself: Do I approach this level of gemilut chasadim? I don’t even dream of it! In terms of moral sensibility, concern for human beings and sensitivity to human suffering, I am nothing compared to Reb Chayim. Yet despite his moral sensitivity, he managed to live, and live deeply, with the totality of Halakha—including the commands to destroy the Seven Nations, Amalek and all the other things which bother me. How? The answer, I thought, was obvious. It is not that his moral sensitivity was less, but his yirat Shamayim, his emuna, was so much more. The thing to do, then, is not to try to neutralize or de-emphasize the moral element, but rather to deepen and increase the element of yirat Shamayim, of emuna, deveikut and bittachon.
    Truthfully, I was expecting a better answer from R' Lichtenstein. This answer does not help me at all.

    Why did Hashem offer the Torah to the non-Jews and why did they reject it?

    There is a famous Gemara/Medrash that Hashem offered the Torah to the various nations of the world and they of course rejected it. The Medrash relates that the בני עשו rejected the Torah because it prohibits murder, the בני עמון ומואב rejected it because the Torah prohibits עריות.

    This is very difficult for 2 reasons:

    1. Murder and עריות are prohibited for all non-Jews even though they rejected the Torah because these are part of the 7 מצות בני נח. Additionally, why would Hashem specifically tell them these mitzvos which are not specific to the Torah but are part of the 7 מצות בני נח?
    2. Murder is prohibited by basically all cultures including the בני עשו, so why would they reject the Torah because of it whne they actually agree with it?
    It seems to me that the purpose of this Medrash is to bash the גויים and portray them as immoral people. This attitude has permeated orthodox judaism. R' Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg (the שרידי אש) wrote the following in a letter to Professor Samuel Atlas:
    The entire world hates us. We assume that this hatred is due to the wickedness of the nations, and no one stops to think that perhaps we also bear some guilt. We regard all the nations as similar to an ass. It is forbidden to save a Gentile, it is forbidden to offer him free medical treatment, it is forbidden to violate the Sabbath to save his life
    Can the nations resign themselves to such a deprivation of their rights? It is permitted to deceive a Gentile and cancel his debt as well as forbidden to reurn his lost object.  What can we do? Can we uproot our Torah teaching with apologetic formulae or clever deceptions?
    It is very hard to argue with anything that R' Weinberg said.

    Wednesday, March 8, 2017

    Does Judaism discriminate?

    The answer is certainly yes. Judaism discriminates in many ways solely by birth. Someone who is born as a גוי has less קדושה then a Jew and is discriminated against by the Torah. Someone who is born to an Amalekite or one of the 7 nations is to be killed just because of the accident of his birth. Someone born a ממזר is discriminated against solely because he is a ממזר, he can't marry my daughter, he can be the biggest torah sholar but he can't serve on the Sanhedrin. Someone who is not born a כהן can never do the עבודה. The משיח will only be a descendent of David, in fact, Judaism mandates a hereditary kinsgship. The list goes on and on.

    The mishna in הוריות יג states that regarding charity and freeing of captives a כהן is before a לוי who is before a ישראל who is before a ממזר. The gemara comments that this is if they are equal in torah. In other words, if you have a ממזר and a ישראל in jail and they are equal in torah you free the ישראל first period. Of course, if one is greater in Torah he comes before everyone else.

    The Torah assigns different roles to different people and discriminates between them. The Torah does not believe in the American dream, not everyone can be the King, work in the Beis Hamikdash, be on the Sanhedrin etc. Women have a very different role then men and this is borne out in Halacha and Aggadda (see for example The Maharal's view of women - inferior).

    The Torah really discriminates against non-Jews. The Torah view is that they are here to serve us. The story is told that when the Chofetz Chaim learned about a major earthquake in Japan, he began crying. Someone asked him, “Why is the Rebbe so troubled?” He answered, “Chazal tell us: ‘Calamities only come to the world because of Yisrael.’ We were meant to hear that message.” Imagine, millions of people were killed in an earthquake, and the Chofetz Chaim's only thought was it's all about us, the Jews. He wasn't crying because millions of people died, no, he was crying because it's a message for the Jews.

    R' Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg (the שרידי אש) wrote the following in a letter to Professor Samuel Atlas regarding Judaism's attitude and discrimination towards non-Jews.
    The entire world hates us. We assume that this hatred is due to the wickedness of the nations, and no one stops to think that perhaps we also bear some guilt. We regard all the nations as similar to an ass. It is forbidden to save a Gentile, it is forbidden to offer him free medical treatment, it is forbidden to violate the Sabbath to save his life
    Can the nations resign themselves to such a deprivation of their rights? It is permitted to deceive a Gentile and cancel his debt as well as forbidden to reurn his lost object.  What can we do? Can we uproot our Torah teaching with apologetic formulae or clever deceptions?
    R' Weinberg was one of the greatest products of Slabodka and was a classic Gadol along with being a master of modern scholarship. That someone of his stature could write this is truly hard to believe.

    R' Shteinman considered the Gadol Hador today had the following to say about the non-Jews:
    And today they say there are 8 billion people in the world. And what are they all? murderers and thieves, people without seichel .. but for whom is the purpose of the world? did Hashem create it for these murderers, for those evil people? Only for the tzadikim, those who learn torah, people who learn and keep torah. that is the purpose of the creation.
    Those people who preach that Judaism has a universal message for everyone are simply lying or misleading themselves.

    Tuesday, March 7, 2017

    Why does the Gemara give outlandish explanations for Mishnayos? A possible explanation

    I recently read an article which tried to explain the rationale for אוקימתות. The article explained as follows. If we take a look at laws of physics for example, Newton's first law. He points out that we can almost never see an application of it (an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force) because in the real world there are always forces acting on objects like friction, gravity, etc. You need to set up special laboratory conditions to see it in action. In other worlds, many laws of physics only apply in specific laboratory conditions, e.g. an אוקימתא. With this the article makes the following claim. The Mishnayos are written to tell us theoretical principles in Halacha. The אוקימתות are there to create the laboratory conditions where these principles can be applied. The article then goes through a series of examples illustrating the point.

    This is a fascinating explanation, however, I have a number of issues with it:

    1. It is a very Brisker approach that both the Gemara and the Mishna are teaching us theoretical principles in Halacha. However, it is not at all clear that this is true.  The fact is that the Gemara doesn't tell us general principles rather, the Gemara discusses cases, it is very difficult to say that the case based method is actually teaching us theoretical principles. Additionally, the Brisker method came about in the 1800s, until then the mode of learning was very different and not focused at all on deriving theoretical principles from the Gemara. It is very hard to beloieve that the Brisker method, developed in the 1800s is the method that the Tannaim and Amoraim used in the Mishna and the Gemara. There is a fascinating article Legal Theology: The Turn to Conceptualism in Nineteenth-Century Jewish Law which details how the nineteenth century was the age of legal science. Across the globe, numerous cultures began to think of their law in terms of an interlocking system of internally coherent rules. The Brisker method needs to be understood in the context of what was going on in the world at the time.
    2. It is not clear that this approach can explain all of the אוקימתות that the Gemara brings. In fact, the authors state that there are certainly exceptions. The question is how many exceptions? Even in the few examples given, the Rashba seems to understand the example not in consonance with their principle. 

    Monday, March 6, 2017

    Were the Amoraim/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 4

    The Daf (Bava Basra 41) recounted the following story:
    Rav Anan's land was flooded. The boundaries were washed away. He rebuilt the wall on his neighbor's property (accidentally). His neighbor later realized that Rav Anan had built the wall on his land so he asked Rav Anan to move the wall back to it's original spot. Rav Anan refused. They then went to R' Nachman. Rav Anan claimed that since the neighbor had helped him build the wall it showed that he was מוחל the land. R' Nachman answered, he made a mistake, he thought it was really yours.
    Was Rav Anan's behavior moral and worthy of praise? IMHO, the answer is no. Rav Anan did not dispute that the border was moved and therefore the right thing to do would be to simply give back the land. Rav Anan's attempts to use legal tricks to keep the stolen land were unworthy.

    The Gemara then relates a similar story:
    Also Rav Kahana's land was flooded. He rebuilt the wall on his neighbor's property. The case came before Rav Yehudah. One witness said that he took (the width of) two rows of his neighbor's property, and the other witness said that he took three rows. Rav Yehuda said that he must return 2 rows (because both witnesses agreed that he took at least 2 rows). R' Kahana answered that since the witnesses contradicted (one said 2 one said 3) each other he should keep all the land.
    Again, R' Kahana knew that he had stolen some land, the moral thing to do would be to simply return it not try to find legal tricks to keep it.

    Here are links to the previous posts on this topic:
    Were the Amoraim/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 3

    Thursday, March 2, 2017

    Is נשתנה הטבע an answer for conflicts between Torah and science?

    The most common answer to contradictions between science and Torah is נשתנה הטבע. This answer appears in the Rishonim and Acharonim to explain why scientific/medical pronouncements found in the Gemara don't correspond with reality.  In fact, R' Aharon Feldman used this idea heavily in his explanantion of the ban on Slifkin's books:

    There are many places in the Talmud where statements made by the Sages seem to contradict modern science. The most common are the cures and potions which the Talmud gives for various diseases. Our great halachic authorities have noted the phenomenon that these cures, in the vast majority of cases, do not seem to cure illnesses in our times. 
    The most widespread explanation offered for this is nishtanu hatevaim, “nature has changed” - cures that worked in the times of the Talmud are no longer effective.1 There are many examples of illnesses and cures, which because of environmental and nutritional differences and physical changes to the body over the years are no longer effective.

    Furthermore, R' Feldman goes on to explain why we need to believe that Chazal did not make mistakes in science:

    As the Leshem cited above says, if even regarding matters which are not related to halacha, the Sages say, sod Hashem liyerav, “G-d reveals the secrets of nature to those who fear him,” then certainly there must have been siyata dishmaya (Divine assistance) and even ruach hakodesh (a Divine spirit) assisting the Sages in their redaction of the Oral Law. It is therefore inconceivable, to these opinions, that G-d would have permitted falsities to have been transmitted as Torah She-be-al-peh and not have revealed His secrets to those who fear Him.

    However, I believe that this is an untenable position for the following reasons.

    1. There is not a shred of evidence that נשתנה הטבע. Remember, the Geonim who lived only a few hundred years after the time of the gemara already stated that the cures of Chazal don't work, that is a very short time for all of the cures to suddenly start working. Additionally, in the case of many of the Torah science conflicts it is quite implausible to say that נשתנה הטבע.
    a. As I posted recently in Where does the sun go at night? the Gemara in Bava Basra (25a) states clearly that Chazal held that the Sun revolves around the Earth and that the Earth is surrounded by a roof that the sun goes out of at night. It would be preposterous to claim that in the times of Chazal the Sun revolved around the Earth and went out a window but now נשתנה הטבע and the Earth revolves around the sun etc. Everyone can understand that such a change didn't happen.
    b. The gemara seems to say that lice are born from spontaneous generation. Again it is not plausible to think that in the times of Chazal there was spontaneous generation but in the last 1500 years it stopped
    c. There is a fascinating site השתנות הטבעים which has a long list of things where what Chazal say doesn't fit the scientific facts of today. If you look at the list (which is only partial) you will see that it is quite large. To believe that in all of these things נשתנה הטבע is quite a stretch for anyone. Here are just some of the changes related to the human body. You would have to believe that the human body changed drastically as 
    a. none of the remedies of chazal work
    b. the things that Chazal say are dangerous are not (e.g. eating or cooking fish and meat together), and things that Chazal say are good for you (rotting fish) are dangerous
    c. Genetics changed (it was once a good thing to marry your niece)
    d. all things about birth and a baby's development changed (see 7, 8 , or 9 month pregnancies), the position of babies when born, women don't get pregnant from the first sex act, etc.
    e. various halachos related to mila such as washing the baby on the third day, metzitza bpeh (which was considered to be necessary to ensure the safety of the baby).
    In fact, I don't see a single torah science conflict where it is plausible to say נשתנה הטבע.

    2. If Chazal had a kabbala about science and received their science from Har Sinai or Ruach Hakodesh, you would think that they would have had a kabbala that the world is going to change and that the science would no longer be true. נשתנה הטבע should also be part of Torah. After all, if you are going to claim that all of science is in Torah then this very important fact should be there as well. Yet, Chazal never even hint that the scientific pronouncements that they are making are only temporary. They didn't say that remedy X will only work for a limited time. they made a blanket statement that remedy X cures Y. It is clear that Chazal had no idea that נשתנה הטבע was going to happen, why not? If Torah included science it should have included נשתנה הטבע as well. 

    3. Based on what I said in 2 we can take this 1 step further. According to the Gemara in Shabbos, the Torah preceded the creation of the world by 2000 years and הסתכל באורייתא וברא עלמא, Hashem used the Torah as the blueprint of the world. If these scientific pronoucements are part of Torah then how can they suddenly stop working? For over 4000 years remedy X cured Y, suddenly after the era of Torah Shebaal Peh ended the world changed so this stopped working and the torah became untrue, why would Hashem do such a thing? It makes Torah into a joke. Why would Hashem change the world so that Torah no longer reflects the world if the world was created based on Torah?

    4. How come the Science that Chazal got from Sinai exactly matched the Science of Chazal’s day? Isn’t that a bit strange? For example Chazal's description of the Sun revolving around the Earth and going out a window matches almost exactly the Greek view of things.

    5.If nature changed, how come no one else noticed it? Why is there absolutely no record in the non-Jewish world of any of these changes?

    I can understand how the Rishonim and Early Acharonim believed that נשתנה הטבע. They did not understand the world from a scientific perspective and they did not see the difficulties inherent in saying nishtanu hateva’im, in fact, it probably fit in with their world view. But to insist on saying נשתנה הטבע in 2017 is simply foolish.

    Tuesday, February 28, 2017

    Why does the Torah devote so much time/space to the construction of the Mishkan?

    Four out of the next five parshiyos are devoted to describing the construction of the Mishkan. This is a tremendous amount of resources for the Torah where for most mitzvos we have 1 or 2 pesukim in the Torah and a whole lot of Torah Sheb'aal Peh. For example, the mitzva of tefillin is 1 pasuk in parshas Bo which is very unclear and expanded greatly in the Torah Sheb'aal Peh. The same for Shabbos, the Torah says don't do Melacha and not much else and from that comes all of Hilchos Shabbos. And yet, when it comes to the Mishkan the Torah devotes 4 whole parshiyos and goes into excrutiatingly painful detail not once but twice. First the Torah describes the commandment and then the Torah describes the actual construction. Even more difficult is the fact that much of the detail about the mishkan is not even relevant לדורות but was rather a הוראת שעה.

    In short, it is very difficult to understand why the Torah devotes so much resources to the Mishkan and so little to other mitzvos.

    The truth is this question bothered me even when I was a true believer, I haven't even seen a good apologetic answer.

    Monday, February 27, 2017


    Davening is a very big part of Judaism, 3 times a day. However, most people don't really think about the obvious issues with davening to God.

    According to traditional Judaism, God is omniscient (knows everything that can be known), omnibenevolent (perfectly good), omnipotent (can do everything that is compatible with the other attributes mentioned above), impassible (unable to be affected by an outside source), immutable (unchanging), and free.

    Assuming the above, we can ask the following questions about davening:

    1. Why do we need to daven to God at all? Since he is omniscient he knows exactly what we need so why do we need to ask?
    2. How can we ask a perfect God to change his decree for us? God's decrees are perfect and just so how can we daven to change them?
    3. How can God be affected by our prayer if he is immutable and impassible?
    There are a number of approaches to answer this question:
    1. The purpose of davening is to contemplate God (Rambam) and/or to change us
    2. This is the system that God setup
    Lets take a closer look at both approaches.

    I. The purpose of davening is to contemplate God (Rambam) and/or to change us

    The first thing we have to realize is that the Gemara does not really address this question. There is no philosophy of Tefilla found in the Gemara. This issue is first discussed in the Rishonim. 

    This approach is taken by many of the philosophical Rishonim like the Rambam. They explain that the purpose of davening is for us to get closer to God by contemplating God and realizing that everything is from God. 

    The way davening works is that the person who davens changes and is not the same person and therefore whatever decree was on the person was on the old version not the new improved version. 

    There are a number of issues with this approach:
    1. Why does shemoneh esrei have 12 berachos in the middle in which we ask God for things? How does asking God for health, income, etc. get you closer to God? Why would we ask for anything?
    2. How can I daven for someone else? If the purpose of davening is to get closer to God how can my prayer for someone else help them? My prayer certainly can't help them get closer to God?
    3. In many of the tefilos found in Chumash we find the various biblical figures making logical arguments to God. For example, Avraham in his tefilla to God about Sedom asks God how a just God could kill Tzadikkim along with Reshaim. Another example is when God wants to destroy the Jewish people after the חטא העגל Moshe davens to God and says, what will the Egyptians say if you destroy the Jews in the desert? They will say that you took the Jews out of Egypt to kill them in the desert. To make logical arguments to God makes no sense whatsoever.  God is omniscient and clearly took these arguments into account already. Of course this is also makes no sense if the purpose of Tefilla is to contemplate God or get closer to God. 

    II. That is the system that God setup

    This is the kabbalistic approach, that God set up the world that to get anything you need to ask for it. This approach turns davening into a magical experience and answers the first 2 questions above. We ask for things because that is how God set up the system, no matter how strange that sounds. There is not much to say here you either take it or leave it.

    However, the third question above still stands. Moshe's prayer with logical arguments to God makes no sense.