Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Were the Amoraim/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 2

Daf Yomi recently has provided more instances of dubious ethical behavior (see my previous post Were the Amoraim really paragons of virtue?).

1. The Gemara (Bava Basra 8a) relates the following story. There was a famine and Rebbe (who was rich) opened his storehouses to feed people. However, he refused to provide food to עמי הארץ. R' Yonasan ben Amram came to Rebbe and pretended to be an עם הארץ. Rebbe refused to provide him food. R' Yonasan ben Amram said to Rebbe feed me just like you would feed a dog and Rebbe gave him food. After he left Rebbe was upset with himself that he gave food to an עם הארץ. Rebbe's son told him that maybe the person wasn't really an עם הארץ but rather was a talmid who didn't want to benefit from his Torah. After that Rebbe provided food to all. The question is obvious. How could Rebbe be so cruel and not provide food to an עם הארץ? The Kovetz Shiurim is bothered by this question and doesn't have a good answer.
2. רב אחדוי asked רב ששת a question and laughed at his answer. רב ששת got upset and because of that רב אחדוי became mute and forgot his learning. Someones mother (either רב אחדוי or רב ששת)  begged him to pray for רב אחדוי and when he refused she bared her breasts and said see these breasts that you nursed from and have mercy on Rav Achdevoy and pray for him and he did and רב אחדוי recovered. Again, we see an Amora get insulted and lash out at the insulter causing him great harm.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Talmidei Chachamim don't need protection, what does this really mean?

The Gemara in Bava Basra 7b discusses the need for building walls around a town/city. Since walls are for communal protection, all residents have to share in the cost of erecting them. However, the Gemara rules that Torah scholars are exempt from this expense, since they are protected by virtue of the Torah they learn. This is quoted l'halacha in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 243.

The question is what is the scope of this exemption? The Charedi world has applied this to army exemptions based on the following:

1. Torah learning protects everyone
2. The boys are engaged in מלחמתה של תורה
3. Talmidie Chachamim don't need protection

However, this is very difficult for the following reasons:

R' Zevin in a famous (anonymous) essay says writes the following.

When actual lives are at stake, may we rely on miracles? In 1929 at Hebron... didn't young students of the yeshiva, whose holiness shone like stars in the sky, fall before the malicious enemy? Please, did these martyrs need protection or not?... If you understand that the scholars don't need protection in relatively peaceful times and are exempt from building the protective walls, what consequence has this when compared to a life-and-death struggle, a war which is a mitzvah and in which all are obligated? The defense authorities ordered everyone to cover all windows as protection against shattering glass in case of an air raid. Would anyone think that some rabbis will not do so, claiming, "Rabbis do not need protection?" ...Why did rabbis leave areas under enemy fire along with the rest of the general population? Why did they not rely on this maxim? 

R' Aharon Lichtenstein wrote:

 It may be stated... that such a claim (that since rabbis "don't need protection" they should be exempt from military service) raises a very serious moral issue. Can anyone whose life is not otherwise patterned after this degree of trust and bitahon argues for exemption on this ground? Is it possible to worry about one's economic future - in evident disregard of Rabbi Eliezer's statement that "whoever has bread in his basket and says 'What shall I eat tomorrow?' is but of little faith" - and yet not enter the army because one is presumably safe without it?

What is even more damning is the fact that in recent years when the missiles were flying from Gaza the yeshivas in the South (Ashdod and other places) temporarily moved to Yerushalayim or Bnei Brak. If the boys who are learning are engaged in war just like the soldiers why should they abandon their posts? In addition if Torah learning protects, let them stay where they are and be protected by their Torah. These moves undermined the claim for draft exemptions and looked very bad. The soldiers went to Gaza to fight while the yeshiva bachurim fled to safer havens.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Old and/or sick people should blame Avraham and Yaakov Avinu

The Gemara in Bava Metzia (87a) states that until Avraham there was no aging and until Yaakov there was no sickness. The gemara relates the following 2 stories:

1. When Yitzchak was born, the scoffers claimed that he was Avimelech's son. Therefore, a miracle occurred and Yitzchaks's face was made to look exactly like Avraham's. However, when Yizchak matured this caused problems. Since they looked exactly alike and there was no aging, people could not tell them apart. Therefore, Avraham davened for a solution and Hashem's answer was aging. The Medrash (בראשית רבה) is more explicit. It states that Avraham specifically asked Hashem for aging so that people would be able to tell him and Yitzchak apart.
2. Yaakov was old and wanted to bless his children before he died. However, he didn't know when he would die as there was no sickness. Again Yaakov asked for a solution and Hashem answered with sickness. פרקי דרבי אליעזר states this even more strongly (see גליון הש"ס ברכות נ"ג who quotes it) that until Yaakov no one ever got sick.

There are a number of questions that we can ask about this Gemara:

  1. The world had existed for over 2000 years with no aging and people managed. It seems that Avraham had a problem because Yitzchak looked identical to him. How does that justify Avraham cursing all further generations with aging? Isn't that a bit selfish of Avraham?
  2. The Torah states explicitly before the birth of Yitzchak that Avraham and Sara were old (זקנים). The story of Lot and the angels also mentions מנער ועד זקן, so it certainly seems that aging did exist before Avraham
  3. The world had existed for over 2000 years with no sickness and people managed. Yaakov had a problem because he wated to bless his children before his death. How does that justify Yaakov cursing all further generations with sickness? Isn't that a bit selfish of Yaakov?
  4. What does this say about Hashem's plan for the world? If Avraham hadn't asked would there have been no aging? If Yaakov hadn't asked would there be no sickness? 
  5. From a biological/scientific point of view, no aging and no sickness is simply impossible. 
  6. It is clear from the Rishonim and Acharonim (Maharsha, Mefarshim on עין יעקב)) that they understood this Gemara literally. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Did the Amoraim know all of Torah?

Yesterday's daf (בבא מציעא קי"ד) had a fascinating encounter between רבה בר אבוה and אליהו הנביא in a cemetary. רבה בר אבוה asked אליהו how he could be in a cemetary since he is a Kohen? אליהו answered רבה בר אבוה, as follows. He said don't you know Taharos and quoted a ברייתא in the name of רשב"י that the grave of a non-Jew is not מטמא and therefore a kohen can be there. רבה בר אבוה gave a startling answer, he said I don;t even know the 4 sedarim that are relevant halacha l'maase so well, you think I know the other 2 (זרעים וטהרות)? Tosafos claims that of course he knew Mishanyos זרעים וטהרות, he just didn't know all of the ברייתות. 

Even acceptng Tosafos's clarification it is still a stunning admission. There are people today who know all of Shas, Rishonim, shulchan aruch etc. and an Amora didn't know Taharos? Could it be that R' Chaim Kanievsky or R' Ovadya Yosef are bigger בקי then רבה בר אבוה?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Feminism is going to destory Modern/Centrist Orthodoxy

Please see The Non-Rabbinic Rabbinic Training Program for Women and Viewing Judaism through the Lens of Feminism which discuss how various aspects of femnism are against Torah and specifically, the ordaining of women as Rabbis.

IMHO, they are fighting a losing battle. The modern/centrist world can't have it both ways. If you engage with the world you are going to be influenced by what is going on in the world. The fact is, that women are everywhere in politics, business, etc. If a woman can be a Supreme Court Justice, the Chancellor of Germany, almost the President of the US, CEOs of major companies, etc. it is practically impossible for Modern orthodoxy to say that they can't become Rabbis. If they have the intellectual ability to become law professors, judges, lawyers, computer programmers, etc. then clearly from an intellectual perspective they can handle learning Shas and Poskim. Therefore, the battle then shifts to one of tradition, tznius, etc. which is a losing battle. If a women can be a lawyer, judge, professor and it is not a lack of tznius then why not a Rabbi? Tradition is a poor answer since tradition also said that women shouldn't be taught Torah and traditionally women never went to school. I don't see how modern orthodoxy can survive in the modern world, the ethics and values of the secular world that MO values and integrates with are diamterically opposed to what we would consider torah values.

The Charedi world is facing the same issues just on a smaller scale because the Charedi world is much more isolated from the world and devalues the secular world. However, there is no question in my mind, that a strong component of the opposition to women getting academic degrees is beacuse of this. If Charedi women would get a university education it would open up the same can of worms.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Why do people die?

The Gemara in Bava Metzia 107b discuses this very question and comes to some startling conclusions.

Rav states that 99 out of 100 peoople die because of עין הרע.
Shmuel says it's not because of עין הרע but because of wind. Rashi explains, all sicknesses and death come because of the wind. Different winds affect different people. The Gemara asks what about people who are executed? Shmuel answers if the not for teh wind that gets into the wound we could heal them with some ind of medicine.
R' Chanina says people die due to cold and/or heat (this is not the same as wind) as R' Chanina says that everything is in the hands of heaven except for cold and heat. This statement of R' Chanina is fascinating in and out of itself. He clearly and unequivocally says that certain things are not from heaven which contradicts the current Charedi hashkafa that even a leaf doesn't fall without it being decreed from heaven.

What are we to make of these statements about the causes of death? We know today why people die and it is not for the reasons stated above. One thing we see clearly is that the Chachamim had no real mesora about these issues, they had no idea why people die and therefore they each came up with their own theory.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Were the Amoraim really paragons of virtue?

Anyone who learned in Yeshiva knows that the Amoraim (the Rabbis who appear in the Gemara) are portrayed as paragons of virtue and on a level that we can't even approach. However, if you actually learn Gemara we see that they were vindictive, stingy and tried to use technicalities to evade the law. Here are some examples from Gemaras that came up recently in Daf Yomi.

I. Bava Metzia 107b - 108a - The gemara discusses the status of forests bordering on a river. The Gemara states that since they use to pull boats on the river using men on the 2 riverbanks, the owner of the forest needs to cut down the trees on the riverbank to provide enough space for the pullers to walk and pull. The Gemara then states that if a Jew owns one stretch of the riverbank forest but non-Jews own the rest and the non-Jews will not cut down their part the Jew does not need to cut down his part either. The Genara then relates the following story. Rabba Bar Rav Nachman was traveling and saw that the forest next to the riverbank was not cut down. He asked who the owner was and was informed that the owner was Rabba Bar Rav Huna. Rabba Bar Rav Huna had not cut down the forest because a non-Jew owned the other pieces and would not cut their part down. He then told them to cut down the forest. Rabba Bar Rav Huna found out about the incident and promptly cursed the person who cut down the forest that his children should die and this is what happened to Rabba Bar Rav Nachman, his children all died. Rashi explains that Rabba Bar Rav Nachman made an honest mistake he did not know that a non-Jew owned the othe part. Yet, Rabba Bar Rav Huba cursed Rabba Bar Rav Nachman's children.

It certainly seems that Rabba Bar Rav Huna was upset at losing money and therefore vindictively cursed Rabba Bar Rav Nachman.

II. Bava Metzia 84a the story of Rav Yochanan and Resh Lakish. The Gemara relates how R' Yochanan met Resh Lakish who was a bandit and convinced him to come and learn Torah by offering  him his beautiful sister as a wife. After Resh Lakish had established himself as R' Yochanan's best student the following incident took place. There was a dispute as to the time when the different kinds of knives and weapons might be considered in a fit state to be susceptible to ritual uncleanliness. The opinion of Resh Lakish differed from that of R' Yochanan, whereupon the latter remarked, "A robber knows his own tools". R' Yochanan alluded to Resh Lakish's life as a bandit, in which a knowledge of sharp weapons was a matter of course. Resh Lakish responded by supposedly denying any benefit he had received from R' Yochanan; "When I was a bandit they called me 'master', and now they call me 'master.'" R' Yochanan retorted angrily that he had brought him under the wings of the Shekhinah. The Gemara then relates that due to R' Yochanan becoming so upset, Resh Lakish became ill. R' Yochanan's sister, Resh Lakish's wife begged her brother for mercy for her herself and her children and R' Yochanan refused. Resh Lakish then prematurely died as a result of R' Yochanan's curse.

Again, we see a prominent Amora gets upset at an insult and because of that curses someone and causes them to die.

III. Bava Metzia 111a - The Gemara is discussing the issur of בל תלין, the prohibition against paying your workers late. The Gemara states that the issur only applies if you hire the workers yourself. However, if you have a שליח hire the workers for you, then there is no issur of בל תלין. The Gemara then relates how מרימר and מר זוטרא would routinely do this (use the other as שליח) to avoid the prohibition of בל תלין. Tosafos comments that of course they weren't planning on not paying their workers on time, rather they were worried that they would forget to pay their workers on time and inadvertently violate the prohibition.

Here we see a willingness to use a loophole to avoid violating an issur while harming someone else. The moral thing to do would be to specifically not use a שליח and put yourself on the hook for the issur so that you would be even more motivated to pay your workers on time. Instead they took the loophole so as to avoid the issur on themselves while harming the workers by not paying on time.

There are many many more examples, these are just ones that I have seen in the last few weeks of learning Daf Yomi.

I have said many times, Daf Yomi is bad for your spritual health because you learn every daf of Gemara skipping nothing and you see all the silly, ridiculous, bad things in the Gemara that are always skipped in Yeshivas.

For more examples see my post Were the Amoraim/Tannaim paragons of virtue? more

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Who did the שבטים marry?

The past few parshas have focused on the 12 שבטים, the sons of Yaakov. As opposed to their father and grandfather, where the Torah had a long story about who they married, the Torah is basically silent about who they married. Rashi, quoting Chazal, offers 2 conflicting opinions on who they married both quite problematic.

  1. They married כנעניות
  2. Each שבט was born with a twin sister whom they married 

Marriage with כנעניות

There are a number of problems with this approach:
  1. Both Avraham and Yitzchak went to great lengths to ensure that their chosen son didn't marry כנעניות and sent them off to find wives. Therefore it would be very strange for Yaakov to allow his sons to freely marry כנעניות who were cursed.
  2. What exactly was the status of these כנעניות women? Did they convert? If so, how exactly? Remember, that in Judaism who is a Jew depends on the mother not the father. 
  3. After Yosef is assumed to be dead the Torah states וַיָּקֻמוּ כָל בָּנָיו וְכָל בְּנֹתָיו לְנַחֲמוֹ. Who exactly were these daughters? Additionally, the Torah says בָּנָיו וּבְנֵי בָנָיו אִתּוֹ בְּנֹתָיו וּבְנוֹת בָּנָיו... הֵבִיא אִתּוֹ מִצְרָיְמָה, again who were these daughters who went down to Egypt?

The twin option

Rashi comments (based on the medrash) by the birth of Binyamin that a twin girl was born with every שבט and that is who they married. רבי יהודה אומר: אחיות תאומות נולדו עם כל שבט ושבט ונשאום. However, this raises a number of questions:
  1. How could they marry their twin sister, even if they weren't considered Jewish, בני נח are also prohibited from marrying their full sister. The Ramban explains that they didn't marry their twin rather they married a sister from another mother so as not to violate the issur of incest.  However, the simple reading of the medrash is that each brother married his twin sister which is prohibited even to בני נח as one of the עריות.
  2. Since the wives/daughters were Yaakov's children how come they are not mentioned in the count of 70 going to Egypt. Rashi comments that you have to say that they all died before that, however, that is clearly very difficult.
  3. The Torah states explicitly that Yehuda married שוע a כנענית. Rashi explains that you have to say כנעני means a merchant. The same would have to go for Tamar as well. Even with this interpretation, Yehuda didn't marry a twin but rather an outsider. If so what happened to the extra twin? Who did she marry? 
  4. In ויגש when the Torah lists off all the descendents of Yaakov, Shimon has a son שאול בן הכנענית. The simple understanding is that Shimon married a כנענית. Rashi explains that this was really Dina (this raises a different issue to be discussed later). THis raises teh same question as with Yehuda, if Shimon married Dina then that left another twin daughter with no one to marry.

Who did Dina marry?

After Dina's rape by Shechem we hear nothing about her until she is counted as one of the 70 going down to Egypt. Rashi quotes 1 opinion that Dina married Shimon and their son was שאול בן הכנענית. However this is very problematic. Dina and Shimon were full siblings (same mother and father). Therefore, how could they marry? Even a Ben Noach is not allowed to marry his full sister. Another opinion in Chazal is that Dina married איוב. 


As usual, we find that there is a dispute in Chazal about who the שבטים married with 2 contradictory opinions. Additionally, each opinion has it's share of difficulties fitting in with both the text and what we know and again the questions seem to better then the answers.