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. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Trial by combat in halacha?

Yesterdays daf (Bava Basra 34) discusses the principle of כל דאלים גבר, which seems to be very similar if not identical to trial by combat. The Gemara discusses cases where neither side has definitive proof, for example, Reuven and Shimon each claim they inherited this land (or ship) from my fathers and neither one has proof. The Gemara says that the din is כל דאלים גבר, whoever is stronger should prevail. The Rosh and other Rishonim understands this as trial by combat. The rightful owner of the object will fight harder for it and therefore whoever wins is assumed to be the rightful owner.

Trial by combat went out of fashion about 500 years ago, however, in Halacha this is still on the books. The underlying assumption of the Rosh is clearly not true, might does not make right.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

How should we view contradictions between modern viewpoints and Chazal/Rishonim

There are many places where the simple understanding of Chazal and Rishonim contradicts the modern viewpoint. There are 3 ways to deal with this:

  1. We only have what Chazal and the Rishonim told us. It doesn't bother us at all that there is a contradiction
  2. The contradiction bothers us, but it's not really a contradiction because the real meaning of Chazal is in synch with the modern viewpoint
  3. The contradiction exists and we need to solve it somehow
To stereotype, hard core Charedim believe 1, left wing Charedim/RWMO believe 2 and OO believe 3. 

A good example of this is the attitude towards women. As I pointed out in my post The Maharal's view of women - inferior, the Maharal clearly and unequivically views women as inferior to men, and it's not just the Maharal, this is the viewpoint of Chazal as well. The hard core Charedi view accepts this and therefore views women's eduction as an עת לעשות לה' הפרו תורתך and prominent Rabbanim like R' Wosner wonder how we are permitted to have Beis Yakkov schools for girls. The left wing Charedim/RWMO are very well represented in the comments on R' Eidensohn's blogs asking why he is publicizing these views and feeling very uncomfortable with them. This group also comes up with various apologetics explaining how women are holier then men etc. The last group, OO, simply accepts the contradictions and moves on from there"innovating" with things like womens minyanim, Rabbahs, etc.

Another good example is Torah and science. Hard core Charedim believe that the world is 6000 years old, the Mabul was a world wide flood that destroyed everything and 2.5 million Jews left Egypt. Left wing Charedim/RWMO, on the other hand are bothered greatly by these questions and come up with various unconvincing apologetics to explain them. The OO crowd on the other hand simply accepts what science/archeology says and moves on (see thetorah.com for many examples of this). 

As I mentioned above this is a stereotype because even the most hard core Charedim have been affected by the times. The place we can see this most clearly is marriage. The Gemara states that a woman has certain obligations to her husband, for example, washing his hands and feet and serving him. These are quoted l'halacha in Shulchan Aruch. The Rambam even allows the husband to hit his wife to force her to fulfill these obligations. Not even the most conservative Charedim approach marraige this way today. 

R' Aharon Lichtenstein put it best where he writes:
How and why do we depart from positions articulated by some of our greatest -- "from whose mouths we live and from whose waters we drink" -- and, is this departure legitimate? Are we victims of the Zeitgeist, swept along by general socio-historical currents?

My answer is yes. There is no question that the values of the outside world have infiltrated even the most sheltered Charedim. The question is how will this play out. At some point, 1 becomes very difficult if not impossible. and 2 also becomes untenable as the apologetics become more and more unconvincing. Where does that leave us? Basically where I am, a lot of questions and no answers.

Monday, February 20, 2017

R' Meir Mazuz: I know the cure for cancer that the doctors are hiding from us

R' Meir Mazuz a prominent Sefardi Rosh Yeshiva said in his weekly shiur last week that the cure for cancer is eating and drinking dates, carrots, water and pomegranate. Not only that, but the doctors know this and are hiding this from the people because they want people to come to them for chemotherapy.

This is so ridiculous that it doesn't require any rebuttal. It shows that knowing a lot of Torah does not necessarily make someone wise. The sad things is that thousands of people will actually believe R' Mazuz and will not get the proper treatment for cancer.

Source: http://www.kikar.co.il/222374.html

Sunday, February 19, 2017

What is the shiur of a רביעית?

The shiur of a רביעית is used for just about all mitzvos that involve drinking so it is an important shiur. רביעית literally means one quarter, it is defined as one quarter of a לוג. The shiur of a לוג is given as 6 eggs which means a רביעית is 1.5 eggs. In our measurements, eggs are approximately 2 oz (displacement) so a רביעית would be 3oz.

However, the נודע ביהודה in the 1700s raised the following question. The Gemara (Pesachim 109) goves an alternative way of measuring a רביעית. The Gemara says that a box 2x2x2.7 thumb widths holds a רביעית. The נודע ביהודה measured a רביעית both ways and to his surprise saw that a רביעית measured by thumb widths was almost twice as big as one measured by eggs. His conclusion was that eggs must have gotten smaller. This opinion has been popularized by the Chazon Ish in recent times where a רביעית is measured at over 5 oz.

There are a number of problems with this נודע ביהודה.

  1. It is based on the idea of נשתנו הטבעים, however, we have absolutely no proof that this happened. In fact, we have proof that the size of eggs didn't change as 2000 year old eggs were discovered by archeologists buried in lava in Pompei and their size was the same size as today's eggs.
  2. The Chasam Sofer writes: "איך יצויר בזמן קצר שינוי כזה דווקא בביצים, ולא בשיעורים ולא בקמח ובאדם?!" (שו"ת חתם סופר או"ח א סימן קכז; ועיין שם סימן קפא. How could it be that in such a short time there was such a change specifically in eggs and not in flour or people?
  3. The Mishna Berura describes an expirment that he did. The Gemara states that 2 cheekfulls of liquid for an everage person is more then a רביעית. If we double the shiurim like the נודע ביהודה then a רביעית is 3 eggs, yet we see that people today cannot fit more then 2 eggs in their mouth. 
To me, the most fascinating point about all of this is why did it take until the נודע ביהודה, the 1700s for someone to figure this out. This contradiction was around for a long time yet it wasn't discovered by anyone and it certainly wasn't made into a big deal. I believe that the answer is that the נודע ביהודה was influenced by non-Jewish society. The 1700s was after the enlightenment, the start of the industrial revolution and the scientific process had taken hold. People were experimenting, trying to figure out how the world works. The נודע ביהודה was affected by this change and therefore he too started to experiment and came up with his famous contradiction. 

I believe that the answer to this question depends on your view of the Gemara. If you view the Gemara and halacha as an entirely self consistent enterprise then it can't be that Chazal provided 2 contradictory opinions as to the size of a רביעית. However, if you believe הלכה frequently contains contradictions, since it’s a conglomerate of opinions, מנהגים (often of questionable origin), and occasional errors from different פוסקים who didn’t necessarily agree with each other then this is just one among a long list. The contradiction stems from either different shiurim in different places, different ways of measuring, or simply shiurim that were not very exact. People today forget that in the time of Chazal no measurements were exact. The following example illustrates this. I daven vasikin every day. We have a clock that synchronizes with the atomic clock so that the time is exact to the second and we finish גאל ישראל to the second of sunrise. However, when you think about it, this is ridiculous. Chazal had no clocks and had no way of knowing when exactly sunrise was. Sunrise was when they literally saw the sun rise. For us to be מדקדק to the second is certainly not what anyone did until modern times. The same applies to shiurim like a רביעית. It is very possible that Chazal gave approximate shiurim and that they were off by 2 oz. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Where does the sun go at night?

Today's daf (Bava Basra 25) has a fascinating discussion of where the sun goes at night. The gemara has a dispute between R' Eliezer and R' Yeshoshua.

R' Eliezer says that the world is like a three-walled building; the north side is not covered; The sun travels along the inside of the building during the day. When the sun reaches the northwest corner, it goes above the building (therefore we can't see it, and goes eastward overnight, and rises in the northeast in the morning).

R. Yehoshua says, the world is like a box, the north side is covered;

1. When the sun reaches the northwest corner, it goes (through a window) in back of the box.
2. "Holech El Darom v'Sovev El Tzafon" - the sun (always) travels along the south by day, and circles around the north side by night.

It is absolutely clear that the above is incorrect. We know that the world is not covered by anything and the sun doesn't go behind it. We know that the Earth spins and this is what causes the Sun to rise and set and we know that the Earth revolves around the Sun. These are not theories, they are facts and they are undisputable, we have all seen the pictures from space with our own eyes contradicting this gemara.

The Maharal explains this gemara allegorically. He understands that Chazal hid deeper meanings in statements like these describing the world. However, even according to the Maharal, Chazal did not just make this up, they were describing the world as they knew it, which was mistaken, and through that telling us secrets of Torah.

More importantly, it is clear that this Gemara has to be taken literally for 2 reasons:
1. The gemara in Pesachim brings a similar dispute between the Chachamim and the non-Jews about where the sun goes at night. They were clearly arguing with the non-Jews about reality and not about some deep concept in kabbala as clearly they are not arguing סתרי תורה with non-Jews.
2. The Rishonim when they discuss shitas R' Tam about Tzeis Hakochavim, all bring this gemara down and they all mention the sun going out the window. They clearly held that Chazal were describing reality. as this affects Halacha.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Why does the Gemara give outlandish explanations for Mishnayos? Part 2

Daf Yomi (Bava Basra 19-20) has a great example of this. The Gemara discusses barriers that shield from Tumah and Shmuel makes a statement that anything that will be removed (is only there temporarily) is not considered a barrier. The Gemara then proceeds to ask a series of questions from Tannaic sources that seem to say that various things that are only there temporarily do shield from Tumah. The Gemara then goes through them one by one and gives one outlandish answer after another. here are the questions and here are the answers:
  1. The Mishnah states that a box full of straw or a jug full of dried figs blocks tumah even if the box or jug is removed. However, figs/straw is something that will be removed (by an animal eating it or for other uses). The gemara now gives a list of qualifications that grow more outlandish as to to why the straw will not be removed:
    1. The straw is spoiled. 
    2. The straw has thorns as well so it's not fit to make mud
    3. The straw is wet. 
  2. A Baraisa states that the following block Tumah, grass that was detached and placed in a window, or grew there by itself; rags smaller than three fingers by three fingers; a dangling limb or flesh of an animal; a bird that rested there; a Nochri who sat there, a (i.e. stillborn) baby born in the eighth month; salt; earthenware Kelim; and a Sefer Torah. The Gemara then proceeds to ask questions on each one that it is only there temporarily and again the Gemara gives outlandish qualifications dor each thing to explain why it is not there temporarily. 
    1. Grass 
      1. The grass is poisonous. 
      2. The wall is ruined (so the grass will not destory it)
      3. The grass is 3 tefachim from the wall and does not harm the wall but bends into the window
    2. Rags
      1. The material is too thick to be used for a patch
      2. It's sackcloth which is rough and would scratch the skin. 
      3. It's not sackcloth, it's just rough like sacklocth
    3. Dangling limb of an animal
      1. The animal is tied up and can't move. 
      2. It's a non-kosher animal. 
      3. It's a weak animal. 
    4. Bird
      1. The bird is tied down. 
      2. It's a non-kosher bird. 
      3. It's a Kalanisa (a very lean bird). 
      4. It's not really a kalanisa, it's just lean like a kalanisa. 
    5. A non-Jew
      1. He is tied up. 
      2. He is a מצורע. 
      3. He is a prisoner of the king
    6. Salt
      1. The salt is bitter. 
      2. There are thorns in it. 
      3. It's resting on earthernware so it does not harm the wall. 
    7. Sefer Torah
      1. It's worn out. 
      2. It's burial will be in the window.
Lets think about this. The Baraisa gives a list of things that block tumah. The Baraisa in now shape or form qualified any of the things that block tumah, and yet the the Gemara proceeds to attach a long list of qualifications to the objects. How could anyone think for example that when the Baraisa wrote a bird it really meant, a tied up non-kosher Kalanisa like bird? 

Regarding the non-Jew, the Gemara is even more difficult. Does anyone believe that the King would put a prisoner in a window? Secondly, even a prisoner needs to go to the bathroom, stretch their legs, if so they will move out of the window and therefore should not block the tumah. 

In short, the Gemaras lengthy list of qualifications  when confronted with a simple list of unqualified things that block tumah is laughable. No one in their right mind would ever think to add these qualifications to a simple list (except of course the Gemara).

Monday, February 13, 2017

Were the Amoraim/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 3

Today's daf (Bava Basra 22) has such a good example that I can't pass it up.

The Gemara has a Din that if a Talmid Chacham comes to a city to sell his wares we allow him to and give him exclusive rights for that period of time. The Gemara then relates that R' Dimi came to a city and wanted to sell dried figs. The Reish Galusa asked Rava to see if he was a Chacham. If he was, they would give him exclusive rights to sell figs. Rava told Rav Ada bar Aba to test him. Rav Ada bar Aba asked him R' Dimi a question that he could not answer. Rav Ada teased him, and did not give him exclusive rights to sell figs. The figs spoiled and R' Dimi lost his investment. Rav Dimi complained to Rav Yosef and R' Yosef cursed him and R' Ada died. Imagine, R' Ada teased R' Dimi and because of that R' Yosef cursed him and he died?

The Gemara then goes on to list 5 different Amoraim who thought they were responsible for R' Adas death for various reasons:

  1. R' Yosef 
  2. R' Dimi 
  3. Abaye
  4. Rava 
  5. R' Nachman
The Gemara then relates the following story regarding why R' Nachman thought that he was responsible for R' Adas death. Rav Nachman used to give a shiur on Shabbos. Beforehand, he would review what he was going to say with Rav Ada. One Shabbos, Rav Ada was detained by Rav Papa and Rav Huna brei d'Rav Yehoshua, who wanted to hear teachings of Rava that they had missed. In the meantime the Talmidim asked Rav Nachman to begin his shiur. R' Nachman was waiting for R' Ada to come to review the shiur. When R' Ada didn't show up, R' Nachman then cursed R' Ada by saying I am waiting for the casket of Rav Ada and word spread that Rav Ada died.

This is truly unbelievable. R' Ada was detained by other talmidim asking him questions in Torah and yet, R' Nachman got so upset with him that he was late for him that he cursed him and killed him. What kind of behavior is that?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Get rid of Kiddushin???

This idea has been raised at the latest JOFA Panel.

Why would anyone want to get rid of Kiddushin (and not marraige)? The answer is that marraige is unequal from its very beginning, Who does the taking according to our tradition? The man. Who ends the relationship? The man. The woman in the Torah is passive. It is not a partnership.

If not Kiddushin then what?
Perhaps, she suggested, a mechanism of oaths and vows could be used to create a halachically binding relationship, in which the partners pledge sexual fidelity to each other. “I would argue for a completely new marriage ceremony, because the reality of our world does not match what the halacha of kiddushin actually is,” Rabba Epstein said.
There is no question that she is right, marraige in Judaism is not fair or equal for women. The question is what do we do with this (and other ) fact(s)? Something has to give, either we need to accept what the Torah says or reject it. But to say we accept the Torah but we can't live with a,b,c,d,... so we will change those doesn't work. That is not Judaism but rather is a new religion of your own making based on Judaism. This is why MO/OO doesn't work for me (and I believe most Charedi questioners), we understand that there are certain lines in Judaism you simply cannot cross without destroying it.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Daf Yomi is bad for your spiritual health

This sounds counter intuitive, how can learning Torah be bad for you? However, the fact is that it can, the proof is my recent posts are almost all based on things that I learned in Daf Yomi. The reason is very simple, since you learn every daf of Gemara skipping nothing, you see all the silly, ridiculous, bad things in the Gemara that are always skipped in Yeshivas. You also see all of the rationalizations and apologetics used to answer these questions and you realize that most times the questions are better then the answers.

There is a very famous statement made in the name of R' Chaim that you don't die from a question. While that is true when you have a few questions, when you are innundated with questions it is a sign that your whole approach is wrong. That is how I feel when I think about Judaism these days. While there may be a far fetched answer for each question, the sheer number of questions is overwhelming and points to a fundamental issue with the system.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Is having a daughter a good thing?

The Gemara in Bava Basra (16b) brings down the following story

A daughter was born to R. Shimon, the son of Rebbi. He felt bad. 
It says in a Baraisa The world needs males and females, but happy is one who has sons, and woe to the one who has daughters. The world needs perfumers and tanners. Happy is a perfumer, and woe to the tanner (he absorbs the odor of excrement, which is used in tanning).

There are all kinds of apologetics to explain this Gemara. For example it is quoted in the name of the Gra that since a man can marry many wives he can have many more children then a woman. However, we can't escape the simple meaning of the words, that Chazal felt that it was good to have sons and bad to have daughters and this (and many other statements) shows that Chazal felt that women were inferior to men. (see also my post The Maharal's view of women - inferior). This should surprise no one as that was the general opinion of women at the time of Chazal and after

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Why did Satan test Iyov?

The Gemara Bava Basra (161) gives the following explanation. Satan was concerned that Hashem's love of Iyov might detract from his love for Avraham and therefore Satan wanted to show that Iyov was not so great.

How are we supposed to understand this? This ascribes petty motives to both Satan an angel as well as Hashem. If Hashem is omniscient and perfect then how could Satan think that Hashem would be swayed by his love for Iyov?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

When did Iyov live?

The Gemara (yesterday's daf Bava Basra 15) quotes a whole host of opinions as to when Iyov lived ranging from the time of Yitzchak, Yaakov, or Yosef to the time of Achashveirosh (and many possibilities in between the time of Mitzrayim, Shlomo Hamelech, Shoftim, Nevuchadnetzar, 9 possibilities in total). The Gemara also has 1 opinion that Iyov never existed and another opinion that Iyov was not Jewish.

The obvious question is how can it be that we don't know who Iyov was and when he lived? Iyov is one of the 24 sefarim in Tanach and yet there is a well over 1000 year range as to when he lived. Achashveirosh was at the time of Purim which is the beginning of the Anshei Knesset Hagedola. How could they not have known that Iyov lived at their time?

The Ritva answers that the reason there are many views about the identity of Iyov is that the Book of Iyov was not well known to all of the people, but was hidden in the possession of individuals. In truth, this just raises more questions.

  1. When did the book of Iyov become well known to people? 
  2. How did it become well known? 
  3. Why did people accept it?
  4. Why was it hidden?
This kind of answer destroys the famous Kuzari proof of Judaism. We see clearly that there was no mass mesora on things like Sefer Iyov which is one of the 24 books of Tanach. If a group of individuals could introduce a new book into Tanach during the time of the second Beis Hamikdash then just about any change could be introduced into Judaism.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Who wrote Megilas Esther?

Todays daf (Bava Basra 15) discusses who wrote the various sefarim in Tanach. The Gemara says that the Anshei Knesset Hagedola wrote: Yechezkel, Trei Asar, Daniel, and Esther. Rashi explains that all of these happened in chutz laaretz and לא נתנה נבואה ליכתב בחוץ לארץ. Therefore the אנשי כנסת הגדולה wrote them later in Israel. However, this is contradicted by what is written in Megilas Esther itself where the Megilla writes ויכתוב מרדכי and Rashi comments on that phrase, ויכתוב מרדכי - that Mordechai wrote the Megilla as we have it.

The question is obvious, who wrote Megilas Esther, Mordechai as stated in the Megilla itself or the אנשי כנסת הגדולה as stated by the Gemara?

The Brisker Rav has a brilliant Brisker interpretation which when I first heard it, I thought was fabulous. Now, some years later, this same brilliant explanation seems to be patently ridiculous, and is clearly not what really happened from a historical perspective.

The Brisker Rav explains as follows. The Rambam in Hilchos Megilla leaves out certain dinim (עיבוד לשמה, the way to write the 10 sons of Haman, etc.) that apply to all other sefarim.  On the other hand, the Megilla has other dinim that are the same as a sefer torah. The question is why? The Brisker Rav explains that there are 2 dinim of Megilla.

1. Megilla as a sefer/letter that was written by Mordechai right after Purim. This did not have the status of being part of Tanach. At that time the Chachamim created a chiyuv to read that sefer that Mordechai wrote
2. Megilla as part of Tanach.

Based on this he explains why the Rambam left out certain dinim and included certain dinim in Hilchos Megilla. In Hilchos Megilla the Ramabam is talking about the Megilla as number one above and therefore it doesn't have the regular dinim of a sefer in Tanach, rather it has it's own unique blend because it is a unique entity.

What comes out is that according to the Brisker Rav, Megillas Esther was written twice. The first time, in Shushan by Mordechai, it was not part of Tanach and had no kedusha. However, this is the sefer that we are chayav to read on Purim. Later in Israel the Anshei Knesset Hagedola rewrote the sefer and included it as part of Tanach.

What does it mean that the אנשי כנסת הגדולה wrote the sefer in Israel . The simple understanding of the Gemara in Bava Basra is that they actually rewrote the whole sefer ברוח הקדש as Rashi explicitly writes that they wrote the seforim in Israel and of course it came out word for word the same as what Mordechai wrote.

To summarize, according to the Brisker Rav Megillas Esther was written twice. First it was written right after the events in Shushan by Moredechai. This sefer is what we are commanded to read on Purim. Years later, the אנשי כנסת הגדולה convened and rewrote the sefer ברוח הקדש, and it came out exactly the same to the letter as the original, and made it part of Tanach. So today, we only have 1 Megilas Esther even though it was wriiten independently twice.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Did Chazal know the value of Pi?

Todays daf (Bava Basra 14) strongly suggests that they did not. The Gemara is discussing the size of the Aron and what was in it.

The Gemara states the following facts:

  1. The Aron was 15 tefachim wide
  2. Half a Tefach on each side was the width of the wall, therefore the Aron had 14 tefachim of usable space
  3. The luchos were 6x6 so the 2 luchos in the Aron took up 12 tefachim of space
  4. The Sefer Torah that Moshe wrote was placed in the leftover 2 tefachim in the Aron
  5. The ideal size of a Sefer Torah is 
    1. 6 tefachim height
    2. 6 tefachim circumference of the parchment rolls with 3 tefachim on each side
  6. The ratio of circumference to diamter is 3:1
  7. Based on the above (5 and 6) the width of the Sefer Torah would be 2 tefachim
The Gemara asks based on the above facts, that since the Sefer Torah fits exactly in the space leftover (2 tefachim) how would they take the Torah in and out of the Aron? 

However, the Gemara's question only makes sense if you assume a ratio of 3:1 between circumference and diameter (as stated above 6), however, in reality the ration is Pi(3.14):1 which means that the width of the Torah would only be 1.91 tefachim which would leave some space to take it in or out. Therefore, it is clear that Chazal did not the value of Pi otherwise the Gemara's question makes no sense. In fact, Tosafos in Eruvin (14b) asks this question.

For many people, the above is not a problem, Chazal were not scientists and used the generally available knowledege of their time and therefore made mistakes in science. However, the Charedi world has rejected this position and claim that Chazal received their science from Heaven and  never made mistakes in science inclusing the fact that Pi is irrational (see http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2016/06/is-it-amazing-that-rambam-knew-that-pi.html). This Gemara seems to clearly contradict that view.

One additional noteworthy point is that we see clearly that Chazal did not have a mesora about things like the Aron and the Luchos. R' Yehuda and R' Meir have a dispute as to both the size of the Aron and whether Moshe's sefwer torah was inside teh aron or not. Likewise the Yerushalmi argues with the Bavli over the size of the luchos, Bavli 6x6, Yerushalmi 6x3. If Chazal didn't have a mesora about things like the Aron and teh Luchos then what did they have a mesora on?

Friday, February 3, 2017

The charity and good deeds that non-Jews do is like a sin for them

So says the yesterdays daf (Bava Basra 10b). The Gemara explains the reason for this as follows. The non-Jews only do charity and good deeds for their own purposes (ulterior motives). The Gemara then asks that we find that if a person gives charity to save his children it is still considered charity. The Gemara answers that is only by Jews because Jews even if they are doing it for ulterior motives they are also doing it לשם שמים and won't regret it even if their child dies, while a non-Jew is only doing it for ulterior motives.

IMHO, anyone learning this Gemara today who interacts with non-Jews understands that this distinction between Jews and non-Jews is completely false. All you need to do is look at all of the Tzedaka ads today (see Some of the segula type ads that I have seen in the past for example) to see that many Jews are not giving tzedaka לשם שמים. On the other hand, if you look at the non-Jewish world and organizations like Doctors without borders (the first example that popped into my head, there are many more), who endanger their very lives to treat complete strangers with no reward, it is clear that there are many non-Jews who give of themselves selflessly.

The question is then, what do we do with this Gemara? These statements are all based on pesukim, it is very hard to dismiss derashos of chazal. On the other hand, we see with our own eyes that the statements are not true.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Maharal's view of women - inferior

The Maharal has become a centerpiece of modern hashkafa, R' Hutner, R' Dessler, R' Kook, R' Moshe Shapiro and other modern day hashkafists have all used the Maharal as the basis of their thinking.  When I started asking internal questions, the answer I got most of the time was look at the Maharal, he deals with your questions (which was not actually true). Therefore, it is fascinating to see the Maharal's view of women. The Maharal clearly and unequivically views women as inferior to men.

The Daas Torah blog has been doing a series of posts about the the Torah's view of women and the Maharal has been prominently featured:

 Maharal - because women are on a lower spiritual level they don't observe all the mitzvos like men
Maharal: Because of the lust of women in Egypt - Jews were redeemed
Women don't ask for marital relations directly - Refined character or curse? 
 Maharal - Listening to wife's advice lead to Gehinom/Satan was created with woman
 Maharal - Why a husband can go to Gehinom for listening to wife's advice about the world or spirituality
Maharal - woman was created before man because she is less important
Maharal - Women have binah yeseira - they have extra primordial intellect as opposed to the abstract intellect of man

What's fascinating is the readers response to these posts (see the comments). The readers are upset that he is publicizing these views. They continually ask him what is the point of his posts. I totally agree with R' Eidensohn's answers here are some of his comments:

I have answered this repeatedly. If that is the Torah position then you should know it. I am working on a book on the issue of gender and sexuality. This has nothing to do with me personally. This is simply the mainstream view from our mesora.

Are you saying that only by distorting or denying what the Torah says are people able to accept it?! Are you ashamed of what G-d's views are? I am not making up anything and I am not cherry picking minority views. Please show me that the mainstream view taught by our Mesora is significantly different that what I have been presenting.

Again tell me that you feel that the Maharal is a obscure minority opinion and show me the sources that constitute the majority. If you acknowledge that this is the majority position of Torah authorities then you have to explain why this should be concealed, misrepresented or simply ignored. If you are claiming that if people really knew what Torah Judaism is about they would be ashamed of it and therefore we shouldn't tell the truth - I think that is basically apikorsus. Next you will tell me that we should conceal the Torah view of intermarriage and homosexuality or capital punishment or anything else which is not politically correct?

The readers are upset because the Maharal's position is so out of step with the way that we view women nowadays and they can't deal with it. It seems very clear to me that R' Eidensohn is absolutely correct that the Maharal represents the authoritative majority view of women in Jewish thought. The question is how should we deal with this? One way to deal with it is to ignore it as the commentators want, but that is simply a bandaid. There is a real problem that needs to be dealt with, the Torah's view of women. The other option is the OO path which is trying to reinvent Judaism as being equal for women. However, IMHO that is just as bad because it is a distortion of the sources.

I can't reconcile the Judaism's view of women with the modern view of women, I work everyday with smart competent women and see women all over society in all kinds of roles. The answer IMHO is that much if not all of Judaism is not divine and therefore, Judaism was very much influenced by the attitudes of the surrounding society to women. The Chachamim who created much if not all of Judaism were imbued with the negative attitude towards women that was rampant in ancient societies.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Why are there poor people in the world?

Todays Daf (Bava Basra 10a) discusses this question and gives a very startling answer. The Gemara brings 2 stories with non-Jews asking R' Meir and R' Akiva 2 questions:
  1. Why are there poor people (why doesn't God provide for them)?
  2. If God made someone poor why do we then give him charity?
The answer given is so that we, the charity givers, should be saved from hell, in other words to give us a chance to do a mitzva. R' Shteinman a few years ago used this Gemara to explain why people shouldn't buy life insurance. He was reported saying, life insurance is not worth it, as the merit of giving tzedaka to the widows and orphans is what is saving this generation from destruction.  I think that the government of Israel should use this answer next time the Haredi parties ask for government  money.

There is an obvious question, why should the poor person have to suffer so that you can do a mitzva? R' Dessler explains that the poor person also benefits, in fact he benefits more then the charity giver, by accepting his fate he gets a bigger reward then the charity giver. This seems to be quite difficult, I think most people would say I would rather be the rich person giving with a smaller reward then the poor person getting with a bigger reward.

The Gemara later on the Amud makes the famous statement that מזונות של אדם קצובין לו מראש השנה, a persons income is fixed on Rosh Hashana, see my post A person's income for the year is decided on Rosh Hashanah? for a full exposition of this.

What we see from here is that income and poverty are because God wants it that way. People are poor because God made them poor and therefore there really are no solutions for poverty. People will always be poor and we should just accept that. On the other hand, as I pointed out in the linked post above Charedi society doesn't act that way. In fact, the Charedi world is full of quick rich schemes and other illegal ventures because they clearly see a connection between hishtadlus and results. This leads to a theological position that can't be taken seriously. R' Feivel Cohen can say all he wants that there can't be a tuition crisis because the Gemara says that you will get the money back, the fact is that there is a tuition crisis.  The Gemara can say that a person's income is set at Rosh Hashana but it doesn't stop people from working hard/trying to make more money later on in the year even though it's a futile activity. Again we see that to be a believeing job you need to be able to take a whole lot of cognitive dissonance.