Sunday, August 28, 2016

Halacha and technology part 1

The orthodox world (especially the Charedi world) moves very slowly when it comes to adapting halacha to modern times. The pace of technological change however means that they will need to either adapt or give up technology and become Amish. I would like to highlight 3 major areas of concern with regards to Halacha and technology

  1. Shabbos
  2. Kashrut
  3. Medicine
All 3 of these are highly affected by technology and halacha willl either need to deal with technology or abandon it.


The use of electricity (which powers all technology) on Shabbos has been an issue in halacha from the start. everyone prohibits using electricity, however, there is no clear issur and the poskim offer various suggestions why electricity should be prohibited

  1. Molid (Beit Yitzchak 2:31) - Turning on an appliance is analogous to creating something new which is prohibited on Shabbat (איסור דרבנן).
  2. Boneh (Chazon Ish Orach Chaim 50:9) - Completion of a circuit is prohibited because it is a form of building (איסור דאורייתא)
  3. Makeh B'Patish (Chazon Ish Orach Chaim 50:9)- Turning on an appliance completes it (איסור דאורייתא)
  4. Sparks (Chazon Ish Orach Chaim 50:9) - Completion of a circuit creates sparks and therefore is prohibited because it creates a flame (איסור דרבנן)
  5. Increased fuel consumption (Chashmal Leor Halacha 2:6) - The use of electrical appliances leads to an increase in fuel consumption at the power station, which is prohibited. (maybe an איסור דאורייתא)
  6. Heating of metal (Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim 50:9) - Heating of a metal transistor or wire, even when no visible light is emitted, is prohibited because of cooking or burning (איסור דאורייתא)
R' Sholom Zalman Auerbach (RSZA) is probably the posek who dealt the most with electricity and understood both the halachic and physical realities. All of the above suggestions were rejected by RSZA for the following reasons:

1. Only a limited number of actions were prohibited by Chazal because of molid, and therefore we may not extrapolate from these limited examples that creating anything else new (like electrical current) is rabbinically prohibited.

2. Closing a circuit is analogous to closing a door (which is permitted) because it is meant to be opened and closed.

3. Since the appliance is made to be turned on and off it cannot be makeh b'patish

4. This is not factually true anymore

5. This is at most grama and in fact is many times not true. 

6. This is not factually true anymore

Based on the above RSZA (Minchat Shlomo 74, 84), writes the following:

In my opinion there is no prohibition [to use electricity] on Shabbat or Yom Tov... There is no prohibition of ma'keh bepatish or molid... (However, I am afraid that the masses will err and turn on incandescent lights on Shabbat, and thus I do not permit electricity absent great need...) ... This matter requires further analysis.
However, the key point in my opinion is that there is no prohibition to use electricity on Shabbat unless the electricity causes a prohibited act like cooking or starting a flame.

He states unequivocally that since the minhag is to prohibit the use of electricity, and this minhag received near unanimous approval from the poskim absent great need we should accept this tradition.

Even according to the Chazon Ish, many/most modern appliances would not be assur min hatorah for the following reason. Appliances today are always on, your refrigerator is running 24/7 as is your water meter. The Chazon Ish said it was boneh or make b'patish when you turn on an appliance was talking about an appliance that was off, no current, turning it on makes it useful (the Chazon Ish called it ממות לחיים). This certainly does not apply to a running appliance, the refrigerator is functioning perfectly, your opening the door causing some sensor to do something does not finish the appliance, does not make it useul, does not turn it on. Therefore, even according to the Chazon Ish there would be  no issur d'oraysa. 

My sense is that the more modern poskim (MO in America, Dati Leumi in Israel) agree with RSZA while much of the Charedi world holds like the Chazon Ish.

Given the fact that electricity is prohibited by all poskim today lets take a look at some common issues:


New refrigerators all have sensors that are put into action when you open the door etc. (even if you tape down the light switch) and are becoming more and more integrated and essential to the use of the refigerator. 

Electronic Water Meters

Electronic water meters are being installed all over the world. Every time you turn on the water you are directly causing the electronic water meter to record your use which falls under the general rubric of electricity. 

Security Cameras/Security Lights

In many cities there are security cameras everywhere which will record you on Shabbos. Likewise, there are lights that are activated by a motion sensor when you walk by.

Electronic Door Locks

These are found in every hotel and are now being installed in apartment buidings around the world.

Hotels On Shabbos

When you take all of the above, plus add in some additional issues with hotels such as
  • Motion sensors which shut off the lights and air conditiong if there is no movement
  • Faucets that go on and off based on motion sensors
  • Toilets with sensors
  • Automatic doors
I don't see how an orthodox Jew will be able to stay in a hotel on Shabbos unless there is a change in approach to electricity.

Halachic Solutions

There are a number of halachic solutions that can be applied to these cases that have been suggested by contemprary poskim.
  1. A number of poskim hold that sensors that don't cause any visible action to happen are not prohibited. For example, if you open the refigerator and some sensor records that action but no there is no visible response in teh refigerator that is not considered a Melacha. This would address refrigerators and electronic water meters
  2. If you are just walking normally and something happens like a secuirty camera records you  or a light turns on that you have no interest in, that is not considered anything in halacha and is permitted (Shevet Halevi). This would address the security camera/security lights scenario.
  3. פסיק רישיה דלא ניחא ליה בדרבנן - If you assume that electricity is drabbanan many of these are a פסיק רישיה דלא ניחא ליה and therefore permitted according to some opinions.
The electronic door locks is more problematic as there is a visible response to your action and you clearly want the response.

Charedi Response

The Charedi response is very predictable, אסור אסור אסור. Below are some Kol Korehs from Yated Neeman about electronic water meters. 

Zman technologies are selling a fancy shabbos clock for refrigerators, see where they claim that there are many issurim involved in opening the refrigerator door.

IMHO, in the not so distant future we are going to see a real split between the Charedi world which will need to take extreme measures to avoid electricity on Shabbos and the rest of the orthodox world which will permit this. The orthodox world which engages with the outside world can't just say assur and be done with it. 

to be continued...

Monday, August 22, 2016

Where did all the Reshus Harabim's go?

The Gemara in Shabbos has extensive discussions about what jewelry women can wear on Shabbos, what are animals allowed to go out with, etc. all gezeros in fear of the person violating the issur d'oraysa of carrying 4 amos in a reshus harabim. It is patently clear from all of these that in the the time of Chazal that they felt that this was a very valid concern (e.g. carrying in a reshus harabim) as we know that that Chazal followed a number of rules when making Gezeros 2 of them being:

1. milsa d'lo shchicha lo gazru bei rabanan - Chazal did not make gezeros for far-fetched cases.
2. we don't make a gezera l'gezera - Chazal only made gezeras to protect people from violating an issur d'oraysa, they did not make gezeras to prevent people from violating an issur d'rabbanan.

Based on the above Chazal would only have made all of these Gezeras regarding carrying if there was a real concern that people would violate the issur d'oraysa of carrying in a Reshus Harabim. What this means is that there must have been MANY places deemed Reshus harabim in existence
in Israel (and Bavel) otherwise they never would have made all of these gezeros.

However, this is very very difficult. Tosafos on 64b already makes the claim that we don't have a reshus harabim d'oraysa nowadays because we don't have 600,000 people and our streets aren't wide enough. This opinion of Rashi and Tosafos has been accepted l'halacha and is the basis of all city Eruvin. But, if this is true, then how in the time of Chazal did they ever have a Reshus Harabim d'oraysa? We know from population studies as well as simple logistics that pre-modern cities could simply not be that big. Without modern infrastructure there was simply no way to bring in enough food and water to feed a population of 600,000 people.  It is not believable that in the time of Chazal the population of the cities in Israel was larger then today. The only city today, in modern Israel, with a population over 600,000 is Jerusalem and only a fraction of that is in the old city (which is the only part of the city that existed 2000 years ago and in fact was smaller). Every other city in Israel today has a population less then 600,000 people. There is no way that in the times of Chazal the cities were anywhere near as large given what we know of the population etc.

Why would they make all of these gezeros if there was no Reshus Harabim d'oraysa?

The fact is that the Gemara talks about whether you can wear amulets or not on Shabbos a gezera that you will carry it in reshus harabim. The Gemara discusses whether you have to take the amulet off to go to the bathroom, if you do there would be a problem because maybe you will carry it. Rashi comments, the bathrooms were outside in the fields and therefore there was an issue of carrying in a reshus harabim. It seems clear that Chazal thought that Reshus Harabim's were all over.

In short, how could it be that in the time of Chazal 2000 years ago they were so worried about people violating an issur d'oraysa of hotzaa when we can't find a Reshus Harabim d'oraysa today? Brooklyn,
with a population of 2.5 million people (larger by far then any city 2000 years ago) is the only place that I have heard of that there even is a discussion about. There are Eruvin in every large city in Israel
(based on the presumption that the city is not a Reshus Harabim D'oraysa) and many large cities/communities in America. How do we reconcile this?

The answer clearly is that there never was a requirement for 600,000 people in a Reshus Harabim and that Rashi and Tosafos were simply wrong. What does this say about mesora and psak?

Thwere are some interesting related questions. When were the gezeras related to carrying established? The Gemara states that Shlomo was mesaken the need for an Eruv Chatzeros, however, what about all of these other dinim d'rabanan? When was the takana of carmelis made? When were
all of the gezeros listed at the beginning of the 6th perek of shabbos (regarding not wearing jewelry etc.) made? When was the issur to blow shofar on Rosh Hashana on Shabbos made? I don't know of any sources that discuss when these were made. It would be very interesting to know how early/late they were. 

The bottom line is that we see even on issues where there seemingly is a strong mesora, there isn't. Something as simple as the definition of a Reshus Harabim is the subject of intense machlokes.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

כי היא חכמתכם ובינתכם לעיני העמים

ואמרו רק עם חכם ונבון הגוי הגדול הזה

After hearing these pesukim yesterday in Shul I was struck how silly they sound today. The pesukim say that the laws of the Torah are what make the Jewish people look smart in the eyes of the nations of the world and the nations of the world will praise us as wise people. Unfortunately, today, Torah makes us look like a bunch of primitive people who don't believe in science, are immoral and just out of touch with reality.

The dismissal of evolution, the age of the world, basically any science that seems to contradict Torah makes us look anything but wise. Likewise, insistence on the morals of the Torah, anti-homosexuality  slavery, genocide, etc. does not make us look wise in the eyes of the nations of the world, but rather outdated and immoral.

Religious Jews are increasingly being viewed as fanatical, bigoted and primitive.

This story, where Satmar kids are taught in camp to throw eggs at Prime Minister Netanyahu's car and chant denigrating slogans against him just confirms the view. Not only is Satmar not an עם חכם ונבון, but in fact they (and other Chasidic groups like Skver) are a cult and should be treated like one. See this scary post by the Jewish Worker about the total cult-like conformity in New Square.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Where is Matan Torah, Moshe, and the laws of the Torah in נ"ך?

The surprising answer is almost completely missing. If you read through Tanach the story of Matan Torah as well as references to Moshe and his Torah are basically ignored/non-existent.

If you look at Neviim Rishonim, it is completely absent. For example, In יהושע פרק כ"ד Yehoshua details the history of the Jewish people starting with Terach (this is famous from the Hagadda). He mentions יציאת מצרים and קריעת ים סוף and fact that the Jewish people were in the desert for a long time. However, what is conspicuously absent is any mention of Matan Torah. The biggest event in Jewish history, the reason for יציאת מצרים, in fact the reason for the creation of the world, and it's simply skipped over and not mentioned. Shmuel also (פרק י"ב) gives a short history lesson and again he mentions יציאת מצרים but leaves out completely Matan Torah.

When Shmuel refers to laws he never makes any mention of Moshe or Matan Torah. For example, after Shmuel appoints Shaul as King, he writes down the laws of the King and places it before Hashem (שמואל א י:כ"ה). The laws of a King are written in the Torah in Sefer Devarim yet Shmuel makes no mention of them and it sounds like he wrote his own version. Similarly, when Shmuel commands Shaul to go to war with Amalek and destory them, there is no reference to the Biblical commandment from the Torah in Devarim. Rather Shmuel commands Shaul to destroy Amalek based on a Nevua that he Shmuel received.

If we look at the later Neviim we find the same absence of Matan Torah. Yishayahu mentions it zero times in his work. Yirmiyahu mentions it zero times.  You would think that Yirmiyahu, when trying to convince the Jewish people not to worship avoda zara would mention Matan Torah and the עשרת הדברות and the prohibition of idolatry.

Similarly if we look at Yechezkel (פרק מ - מ"ח) we find that Yechezkel lists many laws that are in the Torah and some that contradict the Torah (for example that a Kohen can't marry a widow from a non-Kohen) without ever referencing the fact these laws came from Moshe and Matan Torah.

If we look at Zecharya (פרק ז:י"ב) we see a similar idea. He writes:
ולבם שמו שמיר משמוע את התורה ואת הדברים אשר שלח ה' צבאות ברוחו ביד הנביאים הראשונים ...
They made their hearts into stone lest they should hear the law and the words which Hashem had sent by his spirit in the hand of the first prophets ...

Zecharya attributes the laws of Hashem not to Moshe, but rather to the first prophets. We see that Zecharya seemingly did not believe in Toras Moshe, but rather believed that all the prophets had a hand in relaying the laws from Hashem.

Similarly if we look at Tehillim, which according to tradition was written by King David, it makes no mention of Matan Torah. In fact Tehillim refers to Moshe as a Kohen (משה ואהרן בכהניו ושמואל בקוראי שמו) not as the person who gave the Torah.

The clear and obvious conclusion is that during the period of the first Beis Hamikdash, the overwhelming majority of the Jewish people were unaware of Matan Torah, Moshe Rabenu as lawgiver and Torah in general. In contrast, we see that the story of יציאת מצרים was well known. The implications are clear.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Would anyone follow Moshiach today if he came?

Yesterday was Tisha B'Av and with it came the obligatory talk about Moshiach and the Geula. It got me thinking however, if Moshiach came how would we know it and who would follow him? The Jewish people are so divided even just the religious that I don't see how any one person could unite the Jewish people. Would Chasidim accept a Litvak moshiach? Would Litvaks accept a Chassidish Moshiach? Would Charedim accept a non-Charedi Moshiach (Dati Leumi, MO, OO, etc.)? Would non-Charedim accept a Charedi Moshiach? Would Ashkenazim accept a Sephardi? Would Sefardim accept an Ashkenazi?

Just look what happened when events took place that contradicted a certain groups hashkafa, here are 2 examples:

  1. The Six Day War when Israel won a tremendous victory and restored the holy places to Jewish sovereignty posed a tremendous theological question to Satmar. Their answer was מעשה שטן, which with all due respect to the Satmar Rebbe is ridiculous on all levels. Given that, any non-Satmar moshiach will probably be called מעשה שטן and ignored or condemned
  2. The Lubavitcher Rebbe's death in the early 1990s posed a tremendous theological question to all of those Chasidim who believed that he was Moshiach. They gave different answers (he was still Moshiach even though he died, he didn't die, etc.) each one more problematic then the other.  Could Lubavitchers accept a different Moshiach? I think not.

The truth is that I don't believe that most people really want moshiach. It would be way too disruptive, in so many ways.

Moshiach presumably would reconstitute the Sanhedrin which would then completely change Halacha. The the Gemara (Sanhedrin 88b) states that until the time of Hillen and Shamai there was no Machlokes in halacha. All questions were resolved by the local Beis Din with difficult questions going up to the Sanhedrin whose psak was final.

אמר רבי יוסי מתחילה לא היו מרבין מחלוקת בישראל אלא בית דין של שבעים ואחד יושבין בלשכת הגזית ושני בתי דינין של עשרים ושלשה אחד יושב על פתח הר הבית ואחד יושב על פתח העזרה ושאר בתי דינין של עשרים ושלשה יושבין בכל עיירות ישראל הוצרך הדבר לשאול שואלין מבית דין שבעירן אם שמעו אמרו להן ואם לאו באין לזה שסמוך לעירן אם שמעו אמרו להם ואם לאו באין לזה שעל פתח הר הבית אם שמעו אמרו להם ואם לאו באין לזה שעל פתח העזרה ואומר כך דרשתי וכך דרשו חבירי כך למדתי וכך למדו חבירי אם שמעו אמרו להם ואם לאו אלו ואלו באין ללשכת הגזית ששם יושבין מתמיד של שחר עד תמיד של בין הערבים ובשבתות ובימים טובים יושבין בחיל נשאלה שאלה בפניהם אם שמעו אמרו להם ואם לאו עומדין למנין רבו המטמאים טמאו רבו המטהרין טהרו משרבו תלמידי שמאי והלל שלא שמשו כל צרכן רבו מחלוקת בישראל ונעשית תורה כשתי תורות

This process would happen again, there would be no Sefardi psak like the Beis Yosef and Ashkenazi psak like the Rama, the Sanhedrin would pasken one way and everyone would have to follow it.

The truth is it would be even more disruptive then just erasing teh lines between Sephardim and Ashkenazim, presumably all hashkafic questions would be addressed as well. Rationalists vs Kabbalists, Charedim vs MO, Chassidim vs Litvaks, R' Desslers Hashgacha Pratis vs the Rambams, Torah only vs Torah im Derech Eretz, etc. Imagine the turmoil this would throw the religious world into. Imagine if your whole world view is suddenly overturned, would you accept that?

Moshiach would also introduce all the laws of Tumah and Tahara. This would completely change Hilchos Nidda and how women would have to act. Everyone would have to throw away all of their (tameh) furniture and deal with the facts of Tumah and Tahara and everything it meant.

Of course there would be a Beis Hamikdash and we would all need to bring Korbanos. How many people reading this can really picture themselves bringing and animal to the Beis Hamikdash and having it sacrificed as a Korban? Presumably the Beis Hamikdash would again become the central focus of Judaism, does anyone really believe that can happen? Can Kohanim really picture themsleves wearing the Bigdei Kehuna, killing birds with their fingernails, and sprinkling blood on the mizbeiach?

Last but not least, would American Jews really want to give up their life in America including summer homes in the Catskills to move to Israel?

In short, the idea of Moshiach seems great until you look at the little (and not so little) details and then you see that it is really just a pipe dream that can never actually happen.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The surpisingly small size of the Beis Hamikdash and it's effect on Korban Pesach

Since we are in the middle of the 9 days, mourning the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, this is an appropriate time to discuss issues relating to the Beis Hamikdash.

The Azara of the Beis Hamikdash was surpisingly small, 187 x 135 amos, 25425 square amos. Even assuming a large amah like the Chazon Ish, of 24 inches, that makes the Azara about 50,000 square feet. Of course the Azara had things in it like the kevesh, mizbeach, kiyor, shulchanos, amudim and taba'os which took up space, but even ignoring these this would allow a maximum of 10,000 people (5sq feet a person) in the Azara at one time. Even halving the space requirements per person to 2.5 sq feet a person gets us to a maximum of 20,000 people in the Azara at one time (again ignoring all of the "furniture").

This becomes very important on Erev Pesach when the Korban Pesach needs to be sacrificed in the afternoon. The Gemara in Pesachim (64b) states that King Agrippas wanted to take a census so he had the Kohanim count the number of Korban Pesachs that were brought and it came out to 1.2 million korbanos, 12 million people (10 to a korban).

How could they possibly have fit all of the people and animals in the Azara? The Gemara states that the Korban Pesach is brought in 3 shifts. 1.2 million korbanos means 1.2 million animals and at least 1.2 million people, even in 3 even shifts that is 400,000 people and animals a shift!!! As was pointed out above there is no way to fit in even a fraction of the people and animals required per shift. In addition, moving 400,000 people into and out of a confined space takes hours, the whole 3.5 hours would have been taken up by simply trying to get the people in and out without having time to do anything.

This leads to the question that given the dimensions of the Beis Hamikdash and the number of people, how did everyone ever bring a korban pesach? The numbers just don't work.

There is another related question that needs to be raised as well. The Korban Pesach is only brought in the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan after the korban tamid is brought. The Mishna (58a) states that on Erev Pesach the Tamid was brought from 7.5 - 8.5. That leaves just 3.5 hours (8.5 -12) to bring the korban pesachs. That means that they had to sacrifice over 340,000 korbanos an hour, over 5700 a minute and over 95 a second. That is simply impossible. Let's think about what needed to be
A. shechita
B. collect the blood
C. sprinkle the blood on the mizbeach
D. Skin the animal and take out the organs to be burned on the mizbeach.

All of this at the pace of 95 a second???

Just for comparison a modern slaughterhouse kills about 1000 animals an
hour, so in the time allotted could get to 3500 animals.

Nowhere in the Gemara (or in any of the Rishonim/Acharonim that I saw) is
there even a hint that these numbers are not real.

Some want to answer that you are right, it's impossible under normal conditions, and therefore, it must have been miraculous. However, this answer is very difficult for a number of reasons:

  1. The Gemara on the same Daf (Pesachim 64b) has a dispute between Abaye and Rava how the doors to the Azara were closed when they were makriv the korban pesach. Abaye says that they were closed by a miracle and Rava says that they were closed by the Kohanim and the dispute revolves around whether we can rely on a miracle to close the doors. However, if the entirety of the hakrava of the korban pesach was ma'aseh nissim from beginning to end, then Rava's position is completely untenable.  Nobody went into the Azarah for pesach without relying on countless miracles, so why is the closing of a door by a miracle a problem but all of the other miracles were not? Additionally, in a machlokes Abaye and Rava we always pasken like Rava (except for 6 cases, this not being one of them) so halacha l'ma'seh we should pasken that we can't rely on miracles.
  2. There is no source in Chazal for saying that bringing the Korban Pesach required multiple major miracles. For example, Chazal do state that there was a miracle on Yom Kippur that the people were standing packed together and yet had room to bow. The miracles required for bringing the Korban Pesach are much bigger and greater then this and yet there is no mention. 
  3. We have a general principle of אין סומכים על הנס, it would be a gross violation of this principle to have a very important mitzva (if you don't do it you are חייב כרת) that can only ever be done with miracles. 
All of the questions that we asked above about the Korban Pesach in the Beis Hamikdash are even more difficult regarding the Korban Pesach that was brought in the Midbar in the second year.  The Mishkan was much smaller then the Beis Hamikdash and there were only 3 Kohanim at that time in the Midbar, Aharon and his 2 sons. So in addition to the questions already asked above, we can ask another question. How could 3 Kohanim possible have done all of the Avoda for hundreds of thousands if not million of korbanos?

Based on all of the above we have the following choices to explain Korban Pesach:
  1. The masses of Jews never actually came to the Beis Hamikdash and brought the Korban Pesach
  2. Ignore all of the above and rely on miracles to believe that million of Korban Pesachs were brought in 3.5 hours.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Parshas Matos - Mass Murder

The Parsha describes how the Jews waged war against Midyan and won the war. They returned with booty and captives, all of the women and the young boys. Moshe Rabbenu then commands them to kill all the young boys as well as any woman/girl who can have sexual relations (anyone over the age of 3). There is no other way to describe this but mass murder of innocent woman and children. Yet, we read this parsha every year and don't blink an eye.

What is hypocritical is that whenever someone else does this to us we scream bloody murder. The Nazis did nothing worse then what the Bnei Yisrael did to the Midyanim (except maybe more efficiently). If we can wipe out Midyan, Amalek, the 7 nations, killing men, women and children, why can't the Nazis wipe us out? What is the difference? Of course the dfference is that we believe that we were commanded by God to do it and therefore it is by definition moral, well guess what, most mass murderers also believe that.

We all believe that certain things are wrong because we were brought up in the western world. Slavery, rape, mass murder, etc. are all unacceptable now, yet, are integral parts of Judaism.  The fact is there is a fundamental clash of culture between Western liberal democracy (and Orthodox (especially Charedi) Judaism.

Using the US as an example let us look at a number of the fundamental principles underlying the US:
1. All men are created equal
2. Freedom of religion
3. Freedom of speech
4. Democracy

All of these are denied by Orthodox Judaism.
1. All men are created equal - non-believers are not equal, women are not equal, etc. Judaism has a very clear hierarchy spelled out by the Mishna in Horayos and has many discriminatory halachos against non-Jews. R' Weinberg (the Seridei Eish) wrote the following in one of his letters:
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 forbiddent to save a gentile., it is forbiddent to offer him free medical treatment, it is forbidden to violate the Sabbath to save his life ... Can the nations resign themselves to the deprivation of rights?
2. Freedom of religion - Idolaters are put to death
3. Freedom of speech - various issurim of mekallel hashem, lashon hara, etc.
4. Democracy - Davidic monarchy, Daas Torah

There is a simple test. A Charedi Jew can live very well and prosper in the US without the government really bothering him. He/she can dress the way they want, educate their children for the most part the way they want, etc. The same could not be said for a halachic state. Put the average American in a halachic state and they would have to change their way of life. They couldn't dress the same way, worship, etc.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Hilchos Nidda vs reality

Hilchos Nidda is one of the most important set of laws in halacha as not only is the punishment כרת but it can severely impact the relationship between husband and wife. While many women have no problem with hilchos nidda, others have a very hard time with it, leading to halachic infertility or simply long stretches where she remains a nidda and cannot even pass an object to her husband.

To understand hilchos nidda you have to understand the female reproductive anatomy. Chazal in Maseches Nidda described the anatomy cryptically and as usual it is the source of a dispute in the rishonim how to understand the Gemara. What is very clear from the sources is that Chazal and the Rishonim, and in fact even contemporary poskim did not understand the female reproductive anatomy.

No less then the Chasm Sofer wrote the following in his chiddushim on Nidda (18a):

 מהו הפרוזדור וחדר וגג וקרקע ועליה. אחרי החקירה מפי ספרים וסופרים חכמי וספרי הניתוח א"א לנו להכחיש המציאות שאינו כפירוש רש"י ותוס' וציור מהר"ם לובלין ואין לנו אלא מה שכתב הרמב"ם

What is the corridor, the room, the roof, the ground and the attic [terms used by the Gemara to describe a womans reproductive anatomy]. After research from books, authors, doctors and medical books we cannot deny the fact that the reality [of a womens reproductive anatomy] is not like Rashi, Tosafos and the pictures that the Maharam Lublin provided, and all we have are the words of the Rambam.

This is quite an admission from one of the foremost poskim of the last 200 years, that Rashi and Tosafos simply didn't understand the female anatomy and therefore they didn't understand the Gemara in Nidda.

Of course the Rambams description is not completely accurate either as the Nishmas Avraham points out a number of places where the Rambam contradicts reality.

For example, the Rambam writes the following (Nidda 2:5)

To the concavity of the uterus, which is called the chamber, an artery is connected, through which the menstrual blood courses and flows through the uterus out to the cervix

We see clearly from the Rambam that he thought that there was a special artery that was the source of menstrual blood. Of course there is no such thing.

The Ramban in Chumash in Vayikra writes:

And how shall he make of it [menstrual blood] a fetus as it is a fatal drug, will kill all living creatures who drink or eat of it, etc. and it is of the wonders of the Innocent of Judgment in nature that menstruation starts as a venereal discharge. If she [the menstruating woman] looks at a light brass mirror and continues to look at it, you will see in the mirror red drops as though drops of blood, for the evil nature which harms will give birth to rebuke and the evil air will infect the mirror

You see from the Ramban that he believed that דם נדה was not regular blood and was in fact very harmful.

What we see clearly from Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim is that they believed that there was a separate source from which דם נדה came from, the מקור and in fact, the blood is different then what they called דם מכה.

R' Wosner, a very prominent Chassidish posek (described by some in the Charedi press as the פוסק הדור) who died only a year ago, writes in the sefer שיעורי שבט הלוי describing the the female reproductive anatomy as follows:

And inside of this, deep, on the side of the back, etc., and it is called the source for this is the source of the blood, and it is called the room or uterus; the blood gathers there during approximately a month and the opening is sealed. At the time of her menstruation the opening of the cervix opens and the blood exits. In the uterus the fetus is created and the source of blood is for the purpose of creating the fetus. Therefore, while creating the fetus the woman does not see menstrual blood, for then the blood serves the purpose of creating the foetus.

This is a a very incorrect description of both the anatomy and the menstruation process and again shows that he understood that there is a separate source of menstrual blood. Here are some of the problems with what R' Wosner said:

  1. the blood gathers there during approximately a month and the opening is sealed - This is simply not correct, blood doesn't gather anywhere in the uterus, rather what happens is that the uterine lining thickens and contains many blood vessels in anticipation of pregnancy. If the woman doesn't become pregnant the lining is shed which causes bleeding. 
  2. The cervix is never completely sealed, it is always open 3mm or more
  3. In the uterus the fetus is created and the source of blood is for the purpose of creating the foetus - This is completely and utterly wrong. The blood does nothing to create the foetus, the foetus is created by the sperm fertilising the egg. The fertilised egg is then implanted into the uterine wall where it is nourished by the blood vessels there.
  4. Therefore, while creating the fetus the woman does not see menstrual blood, for then the blood serves the purpose of creating the foetus - Again this is completely wrong. A woman doesn't menstruate while pregnant because she doesn't shed the uterine lining. Rather the blood vessels in the uterus are used to nourish the baby.
It is clear that R' Wosner is basing himself on the Gemara and is either ignorant of or ignoring the medical reality.

The Shulchan Aruch (Siman 187) paskens based on the Gemara that if a woman has מכה, a wound in the uterus then she doesn't become a nidda. In fact, the contemporary poskim discuss uterine fibroids which are are benign lumps that grow on the uterus and can cause bleeding and some are מיקל in this case. Yet, the fact is that the fibroids cause bleeding from the same uterine blood vessels that cause menstrual bleeding. In fact, any wound in the uterus is causing bleeding from the same uterine blood vessels that bleed during her period.

The bottom line is that there is nothing special about menstrual bleeding, neither the source of the blood or the blood itself. It is simply blood from the blood vessels in the uterine lining that are exposed when the lining is shed. It is no different in any way then any other blood that comes out of womens body. 

The apologetic answer to explain Nidda is that the a woman becomes טמאה from menstruation because it represents the fact that an opportunity to create a new life was lost. Therefore, it only applies to her period and not to other bleeding. This sounds very nice but is clearly not what Chazal, the Rishonim and even the Acharonim believed the Torah was saying. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Why don't I follow Modern Orthodoxy(MO)/Rationalism/Academics ...?

As they seem to have some answers to the questions that I am raising.

Before I answer I want to provide a minimalist definition of what I mean when I say MO/Rationalism/Academics
1. Engagement with the world and secular culture
2. Belief in the scientific/academic process, for example, they accept the fact that the world is billions of years old and strive to reinterpret the beginning of Breshis or allegorise it
3. Observe mitzvos

I have a number of issues with this approach the biggest being the following. I would ask the following question. Do you have any red lines that you will not cross? Is there something that you believe no matter what, namely, mass revelation at Har Sinai?

If the answer is yes, then in essence they are being hypocritical and inconsistent. The same scientific/academic process that says that the world is billions or years old and that a global flood didn't happen says that a mass revelation at Sinai didn't happen. All of the experts (historians, archeologists, etc.) say that the story of 600,000 men over the age of 20, 2-3 million people in total,  leaving Egypt going to Har Sinai and then wandering in the desert for 40 years simply could not have happened based on the archeological and historical evidence. Additionally, all of the experts say that the Torah was not written at the time of Har Sinai but that it was actually written much later by men. You can't believe in science sometimes and then not believe in it when it destroys your worldview. In essence they have no answer to the essential questions of Matan Torah, mass revelation, Torah from God.

If the answer on the other hand is no, you have no red lines, then what is left if you reject mass revelation at Sinai? If there was no mass revelation, the Torah was not given by God but instead was written by man, then everything is man made. This approach destroys Torah Shebaal Peh and specifically Gemara. The gemara on almost every page derives halachos from various derashos of extra words, extra letters, the same words (גזירה שוה), etc. If the torah was written by man then these are all worthless and have no meaning. How can you make a derasha by asking why is this ו extra when the whole Torah was cobbled together from different pieces by an editor. Of course there are extra words/letters but not because God put them there to learn something but rather because the editor didn't do a good job. This answers the questions by removing everything. Why keep arcane halachos like wearing boxes on your arm and head every day when it was made up by men? All that is left is a bunch of platitudes about tikkun olam.

Additionally, when I was learning in yeshiva and even after, the Brisker or conceptual approach to learning really talked to me. I got tremendous pleasure from hearing shiurim in this style.  R' A Lichtenstein said the following about the Brisker derech:

R' Chaim espoused conceptualism because he could not imagine the words of God as a pedestrian amalgam of incommensurate detail. There is a power, majesty, and grandeur in Torah conceptually formulated, that a patchwork of minutiae largely folded by ad hoc pragmatic considerations, simply cannot match

At the time I believed this wholeheartedly. Torah was brilliant and everything was so logical and fit in together. However, as I got older, I realised that as brilliant as the Brisker approach is, it is not historically true and is certainly not how the Tannaim and Amoraim, and even the Rishonim approached Torah. The שרידי אש in both a teshuva and a published letter says that R' Chaim's analyses of the Rambam are not historically true. It is clear that the Rambam's derech was not R' Chaim's. All you have to do is look at the Teshuvos Harambam where he deals with some of the issues/contradictions. The Rambam never gives any lomdus to explain his psak, rather he gives what we would call Baal Habatish answers. He had a different girsa in the Gemara, their copy of the Mishne Torah was wrong, he made a mistake, etc. Not once does he employ anything close to Brisker loads.

I recently read a fascinating essay about Brisk and 19th century legal philosophy, Legal Theology: The Turn to Conceptualism in Nineteenth-Century Jewish Law, where the author see parallels between the rise of the Brisker derech and similar trends in the field of law in Europe. From there you see clearly that the Brisker Derech arose n the 19th century at least in part because of what was going intellectually in the 19th century, and that the Brisker Derech was a new way of learning Torah.

The academic approach on the other hand, believes that the Talmud Bavli is a compilation of various שמועות of אמוראים cobbled together by many editors over many דורות; probably never “officially” completed (except in hindsight); not necessarily comprehensive or even self-consistent. There certainly is no overall logical system and many disputes are simply disputes about how things were done. For example, the Rishonim argue about how high someone must pick up an object to acquire it, one tefach or 3. The Brisker approach is to make this a dispute about the nature of a kinyan, does it actually transfer ownership or is it simple proof that you acquired the object. While this sounds great, the more probably explanation of this dispute is based on the prevailing customs in each locale or that there is no underlying principle, each side simply states what seems intuitively correct. To believe that the Tannaim/Amoraim or even the Rishonim thought in 19/20th century conceptual terms is simply not credible.  I am convinced that the academic approach is the historically correct one but it robs the Torah of it's majesty and makes it into a set of obsessive details that don't fit together.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The disorganisation and illogic of Torah Shebaal Peh

We are taught in yeshiva that learning Torah is the ultimate intellectual exercise. Yet, when you actually take a close look at Torah Shebaal Peh, you see that it is disorganised and illogical.


Mishnayos are the basis for Torah Sheball Peh and yet they are actually very disorganised and illogical. Comparison of the Mishna to the Rambam's Mishneh Torah presents a stark contrast between the Rambam's logical method of presenting a topic and the Mishna's lack of logical order and disorganisation. The first tractate of Mishna is Berachos which in and of itself is puzzling. You would think that the first tractate would provide some background/introduction like the first Mishna in Avos and as the Rambam does with Sefer Hamada. However, the first tractate Berachos starts off with the halachos of Krias Shema.   Lets contrast the Rambam to the Mishna. Rambam's Hilkhot Keriyat Shema opens by explaining the scriptural mitzva of a morning and evening recitation, continuing with the exact content of the three parshiyot and with the berakhot associated with keriyat shema, and then explaining what the exact times for the recitation are.  The Mishna opens with: "From when do we recite shema in the evenings?"  A seemingly random question when we haven't even established that there is a mitzva of Krias Shema in the evening. Only in mishna 3 do we encounter the scriptural basis for the mitzva and only in 2:2 are we told which parshiyot to recite.  The Gemara's question (2a) "Where was the Tanna located that he said: 'From when'" is merely the tip of the iceberg and doesn't address the fundamental question of logical ordering. The entire presentation of shema in chapters 1-2 seems to be arranged in haphazard fashion.

Lets take Maseches Shabbos as another example. You would think that it would start with a general introduction to the idea of Melacha and then proceed from there. Instead it starts with the laws governing hotza'a and hakhnasa (1:1), again without even establishing the prohibition. The Mishna then shifts to laws related to actions performed on 'erev shabbat which result in melakhot continuing into Shabbat (1:3-4:2), interrupting from time to time to bring tangentially related topics (1:2, end of 1;3, 1:4, part of 2:3, part of 3:6).  In chapters 5-11 the Mishna returns to the laws of hotza'a, interrupting them in 7:1-2 to finally explain the most fundamental principle of the laws of Shabbat, the 39 avos melakha, and in 9:1-4 to bring an associative sequence of assorted principles derived midrashically from scripture.  From chapter 12 the Mishna begins to discuss several of the 39 melakhot in no discernible order - and so forth till the end of the masekhet.

The Gemara continues with this approach, partly because it is based on the mishnayos, and amplifies it. One of my Rebbeim used to say you can't pasken a shaila in hilkchosf shabbos unless you know all of Shas because if you don't, there will be some obscure Gemara (in Zevachim, Erchin, etc.) which you don't know which changes the whole view of the sugya. He said this with pride, however, it really speaks to the complete disorganisation of Torah Sheball Peh.

Until now, we spoke about the halachic portion which is at least semi organised. Maseches Shabbos does contain most of hilchos Shabbos etc. When it comes to the hashkafic portion there is no order whatsoever. For example, if you want to understand the parameters of Hashgacha Pratis, where would you look in the Gemara? The answer is all over. There are statements relating to this scattered all over shas (Bava Basra 144b, Moed Katan 14b, Avoda Zara 54b, Shabbos 129a, etc.).

Explanations of Mishnayos

The Gemara more often then not, explains Mishnayes in a way that completely and utterly changes the meaning of the Mishna. The Gemara will say because of a question, הכא במאי עסקינן, the Mishna is talking about some strange corner case and not the straightforward case that we thought. Lately, every time I come across an explanation like this I groan to myself and think really??? Is this really what the Mishna meant? Another very prevalent explanation found in the Gemara is חיסורא מחסרא והכי קתני. The Mishna is missing words which the Gemara proceeds to add which completely change the meaning of etc Mishna. For more about this see this post

The שרידי אש in both a teshuva and a published letter says that R' Chaim's explanations of the Rambam are not historically correct. He writes that it is clear that the Rambam's derech was not R' Chaim's. All you have to do is look at the Teshuvos Harambam where he deals with some of the issues/contradictions. The Rambam never gives any lomdus to explain his psak, rather he gives what we would call Baal Habatish answers. He had a different girsa in the Gemara, their copy of the Mishne Torah was wrong, he made a mistake, etc. Not once does he employ anything close to Brisker lomdus. I get the same feeling when I learn Mishna and Gemara, the Gemara's explanations of the Mishnayos are not what the Tannaim really meant, and the Rishonim's understanding of the Gemara is not what the Amoraim meant, and last but not least, the Acharonim's understanding of all both above is certainly not what they meant. 


We find that Torah Shebaal Peh (Mishna and Gemara) is disorganised and not very logical. If this is all from heaven then woe is to us.

More to come on this topic ...

Rabbi Moshe Benovitz: Kiruv arguments can do more harm then good

R'  Moshe Benovitz was interviewed by the OUs Steve Savitsky a few years ago and they had the following back and forth:

R. Benovitz: ...In the kiruv community, for example, they are coming to grips with the fact that some of the arguments-- historical arguments, philosophical arguments-- that like I said a charismatic educator could tell a person off the street and who would know better, is checked instantly on a hand held device that’s pulled out of a pocket. If those arguments do not hold water, then we've done more damage than good. We need to adjust to that, and we should adjust to that.

Steve Savitsky: Do you have an example of that?

R. Benovitz: ...This is probably beyond the scope of this limited discussion because there are obviously complexities and layers here. But examples like mass revelation at Sinai being the only way possible, when you have challenges from other sources, the fact that Torah seems to have been forgotten in certain periods explicitly in the Navi and the like. The chain of the Mesorah-- there is certain reason to believe that were times where it was if not broken, but then it was down to a precious few; that’s a challenge, just to use one example, [to that] mass revelation argument of sorts. [Similarly there are challenges] in the scientific realm, and in the archaeological realm. 

We need to be able to know that there is information at the fingertips of our students that of course we have answers to, and of course we have ways of responding to, but to just throw arguments out there, they’re not going to, nor should they simply accept at face value. 

The interview is available here.

The most interesting part was the statement that there is information at the fingertips of our students of course we have answers to, and of course we have ways of responding to. I"m still waiting for those answers and responses. Everyone always says they have answers but in my experience these answers don't really exist and they trot out the same old tired answers that we have all heard many times. RYGB on Harry's blog is making similar claims that he has the answers, that he has a preponderance of evidence that Judaism is true, however, he refuses to  post them (see the comments here). The reason is very simple, he knows that as soon as he posts them they will be instantly refuted.