Sunday, March 26, 2017

Not eating Kitniyos nowadays - a fossilized Judaism

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

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

    Sunday, March 19, 2017

    Questions about the Parah Aduma

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

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

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

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

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

    II. Preparations for the Parah Aduma were child abuse?

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

    Friday, March 10, 2017

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

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

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

    Thursday, March 9, 2017

    Parshas Zachor - More Genocide

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

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

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

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

    This is very difficult for 2 reasons:

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

    Wednesday, March 8, 2017

    Does Judaism discriminate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Tuesday, March 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

    Monday, March 6, 2017

    Were the Amoraim/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 4

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

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

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

    Thursday, March 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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