Monday, May 29, 2017

The story of רות and conversion

The story of רות poses many problems for orthodox Judaism especially with regards to conversion.

When did רות and ערפה convert? There are 2 possibilities:
  1. They converted before they married Machlon and Kilyon
  2. רות only converted with Naomi much later
Both possibilities appear in Chazal and both are very difficult. The Medrash Raba states that they did not convert before marriage and this is the opinion that Rashi (on the Megilla) adopts. On the other hand the Zohar states explicitly that they converted before marriage and this is implied in the Gemara in Bava Basra as well which states that Machlon and Kilyon were punished for leaving Israel in a famine leaving out the much bigger sin of marrying non-Jewish women.

Issues with conversion before marriage 

1. The Gemara learns out many dinim of גירות from the conversation between Naomi and רות, yet if they converted before marraige why was an additional conversion needed?
2. If ערפה converted before marriage how could Naomi tell her to go home to her people and Gods, she was a Jew, a convert?
3. Naomi tells רות that she doesn't have another son implying that if she did רות could marry him, yet this situation is actually prohibited by halacha (see Rashi there)

Issues with a later conversion 

1. The Gemara calls Machlon and Kilyon Gedolei Hador, how could the Gedolei Hador marry non-Jewish women?
2. How exactly did Naomi convert רות, she is not a Beis Din and cannot convert anyone
3. It sounds like Boaz was מייבם her, yet if she was not Jewish when she married then there can be no Yibum as the marriage was no marriage and her subsequent conversion wipes out any family relationships that she had.


There is a clear contradiction in Chazal as to whether רות was מגייר before marriage or much later. Both options have very serious questions as listed above and would seem to indicate that conversion was a very different process then. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Until what age can a woman give birth?

Todays daf (Bava Basra 119) has a fascinating take on this. The Gemara states:
Rav Chisda taught that a woman that marries before age 20 will bear children until age 60. If she marries at 20, she will bear children until age 40. If she marries at 40, she will not bear children.
 There are a number of obvious problems with this:

  1. What is the connection between getting married and the ability to give birth at a later age? Getting married before 20 does not magically push off menopause until the age of 60.
  2. No woman can give birth through natural means until the age of 60
  3. There are plenty of women who get married at 40+ and have children naturally
This is another case where the Gemara contradicts reality as we know it today.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Chazal's simplistic notion of who is a Rasha

Todays Daf (Bava Basra 116) says that someone who has no sons to inherit him is a Rasha. The Gemara tries to figure out who said this, the Gemara suggests that it was R' Yochanan but rejects that possibility because R' Yochanan's ten sons all died in his lifetime and R' Yochanan would not have considered himself a Rasha. It is fasciniating to see how literally the Gemara takes this idea, it coul have said that R' Yochanan was an exception etc. but no the Gemara takes teh statement literally.

This is astounding. According to this opinion in Chazal, R' Yochanan was a Rasha, Rashi was a Rasha, the Chazon Ish was a Rasha, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was a Rasha, etc. because none of them had sons who inhereited them. How ca anyone make such a silly statement?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Are the middle perakim of Bava Basra relevent today?

IMHO, the answer is no. Perakim 4-7 of Bava Basra (which Daf Yomi has been learning) deal with the sale of various categories of things, describing what is included and what is not. The common denominator seems to be that these are solely based on the accepted business practice during the time of Chazal and what people expect to get when they consumate a deal. Even the various disputes between the tannaim and amoraim seem to revolve around what people expect to receive or what did they mean when they said they were buying x. There are few to no Torah based sources (e.g. pesukim) for any of these.

Here is a general outline of the perakim.

Perek 4 - Hamocher es habayis discusses what is sold when you sell real property (houses, bathhouses, courtyards, fields, etc.) and what is not, for example when you sell a house the Mishna states that you include teh door but not the key
Perek 5 - Hamocher es hasefina discusses the sale of movable objects, again detailing what is included in the sale and what is not (boats, wagons, animals, etc.)
Perek 6 - Hamocher peiros lachaveiro discusses the sale of agricultural products. It details how much spoilage/wastage there can be in grain and wine etc. It also discusses selling land to build things on it like a house, graves, how much land is given, what access etc.
Perek 7 - Deals with sales of real property how exact do the dimensions need to be.

Given the above, are these at all relevant today? A house buyer in 2017 clearly has very different expectations as to what he is buying in comparison to the times of Chazal as does someone buying wine, a field, a boat, etc. The same goes for every one of these categories.  This seems to be a case of the Talmud simply codifying the accepted business practices at that time which would make it completely irrelevant nowadays.

If I am correct, then we can go one step further. Why bother learning it? Why should I care in 2017 that someone who sold a house in the year 180 sold the door but not the key? What can I learn from this that relates to life today? Of course, you can ask this about a lot of Gemara's, but the difference seems to be that those are at least based on pesukim in Chumash. For example, the distinctions in damages between Keren and Shen Varegel is based on pesukim and therefore never changes. However, these dinim in Bava Basra seem to be solely based on the business practices of the time and are therefore irrelevant today.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Why do we celebrate on Lag Baomer and what is the connection to Rashbi?

Nowadays Lag Baomer has become this great day of celebration and hundreds of thousands of people go to Meron to the grave of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi) in Meron. However, the fact is that there are no early sources for these minhagim before the 1700s.

Traditionally, the sefirah period has been considered a time of mourning. The most well-known reason given by the rishonim is the mourning is due to the death of the 24,000 students of R. Akiva who died during this time of the year. Interesting enough,  for some reason all of these mourning prohibitions are lifted on Lag Ba-Omer. If we look in the Tur, the Shulhan Arukh as well as the various early commentaries on them, the only reason we find is that the students of R. Akiva stopped dying on Lag Ba-Omer. There is nothing mentioned about Rashbi or Meron in any early sources.

The most well known explanation to the connection between Rashbi and Lag Ba-Omer is the claim that Rashbi died on that day, and he was one of the students of R. Akiva. However, this is quite strange that we would celebrate Rashbi’s death. We don’t celebrate the yarzheit of Avraham Avinu, Moshe Rabbeinu, David HaMelech, or any other great people with bonfires. Rather, halakha states the opposite, to fast on a yahrzeit, especially on those days that great people died.

More problematic is that neither Chazal nor any of the Rishonim mention Rashbi dying on Lag Ba-Omer. This was pointed out by the Chatam Sofer in his teshuvot (Y.D. 233) and because of this, he was very skeptical of the way Lag Ba-Omer is celebrated. In fact, the main source for Rashbi dying is R' Chaim Vital in the Pri Eitz Chaim, however, this is actually a printing mistake. The Pri Eitz Chaim actually wrote the Rashbi was שמח on Lag Baomer and the printers mistakenly turned the ח into a ת and wrote שמת., that he died on Lag Baomer.

Another "new" minhag is that of the upsherin which has also become connected to Lag Baomer and Rashbi. This is another minhag that has no basis in earlier sources. This idea is mentioned nowhere in the Rishonim or any early sources. Professor Sperber [Minhagei Yisrael 8: 13-30] documents how this actually comes from many completely outside ancient sources (e.g. non-Jewish sources).

It is amazing to me how the Charedim truly believe that they are traditionalists and are doing exactly what the Rishonim, Amoraim, Tannaim, etc. did when in fact many of the popular Charedi minhagim like Lag Baomer bonfires and Meron, upsherin, etc. are new inventions and have no basis in earlier sources.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The hypocrisy of the Charedim about Shabbos is unbelievable

The Charedim claim to care about chillul shabbos and at various times even protest about chillul shabbos. However,, when it comes to them causing chillul shabbos for a silly minhag suddenly shabbos isn't important.

What am I talking about? This year Lag Baomer falls out on Saturday night and hundreds of thousands of people many of them Charedim are planning to go to Meron to celebrate Lag Baomer. The problem is that this causes massive chillul shabbos because to protect and organize an undertaking where hundreds of thousands of people descend on a very small area with poor roads requires a massive amount of people and organisation that needs to start working much before the event. Therefore, if the Charedim do their bonfires in Meron at 1AM when Shabbos ends at the earliest around 8PM, there will be massive chillul shabbos. The alternative is very simple, light the bonfires later, and have people come later, instead of 1AM make it at 4AM or later, this will prevent chillul shabbos. Are the Charedim listening? Up until now the answer is no. They don't care. In fact, they are making all kinds of excuses like, the police are mechallel shabbos anyway.

The fact is that the "minhag" of lighting fires on Lag Baomer and going to Meron is a relatively new minhag and in fact the whole Lag Baomer celebration is suspicious.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Worried about the future

I am very worried about the future for my kids. Judaism is an inherently optimistic religion in that there is a fundamental belief in Moshiach in this world and of course עולם הבא. Moshiach is supposed to solve all our problems and create a utopian world where there is no war etc. If for someone reason moshiach doesn't come before we die, we go to עולם הבא and then at some point תחיית המתים. Therefore, real believing Jews don't care much about things like global warming, political and financial instability, etc. because they have full faith that Moshiach is coming and will fix everything. In fact, just about everyone (Charedim, MO, etc.) believes that we are in עקבתא דמשיחא and that moshiach is right around the corner to solve our problems.

However, if we don't believe in Moshiach then the problems are very real and very worrisome. As I  wrote yesterday, I am a big science fiction fan and much of the science fiction produced today is dystopian. The futures depicted in The Expanse, The Colony, Travelers, Killjoys, Continuum, etc. are not ones I would want to live in and yet are what is envisioned today.  Given what is going on now in the world today, those futures don't seem that far out. The problems today are real and I don't see any solutions. The gap between the haves and the have nots is growing and will only get worse as robots/AI take more and more jobs. How will people have the money to survive?

In many ways I wish I believed because it makes life so much easier.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Most science fiction is anti-religious

I have always been a big fan of science fiction starting from a young age. When I was growing up there was very little "Frum" reading material. Therefore many charedi kids read science fiction which was considered "clean", little to no romance, no sex etc. I read Asimov, Heinlein, Star Trek books, etc. and no one had a big problem with it. While theoretically it was considered bitul torah it was understood that even masmids need some downtime and relaxation. My love for science fiction continues to this day and now I not only read science fiction but I watch every science fiction show that I can get my hands on (The Expanse, The Colony, Travelers, Battlestar Galactica, Stargate Series, etc.) surreptitiously on my phone. 

Now that I have matured I realize that almost all of it is quite anti-religious, some more open then others. The Stargate series is quite blatant, the series revolves around a battle against false gods (the Gould and then the Original) and the message is that there is no God just more advanced beings. Star Trek projects the same message in all it's series, for example, the Q are omnipotent beings with Godlike powers but are just considered a more advanced species. The Bajoran prophets/Gods (DS9) turn out to be aliens who experience non-linear time. Other series are not as blatant but the message is still there. 

It is fascinating to me that this genre was considered "clean" and "safe" when I was growing up when it is really quite anti-religious when you think about it.