Wednesday, June 28, 2017

In the wake of Lakewood arrests, Lakewood honcho: "People are forced to find ways to bend the system."

Here is the full quote:
Duvi Honig, the CEO of the Lakewood-based Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce, said that thousands of Jewish families in the town need the public assistance to get by and that some people are tempted to take more than they need.
"The pressure of the community overhead – especially the (cost of) private schooling – is unsustainable," he said about the Jewish community. "People are forced to find ways to bend the system."
I can't believe a religious person/leader can make a statement like this. No one is FORCED to steal from the government. Instead take a little responsibility, get a job, have fewer kids, live a simpler lifestyle. Sorry, just because you want to have 8 kids and send them to private school doesn't give you a license to steal.

This is not one or 2 people, this is hundreds of people (from the same article):
In the last two days, hundreds of residents called township leaders asking how they can avoid arrest or get amnesty related to an alleged public-assistance fraud scheme that could stretch into the millions of dollars, according to one law enforcement with knowledge of the ongoing probes.

That source, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said that dozens have also called Ocean County Social Services in Toms River to cancel their public assistance or update their income information.
I really hope that they arrest these hundreds of people and don't offer any amnesty.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The number of letters and Pesukim in the Torah

The Gemara in Kiddushin (30) gives the following numbers/count:

The early Chachamim were called Sofrim (counters), for they would count all letters of the Torah:

1.The Vav of "Gachon" is the middle letter of the Torah;
2."Darash Darash" are the middle words;
3."V'Hisgalach" is the middle verse;
4.The Ayin of "mi'Ya'ar" is the middle letter of Tehilim.
5."V'Hu Rachum" is the middle verse of Tehilim.
6. There are 5,888 verses in the Torah.
7. Tehilim has eight additional verses [more then the Torah]
8. Divrei ha'Yamim lacks eight verses [less then the Torah].

Unfortunately, every single one of these is incorrect.

1. There are 304,805 letters in the Torah. The Vav of "Gachon" is not the midpoint letter (letter number 152,403). Rather, it appears nearly 5,000 letters later (letter number 157,336)!
2. The number of words in the Torah is 79890, and therefore the middle words would be 39990, 39991, however, Darash Darash areactually words 40921 and 40921
3. The middle verse is actually 160 pesukim before this (ויקרא ח,ח)
4. This is incorrect as well
5. The accepted number of pesukim in Tehllim is 2,527, the middle pasuk would be 1264, which is pasuk
 ויפתוהו בפיהם ובלשונם יכזבו לו
6. There are only 5845 pesukim in the Torah
7. As mentioned in 5 there are only 2527 pesukim in Tehillim less then half the number of pesukim in 
the Torah, even Tosfos cannot fathom how there can be so many verses in Tehilim. 
8. Divrei ha'Yamim has only about a third as many pesukim as the Torah

There are various answers to these problems (some more clever then others) none of them very satisfying. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Were the Amoraim/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 6

Todays daf (Bava Basra 151) discusses a custom where a woman would 'hide' her assets before getting married so that the husband would not get the profits from the assets and would not inherit them.  The clear intention was not to give the assets to the other person as an irrevocable gift but rather to give it as a revocable gift in case the marriage fell through or she got divorced. The Gemara relates the following story:
Rav Zutra bar Tuvya's mother wrote her property to her son before marrying Rav Zevid (to hide her assets). He divorced her. Rav Zutra bar Tuvya did not want to return the assets to his mother, he claimed that since the wedding went through the assets became his. 
What kind of son doesn't give his mother her money back no matter what the legal technicality is?

The Gemara relates another similar story:
Rav Dimi bar Yosef's sister had a small orchard. Whenever she got sick, she would give it to him. When she recovered, she would retract.
Once, she got sick and called him to come to acquire it. He sent a message 'I am not interested.' She sent to him 'come and acquire it however you want (i.e. in a way that will not allow me to retract).'
He left part for her, and made a Kinyan on the rest. She recovered and retracted, and came in front of Rav Nachman. He called Rav Dimi to come.
Rav Dimi saw no need to come. Since she kept part, it was like a healthy person's gift, and he acquired!
Again, what kind of brother doesn't return the money to his sister when she makes it clear that her original gift was only because she thought she was dying and now she wants the money back? Even if technically he is entitled to the money it is certainly not the moral thing to do.

Here are links to the previous posts in the series
Were the Amoraim really paragons of virtue?
Were the Amoraim/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 3
Were the Amoriam/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 4
Were the Amoriam/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 5

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The fatal flaw in the argument from design

Yonasan Roseblum in his weekly Mishpacha column reviewed a book whose thesis is to establish the case for God. The sole purpose of the book is to establish the case for the Creator of the Universe – and to do so based largely on the words of the world's leading scientists themselves, even when they deny the evidence before them.

One quote from Rosenblum in particular struck me and in IMHO actually undermines his whole thesis.
Sir Francis Crick published articles speculating that the first living matter was sent to earth by a highly advanced extra-terrestrial civilization. Could a scientific genius on Crick's level have failed to notice that he had not solved the problem, but only removed it one level: From where did that extra-terrestrial civilization emerge according to the laws of physics and chemistry?
I would ask the same question of Rosenblum about God. Religious people have also not solved the problem but only removed it one level. If something as complex as man could not have arisen spontaneously without a creator, then how did a much more complex God (after all God created everything)  arise without a creator? In short, who created God, or how did God come into existence? Of course, the answer is God is the exception, he is God, but once you say that you can just as easily answer that life is the exception.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Were the Amoraim/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 5

Todays Daf (Bava Basra 149) relates the following story:
Isar (a convert) had deposited 12,000 Zuz with Rava. Isar was about to die, and he wanted to give to the money to his son Rav Mari. Isar had converted between the conception and birth of Mari. (According to Halachah, Mari was not Issar's son andtherefore would not inherit him.) Mari was away learning. Rava insisted that there was no way to transfer the money to Rav Mari in a halachic fashion and therefore Rava would be able to keep the money for himself. Rav Ika brei d'Rav Ami pointed out that there is a halachic way to transfer the money.  He (Issar) can admit that the money belongs to Rav Mari. Rav Mari will acquire through Odisa (Kinyan through (even a false) admission)! Word spread that Isar admitted that the money belongs to Rav Mari; Rava was upset that someone told him, causing a loss to Rava! (If not for the Odisa, the money would have become Hefker when Isar died, and Rava could have kept it.)
Let's think about this for a second. Rava knew that the money belonged to Issar and that he wanted to give the money to his (non-halachic) son. However, instead of trying to help and just give the money to Rav Mari, Rava instead tried to find a legal loophole to keep the money and was upset when Issar was told a halachic way of transferring the money.  Is this justice? Is this moral?

We can actually ask an additional question on Rava. Why did Rava become upset over such a thing? Rava certainly knew the dictum of the Gemara earlier (10a) which states that a person's income, including all profits and losses, is fixed for the entire year on Rosh Hashanah. Why did he become upset over this loss of money, if he knew that it was decreed on Rosh Hashanah?

Here are links to the previous posts in the series
Were the Amoraim really paragons of virtue?
Were the Amoraim/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 3
Were the Amoriam/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 4

Monday, June 19, 2017

Questions on Parshas Shelach

The beginning of Parshas Shelach has an interesting statement by Moshe where he changes Yehoshuas name from הושע to יהושע. Rashi comments that Moshe added a י as a prayer that Hashem should save Yehoshua from the sin of teh Meraglim. Rashi comments that Moshe changed his name and davened that Hashem should save Yehoshua from the עצת המרגלים.

This is very difficult for a number of reasons:
1. We see clearly from Rashi that Moshe knew that the Meraglim would sin, that is why he davened that Yehoshua would not be caught up in it. If so, why did he send them at all? After all Rashi comments שלח לך that Hashem gave Moshe the choice as to whether to send meraglim or not. If he knew they would sin why didn't he just cancel the mission?
2. Why daven only for Yehoshua? Yehoshua was probably the greatest of the meraglim, why would Moshe worry that he would sin? At the time that they were picked all of the Meraglim were tzadikim, why didn't Moshe daven for all of them?
3. How can Moshe daven that Yehoshua should not sin? Even if you come up with a theory of how prayer works for someone else, it still doesn't explain how Moshe can pray for Yehoshua not to sin, after all הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים, so whether a person sins or not should be solely in his hands and not be able to be affected by anyone else.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Charedim live off government handouts ...

in the US. We are used to hearing about how the Charedim in Israel don't work and live off government handouts. However, we don't hear that much about the situation in the US. I was recently in the US and spent some time with my Charedi nieces and nephews and I was surprised to hear that they are all living off government handouts. They were talking about food stamps, welfare payments, medicaid, section 8 housing, they are living off of all of these and are not at all embarrassed about it. I think if you actually add it up the US government is providing more money then teh Israeli government per family.

When I was growing up welfare, food stamps, etc. was something that other ethnic groups received but not religious Jews and anyone who did receive it was too embarrassed to talk about it. My mother was dumbfounded to her that her grandchildren are welfare queens.

You might ask what is wrong with taking government money if you are eligible? The answer is that these programs are supposed to be a safety net for poor people not a lifestyle choice. It is not meant for people who decide that they want to sit in kollel and not work. This is creating a culture of dependency on the government which is a bad thing long term.