Monday, August 20, 2018

Fooling the health insurance company to get back money

The following question came up in a Charedi forum that I read ( In Israel the Kupot Cholim (health insurance) will reimburse new mothers when buying breast pumps (2). Can you do the following, buy 2 breast pumps, then return them and get the money back, and then send the receipts to the insurance company and get reimbursed for the pumps and buy a baby carriage? There was a heated discussion, with many saying it is simply stealing and others coming up with various heterim as to why it is permitted.

One fascinating heter is that non-profit corporations (which is what the kupot cholim in Israel are) are simply not recognized by the Torah and any money the company has is considered ownerless and therefore there can be no issur to steal from them.

One person wrote back in the name of some dayanim, that saying that is an embarrassment to the Torah. It is basically saying that the Torah cannot deal with modern corporate concepts and of course the Torah system deals with corporations.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Another Beis Hamikdash conundrum

Yetserday's daf (Zevachim 88) states that you are not allowed to launder the bigdei kehuna. The kohanim were also not allowed to wear dirty bigdei kehuna. There is no way that a kohen can do avoda, slaughtering the animal, being mekabel the dam, carrying the parts to the mizbeiach etc. without getting dirty. This leads to the conclusion that the bigdei kehuna could only be worn once. However, the implications of this are quite difficult. They would have had to be constantly making new bigdei kehuna. We don't find any source saying that the bigdei kehuna were only worn once adn we don;t find any sources that they were constantly makiing bigdei kehuna.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Performing מליקה in the Beis Hamikdash

When bringing a bird as a Korban, the bird is not schechted, rather מליקה is performed. The Gemara in Zevachim (64b) describes how מליקה was done.
In Melikah of Chatas ha'Of, the Kohen holds the wings in two fingers, and the legs in two fingers, and stretches the neck over the width of his thumb, and cuts it with his thumbnail.
(Beraisa): The bird faces outside. He holds the wings in two fingers, and the legs in two fingers, and stretches the neck over the width of two fingers, and cuts it with his thumbnail;
This is the difficult Avodah in the Mikdash.
Can you imagine a Kohen nowadays doing this? Killing a bird with your bare hands, actually with the fingernail of your thumb. As opposed to shechita I don't think this is a painless  or quick death. I wonder how the apologists will explain מליקה?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Was all the עבודת הקרבנות done in the first Beis Hamikdash invalid?

Yesterdays daf (זבחים ס"א) seems to imply that was the case. The Gemara says that the mizbeach in the first beis hamikdash was 28x28 amos and in the second bees hamikdash was 32x32 amos. Rabin explains the difference as follows:
In the first Mikdash, Nesachim would flow into Shisim (a pit south-west of the Mizbe'ach) down the wall of the mizbeach. They enlarged the Mizbe'ach in order that the Shisim would be within (under) the Mizbe'ach and they made the corners of the mizbeach hollow so that they could pour nesachim in them. At first (during the first Beis Hmikdash), they learned from the words "Mizbe'ach Adamah" that the mizbeach has to be completely solid. In the second beis Hamikdash they thought that drinking ('consumption' of libations) should be like eating (Korbanos that are burned, i.e. within the boundaries of the Mizbe'ach) and therefore made the holes to pour the Nesachim as part of the mizbeach. Therefore, they understood that Mizbe'ach Adamah" teaches that the Mizbe'ach cannot be built over domes or tunnels (that are not needed for the Mizbe'ach).
What comes out is that according to the way they understood pesukim and halacha, the way they did Nesachim in the first beis hamikdash was pasul.

 This ties in to the general dispute about what was received at Sinai and if there is one halachic truth. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Disputes about the Beis Hamikdash

Daf Yomi is now learning Zevachim and the Gemara there is starting to get into disputes about the Beis Hamikdash. So far we have a few (Zevachim 53-59):

  1. Was there a base around the whole Mizbeach or only on 2 sides? 
  2. Was the whole Mizbeach fully in the north or half in the North or fully in the South?
  3. Where was the כיור?
  4. What was the size of the מזבח הנחשת?
Here are some diagrams with the various opinions about the location of the mizbeach and kiyor.

Here is a diagram showing the dispute about the size of the מזבח הנחשת.

We see clearly that the Tannaim who lived not long after the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed were missing important information about the Beis Hamikdash and simply did not the details of how the Beis Hamikdash was laid out. If they didn't know this basic information what else didn't they know? 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The 13 Middos used to expound the Torah Part 2

The Gemara in Zevachim (50-51) has a long discussion about whether something learned out with one of the 13 middos can be used again with the 13 middos to learn something else out. For example can a halacha learned out from a gezera shava be used to learn a gezera shava to another halacha to learn a second halacha. For some middos the Gemara has a dispute for others the Gemara leaves it as a תיקו. Here is a nice chart from the Artscroll Gemara summarizing things:

The obvious question is how can this be? The 13 Middos were given to Moshe to use to expound the written torah. How can there be a fundamental dispute about how they are used? You can't answer אלו ואלו דברי אלוקים חיים because they are mutually exclusive. What happened to the mesora? How can there be a dispute about such a fundamental issue?

Here is a link to Part 1

Monday, May 14, 2018

Don't learn first aid so that disasters won't happen?

This was a question raised in the same Otzar Hachochma forums. Sounds very strange but this is a point of view expressed by many Charedi leaders.

They claim the following. If someone learns first aid then Hashem is free to punish someone because the person who learned first aid is there to mitigate the damage.

R' Shteinman made a similar point regarding life insurance. He is reported to have said, life insurance is not worth it, as the merit of giving tzedaka to the widows and orphans is what is saving this generation from destruction. Others have claimed the following. What happens if a husband does not have the personal merit to guarantee longevity, while his wife and children do have the merit or the mazel (fortune) to live financially secure lives? In a case like this, the husband would live a long productive life as their provider. By purchasing life insurance, which guarantees their sustenance even without his presence, he jeopardizes his life, since his dependents are now provided for should something bad happen to him.

R' Dessler made a similar claim about medical research. Man cannot do anything in this world, what looks like cause and effect is actually a test for man. Man is supposed to see through cause and effect and recognise that Hashem is actually the only cause and effect. Hishtadlus/man's effort, is only a tax. It has no effect, it is simply there so that the charade is kept up. According to R' Dessler, a person should do the minimum hishtadlus that is required because it doesn't help anyway. Anything more then the minimum is simply a waste of time and effort and if the person thinks that it helps is actually kefira. Therefore, medical research not only doesn't help, no one is cured by medicine, they are cured by Hashem, but it makes things worse. Medicine is just another test from Hashem and since medicine makes it look like there is cause and effect, it takes away from peoples emuna and causes more kefira in the world. Additionally, now that medicine has become common and accepted, everyone must do it to fulfill their minimum hishtadlus. In other words, nowadays, we have to waste time and money on medicine that doesn't work anyway because it has become accepted and therefore falls under hishtadlus. In other words, every time we come up with a new medical procedure, we are in essence increasing our hishtadlus tax.

If we think hard about the above opinions it is clear that they are simply taking the Charedi hashkafa to it's logical conclusion. It is also clear that these opinions are ridiculous and make life into a joke. All you have to do is look at life expectency to see how ridiculous this idea is. Life expectancy until about 1850 was between 35-40 in Europe. Since 1850, life expectancy has gone up to about 80 (see The explanation would seem to be quite simple. Modernization and industrialisation (especially the advances in medicine) improved the health of the population dramatically and caused the dramatic rise in life expectancy.

However, according to R' Dessler how can we explain this dramatic increase in life expectancy? If modern medicine has no effect and it's just a charade/tax and everything is only from Hashem why the change? When you couple this with the idea of yeridos hadoros, that every generation declines spiritually and is on a lower level then the previous generation, the question gets even stronger. Why should our generation which is on a lower spiritual level then the generations a few hundred years ago, live so much longer?

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Charedi forum participant asks tough questions in Emuna and gets no good answers

I read the Otzar Hachochma forums every so often, they are a fascinating insight into what is going in Charedi world and many of the participants are very learned. The forum is also run along Charedi lines so certain questions can't be asked and non-Charedi opinions are basically censored. I was very surprised to see someone ask basic questions in emuna and get no good answers (click here to read the whole discussion). He asked the following 3 questions:

  1. On one hand the gemara in Sota 2a states that ארבעים יום קודם יצירת הולד בת קול יוצאת ואומרת בת פלוני לפלוני on the other hand the Gemara in other places states that a person can even get engaged on Tisha B'Av because we are worried that maybe someone will swoop in before him. How do these 2 go together?
  2. The Gemara in Rosh Hashana says that a persons income is fixed on Rosh Hashana. On the other hand there are halachos of hasagos g'vul etc. which allow you to take someone to Beis Din for taking away your income. If your income is fixed on Rosh hashana then his hasagas g'vul should not affect you and therefore why can you take him to Beis Din and collect?
  3. When a person dies his relatives are sad and are chayav to be noheg various dinim of availus. However, the fact is that the person who died finished his task on Earth and went to a better place. Why should we be sad? Why are there dinim of aveilus?
The truth is that these are not new questions and really boil down to one point. If Hashem runs the world and everything that happens is b'hashgacha pratis then why try, why take someone to court, run around for a shidduch, etc.? It's all useless. The answers are shockingly poor and/or non-existent. I posted about this in the past Hashgocha Pratis, what does it really mean? and this is one of the biggest reasons I have for losing faith. I can not accept that the whole world is one big fake and nothing that human beings do has any purpose or meaning.

What amazes me is that the Charedi answers are so poor. As people pointed out to the questioner tehse are very obvious questions, and yet most Charedim don't think about them and the answers given are simply not credible. To say that it's all a bluff, a fraud, that hishtadlus is a tax and it just looks like it works is simply not believable. And the truth is, the Charedi world doesn't believe it either. When R' Elyashiv needed to have heart surgery anumber of years ago, they flew in the top cardiac/blood vessel surgeon from Cleveland (a religious Catholic) to do the surgery. This completely contradicts the Charedi view. After all, Hashem is doing the healing not the surgeon and once we have done our השתדלות, going to the doctor and having the surgery, why should it matter whether the surgeon is the best in the world or simply Joe surgeon who is competent? As long as we do our השתדלות to avoid requiring a נס, the rest is a גזירה מן השמים. If the גזירה is that the surgery will be successful, then it will be successful even if done by the average surgeon, and if the גזירה is that it won't be successful then it won't help that you have the best surgeon. The same goes for politics and government money. The Charedi press and people got apoplectic when Lapid cut the budget for the Yeshivas. They blamed him personally, Yet, according to their hashkafa, it's not him, it's hashem. He has no power to do anything. The money doesn't come from him it comes from hashem, on Rosh Hashana HAshem decided how much money each Charedi family would receive so why get upset?

In fact, what does it actually mean that someone is considered the best surgeon? After all, הכל בידי שמים, our success is actually an illusion to make it look like it is our skill. In fact, our success in worldly matters is simply a גזירה מן השמים so the fact that he successfully operated is not due to his skill but due to the גזירה מן השמים. So when you really think about it, there are no experts, it is all an illusion, no doctor is better then any other doctor, Lionel Messi is not better then Joe soccer player, it's all an illusion and it's only because Hashem wills it that Messi scores a goal.

When you put it that way, it sounds absolutely ridiculous. but that really is the logical conclusion of this hashkafa. 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Why does the Gemara give outlandish explanations for Mishnayos? Part 4

Yesterday's daf (Zevachim 22) has another doozy.

R. Yosi b'Rebbi Chanina states if the Kiyor does not contain enough water to be Mekadesh four Kohanim, it is invalid - "v'Rachatzu Mimenu Moshe v'Aharon u'Vanav."

The Gemara asks a question from the following Baraisa: One may be Mekadesh from any Keli Shares, whether or not it contains a Revi'is of water! (a Reviis is much less then the water needed for 4 people)

Rav Ada bar Acha answers: The case is, the Keli Shares was carved into the Kiyor (so the water comes from the Kiyor, which contains enough water to be Mekadesh four Kohanim).

Really??? The Bariasa is talking about a Kli Shares that was carved into the Kiyor? This is a crazy ukimta which does not provide any novel explanation. What principle is the Baraisa with this ukimta teaching us?

Previous posts:
Why does the Gemara give outlandish explanations for Mishnayos?
Why does the Gemara give outlandish explanations for Mishnayos? A possible explanation
Why does the Gemara give outlandish explanations for Mishnayos? Part 2
Why does the Gemara give outlandish explanations for Mishnayos? Part 3

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Kohanim had to go "commando" when they worked in the Beis Hamikdash

No underwear allowed. The Gemar in Zevachim 17-18 makes it very clear that any piece of clothing over and above the 4 bigdei kehuna is absolutely not allowed when doing avoda in the Beis Hamikdash. This would certainly include underwear, undershirts, socks, etc. In the time of the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash this was not a big deal, no one wore underwear, but today this would be quite a burden for the kohanim.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Lag Baomer a new holiday

Tonight is Lag Baomer and in Israel it is a huge event with more then half a million people making a pilgrimage to Meron and thousands of bonfires being lit.

However, this is all a new invention. No less of an authority then the Chasam Sofer wrote we do not go along with the making of a new Yom tov not mentioned in Shas and poskim. We don’t go along with making a holiday of the day a tzaddik passed away (aka hillulah) , when the gemara mentions such a day as a day of fasting. In the mesorah of Ashkenaz that is called a yohrzeit, and is a day of fasting and introspection. We don’t make a small village in northern Eretz Yisroel the focus of a giant pilgrimage, more than ירושלים עיה”ק.

The claim is that the celebrations on Lag Baomer are in honor of Rav' Shimon Bar Yochai. 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.

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, etc. are new inventions and have no basis in earlier sources.

See my post Why do we celebrate on Lag Baomer and what is the connection to Rashbi? for more information.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Why does the Gemara give outlandish explanations for Mishnayos? Part 3

The gemara in Zevachim 15 makes a very startling statement about outlandish explanations for Mishnayos. The Gemara has a question about whether Holachah without walking is Pasul or not. The Gemara brought a proof from a Mishna, if blood fell from the Keli on the floor and it was gathered, it is Kosher (even though when it spills, some if it spreads out towards the Mizbeach, i.e. Holachah without walking). The Gemara answered that none of the blood spread towards the Mizbeach.The Gemara then asked, surely, it spreads in all directions! The Gemara gave 3 answers:

  1. It fell on an incline.
  2. It fell in a crevice.
  3. The blood was very thick, and almost congealed. It did not spread at all.
Then the Gemara makes the following startling statement to reject these answers. The Gemara says, it is UNREASONABLE to say that the Tana taught about such unusual cases.

A while ago I mentioned the following explanation as to why the Gemara gives outlandish explanations for Mishnayos. 
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. 
This Gemara would seem to contradict this answer. The Gemara rejects an אוקימתא because it is an unusual case. According to the above, that should make no difference, the point of the אוקימתא is simply to create the right conditions. Whether they are unusual or not should be completely irrelevant. We see from this Gemara that the assumption was that the אוקימתא is an attempt to actually explain the Mishna not just create laboratory conditions.

We see again that Daf Yomi is bad for your spiritual health. Most people who don't learn Daf Yomi will never learn Zevachim and never see this startling statement.

Here are the previous posts on this topic:

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

Thursday, April 26, 2018

How many students of R' Akiva died during sefira?

We are all familiar with the number 24,000 (12,000 pairs). In truth, this number seems very high, he had 24,000 students in his youth and only 5 when he was older? I just saw that there are actually multiple opinions as to how many students died.

  1. 300
  2. 12,000
  3. 24,000
  4. 48,000
  5. 80,000
2-4 are clearly variations on the 24,000 as the 24,000 was expressed as 12,000 pairs. 

It's fascinating how the number that makes sense, 300, is not the number that we know but rather we know the exaggerated number. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The kollel system in Israel is collapsing?

Mishpacha magazine in Hebrew published an interesting article a few weeks ago. The accepted practice in the Litvish Charedi community in Israel is that the girls parents buy the couple an apartment. The parents generally have to take out a mortgage to do this and it is very difficult financially for them. The article wrote about a trend where teh couple agrees to take on paying the mortgage. This week there was an valanche of letters in response. I would like to quote some of them with my comments [in brackets].
Letter 1:
I'll begin with introductions, out of courtesy.
I am married, BH, to a talented and learned husband. We are both in our 50s. We have married off 5 children and have 2 more still at home.
When we married, there was money. It is not pleasant to say, but we had money from the German reparations. That money helped our parents get us on our feet. We got an apartment near my parents, I found a job as a teacher and my husband learned for some years in kollel and then became a "Ram" (ie a rebbi/teacher) in a known yeshiva.
For 20 years we lived in a cloud. In a dream. We earned some nice money. It was enough to save a little bit. [Of course they did. They had no housing costs, paid for by her parents and received all kinds of government benefits see It's all about money]. We thought we were smart and successful. [they did no real financial planning and had no understanding of how the world works so they were ignorant in bliss]
Then we married off one daughter. Then the second. Then the third child, a son. Then the fourth, another daughter. They were all loved, successful and smart. Each one came with a mountain of debt and obligations. The money we had saved was barely enough for the down payment of our eldest daughter. For the second daughter we had to borrow money, a horrible thing and something not recommended to do. [but they did it anyway because they believed they had no choice] This concluded with us selling our beautiful apartment. We have moved between small rental apartments since then. The third child was a son, but he had some health problems so we had to take on ourselves more obligations than normally done. Today, with the fourth, there is no more money. It is all gone. There are no more sources of funding for us. That's it. We are paying 4 mortgages, plus rent. We start each month about 20,000nis in overdraft [that is pretty good considering that they are paying 4 mortgages and rent]. I work at 3 jobs. If the students I teach in the morning would know that in the evening I am working a shift at a far away nursing home, they would faint. My husband is broken. He learns privately with students from morning to night. He has no satisfaction. He is embittered and grumpy. He feels no self-worth  and also feels that he cannot support his children as others supported him. Our marriage has gotten very shaky. When we are alone for Shabbos we do not buy fish and meat, though when our children come we buy 2 types of fish and 3 types of meat!
And I am frightened of the day when we will start talking about shidduchim for our next child! Forgive me Hashem, but I fear that moment! I am writing in tears. My husband is a tzaddik, he knows I am writing this and he is praying that someone will read it and do something about it. Do something! [Hashem should do something???? You should do something. Stop this ridiculous system of providing apartments to your children.]
Why in Belz is it legitimate to buy an apartment in har Yona for 600,000nis, in Zanz to buy an apartment in Tzfat for 500k, and Gur in Arad for 300k, and Vizshnitz in Afula for I dont know how much? [And how is this a solution??? You admitted that after your first daughter you were already out of money. Lets assume that the Chasidim are paying half of what you paid or even a third, you would still have run out of money after the second or third child. This is bandaid solution at best]. Why by the sefardim is it ok to get married and live in Netivot and in Yerucham, and only by us, the "quality", if you buy an apartment in Bet Shemesh and Modiin Ilit - for 1.1 million shekels - you feel like you are compromising??!
I am certain that by the hassidim they also have problems with this issue, but by us it is a catastrophe!

Yasher Koach for bringing the issue to the forefront, and Hashem should help all of us.
This letter is so sad because the letter writer sees the problem but refuses to see the solution.  Cheaper apartments won't solve anything, instead of running out of the money after the first child they will run out of money after the second or third. The bottom line is that the current system is completely unsustainable.
Letter 2:
It is very easy for you to write that the children should take the mortgage payments upon themselves. But forgive us for asking: how exactly are to pay these payments? Why do you think that a young couple getting married at the age of twenty-something and the system sends them to learn in kollel and his wife to work at a tiny salaried job, can possibly consider paying mortgage payments? [He is absolutely right. The Charedi world educates their boys to shun secular education, to learn only Torah and aspire to sit and learn forever, and then bans university studies for girls. With what should they pay the mortgage? They haven't been prepared in any way shape or form to do this.]
If there are stories about people earning a good living, and they still let the shver pay the mortgage, they should be ashamed! but the rest of us - what is even the suggestion that we should pay?
I ask for forgiveness and will be a bit extreme: who educated us in this way that we just want to learn and go to kollel? Was it not our father? Of course it was! Our entire lives our fathers have put into our heads that their desire is just that we should build houses of torah. And now suddenly you are sending us to pay mortgages? Maybe it is difficult for the parents, but this is what they want! That we should sit and learn! Not that we should be looking for other things! This is a complete disconnect! This is not connected at all to our lives! [Again he is right. You can't educate your kids that the only way of life is sitting and learning in Kollel and then expect them to get a job and pay their mortgage]
I am not saying this is ok in relation to our parents. But what at all is the thought that these young people will be able to pay? How exactly? Do we have some secret parnassa that brings us money? No, not at all. We sit in kollel exactly as our parents dreamed for us. As they educated us. We are the good results of our education. For the ones that left, nobody pays their mortgage.  So now that we have done everything they wanted from us, people are coming with complaints.
I dont understand it!

While the letter writer is correct, the young couples are doing what they were brought up to do, there is no question that the current generation is very much overly entitled. See these posts from the Jewish Worker for example,,,

Monday, April 16, 2018

Were the Amoraim/Tannaim paragons of virtue? Part 7

The Gemara in Horayos (13) has the following halachos regarding giving honor to Torah scholars:
  1. When the Nasi enters, all rise. They do not sit until he tells them.
  2. When the Av Beis Din enters, everyone stands in two lines, on two sides. They do not sit until he sits.
  3. When a Chacham enters, each person stands (when the Chacham enters within four Amos of the person) and sits (when the Chacham leaves his four Amos), until the Chacham sits in his place.
The Gemara then tells the following story. R. Shimon ben Gamliel was the Nasi, R. Meir was a great Chacham, and R. Noson was the Av Beis Din. When any of them would enter, all would stand. R. Shimon ben Gamliel felt that the Nasi should be distinguished. He enacted the law of the Beraisa (which gives the greatest honor to the Nasi, then to the Av Beis Din, and then to a Chacham). R. Meir and R. Noson were not present when the enactment was made. When they heard about it, R. Meir suggested to R. Noson that they ask R. Shimon ben Gamliel to teach Uktzim (a tractate that R. Shimon did not know). This would be grounds to depose him. R. Noson would become the Nasi, and R. Meir would become the Av Beis Din. R. Yakov ben Kodshi heard this. He was concerned lest R. Shimon be shamed. He hinted to him that he should learn Uktzim. R. Shimon did so, and he was able to teach it when R. Meir asked. R. Shimon expelled R. Meir and R. Noson from the Beis Medrash. Questions that could not be answered in the Beis Medrash were sent outside to them. R. Yosi: We should be in the place of Torah, outside with them! R. Shimon: They may re-enter the Beis Medrash, but they will be fined. Their teachings will not be said in their own names. R. Meir's teachings (from then on) were recorded as "Others say"; R. Noson's teachings were recorded as "Some say."

The Gemara then records a story with Rebbe and his son as follows. Rebbi taught to his son R. Shimon 'Others say, if it (an animal called 'Ma'aser' by mistake) were a Temurah, it would not be offered. (Since it is offered, this shows that it is not Temurah)!' R. Shimon: If we learn the Torah of these Chachamim, why don't we mention their names? Rebbi: He tried to uproot the Nesi'us from our family! R. Shimon: "... Gam Sinasam, Gam Kinasam Kevar Avadah" (what was, was)! Rebbi: "Ha'Oyev Tamu, Charavos Lanetzach (the enemy died, but his swords persist forever)"! R. Shimon: That is only if his actions accomplished something! Rebbi: They said in R. Meir's name, if it was a Temurah, it would not be offered. Rava: Even Rebbi, who was exceedingly humble, did not explicitly teach it in R. Meir's name (i.e. R. Meir says...)

Let's list all of the morally troubling actions that occurred:
  1. R' Meir and R' Nosson got upset because they believed that R' Shimon ben Gamliel had insulted them and they tried to depose him
  2. R' Shimon ben Gamliel took revenge on them and punished them for trying to depose him
  3. Rebbi continued this punishment even after they died as revenge for them trying to depose his ancestor
Are these the actions of virtuous people? What happened to not running after honour? What happened to not taking revenge?

Below are links to the previous posts on this topic:
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

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Supernatural signs and segulos

The Gemara in Horayos lists off 2 kinds of supernatural signs/segulos.

  1. What we would call today segolus
  2. Supernatural signs/omens of what the future will hold


The Gemara has the following:
  1. We anoint kings only by a spring, for an omen that their kingship should last
  2.  One should eat on Rosh Hashanah gourds, fenugreek (Rashi - clover) leeks, beets and dates so that we should have a good year


The Gemara has the following:
  1. R. Ami: If one wants to know if he will survive the coming year, he should hang a lamp during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipur in a house in which wind does not blow. If all the oil burns, this shows that he will live.
  2. If one wants to start a business venture, and wants to know if it will succeed, he should raise a chicken. If it grows fat, he will succeed.
The obvious question on all of this is how does this fit with תמים תהיה אחרי ה' אלוקיך and the issur of ניחוש?

The rishonim give various answers none of them very convincing.

Monday, March 19, 2018

8 new Rebbes were just crowned

The Viznitz-Monsey Rabbi has 8 sons and sons-in-laws who all on his death have become Rebbes. It is very hard for me to believe that all 8 are worthy to be Rebbes and it is sad that because of an accident of birth they are becoming Rebbes. I never understood this whole idea of inheriting the leadership, throughout history we have seen that many/most times sons of great men are not great. In fact this is an explicit gemara. The gemara in נדרים פ"א states the following:
הזהרו בבני עניים שמהם תצא תורה ... ומפני מה אין מצויין ת"ח לצאת ת"ח מבניהן אמר ר יוסף שלא יאמרו תורה ירושה הוא אצלם ר ששת בריה דר אידי אומר כדי שלא יתגדרו על הציבור.
Be careful with the children of the poor because from them will come the talmidei chachamim ... R' Yosef said why is it that talmidei chachamim's son's are rarely talmidei chachamim? So that people will not say that Torah is an inheritance. R' Sheshes the son of R' Idi said so that they will not become haughty and imperious over the people (because they and their ancestors were Talmidei Chachamim).

We see from the gemara that Torah is not an inheritance and being the son of a talmid chacham not only doesn't guarantee that you will be one, but in fact the Gemara states that he probably will not be one.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Fossilization of halacha - יין מבושל בזמן הזה

Chazal were very strict with wine and non-Jews because wine was a central part of the Avoda Zara process. Therefore they prohibited all wine made by a non-Jew and even prohibited Jewish wine if a non-Jew touched it. The gemara has one famous leniency, none of these restrictions apply to cooked wine because cooking the wine affects the taste and therefore they would not use it for Avoda Zara.

This leniency is used today for almost all the wines made in the US. However, nowadays this is very difficult for a few reasons:

  1. They don't actually cook the wine, they flash pasteurize it which is a very different process then cooking and may not actually be considered cooking al pi halacha
  2. It may not make the wine taste worse, it may even improve the taste
The following is from an FAQ from the Royal wine company
What does mevushal mean?

Mevushal is perhaps the most misunderstood term in the kosher wine tradition.
In Hebrew, mevushal means literally boiled. However, mevushal wines are not heated to a boiling temperature. Thanks to modern-day technology, mevushal wines are flash-pasteurized to a temperature that meets the requirements of an overseeing rabbi. The technique does not noticeably harm the wine. In fact, flash-pasteurization is used at a number of very well known non-kosher wineries, where it is thought to improve certain aromatics.
For Jews, however, the technique simply alters the spiritual quality of a kosher wine, making it less susceptible to ritual proscription. That means anyone—whether kosher or not—can open a bottle of mevushal wine and have it retain its kosher status. Non-mevushal, wines are more sensitive to religious constraints and must be opened and poured only by Sabbath-observant Jews. 
This is complete and utter nonsense. It alters the spiritual quality of the wine?  This sounds like magic not halacha. It is clear that the leniency of cooked wine should be meaningless today given the way it is done today and the effect on the wine. This is another great example of the fossilazation of halacha. Since the Shulchan Aruch has the heter of cooked wine it applies forever even if teh fcats have completely changed.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sex with a non-Jewish woman, what is the prohibition?

The Gemara in Avoda Zara (36) has a fascinating discussion about this, the bottom line seems to be the following:

  1. There is no prohibition in the Torah for a Jewish man to have casual sex with a non-Jewish woman and vice versa. There is a machlokes tannaim and rishonim whether it is prohibited in the context of a marriage between them.
  2. The Beis Din of Shem decreed that it is prohibited for a Jewish woman to have casual sex with a non-Jewish man because we are afraid that she will follow him and worship avoda zara. The obvious problem with this is that there were no Jews at the time of the Beis Din of Shem so how exactky did they make this gezera. 
  3. The Beis Din of the Chashmonaim decreed that a Jewish man having sex with a non-Jewish woman violates 4 sins (Niddah, slave, married a non Jewish woman, slept with a married woman)
  4. David's Beis Din prohibited yichud with an unmarried woman
  5. Beis Hillel and Shammai prohibited yichud with a non-Jew
A few years ago it came out that there were frum Jewish men looking for frum Jewish women on Craigslist for causal encounters. What comes out from the above is that from a halachic viewpoint someone who wants to have casual sex is much better off with a non-Jewish woman even married then a married Jewish woman or even an unmarried Jewish woman. 

Sex with a married Jewish woman carries the death penalty for both parties, sex with an unmarried Jewish woman is almost always going to violate the issur of nidda which is an issur kares. On the other hand, a non-Jewish woman is never an issur d'oraysa, it is only an issur d'rabbanan. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Snakes and Giluy

The Gemara (Avoda Zara 30) has a number of very strange and unscientific comments about snakes and their poison. The Gemara prohibits drinking liquids that were left exposed overnight because they were afraid that a snake came and injected poison. The Gemara then goes on to say that snakes don't like cooked wine or wine mixed with water and therefore those are permitted.

The whole discussion seems completely ridiculous on a number of levels. Do snakes really inject venom into liquids? Does a snake know the difference between cooked and non-cooked wine? Even if they did is that dangerous? The answer is no, we don't find ANY cases of someone being harmed by drinking exposed water.

The gemara then makes the following statement:
Three things get stronger with age: fish, snakes and pigs. This statement of course makes no sense, these animals are not exceptions to biology and age just like any other animals.

The Gemara also states that cats are not affected by poisoned water because cats kill and eat snakes so the Gemara concludes that they are not affected by the snake venom. This is simply not true, a cat bitten by a posionous snake will be affected just like any other animal.

The most interesting thing is that even though this was a takanas chachamim this issur has basically been forgotten. The basis for the heter is that Tosafos in a number of places states that since in their time there were very few snakes the takana did not apply. The problem is that Tosafos were talking about Europe where there aren't many snakes.

The bottom line is that it shouldn't matter whether there are snakes or not. When Chazal made a gezera the gezera stands even if the reason no longer applies. For example, we don't take tylenol on Shabbos because of the gezera against medicine whose reason is we are afraid you will grind the medicine on shabbos. No one today grinds medicine yet the gezera still applies, so too the gezera agianst giluy should apply even if the reason doesn't. The fact is a similar gezera, not eating meat and fish together (prohibited because chazal thought it was dangerous) is still observed even though we know it is not dangerous.