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.