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.