Sunday, December 18, 2022

The fantastical justifications of Chazal

 In last weeks parsha וישב the Torah relates a very straightforward story. Yehuda is traveling, sees what he thinks is a prostitute (it's really his daughter in law), negotiates a price with her, gives her security, has sex with her, and then later tries to find her to pay her. Chazal and the מפרשים however, are bothered by a very simple question. How could one of the holy שבטים, the progenitor of the kingly dynasty and moshiach, sleep with a prostitute. Therefore the Gemara (Sota 10a) makes up a whole dialogue that it attributes to Yehuda to justify Yehuda's conduct.

רַבִּי שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָנִי אָמַר שֶׁנָּתְנָה עֵינַיִם לִדְבָרֶיהָ כְּשֶׁתְּבָעָהּ אָמַר לָהּ שֶׁמָּא נׇכְרִית אַתְּ אָמְרָה לֵיהּ גִּיּוֹרֶת אֲנִי שֶׁמָּא אֵשֶׁת אִישׁ אַתְּ אָמְרָה לֵיהּ פְּנוּיָה אֲנִי שֶׁמָּא קִיבֵּל בִּךְ אָבִיךָ קִידּוּשִׁין אָמְרָה לֵיהּ יְתוֹמָה אֲנִי שֶׁמָּא טְמֵאָה אַתְּ אָמְרָה לֵיהּ טְהוֹרָה

Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani says: She provided eyes [einayim] for her statements, i.e., with her words she provided an opening [petaḥ] for Judah to solicit her. When Judah solicited her to engage in sexual intercourse with him, he first attempted to verify her status and said to her: Are you perhaps are a gentile? She said to him: I am a convert. He asked: Perhaps you are a married woman? She said to him: I am an unmarried woman. He asked: Perhaps your father accepted betrothal for you and you are unaware of it? She said to him: I am an orphan. He asked: Maybe you are impure? She said to him: I am pure.

Amazing, Chazal make up a whole dialogue out of nothing where Yehuda asked a prostitute is she an idolater, married, a nidda. Why, because they couldn't accept that Yehuda simply slept with a prostitute.

The מפרשים are still bothered by the question how could Yehuda have sex with a prostitute? I saw 3 answers in the מפרשים:

  1. He was מקדש her
  2. He was מיחד her so it wasn't זנות
  3. He took here as a פילגש

IMHO these sound like desperate rationalizations for Yehudas conduct. To think that Yehuda married (was מיחד, or took as a פילגש) a random prostitute he met on the road is ridiculous and contradicted by the text itself. When Yehuda searches for her to pay her (after he had sex with her) he asks the people where is the prostitute, clearly showing that he still considered her a prostitute. 

IMHO, this greatly impacts Chazal's credibility, we see that they made up all kinds of unbelievable rationalizations to justify sinful conduct by biblical figures. Where is their intellectual honesty? If they could make up stories like these what else did they make up?

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Civilian casualties in Halacha

This week's parsha וישלח has the story of the brothers and Shechem. The mefarshim are bothered by the brothers killing of everyone in the city not just Shechem and Chamor. The Maharal justifies the actions of Shimon and Levi, asserting that the Torah sanctions waging war when a nation attacks us. In such circumstances, we are permitted to respond to the other nation’s provocation. In responding, we attack the other nation and do not distinguish between the guilty members and the innocent members of that nation. Thus, Shimon and Levi appropriately responded to Shechem’s aggression. Once they responded, they were permitted to attack the entire nation, because this is the manner in which war is waged.This Maharal is quoted l'halacha by a number of modern day poskim including Rabbi JD Bleich who writes:

"Not only does one search in vain for a ruling prohibiting military activity likely to result in the death of civilians, but to this writer’s knowledge, there exists no discussion in classical rabbinic sources that takes cognizance of the likelihood of causing civilian casualties in the course of hostilities legitimately undertaken as posing a halakhic or moral problem."

This position is echoed by Rav Shaul Yisraeli, Rav Asher Weiss, Rav Herschel Shachter and others. According to them not only are civilian casualties not prohibited, it is prohibited to endanger Jewish soldiers in any way to minimize civilian casualties.

This approach is diametrically opposed to international law which treats civilian casualties as a war crime in many cases.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

The Riches of Moshe

The Gemara in Nedarim 38 (recent daf yomi) made the following statement:

אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: אֵין הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַשְׁרֶה שְׁכִינָתוֹ אֶלָּא עַל גִּבּוֹר וְעָשִׁיר וְחָכָם וְעָנָיו, וְכוּלָּן מִמֹּשֶׁה. 


עָשִׁיר — ״פְּסׇל לָךְ״, פְּסוֹלְתָּן שֶׁלְּךָ יְהֵא.

The Gemara states that to be a Navi you have to be rich, and learns it out from Moshe. Moshe got rich from the luchos, when he made the luchos out of precious stone, he kept the extra which made him rich.

When we think about this it's quite difficult. 

1. There is no objective criteria to being rich, it is in relation to the people you live with. If everyone in a society lives the same can we call a specific member of that society rich?

2. Precious stones only have value because people assign them value. 

Both of these are relevant to the Midbar. 

1. What would it mean to be rich in the midbar? Food and water was provided free of charge by God. There was no land to buy, and everyone had a tent. So what exactly did it mean that Moshe was rich? How did his wealth express itself? They were in the midbar so there was nothing to buy either. So how was Moshe richer then anyone else?

2. What were precious stones worth in the midbar? They are only valuable because they are rare and have some use. Why would they have any value in the midbar? What use would they have?

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Not blaming god for cancer

Mishpacha magazine had a story a while ago about a Rabbi Meister who died from cancer. They printed the following quote from him:
I have never had a problem accepting that Hashem has given me life-threatening cancer at age 54 in 2010. Our bodies contain trillions of cells, and every minute of every day millions of cells are dying and new cells are forming. Every new cell that forms has the potential to have cancerous mutations, and millions or billions of times a day our bodies have potential cancers forming. Hashem prevents that from happening through our immune systems and through metabolic processes we don’t even know about. By age 54, I probably had 500 trillion chances for a cancerous cell to form and survive and grow into a life-threatening cancer, and it only happened once. So Hashem stopped me from getting cancer 499,999,999,999,999 times and only let it happen once. I would call that remarkable protection. Considering I never took the time to thank Hashem 499,999,999,999,999 times for not giving me cancer, I don’t see how I could possibly complain that He let one cancerous cell survive and multiply. That would seem very ungrateful.
I fell out of my chair reading this. Let’s think about what he said. He is so grateful that Hashem protected him from those nasty cancer cells until he was 54. Well who does he think created cancer? That same Hashem. Hashem is the one who created us in such a way that there is such a great risk of cancer so why thank him for providing inadequate protection? The way he describes it Hashem is only responsible for the good, but the fact that people are made to get cancer isn’t Hashem’s fault, why not? 
He then gave a ridiculous analogy:
Put another way: Let’s say I was in a house surrounded by attacking Nazis and hundreds of American soldiers surrounded the house and fought off the Nazis for weeks, suffering hundreds of dead and wounded. Eventually the Nazis broke through and captured me. Could I possibly be mad at the American soldiers who defended my house for weeks and suffered hundreds of casualties? Of course not. That would be terribly ungrateful. I would thank them for the effort they put in and thank them for protecting me for so long, and I would not hold it against them that eventually the enemy won.
The difference is that in the case of cancer Hashem created the Nazis and sent them to your doorstep and then came to protect you and failed. 
IMHO a much better analogy is imagine a doctor who intentionally shoots someone in the chest and then performs a complex operation to try to save his life. Is anyone going to praise the doctor for his effort? Will the victim thank the doctor for saving his life? The answer is no, the victim will ask the doctor why did you shoot me?
The same applies here, why thank Hashem for rescuing you from a bad situation of his making? Hashem created a flawed human body which gets cancer, and created a flawed immune system which doesn’t always work, why is that praiseworthy?


Sunday, November 13, 2022

Avrahams impassioned defense of Sdom

 In Parshas וירא Avraham gives an impassioned defense of Sdom which is used by many liberal Jews to promote Judaism as being in favor of social justice. However, when you think about it a little, it is apparent that the whole story makes no sense given Judaisms conception of god.

Avraham has a disucssion/argument with God with 2 major themes:

  1. He tries to persuade God using logical arguments and shaming that destroying Sdom is not just. Avraham asks god השופט כל הארץ לא יעשה משפט?
  2. Avraham tries to bargain with god. He starts out with 50 tzadikkim and gets down to 10.

How does this make any sense if God is omniscient, omnibenevolent and unchanging? How can any human being attempt to change God's mind using logical arguments? How can a human being bargain with god? If God's decrees are perfect and moral why does Avraham even attempt to change it? The clear sense you get from this story is that God is very much like human beings, just more powerful. God gets angry, he takes vengeance, and he can be reasoned with and persuaded to change his mind. Rambam's conception of an omniscient, unchanging God leaves zero room for this whole story, if god is unchanging how can Avraham even attempt to convince god to save Sdom?

This of course leads to a bigger question of how does prayer work in Judaism? We can ask the following questions about prayer:

  1. Why do we need to daven to God at all? Since he is omniscient he knows exactly what we need so why do we need to ask?
  2. How can we ask a perfect God to change his decree for us? God's decrees are perfect and just so how can we daven to change them?
  3. How can God be affected by our prayer if he is immutable and impassible?
There are a number of approaches to answer this question:
  1. The purpose of davening is to contemplate God (Rambam) and/or to change us
  2. This is the system that God setup
Lets take a closer look at both approaches.

I. The purpose of davening is to contemplate God (Rambam) and/or to change us

The first thing we have to realize is that the Gemara does not really address this question. There is no philosophy of Tefilla found in the Gemara. This issue is first discussed in the Rishonim. 

This approach is taken by many of the philosophical Rishonim like the Rambam. They explain that the purpose of davening is for us to get closer to God by contemplating God and realizing that everything is from God. 

The way davening works is that the person who davens changes and is not the same person and therefore whatever decree was on the person was on the old version not the new improved version. 

There are a number of issues with this approach:
  1. Why does shemoneh esrei have 12 berachos in the middle in which we ask God for things? How does asking God for health, income, etc. get you closer to God? Why would we ask for anything?
  2. How can I daven for someone else? If the purpose of davening is to get closer to God how can my prayer for someone else help them? My prayer certainly can't help them get closer to God?
  3. Avraham in his tefilla to God about Sedom asks God how a just God could kill Tzadikkim along with Reshaim. With this conception of prayer to make logical arguments to God makes no sense whatsoever.  God is omniscient and clearly took these arguments into account already. Of course this also makes no sense if the purpose of Tefilla is to contemplate God or get closer to God. 

II. That is the system that God setup

This is the kabbalistic approach, that God set up the world that to get anything you need to ask for it. This approach turns davening into a magical experience and answers the first 2 questions above. We ask for things because that is how God set up the system, no matter how strange that sounds. There is not much to say here you either take it or leave it.
Again, Avraham's prayer/discussion with God makes no sense according to this as well. Logical arguments and bargaining with God makes no sense whatsoever.


Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Rape in Chazal

 The Torah has a very different view of rape then we do today. The Torah sees rape as injuring the father by deflowering his daughter and devaluing her in terms of marriage. The Gemara in כתובות ל"ט has the following discussion about why the rapist pays צער, pain and suffering for rape.

צַעַר דְּמַאי? אָמַר אֲבוּהּ דִּשְׁמוּאֵל: צַעַר שֶׁחֲבָטָהּ עַל גַּבֵּי קַרְקַע. מַתְקֵיף לַהּ רַבִּי זֵירָא: אֶלָּא מֵעַתָּה, חֲבָטָהּ עַל גַּבֵּי שִׁירָאִין, הָכִי נָמֵי דְּפָטוּר? וְכִי תֵּימָא הָכִי נָמֵי — וְהָתַנְיָא, רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר מִשּׁוּם רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן: אוֹנֵס אֵינוֹ מְשַׁלֵּם אֶת הַצַּעַר — מִפְּנֵי

וְהָא קָא חָזֵינַן דְּאִית לַהּ? אָמַר אַבָּיֵי: אֲמַרָה לִי אֵם, כְּמַיָּא חַמִּימֵי עַל רֵישֵׁיהּ דְּקַרְחָא. רָבָא אָמַר: אֲמַרָה לִי בַּת רַב חִסְדָּא: כִּי רִיבְדָּא דְכוּסִילְתָּא. רַב פָּפָּא אָמַר: אֲמַרָה לִי בַּת אַבָּא סוּרָאָה: כִּי נַהֲמָא אַקּוּשָׁא בְּחִינְכֵי.

The mishna taught that a rapist pays for the pain that he caused. The Gemara asks: For what pain is he obligated to pay? Shmuel’s father said: It is for the pain that he caused when he slammed her onto the ground while raping her. Rabbi Zeira strongly objects to this: But if what you say is so, if he slammed her onto silk, so too is the halakha that he is exempt from payment for pain? And if you say indeed that it is so, but isn’t it taught in a baraita that Rabbi Shimon ben Yehuda says in the name of Rabbi Shimon: A rapist does not pay for the pain due to the fact 

The Gemara asks: If so, a seduced woman should also be obligated to make that payment as well. Rav Naḥman said that Rabba bar Avuh stated a parable: To what can this matter of a seducer be compared? It can be compared to a person who said to another: Tear my silk and be exempt from payment. Since she engaged in relations of her own volition, she certainly absolved him of payment for the pain. The Gemara asks: Tear my silk? It is not her silk, and therefore she may not waive payment for damage to it; it is the silk of her father, as the fine and the other payments are paid to him. Rather, Rav Naḥman said that Rabba bar Avuh said that the clever women among them say that a seduced woman has no pain during intercourse, as she is a willing participant. The Gemara asks: But don’t we see that even a married woman has pain when she engages in sexual relations for the first time? Abaye said: My foster mother told me that the pain is like hot water on the head of a bald man. Rava said: My wife, Rav Ḥisda’s daughter, told me that it is like the stab of a bloodletting knife. Rav Pappa said: My wife, Abba Sura’s daughter, told me that it is like the feeling of hard bread on the gums. When a woman engages in intercourse willingly, the pain is negligible. Therefore, the seducer is not obligated to pay for pain.

 I think if you asked female rape victims about the pain of rape you would get very different answers. 

Women and marriage


Daf Yomi this week (כתובות ע״ה) had a fascinating Gemara about women and marriage.
בְּקָרִיבֵיהּ! האִיהִי בְּכׇל דְּהוּ נִיחָא לַהּ, כִּדְרֵישׁ לָקִישׁ. דְּאָמַר רֵישׁ לָקִישׁ: ״טָב לְמֵיתַב טַן דּוּ מִלְּמֵיתַב אַרְמְלוּ״, אַבָּיֵי אָמַר: דְּשׁוּמְשְׁמָנָא גַּבְרָא כּוּרְסְיַהּ בֵּי חָרָאתָא רָמֵי לַהּ. ורַב פָּפָּא אָמַר: דְּנַפָּסָא גַּבְרָא, תִּיקְרְיֵיהּ בְּסִיפֵּי בָבָא וְתֵיתִיב. רַב אָשֵׁי אָמַר: דְּקַלָּסָא גַּבְרָא, לָא בָּעֲיָא טְלָפְחֵי לְקִידְרָא. תָּנָא: וְכוּלָּן מְזַנּוֹת וְתוֹלוֹת בְּבַעְלֵיהֶן.
There is a difference between a man and a woman in this regard, for it is amenable to her to be with any man, flawed though he may be, as taught by Reish Lakish: As Reish Lakish said that women say: It is better to dwell together as two [tan du] than to dwell alone as if a widow. Women will prefer any marriage to remaining single. Similarly, Abaye said that women say: One whose husband is small as an ant, nevertheless places her seat among the noblewomen, as she considers herself important by virtue of the mere fact that she is married. 6Rav Pappa said a different maxim expressing a similar idea: One whose husband is a wool comber [nafsa], a lowly occupation, calls him to sit with her at the entrance to the house, as she is proud of him and happy to be married. Similarly, Rav Ashi said: Even one whose husband is lowly [kalsa] does not require lentils for her pot. She is so happy with the simple fact that she is married that she does not mind even if he does not provide her with food. The Gemara comments that it is taught: And all of these women who have lowly husbands yet appear so satisfied with their marriage commit adultery and attribute the birth of the children to their husbands. This is another reason why they are so keen to be married
RYBS claimed that this chazaka is built into the nature of women and can never change.

Beautiful Breasts

 Daf Yomi just learned the following Gemara (כתובות ע"ה)

תָּנֵי רַבִּי נָתָן בִּירָאָה: בֵּין דַּדֵּי אִשָּׁה טֶפַח. סָבַר רַב אַחָא בְּרֵיהּ דְּרָבָא קַמֵּיהּ דְּרַב אָשֵׁי לְמֵימַר טֶפַח לִמְעַלְּיוּתָא. אֲמַר לֵיהּ רַב אָשֵׁי: גַּבֵּי מוּמִין תַּנְיָא, וְכַמָּה? אָמַר אַבָּיֵי: שָׁלֹשׁ אֶצְבָּעוֹת

 Rabbi Natan Bira’a taught: A handbreadth between a woman’s breasts. The amora’im have a dispute concerning the meaning of Rabbi Natan Bira’a’s statement: Rav Aḥa, son of Rava, thought to say before Rav Ashi that this means a handbreadth between a woman’s breasts is perfection and considered beautiful. Rav Ashi said to him: This baraita is taught with regard to blemishes, and it means that if her breasts are separated by a gap this wide, it is a blemish. The Gemara asks: And how much of a gap is considered normal? Abaye said: The width of three fingers.

This Gemara raises a number of questions:

  1. The only way to see the distance between a womans breasts is to see her topless. When a woman is wearing clothes there is no way to see this. So how did Abaye know this? Did he go and stare at naked women? How many naked women did  he see besides his wife? How is this permissible?
  2. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, for some men a gap of 3 fingers is beautiful for other men it may be either smaller or larger. How can the Gemara set a rule on something like this?
  3. How did they come up with these exact measurements? Did they go and measure women's chests? Does the average man when he sees beautiful breasts have any idea how far apart they are?
  4. What is the relevance? Why does the Gemara need to tell us the definition of beautiful breasts?

Sunday, March 6, 2022

This makes me angry not sympathetic

When I saw this it made me very angry. This person is not asking for tzedaka because some tragedy happened to him. Rather, he is asking for tzedaka because he has NEVER tried to actually earn a living. He brought 15 children in the world and sat in kollel and didn't work. And now, as a result of HIS CHOICES he is poor so he wants people like me to pay for his daughters wedding. Why should I? It gets worse. He wants people to pay for a hall and a caterer. I made a wedding at the beginning of covid in my backyard, no hall no real caterer. Covid showed that it was very possible. So someone who has no money should make a wedding in a backyard (for free) and cook the food themselves with help from friends/neighbors and save all that money. Why should I pay for a hall and a caterer for him? If he wants to sit and learn and not make money then he should be מסתפק במועט. The Mishna says פת במלח תאכל not catered meals. Why should the person who sacrificed his learning, went to school, goes to work and makes some money pay for the wedding of this selfish person who only thinks about his own spiritual growth ignoring everyone else?

The fact is that this request is anti-Torah. The Gemara in Pesachim 113 states:

אֲמַר לֵיהּ רַב לְרַב כָּהֲנָא: הֲפוֹךְ בִּנְבֵילְתָּא וְלָא תֵּיפוֹךְ בְּמִילֵּי. פְּשׁוֹט נְבֵילְתָּא בְּשׁוּקָא וּשְׁקֵיל אַגְרָא, וְלָא תֵּימָא ״כָּהֲנָא אֲנָא, וְגַבְרָא רַבָּא אֲנָא, וְסַנְיָא בִּי מִלְּתָא״.

Rav said to Rav Kahana: It is better for one to turn over a carcass than to turn over his word, i.e., to break his promise. Rav further said: Skin a carcass in the market and take payment, but do not say: I am a priest, or: I am a great man, and this matter disgusts me.

רמב"ם הלכות מתנות עניים פרק י הלכה יח:

לעולם ידחוק אדם עצמו ויתגלגל בצער ואל יצטרך לבריות ואל ישליך עצמו על הצבור,
וכן צוו חכמים ואמרו עשה שבתך חול ואל תצטרך לבריות,
ואפילו היה חכם ומכובד והעני יעסוק באומנות ואפילו באומנות מנוולת ולא יצטרך לבריות,
מוטב לפשוט עור בהמות נבלות ולא יאמר לעם חכם גדול אני כהן אני פרנסוני,
ובכך צוו חכמים,
גדולי החכמים היו מהם חוטבי עצים ונושאי הקורות ושואבי מים לגנות ועושי הברזל והפחמים ולא שאלו מן הצבור ולא קיבלו מהם כשנתנו להם.

שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות צדקה סימן רנה סעיף א:

לעולם ירחיק אדם עצמו מהצדקה ויגלגל עצמו בצער, שלא יצטרך לבריות. וכן צוו חכמים: עשה שבתך חול, ואל תצטרך לבריות.
ואפילו היה חכם מכובד והעני, יעסוק באומנות ואפי' באומנות מנוולת, ואל יצטרך לבריות.

When this avrech got married he gave his wife a כתובה which stated the following:

הוי לי לאנתו כדת משה וישראל ואנא אפלח ואוקיר ואיזון ואפרנס יתיכי ליכי כהלכות גוברין יהודאין דפלחין ומוקרין וזנין ומפרנסין לנשיהון בקושטא

“Be my wife according to the law of Moses and Israel. I will work, honor, feed and support you in the custom of Jewish men, who work, honor, feed, and support their wives faithfully. I will give you the settlement of [...] silver zuzim, which is due you according to [...] law, as well as your food, clothing, necessities of life, and conjugal needs, according to the universal custom.”

Does anyone listen when the כתובה is read?

Many sources posit that man is in this world so that he avoids נהמא דכיסופא (literally free bread), which means that Hashem put us on this world so that we could earn our עולם הבא so we wouldn't be embarrassed by being נהנה מזיו השכינה for free, and yet that is all this avrech is doing in this world, taking things for free. 

See this post of the Jewish Worker for additional examples.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Should everyone sit and learn Torah all day?

 The charedi hashkafa says absolutely. However there is a fascinating Gemara in Chagiga which clearly contradicts this position

תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן, שְׁלֹשָׁה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא בּוֹכֶה עֲלֵיהֶן בְּכׇל יוֹם: עַל שֶׁאֶפְשָׁר לַעֲסוֹק בַּתּוֹרָה וְאֵינוֹ עוֹסֵק, וְעַל שֶׁאִי אֶפְשָׁר לַעֲסוֹק בְּתוֹרָה וְעוֹסֵק, וְעַל פַּרְנָס הַמִּתְגָּאֶה עַל הַצִּבּוּר.

The Sages taught that there are three types of people for whom the Holy One, Blessed be He, cries every day: For one who is able to engage in Torah study and does not engage in it; and for one who is unable to engage in Torah study and nevertheless he endeavors and engages in it; and for a leader who lords over the community.

The Gemara clearly and unequivocally states that certain people aren’t meant to learn Torah and god cries when they do. To whom is the Gemara referring to? The answer would seem to be the following. God gives everyone certain talents. Some people get musical talent, some  artistic talent etc. for example, Mozart was given tremendous musical talent. If instead of using that talent and composing he would have just sat and learned Torah god would have cried. He would be wasting his god given talents on music. In the charedi worldview why does god give people musical talent, athletic talent, artistic talent etc. if all they should be doing is sitting and learning Torah anyway? The answer is that god expects everyone to use the talents that he gave them, that is what this Gemara is telling us.