Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Basar b'chalav and Kilayim: Why can't I add a drop of milk to my cholent?

In addition to athe nnouncement that it was the season to donate shekalim, rosh chodesh adar was the time bais din had to send out warnings about kilayim. The Bartenura explains that seed can contain a certain percentage of mixture, e.g. if one has wheat to plant and there is a few kernels of barley seed mixed in, that would not be a problem, provided it is below the threshold of 1/24. (The Yerushalmi yomi we just past this exact sugya.) The issur here is not planting kilayim, because one wishes to plant a wheat field and does not want the barley; however, to avoid mar'is ayin of any mixture, the chachamim set a cap on the impurity of the seed.
If one actually planted a field mixing different seed and violated the issur of kilayim, then it is not sufficient to pluck out a few of the mixed plants below a certain threshold, but the entire field becomes assur.
The Rishonim ask: why by the mixture of seed do I assume if the seed is below a certain percentage it is bateil, but if I intentionally create a mixture of seed and plant it in my field, the entire field becomes assur and we do not say the minority crop is bateil to the majority of the field?
The answer is that by other issurim, e.g. chazir, the Torah prohibited a k'zayis of the item; by definition, once that item is in a ta'aroves and is bateil, it not longer exists. By kilayim, by definition the issur is the mixture, not each individual item. In normal cases, bittul is a matir; by kilayim, bittul is the oseir.
If that is so, then it follows that bittul should never work by basar b'chalav, because there too, the issur is not the individual meat or milk, but the ta'aroves itself is the oseir. Why then is there a halacha of bittul b'rov by basar b'chalav?
The Ran answers that "derech bishul asra Torah". The reason that basar b'chalav is permitted if the % in a ta'aroves is negligable is not because of the normal din of bittul b'rov, but because cooking such a small amount is not called bishul.
My question: if so, why can't I intentionally put a drop of milk in my cholent? By other issurim, I would say "ain mevatlin issur l'chatchila", that bittul can only be used ex post facto after the ta'aroves happens, but by basar b'chalav, there is no halacha of bittul - there is just a din that defines the parameters of bishul and teaches me that cooking a little drop is not called cooking?!

4 amos and techum shabbos

The Mishnayos in the beginning of the 4th perek of Eiruvin discuss the halacha if one left the area of his/her techum on Shabbos b'ones (e.g. one is kidnapped and dragged outside the techum) - the person can then only walk 4 amos, unless he/she is in an enclosed area. Later in the perek (mishna 5,) the Mishna discusses a case of one who fell asleep on Erev Shabbos and had no da'as to be koneh shevisa - the Chachamim hold here as well that one can move around only within 4 amos. The Mishna then has a machlokes whether those 4 amos are calculated in each direction, or is it 4 amos total, meaning 2 in each direction. My son Eliezer asked: why does the Mishna wait until 4:5 to discuss the details of how to calculate the area of 4 amos? Why not discuss this earlier in the perek when the din of 4 amos was first mentioned?
I could not find an answer, so his reward for such a kashe is the fame of being mentioned here ; )

Monday, February 27, 2006

mimetic tradition

R' Haym Soloveitchik made the whole notion of "mimetic tradition" popular in certain circles, yet mimeticism for its own sake becomes absurd, as illustrated by the joke here: http://kallahmagazine.com/WordPress/
My feelings on this are split. I do not come from a background with strong particular minhagim passed down to me, so I feel like I don't lose much by adopting for example, a minhag or nusach haGR"A. My wife is descendent from a chain of yekkes, so if I were her, I would probably feel more guilt at not adhering strictly to those minhagim and the psak of the Rama. I do not understand how people who do not come from strong backgrounds come to adopt mimetic minhagim even when it leads to kulos. For example, if you read the gemara straight, there is no excuse not to eat in sukkah on Shmini Atzeres. If someone who has grown up his entire life in a chassidic community with those minhagim, I can understand learning the gemara in a way that is dochak to preserve the received mimetic tradition. However, if an outsider decides to join such a community, how can they intellectually justify abandoning the gemara to preserve a tradition they do not have? In other words, if one is born into a received tradition, then I can appreciate that outweighing a text, but if one is left to one's own devices to choose, why should one choose a mimetic tradition over a received text?

Matzah lishma - omeid al gabav

Matzas mitzvah must have "shimur l'shem matzah", with various opnions in rishonim from when that shimur must be done. If matzah is baked by an aku"m who is supervised by a yisrael omeid al gabav, most rishonim hold that this is invalid, with the notable exception of Rav Hai Gaon. What is the issue here? There are actually two possible ways to approach the machlokes. By get, aku"m with yisrael omeid al gabav does not work because we assume that the aku"m will break off concentration before finishing the writing of the toreif. However, the Rambam and Rosh argue about whether this would work for the process of tanning hides for tefillin where the extent of lishma is placing the raw hide in the tanning vat. We might argue that baking matzah is parallel to tanning the hides. However, this is not such a simple statement to make - the Noda B'Yehudah notes that lishma is required for the duration of the kneading process, which is far longer than the tanning process (see Minchas Chinuch). The Netziv in his commentary to the She'iltos (P' Tzav) takes a completely different approach. Instead of assuming a constant bar for lishma and questioning whether omeid al gabav meets that criteria, he suggests that the issue at hand is the nature of shimur itself - is shimur a chovas hagavra of the baker, or is shimur a din in the cheftza shel matzah, i.e. the dough must have the potential to become chameitz and therefore require some supervision to obviate that danger. (This requires some twists in learning pesachim 38 which you have to have a look at in inside for).

Why a woman is pasul to be a dayan

Tosfos in Bava Kamma 15 raises the question of why a woman is pasul to be a dayan, as there is no explicit miyut anyway that disqualifies her. Tosfos ends up using a bit of roundabout logic: since a woman is pasul l'eidus, and we have a principle that anyone who is pasul for eidus is also pasul for din, m'meila a woman must also be pasul l'din. The Yerushalmi (Brachos 7 halacha 1) debates whether there is the possibility of zimun for 2 people, or can zimun only be zone by 3. The sugya draws a parallel between the halacha of zimun and the mechlokes R' Yochanan and Reish Lakish whether 2 people are called a Bais Din, or is a Bais Din no less than three. How are these two halachos connected? The Ohr Samaich in Hil Brachos writes that the underlying issue in both cases is one of minyan - at what point do indivuduals count together to form the "multiplicity" of minyan required for din or for zimun. The gemara in a number of places tells is that "trei nashi k'meah gavri" - women even in a large number do not count as a collective unit. Based on this, the Ohr Sameiach ingeniously suggests that since we know that 3 women cannot join together to form a "multiplicity" when a group or minyan must be formed, it follows that even if three women sat together they would count as individuals and not as a group of 3 required to constitute a Bais Din.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

V'Yikchu li Terumah

My friend Chaim Markowitz beat me to posting this Shev Shamytza on parshas Terumah -

Deriving benefit from melacha done on Shabbos

One of my daughters mentioned on Shabbos that she learned in school that if one does melacha on Shabbos one cannot have benefit from that work, e.g. (her example) if you turn on a light, you would not be allowed to sit and read by that light. But is this correct? (I admit: I am naturally suspicious of anything my kids learn in school : ) The gemara's discussion of this halacha uses the example of violating the issur of bishul. The Chayei Adam has a safeik whether the rule would be the same for a melacha where the object has not changed - e.g. if one violated the melacha of carrying in a reshus harabim, would one be prohibited from having benefit from the object? When one turns on a light, the wiring of one's home has not changed - it has simply started carrying a current. On the other hand, the bulb that was dark has now become illuminated. Is this comparable to ma'avir or bishul??
Another interesting safeik is whether this halacha applies to issurei derabbanan as well as issurei d'oraysa. One could debate whether tuning on a light in indeed an issur d'oraysa (too lengthy a discussion for now).
I don't know how much of these details my daughter absorbed in our few minute discussion, but then again, I wonder if her teacher thought through them when presenting the case (yes, I should give her the benefit of the doubt).

The burrow of Brooklyn

When explaining to my daughter (age 8) that people in Brooklyn reside in a borough, not a city, she said, "Just like rabbits live in". Yes, the good ol' burrow of Brooklyn.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

chiyuv mezomos for wife of an eved

"Im ba'al isha hu v'yatza'ah ishto imo". Rashi asks the obvious question of what the eved's wife should have to do with his and quotes from Chazal that the owner of the eved was chayav to pay mezonos support to the wife of the eved. Once the eved was freed, that obligation is severed. Question: can the eved be mocheil (forgive the obligation) on the chiyuv mezonos to his wife? In other words, is the chiyuv of the owner to the eved to provide food for him to use as mezonos, or is there a chiyuv from the owner directly to Mrs. Eved? I don't have an answer for this one.

Preparation for Shabbos - Bais Shamai vs. Bais Hillel

Beitzah 16 has a machlokes Bais Shamai and Bais Hillel regarding preparing for Shabbos. When Shamai would shop during the week, if he found a delicacy in the market, he would put it aside for Shabbos. Hillel, however, practiced the middah of "Baruch Hashem Yom Yom", eating what he found during the week and assuming that on erev Shabbos when he went shopping he would find what he needed for Shabbos. R' Tzadok haKohein explains that this reflected their philosophical outlook. Shamai assumed the ultimate tikkun can only be in the future world of Shabbos, and any good that we achieve in this world needs to be stored for that day. Hillel, however, assumed that the good of this world has a place during our mundane day to day existance as well. My wife suggested that this relates to the idea found in chassidishe seforim that we pasken like Bais Hillel now, but when Mashiach and the day of ultimate Shabbos comes then the halacha will be like Bais Shamai. Lulei d'mistafina I would add to her thought that one of the reasons we pasken like Bais Hillel is because of the "bas kol" which endorsed their opinion (see Eiruvin 13). There are different madreigos of nevuah and ruach hakodesh - see Ramban Baba Basra 13. Perhaps the halacha is like Bais Hillel pre-geulah precisely because the endorsement of Hillel's views was revealed on the madreiga of "bas kol" - l'asid lavo, when we will one again live in a time with there is a hisgalus of nevuah, the halacha itself may be in accordance with that higher madreiga.

davar sh'aino mitkavain and tiltul min hatzad

Today's daf in Yerushalmi (Kilayim 4) seems to draw a parallel between the halacha of tiltul min hatzad, indirectly moving a muktzeh object, and the halacha of davar she'aino mitkavain, unintentional melacha, e.g. on shabbos it is permitted to drag a chair across a lawn because the intention is to move the chair, not to plough the lawn (provided that the ploughing is not inevitable). This seems a bit difficult. Tiltul min hatzad does not focus on intent, but on the manner of moving the object in question - in the Yerushalmi's case, a vegetable is being removed from the ground in a way that indirectly causes the surrounding earth to be dug up. The concept of tiltul min hatzad is that only directly moving the muktzah object itself is prohibited. Davar she'aino mitkavain is a halacha that focusses on intent. Tzarich iyun for me.

Shiur hafrasha and nesina - pesachim 32

Tosfos Pesachim32b asks why 1 stalk of wheat is sufficient to fulfill terumah on an entire haystalk when the Torah uses the term "nesina" by terumah which entails a shiur of at least a perutah? Tosfos limits the application of shiur to "nesina" used in the context of tashlumin. One could answer the kashe of Tosfos by distinguishing 2 dinim in the mitzva of terumah: 1) the hafrasha, which removes the issur tevel from the haystack, for which a single stalk of wheat is sufficient; 2) the mitzva of nesina to the kohein, which should be fulfilled with a chashuv shiur. See the Mishne l'Melech in Hil Matnos Aniyim 6:7 who discusses this issue.

The "Western idolatry" of free press

I would never run out of subject matter if I simply devoted this entire blog to refuting the spurious reasoning of certain writers, the title of one of whose editorials gave rise to this post. Certain schools of thought have commented on the cartoon controversy that of course there should be offense taken at the desecration of religious symbols; the press is simply only interested in its own "western idolotry" of free expression which yahadut rejects. With chodesh Adar fast approaching I cannot believe these writers would forget the gemara in Megillah 25b "kol letzeinusa asura l'bar m'letzanusa d'avodah zarah" - in short, making fun of avodah zarah is not only permitted, but encouraged! Whether Islam is technically avodah zarah is not the point. The point is that the fact that ovdei avodah zarah hold their beliefs sacrosanct does not at all bother the halacha - take a good vicious verbal insult whack at your local idolatry! So much for limiting free speech to protect what others hold dear and sacred.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Did the earth have free choice?

For those learning Yerushalmi yomi, we just crossed the sugya in Kilayim of why the earth was punished for Adam's sin. One opinion says the earth was punished because the taste of trees (i.e. the bark) should have matched the fruit, but the trees did not do that. Another opinion says the earth did nothing wrong in growing trees, but was cursed as a function of its nurturing man who was now a sinner.
How could the earth choose to disobey G-d's command to taste like its fruit? The MaHaRi"L Diskin in his commentary on chumash is the only one I have found to ask this question. He answers that the tree was given a limited sense of bechira just for this event. (The simplest approach is to just take the idea allegorically. The concept here is that the ability to choose to disobey G-d's was already inherent in the beriya - see Maor v'Shemesh).

Monday, February 20, 2006

Can there be ethics without Torah?

Is there an ethical norm that exists independent of Torah, or is ethical behavior just a side-product of proper observance of the mitzvos? There is a machlokes in Zevachim whether Yisro came before mattan Torah or after mattan Torah. R' Kook explains (I forget where I saw this) that the machlokes is not just historical, but philosophical. Yisro was a man of ethics, a man searching for truth and goodness. Can the ethical man symbolized by the personality of Yisro precede the Torah, perhaps as a prerequisite for Torah (the Sefas Emes writes that the opnion that Yisro preceded mattan Torah is based on the idea of "derech eretz kadma l'Torah), or is ethics only possible a a result of the religious experience?
The Netziv has an interesting comment on the Torah's promise of long life in Eretz Yisrael for proper observance of kibbud av v'eim. Explains the Netziv, the ideal fulfillment of Torah is only in Eretz Yisrael. However, one might have the mistaken notion that this is true of the ritual of Torah, but not ethical mitzvos. In truth, however, ethicals and ritual are one and the same; we observe kibbud av v'eim not because it is morally correct, but simply because the Torah commands such. Even ethical mitzvos should be viewed only as gezeiros of Hashem. The Torah underscores this by emphasizing that ethics too can only be fully fulfilled in Eretz Yisrael.

The chinuch danger of the anti-evolution crowd

My son has come home from school a few times telling me that his classmates believe evolution is a big hoax and the world cannot be older than 5766, etc. That simplistic thinking spills over to other areas, whether intended or not by his esteemed Rebbeim. I try to learn mishnayos with him semi-regularly - we recently learned a Mishna in Eiruvin which says the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter is 3. I asked my son, "But didn't you learn in math that the ratio is pi, which is 3.14..."? He promptly came to the only logical conclusion possible, namely that pi is a hoax and the Mishna must be correct. I wish I were making this up!!!!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Na'aseh v"nishma - kol and dibbur

Chazal darshen on "Borachu Hashem Mal'achav Giburei Cho'ach Osei Devaro Lishmo'a b'Kol Devaro", that this is a reference to Bnei Yisrael saying na'aseh v'nishma and putting the asiya, the doing, before the understanding of mitzvos. The simple understanding is that Bnei Yisrael are creditied with accepting the Torah unconditionally without first asking to hear what that entailed. Yet, is that what is really going on? By analogy: imagine the King tells you that you were just selected to receive his most precious prize - are you willing to take it? Do you need to really ask what the prize is before saying yes? Kal v'chomer if the King is Hashem, who would obviously not command a Torah that was not for the good of mankind.
Explains the Sefas Emes: there are different paths to attain knowledge. We can come to knowledge purely as an intellectual endeavor, or we can come to knowledge through experience and action. Na'aseh v'nishma means knowledge springs from actions and experience, through hearing the kol of Hashem not just in the blatt gemara, but in asiyas hamitzvos as well. The Sefas Emes continues: The pasuk does not say "lishmo'a... b'devaro", but "lishmo'a b'kol devaro". The Zohar writes that kol is a higher, more pnimi experience than dibbur - kol is communication without words which transcends the limitations of language and its barriers. The intellectual experience of just learning Torah is listening to the words of the dvar Hashem, but the drawing the wisdom of Torah from the experience of life is to listen to the kol. "Hakol kol Ya'akov" - its is not the content of our words, but the sound of our voice, the essence of who we are, that is significant.
I would just add that the experience of mattan Torah is viewed by Chazal as a tikkun for the cheit of Adam haRishon. Adam's cheit is "ki shamata b'kol ishtecha" - the Ohr haChaim explains that it was not the reasoning and words of Chavah which convinced Adam to sin, but the tone and expression of her voice, the kol. (Perhaps this is why there is an issur of kol isha). Mattan Torah was the restoration of the kol to its rightful purpose in life.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Boil, don't simmer

VaYishma Yisro. 1) Chazal and the meforshei chumash debate what drew Yisro to klal Yisrael, but whatever the answer, it is clear from the text that just having a son-in-law who was Moshe Rabeinu was not sufficient impetus. We sometimes mistakingly think that gadol X's son or relative must be a tzadik and gaon just by virtue of being raised as a karov to an adam gadol, yet we see from Yisro that such is not the case. 2) A second point in that regard is that Chazal seem to be searching for a trigger that drove Yisro's behavior. It is not enough to say that he came to a general gradual awareness and then decided to come to klal Yisrael - there had to have been a makkeh b'patish that drove the nail home. Many people who are "traditional" will kind of hover around attending shule once in awhile, learning a bit, for some it is being a little bit shomeir shabbos and/or kashrus, etc. It's like having a pot on the stove that just sits and simmers - the makeh b'patish is missing. Eliyahu by the episode of Har HaKarmel challenges the Ba'al worshipers and demands of Bnei Yisrael, "Ad masai atem poshchim al shnei ha'sifim - im la'ba'al lechu acharav, im l'Hashem lechu acharav" - How long are you going to straddle the fence? If you want to worship Ba'al, follow him, if you want to worship Hashem, then follow him! Sometimes it takes an event or challenege to motivate a person to make a choice: stop the simmer - either shut the flame, or get things boiling. Someone in shule once remarked how wonderful the US kehillah was (they had spent time in Israel) because in the same shule you can have people with "black hats", knit kippot, etc., and everyone just gets along. I disagreed with him. The reason they get along (this may be generalizing too much, but for this particular shule it was very true) is because everyone has a pareve attitude - if I hold X and you hold Y, so what, lets not get so worked up about it otherwise we both might miss the cholent. There is no milchamta shel Torah! That is not to say we should not love each and every Jew; what it means is that we should love each other despite our differences, not because we ignore differences and are not really committed to anything. We should have a passion for our committement to yahadus - a boiling fervor, not a slow simmer!

Yehudah vs. Yosef and ay Tam Suf

In the next issue of Kallah Magazine (kallahmagazine.com on the web) I hope to have an article that relates to the personalities of Yosef and Yehudah based on torah of the Ishbitzer. My wife pointed out a parallel that had not crossed my mind before. The brothers were split in what action to take against Yosef until Yehudah swayed them to his plan of selling him. We find by Yam Suf that Bnei Yisrael were split into camps differing in what action to take (see Ramban, Mesech Chochma, P' Beshalach) until Nachshon, the leader of Yehudah, jumped into the Sea. At this point, just an observation for further food for thought....

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Kiddushin, arvus, shlichus - Yerushalmi Dmai 29

In yesterday's daf yomi in Yerushalmi (see the link to my BIL's website on the side for more info on Yerushalmi yomi) the gemara cites a braysa that if a manager tells his worker to collect food from the store and the manager will pay, then the manager is responsible to insure ma'aser has been taken from the food purchased. The gemara debates the reason why: a) because the store owner is the manager's shliach, or b) the worker is the manager's shliach to make the purchase, and then is immediatly zocheh from the manager on his own behalf all in one transaction. The difference between the opinions would play out if the store owner is someone who is pasul for shlichus, in which case only option (b) works.
The gilyon sends you to a sugya in bavli kiddushin and a machne efrayim that I happen to be learning with my shabbos chavrusa. If a women says to a man "give money to ploni and I will be mekudesht to you", the kiddushin is valid. Just as an areiv, one who guarantees repayment of a loan, assumes an obligation with no benefit received, the women can assume the obligation of marriage on the basis of someone else receiving payment. The Rishonim debate how this halacha works: is the women mekudeshet because paying the third party is the equivalent as paying her and her transferring the money to the third party, or has the mekadesh paid the third-party directly with no need for the woman to be a middleman (or woman, as the case may be ; )
It seems the Gilyon intended to draw a parallel between the cases. Option (b) above assumes that the store owner just delivers the goods, and the only relationship that exists is manager to worker. In the kiddushin case, the only relationship would be the mekadeish and the third party recipeient. However, according to option (a) the store owner is part of the equationm just like the women who has funds pass through her to a third party.
To me these cases o not quite seem parallel - maybe someone else learned the gilyon differently here. Any ideas?

Does Faith mean passivity in the face of danger?

Quote from a "chareidi" writer:
>>>But there is something deeper, I think, that explains the lack of Jewish Sturm und Drang despite the abundance of anti-Semitic abuse. It lies in a fundamental Jewish religious attitude, one articulated at the end of the mainstay of every Jewish prayer: the silent Amidah, or "standing"-service. Its penultimate paragraph begins: "My G-d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully. To those who curse me, let my soul be silent." The sentiment is not one of resignation, but of faith<<<

There are a number of publications that I regularly avoid because I can't stomach the stupidity that regularly crosses their pages, quote above being an excellent example. Written during the week of Parshas Beshalach, where undoubtedly the author heard the pasuk "Mah titzak eilei - dabeir el Bnei Yisrael v'yisa'u". Faith is NOT the equivalent of passivity. There is a time for prayer, for quietude, and there is a time for action, and one hopes our Jewish leaders know the difference. If not, "Im chareish tacharishi revach v'hatzalah ya'amod layehudim mimakom acheir".

Brachos that start with al.. vs brachos thatsrat with l...

My friend Chaim M. wrote about the takanah of a guest being mishtateif b'perutah, contributing a "penny" to his host and thereby fulfilling the mitzvah of ner chanukah through the lighting of the ba'al habayis. http://nefeshchaim.blogspot.com/2005/12/kinyan-kesef-shel-achsenai.html He raised the issue whether giving a perutah is actually a purchase of the oil, or is it just a token gesture for the achsinai to be part of the lighting.
The gemara in pesachim debates whether the proper bracha of bedikas chameitz is "al biyur chameiyz" or "leva'eir chameitz". This leads the rishonim to an extended discussion of where the formula "al..." is used for a bracha, and where the formula "l..." is used. The Riva"m rules that where the mitzva can be accomplished by a shliach, the formula "al..." should be used, but otherwise the formula "l..." should be used. Rishonim ask: why is the bracha "l'hadlik ner chanukah" when lighting the menorah can be done through shlichus - isn't that what the achsinai (guest) accomplishing by contributing a perutah and asking the ba'al habayis to light for him?
Two answers are given: 1) the Rosh answers that the formula for brachos follows the most common case, which is a person lighting for himself, not achsinai. 2) the Ran answers that the perutah effectively converts the achsinai to owning a portion of the mitzva, not a pure shlichus case.
Perhaps these two opinions relate to how the takkanah of achsinai works. According to the Ran, there is something substantive taking place when the achsinai contributes a perutah that makes it his mitzvah and not shlichus; perhaps the Rosh deliberately avoided this formulation and considers shutfus b'perutah just a formulaic act to effect this unique form of shlichus. It is worth noting that according to the Agudah, the ba'al habayis must actually add extra oil on behalf of the achsinai for the perutah given, while other Rishonim do not adopt this position.

Standing up for Justice and Morality - Tikkun haOlam

I enjoy reading about history and politics, and must have consumed around 3500 pages about Clinton and his cabinet members over the past six months (as an aside, of the lot, Bob Rubin's bio is by far the best, but I am admittedly a biased conservative/libertarian). The foreign policy disaster's of the '90s - Haiti, Somalia, Rwanda, Boasnia - seem to have occurred eons ago. Why do I bring this up? Because I am troubled by the question of where were we when this was happening. Where was the Orthodox community? We, who have suffered the most this past century from the babarity of genocide, where were we when close to one million Rwandaans were killed? Where were we when Bosnia Serbs engaged in "ethnic cleansing"? To ask where they are when we are in need is to completely miss the point. We do not do "good works" only for the potential benefit. We do good because it is moral imperitive for us to do so. And I also do not buy the argument that we are too busy dealing with our own issues, or too wrapped up only in the 4 amos shel halacha. Halevai this should be so, but I cannot fathom a philosophy that allows the world to collapse into anarchy while we sit wrapped in an ivory tower pondering a Ktzos or R' Chaim or working on tuition tax credits. I hate to bring up the term "tikkun olam" because of its recent abuse by a writer elsewhere as a justification of the death penalty. Yes, the Rambam uses the phrase in that context, but that does not respond to the broader issue - where do we stand on issues of social justice? How can we act to make society more ethical? How can we insure the rights of the oppressed and persecuted are respected? Shouldn't these goals be part of the chinuch of our children?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

pesachim 27 - nisarvu b'acheiros (part 2)

Why is a sefeik sefeika permitted? One possible explanation is that the Torah or chachamim only prohibited a safeik, but a double-doubt is too far removed and was never included in the issur. A second approach is that really every safeik should be assur, but a safeik sefeika is permitted because there is a rov l'heter, e.g. if I have a 50-50 chance of heter vs. issur, but even the 50% issur is really only itself a 50-50 safeik issur what that really amounts to is 75 heter vs. 25 issur.
Rabeinu Tam may subscribe to the rov theory of sefeik sefeika, so when mixture #1 falls into mixture #2, I have a super-rov, or sefeik sefeika, which Rabeinu Tam does not want to find a braysa prohibiting. The Rivam may see rov as a different category completely and therefore a double mixture is nothing more then a giant rov which has nothing to do with sefeik sefeika.
Alternatively, when a mixture falls into a mixture, while there are 2 seperate sefeikos being raised (hence R'T says this is a sefeik sfeika), the underlying nature of both questions is the same: is the issur in this ta'aroves? Does sefeik sefeika focus on the number of questions, or the nature of doubts being raised? Perhaps this is why the Rivam calls this a double-rov and not a sefeik sefeika.

Monday, February 13, 2006

"local flood" and other such theories

So if I understand the theories that float around the internet and elsewhere, you have the following two claims about the mabul:
1) The flood was a local event to the Mesapotamian region;
2) Carbon or rock strata are not accurate measures of dating the earth because the flood changed the atmosphere/rock formations (or something like that - I doubt this can be formulated very scientifically. I believe it was actually suggested by the Malbim and was also discussed by Christian theologians trying to deal with early Darwinism).
Correct me if I'm wrong, but these two must be mutually exclusive - those who hold the flood was a "local event" must accept the evidence of rocks outside the flood region as far as dating the earth older than 5766. Why has no one raised this issue (GH?)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Peachim 27 - nisarvu b'acheiros

The gemara is discussing a mixture which has avodah zarah (asheira tree) in it. Tosfos quotes Rabeinu Tam who notes the correct girsa is "nisarvu b'acheiros", it was mixed with others, and not "acheiros b'acheiros", that mixture was further mixed into another mixture. What difference does that gursa make? Rabeinu Tam (Tos spells this out elsewhere) wants to avoid creating a "sefeik sefeika", a double-doubt, which is normally mutar.
Tosfos elsewhere cites the Rivam who adopts the girsa that R"T rejects. The Rivam writes that "acheiros b'acheiros" is like a double-rov. Imagine a piece of asheira that is 1/100 of a mixture. If 60/100 of that mixture fall into another mixture, since 60/100 is a rov, it is as if the issur itself fell into the second mixture.
The Rivam sounds reasonable - why would Rabeinu Tam not agree with that explanation? (To be continued... as usual, you get a day or two to think about it ; )

Friday, February 10, 2006

Shlichus for non-Jew

(See previous post first!) The Machne Efrayim attempts to bring an interesting proof. The gemara in Avodah Zarah 53 asks why the trees worshipped as avodah zarah (asheiros) had to be destroyed by the Jews entering Eretz Yisrael - since Eretz Yisrael had been given to Avraham, and we have a principle that "ain adam oseir davar sh'aino shelo", a person cannot create an issur using someone else's property, how did the trees become assur? The gemara answers that when Bnei Yisrael worshipped the eigel, their tolerance for avodah zarah served to establish that the idolators worshipping trees of Eretz Yisrael were acting on their behalf through "shlichusayhu". The Machneh Efrayim (Shluchin 14) writes that we assume a Jewish apostate is treated in halacha like a non-Jewish idolator, so here we have a source that indicates a non-Jew (those living in Eretz Yisrael) may serve as an agent and shliach for another non-Jew (the apostates who worshipped the eigel)!
The Machne Efrayim is based on a few difficult assumptions: 1) a Jew who worships avodah zarah may be treated l'chumra with certain stringencies that apply to non-Jews, but such an individual is still considered a full fledged Jew; 2) "shlichusayhu" is not the same as agency/shlichus in the formal sense - it just means that the worship of idols was approved of by them (by way of comparison, see the sugya in Gittin 88b. Formal shlichus is a din d'oraysa; shlichusayhu as it applies there is derabbanan, see the rashba).

Shlichus for non Jew for mechiras chameitz

In today's daf in Yerushalmi (for more on daf yomi yerushalmi, see my brother-on-law's website yerushalmionline.org ) the gemara derives from a dersasha (cited in a few places in the Bavli as well) that a Jew can only appoint another Jew as a shliach, but not a non-Jew. The yerushalmi then rejects the diyuk that a non-Jew may appoint a fellow non-Jew as a shliach and seems to state that a non-Jew is excluded entirely from acting as a shliach for anyone, whether Jew or non-Jew.
The Gilyon on the bottom of the Yerushalmi (Dmai 25) points out that this issue is a major machlokes haposkim, with the Shach notably holding that a non-Jew may indeed serve as shliach for his-fellow non-Jew. For those learning the daf Bavli, you may be interested in the Magen Avraham in hil Pesach (448 s"k 4) who discusses whether a non-jew may appoint another non-Jew as his agent to make the proper kinyanim for mechiras chameitz before Pesach, and on the basis of our Yerushalmi invalidates such a sale.

Shlichus for non Jew for mechiras chameitz

In today's daf in Yerushalmi (for more on daf yomi yerushalmi, see my brother-on-law's website yerushalmionline.org ) the gemara derives from a dersasha (cited in a few places in the Bavli as well) that a Jew can only appoint another Jew as a shliach, but not a non-Jew. The yerushalmi then rejects the diyuk that a non-Jew may appoint a fellow non-Jew as a shliach and seems to state that a non-Jew is excluded entirely from acting as a shliach for anyone, whether Jew or non-Jew.
The Gilyon on the bottom of the Yerushalmi (Dmai 25) points out that this issue is a major machlokes haposkim, with the Shach notably holding that a non-Jew may indeed serve as shliach for his-fellow non-Jew. For those learning the daf Bavli, you may be interested in the Magen Avraham in hil Pesach (448 s"k 4) who discusses whether a non-jew may appoint another non-Jew as his agent to make the proper kinyanim for mechiras chameitz before Pesach, and on the basis of our Yerushalmi invalidates such a sale.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Nice article and divrei torah

For those who live in the 5Towns, I selfishly encourage you to get a copy of the Jewish Star which has a very nice article about my wife (Kallah Magazine), and while on the topic, my parsha divrei torah are on her blog this week

Hefesk during Bedikas Chameitz (II)

To answer the question of the Rosh (see previous post), the Taz 432 takes what I have called before the case-by-case approach. At any moment you can bring the mitzva of yeshivas sukkah to a close by just walking out. By bedikas chametz, one must continue the mitzva until all the chametz has been removed. The Ma'adanei Yom Tov on the Rosh challenges this distinction; he argues you can end the bedika by and simply turning the task over to someone else. Perhaps we can salvage the Taz by recasting his sevara in a more "lomdish" framework. By sukkah, the bracha is on the act of yeshivas sukkah. By bedikah, the bracha is not on the act of searching but on the kiyum mitzva of having the chametz disposed of. Whether the mitava act is performed by the ba'al habayis or his shliach amounts to the same thing - until the task is complete, the kiyum has not been achieved and the bracha has not been fulfilled.
We can now understand the dispute between the Rosh and other rishonim on two levels. One can take the approach that the point of dispute is how to understand bedikas chameitz: is the act itself the mitzva, or is it just a means to the end of the kiyum mitzva of disposing of the chameitz? Alternatively, one might understand the issue at hand is one of hilchos brachos. Where an act is a means to an end, does one recite the bracha on the act, or does one recite the bracha on the kiyum mitzva? (This second debate is discussed ny R' Chaim in the stencils with respect to placing a mezuzah on someone else's doorpost for them - is the bracha recited by the one doing the mitzva act, or by the homeowner who gets the kiyum?)
I liked the suggestion made in the comments that the machlokes between the Rosh and others is whether there can be a hefsek in yeshivas sukkah at all - I think that idea is reminiscent of a chakira whether the mitzva of sukkah is just eating the k'zayis pas in the sukkah, or the entire experience of sitting in the sukkah, including everything done there, so nothing would be a hefsek.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Bedikas Chameitz - hefsek? (pesachim 7)

The common practice is to not speak from the beginning of bedikas chameitz (from after the bracha) until the conclusion of the search, ostensibly to avoid a hefsek in the mitzvah performance. The Rosh (siman 10) asks why this should be so. When we fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah, says the Rosh, we say the bracha and begin our seudah, but no one would suggest there is an issur of speaking until one leaves the sukkah. If so, why is bedikas chameitz different?
How would you answer the kashe of the Rosh?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

From Shiras HaYam to No Water

(OK, off the political soapbox and back to Torah... that's why you read this blog, I hope!)
The experience of shiras hayam was spiritually overwhelming and reached every single person - "ra'asa shifcha al hayam mah she'lo ra'ah Yechezkel ben Buzi". Yet, immediately afterwards Bnei Yisrael begin their travels with three days of no water, symbolic of Torah, and start complaining.
That seems to be the way life goes. Some days you are learning and davening and it feels like the shiras hayam. The next morning you wake up and mamesh nothing: davening passes without kavanah, you can't make it through the daf, you have no connection to ruchniyus, and so the day goes and maybe the next.
How to achieve a balance between the ratzo-v'shov going back and forth from gadlus hamochin to katnus hamochin is a real challenge and I don't have an answer myself. See the Ishbitzer who has an analysis of how the mitzvos given at Marah are a response, but I do not yet fully understand this torah.

Parshas haMan and segulos

Is it really conceivable that one can have the same attitude toward Torah and mitzvos as yesterday, the same chovos/zechuyos, and by magically reciting an incantation of a single parsha of chumash (the parshas haman), can tilt the balance in shamayim to have a better parnasa? Maybe you can cite the sugya of "simana milsa" as a source, but overall, I find it hard to digest this type of approach.

Why not chareidi?

A recent posting on a different blog (Cross-Currents 2/4) posed the question of why the modern orthodox / dati-leuimi world does not join with the chareidim - "Why is it not an option? It seems to me a realistic, pragmatic, option. The haredi option today emphasizes Torah study and family life, but now includes:service in the army in Nahal haredi or other forms of national service if one is not in full-time Torah study; College studies and professional training in numerous haredi programs for higher ed; cultural endeavors that filter out the more degrading aspects of secular culture; and a cautious modus vivendi with a secular Jewish government."
I have no problem with anyone who chooses to identify with as chareidi. However, lets call a spade a spade. If the writer on Cross-Currents is to be believed, you can be chareidi and have a profession, take part in active support of the State, and even enjoy the fruits of "higher" culture. I will let the quotes below speak for themselves:
1) On secular (college) studies, De'iah veDibbur, the "voice of the chareidi world", (an online version of the Yated), Dec 17, 2003 - "Warning against such institutions posing as chareidi yeshivas Maran HaRav Shach zt"l wrote, "All of the talmid's time should be used exclusively for studying the holy Torah and the talmid should not be given any opportunity to study secular studies. And furthermore it is forbidden to found a yeshiva or Torah-based institution by another name and make changes in the study arrangements we have received from our rabbonim, zt"l."
De'iah veDibbur, June 9, 2004, Opinion and Comment - "But just as fire and water don't mix, so too the Torah legacy cannot be integrated with Haskoloh teachings (even if the clearly, explicitly forbidden elements are censored out). This distinction comes to us from Rabbenu Yisroel Salanter…"
Is this the support for college studies and professional training in the chareidi community?
2) On support of the State, from the bio of R' Shach, Yated of Monsey - "The Yeshiva in Tel Aviv had no other outside limudim, there were no secular studies in the Yeshiva, but Rav Schach soon discovered that the Zionistic leanings of the Yeshiva administration made him uncomfortable. Despite the fact that he had no other parnassah and despite much cajoling from the dean of the Yeshiva, Rav Schach decided to give up this sure parnassah and return to Yerushalayim."
See also Igros of Rav Shach, vol 4, #320 regarding the worthlessness of hesder.
My all time favorite, again from De'iah veDibbur (that publication is really a source of endless examples, but it is like shooting fish in a barrell), June 29, 2005, Opinion and Comments - "If the Zionist movement in general has religious significance, it is clearly negative." On July 27 on the same Opinion pages we read, "What are the Values Behind the Objections to the Disengagement? This is a question to which we do not know the answer. However we do know that whatever they are, really, they are not values with which we can identify."
I ask the poster, do you think a dati leumi or modern orthodox shule which celebrates Yom Ha'Atzmut and/or Yom Yerushalayim, that says the mishebeirach for chayalei tzahal, or prays for the State as "reishit tzmichat geulateinu" shares this hashkafa?
Further, from Deiah veDibbur, Jan 18, 2006, "When Maran [Rav Shach] heard the news that Har Habayis had been captured by Israeli soldiers, he burst into bitter tears. While all of Jewry was celebrating the victory and conquest, he was filled with trepidation: "What will be? The secularists will now defile and desecrate the Mokom Hamikdosh!" (Yosef Daas LeHagaon R' Y. Lis zt'l)"
Would any dati-leumi think that a secular jew could cause greater desecration to the Makom Mikdash than the prior situation of "ba'u bah pritzim v'chililuha"?
3) I know Cross-Currents didn’t mention this one, but it is part of the same mix: on women's role in Judaism, De'iah veDibbur, Nov 10, 2004 - "HaRav Shteinman spoke powerfully about the obligation incumbent on the Jewish mother to fully dedicate herself to her children's education in Torah, stressing how in past generations Jewish mothers derived honor from staying home to educate yaldei Yisroel in holiness and purity. The goal of bnos Yisroel is not to be highly educated in secular studies, he said, and even if advanced studies in a certain area are needed, certainly one should strive to limit them as much as possible."
De'iah veDibbur, June 9, 2004, Opinion and Comment - "Our rabbonim taught us that although girls are not required to learn Torah, the goal of studies at Bais Yaakov schools is not the accumulation of general scholastic knowledge within a chareidi framework designed to provide kosher professional training, but to pass on to them emunoh and yiras Shomayim, mussar and good middos, with which to build Torah homes and prepare themselves for lives of Jewish purity." (This one applies to point #1 above as well).
I ask, can a chareidi women and aspire to have a fulfilling career?
So I humbly submit that the choice is yours, but indeed, there is a choice to be made. I don't think anyone can dispute that the Modern Orthodox/Dati movements embrace 1) support of the State of Israel as the beginnings of geulah, which will be achieved (at least partially) through natural means; 2) support of secular culture and studies as contributing something valuable to our personal growth and experiences; 3) support of women taking an active role in society and religious life. I have work to do and get get quotes for everything, but the one ingredient I left out that is no less deserving of comparison is the chareidi vs. modern orthodox /dati attitude toward non-Jews and toward other non-religious movements, but I think my point is clear.
Unless I misread the sample of quotes above (and there are many more of the same), I think I am safe in saying that Chareidim 1) see no value or negative value in the State as a political or religious entity; 2) idealize total dedication to Torah study as the only means of shelimus; 3) see the ideal role of women in the home raising children and tending to housework.
I have the most sincere respect to those who do believe in chareidi hashkafa and live accordingly - R' Shach is certainly a bar samcha! However, don't try to pretend that the attitudes and outlook of chareidi society and leadership is something it is not. Don't sell us on charedi professional studies or cultural endeavors when these ideas are at best tolerated and certainly not part of the ideal. Don't sell us on chareidi "cautious modus vivendi" with a State and at the same time decalre you identify with none of the values of the State and cannot even daven for its soliders. If you have made your choice, at least do us the courtesy of standing up for what you really believe in.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Punishment of Mitzrim - kam leih b'derabbah mineih

My chavrusa pointed out an interesting kashe of the Ksav Sofer and others (again, you have to appreciate this type of mehalaich that is common among Hungarian derush seforim - it is an acquired taste for Litvaks) how is it that the Mitzrim could be punished by having their property taken by Bnei Yisrael and simultaneously punsihed by the death of bechorim - we have a rule in halacha called kam leih b'derabbah mineih that double jeapordy is not allowed and one cannot be punished with misah and a mamon simultaneously? According to the tanna R' Nechunya ben HaKannah this rule even applies to misah b'yedei shamayim.

Hirhur k'dibbur (conclusion)

I meant to finish the sugya of hirhur k'dibbur started earlier. The Sha'agas Arye asks: why in hil brachos (1:7) does the Rambam pasken hirhur k'dibbur and allow a bracha to be said b'lev, but the Rambam in hil shabbos paskens that hirhur is not included in the issur of "dabeir davar"? Our goal was to illustrate what lomdus was all about. In a nutshell, the ba'alebatish approach is the contrast the case of brachos with the case of shabbos. I bounced this off my wife who immediately responded that dabeir davar is an issur, while making a bracha is a mitzva. What makes this unusual is if hirhur k'dibbur was assur on shabbos but not sufficient for a bracha then such a chiluk would be easy to understand - we treat hirhur k'dibbur l'chumra by issurim. However, how can you explain the reverse chiluk that it works by brachos and but is permitted by shabbos? I think you are forced into a more conceptual framework from the get-go here. The nature of a bracha is to thank Hashem - thoughts of thanks may be sufficient to accomplish that goal. By shabbos, we prohibit acts of chilul shabbos, so thought alone does not fit a category of issur. We might make the following chakira: if one holds hirhur k'dibbur, is one saying that thought is equal to speech, or is one saying that the particular mitzva (e.g. bracha) does not require speech for fulfillment? One possible distinction might be whether the act of writing is sufficient: if hirhur=speech, one has no clear evidence that the same would apply to writing, but if the mitzva per se does not require speech, then writing should be sufficient (see Shu"t R' Akiva Eiger regarding this issue). Using this chakira we can sharpen the distinction we drew above. With respect to brachos, the Rambam may hold no speech is required, hence hirhur k'dibbur, but with respect to issurei shabbos, there is no aveira act in thought. Moving further down the lomdus spectrum, we might pose a Brisker distinction between speech as an act of the gavra, and speech as an object, a cheftza. R' Yosef Engel has an analysis in his sefer Esvan D'Oraysa whether issurim function as prohibitions on the gavra or on the cheftza. Perhaps one could argue that the Rambam would hold that hirhur is equivalent to a ma'aseh on the part of the gavra, but hirhur is intangible and cannot become a cheftza shel issur. Again, this is not a thorough chaburah on the sugya, just thoughts off the cuff, mainly to try to illustrate what I think lomdus means.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Makas Bechoros - chiddush of the Netziv

I can't help but mention another Netziv which caught my eye. The Netziv has a number of diyukim in the text that he uses to support this thesis, but fundementally his argument is from a ba'alebatish kashe. Moshe instructs everyone not to go out during makkas bechoros because during a time of punishment the malacha hamaves may strike indiscriminately - asks the Netziv, how can that be? The malach hamaves must be able to distinguish bechor from non-bechor, so why can it not distingush tzaddik from rasha?

The Netziv writes a yesod that is found in many other seforim as well. During the makkas bechoros there was a trememdous hisgalus of Elokus. Davka the bechorim, those who were vested with greater spiritual potential, were affected by this hisgalus. To the Mitzri bechor who suddenly faced this revelation after a life of disbelief, the power was overwhelming and it brought death. Even a bechor yisrael, or one of the zekeinim, who also had great spiritual potential, was not necessarily on the level ready to receive such hisgalus Hashem and therefore also faced grave danger.

There is a mussar haskel here, which touches on something I wrote about before. I am always disturbed when I see people wearing clothes of yahadus that don't fit. If a guy has no background in gemara and halacha, why start learning Ishbitz or R' Nachman? If a kid in high school has learned 15 blatt gemara at most, why spend 15 hours a week on a chiddush of R' Baruch Ber? It is absolutely a sakkanah! People walk around with completely distorted perspectives in halacha and hashkafa because they have not covered enough ground to know what are positions are "mainstream" and what are chiddushim. That is not to say you can't adopt the a chumra from the GR"A or be inspired by an Ishbitzer. The problem is if you don't recognize the chumras haGR"A as a chumra but think it mainstream, or confuse an Ishbitzer with what might be the "mainstream" views of Rishonim in inyanei hashkafa. Davka those who are seekers of truth with great spiritual potential in the neshomos are drawn to extreme shitos and chumros before being grounded in lots of basic gemara, halacha, and rishonim.

Tashbisu - chiddush of R' Betzalel Cohen Dayan of Vilna

"Tashbisu se'or m'bateichem... ki kol ochel chametz v'nichresa hanefesh ha'hi m'yisrael m'yom harishon ad yom hashevi'i. U'bayom harishon mikra kodesh..." (Shmos 12:15-16).
The pasuk is grammatically difficult, as the phrase "m'yom harishon ad yom hashevi'I" does not modify its antecedent clause "v'nichrisa..." (using words like antecedent clause is what happens when your wife has a phd in English). The Netziv quotes a chiddush from R' Betzalel Cohen, the dayan of Vilna, who explains that it refers back to the mitzva of "tashbisu" which opened the pasuk. Although tashbisu begins of erev Yom Tov (see Rashi), the mitzva continues throughout Yom Tov obligating one to destroy any chameitz found. On that basis the Netziv is mechadesh that if chametz is found on Yom Tov, according to those Rishonim who hold it may be burned if you have not done bittul before Yom Tov (daf yomi learners - see rashi in peaschim 6) the reason is not because of mitoch (since burning is allowed for ochel nefesh it is also allowed to destroy chametz), but because the aseh of tashbisu combined with the lav of owning chametz is enough to be doche the ashe and lav of Yom Tov!

Sven Minim of Eretz Yisrael

I am reading "Germs, Guns, and Steel" by Jared Diamond (I need a break from work and learning sometime; yes, I am a geek who considers reading a leisure activity) and discovered that the earliest domesticated crops were wheat and barely in the Fertile Crescent. "A next stage of crop development included the first fruit and nut trees... They comprised olives, figs, dates, pomegranates, and grapes."(p. 124) Is it a coincidence that this list so perfectly matches the 7 minim that Eretz Yisrael is praised for?
(I intentionally did an elipses where the author dates the domestication of these crops to avoid the Torah dating vs.anthropological dating conflict. Whatever the date, these crops were viewed in Ancient culture as almost the definition of domestic farming, so a land bountiful in those crops would be treasured).