Friday, December 29, 2006

hefsek between tefillin shel yad and shel rosh

One final note to close out this topic of brachos of tefillin. The Rishonim discuss what the halacha would be if there is a hefsek between hearing all the kolos one is required to listen to on Rosh haShana, and the general consensus seems to reject any comparison to speaking between tefillin shel yad and shel rosh. The Rosh (R”H 4:2) writes that tefillin are two separate mitzvos, and unless hefsek is avoided there would be no relationship between the shel yad and shel rosh. Additionally, the shel yad and shel rosh require two separate brachos; if one speaks between them, the connection between the brachos and the two parts to the mitzvah is broken. The Ba’al haMaor (last daf of RI”F) goes a step further and writes that the command “v’haya l’os al yadcha u’lzikaron bein einecha” demands that one havaya be created with both tefillin – in other words, the Torah commands that both tefillin be donned together as one unit and not as discrete parts. By shofar, there is no inherent dependency of one kol on another.

There is a fundemental difference between Rabeinu Tam’s position and that of the Ba’al haMaor. According to Rabeinu Tam, hefsek must be avoided because it separates the brachos from the mitzvah act; according to the Ba’al haMaor avoiding hefsek is an independent consideration from the brachos. When tefillin are worn without a bracha, such as on chol hamoed, or those who don tefillin of Rabeinu Tam daily, according to Rabeinu Tam a hefsek might be tolerated, but according to the Ba’al haMaor it should still be avoided.

R' Tzadok haKohen - the days of Moshiach ben Yosef have already passed

According to the Midrash, Yehudah prepares to confront Yosef in the same manner Ya'akov did before meeting Eisav: with prayer, by assuaging his enemy, and by readiness for battle. R' Tzadok haKohen, Pri Tzadik (VaYigash 1) writes:
This hints to the future redemption which will also require these three preparations, but even one alone is sufficient now for the redemption to be revealed, as we have already suffered so much. It is said in the name of tzadikim that the battle of Gog and Magog and the death of Moshiach ben Yosef has already passed. Yehudah thought [his encounter with Yosef, in the guise of the ruler of Egypt] heralded the complete redemption; only the suffering of the birthpangs of Moshiach were needed [to complete the process], and after deliberating what form that suffering would take, he accepted upon himself the suffering of servitude. Upon accepting that burden on behalf of all the brothers [so they could go free], immediately Yosef could no longer restrain himself even for a second, for the moment of revelation had arrived. So too, in the End of Days, G-d will not delay even for an instant, “b’ita achishena”, when the time comes redemption will happen swiftly.

A willingness to bear our brothers suffering to redeem him from sorrow is ultimately the key to our own redemption - nothing else but accepting that burden stands in the way.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

tefillin: 2 brachos or one; 2 kiyumim or one?

The Rambam writes (Tefillin 4:25)
The holiness of tefillin is very great. As long as tefillin are on a person’s arm and head he is [reminded to be] humble and fearful [of G-d], he does not engage in frivolity and idle chatter, he does not think evil thoughts, but turns his attention to words of truth and justice. Therefore, a person should try to wear tefillin all day, for that is the definition of the mitzvah. It is said about Rav, the student of Rabeinu haKadosh, that through his entire life he was not seen walking 4 cubits without being engaged in Torah study, wearing tztitzis, or wearing tefillin.
There are certain mitzvos which entail a one time act in their performance; e.g. consuming a k’zayis of matzah. There are other mitzvos where each repetition of the act is an additional fulfillment of a mitzvah, e.g. each meal consumed in sukkah is a separate mitzvah. If the Rambam meant to place tefillin in this later category, he could have simply defined the mitzvah act as an ongoing obligation – why does the Rambam offer an elaborate mussar discourse on the value of tefillin toward perfecting one’s character as a justification for wearing tefillin all day?

Yesterday I suggested that perhaps there are two separate kiyumim in the mitzvah of tefillin: the act of donning the tefillin, and the state wearing tefillin. R’ Soloveitchik (Shiurim l’Zecher Aba Mori vol 1 p. 161) writes that this was the intent of the Rambam. It is not the act of donning tefillin alone which completes the mitzvah of tefillin, even if one performs that act multiple times. Part of the telos of tefillin is elevating the wearer to a heightened level of kedusha, of creating a “state of being” of being enwrapped in tefillin.

The age of chinuch for most mitzvos begins when the child can perform the mitzvah act, e.g. a child is obligated in lulav when he is capable of shaking it (sukkah 42). However, the gemara tells us that a child becomes obligated in tefillin only when he can properly guard and take care of the tefillin. Why, asked the Rav, is the age of chinuch for tefillin not also dependent on the criteria of when the child can perform the act of donning tefillin? The Rav answered that the act of donning tefillin alone in insufficient; proper performance of the mitzvah depends on realizing the transformative state that wearing the tefillin creates. A child who cannot guard tefillin properly, who does not realize the potential of tefillin to serve as a catalyst for kedusha, is not ready to accept the mitzvah.

To return to yesterday’s post, this chiddush explains Rabeinu Tam’s opinion that two brachos are recited, one before the shel yad that relates to the act of donning tefillin, one before the shel rosh that relates to the state kedusha having donned the tefillin creates. Yet, what are we to make of Rashi’s opinion that only one bracha is recited? And why if one has a hefsek and must repeat the bracha is a new different bracha of al mitzvas recited instead of simply repeating the bracha of l’haniach? I don’t have a simple answer, so this is just speculative. My hunch is that while Rabeinu Tam isolated this second kiyum, which stems from the pasuk of v’r’au kok amei ha’aretz ki shem Hasehm nikra alecha, to the tefillin shel rosh, Rashi held it was achieved by having both the shel yad and shel rosh together (the Rav noted as well that the Rambam writes “tefillin al rosho..v’al zro’o”). According to Rabeinu Tam, since this second kiyum is achieved only through donning the shel rosh, it requires a new bracha. According to Rashi, this second kiyum also is achieved by the shel yad, but we already have a bracha of l’haniach on the ma’aseh of tying the shel yad – since one mitzvah act cannot get two brachos, we omit al mitzvas in favor of l’haniach. If, however, we are donning the shel rosh alone, then we would say the bracha on the secondary kiyum. Again, this is speculative, and if someone else has a better approach, please comment away!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

the bracha of al mitzvas tefillin

Our practice is to recite the bracha of al mitzvas tefilin before donning the shel rosh, but to add barch shem kvod malchuso as if this was a bracha l’vatala. If we are concerned for Rashi’s opinion that the bracha is unnecessary, than based on the rule of safeik brachos l’hakeil shouldn’t we simply omit the bracha entirely?

The Aruch haShulchan creatively suggests that baruch shem is not said as a response to a potential bracha l’vatala, but is said simply as a statement of praise to Hashem’s name which is represented by the tefillin shel rosh – v’rau kol amei ha’aretz ki shem Hashem nikra alecha v’yaru m’meka. He further adds that the bracha of al miztvas tefillin itself is not a birchas hamitzva, but a birchas hashevach, as we never find two brachos on a single mitzvah act.

I do not quite understand the redefinition of this bracha as a birchas hashevach, as a birchas hashevach is normally recited only after the fact; here, the bracha is recited specifically over l’asiyasan, before the tefillin are donned. Perhaps one might explain the two brachos here relate to two distinct kiyumim of tefillin: 1) the ma’aseh hamitzvah, the act of donning the tefillin, which is covered by the bracha of l’haniach; 2) the kiyum of wearing tefillin, which is covered by the bracha of al mitzvas. This may explain why according to Rashi in the case of interruption a seperate bracha of al mitzvas is recited on the shel rosh and we do not simply repeat the bracha of l'haniach. Clearly hefsek is not a mechayeiv of shevach; Rashi must see the extra bracha as a new form of birchas hamitzvah.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

on language and lomdus

I have a posting on the Mishmar blog here on the influence of language on the intellectual development of halacha. The post is titled "On Language and Lomdus: the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, lashon kodesh, and Brisker lomdus". According to the hypothesis of language relativity, the use of language is not just a means to communicate ideas, but influences and shapes how we think about the world. The use of Hebrew or the jargon of lomdus is not just an arbitrary choice of language, but perhaps is instrumental in helping us achieve a specific construction of reality. Your feedback appreciated on Mishmar.

proof, mathematics and theology

I don’t know enough about math to judge the accuracy of this article in American Scientist on the nature of proof, but it makes for an interesting read. I would have thought that when it comes to proof, the fields of math and theology are about as far apart as you can possibly get, but apparently that is not exactly the case –

Davis and Kline both wrote as mathematical insiders—as members of the club, albeit iconoclastic ones. In contrast, John Horgan positioned himself as a defiant outsider when he wrote a Scientific Americanessay titled "The Death of Proof" in 1993. "The doubts riddling modern human thought have finally infected mathematics," he said. "Mathematicians may at last be forced to accept what many scientists and philosophers already have admitted: their assertions are, at best, only provisionally true, true until proved false."

…In the 17th century, when algebraic methods began intruding into geometry, the heirs of the Euclidean tradition cried foul. (Hobbes was one of them.) At the end of the 19th century, when David Hilbert introduced nonconstructive proofs—saying, in effect, "I know x exists, but I can't tell you where to look for it"—there was another
rebellion. Said one critic: "This is not mathematics. This is theology."

Richard Feynman reportedly commented regarding proof, "A great deal more is known than has been proved."

To return to a discussion from a few days ago, I wonder what modern day fans of evidentialism will make of these statements. Recall Annie Besant’s argument in Why I Do Not Believe in G-d - "It is not for me to prove that no such beings exist before my non-belief is justified, but for him to prove that they do exist before my belief can be fairly claimed." (emphasis mine) It is wonderful to speak in such rhetorical platitudes of rationalism about adherence to proof as the sole basis for knowledge, but the practical reality is that not just theology, but even "pure" sciences like math and physics cannot meet such a standard.

the brachos before donning tefillin

My son's bar mitzvah is in a few months and we have begun thinking about tefillin, which is a good excuse for some review of the halachos. The gemara (menachos 36) writes that the bracha on tefillin shel yad is l'haniach tefillin; the bracha on tefillin shel rosh is al mitzvas tefillin. The gemara continues: if one speaks between the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh one must recite two brachos, otherwise one only recites a single bracha. Taken alone, the implication of the first statement is that there is a single bracha recited on tefillin shel yad and a single bracha on tefillin shel rosh. However, the implication of the second statement is that in reality one bracha suffices for both unless an interruption occurs.

Given the gemara’s ambiguity, it is not surprising that this issue is debated in the rishonim. Rashi holds that under normal circumstances only one bracha need be recited on tefillin. If an interruption occurs between donning the tefillin shel yad and shel rosh, only then is a bracha of al mitzvas tefillin added before the shel rosh in addition to the l'haniach bracha already recited. Rabeinu Tam, however, holds that both brachos of l’haniach and al mitzvas are always recited – l’haniach before the tefillin shel yad, al mitzvas before the tefillin shel rosh. If one has an interruption between the shel yad and shel rosh, both brachos together must be recited before donning the shel rosh.

It seems clear from the position of Rabeinu Tam that the bracha of l’haniach applies to the shel rosh, and therefore there must ideally be no interruption between donning the tefillin shel yad and shel rosh. Somewhat less clear is whether the bracha of al mitzvas retroactively applies to the tefillin shel yad. If one has only tefillin shel yad and not shel rosh (the mitzvos are not dependent upon each other and in cases of need one can be fulfilled without the other), according to Rabeinu Tam would one recite just a bracha of l’haniach, or both brachos? Tosfos in Brachos writes that the bracha of l’haniach is on the beginning of the mitzvah; the bracha of al mitzvas is on the gmar hamitzvah, the conclusion of the act – the implication is that both brachos are needed as one unit. Halacha l’ma’aseh only one bracha is recited in this case, but that is out of deference to Rashi's opinion that only one bracha is normally ever recited.

Though these opinions sound mutually exclusive (either one says one bracha like Rashi or two like Rabeinu Ram), R’ Akiva Eiger offers a suggestion by which both opinions can be fulfilled - one can don tefillin shel yad and recite the bracha of l’haniach with the intent that if the halacha is in accordance with Rashi one does not wish to be yotzei saying the bracha on tefillin shel rosh yet. This in effect artificially creates an interruption, in which case even Rashi agrees that a bracha is needed on the shel rosh. This is not a bracha sh’aina tzericha because one is forced into this situation to avoid a safeik bracha. The Biur Halacha notes R’ Akiva Eiger’s opinion but writes that others disagree, perhaps because this innovation runs contrary to minhag yisrael.

The minhag recorded by the Rama is to recite two brachos, but to add “baruch shem kvod malchuso” after the bracha of al mitzvas, as if one recited an unnecessary bracha. The Aruch haShulchan poses the obvious question: if we rely on Rabeinu Tam, then we have every justification to recite the bracha and do not need to add “baruch shem”; if there is a doubt, then based on the rule of safeik brachos l’hakeil no bracha at all should be recited. What is this strange compromise the Rama suggests of reciting a bracha, but adding baruch shem?
Bli neder, to be continued...

Friday, December 22, 2006

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty" and the story of Chanukah

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty - that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know" is the famous concluding lines of Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn". The relationship between superficial physical beauty and eternal enduring truth was at the heart of the conflict between the Ancient Greek Hellinists and the Macabbes. If you don't live in the 5T, Queens, Midtown, or Brooklyn areas that get Kallah Magazine (edited by my wife) distributed in print format, click here for an online .pdf copy where you can read my article on the topic, "Beauty and Truth: Shalom, Emes, and Chanukah", on page 6. Hurry up - Chanukah is almost over!

pirsumei nisa, ner chanukah, and neiros mikdash

To get back to our Chanukah vs. shabbos issue (see previous posts), I want to expand on what Bluke posted because I think I have a good answer to a kashe asked by HaRav Shlomo Fischer. The gemara tells us the shiur Chanukah candles must burn for is from nightfall until the time the marketplace clears, which in the days of Chazal was about a half-hour after dark (R’ Soloveitchik noted that today the streets are filled with people until much later and therefore candles should burn later). The Rashba writes that one need not light the menorah during this time; one can light it earlier and have it burn until after dark (as previously discussed), but one can also light later if one missed the time and still gain some mitzvah. The Mishna tells us that mitzvos that must be done at night can be performed all night, and Chanukah candles are no exception. The Rambam, however, holds that if the time is missed and it is passed the time the marketplace is clear, the candles should not be lit.

The issue being debated becomes clearer in light of the Rambam’s formulation of the mitzvah of lighting menorah (and here I am going beyond Bluke a bit). In Hil Chanukah (3:3) the Rambam places the obligation of lighting neiros Chanukah in the context of the obligation to recite hallel on Chanukah; the Rambam also adds superfluously that the Chanukah candles are obligatory “just like reading the megillah on Purim”. R’ Soloveitchik explained (cited in Moadei HaRav) that the Rambam’s choice of words and placement is deliberate. Chazal tell us that no hallel is recited on Purim because “keriysa zu hi haleila”, reading the Megilah is itself a fulfillment of hallel. The Rambam categorizes lighting menorah also as a fulfillment of hallel and pirsumei nisa; its role is to publicize the miracle and declare, just as we do in hallel and via reading the purim megillah, our thanks to Hashem.

According to the Rashba, the mitzvah of lighting the menorah and the mitzvah of pirsumei nisa are distinct kiyumim. One may light early or late because one can fulfill hadlaka even in an absence of pirsumei nisa. The Rambam disagrees and sees both fulfillments as intertwined and inseparable.

The Rambam’s opinion (which the GR”A quotes) is that the menorah is lit immediately after shkiya, even before actual nightfall. Why, asked R’ Soloveitchik, can we fulfill the mitzvah of menorah even before dark, during bein hashemashos, while we must wait until actual nightfall to do other mitzvos that must be done only at night, such as eating matzah or sitting in sukkah? R’ Soloveitchik explained that the Rambam does not define lighting menorah as a mitzvah of night per se. The halacha simply mandates that one light Chanukah lights – since the rule is sharaga b’tihara mai ahanei, a candle lit during the day (when it is light out) is functionally useless, we have no choice but to wait until is begins to get dark to light our menorah. The shiur does not define the time of one’s obligation (chovas hagavra) as occurring only at night (like matzah or sukkah); rather, the shiur of shkiya defines for us what defines a ner (cheftza).

The Rambam (Temidim 3:10) famously writes that in the Bais HaMikdash the menorah was not just kindled during the evening (as most rishonim hold), but was lit during the morning as well. R’ Shlomo Fischer shlit”a asks – if the gemara uses the shiur of shkiya to define a ner, how can the Rambam possibly hold that there is an obligation to light the menorah during the day? How does one have a cheftza of a ner during that time?

I think perhaps the answer relates to the dual nature of the mitzvah of ner Chanukah. The shiur of shkiya is a definition of ner only with respect to its function as a cheftza shel mitzvah for the mitzvah of pirsumei nisa, which is fulfilled by the Chanukah candles. But with respect to the simple act of hadlakah, which is all that was required in Mikdash, even a candle lit during the day serves as a kiyum mitzvah.

neiros chanukah and neiros shabbos - kavod and oneg

Last Friday I started but never finished discussing the machlokes Rambam and Rashba re: hadlakas menorah and hadlakas neiros Shabbos. The Rashba holds that Chanukah candles may always (not only on Friday) be lit before shkiya, and proves the point from our lighting of Shabbos candles. The purpose of Shabbos candles is to burn into the night and enhance our enjoyment of Shabbos and our meal; however, the candles must be lit before dark. The purpose of Chanukah candles is to publicize the miracle by burning after dark, but that should not prevent their being lit beforehand. Why does the Rambam disagree?

Bluke's referred me to his post which sums up the issue well, so I will just add a few other points. The Brisker Rav (see Kuntres Chanukah u’Purim #1) notes that the Rambam in two places cites the need to light Shabbos candles: in ch 5 of hil shabbos, and again in ch 30 of hil shabbos. The Rambam is not repetitive - there are in fact two dimensions to the mitzvah: to have candles burning on Shabbos itself for the purpose of enhancing oneg Shabbos, and secondly, the act of lighting candles on Friday, which is an aspect of kavod Shabbos done to welcome in the Shabbos. The Rashba's proof is incolclusive. Unlike Chanukah candles whose function of publicizing the miracle of Chanukah can be fulfilled only after dark, the Shabbos candles fulfill a function of welcoming the Shabbos and kavod Shabbos on Friday afternoon when they are lit.

Last week I pointed to the machlokes BH”G and Tosfos/Rashba regarding whether one should light shabbos candles or chanukah candles first. BH”G holds that lighting Shabbos candles is itself an act of accepting Shabbos which would prevent lighting chanukah candles afterwards, but Rashba writes that Shabbos candles are done first because of the rule of tadir. Perhaps this machlokes is l’shitasam - the BH”G (and Rambam) associate Shabbos candles with kabbalas Shabbos and preprations of kavod Shabbos. Rashba, however, sees Shabbos candles only as connected with their function of providing light on Shabbos night itself, but not as an act of kabbalas Shabbos.

The gemara tells us that Shabbos candles should not be lit too early; Rashi (23b d”h l’hakdim) explains that the lighting must be recognizable as done for the sake of Shabbos. Tosfos (25b d”h chovah) cites Rabeinu Tam that if a candle is already burning on Friday it should be extinguished and relit for the sake of Shabbos. These halachos seem to point to the fact that the lighting of the candles itself is part of the procedure for welcoming Shabbos and it far more than just a means to insure proper oneg Shabbos by eating at a lighted table.

There is yet another aspect of this machlokes, so stay tuned…. I need to get this all in before Chanukah is over : )

are chazakos "ontological reality"?

Comment to a previous post submitted anonymously:
"he thinks chazakas represent onotological realities and cant change."

Quite a striking claim to make! It is one thing to say chazakos are static (as R' Soloveitchik was known to hold) because the Torah defined a fixed legal reality in which halachic rules operate (e.g. like doing geometry with perfect right triangles which exist nowhere in nature other than in rough approximation), but it is quite another thing entirely to say that chazakos represent ontological reality. Is this really so? Doesn't it depend on what type of chazakah you are talking about?

If a kosher mikveh is measured and found to be missing water, the chazakah d'm'ikara tells us that the mikveh is assumed to have been kosher until the moment before it was measured and found lacking (see Nidda 2-3 for a full discussion). Is that because there is some magic ontological rule of evaporation that places its occurance at a moment before measurement, or simply a legal fiction that tells us to assume a status quo is maintained until we have definitive proof otherwise, even though in reality the water might have been missing for days?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sam Harris and the teapot proof - old ideas in new packages

Because my local public library never has the latest, I have not read the newest Sam Harris’ book which XGH posts TNR’s review of, but I did read his previous one simply for the sake of seeing many of the anti-religion arguments that pop-up in the jblogsphere in the original. For those of you shamelessly borrowing his rhetoric, at least give credit where credit is due. It would take weeks to analyze his book piece by piece (I find the tone borders on the hysterical more than the analytical and its arguments suffer from bloated excess), but my overall impression is that once you move beyond the hyperbole and rhetoric, Harris actually offers nothing more than repacked ideas that have been around since the Enlightenment.

In 1877 William Kingdon Clifford, a professor in University College, London, wrote a book called “The Ethics of Belief” which was the Sam Harris tract of its time. His motto: “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” Evidentialism, as it is now known, soon became the rage. It was scientific, it spoke of rational proof, and seemed so much more modern than good ol’ fashioned belief. Clifford offers an analogy to a ship owner alerted to the possibility that his boat is in need of major repairs and overhaul at great expense. Rather than take such considerations seriously, the ship owner mollifies his doubts by trusting fate and relying on the ship’s record of successful previous voyages. Is the ship owner not guilty of negligence should the ship sink mid voyage? Clifford writes, “He did sincerely believe in the soundness of the ship, but the sincerity of his convictions can in no wise [sic] help him, because he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him. He had acquired his belief not by honestly earning it in patient investigation, but by stifling his doubts.” Is man no less negligent when he leads life according to religious faith without investigating the truthfulness of those beliefs? Pushing away doubt or labeling “impious those questions which cannot be easily asked without disturbing faith” is in Clifford’s words, “one long sin against mankind.”

Sam Harris approvingly cites Bertrand Russell’s teapot argument, which is also the basis for the TNR review’s title "The Celestial Teapot":
"Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense."

If this sounds new and exciting, compare it with Annie Besant’s “Why I Do Not Believe in G-d”, written in 1887:
"If my interlocutor desires to convince me that Jupiter has inhabitants, and that his description of them is accurate, it is for him to bring forward evidence in support of his contention. The burden of proof evidently lies with him; it is not for me to prove that no such beings exist before my non-belief is justified, but for him to prove that they do exist before my belief can be fairly claimed. Similarly, it is for the affirmer of G-d’s existance to bring evidence in support of his affirmation; the burden of proof lies on him."

So much for the history lesson. Of course, in the past 125 years religious thinkers have had a chance to digest these ideas and offer cogent responses, but you will probably never discover them if all your diet consists of is Harris, Dennett, or Dawkins. I gleaned material for this post from "The Twilight of Atheism”, a well worth it read by Alister McGrath, a professor at Oxford, once an atheist himself but now a believing Professor of Theology (one cannot help but chuckle at the title of his forthcoming book – "The Dawkins Delusion").

The TNR reviewer, James Wood, who is an atheist, records his personal struggle with faith, and writes, "I vividly remember the day I sat down with a piece of paper and drew a line down the middle: on one side I would compile my reasons to believe and on the other the reasons not to. Perhaps this was rigged--anyone who does something like this has already lost his faith, well before the pretended ratiocination." The irony is inescapable - a review of a book rejecting religion because G-d cannot be proven must resort to personal anecdote to make the case for disbelief, admitting that rationalizing the choice occurs only after the fact.

Suffice it to say that Clifford and Harris’ view does not correspond to the way most of us lead our lives (nor does it even correspond to the methodology of pure science, as McGrath discusses). Did you have proof that your job would be successful before signing an employment contract, or proof that your wife was the best mate you could find before plunging into marriage? Probably not, but you went ahead and made these major life decisions based on your intuitive sense of what seemed reasonable. If using an intuitive sense of reasonableness to make decisions constitutes “one long sin against mankind”, as Clifford wrote, I’m afraid most of humanity will be found guilty.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

peeling potatoes as a learning opportunity - Montessori ed

My wife posts on the educational value of peeling potatoes. Montessori fans know that one of the insights of the Montessori system is that engaging in food preparation using real grown up tools develops fine motor skills and is a learning experience which should be part of the early school year’s curriculum. I meant to get back to hilchos Chanukah and got sidetracked by segulos and mysticism, which I am not done with yet. No time to go into a detailed discussion of Montessori, but it is worth reading up on. I remain unconvinced that the method produces all the positive gains its adherent claim it does, but I have never seen a full Montessori school program in action (I don’t think any Montessori yeshivos that have grades 1-8 exist).

segulos, mysticism, and fundementals of faith

From a comment to the previous post:
"If I recall correctly, you are not a fan of rational taamei hamitzvot, but rather believe that they are beyond our ability to understand, and may all have mystical ends rather than rational ends. If so, please explain the difference between a segulah and not eating a cheeseburger. I can't see any."

The point of the previous post (as I clarified in the comments) was not that I reject segulos because they are irrational. Rather, I reject the mass advertising of “get spiritually rich quick” ideas of any sort. Avodas Hashem, as the words literally mean, is about work – there are no shortcuts and no quick fixes. Preying on people’s naïve beliefs and offering these fixes packaged with all the gloss of what appears to be frumkeit misrepresents Judaism and borders on stealing.

The Torah makes no claim that not eating a cheeseburger alone guarantees any tangible reward in this world (see Chulin 142), neither in terms of health, longer life, or even spiritual protection from harm. This is a case in point illustrating one reason why I am not a pure rationalist when it comes to explanations for mitzvos. We do find claims in the Rishonim that not eating a cheeseburger will keep you healthy, which undoubtedly made sense in the Middle Ages, but given the health and vigor of a great many Jews who eat cheeseburgers, lobster, etc. without suffering immediate cardiac arrest these claims lead to greater doubt than understanding. The well meaning people who tout any study that comes out “proving” the health benefits of mitzvos just continue this same sort of wrong thinking. Physical reward of any sort should never be the motivation to do mitzvos, and is not even a guaranteed byproduct. If this is true of a mitzvah commanded by G-d, it would certainly seem spurious to think reciting 40 chapters of tehillim or saying Shir haShirim in and of itself produces some sort of physical reward or gain.

The mistaken thinking driving these quick fixes is based on a false concept of reward and punishment people pick up early in life. In first grade we learn G-d rewards good people and punishes bad; G-d controls our destiny and watches us from harm. We also learn about the tooth fairy, the boogie man, and listen to fairy tales. Fortunately, we eventually come to realize the tooth fairy is false (or we run out of teeth to lose in any case), but unfortunately, the naïve beliefs about G-d cling to many people for a lifetime. The net result is people who walk around thinking G-d never causes bad things to happen to good people (not true – see Chulin 142), he will suspend the forces of nature to protect the innocent from hardship and harm (see Shabbos 156), he will assure that true believers suffer not when their enemies choose to harm them (see here), and who will come to the rescue miraculously if a single good deed is done to tip the scales to a person’s favor. My five year old who still believes the tooth fairy leaves money under her pillow (her sisters have since learned better) will undoubtedly accept the notion that tying a red string around her arm would protect her from harm. But adults should know better.

The point was made that it is hard to challenge firmly held beliefs (or to convince people to challenge their own thinking) because once doubt and uncertainty have been unleashed, they become difficult forces to reign in and control. But if we can teach kids to read a pasuk in a more sophisticated less-literal manner than they learn in first grade without concern, I don’t see why we can’t teach kids to have a more sophisticated understanding of Jewish belief than they develop in first grade. The problem, of course, is that no yeshiva curriculum does this. The system, as students mature, focuses more and more narrowly on the legal hairsplitting of gemara learning and lomdus (which anyone who reads this blog knows I appreciate as well) without ever exposing students to thinking about belief in a systematic and mature way. At best, a narrow channel of a specific thinker is emphasized, be it the Rav, Rav Hutner, Rav Kook, Slabodka mussar, etc. but no broader appreciation of Jewish thought is ever developed. So we remain fixated on and reinforce the same level of faith we had in first grade, and those who challenge these core beliefs come to reject the system they have been raised on as foolish, unsophisticated, immature, and unsatisfying.

I don't think we need to pass judgment on mysticism as a whole to reject its misuse. Sadly, the syetem as it exists does reinforce the type thinking that validates these ads, but I don't look for anyone in the "establishment" to tackle this issue any time soon. I have no fear that critical thinking will endanger the halachic system, but it may indeed bring down a great number of false idols that the "establishment" has come to rely on.

Monday, December 18, 2006

segulos for sale?

An ad in a local Jewish paper boldly offers “Well known proven segulahs!” You can have someone pray at the kosel for 40 days for $40 (yes, folks, that’s only $1 a day!), recite Shir haShirim for 40 days for $40, have 10 talmidei chachamim learning mishnayos & say kaddish $30 for 30 days, etc. All that’s missing is a money back guarantee, but I guess you can’t have everything.

Some days I wonder just why I am slaving away here at work (I have a regular job in corporate America). Were I more enterprising I would incorporate as a non-profit and send out my rate card for segulos and zechuyos for all your life problems. Just how much is a blatt gemara worth? What about a blatt Yerushalmi (can’t get that just anywhere!)? Or maybe the better way to do it is a daily auction on e-bay, where the highest bidder gets a portion of the zechuyos?

Giving tzedaka to support people learning is a great thing, but it seems to me that there is something wrong here.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

chareidi and chiloni: a thought from Rav Kook

"One who is a 'chareid', that is one who identifies with the group known as 'chareidim', looks down at the group of 'chofshim' from a position on high. In thinking of tikkun, of mending ways and doing tshuvah, he looks with wanting eyes at this second group who are so distant from Torah and mitzvos and thinks that tshuvah in its fullest sense is needed only from them, the words are directed only to the other camp, but apply not to himself. And the 'chofshi', that is one who identifies with the group known by this modern term, he certainly things the entire concept of tshuvah belongs only to the world of the 'chareidi', but has no relavance for his life at all. So on both ends we come up short, and we are left wondering from whence will come healing for the pains of our souls?"
--Koveitz Ma'amarim of R' Kook, cited by Tzvi Yaron in Mishnato shel haRav Kook, p. 359

Friday, December 15, 2006

shabbos candles and chanukah candles

I am going to piggy back on R’ Chaim Markowitz’s posting again. He raises the question (link) of whether the time for lighting candles on Erev Shabbos was fixed to be before shkiya, or the time still theoretically stands as after shkiya, but since we have no way to fulfill that option, we light beforehand.

The Rashba writes that Chanukah candles can always be lit early, not just on Erev Shabbos, as long as they burn from after shkiya until the time of “tichleh regel min hashuk”. Rambam disagrees and holds the early lighting on Friday is a choice made for lack of a better option. What is striking is the Rashba’s proof: Shabbos candles must burn into Shabbos, ideally for the Shabbos meal, but the halacha allows them to be lit well before shkiya or the start of Shabbos. So too, claims the Rashba, although Chanukah candles should burn from after shkiya into the night, there should be no reason why they cannot be lit earlier.

According to the Rambam, what is the difference between the mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles and lighting Chanukah lights?

I’m not going to finish an answer today… something to think about over Shabbos.

the order of lighting menorah and shabbos candles: tadir vs. pirumei nisa

I thank R’ Chaim Markowitz for calling to my attention yesterday (and hopefully I did not steal his thunder) to an interesting machlokes regarding hadlakas menorah tonight. The BH”G (quoted by the Tur) writes, and this is the common practice, to light the menorah first and afterwards shabbos candles, because lighting shabbos candles is effectively accepting shabbos. Tosfos argues and holds that kabbalas shabbos is distinct from the act of lighting shabbos candles. If one holds like Tosfos, is there any reason to insist on lighting Shabbos candles first, or is it a toss-up between both mitzvos with no real preference? Tosfos writes that the shabbos candles are lit first but does not say why, leading achronim to write that b’dieved the order does not matter - it sounds like a toss-up. The Rashba, however, insists that Shabbos candles should be lit first because of the rule that “tadir v’she’aino tadir, tadir kodem”, a mitzvah which is performed more frequently always comes first. It seems to me that perhaps Tosfos deliberately omits this reason – perhaps a mitzvah of pirsumei nisa outweighs a mitzvah which is tadir. Two other cases relevant to Shabbos Chanukah may hinge in part on this question:

1) While many people will light menorah at home and then go to shule for mincha today, the Birkei Yosef holds that mincha should be said before lighting menorah. He explains that in the Bais haMikdash, the korban tamid, which our tefila of mincha corresponds to, preceded the mitzvah of lighting menorah. Without that sevara, one might argue that the mitzvah of tefilah should take precedence, as it is tadir – but then again, perhaps pirsumei nisa comes first! (I have not researched this issue, but it seems to me that if one accepts this Birkei Yosef, which is cited in the Sh’arei Tshuvah as well, there is good room to argue that it is better to daven mincha b’yechudus before hadlakas menorah than to daven b’tzibur after hadlaka).

2) There is a great debate among achronim whether to make havdalah first or light menorah first on Motzei Shabbos. Here the competing factors are delaying declaring Shabbos over, tadir, and pirsumei nisa. One other note with respect to Motzei Shabbos: I believe Ma’aseh Rav quotes GR”A as rushing to end Shabbos immediately at the zman in order to do hadlakas menorah as soon as possible after Shabbos. This perhaps is tied to the GR”As opinion (based on Rambam) that hadlakas menorah should rightfully be done immediately after what we call shkiya. In any event, whether before or after havdalah (depending on your minhag), the hadlakah should be taken care of ASAP.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sam Harris' "Leap of Faith"

“Whatever its stigma, “intuition” is a term that we simply cannot do without, because it denotes the most basic constituent of our faculty of understanding. While this is true in matters of ethics, it is no less true in science. When we can break out knowledge of a thing down no further, the irreducible leap that remains is intuitively taken. Thus the traditional opposition between reason and intuition is a false one: reason itself is intuitive to the core, as any judgment that a proposition is “reasonable” or “logical” relies on intuition to find its feet…"

"The point I trust is obvious: we cannot step out of the darkness without taking a first step. And reason, without knowing how, understands this axiom if it would understand anything at all. The reliance on intuition, therefore, should be no more discomforting for the ethicist than it has been for the physicist. We are all tugging at the same bootstraps.”
--Sam Harris, “The End of Faith”, p. 183

So let me get this straight: Sam Harris, an outspoken atheist, is telling us that science can be reduced to first principles which themselves are not provable, but which we know to be true based on intuition alone. Without the bootstraps of intuition, all thinking would be impossible. This is in contrast to religion, which is reducible to core principles of belief that can never be proven, but which require an intuitive “leap of faith” to accept.
See the difference?
Neither do I.

torah authority and frustration with the system

Some questions I have no answers to... How is it that:

…A conference of a major Orthodox organization devotes a forum to attacking the excesses of scandal mongering in blogs and on the internet, but cannot clarify how they intend to deal with the issue of criminal allegations against Rabbinical figures in a way that is transparent, fair, and which would restore confidence in the system?

…A woman can be physically beaten in the zeal to prevent immodesty simply because she failed to surrender her seat to a man and move to the back of a public bus, but the Rabbinic establishment squashes a conference to consider how to help agunos trapped by recalcitrant husbands?

…hundreds can close their gemaras and take time from learning to protest, both through civil disobedience as well as more violent means, a parade which is seen as an affront to the sanctity of Yerushalayim, but this same community is conspicuously silent and offers no protest when thousands of Jews are expelled from their homes in the “territories”?

…Rabbinic figures sermonize about the need to place spiritual values above career and pursuit of wealth, but run yeshivos which require many times the average salary to afford with no oversight on finances by independent auditors or concerned parents?

This is not an exhaustive list, but a sampling based on current events. I am sick of reading the apologetics, the excuses, the justifications, the explanations, none of which are satisfying, and hearing the deafening silence from the "establishment" at the wrongs perpetuated by the system either directly or by creating an environment which tolerates them.

I do not applaud the gross anti-Chareidi bashing out there – the brush used is too broad and the paint applied with too much vigor and sheer ferociousness. But the excesses of the messengers should not obscure the kernel of underlying truth in the criticism. And were the establishment more responsive, who knows how much more muted and respectful the attacks might become in turn? Instead of invoking "Torah authority" to dismiss complaint, perhaps the system would be better served through more open dialogue between community and leadership to discuss what problems exist, what approaches to solving them are best and why, and how to act on them "l'shem shamayim". If transparency is seen as a threat, people rightly begin to wonder just what is being hid behind closed doors.

Perhaps my blog too can be dismissed as just another undermining of Torah authority in the blogsphere. I guess that is an easier response that dealing with the issues at hand.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

when is it assur to sing shalom aleichem?

One of the issues the Dvar Avraham is known for is his many tshuvos addressing the order of precedence when one must perform a milah b’zmanah and milah shelo b’zmanah on the same day. He concludes the milah shelo b’zmanah takes precedence - the milah b’zmanah is done early only because of the din of zerizus, but for the post-8th day baby the father is oiver mitzvas milah “b’chol yom” according to the Rambam, which the D.A. is mechadesh means every single moment of delay (yom=lav davka) is a seperate issur, so it should be done first.

In the context of defending his chiddush the Dvar Avraham cites the recent daf yomi gemara (Rosh haShana 6a) that one is over an issur of bal t’acher for any delay in fulfilling a pledge of tzedaka – since the poor are present and ready to accept the charity, there is no excuse for delay. In a footnote he adds an amazing comment: he heard from R’ Yisrael Meir haKohen of Radin (I guess he was not yet known as the Chofetz Chaim) that if a poor person is invited to eat at one’s home on Friday night, since the seudas Shabbos is a kiyum of mitzvas tzedaka, one is not allowed to sing Shalom Aleichem and zmiros, as delaying the start of the meal would violate the issur of bal t’acher!

I have heard this idea in story form, and dismissed it as mussar or tzidkus. However, the Dvar Avraham held it makes sense l’halacha and was forced to offer a limud zechus on behalf of most of us who he assumes are not makpid on this issue. He suggests that since the poor assume they will be fed in the context of the bal habayis’s own meal, it is as if a set time was designated for the tzedaka, and until that set time is reached there is no issur of bal t’acher.

What a testimony to the sensitivity of true gedolei yisrael not only to every nuance of halacha, but to every nuance of chessed and human kindness.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

klalei hora'ah and rabbinic authority

In a discussion elsewhere, the notion was advanced that the klalei hora’ah were a recognition of the blanket authority of certain chachamim. While this formulation probably is extreme – after all, there are exceptions to the klalei psak, and it is hard to imagine that we would cling to these rules if a sugya is overwhelmingly weighted to the contrary position – there is something to be said for such an approach. R’ Elchanan (Koveitz Shiurim, Baba Basra #499) poses the chakira: are the klalei hora’ah a statement on the gavra, i.e. the capability or thinking of one chacham outweighed his peers and therefore the halacha is determined in his favor, or are the klalei horaha’h descriptive of a pattern which happened to emerge when the cases addressed were reviewed on a one by one basis.

Tosfos (Shabbos 70b d”h Noda) writes that the rule (Yevamos 36) that the halacha follows R’ Yochanan in any dispute with Reish Lakish (with 3 exceptions) applies only to cases that came to a decisive vote in their time; however, we cannot draw conclusions to a case that will be relevant only after Moshiach arrives. Were klalei hora’ah reflective of a consensus regarding R’ Yochanan’s ability in hora’ah as superior to Reish Lakish, Tosfos distinction would be difficult to understand. It seems that Tosfos takes the rules of psak as descriptive of the results of case by case review, and cases that have not yet been subject to debate remain undecided. R’ Elchanan quotes achronim who attribute the counter-position to the Rambam.

Tosfos (Yevamos 14) is troubled by the apparent contradiction between the gemara’s acceptance of the declaration of a bas kol that the halacha follows Bais Hillel against Bais Shamai and the gemara’s rejection of the various miraculous proofs of Rabbi Eliezer that the halacha is in accordance with his opinion. Tosfos answers that the support of Rabbi Eliezer came only to protect his honor, but not because his position was correct. Secondly, Bais Hillel was the majority opinion, and the bas kol was consistent with the normative halachic rule of following majority; in R’ Eliezer’s case he was the minority opinion, and the bas kol subverted the normative rule. The Ohr Sameiach (end of Hil Yesodei haTorah) points out that this question is difficult only within Tosfos understanding that the rules of psak are the results of a case by case review. If one adopts the Rambam’s approach, one can distinguish between the bas kol in Rabbi Eliezer’s case, which was in support of a specific case ruling and therefore has no standing, with the bas kol supporting Bais Hillel, which was not a ruling on case law, but a ruling on the gavra of Hillel, that his skill in hora’ah was superior to that of Shamai.

Monday, December 11, 2006

"shema yigrom hacheit" - can a navi have doubts?

Ya’akov approached his encounter with Eisav with fear and trepidation, “Vayirah Ya’akov m’eod vayetzer lo.” Although he had been given an explicit promise of protection from G-d, which Ya’akov invokes here in his prayer, “V’atah amarta heitev eitiv imach v’samti es zaracha k’afar ha’aretz”, Chazal say this even an explicit promise from G-d is insufficient as a guarantee of protection, as “shema yigrom hacheit”, G-d's promise is ultimately predicated on the continued goodness of the recipient, which may change over time. As discussed previously, the Rambam distinguishes between personal promises to a Navi, whose fulfillment depends on the Navi’s level of righteousness, and prophecy which the Navi is told to openly declare, which is guaranteed to be fulfilled.

The Rambam in Shmoneh Perakim (ch 7) writes that a Navi need not have perfect middos, as we find in Tanach many examples of Nevi’im who do fall victim to sin and spiritual shortcoming (albeit minor points in the scheme of their overall personality). One of the Rambam’s examples is the fear Ya’akov displayed in his encounter with Eisav – given a direct promise of protection from G-d, Ya’akov’s actions reflect on some level a shortcoming of belief in this Divine Protection.

Achronim are struck by the contradiction in the Rambam: on the one hand, the principle of “shema yigrom hacheit” indicates that Ya’akov’s fear was justified, and he could not rely on a private promise of protection, yet on the other hand, the Rambam sees such doubt as a shortcoming of Ya’akov and a lack of bitachon. Which approach is correct?

Two suggestions, one easy, one hard. The Bais haLevi asks, if indeed the promise of G-d is not guaranteed, why does Ya’akov invoke it in his prayers? He answers that Ya’akov was not appealing to the terms of his personal promise but he was appealing to the concept of chilul Hashem. True, fulfillment of G-d’s words ordinarily should depend on personal merit, but here, if Eisav were to win out it would not just mean a loss of face personally for Ya’akov, but a repudiation of the entire Torah lifestyle which Ya’akov represents. This Ya’akov finds intolerable. Perhaps this solves the discrepancy in the Rambam as well. Ya’akov’s personal fear was indeed justifiable, “shema yigrom hacheit", as one can never be sure that one is on the level of meriting fulfillment of Divine promise, but to fear and doubt that the Torah lifestyle would ultimately somehow emerge victorious should not have been part of Ya’akov’s response and was on some level a shortcoming.

An easier answer might be that the promise to Ya’akov, as he states in his prayer, included a guarantee to his children – “v’samti es zaracha k’chol hayam”. While Ya’akov may have been justified in fearing his personal merit was insufficient to guarantee fulfillment of G-d’s promise to himself, there is no reason for him to have assumed that his shortcomings would affect the fulfillment of G-d’s guarantee to his children and to doubt their safety and security.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

mar'is ayin on issurei derabbanan: non-dairy creamer with meat

There is another gem buried in this machlokes Tosfos and Ramban (see yesterday’s post). While the issue of lifnei iveir may or may not apply to issurei derabbanan, it seems that none of the Rishonim had a problem with the sugya's assumption that mar’is ayin applies to issurei derabbanan. R’ Shimon ben Elazar prohibits renting a filed to a kusi; since the field is known to belong to a Jew it gives the mar’is ayin appearance that a Jew is working on chol hamoed, which according to Tosfos is an issur derabbanan, and even Ramban only is forced to say melacha on chol hamoed is an issur d’oraysa because he held an issur derbbanan is incompatible with lifnei iveir, not because it was incompatible with mar’is ayin. The point is notable because of a psak of the Rama in hilchos basar b’chalav. Rama (Y.D. 87) writes that if non-dairy creamer made from nuts is served with a fleishig meal of beef, the nuts should be placed next to the creamer container to avoid a problem of mar’is ayin. However, if served with a chicken meal, which is only basar b’chalav derabbanan, there is no concern for mar’is ayin (take a look in poskim for practical applications like caterers serving non-dairy creamer in serving cups with no label to indicate it is not real milk). The Shach attacks the Rama – who says mar’is ayin does not apply to issurei derabbanan?! While the Shach does not specifically reference this sugya, he brings other proofs and writes in general that this principle is supported from many places in shas. In defense of the Rama, one can perhaps distinguish between mar’is ayin on a public act and something like a meal which takes place in a private setting. While the gemara often quotes Rav’s dictum “kol ha’asur m’shum mar’is ayin afilu b’chadrei chadarim hu assur”, rejecting such a distinction, Tosfos (Kesubos 60a) writes that Rav’s principle applies only where the potential issur is an issur d’oraysa. It is also worth noting that the RIF (see Ran to Beitzah daf 9) may reject Rav completely, as is the opinion of the Yerushalmi (as noted by the Gilyon in a recent daf in Shabbos – I did not get a chance to track down where I saw this, so if anyone else is learning the daf yerushalmi and recalls where it is, please remind me!)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

lifnei iveir on issurei derabbanan

The gemara (Avodah Zara 22) quotes R’ Shimon ben Elazar that a field should not be rented to a kusi because the kusi will work the field on Chol haMoed, and since the field is known to the public as belonging to a Jew, there is a potential issur of maris ayin. The gemara writes that there is an additional potential issur of lifnei iveir not mentioned by RSb”A, assuming the kusi is a true ger. According to Tosfos, the issur of doing work on chol hamoed is an issur derabbanan, and from this gemara we can conclude that lifnei iveir applies even to causing a person to violate issurei derabbanan. Ramban, however, writes that there is no issur of lifnei iveir on issurei derabbanan, and concludes from this gemara that the issur of working on chol hamoed is an issur d’oraysa.
The Minchas Chinuch (232) questions why lifnei iveir, which applies even to mundane matters like giving bad business advice, should not apply to causing someone to violate an issur derabbanan. Perhaps one can distinguish between bad advice or issurei Torah which are inherently detrimental, and issurei derabbanan, which are prohibited because they are an act of rebellion against the authority of Chazal – if done inadvertently, no rebellion against Chazal’s authority has occurred, and no issur has been caused. The dispute between Tosfos and Ramban may revolve around this very point – is an issur derabbanan done b’shogeg defined as a ma’aseh issur or not?
To be fair, I made two other assumptions here: 1) lifnei iveir only applies when the person being led astray acts b’shogeg, but if he/she intentionally chooses to act in a manner she/she knows is wrong or intentionally follows what she/she knows is bad advice, there is no lifnei iveir (violating a derabbanan b'meizid would be an act of rebellion and my hesber fails); 2) lifnei iveir must lead to a ma’seh issur; an attempt to lead someone astray which fails because it is not acted upon or no issur occurs is not technically a violation. Both points are raised by various achronim.
One could possibly explain the machlokes Tosfos and Ramban as relating to how to understand lifnei iveir – is it a broad overarching prohibition, or is it a way of extending each issur on an individual level. If the latter is the case, perhaps extending issurei derabbanan amounts to a gezeirah l’gezeirah type of situation. This approach leaves the M.C.’s question unanswered.

Monday, December 04, 2006

is a book review a violation of lashon hara?

My wife sometimes writes book reviews on her blog as well as on the jblogbookmom’s blog and a recent e-mail she received gave rise to some halachic consideration. After offering some critical comments about a new book, the author e-mailed back that offering such negative comments violates hilchos lashon hara and may cause a loss to the person’s parnasa. Additionally, in this case the proceeds of the book are directed to tzedaka, so by causing any diminution of the book’s sales the tzedaka indirectly suffers. There were other comments in the e-mail explaining the reason for the author’s umbrage, e.g. the author claims the book was written for altruistic reasons – as far as I can tell, altruistic intentions are not a substitute for actual writing skills, so I'm not sure what the point there was. But the halachic question is at least interesting – is a religious author or artist protected from receiving a critical reviews of his/her work because of the laws of lashon hara? I find this idea hard to swallow. By the author’s reasoning there is no place in the Jewish world for restaurant reviews (who would eat at a place where the food is bad?), reviews of cars, clothes, travel, etc. (who would buy inferior products?), or any discussion of whether a product has merit because if the answer is negative, the producer inevitably suffers a loss of business. Never mind the fact that such a loss may be deserved or that the consumer bears the brunt of supporting what may be inferior goods or services that he/she would never have purchased had he/she known better. I think what the author misses is that the author or producer’s gain has to be balanced against the to’eles of the public being made aware of the quality of a work so they may make an informed decision as to whether to invest time and money in it. And while to a certain degree reviews are a matter of subjective taste, a reviewer should be able to defend his/her arguments for or against a work with examples, analysis, etc. There is a big difference between a statement of opinion with no justification and the type of critical review one might read in the NY Times or London Review of Books (and I guess I take for granted that my wife’s writing is closer to the latter than the former!) Secondly, it seems to me that anyone who makes a statement in the public arena through a work of art, a book, or some other medium implicitly surrenders his/her right to immunity from reasonable criticism. That is part and parcel of exposing one’s opinion to the world, and I think it inherent in the gemara’s principle of “chvrach chavra is leih”. Lastly, the loss of tzedaka funds is nothing more than a red herring – no one purchases a book simply because the author has pledged proceeds to tzedaka, and no impediment to buying the book stops someone from writing a check to the tzedaka if they wish to support it. Is a book store obligated to carry the book in question simply because not doing so restricts the possibility of funds going to a tzedaka? So much for my rough thoughts on the matter – I wonder if anyone has written up something more formal on the subject?

why Ya'akov did not daven for Rachel to have children

Rachel reacted to her inability to have children while by beseeching Ya’akov Avinu to daven for her. Rather than respond with compassion, Ya’akov turns her away and refuses. How, asks the Ramban, are we to understand Ya’akov’s refusal to daven for his own wife when in Tanach we find tzadikim who opened their hearts to daven for women who were complete strangers? The Taz answers that tefillah has the power to overcome spiritual obstacles like a gezeirah preventing a person from having children. Rachel, however, was physically unable to have children – Chazal tell us she was born without a uterus. Correcting this situation required not just overturning a gezeirah, but a “beriyah yesh m’ain”, a completely new act of creation, and according to the Taz, that lies outside the scope of what tefillah can accomplish. This is what Ya’akov meant in responding “Hatachas Elokim anochi”, “Am I in place of G-d” – the necessary remedy in this case was outside the scope of a tzadik’s power, but rested only in G-d’s hands. What this tells us about the nature of tefillah is discussed by my wife on her blog, so I will just add one additional point. In light of this Taz we can better understand Moshe Rabeinu’s response to Korach’s rebellion – “Im briya yivra Hashem…”, if Hashem will create a new opening in the earth to punish Korach, it proves definitively the error of the rebellion. Had Korach been punished through some change of the natural order, one might conclude that the punishment was a result of Moshe’s power as a tzadik to redirect nature. However, if the punishment comes through a new creation, this could only be a response directly from Hashem, as it is not something within the scope of a tzadik’s power to bring about.

Friday, December 01, 2006

tefilas arvis and arvus - a connection?

While on the topic of arvus, if you missed reading it last year, it is worth revisiting this post. Chazal derive from this week’s parsha that Ya’akov Avinu instituted tefilas arvis, which the Tiferes Shlomo connects with the concept of arvus, each member of klal Yisrael sharing collective responsibility. My wife once suggested that the minhag of women not davening arvis may go hand in hand with their being excluded (according to the Dagul m’Revava) from the concept of arvus.

hirhur k'dibbur by kiddush and more on the topic of arvus

The Tur (O.C. 273) quotes an opinion of the Geonim that one who has already said kiddush may not recite kiddush for someone else, with the caveat according to the BH”G that the other people know how to say kiddush. The Tur disagrees based on the principle of arvus which tells us “yatzah – motzi”, even someone who already fulfilled a mitzvah can be motzi someone who has not. The Sha’agas Arye (#13) explains that this dispute is l’shitasam of the dispute Tosfos and BH”G discussed yesterday. According to BH”G, one who ate a k’zayis (whose chiyuv in bentching is derabbanan) cannot be motzi someone who ate k’dei seviya (whose chiyuv is d’oraysa) in bentching because arvus does not work on a chiyuv bracha d’oraysa, only on chiyuvim derabbanan. Tosfos disagrees. The S.A. argues that since kiddush is a bracha d’oraysa, the opinions line up - the Geonim and BH”G do not extend arvus to brachos d’oraysa, and the Tur following the view of Tosfos that arvus applies across the board. (I am unclear on how the Sha’agas Arye explains the BH”G’s distinction between the case of listeners who know how to say kiddush and those who don’t – arvus according to BH”G and Geonim should be categorically excluded.) The Sha'agas Arye proves from this machlokes that we do not apply the principle of “hirhur k’dibbur” to kiddush - the words of kiddush must be articulated, and merely thinking about kedushas shabbos does not fulfill the mitzvah of “zachor es yom haShabbos”. If one could be yotzei kiddush through hirhur, then reciting the bracha would only be a kiyum derabbanan, and the principle of arvus should apply according to all.
In light of the Pri Megadim that we started this whole discussion with, is this proof of the Sha'agas Arye convincing? If one does not get a kiyum d’oraysa for a mitzvah unless done in the format which the Chachamim specified (the PM"G's chiddush), or as Chaim Markowitz put it, dinim derabbanan are extensions of the din d’oraysa and become an inherent part of their kiyum, then how do we know that the Geonim and Tur assume reciting kiddush is a d’oraysa because one does not apply “hirhur k’dibbur”? Maybe m’doraysa we do say “hirhur k’dibbur”, but once the Chachamim instituted a specific nussach habracha, one does not gain a kiyum mitzvah d’oraysa unless the format and nussach specified by the Chachamim is followed?!