Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Moshe's added day of preparation - the primacy of Torah sheBa'al Peh

If, as the gemara suggests (Shabbos 87), the instruction of 'vkidashtem hayom u'machar' did not mean to start counting from the day Moshe heard the command, but meant to start counting from the day after (the extra day added m'da'ato), then why does the pasuk use the confusing term 'hayom' instead of making that explicit? And, as the Magen Avraham asks, why do we refer to 6 Sivan as 'zman mattan Toraseinu' when the Torah was not given until 7 Sivan because of this added day? The Sefas Emes answers b'derech derush that klapei shemaya the preparation for giving the Torah complete on 6 Sivan, but the actual giving was delayed because of Moshe's addition of a day. Since each year Yom Tov brings with it a renewal of spiritual energy of that original zman, we today experience and must prepare for that moment of readiness to give the Torah which occurred on 6 Sivan, and it is to us that the Torah addresses the instruction of 'hayom u'machar'. In a less mystical answer the Kli Chemdah*** in the introduction to his sefer writes that heeding Moshe's interpretation of torah sheba'al peh that 'hayom u'machar' meant 7 Sivan was itself a kabbalas haTorah on 6 Sivan. Accepting the authority of Chazal as interpreters of the Torah was the foundation upon which giving Torah sheb'ksav rested. He relates this idea to the debate between the Perushim and Tzedukim over when to begin the sefira count. Unlike the Tzedukim who counted sefira only from the day after Shabbos, the Perushim began counting from the day after Pesach davka so the count would finish the day before kabbalas haTorah to reinforce this idea of the primacy of torah sheba'al peh.

*** thank you Bill Selliger for this mareh makom
One side note: the Bais haLevi writes that had BN"Y not done cheit haeigel, there would only have been a torah sheb'ksav which included everything. Yet, here we see that even in preparation for mattan Torah, a 'ba'al peh' interpretation was required. Yesh l'yasheiv...

Monday, May 29, 2006

Parshas BaMidbar - counting shevatim and yichus of shevatim

Post-day off tiredness has hit.... trying to recover and get back into the swing of things. My son came home this week with a dvar torah to explain why the expression 'bnei Naftoli...' is used, as opposed to the term 'livnei...' (lamed at the beginning) used by the count of all other shevatim. His Rebbe explained that Moshe knew the sum total of klal yisrael, but needed to determine how many people were in each sheivet. To do so, all Moshe should have had to do is count 11 of the shevatim and then subtract that from the total. Nonetheless, Moshe counted this last sheivet, which was Naftoli, as well. II am stumped: how do we know Moshe knew the sum total, and where would he have known that figure from? The fact that this count matches the total of the earlier count is a chiddush, not a simple assumption!? I tracked the makor of this vort back to the Chasam Sofer, who offers no other elucidation. He does say a different pshat which works much easier - Moshe was trying to determine the yichus (as opposed to their exact number) of each member of klal yisrael, which was clear once 11 of 12 shevatim were counted. Any ideas???
One other parsha note. In our parshas Emor discussion of the issue of yichus, we developed the theme that yichus based on patrelineal descent is a din even for bnei noach; the chiddush of am yisrael is matrelineal descent, starting either from mattan torah or from Avraham (see machlokes Ramban/Chachamei Tzorfas end of Emor). The Kedushas Levi interestingly writes exactly the opposite: with respect to the umos ha'olam, yichus follows the mother (he says this is the sod of the name umah - the shoresh is eim, mother), but Am Yisrael after mattan Torah followed the yichus of the father. This is the meaning of 'vayisyaldu al mishpechosam l'bais avosam' - it was a new birth because a new order of lineage was introduced with mattan Torah. Make of it what you will.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Sefira - one unit or 49 mitzvos? Waiting for nightfall for ma'ariv on Shavuos

According to the opinion of the Ba’al Halachos Gedolos (BH”G), the mitzvah of sefira is to count 'sheva shabbasos temimos', seven complete weeks, and therefore, if one misses counting sefira on any single night, the entire mitzvah is lost. Tosfos (Megillah 20b) disagrees, and holds even if one misses one night, one may count the remainder of the nights. Many explain (based on the Rosh) that the issue at stake is whether sefiras ha’omer is one mitzvah encompassing 49 days, in which missing a day renders the entire unit void, or whether counting each day is a separate mitzvah.
Even though on a regular Shabbos or Yom Tov one may accept Shabbos/Yom Tov early, the popular minhag follows the Taz who writes that on leil Shavuos which brings the omer count to a close one is not permitted to daven ma’ariv before tzais hakochavim, actual nightfall. The reason behind this chumra is in order to make sure the final day of sefira is “complete”, i.e. the criteria of “temimos” is met.
I am sure there is an easy answer I am missing, but I do not understand this fully. If sefira is one unit of 49 days, I understand the logic of seeing the unit to completion on the last day by waiting until nightfall. But if each day is a seperate mitzva, then shouldn't the criteria of 'temimos' be applied to eacy day (rather than to the unit as a whole) individually? If so, on any given Friday night (or weekday night, although less common a practice) during the sefira period one should not be permitted to daven ma’ariv early because in doing so one is subtracting time from the individual day and rendering it incomplete. I have never heard anyone suggest such an idea. Why not?

Dinei derabbanan (VI) - safeik derabbanan l'kula

Getting back to the debate between the Rambam and Ramban: The Ramban asked, if all Rabbinic enactments must be obeyed because of lo tasur, then why are there leniencies for dinei derabbanan and not dinei d'oraysa? Why do we say seifeika derabbanan l'kula but sfeika d'oraysa l'chumra - every safek derabbanan is also a safek violation of the d'oraysa of lo tasur?
R’ Soloveitchik in Shiurium lZecher Aba Mari (‘Two Categories of Mesorah’) addresses himself to the Rambam, and although he does not directly offer answers to the Ramban’s questions, applying his sevara seems to resolve them. R’ Soloveitchik writes that it would be absurd to suggest that someone learning Masechet Megilla, which is devoted almost completely to dinei derabbanan, has not fulfilled a mitzvah d’oraysa of Talmud Torah. Although the obligation on the gavra to fulfill the mitzvah of megillah is only derabbanan, the laws themselves that govern its fulfillment become part of the corpus of Torah law, the cheftza shel Torah. Just as the study of Rabbinic law is a fulfillment of the din d’oraysa of Talmud Torah because these laws have become part of the cheftza shel Torah, the zakein mamre is liable for contradicting these laws because he has nullified a portion of the fabric of Torah law.
The Ramban’s questions focus exclusively on differences between the level of obligation of the gavra, the individual performing mitzvos, with respect to dinei d’oraysa and dinei derabbanan. The Rambam need not take issue with those distinctions at all. The Rambam’s chiddush viz. the zakein mamre relates only to dinei derabbanan as a cheilek of hora’ah and cheftza shel Torah, not to personal obligation.
R’ Elchanan cites R’ Chaim Brikser as explaining that the Ramban too held that the license to create dinei derabbanan stems from lo tasur, but only in the overarching sense – one cannot point to a particular din derabbanan and say the Torah prohibited that action; merely that the Torah licensed Chazal to legislate as they see fit (Bill Selliger beat me to this in the comments). This does away with the need for the mystical notion of ratzon Hashem as an independent mechyeiv, but, as REW points out, brings us back to the same questions – according to the Ramban, why do we not treat every safeik derabbanan as a safeik d’oraysa for violating the license of lo tasur given to Chazal? The answer would seem to be that without proof of issur, acting in a doubtful circumstance does not itself constitute a rebellion against the authority of Chazal (see also Meshech Chochma P’ Shoftim on lo tasur, also see REW who cites a different explanation in the name of R’ Chaim for the Rambam).

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Dinei derabban and Divrei Sofrim (v)

Final thought on REW's chiddush:
The Mishna in Megillah (2:4) brings a machlokes Tana Kamma and R’ Yehudah whether a katan may read megillah. R’ Yehudah says a kattan may read because although he is mechuyav only m’derabbanan because of the mitzvah of chinuch, everyone else also shares the same level of chiyuv only m’derabbanan. The Rishonim debate why the Tana Kamma disagrees. Ramban writes that according to Tana Kamma the katan has no chiyuv at all to read; the chiyuv of chinuch is on his father to teach him. Tosfos explains that the katan has 2 derabbanans: his age, and the actual obligation of keriya; everyone else has only one derabbanan, therefore the chiyuvim are not parallel. It would seem that there is a fundamental issur at stake here: does the mitzvah derabbanan of chinuch actually obligate a child in mitzvos, or is it just a chiyuv on his father to teach? REW asks, if a katan has no chiyuv in any d’oraysa, what can possibly bind him to observe the mitzvah derabbanan of chinuch? It must be that the ratzon Hashem of the derabbanan even sans tzivuy creates an obligation. This ra’aya also stikes me as weak and almost paradoxical. The only way we know a katan is indeed patur from any mitzvos is because Chazal have told us so – if one rejects the katan’s obligation to adhere to Chazal because he/she is patur from lo tasur, then one must reject the ptur from all mitzvos that Chazal established through their limud. One is tempted to suggest that a katan is really chayav in mitzvos and his status as minor is just a ptur onshim, but that would seem to assume that chinuch is a din d’oraysa and I am not sure one can explain why a katan is not included in arvus.
I would like to return to the machlokes Rambam and Ramban that seemed to propel R' Elchahan into this chiddush. These mystical ideas of listening to ratzon Hashem without a concrete din or tzivuy are not something I think a Brisker would be happy with, and R' Chaim indeed had an alternative explanation. To be continued...

Dinei derabban and Divrei Sofrim (IV)

Getting back to our regularly scheduled program, we have been discussing R’ Elchanan’s chiddush that the mechayeiv of dinei derabbanan, the license for their enactment, is that Chazal are simply revelaing ratzon Hashem which is binding even sans tzivuy. Two further ra’ayos that REW brings:
1) In the parsha of Yehudah and Tamar, Rashi cites Chazal that the bais din of Shem prohibited various arayos. How could this enactment have been binding when the mitzvah of lo tasur had not yet been given? REW explains that it was binding as a revelation of ratzon Hashem. This ra’aya strikes me a particularly weak in light of the rishonim who understand that the mitzvah of dinim for bnei noach means establishing a justice system. If arayos are an issue that pertains to social justice, wouldn’t enactments of Shem’s bais din fall under this rubric?

Last ra'ya coming up shortly...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Orthopraxy - there they go again!

What I hate even more than being quoted out of context is being quoted as saying things I never said. As far as I can recall, we never addressed on this blog the issue of rationalism vs.mysticism with respect to ta'amei hamitvot. Instead of dealing with the mekoros in our previous fisking, as predicated, the Skeptic is attempting another "snow" job. The issue that was being discussed was whether kelapei shemaya the belief in Orthopraxy, defined by Skeptic as "Orthopraxy is someone who keeps Halachot, but doesn’t necessarily believe in Torah Min Hashamayim or even the existence of God" is consistant with Orthodox belief. The mekoros we went through established that one who denies belief in G-d is a min, even a goy who morally observes 7 mitzvos but does not believe they came from G-d does not go to olam haba, and that these beliefs have practical halachic import. I never suggested (as some commentators wrote) that one needs to ask someone if they are a min to drink their wine - the entire discussion was simply klapei shemaya. Just another red herring I want to dispel. I awaited the big response that would deal with the mekoros, but instead all I found was the usual tired rant about doing mitzvos for rational reasons. But that's not what we were discussing! So I ventured into the danger zone to point out that the issue of rationalism was irrelevant, and to whit, not a single makor was offered that would suggest belief in G-d is optional. Skeptic did not marshal a single rishon. Not a single gemara. Not a single quote from a respected Rav who would go on record as being an agnostic or weak atheist.
So what are we to do with the Chazal's that tell us who merits olam haba, the Rishonim who pasken on the issue and define min and apikores, the halachos that devolve from these issues. The response:
>>>Oh ok, well that makes it a lot easier then. I would assume the answer is no, one doesn't have to believe in anything to get to olam habah, you just have to be a good person. Or do you think God is so vindictive as to penalize an honest agnostic with eternal hell (or Karet) ? Or perhaps you are confusing Judaism with Christianity?Of course since every single person that ever lived, including all Acharonim, all Rishonim and all Chazal HAVE NO FREAKIN IDEA WHATSOEVER about what Olam Habah really is nor what it takes to get there (or not), my answer is pure conjecture. But it is as good as anyone elses guess, plus it makes a heck of a lot more sense than your idiot philosophy.<<<
Oh well. Open a gemara and Rambam and check the mekoros - unlike my opponent, I actually gave some last post (start with perek cheilek and ch 3 of hilcos tshuvah). Decide for yourself if Chazal had an idea and addressed the issue of who goes to olam haba. I rest my case. Nothing more needs to be said.

Orthopraxy revisited - a fisking of GH

This is really a waste of time. My excuse is I’ve had a cold all week and don’t feel like doing much, being cited out of context without a chance to respond (the comment section of a blog doesn’t allow for much) as GH did to me here admittedly annoys me, and the agenda of nonsense out there has long been due for a good fisking, so here goes. We shall return to our regularly scheduled program hopefully after I get this out of my system. By way of introduction, in the wilds of the j-blogosphere one is apt to encounter a creature called Skeptic, but he often disguises himself. Some clues that give him away: 1) vague philosophizing without any specific references to chazal or rishonim that would support any of the arguments and can be tested; 2) disavowal of what words say and mean in deference to ‘common sense’; 3) lots of red herrings to draw you off course; 4) secular philosophers held on par with rishonim; 5) speculative statements presented as fact instead of opinion; 6) references to unnamed “Rabbis” who agree with them; 7) off topic chareidi bashing; 8) either the mocking tone or the tone of high-scholarship designed to denigrate simple folks who can just read a blatt gemara. Now, to our case study:

1)>>> Firstly the ikkarim are not an issue.<<<

Firstly, the issue is not a debate of all 13 ikkarim, but a debate of one idea: whether one must believe in G-d to receive schar olam haba (this was started on Harry M’s blog
here, but GH conveniently stripped the debate out of context). See #5 below which addresses the specific issue at hand.

2) >>>They are not brought down in Shulchan Aruch<<<

Lots of stuff is not in shulchan aruch, but is part of Jewish law and belief. The belief in Messiah is not in shulchan aruch either, yet one who denies the Moshiach is a min (Chasam Sofer Y'D 356). Secondly, the effects of denying this belief are indeed brought in Shulchan Aruch. A mumar or min is pasul l’eidus, his schechita is pasul, there is a law of moridin v’lo ma’alin, and other examples. There must be a normative halachic definition of what a mumar/min means - if not, how would these dinim have any practical import? The normative ramifications are EFFECTS of Chazal declaring certain beliefs outside the pale, but the root cause is the invalidation of beliefs, a -DOXY statement.

3) >>>plus a well known Rav told me that as long as you don’t go around absolutely denying any of them, but maybe are doubtful or agnostic, that’s fine, since everyone has doubts anyway.<<<

Appeal to authority of someone no one knows is not a justification (maybe it's a Reform Rabbi? Who knows. Just because you put Rav before your name does not a talmid chacham make.)

4) >>>No doubt some people will make the argument that since the majority of Klal Yisrael accepted the ikkarim as binding, so they are. This is only an argument for them to be socially binding, not Halachikally binding.<<<

That would make no sense because how could we determine with respect to normative halacha (shechita, eidus, kibbud av, etc.) who is a min or apikores without a halachic definition? The Chasam Sofer cited above openly disagrees with this statement.

5) >>>The most rational position is agnosticism, or weak atheism, neither of which DENY G-d’s existence.<<<

From wikipedia: “Weak atheism (also called negative atheism) is the lack of belief in the
existence of deities” From – “Weak atheism, also sometimes referred to as implicit atheism, is simply another name for the broadest and most general conception of atheism: the absence of belief in any gods.” So its not denying the possibility of G-d,. just denying the reality of his existence. Another red herring, because denial of G-d’s real existence and his control of the world also fits the definition of min. The Skeptics distinction in this context makes no difference. In point of fact, the Chazon Ish writes (Y”D 62) that even a non Jew who denies G-d’s existence is a min because without belief in G-d acceptance of the 7 mitzvos is impossible – I don’t think I am stretching a point to say kal v’chomer for acceptance of 613 mitzvos. An agnostic is not sure, meaning he can never fulfill the mitzvah of Anochi Hashem Elokecha - not a good thing, but better than a min.

6)>>>all those ‘ein lo chelek leolam habah’ statements are polemical. Chazal cannot ‘pasken’ that someone loses their chelek in olam habah!<<<

Yet, indeed they do, in the first Mishna in cheilek as well as elsewhere, codified by the Rambam in ch 3 of hil tshuvah. The appeal to common sense is used to trump what your eyes read on the page, the “cannot” is presented as fact when it is an opinion that is belied by a simple reading of the words. Finally, this is yet another red herring. Even granting that Chazal were being polemical, so what? They were polemically opposing beliefs which we should therefore reject on that basis alone.

7)>>>Secondly, that is probably talking about someone who is advocating the non observance of Halachah<<<

Simply not what the words of the halacha say, but the Skeptic rarely is encumbered by the text. He has never seen it.

8)>>>The Rambam holds God is incomprehensible. Which part of INCOMPREHENSIBLE don’t you understand??!! So how can the Rambam posit knowledge of God as the ultimate goal?<<<

A simple mistake in logic here. I don’t know the solution to Fermat’s Last theorem, but I do know it exists. To ‘know’ G-d exists is this definition of Anochi. The Chovos HaLevavos writes that philosophical rational proof of G-d is the definition of the mitzva of Anochi. The Rambam uses the term ‘know’ and cites rational proof for G-d’s oneness in ch 1 of yesodei haTorah, and in chapter 2 advises contemplation of the natural world as a way to reach G-d. The sefer haChinuch also sees rational investigation of G-d as a hiddur mitzvah.

9) >>>This is highly debated amongst the scholars. Go read some Seeskin, Faur, Fox etc and get a clue.<<<

I could care less what any of them say against Rishonim, but notice that this is just a list of names but not real citations of arguments or quotes. Another tactic of the skeptic is to "snow" you with supposed evidence which you have no way to verify because no real citations are there. If you must resort to scholarship, try David Hartman, “Maimonides and the Philosophic Quest” who discusses how rational belief is the telos of religios existance according to the Rambam and the practical mitzvos just lead one to the correct ideology and are not ends in themselves. Quite the opposite of –praxy. The most obvious proof is the Rambam’s opinion that a non-jew who complies with the moral code of 7 mitzvos for rational/ethical reasons but not because G-d commanded is not rewarded with olam haba or called one of the chassidei umos (hil melachim ch 8). Kal v’chomer the same applies to a Jew. That Rambam alone should close this issue.

10)>>> Someone who keeps the Mitzvot for rational reasons is probably BETTER than someone who keeps them thinking they are mystical magic tricks which will score points in Olam Habah.<<<

Actually, the Netziv writes on the mitzva of kibbud av v’eim the exact opposite – even rational mitzvot muse be kept simply because they are G-d’s word. Note again the Rambam re: non Jews and olam haba cited above: morality without belief in G-d as giver of mitzvos is insufficient.

11) >>>Halachikally meticulous ultra Orthodox Jews who nevertheless have poor general ethics and morals.<<<

The gratuitous jab at Orthodoxy adds no weight to the argument, it just demonstrates the agenda of the writer. But you were warned.

So there you have it. This exercise will not be repeated in the future. If in doubt, just ask for exact citations of sources for a start - the Skeptic rarely has any beyond vaguely referring to "schools of rishonim" and unnamed "Rabbis" or generalities with no supporting evidence. Beware statements of opinion disguised as fact, especially when they undermine the plain reading of a text. The discussion eventually degenerates into belittling Orthodox belief or practice, so there is not much else to say. See last Rashi in Shabbos 116a, v’dai l’chakima b’remiza to end this absurd waste of time.

Divrei Sofrim and Dinei Derabbanan (III)

A zakein mamre is one who violates the issur of lo tasur by giving a hora’ah/psak that conflicts with the ruling of Sanhedrin on an issue which can lead to an issur kareis. The Rambam in Hil Mamrim (1:2) writes that even if the disagreement revolves around an issur derabbanan, one can still become a zakein mamre – for example, if one paskens that chameitz during the sixth hour of the day on erev Pesach (which is only assur m’derabbanan) is permitted b’hana’ah, that chameitz might be used for kiddushin, creating an eishes ish status with issurei kareis for an adulterer all based on a psak that contradicts the Sanhedrin. Even though the law enacted by the Sanhedrin is not a Torah law, one can still be in violation of a d'oraysa of lo tasur by disagreeing with such a din.
The Ramban in his hasagot to the first shoresh in Sefer haMitzvot attacks the Rambam’s position. If indeed every derabbanan hinges on a d’oraysa obligation of lo tasur to obey the Sanhedrin, why are we more lenient with respect to dinei derabbanan – ultimately, the violation of a derabbanan is itself a violation of the d’oraysa of lo tasur? Why are we lenient by a safek derabbanan but not a safek d’oraysa when every derabbanan itself is a potential safek violation of lo tasur?
According to the Ramban, one is forced to say that dinei derabbanan are not connected with the command of lo tasur or any other specific mitzvah, otherwise one cannot avoid the questions raised by his hasaga. If so, why is one ever obligated to follow the enactments of Sanhedrin? R’ Elchanan’s suggests that one can understand the Ramban in light of his chiddush (quoted yesterday) that the ‘ratzon Hashem’ must be obeyed even without a specific command to do so. A din derabbanan by definition reflects the Sanhedrin's understanding of the ratzon Hashem, which itself, even without a specific mitzva, requires being obeyed.

It is worth noting that the Meshech Chochma in P’ Shoftim defends the Rambam by proposing the exact opposite thesis as R’ Elchanan – i.e. although the Sanhedrin is granted legislative authority through lo tasur, one cannot say that each specific law they create is the ratzon Hashem the way a mitzvah is. It is worth taking a look at the machlokes Rambam/Ramban in greater depth, but for now, more to say on this chiddush of R’ Elchanan. Stay tuned…..

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Moshe's added day (II) - divrei sofrim and dinei derabbanan

As we mentioned yesterday, the gemara (Shabbos 87) seems to want to have its cake and eat it - Moshe is said to have added a day of preparation before matan Torah 'mda'ato', based on his own insight, yet at the same time the gemara quotes a derivation for the addition from a hekesh, which indicates that it was implied by Hashem's command. Which way is it?
Tosfos tersely writes that the hekesh must not be a real derashsa, but Tos does not explain how else to understand it. Though Tosfos does not use the term, it is tempting to think of the limud as a type of asmachta. The MaHaRaL (Tiferes Yisrael 27) points out that we find in Chazal that dinim derived from derashos are categorized differently than dinim spelled out by a pasuk - the former are referred to as 'divrei sofrim' in the Mishna (Sanhedrin 87; the Rambam often utililzes these categories, a famous example being his categorization of kiddushei kesef as divrei sofrim). Although the additional day Moshe added is revealed by a derasha, it falls under the ruberic of 'mda'ato' because all derashos are categorically different than actual statements of the Torah. If so, why is this halacha in particular called 'mada'ato' more than any other divrei sofrim halacha? The MaHaRaL answers that other divei sofrim are all just a 'peirush' of a pasuk, but not part of the actual text and command of the Torah. However, here Hashem acknowledged that Moshe's understanding was not just a 'peirush' of the pasuk, but was part of the inherent meaning of the command. There seems to be a fundemental difference between the the way Tos and MaHaRaL understand use of the 13 middot: do the middot reveal the derived law as inherent in the text itself (Tos), or are the 13 middot interpretations of the text but not part of the text's inherent meaning (MaHaRaL).
According to Tosfos, if indeed the Torah did not command this extra day or the 2 others ideas of Moshe, what gave Moshe the right to act based on his understanding? Where was the legislative license for these enactments? R' Elchanan Wasserman in Koveitz Divrei Sofrim derives an astounding chiddush from here. He answers that there is no license needed for any Rabbinic enactment, and there is indeed no specific command in the Torah to follow any din derabbanan. The reason these enactments carry weight is because Moshe (in this case) and the Rabbis (later in history) are able to intuit the 'ratzon Hashem', and knowledge of the the ratzon Hashem even sans explicit command creates a sense of obligation. This is a mouthful to digest and needs some analysis - to be continued......

Monday, May 22, 2006

Skepticism and the j-blogosphere revisited

Gil (of Hirhurim blog fame) was nice enough to link to a post of mine from some 2 months ago on skepticism and the j-blogosphere here , and I’ve been swamped trying to deal with criticisms on a one-off basis. Much of the debate seemed to focus on Documentary Hypotheses (DH) and Torah m’Simai (TMS). I thank everyone for their thoughts (even if you diagree with me). Here are some overall comments:
Some criticisms that I thought were on the mark: (1) My suggestion of intensive limud haTorah did not address whether the same could be applied to women. My wife deals with these type issues on her blog, so take a look. The problem is real, and a lack of rigorous learning programs for women (barring a few noteworthy exceptions) is something that should indeed be remedied. (2) I also did not address myself to someone who just is not inspired by learning. I can only say that such a person probably is deluding him/herself in thinking it is possible to weigh the evidence for/against DH without the scholarly rigor that learning demands.
Some misunderstandings: (3) I never meant to suggest learning enough R’ Chaim Briskers would answer the claims of DH. My thesis was that the claims of DH (or evolution, etc.) are no more troubling than other issues of faith that a person who lives in modern society must grapple with. Exposure to intensive learning gives one the perspective and appreciation of limud haTorah necessary to keep those challenges in perspective without losing faith. For example, I think that if a blog listed 50 places where the text of our Tanach differs from the mesorah of Chazal, there would be a free-for-all questioning of ikkarey emunah, TMS, etc. Yet such a list is available in R’ Akiva Eiger’s gloss in Mes. Shabbat, seen by talmidei chachamim for generations. Obviously it did not turn R’ Akiva Eiger into a skeptic, lead him to revise the ikkarei emunah, and no one to date has excised the gloss from the page. Perspective is key. (5) There is a difference between asking questions to seek meaningful answers and asking simply to sow the seeds of doubt. I never suggested ignoring or not exploring questions, if the attitude is the former; the latter approach has no place in either religious or serious academic discourse. I also think that there are role models of scholars who have bridged the worlds of Torah and academia, and their reflections on their struggles and answers is where we should look for guidence in this area.
Criticism that I thought was off the mark: (6) Throwing the evidence out there for the public to debate is as ludicrous as saying a layperson should pick up a medical journal and debate his physician as to the best modalities of care. Excuse my cynicism, but the average reader has not gone through shas once sans artscroll or tanach in the original with meforshim. Most info out there is an accumulation of second hand wisdom gleaned from books and articles with no context, no appreciation of the scope and depth of original traditional sources, and no perspective on the process of limud haTorah. One cannot take the sugya of DH/TMS in isolation of the rest of Torah any more than one can take a few notes of a symphony and judge the work as a whole. (7) The suggestion that there are ‘no answers’ and therefore Judaism is wrong is as absurd as saying since no one could solve Fermat’s last theorem, the field of mathematics must be wrong. A kashe with no teirutz is not indicative of a failure of the system as a whole – once again, perspective and context give the ability to make that discrimination.
Additional notes: (8) For some reason people seem able to accept that there is a process of growth in academic study, e.g. at age 10 you can learn perek hamafkid easily, but at age 25 you get stuck on issues of davar shelo ba l’olam and difficult rambams and suddenly the whole sugya is a jumble – that is considered a good thing. Yet, people seem to get hung up if at age 25 they do not have easy answers to questions of faith like they did at age 10. I never suggested there are easy answers or no struggles - quite the contrary, I think inquiry and struggling with what's 'out there' is inevitable for anyone who desires to grow intellectually, but it must be done balanced with a sincere committment to the dvar Hashem. Is there room for that delicate balance in the j-blogosphere? That remains to be seen.

Prayer for pets and animals

I heard on the radio yesterday that people were praying for Barabro, the injured racehorse. I don't know if praying for an animal is ever more than an emotional response, but to the degree that we can rationally analyze it I was wondering if there is any efficacy to tefillah for animals. As we discussed in the past, the Rambam limits hashgacha pratis to sichli spritually elevated people - it never applies to animals, who are governed by hashgacha klalis. If so, then can we really ask G-d to intrude on the laws of nature for the sake of a specific animal? (I guess you can ask G-d to do anything, but does that fit the rational model of hashgacha and tefillah?) I can imagine a frum child davening on behalf of a sick pet - should that be encouraged, or is it nonsensical? I don't have any sources offhand, so just speculating....

The extra day of mattan Torah preparation added by Moshe

The gemara (Shabbos 87a) tells us that Moshe Rabeinu did three things ‘m’da’ato’, based on his own understanding, to which Hashem gave his consent. One of the three was adding an extra day to the preparation period before kabbalas haTorah. On Wednesday of the week preceding kabbalas haTorah, Moshe was told ‘v’kidashtem hayom u’machar’, to prepare ‘today and tomorrow’. Taken at face value, this would mean preparing Wed. and Thurs. for a kabbalas haTorah which would occur on Friday. Moshe, however, did not take the instruction to mean that. The gemara explains that he reasoned through a ‘hekesh’ that just like ‘machar’ includes a full day (meaning night+day), so too ‘hayom’ must be a full day (night + day). Since Wed had already started and would not be a full day of preparation, ‘hayom u’machar’ must refer to Thurs. and Friday. Hashem obviously consented with this addition of a day because kabbalas haTorah indeed did not take place until Shabbos morning.
There is a striking difficulty in this sugya which the rishonim and achronim address. We usually assume that anything derived through one on the 13 middot, which includes ‘hekesh’, is a din d’oraysa – the rules of derash reveal G-d’s command; they are not a means of superimposing Rabbinic law on the Torah text. If Moshe’s addition of a day was based purely on his insight alone, then he should not have needed the justification of a ‘hekesh’. And if Moshe’s addition was based on a ‘hekesh’, then how can that be called m’da’ato’, based on his own insight? He did not choose to add an extra day of his own volition, but was simply following the rules of derush to derive from the pasuk what Hashem intended all along?!
More to come…. (obviously, I’m getting a jump on preparing for Shavuos.)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Ona'as Devarim

"Al tonu ish es achiv..." (25:14)
"V'lo tonu ish es amiso..." (25:17)
Chazal derive from the repitition of the issur ona'ah that there are two parts to the prohibition: (1) ona'as mamon, to overcharge on an item; (2) ona'as devarim, 'harmful words', for lack of a better way to translate. The Mishna (B.M.58) gives an example of the latter in a case where one reminds a ba'al tshuva or a ger of their past ways, causing them pain. The gemara also includes under this prohibition a case of shopping in a store with no intent to buy - the salesperson is misled to devote time and energy on the shopper, all for naught. I was wondering recently why this aspect of the issur is not included under the general framework of gneivas da'as - perhaps it is, but the gemara seems to spell it out only in the ona'ah context.
Just wanted to highlight what I think is the most practical aspect of this issur - the gemara itself delivers a special warning to be careful of ona'as devarim with respect to how one speaks to one's wife (and no, my wife did not force me to write that : )

Friday, May 19, 2006

Orthopraxy = imitation Judaism

DEAR READERS OF GH REFERRED HERE: Read carefully. This post has nothing to do with rationalism and mitzvos. Check here for a full list of mekoros on Orthopraxy, the lack of belief in G-d. When the Rambam says one must believe in G-d “Ani Ma’amin”, when the Torah says “Anochi Hashem Elokecha”, that is a positive mitzvah, not just a lav prohibiting denial. According to some Rishonim it is axiomatic and therefore is not even counted as a mitzvah! Even a nochri who observes mitzvos but does not believe they were commanded by G-d at Sinai does not get olam haba, as Rambam writes end of ch 8 of Melachim. Note that not a single source that says otherwise has been offered - just armchair philosophizing. See here

Your doctor refers you for surgery and recommends a person who he things is a highly skilled surgeon. You visit the office and notice on the wall a diploma from Zulu’s School of Quackery. Although he was recommended, your suspicions are aroused, so you decide to have a little conversation before entrusting your care to this guy. “Scientific method? – Don’t believe that for a second – it all depends on the spirit world.” Not too reassuring. “Post operative care – yes, I’ll give you antibiotics, but those don’t really kill germs, they just invoke the spirit world to rest on the wound and draw off the evil.” You are getting more nervous. “Sterilization – of course, for how else would the good sprits be able to dwell on the scalpel?” Uh-oh.
Scientist or quack? You make the call.
You see, handling a scalpel is not all there is to being a doctor. A doctor is trained in science, which has a whole range of philosophical assumptions about the world as well as a methodology to test truth and falsehood and a means to advance knowledge. A quack who can handle a scalpel is nothing more than a quack imitating a doctor, but not the real thing. He cannot advance the field of science, because he does not understand what science is. He cannot determine what is essential and what is secondary, because he does not understand the why, only the what. His approach is a superficial parody of what scientific training is all about.
Orthopraxy is the imitation of Judaism. It parodies the practice of Judaism without subscribing the philosophical beliefs and underpinnings of the real thing. As the Chovos haLevavos devotes his entire sefer to establishing, in authentic Judaism explicit practice is just a means of revealing the heart. Or, as Chazal put it, ‘Rachmana liba ba’i’. Judasim is not just a means to a more ethical society, a more complete personal ethic, a more refined way of life - those are just nice side products of the -praxy side of the coin, but are not the telos of religion. The telos is nicely summed up by R' Tzadok haKohen's statement that all mitzvos aseh really come to teach one principle, and its a -doxy one: "Anochi Hashem Elokecha". Without belief, the rest is just going through the motions.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

"Berlin is Yerushalayim"

"...and therefore [Ya'akov Avinu] commanded with all his strength that he should be buried in Eretz Kna'an, so it would be known that the Avos of the nation and its heritage is found in Kna'an, thereby causing his children to have a natural bond and aspiration for the land of their fathers. This is the meaning of "vayagar sham - this teaches that Ya'akov did not descened [to Egypt] to dwell, only to live" - meaning, for all generations, in each and every galus, we must know we are not there to dwell but only to live awaiting the true redemption, not as permanent citizens..."
"This is the way of our people, that when they enter a foreign land they are bereft of Torah scholars from the trials and travails of persecution and expulsion, but then the G-dly spirit awakens within them to return to their roots. They learn, teach Torah, do wonders, until the glory of Torah is restored... Soon they begin to say our forefathers have given us falsehood, as they forget their origins and become as full citizens, abandoning the teachings of their faith, learning foreign languages, learning from 'kilul' and not 'tikkun', thinking Berlin is Yerushalayim... Then a storm will arise to rip them from their roots..."

I can't really do justice to the poetic flavor of this Meshech Chochma, Parshas Bechukosai, and I left out the fire and brimstone ending, so take a look at the original source. Choose your own substitute for Berlin in the bold sentence, but does the message ring less true?

Parshas Bechukosai and Zechus Avos

How does the concept of “zechus avos” work? Is it that (1) the power of the Avos, or the zechuyos they generated, is so great that it effects all future generations, or (2) future generations who choose to identify with the chain of Jewish history reap the benefits of that positive group association? Is it a top-down process or a bottom-up process?
The gemara (Shabbos 55a) presents a machlokes Shmuel and R’ Yochanan whether there still is “zechus avos” that we can call on. Shmuel’s opinion that “tamah zechus avos” is at first glance astounding – what of all the tefillos we recite which invoke that zechus?! Tosfos offers two answers: The R”I (Tosfos d”h Shmuel) explains that in reality there is no machlokes – zechus avos works for tzadikim (R' Yochanan's position) and does not work for resha’im (Shmuel's position). Rabeinu Tam, however, holds their is a real machlokes here and distinguishes between “zechus avos”, which according to Shmuel has ceased, and “bris avos”, which is eternal. The proof is from our parsha – ‘V’zacharti es bris Ya’akov…” (26:42) Even after the tochacha and galus, there is still a bris avos.

Could these two views of Tosfos reflect the two sides of the chakira? According to Rabeinu Tam there is some powerful bris which effects all future descendents of Klal Yisrael and can never be severed. According to the R”I, zechus avos depends on the degree to which one chooses to conform to the historical mission of Klal Yisrael - it is not an automatic consequence of being a descendent of the Avos.

Bitachon, reward and punishment, and shmita

One of my favorite vortlach of the Noam Elimelech is in this week’s parsha. The Torah says that we must not plant during shmitta. “And if you shall ask what shall we eat, for we may not plant or harvest our crops? – I will command my blessing during the sixth year and the crop will last for three years." (25:20-21) The pasuk could just succinctly say that Hashem provides the bracha of an abundant sixth year’s crop - why does the Torah go through the “shakla v’tarya”, this give and take exchange between the farmer’s question and G-d’s answer instead of just getting to the point?
We need one point of introduction about schar v’onesh to better understand the N.E. Just like if you stick your hand on a hot stove, the stove is not “punishing” you with a burn, if you choose to be a ba’al aveira, you will suffer certain repercussions as an inevitable consequence of the act, not because G-d changes the “natural” course of events to create that punishment. By the same token, if someone does good, a natural consequence of that goodness is the reward that flows from shamayim in that person’s direction.

For a ba’al bitachon, Hashem’s command is sufficient to perform the mitzvah of shmita without question as to what food there will be. As a natural consequence, the appropriate reward and sustenance will be directed his/her way from shamayim. Our pasuk is directed to the person who is not such a ba’al bitachon – it speaks to someone who hears the command of shmita and is worried and questions where the food will come from. The consequence of doubt should rightfully block the bountiful harvest reward of true bitachon. However, in this case Hashem intervenes and “commands” – i.e. he changes the natural course of events – and directs that even someone who would not merit a bountiful harvest based on their level of bitachon be rewarded with the means to get through the shmita year.
Bitachon means trust with no kashes – trust after you are promised that everything will work out well (which the Torah does not guarantee anyway) is not the same as real bitachon. I don’t know about you, but worry about how to pay tuition bills, job stress, etc is very much part of my life - this is a very hard madreiga to reach.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Blowing shofar on Shabbos - issur d'oraysa?

“V’ha’avarta shofar teru’a bachodesh hashevi’i b’asor lachodesh; bayom hakippurim ta’aviru shofar b’chol artzechem” (25:9)
Rashi explains the double instruction to blow shofar on “the tenth of Tishrei” and “Yom Kippur” as permitting shofar to be blown only on 10 Tishrei which falls on Shabbos, but not if Rosh haShana, 1 Tishrei, falls on Shabbos. Ramban immediately attacks Rashi for suggesting that tekiyas shofar is prohibited on Shabbos because of a pasuk in chumash – the gemara tells us that tekiyas shofar is prohibited only because of a gezeirah derabbanan lest someone may carry the shofar on Shabbos. How could Rashi suggest that this is a din d’oraysa? The simple explanation of Rashi is that he is citing an asmachta – the law is based on a din derabbanan which has a textual hint as a mnemonic. However, this seems a bit difficult – if an asmachta is just a mnemonic device, then how does it solve the pshuto shel mikra question of the double-wording of the pasuk? (See Ra’avad Mamrim 2:9 on asmachta). The Chasam Sofer writes that Rashi indeed meant that tekiyas shofar on Rosh haShana is prohibited min hatorah during a Yovel year (which is the context of the pasuk). The Ramban al haTorah writes that although the specific actions of doing business and many other dinei derabbanan are not formulated as issurim on Shabbos by the Torah, if one spends the day engaged in weekday activity, one has violated an issur d’oraysa of “shabbaton”. Shabbos must be a day of shvus, of resting, and destroying that spirit of the day even within the rubric of Torah-permitted activity is itself an issur d’oraysa. During the Yovel year, the blast of the Shofar served a business purpose – it announced the freedom of slaves for that year (according to the Rambam, the 10 days between Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur were celebratory days after which on Yom Kippur the slaves were completely free). With respect to Rosh haShana of any other year, Rashi agrees that the issur of tekiyas shofar is derabbanan. However, in consideration of the business implications – freedom of slaves, return of property – of the shofar blowing of yovel, Rashi held that tekiya of that Rosh haShana is an issur d’oraysa.

Ezra's takkanah to read Bechukosai before Shavuos

This Shabbos IY”H we will read the tochacha in Parshas Bechokosai. When we lived in Passaic, my Rebbe, R’ Yonasan Sacks shlit”a, would always point out on this Shabbos that this keriyas hatorah is not just a regular kiyum of reading parshas hashavua, but is a kiyum of a special takkana of Ezra (see Megillah 31b) to read the parsha of tochacha before Rosh haShana – Bechokosai is read before Azetert (Shavuos), which is called Rosh haShana for fruit of the tree, and the tochacha of Ki Tavo is read before Rosh haShana in Tishrei. (If I recall correctly, he would say to have kavanah to be yotzei the takanah through keriyas haTorah.) Even in the times of the Mishna when only the first and last oleh recited brachos on keriyas haTorah, there may have been a separate bracha on this keriya because of the takanah (see R’ Sacks’ article here ). Tosfos in Megilla points out that we do not want to read a parsha of kelalos just before a Yom Tov, so we intersprese Parshas BaMidbar in between the tochacha and Shavuos (see Tosfos with respect to the order of parshiyos in Tishrei). Food for thought: why is the tochacha read only before the “Rosh haShana” of Shavuos and not Pesach or Sukkot, which the Mishna also calls “Rosh[ei] haShana”?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Lag B'Omer and the 13 middot

Last week my wife was looking for some explanation of the recurring theme of 12 in R’ Akiva and RASHBI’s life: 12+12 years of learning for R’ Akiva, 12,000 pairs of students, 12 years in the cave for RASHBI followed by an extra year. I formulated my thoughts a little better in time for Lag B’Omer – full essay posted here (which will also explain that 13 middot are really 12+1, as one stands out from the others). My hesber is admittedly derush - feedback and better answers welcome.

More hashgacha pratis questions

The gemara in Shabbos (32) says that Rava would not cross a bridge that an aku"m was sitting on lest Hashem judge the aku"m at that moment and collapse the bridge taking him down as well.
We touched before on the concept of Hashgacha pratis
here . I do not understand how you read this gemara if you adopt the Besht’s idea that Hashem directly supervises every action in the world down to the movement of a falling leaf. Why should Rava have been afraid? Wouldn’t hashgacha pratis has protected him from injury if he was not deserving of punishment at that moment?
My wife raised a different question from this same gemara on the Rambam. According to the Rambam there is hashgacha pratis on an individual level only for people closely connected to Hashem, otherwise everything is hashgacha klalis. So how could there be a din specific to an individual aku”m sitting on a bridge – isn’t that hashgacha pratis on a very specific level?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Rabbi Akiva, Rashbi, and the number 12

My wife raised an interesting question: is there a connection between the units of 12 years that Rabbi Akiva learned for and the 12 years + 1 that Rashbi spent in a cave, and the 12,000 zugos of talmidim of R' Akiva who died? What is so special about this number 12 (yes, we know about zodiav and shevatim – you have to do better than that)? This took some thinking, but I finally came up with an idea that I posted here . Please feel free to chime in if you have any ideas.

The yichus of the megadef

We have been discussing the opinion of the Ramban who held that the child of the ‘ish mitzri’ was Jewish but with a ‘pagum’ status, as opposed to the opinion of the Chachmei Tzorfas who held he was a nochri until he was megayeir. Putting aside the Litvishe lomdus for a few minutes, the Divrei Elimelech has an interesting spin on the parsha. Rashi teaches that the parsha of the mekallel took place at the same time as the parsha of the mekoshesh eitzim; in fact they were cell mates in prison together. If we assume that the mekoshesh episode took place chronologically where the parsha appears (which is the opinion of Ramban in P’ Shlach; Rashi disagrees), then both episodes of mekoshesh and mekallel occurred immediately after the story of the meraglim. Why did this issue of the mekallel not having a place in the camp only arise then? The Divrei Elimelech explains that at the time of mattan Torah, ‘paska zuhamasam’, there was a spiritual elevation of the entire people. This effectively negated the ‘pgam’ that was the result of the relationship of the “ish mitzri” with his Jewish wife. However, after the episode of the meraglim, when the nation fell from this high spiritual level, the mekallel once again faced the stigma of being a ‘pagum’ and was rejected from the camp of the tribe of Dan. Although he was Jewish, the camps were based on the familial relationship of mishpacha, which follows the father’s yichus.

A ger bringing bikurim - the promise of a share in Eretz Yisrael

As we discussed, R' Shachter explained that the dispute between the Chachamei Tzorfas and the Ramban was not whether the Avos had a din ben noach or yisrael, but whether they had the din of yisrael as a nation (for which yichus follows the mother) or just a shem mishpachas yisrael (for which yichus follows the father). I thought this might answer a kashe of the Mishne l'Melech. The Rambam paskens like Rabbi Yehudah that a ger is permitted to read the parsha of bikkurim despite the reference in the parsha to the promise of Eretz Yisrael - this promise is inapplicable to a ger who receives no cheilek in Eretz Yisrael. The Rambam seems to contradict himself, as with respect to viduy ma’asrot the Rambam paskens that a ger is not permitted to read the parsha because of its reference to our share in Eretz Yisrael. Perhaps one could distinguish between the two parshiyot. With respect to bikkurim, the parsha references the land ‘asher nishbata l’avoteinu’, promised to our forefathers, to mishpachas yisrael. However, the parsha of viduy ma’asrot references ‘ubareich es amcha…v’es ha’aretz asher nasata lanu’, the nation of Klal Yisrael and the land promised to us. The Rambam paskens that a ger can read the parsha of bikkurim because a ger is included retroactively in mishpachas yisrael based on the principle that Avraham was ‘av hamon goyim’. However, a ger is not retroactively a member of Klal Yisrael as a nation - ‘ger shenitgayer k’katan shenolad’, geirus is like a new birth. Therefore, the ger is excluded from viduy ma'asrot which references am yisrael as a nation.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Were the Avos Jewish? (part III - the parsha of the mekallel)

We have been discussing the machlokes Chachamei Tzorfas and Ramban with respect to whether before mattan Torah there existed a status of Yisrael, or everyone had the same din of ben noach. The Torah introduces the parsha of the mekallel by saying “vayeitzei”, he went out. Rashi cites Chazal who explain that the mekallel “went out” defeated from the bais din of Moshe Rabeinu where he had gone to press his case for a place in the camp of Klal Yisrael as a full Jew. Apparently, his court case revolved around the very issues raised in this machlokes Chachamei Tzorfas and Ramban. Based on this, suggests the Malbim, Rashi’s reference specifically to the “bais din of Moshe”, not just any court, is intentional and meduyak. Recall that in parshas Shmos Moshe killed an Egyptian for striking a Jew. From that episode Chazal derive that any nochri who attempts to strike a Jew is chayav misa (Sanhedrin 58b). This conclusion would only have been warranted if there existed a distinct status of Yisrael even before mattan Torah! Therefore, the mekallel confidently assumed that Moshe would side with his claim. (As to why the mekallel was wrong, at least one approach should be obvious from previous posts, and there are others - I’ll leave it to you to work out :)

Were the Avos Jewish? (part II)

The Brisker Rav (al hatorah, parshas Bo) points out that the concept of geirus must pre-date mattah torah because we find that there was an issur for a nochri to eat the first korban pesach. This is difficult to understand if one assumes that before mattan torah there only existed a single category of ben noach. Hoewever, based on R’ Shachter’s chiddush, one could explain that before mattan torah there existed geirus to join the mihspacha of the Avos; after mattan torah there was a higher level geirus to join Klal Yisrael.
This chiddush also explains the opinion of the MahaRaL who holds that we do not apply the principle of ‘ger shenitgayer k’katan shenolad’ to the geirus of mattan torah (this MaHaRaL is referenced in the Shav Shamytza’s introduction). Although mattan torah is the paradigm of geirus for joining the Jewish nation, it did not dissolve the bonds of Jewish mishpacha which already existed beforehand, so no issurei arayos were lifted.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Were the Avos Jewish?

The Parashas Derachim is famous for the first two essays in the sefer which discuss whether ths Avos had the status of bnei noach or yisraelim before mattan torah. One of the mareh mekomos that seems to address this issue is found in this week’s parsha. A certain person who was “ben yisraelis v’hu ben ish mitzri” committed the cheit of being a “mekallel” and was punished for the offence. The Ramban cites the Chachmei Tzorfas who held that this person was in fact not Jewish – even though we pasken that a child of a Jewish mother is Jewish, this person joined Klal Yisrael before mattan Torah when lineage was based on the father’s identity. The Ramban takes issue with the Chachmei Tzorfas and writes that since the time of Avharam Avinu anyone who joined Klal Yisrael was granted Jewish identity based on his mother’s lineage. According to the analysis of the Parashas Derachim, the Rambam holds that even the Avos had the status of yisraelim, while the Chachmei Tzorfas disagree.
Rav Hershel Schachter in his sefer Eretz haTzvi takes a slightly different approach. R’ Shachter argues that lineage based on the father’s identity is a function of being subsumed in a family group – mishpachas av is called mishpacha, not mishpachas eim. We identify the child of a Jewish mother as a member of Klal Yisrael because of the unique din that the role of mishpacha is secondary and subsumed under the individual’s relationship to the nation of Klal Yisrael, which follows the mother’s identity. The machlokes Ramban and Chachmei Tzorfas is not whether Avraham had the status of a Yisrael, but whether that status of Yisrael which existed at the time of the Avos was based on the din of mishpacha or on the din of nationhood.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Sfeika d'oraysa l'chumra

The Rambam (Issurei Biya 15:29) is mechadesh that a child who does not know who is parents are (a shtuki or asufi) is still permitted to marry a women who might be an ervah to him - e.g. a child who does not know who his father is does not have to worry that the girl he marries is his father's daughter/his sister. The Rambam proves his chiddush from the pasuk "u'mala'ah ha'aretz zimah" - the Torah warns that znus might lead to mamzeirus by a brother marrying a sister when neither knows who their father is. If it was true that anyone of unknown lineage could not marry anyone who might possibly be an ervah to him, there should defacto never be such a chashash of mamzeirus! Only because we do allow people to marry even if their father was unknown is the Torah's warning of "zimah" necessitated.
The Chasam Sofer writes that this is the source of the famous opinion of the Rambam that sefeika d'oraysa l'chumra is only a din derabbanan, but min hatorah we are not required to be machmir on a safek. Despite the safeik that boy X might share the same father as girl Y (where the father of one of them is unknown), we allow them to marry. (I would raise 2 points: (1) I'm not sure why we would not say the heter is based on rov, but in a 50-50 safeik we should be machmir; (2) the assumption of the Chasam Sofer is you need a makor to be makeil on a s'feika d'oraysa - one could easily take the opposite position and assume that the norm should be to be mekeil unless one can provide a makor to be machmir, and with that I have opened a new can of worms).

Friday, May 05, 2006

Ahavas Yisrael = Ahavas Hashem

One of the most famous teachings of Judaism is Hillel’s dictum “Do not unto others as you would not want done unto you”. However, misunderstood is who the “others” refer to. Rashi (Shabbos 31a, in his first pshat) writes that “re’acha” actually refers to Hashem. Hillel’s summary of the entire Torah is, “Do not disregard the words of Hashem just as you would not like your words disregarded” – quite different than the usual spin! The meforshim (see Pri Tzadik) point out that Rashi’s reading in still consistent with the simple interpretation of the pasuk as a command to love one’s fellow Jew. Ahavas yisrael is based on more than a social contract, but is an extension of ahavas Hashem (see Tanya ch 32). If one truly loves G-d, one will love each Jew, because by definition each Jew has within them a connection to Hashem. The further a Jew is from G-d, the more it behooves us to remind him/her through our love they they still have that unseverable connection to Hashem (Rav Kook). Through ahavas Hashem one comes to ahavas Yisrael, which leads in turn to tshuvah m'ahavah.

A rant on the problem of MO values and chinuch

My kids learned nothing this week about Yom haAtzmaut, yet their schools are blameless. No, I have not changed my hashkafos overnight, but I respect that there is a view (and some would argue it is the dominant view) among gedolei yisrael who would say that this day should not be given prominence. Yet, it raises the question of why I would send my kids to a school which teaches a hashkafa I disagree with. I am going to risk engaging in broad brushstrokes to make a point here, but in doing so I do not mean to suggest every person or community is the same, nor to offend anyone, only to share my experiences. My kids have been in two different schools, one that could be labelled RW/C, one LW/C. My daughters used to be in an environment where they were the only ones who never wore pants on Sunday, we were the only family with no TV, where not going “mixed swimming” was a sign of zehirus. Now, they are in an environment where their external behavior (skirts only, no TV, etc.) is far closed to the median. To me, the hashkafa of the Rav and Rav Kook means having serious limud haTorah and zehirus in halacha PLUS a love of medinat yisrael, belief in the value of secular wisdom, etc. (I do not mean to provide a comprehensive definition of centrist/dati orthodoxy). It is not orthodoxy MINUS anything, certainly not in halacha or limud haTorah. Yet, in my experience,in certain segments of the community, modern orthodoxy somehow became "minus" orthodoxy. Somehow the heter to study Shakespeare or for a girl to learn gemara turned into a heter for mixed swimming or women wearing pants (I mean to use those as sociological standards, not get into the halachic parameters). Yes, of course, even in the “RW” community there are those who are not careful in halacha or kovea ittim, but the question is whether that guy views himself and is viewed by society as bucking the trend, a yotzei min haklal, or just another average Joe. When you say you went away on vacation and enjoyed the time on the beach, there are some shules where those around you will have their jaws drop, and others where the discussion will start over which resort has the better beach. You can unually figure out who sends to which schools by the reaction. This past week, a local shule hosted a guest lecture by R’ Shachter and R’ Rozensweig. The place was ½ empty. I took my son along just to show that there is such a thing as a clean shaven talmid chacham with a PhD (R’ Rozensweig) –this is the model of “MO” orthodoxy I want him to see, not the e-mails from members of the same community that provide weekly updates on how a certain guy on some reality TV show is doing. My kids chinuch is narrow and the poorer because they miss out on Shakespeare and Yom haAtzmaut, yet, those values cannot come at the expense of halacha or limud haTorah. I can only hope that some day they will find a balance for themselves. (Apologies if this offended anyone).

Is it a reason or seperate mitzva? - "umal'ah ha'aretz zimah"

This is your SH”M bonus week. “Al techalel et bitcha l’haznota, u’mal’ah ha’aretz zimah”. Rashi explains that when a father encourages his daughter in znus (the first half of the pasuk), then the fruit of the land will become destroyed in punishment (the second half of the pasuk. The Rambam in his fifth shoresh sets out as a guideline that one should count only a lav, but not the reason for the lav, as a mitzvah. One of the Rambam’s examples is this pasuk: the issur is “al techalel et bitcha”, while “umal’ah ha’aretz zimah” is just a reason that gives added weight. The Ramban on chumah and in his gloss to SH”M takes issue with this approach and writes (to defened the BH”G’s count) that the end of the pasuk is actually a separate lav that applies to the zonah and her partner – how, asks the Ramban, would we derive such as an issur from the first half of the pasuk, which addresses itself only to the father? The achronim point out that our pasuk is actually part of a broader issur of “lo t’heye kedeisha”, which prohibits a man or woman from having relations without kesubah and kiddushin (see SH”M lav 365; the Ramban there defines the issur znus differently, but that is another discussion). The Rambam subsumes our pasuk under that general issur, but does not count it as a separate lav, and interestingly the Ramban in his gloss there notes his agreement with the Rambam’s understanding! Meaning, (I think), that Ramban concurs with the Rambam that the seifa of the pasuk is not just an aggadic addition (as Rashi understood), but has halachic significance - the question is whether it is a mitzvah (BH"G) or just an offshoot din d'oraysa.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Does 'kedoshim' count as 1 of the 613 mitzvos?

Before Pesach I said I wanted to do a series on Sefer haMitzvos (henceforth: SH"M) to have some focus – there have been too many other nice things to write about, so that has not gotten off the ground. Consider this a late start. Rashi understands “kedoshim t’hiyu” to be an additional warning about the issurei arayos which are recorded at the end of Acharei Mos (is Rashi’s real concern the smichus haparshiyos?) The Rambam, in a famous comment, writes that “kedoshim t’hiyu” is a separate mitzvah to live a life of holiness, which means acting not only within the technical framework of the law, but within the spirit of the law as well. The Ramban's approach here is similar to his comments to “v’asita hayashar v’hatov” – unless one appreciates the value system conveyed by the law and acts in accordance with it, one risks becoming a “naval b’reshus haTorah”, a person who has not violated any specific injunction but is nonetheless ethically abhorrent. Id the Ramban means literally that this is counted as a mitzva, we run afoul of one of the basic principles in counting mitzvos. In the fourth shoresh in SH"M, the Rambam tells us that a general instruction cannot be counted as a mitzvah. If this were not true, our mitzvos would number in the hundreds, as each general command to keep mitzvos itself would count as another mitzvah. The Ramban in his gloss to the Sefer haMitzvos defends the BH”G’s count of “v’heyisem kedoshim” as a mitzvah which prohibits eating sheratzim, but he interestingly makes no mention of his own interpretation of this pasuk. Perhaps the Ramban understood that the overarching idea of kedusha in a din d’oraysa, but it is not formally counted an one of the 613.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Hallel, sefira, nissim, and questions to ask yourself today

Just some random mareh mekomos:
(1) The gemara (Shabbos 118) tells us that there is an issur of reciting hallel unnecessarily. The gemara (Ta’anis 28) tells of Rav who came to Bavel and heard hallel recited on Rosh Chodesh. Being unfamiliar with the minhag, Rav was going to stop them. When he heard that they were skipping while reading (i.e. reading chatzi hallel), he let them continue. Based on this gemara, it would seem that reciting chatzi hallel does not violate the issur of unnecessarily reciting hallel.
(2) There are many things which push aside the practice of aveilus. For example, a ba’al bris can shave on the day of his son’s mila because it is his Yom Tov. One may push aside the issur of eating meat during the aveilus of “shavua sh’chal bo 9 Av” if one celebrates the personal Yom Tov of making a siyum (as is regularly done in summer camps).
(3) The Chayei Adam records that he established a personal YomTov for himself to mark the day he was saved from a fire. He celebrated yearly with a seudas mitzvah. The Chasam Sofer (191, 208) concurs with this approach, and suggests that celebrating being saved from a life threatening situation miraculously is nothing less than a chiyuv d’oraysa.

Irrespective of the practical issues, the fundemental question of hashkafa one must ask on this day is whether one identifies the State of Israel as a positive religious value for the Jewish people. And if you answer in the affirmative, I think it is worth considering whether that value is adequetly conveyed in the chinuch our children are given. I'm not giving answers, just raising the questions.

Mah yom m'yomayim? - a true story, and a true letter

A true story:
After we moved, we realized in the first year that our daughters were enrolled in a school that did not meet their needs and which we were not comfortable with. Not wanting them to miss much class time, we used Yom haAtzmaut to take them to a different school to meet the principal, so they were only missing a chagiga. The school in question was having a normal day. As we were about to leave, the assistant said to the principal that they are missing the fun in order to see him. He was absolutely bewildered – he had no clue what the assistant was referring to, or why the day was in any way special. Yes, he had heard of Yom haAtzmaut, but he had no clue it was on that day – it was like knowing there is a Canadian independence day, but it is not marked on your calendar. Mah yom m’yomayim?

A true letter, Michtav M’Eliyahu (vol 3 p. 352), by R’ E.E. Dessler z”l, dated Elul, 1948:
Our living now in the Holy Land is difficult to define as ‘aschalta d’geula’, but nevertheless, it marks great chessed [in being able to go] from one extreme to another - from the extreme of the destruction of six million of our bretheren, to the extreme of our people settling in our State in the Holy Land. From this one must learn and fix emunah in one’s heart. Woe to one who will come to the Day of Judgment still blind to seeing a matter as concrete as this.

(BTW, my kids switched to a better match, though not that particular school. My views on chinuch are for another post, but suffice it to say that I would rather sacrifice a chagiga today and have them in a class where wearing a skirt all the time (including non-school days), not owning a TV, and having high limudei kodesh expectations are closer to the norm than the exception. I regularly bemoan the fact that I can't have both.)

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Cooking on Yom Tov for Shabbos (II)

We previously touched on the machlokes Rabbah and Rav Chisdah (Pesachim 46b) as to why it is permissible to cook on Y”T in preparation for Shabbos. Rabbah holds that ‘tzorchei Shabbos na’asin b’Yom Tov’, that there is inherently no issur (as some rishonim explain, because the two days share an identical kedusha) of preparation, while Rav Chisda holds there would theoretically be an issur, but we say that ‘ho’il v’iy mikalei lei orchim’, were guests to come on Y”T this cooking would be for their Y”T benefit, hence the cooking act is not defined purely as preparatory for Shabbos. The Aruch haShulchan (495:18) writes that there seems to be some dispute in the Rishonim as to the scope of Rav Chisda’s chiddush. Is Rav Chisda a chiddush in din or a chiddush in metziyus? Does ho’il teach that there is no such theoretical issur as cooking for Shabbos, or in reality there is an issur, but in the context of of guests possibly arriving, what you are doing is defined as cooking for Y”T and not for Shabbos? The Rambam seems to take the former position. Rashi, however, writes that the case the gemara is addressing is cooking after you finished lunch, where the context gives away the fact that you are preparing for the next day. Rav Chisda is a chiddush in metziyus - since the context has changed because there is the possibility of guests, this is not b’metziyus defined as cooking for the next day. The nafka minah is the MG”A previously discussed. According to the Rambam, cooking at for Shabbos is always permitted on Y”T because by definition there is no issur of preparing for Shabbos. According to Rashi (who the MG”A is machmir for), it is only the potential for guests’ arrival which removes the issur; cooking late in the day when Y”T guests are no longer going to arrive would be prohibited.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Is the mitzva of tza'ra'as on the kohein to investigate tumah or on the yisrael to come forward?

What drew me to have a look at that Chinuch was really a different issue. The Ramban asks why there is no pasuk instructing "dabeir el Bnei Yisrael" by tza'ra'as. He answers the kohein was enpowered to be metamei people even withou their consent if he found tumah, and thus the command is addressed to kohanim. However, the Chinuch writes that there is a mitzva to seek out the kohein if you see a nega tza'ra'as. Sounds like a machlokes to me, but in Chavel's notes on the the Ramban he cites the Kli Chemdah who does not think so. Kli Chemdah asks why the Ramban ignores the obligation on the people and answers that since they were not in Eretz Yisrael yet it was inapplicable.

Hashgacha pratis: the Besh"t vs. the Chinuch

The Besh”t is to have proven the power of hashgacha pratis to his talmidim. He had them follow an individual leaf which feel from a tree and watched as it landed atop a worm trapped out in a sunny field to provide it a little shade. I could not find the exact makor for this, but you can find it referenced here, here, here, here (this one takes patience), here (#2) – etc. etc.
Contrast with the Sefer HaChinuch in Parshas Metzora (169), which I quote -

"There are groups of people who think hashem's hashgacha encompases everything in the world, all living creatures [I.e. animals] and all other things, meaning nothing moves in this world without G-d decreeing so, so that they think if a leaf falls from a tree it is because G-d decreed for it to fall, and it is impossible for it to fall a second earlier or later than that appointed time. This concept is far removed from intelligence (rachok harbeh min haseichel)."
The Chinuch goes on to say that to deny hashgacha completely is also wrong. The correct philosophy is that there is a general providence, "hashgacha klalit", on all living things, so that no species should become extinct, but not on particular creatures. (Incidentally, even before the advent of the theory of evolution, this is why dinosaur bones cause such a ruckus even to Christian theologians, who shared a similar view re: extinction – here was evidence of mass extinctions having occurred contrary to this view of the Chinuch and other rishonim.) The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim takes essentially the same view: hasgacha klalit applies to all mankind, but he excludes animals completely. I discussed this with a talmid chacham over Shabbos who could not offhand name a single rishon who held of the broad view of hashgacha the Besh"t spoke of.
Can anyone explain how and why chassidus just dropped the approach of the rishonim on this issue (and please don't just give me the mareh makom to the Rebbe's sicha - I do not fully understand it, so you have to explain it if you do)?