Thursday, December 29, 2005

What is the nature of the mitzvah of lighting candles on Chanukka?

Is it a mitzva of לילה? Or is it a mitzva of פרסומי ניסא? It is clear that the reason for the mitzva is פרסומי ניסא, the question is how did chazal make the takana? Did they make it a regular mitzva of לילה like so many other mitzvos or did they make the takana as well a mitzva of פרסומי ניסא?

This would seem to be a machlokes harishonim. The gemara in Shabbos wants to know why the language of משתשקע החצה עד שתכלה רגל מן השוק, is used. the gemara offers 2 answers, אי לא אדליק מדליק אי נמי לשיעורא. Tosafos there understands this to mean as wfollows. the first answer is saying that if you did not light in this time (from shkia until תכלה רגל מן השוק) you missed the mitzva and cannot do the mitzva anymore, the second answer argues and says that it is coming to tell us how long the candles must burn. the Rambam as well understands the first answer as Tosafos, the Rambam however holds that the second answer is not arguing, rather it adds another requirement, how long the candles need to burn. The Rambam understands that these 2 go together and that the shiur is not in time but rather from when you light until תכלה רגל מן השוק. This is meduyak in the Rambam because he writes that תכלה רגל מן השוק is כחצי שיעור או יתר. The Rambam clearly states that the shiur of תכלה רגל מן השוק could be longer then a half hour.

According to both Tosafos and the Rambam it would seem that the mitva is a mitzva of פרסומי ניסא and therefore if you light after תכלה רגל מן השוק you are not יוצא. The Rashba however writes that the gemara did not mean that you are not יוצא at all. Rather you are not יוצא teh way the Chachamim wanted but you are certainly יוצא the mitzva if you light at night. The Rashba clearly holds that it is a mitzva of night and therefore b'dieved the zman is all night. Lechatchila the chachamim said you should light when there is pirsumei nisa.

The same thing applies to lighting before the zman. According to the Rashba, just like you can do mitzva's of night starting from plag hamincha, you can light from plag hamincha. According to the Rambam there is no such din, lighting is not a mitzva of night and therefore before shkia is simply not the zman.

The obvious question on the Rambam is what about Friday night. The answer is that since Chanukka is 8 days and there must always be a Friday night, Chazal made a special takana on friday nigth that you can light before shkia. According to the Rashba we don't need to come on to this, it is just the regular din of doing mitzvos of night from plag.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Why aren't there 9 days of Chanukka?

What am I talking about? After all the Beis Yosef was bothered why there are 8 days so why do I want to add another day? The answer is Yom Tov Sheni shel Galuyos. Just like in Chutz Laaretz we keep 8 days of Pesach 2 days of Shavuos, etc. we should add a 9th day of Chanukka.

The Minchas Chinuch in mitzva 301 (where he discusses all the issues of Yom Tov Sheni) discusses this question as well and says that in the time of kiddush hachodesh they actually did keep 9 days of Chanukka because of sefeka d'yoma. He doesn't explain how many candles they lit each night. The Devar Avraham has a similar comment by Sefiras Haomer that in the time of Kiddush Hachodesh they counted twice because of sefeka d'yoma. RYBS did not agree with this at all, he said that you can't count twice that isn't called counting if you have a doubt what day it is. It seems to me that Chanukka is similar according to our minhag where we light the number of candles based on the day. In any case, the Minchas Chinuch states that nowadays we don't because since we really know the date and it is only minhag avosechem, we are mekeil by a d'rabbanan.

The Minchas Chinuch quotes a Ran who seems to disagree. The Ran writes by Megilla that a city where there is a doubt if it was walled from the time of Yehoshua reads on the 14th. The Ran explains as follows. Each day (the 14th and the 15th) is a safek. So in theory we should not have to read at all, on each day say safek d'rabbanan lekula. He says that we can't do this and not be mekayem the mitzva and therefore we read on the 14th and on the 15th we say safek d'rabbanan lekula. The Mishna Lemelech asks from the Ran in Pesachim. The Ran in Pesachim comments as follows. The gemara states that 2 of the 4 cups need haseba and we since don't know which 2 we do haseba for all 4. The Ran asks why not just do haseba on the first 2 and say safek d'rabbanan lekula? He answers why pick the first 2 over the last 2. This seems to contradict his position in Megilla. The Mishna Lamelech answers that there is a difference between not knowing the facts and not knowing what the takana of Chazal was. In Pesachim, we don't know what the takana was. If we pick the first 2 and chazal were really mesaken the last 2 (or vice versa), we are being mevatel completely the takana of Chazal and therefore we need to do all 4. By Megilla we have a factual safek and therefore can say safek d'rabbanan lekula.

Based on this, by Chanukka as well, the Ran would hold that you light on the first day and on the 9th day you would say safek d'rabbanan lekula because again our doubt is in the facts what day is it.

R' Zevin in Moadom V'Halacha brings down a cute answer as follows. The Beis Yosef asked why is Chanukka 8 days after all the miracle was only 7 days? They answer that really Chanukka is only 7 days and the 8th day is because of sefeka d'yoma. The difficulties with this answer are readily apparent but it still is cute.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The contrast between על הניסים and the gemara's account

When we look at על הניסים we see that it focuses exclusively on the נס of the war. It doesn't mention the נס of the candles whatsoever. The gemara in Shabbos however, focuses almost exclusively on the נס of the candles while neglecting the war. What is going on?

The Maharal asks how can we say hallel for the נס of the candles? Hallel is to thank Hashem for saving us, the נס of the candles was not in that category. He answers that really we say Hallel for the נס of the war.

The Pnei Yehoshua asks why was the נס of the candles needed after all, טומאה הותרה בציבור and they were all טמא? The answer is that you are right, the נס was not needed, it was a נס of לכתחילה.

With this we can understand our original question. על הניסים is part of the הודאה section of shemno esrei. There we thank hashem. Therefore we talk about the נס of the war. The נס of the candles has no place there it is not something that we need to thank hashem for. The gemara however, has a different focus. The gemara is trying to get us to focus on the yad hashem. The נס of the war was a hidden נס. It was done in a natural way. Chazal were afraid that if they focused on the נס of the war people would forget the yad hashem and think כחי ועוצם ידי (we can understand this well, just look after the 6 day war). They viewed the fact that hashem made a נס of לכתחילה as supporting this position. The נס of the candles was not needed so chazal understood that it was there to teach us something else. Namely, that just like the נס of the candles was a נס, so too the victory of the war was a נס. Therefore Chazal placed an emphasis on the נס of the candles so that we would understand that the war was a נס as well and not lose focus and fall into the trap of כחי ועוצם ידי about the war.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Cute Chanukka play on words

The following story is said about the Gra. When he was little the Cheder teacher told the boys that if they told him how many candles you light on Channuka they could leave early. The Gra answered הפח נשבר ואנחנו נמלטנו. The word פח in Gematria is 88, so the Gra said break פח into 2, 44 candles and we can run away.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Where to light Chanukkah candles?

If you live in an apartment building in Israel you have a big question as to where to light Channuka candles.

There are 4 options:
1. Outside the front door of the building
2. Outside your apartment door
3. In a window facing the street
4. On your table inside

I will now explain the pros and cons of each one.

1. Outside the front door of the building - The gemara in Shabbos states that the mitzva is to light right outside your door. However, if your door opens up to a חצר (courtyard) and not the street, we pasken that you should light outside the door of the courtyard which opens to the street (this is a machlokes Rashi and Tosafos). Based on the above, many poskim say that the hall and stairwell of an apartment building is considered to be a חצר and therefore you should light outside the front door of the building. However, the Chazon Ish disagress. The Chazon Ish claims for various reasons (not for now) that the hallway and stairwell of an apartment building are not considered to be a חצר and therefore you are not יוצא if you light in front of the building as it has no connection to you.
2. Outside your door - This is problematic because it doesn't face the street and no one can see it
3. In your window - this is good if you are on a low floor, however, if you are on a higher floor above 20 Amos (approxiamtely 30 feet) then it doesn't help to put it in your window. Some poskim claim that if there are other apartments at your height around (across the street) then since those people can see it at your level, that is called a window looking out to the Reshus Harabim
4. On your table - This is the default option if you have no other choice.

The bottom line is it is hard to know what to do. I know people who light 2 menoras. 1 outside the building door to be יוצא the opinion that the hall and stairwell is a חצר, however, to be יוצא the Chazon Ish as well they light in their window as well.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Yaakov Avinu's worldview

Yaakov davens to Hashem הציליני מיד אחי מיד עשו. The Beis Halevi asks why does Yaakov mention both Esav and my brother? He only had 1 brother, why does Yaakov say save me from my brother, from Esav? He answers that Yaakov understood that there were 2 different dangers, 1 from Esav and 1 from his brother. Esav represents the threat of war and physical destruction. My brother, represents the threat of friendship and assimilation, Yaakov feared both equally. He had no interest in trying to be friends with Esav, he wanted to be left alone.

We find this idea later on in the parsha as well. The Pasuk says ויחן את פני העיר. The medrash comments that it was Friday afternoon and Yaakov made an עירוב תחומין. Interstingly enough by Avraham we found he also made an Eruv, an Eruv Tavshilin. The Meshech Chochma comments that these 2 eruvim give us insight into the character of Avraham and Yaakov. An Eruv Tavshilin represents having guests. The gemara in Pesachim explains that an Eruv Tavshilin only works because since guests may come the food is considered to be for Yom Tov. This is Avraham Avinu, looking for guests and looking outward. Yaakov though is looking inward. He has no desire to engage with the world. He understands that his task is to raise the 12 shevatim so that they can become כלל ישראל. Therefore Yaakov makes an Eruv Techumim, he sets boundaries, he says I will go no further.

We find a similar message in hilchos Channuka. If a person only has money for 1 candle on Friday night, should he use it as a Channuka candle or as a Shabbos candle? Is pirsumei nisa more important or shalom bayis? The gemara states that shalom bayis is more important and therefore he should use it for a shabbos candle. On a hashkafic level, we see the following message. Shalom Bayis comes before Pirsumei Nisa. Before a person goes out into the world to spread the word of hashem, first he needs shalom bayis. He first needs to lool inward and make sure that his house is in order. This is Yaakov Avinu, he felt that his task was to set his house in order and raise the 12 shevatim, he had no time or energy to engage with the world.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

תפילת הדרך nowadays II

A while back I posted (תפילת הדרך nowadays) about RYBS opinion about saying תפילת הדרך nowadays. Recently, I heard a short shiur on תפילת הדרך and was very happy to hear that RSZA seems to say a very similar idea to RYBS.

RSZA did not say תפילת הדרך when he traveled from Yerushayim to Bnei Brak. He explained his reasoning as follows:
  1. In many places it is not considered as if you left the ישוב for the following reasons:

    1. There are many other cars on the road

    2. The police regularly patrol the road

    3. There are houses on the side of the road

  2. Traveling by car/bus is a normal activity. Whan a person gets up and commutes to work he does not say he is going on a trip. The takana of תפילת הדרך was for someone who was יוצא לדרך, these kinds of trips are not considered יוצא לדרך.

  3. There is little or no danger of לסטים וחיות רעות

RSZA reasoning is very similar to RYBS. Basically, the world has changed and it is no longer unusual or dangerous to travel between cities and therefore the din of when you say תפילת הדרך changes as well.

Note: You cannot just be machmir and say תפילת הדרך in any case, as if you are not chayav you will be saying an unneccessary beracha which is a serious aveira.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Who was the mother of דינה?

In last week's parsha (ויצא) we have the story of the birth of Dina. Rashi there comments (based on the Medrash) that Leah understood that she was pregnant with a boy and if she had another boy then Rachel would only have 1 of the shevatim, therefore she davened and Hashem made a miracle and turned the baby into a girl, Dina.

In Parshas ויגש, the Torah writes when it lists the descendents of Yaakov, ואת דינה בתו. Rashi comments (based on the Gemara in Nidda) that we see that the Torah calls Dina the daughter of Yaakov to show us that the father is responsible for having a daughter. The Maharsha there asks, what is the proof from Dina, after all Dina started off as a boy (per the medrash in ויצא) and therefore how can any proof be brought from Dina? He answers that the תרגום יונתן has a different peshat there. The תרגום יונתן says that both Leah and Rachel were pregnant, Leah was pregnant with Yosef and Rachel with Dina and miraculously the fetuses were switched. Therefore, Dina was always a girl and the proof from the pasuk is fine because Yaakov caused Dina to be a girl.

Rashi comments (based on the medrash) on the pasuk ושאול בן הכנענית, that after what happened with Shechem, Dina made Shimon promise to marry her. The Tur asks how could Shimon marry Dina? Even בני נח are not allowed to marry their sister from their mother. The Tur answers based on the תרגום יונתן that the Yosef and Dina were switched, and therefore על פי הלכה Leah was not Dina's mother, rather Rachel was and a בן נח is allowed to marry his sister from his father.

This Tur however, raises another question, what about Yosef? Who על פי הלכה is considered to be his mother? If it is Leah, then what good was the נס? Rachel still ended up with only 1 of the shevatim. Therefore we need to differentiate and say that both Dina and Yosef were Rachel's children.

When we consider how the halacha determines who the the mother of a baby is there are 3 possible alternatives:
1. Whoever conceives the child
2. Wherever the fetus is 40 days after conception (as until then it is considered מיא בעלמא and for example you are allowed to daven for the sex of the child)
3. Whoever gives birth

We see that the Tur cannot hold from 1 because even though Yosef was conceived by Leah he is considered Rachel's son. The Tur cannot hold from 3 either as the Tur holds that Dina was considered Rachel's daughter even though Leah gave birth to her. It would seem that the Tur holds like option 2.

With this we can say the following about Yosef. Leah was pregnant with Yosef but it was before 40 days while Rachel was pregnant with Dina and it was after 40 days. Therefore when they switched Yosef was less then 40 days so he was considered Rachel's son as on day 40 he was in Rachel's womb, while Dina had already passed day 40 in Rachel's womb so she was considered Rachel's daughter even though Leah gave birth to her.

It turns out according to the Tur that Rachel was the mother of both Dina and Yosef.

This Tur clearly has ramifications l'halacha with regards to surrogate mothers etc.

Monday, December 12, 2005

How do you tell if a woman is a virgin?

The gemara in Kesubos 10b has the following story. A newly married couple came to Raban Gamliel. The husband claimed that his wife had not been a virgin, she claimed that not only was she a virgin but she is still a virgin. Raban Gamliel performed the following test to determine if she was a virgin.

He took 2 women, 1 a virgin 1 not and had them sit on a barrel of wine. While sitting on the barrel he smelled their breath. The non-virgin's breath smelled like wine (because the odor of the wine went in through the opening and out through her mouth) while the virgin's breath did not smell of wine (because the odor of the wine could not get in because she was a virgin). He then performed the same test on the newly married woman and as her breath did not smell of wine proclaimed her a virgin.

This story is brought down l'halacha in Shulchan Aruch (Even Haezer Siman 68) and is discussed by the early Acharonim.

The difficulty with the story should be obvious to everyone, we know now that this kind of test proves nothing and in fact is based on a completely false physiological premise. The fact that this story is quoted l'halacha further complicates the issue as the gemara clearly needs to be taken literally.

It seems clear to me that Chazal were relying on the medical knowledge of their day and that this test is not Torah M'Sinai.


Here a few additional relevant points which hopefully make things a little clearer.

1. Before doing the test on the woman in question R"G first tried it out on 2 women whose status he knew. There is a machlokes harishonim whether l'halacha we need to follow the example of R"G and test that the method actually works. Clearly according to those rishonim who believe we need to test first there is nothing to talk about nowadays.
2. If you look in shulchan aruch you will see that some of the acharonim already discuss that this test did not work in their day (I saw one suggestion that our wine is not strong enough), and therefore today this test is clearly not valid.
3. The Rambam when he brings down this halacha does not mention the specific test that R"G did, rather the Rambam just writes בודקין אותה, from the Rambam's omission of the one specific test found in the gemara one can possibly infer that the Rambam felt that the wine test did not work.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Why did Yaakov learn at the yeshiva of Shem and Ever?

At the beginning of last weeks parsha (ויצא) Rashi comments that before going to Lavan Yaakov stopped and learned at the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever for 14 years. The obvious question is why? After all Yaakov was 63 when he left Beer Sheva and had learned with his father for his whole life, what did he expect to gain from Shem and Ever?

R' Yaakov Kamenetsky (and I remember R' Goldvicht saying the same idea) answers as follows. The Torah of Yitzchak was good for someone who was completely sheltered from the outside world. However, when Yaakov left his father's house to go to Lavan he needed the Torah of Shem and Ever. they had gone through the Dor Haflaga, they lived in the world. They taught Yaakov how to keep the Torah ieven in a place like Lavan's house. Yaakov needed their torah to be able to go to Lavan's house and leave saying I kept Taryag mitzvos.

Rashi comments about Yosef (בן זקונים) that Yaakov taught him all the Torah he learned from Shem and Ever. Why specifically the Torah from Shem and Ever? The answer is that yaakov knew that yosef would be in a similar situation, he would go into Galus and therefore Yosef needed this same Torah that Yaakov learned before he went to lavan.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

When do we say 4 different שמונה עשרה in 1 day?

I mean with a different nusach in the middle beracha, for example on a weekday, we say the the same exact thing 3 times so it would be considered only 1 different shemoneh esrei.

The answer is below

The answer is on Shabbos. Maariv we say אתה קדשת, shacahris we say ישמח משה, mussaf we say תכנת שבת, and mincha we say אתה אחד. The Tur explains why there are different nuschaot for maariv, shacharis, and mincha (mussaf is always different because it needs to focus on the korban mussaf).

The Tur explains that it is כנגד 3 שבתות שבת בראשית, שבת מתן תורה, שבת שבת לעתיד לבא. In fact, this explains the nusach of each of the tefilos.

The maariv שמונה עשרה focuses on creation, we say ויכולו, this is כנגד שבת בראשית. The shacharis שמונה עשרה focuses on how Hashem gave us the mitzva of shabbos at Har Sinai, the שבת מתן תורה (as according to everyone the Torah was given on Shabbos).The mincha שמונה עשרה talks about שבת לעתיד לבא, it says how Hashem will be 1 (see the end of aleinu) meaning that we will understand and see exactly how hashem rules the world. Also we will have peace (מנוחת שלום ושלוה).

I hope this information helps us improve our kavana during davening.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Why is Chabura prohibited on Shabbos?

I recently started learning כתובות and therefore from time to time I will post interesting things that come up. Believe it or not, the gemara in כתובות 5-6 is very relevant to this question about Chabura.

There are 3 opinions in the Rishonim why chabura (making a wound where blood comes out) is prohibited.

1. Rashi in Shabbas 107a states that the issur is צובע, the blood will color the skin
2. Tosafos in anumber of places states that it is because of נטילת נשמה they say מה לי קטלא כולה מה לי קטלה פלגא
3. The Rambam writes that it is based on מפרק which is a תולדה דדש

The gemara in כתובות on 5b is difficult for all 3 explanations. The gemara states as follows. The students asked: Is it permitted to have the first relations on Friday night because the blood is considered "Mifkad Pakid - held back", (and therefore NOT a chaburah) or is it forbidden because the blood comes from a "Chaburah - wound" (extracted from the membrane itself)?

In other words the gemara says that in a situation of "Mifkad Pakid - held back", there is no problem of Chabura. As an aside this is one of those problematic gemaras with regards to science, we know medically that "Mifkad Pakid - held back", is simply not true. The blood comes from the tearing of the membrane and it is like any other wound.

Let us analyze how each of the Rishonim will deal with the Gemara's distiction.

1. According to Rashi this is very difficult. If the prohibition of chabura is based on צובע who cares where the blood comes from, bottom line, his action is causing the blood to be released and color the skin. Therefore, even if it is Mifkad Pakid it should be prohibited. The Minchas Chinuch asks this and leaves Rashi וצ"ע.
2. According to Tosafos we can expain the distinction as follows. Why is causing a wound considered like killing? Because the Torah says כי הדם הוא הנפש. Therefore causing a wound that bleeds is like partially killing someone. However, this only applies to דם נפש, blood that is part of the regular circulatory process, however if the blood here is Mifkad Pakid, then it is already separated from the body and therefore is not considered דם נפש and it is permitted.
3. According to the Rambam this is very difficult. The Gemara and the Rambam himself paskens this way, states that even where the liquid is Mifkad Pakid there is an issur of מפרק, this comes up both by milking as well as by squeezing grapes and olives. Therefore, why here if the blood is Mifkad Pakid is it permitted. The acharonim give various difficult answers. The best answer is probably the following.

There are 2 aschools of thought in the Rishonim how to deal with a contradiction between 2 gemaras.
1. The 2 sugyas argue with each other
2. Find some distinction either in din or in the case to answer the contradiction.

The Rambam followed approach 1. Contradictions in gemaras did not really bother him. Therefore this gemara in כתובות is against the Rambam, but the Rambam will say that we don't pasken like that. The Baalei Hatosafos really popularized approach 2 and since then that has been the dominant approach. This has led to many explanations given to difficulties in the Rambam using this kind of approach which is really not the Rambam's approach.

I remember reading an article in Tradition about R' Chaim and the Rambam and the article made the following point. The Rambam wrote a number of teshuvos to the חכמי לוניל, who asked various questions on the Mishne Torah. Instead of giving Lomdishe R' Chaim type answers the Rambam gave baale batish answers (the girsa is wrong, the 2 sugyas argue with each other, etc.). It was said among the Briskers that R' Chaim didn't like these teshuvos. This is not to say that R' Chaim's explanations in the Rambam are wrong, rather to point out that the Rambam most probably had a different approach in learning.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Does our sefer torah have an extra letter(s)?

Rashi in last week's parsha (Chayei Sarah) comments on the pasuk (25,6) ולבני הפילגשם that פילגשים is written חסר and therefore we learn out that Avraham only had 1 pilegesh Hagar. The only problem is that in our sifrei torah it is actually written ולבני הפילגשים with the extra י (and therefore the drasha is not valid). In other words either our sifrei torah have an extra letter or Rashi's is missing one.

This is not the only case either. R' Akiva Eiger (Shabbos 55a) collects over 20 cases from all over Shas, medrashim, etc. where our mesora differs from either Chazal's or the Rishonim.

The Beis Yosef (Yoreh Deah 275 at the end) quotes a Rashba who refers to this Rashi and says that if there is a conflict we go after the majority.

In short, while our mesora is very good it is not perfect and there are places where our sifrei torah are different then what Chazal and/or the Rishonim had.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Avos and their children

Both Avraham and Yitzchak had children who were not their spiritual heirs. Only Yaakov of the Avos had all of his children follow in his footsteps.

I heard the following idea from the Rosh Yeshiva of KBY R' CY Goldvicht to explain this.

Each of the Avos was known for a specific midda.

Avraham passed down to us the midda of chessed. Chessed is giving to others, but unfortunately chessed can be used for aveira purposes as well. Too much chessed is not good either. The arayos are called chessed because the arayos means a person doesn't recognize any boundaries, what is mine is mine and what is your is mine. This is Yishmael who inherited this midda but took the midda of chessed to it's aveira side and was involved in arayos.

Yitzchak passed down to us the midda of gevura. Yitzchak was a gibor in the mode of איזהו גיבור הכובש את יצרו. However, Esav took this midda to it's negative side and was a murderer.

Yaakov Avinu was able to take these 2 middos of chessed and gevura and synthesize them together and be an איש אמת not going too far in any direction. Yaakov's midda was to nullify himself and do what the situation warranted and therefore all of Yaakov's children turned out to be tzaddikim.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Understanding Davening: רצה

There is an interesting machlokes on how to read the words of רצה. We say והשב את העבודה לדביר ביתך ואשי ישראל ותפילתם באהבה תקבל ברצון. The question is how do we punctuate it. Should we read it as והשב את העבודה לדביר ביתך. ואשי ישראל ותפילתם באהבה תקבל ברצון
והשב את העבודה לדביר ביתך ואשי ישראל, ותפילתם באהבה

In other words, does ואשי ישראל go with the first sentence or the second. It is not just a dispute about the punctuation, it is really a dispute about what the words ואשי ישראל mean, the punctuation depends on the meaning.

This is based on a Gemara in Menachos 110 and a medrash. The gemara there writes that the malach מיכאל brings korbanos in heaven every day. The Tur quotes the medrash that this is what the words ואשי ישראל are referring to in רצה. The Tur has another explanation that when there is no Beis ha'Mikdash, our Tefilos take the place of Korbanos. We therefore pray that our Tefilos, which are now the ואשי ישראל, should be accepted. The Gra holds that ואשי ישראל is going on the korbanos that we no longer can bring like one opinion in Tosafos

The bottom line comes out like this.

Both opinions of the Tur - ואשי ישראל goes with ותפילתם because it either refers to tefila, or it refers to the Korbanos that Michael is bringing, in either case we want hashem to accept it b'ahava along with our tefilos.
Gra - ואשי ישראל goes with the previous statement of והשב את העבודה לדביר ביתך as it is referring to korbanos and we are expressing our tefilla to Hashem that the avoda of the Beis ha'Mikdash be restored speedily.

I don't believe that there is any clear psak about this, everyone should follow their minhag. What is important is that a person should always be consistent 1 way, and understand what the words mean based on how he is punctuating it.

I remember that Artscroll takes a stand 1 way (they have to punctuate it), I don't remember which way.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Elections and the Charedi parties II

Sharon's latest move to make his own party has IMHO helped the Charedim tremendously. How so? The answer is very simple, there are now 3 major parties who are going to split the vote. It is pretty safe to assume that no party will get more then 30-35 votes and therefore the Charedi parties will be indispensable to create a coalition whether it is Sharon making a government or Labor. Given that, they will be able to extract much of what they want in exchange for joining the coalition.

In addition, Sharon's new party really hurts Shinui. Many centrist voters will vote for Sharon rather then Shinui which is a very good thing for the religious public.

In truth, it will be very difficult for Sharon to make a government after the next election (assuming he wins). Given the following assumptions (which are very reasonable, you can play with the numbers a bit and things still won't really change):

Sharon - 30 seats
Labor - 25 seats
Likud - 20 seats
Right (National Union, Mafdal, etc) - 20 seats
Charedim - 13

If Amir Peretz keeps his word and doesn't join a unity government then Sharon can't make a coalition, the Likud, the right wing and Labor have 65 seats. Sharon will need to try to make a government with Labor and the Charedim and this will cost him a lot.

Another scenario for a government is if the Likud and the Right Wing get 48+ seats and make a coalition with the Charedim.

This is exactly why I believe that the Charedim are the big winners, in just about every scenario they are crucial to making a coalition.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The daughter of אליעזר and יצחק

Rashi quotes the Medrash that אליעזר really wanted his daughter to marry יצחק. In fact, אליעזר was a great man. Chazal describe him as "מושל בתורת רבו", "דולה ומשקה מתורת רבו לאחרים", and yet his daughter cannot marry יצחק. Why not? Chazal don't say that his daughter was not appropriate for יצחק, and in fact, the fact that אליעזר wanted her to marry יצחק would seem to indicate that she was worthy. Chazal explain (quoted by Rashi) that Avraham told him:
בני ברוך ואתה ארור ואין ארור מדבק בברוך
My son is blessed and you are cursed (Eliezer was a descendent of Canaan who was cursed by Noach) and the cursed cannot marry(?) the blessed

אליעזר was a great man, he servedAvraham Avinu faithfully and learned all his Torah. His daughter did nothing wrong. And yet, his daughter is ארור and cannot marry Yitzchak.

We see here that the Torah's hashkafa is very different from the Western one. In the West, who your ancestors are is supposed to be irrelevant, every person is supposed to be judged on their own merits. However, we see from Eliezer's daughter, that this is not the Torah view. She may very well have been suitable to marry Yitzchak, yet she cannot marry Yitzchak because she is descended from a line that is ארור. We see the same idea by a ממזר. A ממזר did nothing wrong, he had no choice in the matter and yet, he and his descendents can never marry a regular Jewish man. Our Western upbringing screams, it's not fair? The answer is that the Torah has it's own value system which is very divergent from the western one.

This relates to the discussion that Chardal is having Casualties of legitimate war where some of the commenters were very offended by his stating of the Torah position that there is nothing wrong with killing civilians in war. There is no doubt that from the Western perspective of war, killing civilians is wrong, immoral, offensive, etc. However, the fact is that the Torah has a different perspective on this and from the Torah perspective killing civilians is not only allowed but required (see the Rambam in Hilchos Melachim Perek 6).

We who grow up in the West and participate in the culture need to take particluar care that we internalize the Torah position and not the Western one.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Elections and the Charedi parties

Elections in Israel are coming soon, most probably in the February - March timeframe. Due to recent developments the Charedi parties are in big trouble.


From the founding of the state until the 1980's there was basically 1 Charedi political party, Agudat Yisrael. In the 1980's R' Shach encouraged the Sefardim to create Shas and he created Degel Hatorah. Today we have the following:
1. Aguda - represents the Chassidic communities. The Gerer Rebbe is the defacto head, most of their votes come from Chassidim, currently has 3 seats
2. Degal Hatorah - represents the Yeshivish Ashkenzai community. R' Elyashiv and R' Steinman are the Rabbinic leaders, almost all of their votes come from Ashkenazi Charedim, currently has 2 seats
3. Shas - represents the Sefardi community. R' Ovadya Yosef is the Rabbinic leader, a large portion of their votes comes from Masorti Sefardim, currently has 11 seats.

The Problems

The Ashkenazim

In the Ashkenazi world Degel and Aguda have traditionally run together for the Knesset. In the last Knesset they feuded and split. Last Thursday, I heard on an interview on Radio Kol Chai with R' Ravitz (a Degel Hatora MK ) who basically said that the political leaders could not get along and they would be running separately. This is a big problem for the following reason. The threshold to get into the Knesset is 2.5%, 3 seats. In other words a party which gets less then 3 seats is out. Lets take the following made up numbers. Each Knesset seat takes 50,000 votes. If Degel gets 120,000 votes and Aguda 130,000, running together as 1 list they would have 5 seats. However running separately they would both be out of the Knesset as neither received 3 seats. Given that they currently only have 5 seats together and they may lose votes because they were in the government during disengagement, there is a real possibility of this happening.

The Sefardim

Shas has always appealed to Masorti Sefardi voters and therefore has had much more success then the Ashkenazi Charedi parties. However, with the election of Amir Peretz as head of Labor this may end. Amir Peretz appeals to the same Sefardi Masorti voter. He is one of them. In fact, he is less threatening then Shas because he is not really religious and has no coercive religious agenda. There is another issue as well. For the past 2-3 years Shas has been campaigning as the party of the working man and the poor. Until now, they had no competition. However, again, Amir Peretz appeals to this sector as well. He is a populist who has a reputation of working for the little guy. Many voters may rather vote for him because he has a chance to be Prime Minister then Shas. Therefore, the general consensus is that Shas may lose up to half their seats leaving them with 5-6 seats.


Shinui, if they play their cards right may also benefit or at least keep their current strength. There are many middle class Labor voters who will never vote for Amir Peretz, they fear that he will turn the clock back, raise taxes etc. If Shinui campaigns as the party of the middle class they may have some success.

Doomsday Scenario

The doomsday scenario for the Charedi population is the following:

  • Degel and Aguda run separately and neither passes the threshold and therefore there is no Ashkenazic Charedi representation in the Knesset.

  • Shas gets only 5 or 6 seats

  • Shinui retains it's current strength 15 seats

This would be a complete and utter disaster for the Charedi world. The flow of money to the Yeshivos, kollelim etc. would be completely cut off. The Charedi population thinks the past few years under Netanyahu were tough, under this scenario things would get much tougher.

What are the odds of this happening? Not high but definately possible, stranger things have happened.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Fascinating new article by R' Slifkin

The article is about whether elephants can jump (Tosafos in Kiddushin says that they can and science says that they don't) which may not interest everyone. However, he uses this as a jumping off point for a fascinating discussion of how to deal with this kind of conflict where the rishonim seemed to have used incorrect scientific information.

[Hat tip Hirhurim]

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What was so great about the עקידה?

Throughout history Jews have been moser nefesh including sacrificing their children. Why is Avraham Avinu praised so greatly? Was the עקידה a greater test then many of the things that happened in the holocaust? The same question can be asked about Yosef. He is highly praised for withstanding temptation with Potiphar's wife. Again, is this really so great? Don't people withstand these temptations daily?

The answer is based on what R' Chaim Volozhin writes in Ruach Chaim (his commentary to Pirkei Avos). He explains that Avraham Avinu's nisayon was truly much greater then ours. He was the first one to overcome this nisayon and brought this power down from heaven and passed it along to his descendents. The Avos when they passed a nisayon were able to implant that strength into our spiritual DNA, so that we now already have that strength (the Ramban makes a similar point when he says maaseh avos siman l'banim). In other words, Jews have the strength to be moser nefesh only because Avraham Avinu was moser nefesh and brought this strength down to earth and passed it down to his descendents. In fact, it turns out that for us the nisayon is not nearly as great as Avraham's nisayon was because Avraham Avinu and Yosef paved the way. As Newton stated If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. If we can overcome nisyonos it is because we are pygmies standing on the shoulders of the giants, the Avos.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What was the purpose of the Akeda?

Most of the mefarshim explain the Akeda as some kind of test of Avraham's emuna in Hashem. The Rashbam however, has a very different fascinating pshat which is very relevant to events in Eretz Yisrael.

The Rashbam says that whenever the Torah uses the phrase ויהי אחרי הדברים האלה it is referring back to what just happened (he brings numerous examples). Here also the Rashbam says, the Akeda is a reaction to what just happened, Avraham's treaty with Avimelech. Hashem was angry with Avraham for making a treaty with Avimelech and giving away part of Eretz Yisrael which Hashem had just promised to Avraham. Avraham made the treaty to protect his son. Therefore Hashem told him, go bring your son as a korban and see if your treaty protects him. Hashem's message is clear, he tells Avraham, all you need is to have faith in me, I will protect Yitzchak and his descendents and I and only I,will ensure that the Jewish People inherit EY. Nothing else (treaties, Presidents, etc.) can protect the Jewish People and EY except for Hashem.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Was Avraham correct in going to Egypt?

In this past week's parsha (Lech Lecha) there is a famine in כנען and Avraham goes down to Egypt. Rashi comments that the famine was only in כנען and it was one of the ten tests that Hashem tested Avraham with and he passed. The Ramban however disagrees. The Ramban writes that Avraham made a mistake in going to down Egypt and then he made a further mistake in telling the Egyptians that Sara was his sister. The Ramban says that he should have had faith in hashem in both cases.

Again, we see a very different approach between Rashi and the Rammban to the Avos.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Shimon Peres loses again

In a surprising upset Amir Peretz won the Labor Party primary to become the head of the Labor Party. Shimon Peres added to his long string of past defeats.

For those who don't know, Amir Peretz is the head of the Histadrut, Israel's main labor union, and is best know for the many strikes that he has led against the government. He is an economic populist, with a socialist outlook on the economy (he was against all of Netanyahu's reforms), is on the left with regards to the Palestinians and is a Sefardi from a development town.

I will play at being a political commentator and give my assessment of the winners and losers and what is in store ahead.

The Winners
  • Amir Peretz

  • Tomi Lapid and Shinui - The middle class will not vote for Amir Peretz. They know him as the person who ruined their vacation by closing the airport, prevented them from getting a passport to leave the country, closed the ports, etc. No one in my office even those who always voted Labor will vote for him. Shinui, will now try to pick up these voters and become the party of the middle class.

The Losers
  • Shimon Peres

  • Shas - Amir Peretz being a Sefardi and an economic populist will take many of Shas's Sefardi Masorti voters which will weaken Shas in the next election

  • Ariel Sharon - Sharon could deal with Shimon Peres, he will not be able to deal with Amir Peretz and there will be new elections in the next 4-5 months

What does this mean for the average person in Israel?
  • There will be early elections

  • Both Labor and Likud may split with Sharon, Peres, and other old guard Labor and Likud figures forming a new party.

  • The Charedi parties (mostly Shas) will lose seats and may face tough times especially if Shinui picks up seats

  • Tomi Lapid and Shinui (unfortunately, as they are rabidly anti-religious) have become relevant again.

One more note, the latest polls show that a union of the NRP (Dati Leumi) and the National Union (headed by Benny Elon) whould get 20+ seats, a huge improvement for the right wing over what the number of seats that they won in the last election. That many seats will give them a tremendous amount of power, it will be difficult to form a government without them.

The next few months will be fascinating to watch as everyone jockeys for position in the elections, unfortunately, this is very bad for the economy because there will be no 2006 budget until after the elections.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Belzer Rebbe tells his Chassidim to learn a trade and go out to work

In last weeks Mishpacha magazine (Hebrew edition, Parshas Noach) they had a long piece about the Belzer Rebbe's post Simchas Torah address (this is a tradition in Belz that right after Simchas Torah the Rebbe gives an address about the important topics for the new year) to his Chassidim. It was a very interesting piece and one of the things that he talked about was learning and kollel. I will now paraphrase what he said as reported in Mishapacha.

While learning in kollel is very important, everyone needs to learn a trade that they can support themself and their family with. Every avrech should take a few hours a day while learning in kollel and learn a trade. After a year or 2 of kollel every avrech needs to evaluate his situation, those that are not succeeding need to go out and make a living in their trade.

I see that the Jerusalem Post (Hassidim to study 'secular' trades) reported about this as well, their version is a bit different then Mishpacha, but the bottom line is the same, the Belzer Rebbe is telling many of his Chassidim (except those who are very talented in learning) to learn a trade and go to work.

It will be interesting to see how the rest of the Charedi world responds.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

When do we start saying ותן טל ומטר לברכה?

In EY we started saying it tonight on ז' חשון. Outside of EY we start 60 days after the tekufa, which today is assumed to be December 4th or 5th. This calculation has always bothered me greatly for the following reason. If you look at the Beis Yosef (and all the other poskim from that time)you will see that he writes that 60 days after the tekufa was November 22. However, the later acharonim all say, that was based on the Julian calendar, but now, since the world changed to the Gregorian calendar which meant that when they changed they skipped 12 days, we start on December 4th. I don't know much about these issues, but this seems very difficult to me. Those 12 days were a 1 time adjustment because the Julian calendar was not accurate enough, if so why should the 60 days from the tekufa change (it was a 1 time thing to fix the calendar drift)? Isn't the tekufa still around September 21st? In short, the Gregorian calendar just fixed the drift of the Julian calendar by skipping 12 days (once) and changing the leap year rules, why should that change when 60 days from the tekufa is?

I would really appreciate an answer or a pointer to someone who discusses this issue, this has bothered me for a long time.

Sara's oppression of Hagar

In next week's parsha (לך לך) the Torah tells us how Sara gives her maidservant Hagar to Avraham and Hagar becomes pregnant. Hagar then looks down on Sara, Sara complains to Avraham and Avraham tells her, do what you want with Hagar. The pasuk (ט"ז,ו) then states ותעניה שרי ותברח מפניה Sara oppressed her (Hagar) and she ran away .

The Ramban in a very short but important comment states that Sara's behavior towards Hagar was improper and in fact an aveira. Avraham's acquiescense to her behavior was an aveira as well. The Ramban then says that this behavior/aveira had ramifications for the Jewish people as a whole, because of Sara's oppression of Hagar, Hagar's child, Yishmael, was given permission to oppress the Jewish people.

We see 2 important lessons from this Ramban.
1. The root cause of the Arab hatred towards us is Sara's oppression of Hagar (very similar to מעשה אבות סימן לבנים which the Ramban says many times in Bereishis)
2. The Ramban was not afraid to say that Sara (and Avraham) sinned here.

Note: many other commentators disagree with the Ramban and offer various explanations as to why what Sara did was not a sin (for a summary of these see the Artscroll commentary, in addition see the Netziv who directly argues on the Ramban).

Sunday, November 06, 2005

What was the חטא of the דור הפלגה?

The Ran in his Derashos (Drasha א) has an interesting explanation. He explains that really they did no sin and that there was no punishment. He says that they wanted to have 1 world government. This is not an aveira but it is something that Hashem does not want. 1 world government means that there is nowhere to run. If Nimrod had ruled the world Avraham would have had nowhere to go. Therefore Hashem split them up and created nations and languages so that there would always be somewhere for the believers in Hashem to run to. The Ran writes that this has applied throughout history to the Jewish people up to and including his time. We know that from the Ran's time until today the same thing has applied. Whenever we were kicked out of 1 country a different country took us in.

Based on this, we should be concerned about the UN and the push to 1 world government. As the Ran says this is not Hashem wants and is bad for the Jews.

Edited on 11/8 to fix some minor mistakes

Name a street in Lakewood

The right to name a street in Lakewood is being auctioned off on EBay. Right now it is only $1200. EBay: Rights to name a street in Lakewood NJ

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Melacha of בורר

I would like to present a fundamental machlokes about בורר which will hopefully give people new insight into the melacha of בורר. Note, this post does not go into any questions relating to practical halacha.

The Baal Hamaor in Perek Haoreg writes that even though in general a מלאכה שאין צריכה לגופה is פטור, בורר is an exception because the definition of the melacha of בורר is taking פסולת from אכל which is a מלאכה שאין צריכה לגופה and therefore the general principle of מלאכה שאין צריכה לגופה is פטור doesn't apply to בורר.

The Ramban in Shabbos ק"ו: disagrees and claims that בורר is a מלאכה שצריכה לגופה.

What is the machlokes?

It would seem that the machlokes is what did the Torah prohibit when it prohibited בורר? Did it prohibit the action (selection) or the result (making the food better like the melacha of cooking)?

The Baal Hamaor holds that the melacha of בורר is the action of selection. This is why he calls it a מלאכה שאין צריכה לגופה because the thing that you are doing the melacha on, the פסולת you don't want.

The Ramban on the other hand holds that בורר is a prohibition of making the food better (purifying it), therefore it is a מלאכה שצריכה לגופה as the melacha relates to the food which you want.

There are a number of very important נפקא מינא based on this. I will mention 2 here.

1. Is there a prohibition of Borer where the items are clearly separate distinct items (e.g. socks)?

The אור שמח states that the prohibition of בורר doesn't apply where the items are separate items even if they are mixed up. The only time there is an issur of בורר is where the 2 things blend into 1. A good example is chulent, all the different components blend in and it is 1 chulent, to pick out the beans would be בורר. However, socks are clearly identifiable items and therefore there is no בורר.

The other poskim disagree with the אור שמח and hold that there is בורר in this case as well.

The machlokes could be this machlokes. The אור שמח understands בורר like the Ramban, the issur is to make the food better. By clearly identifiable distinct items like socks, there is no תיקון. If I have blue socks and black socks mixed up, if I take out all the black socks I have not improved the blue socks in any way shape or form. The blue socks remain the same old blue socks that were there before I took out the black socks. Since the issur of בורר is to improve the food here there is no בורר as I have not improved the blue socks. Only in something like chulent, where if I take out the thing I don't like I have improved the chulent is there בורר.

The other poskim hold like the Baal Hamaor that the issur is the act of selecting. Therefore there is no difference between socks and chulent.

2. If the פסולת is more then the אכל can you take out the פסולת? Tosafos say no, since the פסולת is greater taking out the אכל is the normal way of בורר. The Ramban disagrees and always allows you to take out the אכל.

This also can be explained based on the above. Tosafos hold like the Baal Hamaor, the action of selecting is prohibited, therefore where the normal way is to take the food that is prohibited. The Ramban is לשיטתו that the issur is making the food better. Therefore you can always just select the food.

This is clearly a fundamental machlokes and needs to be applied to all of hilchos בורר. The 2 נ"מ that I listed are just the tip of the iceberg.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Did rainbows exist before the Mabul?

Thee Ramban writes in this weeks parsha (Noach) that the simple understanding of the pasuk is that after the mabul Hashem created rainbows. However, the Ramban writes that this can't be true because the Greeks stated that a rainbow is caused by refraction of the light in the moist air and therefore it existed from the time of creation (before the mabul). Here again, the Ramban writes explicitly that he accepts the opinions of the Greek scientists and bases pshat in a pasuk based on that.

Here is the translation of the Ramban
Ramban Bereishis 9:12
"This is the sign of the covenant that I give" - It would seem from this sign that the rainbow which appears in the clouds is not part of the acts of creation, and only now did God create something new, to make a rainbow appear in the sky on a cloudy day… But we are compelled to believe the words of the Greeks, that the rainbow is a result of the sun's rays passing through moist air, for in any container of water that is placed before the sun, there can be seen something that resembles a rainbow. And when we look again at the wording of the verse, we will understand it thus. For it says, "I have set my rainbow in the cloud," and it did not say "I am setting it in the cloud," (in the present tense) as it said, "this is the sign of the covenant that I am giving." And the word "My rainbow" indicates the rainbow previously existed.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Can non-Jews get divorced?

The Medrash on this weeks parsha (Bereishis) discusses this issue. The medrash has 2 opinions, 1 opinion seems to state that there is no divorce for non-Jews (or alternatively the medrash means that there is no formal divorce procedure) while the second opinion states that either side (husband or wife) can initiate a divorce. A similar discussion occurs in the Yerushalmi at the beginning of Kiddushin.

The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 9:8)paskens that there is no formal divorce procedure and either side can initiate the divorce. This is difficult because he seems to pasken like both opinions.

The Ran in his chiddushim on Sanhefdrin (48b) quotes the Rambam and then quotes Rabbenu Dovid who disagrees and states that there is no divorce for non-Jews like the simple reading of the medrash and the Yerushalmi.

The Pnei Yehoshua also holds that there is no divorce for non-Jews but he goes further he states (Kiddushin 13b) that even the death of the husband does not free the women, the husbands death is a chiddush of teh Torah for Jews and therefore does not apply to non-Jews, this is how he wants to explain Yehuda and Tamar.

In summary, there is a dispute whether non-Jews can get dicorced, according to the Rambam (and this seems to be the accepted opinion) they can informally while according to a minority of Rishonim and Acharonim they are stuck, once a woman marries she is stuck for life.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Some reflections on Succos

I am back after taking a break for Succos.

This year I built a very big succa and for the first time really felt like תשבו כעין תדורו. For the first time in my life I slept and ate in the succa and did not feel cramped, the succa felt like a room of my house. It was great to be able to be mekayem the mitzva like that eating, sleeping, and just spending a lot of time in the succa.

The first day of Chol Hamoed, the weather in Israel was unprecedented. It was a really stormy day with a lot of rain. Everyone I spoke to (including my relatives who were born in israel) could not remember such bad weather on Succos. Other then that 1 day we really enjoyed our time on the succa.

Shmini Atzeres/Simchas Torah is a bit much in Israel. To go from the levity and simcha of the hakafos to yizkor and geshem seems incongrous.

The usual questions about how many days should visitors keep came up. There are 4 opinions:

1. 1 day - this is the opinion of the Chacham Tzvi and others, it seems to be the minority opinion
2. A day and a half - this is what is reported as the recommendation of the Rav to his talmidim, it means that on the second day you don't make kiddush, you daven a chol shemoneh esrei, however, you don't do any melacha.
3. 2 days - this is the majority opinion and what is observed in the Charedi community
4. 2 and a half days - you keep 2 days but on the second night you hear havdala and on the last day you put on tefillin. This is what RHS keeps (see Regarding the Second Day Yom Tov for Visitors in Eretz Yisroel for RHS nuanced view on this).

As many have pointed out a day and a half can be in some ways be considered the most machmir shita. You are machmir on the issur d'oraysa of possibly saying a bracha levatala. Everything else (melacha on the second day, the mitzvos on the second day, etc. are all only d'rabbanan's).

This is clearly 1 question where every needs to ask their own Rav a question and abide by his ruling.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Some halachic points regarding building a succah II

I would like to clarify things relating to using strings and לבוד to create a wall.

2 points by way of introduction.

1. The acharonim say that a wall created just by לבוד one way (e.g. strings across the wall like I suggested) is called a מחיצה גרועה a weak (for lack of a better translation) wall
2. A succa does not require 4 walls (like for a reshus hayachid on Shabbos), rather it only requires 3, and really only 2 plus a tefach.

Given the above the Magen Avraham (סי' תר"ל ס"ק א) writes that if you are creating a wall(s) with לבוד you need to have 4 walls. In other words , the leniency of of 3 walls only applies to real walls, but if you have a מחיצה גרועה this leniency does not apply and you need to have 4 walls.

This means that if you want to be machshir your canvas succah using string and לבוד you must do this on all 4 walls.

One issue that comes up is what about the door? One wall is not complete because you need to leave room for the door. That would seem to be ok if the door is not large because the wall is majority there and only minority open.

There is another way to do this which creates better walls. If in addition to the strings across, you put string going up and down less then every 3 tefachim the length of the wall, you end up with a real mechitza. The reason being that the strings go both ways (you end up with squares less then 3 tefachim in length and width, שתי וערב) and there is no big gap of space.

In truth, I never did this, but after reviewing the sugya if I was being machshir a succah based on strings and לבוד this year I would do this for my peace of mind. It is not that much work (for an 8 foot wall you need to put up 12 strings) and by doing this you create real walls and therefore only need 3 walls and don't have to worry about the door, etc.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Some halachic points regarding building a succah

As now is succah building time I would like to post some common halachic issues that come up when building a succah.

When I was growing up, canvas succahs were very prevalent and in fact, last year when I was in the US for Succos I still saw quite a few. These kinds of Succahs (as well as other non-wood succahs) have a number of halachic problems which I would like to address. For those who aren't familiar, a canvas succah is made of a frame of metal pipes on which canvas is hung to create the walls.

There are 2 issues with this kind of succah:
1. The walls move which may invalidate the wall completely which would invalidate the succah. The gemara, shulchan aruch etc. write that if a wall moves 3 tefachim (about a foot) in the wind then the wall is considered invalid. Every canvas succah that I have seen (including the one I grew up in) has walls that move 3 tefachim in the wind and therefore many poskim are not happy with them.

There is an easy solution to the problem which I used for many years. The solution is based on 2 halachos related to walls.
1. לבוד - this means that if you have 2 objects within 3 tefachim of each other the halacha considers it as if the intervening space is filled in.
2. A wall only needs to be 10 tefachim (40 inches) high. Once it is 10 tefachim high we look on it as if it extends up to the sky.

Given these 2 halachos we can construct walls of string for a canvas succah. What we do is tie string/rope from 1 pole to another. We space the string around 8.5 inches apart so that they are within 3 tefachim of each other. With 5 or 6 strings like this we have a wall of greater then 10 tefachim. It works because starting from the bottom, the bottom string is within 3 tefachim of the ground and therefore the intervening space is considered to be filled in. Each subsequent string is placed less then 3 tefachim above the previous one again using לבוד so that we look upon the space as solid. We repeat this until the top string is above 10 tefachim. We have created a wall that is halachically kosher and in actuality serves as th wall of the succah. We repeat this for all the walls.

There is 1 point to keep in mind. the סכך has to be placed after you create the walls of strings, otherwise it is a problem of תעשה ולא מן העשוי. If the סכך was already put down, then you need to move the scach around to avoid this problem.

I did this for years and it worked well.

2. מעמיד הסכך על דבר טמא - the gemara has 1 opinion that you are not allowed to support the סכך on something that cannot be used for סכך. There is a machlokes harishonim whether we pasken like this opinion. The Mishna Berura mentions that l'chatchela a person should try to be machmir and the contemporary poskim also say that a person should try to be machmir. This problem applies to any non-wood succah (canvas, fiberglass, etc.) as well.

To get around this the minhag evolved to place wood poles on top of the metal walls and then rest the סכך on top of the wood poles. This makes the wood the מעמיד of the scach and the metal a מעמיד דמעמיד. There are 2 problems with this approach:

1. If the סכך would not fall without the wood then the wood is not considered a מעמיד. In other words if your succah is 6 feet wide and your סכך is 6.5 feet wide, if you just rest the סכך on wood poles it doesn't help, if you took away the wood the סכך would not fall it would rest on the metal. Therefore the metal is called the מעמיד of the סכך. The way to get around this is to make sure that the סכך would fall if you remove the wood, namely, move the סכך to one side so that it doesn't overlap the other wall (it is just very close). In that case, the סכך is truly being held up by the wood.
2. A number of acharonim point out the following. The wood that is used to hold up the סכך is in and of itself kosher סכך. therefore, why should we consider the wood a מעמיד of the סכך, rather it should just be considered סכך which is resting on the metal. I have not seen a good answer for this claim.

The Chazon Ish has an unbelievable chumra. The Chazon Ish understands that even if you have a wooden succah, if the walls are held up by metal screws, that metal is considered to be a מעמיד of the סכך because if you took that metal out the walls would fall down and so would the סכך. In other words, if you have something that is mekabel tumah holding up any part of your succah such that without this piece the סכך would fall down (e.g. the walls would fall down causing the scach to fall) the Chazon Ish considers this to be מעמיד the סכך with a davar hamekabel tumah and no good. Basically according to the Chazon Ish you cannot use any metal to build your succah.

Almost no one holds like this Chazon Ish, it makes building a succah an absolute nightmare, you need to use wooden screws, etc. I remember in KBY everyone was amazed that the posek held from this Chazon Ish.

The bottom line is that with a wooden succah you avoid almost all of these problems and are yotze the mitzva. It is not difficult to build and therefore I highly recommend it.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

How do we feed children on Yom Kippur?

The Minchas Chinuch writes in Mitzva שי"ג that since there is a prohibition to feed a child an issur it is prohibited to feed children on Yom Kippur any more then they need. He states that children between 3 and 8, you should not feed at all. It comes out from the Minchas Chinuch that for children who can feed themselves it should be prohibited for you to feed them and in fact even a baby you can get a non-Jew to feed. (also see the Mishna Berura סימן תרט"ז ס"ק ה)

This Minchas Chinuch is clearly not accepted l'halacha the question is why not?

R' Tzvi Pesach Frank in Mikraie Kodesh as well as other Acharonim offer the following suggestion.

By other issurim (feeding a child pig) the food has a שם איסור, it is an איסור תפצא on the food and therefore even though the child is not chayav in mitzvos we are prohibited to feed him issurim, it is like feeding him poison. However, food on Yom Kippur is clearly an issur on the person, the kosher food does not suddenly turn into an issur, the person is prohibited from eating on Yom Kippur. Therefore, a child who has no issur of eating, for them the food is completely permitted and they can eat it. Since they are allowed to eat it the parents are allowed to feed them.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Why is Rosh Hashana before Yom Kippur?

If you think about it logically Yom Kippur should come first. First we should do teshuva say viduy, fast, etc (all the things we do on YK) and then we would be prepared to be judged, namely Rosh Hashana.

The answer is as follows. For a person to do teshuva they need to understand that they did an aveira and that there is someone who cares, Hashem, and that Hashem can forgive them. Until a person comes to that realization it is futile to attempt to do teshuva. Until you realize that there is a King of the World who cares what happens and is involved in the world, you cannot do teshuva. Therefore Rosh Hashana comes first. The theme of RH is that Hashem is King of the world. We go on about Hashem rules the world and judges people. Once we accept that Hashem can judge us for our aveiros and punish us, then we are ready to do teshuva. We can then understand the severity of our Aveiros and realize that Hashem is their to forgive us if we do teshuva. This can only happen after we accept the din of Rosh Hashana.

I hope that we all accepted Hashem's kingship on RH and are in the process of doing teshuva so that we hava a gmar chasima tova.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

What does המלך הקדוש mean?

The gemara in ברכות י"ב states that during the ten days of repentence we change the nusach of the שמונה עשרה and say המלך הקדוש instead of האל הקדוש as well as saying המלך המשפט instead of מלך אוהב צדקה ומשפט. Rashi on the gemara comments that המלך המשפט is grammatically incorrect, it should be מלך המשפט and it is to be understood that way (the king of משפט) and basically we ignore the extra ה. The Beis Yosef comments that the same problem should apply to המלך הקדוש and yet Rashi doesn't say anything. He quotes some who say that Rashi understood that המלך הקדוש should be understood as 2 separate titles, the translation would be "the king, the holy one". The standard translation is "the holy king" (the 2 words are 1 phrase) like המלך המשפט the king of משפט.

Interestingly enough this is a מחלוקת Artscroll and Metzudah. Artscroll in their siddurim and machzorim translate it as "the holy king" while Metzuda translates it like this interpretation of Rashi "the king, the holy one".

To sum up there are 2 interpretations of המלך הקדוש

1. the king, the holy one (which is the literal translation with the ה at the beginning of the word)
2. the holy king (the 2 words are 1 phrase) like המלך המשפט the king of משפט

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The process of din on Rosh Hashana

We find 2 conflicting accounts of the process of din on Rosh Hashana

1. ראש השנה ט"ז: אמר רבי כרוספדאי, אמר רבי יוחנן: שלושה ספרים נפתחין בראש השנה, אחד של רשעים גמורין, ואחד של צדיקים גמורין, ואחד של בינוניים. צדיקים גמורין נכתבין ונחתמין לאלתר לחיים. רשעים גמורין נכתבין ונחתמין לאלתר למיתה. בינוניים תלויין ועומדין מראש השנה ועד יום הכיפורים: זכו - נכתבין לחיים; לא זכו - נכתבין למיתה

R' Kruspedai said 3 books are opened on Rosh Hashana, 1 for reshaim 1 for tzadikkim and 1 for average people. Tzadikim are incribed and sealed right away for life, reshaim right away for death and the average person is waiting until Yom Kippur, if he is worthy he is incribed and sealed right away for life i he is unworthy for death

2. ונתנה תוקף: בראש השנה יכתבון וביום צום כיפור יחתמון

In the piyut U'Nsaneh Tokef: On Rosh Hashana a person is inscribed and on Yom Kippur it is sealed

There are 2 contradictions:
1. The gemara has everything happening either on RH or on YK, the piyut has the inscribing on RH and the sealing on YK.
2. The gemara has different groups while in the piyut everyone is lumped together.

To answer this we need to fully understand the gemara. The Rishonim ask a powerful and obvious question on the gemara. How can the gemara state that צדיקים גמורין נכתבין ונחתמין לאלתר לחיים and רשעים גמורין נכתבין ונחתמין לאלתר למיתה, this is just not true, there are many cases where צדיקים die and רשעים live.

The Rishonim offer a number of answers, I will mention 3 of them (and focus on the last answer of Tosafos):

1. The Ran answers that we are misunderstanding the words צדיק and רשע. We interpret them to mean righteous and eveil. However, the Ran says here they mean צדיק בדין and רשע בדין, meaning that anyone who wins a din is called a צדיק and anyone who loses is called a רשע. This is what I would call a technical answer.
2. The Baal Hamor says that the gemara said צדיקים גמורין, someone who is a צדיק גמור who has no aveiros will live, likewise a רשע גמור someone who has no zechuyos whatsoever will die. Everyone else including regular צדיקים are lumped in the category of בינוניים
3. Tosafos says that רבי כרוספדאי is talking about חיי עולם הבא. This Tosafos answers our original question, there is no contradiction, ונתנה תוקף is talking about din in this world, who lives and who dies, who is rich and who is poor, etc. while רבי כרוספדאי is talking about חיי עולם הבא.

The question remains what does Tosafos mean by חיי עולם הבא? It makes little sense to have a din every year on what your reward will be when you die. A number of acharonim(the Gra, R' Aharon Kotler, and others) explain Tosafos as follows. חיי עולם הבא means spirituality in this world. Torah and mitzvos is חיי עולם הבא. Every year there is a din on how much help (or harm) a person will get in ruchniyos. As I mentioned here Is it ever too late to do teshuva? the Rambam writes

שמונעין ממנו התשובה ואין מניחין לו רשות לשוב מרשעו, כדי שימות ויאבד בחטאים שעשה.

It is possible that a person can do a great sin or many sins until the judgement for his sins that he did willingly is that he is prevented from doing teshuva and he is not given permission to repent so that he will die with the sins that he did.

This is exactly this idea, that a person needs help from above to succeed in ruchniyos. צדיקים גמורין נכתבין ונחתמין לאלתר לחיים means that they will have siyata dishmaya to succeed in ruchniyos and therefore they are considered alive. רשעים גמורין נכתבין ונחתמין לאלתר למיתה means that even though physically they are alive, they are dead spiritually and will receive no help (and may be prevented) in succeeding spiritually.

It comes out that there are 2 separate din processes on Rosh Hashana

1. A din on your physical life whether you live or die, rich or poor, etc. This is בראש השנה יכתבון וביום צום כיפור יחתמון

2. A din on your ruchniyos, how much help will you get from above, this is what רבי כרוספדאי was talking about and this is all on RH or all on YK depending on your status.

I would like to wish all the readers a כתיבה וחתימה טובה on both dinim, both in gashmiyus and in ruchniyos.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The new improved Making of a Godol

Someone go it for me and I started reading it. I read the original version a while back and this version doesn't strike me as being much different. The format is still the same awful format and the stories strike me as being the same. I see that others ( Differences btwn the "Improved" Making of a Godol and the Original) have listed some of the changes, they are very minor, there seems to be only 1 story that is completely omitted from the improved edition. The inconsequential nature of the changes shows how silly the original ban was and makes me wonder what is going on in the frum community.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The use of electricity on Shabbos

This is meant to be a quick and not comprehensive post about the reasons (or non-reasons) for prohibiting electricity on Shabbos. Note, this only applies to non-incandescent appliances.

Various poskim offer the following reasons why electricity should be prohibited

1. Molid (Beit Yitzchak 2:31)- Turning on an appliance is analogous to creating something new which is prohibited on Shabbat.
2. Boneh (Chazon Ish Orach Chaim 50:9) - Completion of a circuit is prohibited because it is a form of building.
3. Makeh B'Patish (Chazon Ish Orach Chaim 50:9)- Turning on an appliance completes it.
4. Sparks (Chazon Ish Orach Chaim 50:9) - Completion of a circuit creates sparks and therefore is prohibited because it creates a flame.
5. Increased fuel consumption (Chashmal Leor Halacha 2:6) - The use of electrical appliances leads to an increase in fuel consumption at the power station, which is prohibited.
6. Heating of metal (Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim 50:9) - Heating of a metal transistor or wire, even when no visible light is emitted, is prohibited because of cooking or burning.

These were rejected by RSZA for the following reasons:

1. Only a limited number of actions were prohibited by Chazal because of molid, and therefore we may not extrapolate from these limited examples that creating anything else new (like electrical current) is rabbinically prohibited.

2. Closing a circuit is analogous to closing a door (which is permitted) because it is meant to be opened and closed.

3. Since the appliance is made to be turned on and off it cannot be makeh b'patish

4. This is not factually true anymore

5. This is at most grama and in fact is many times not true.

6. This is not factually true anymore

Based on the above RSZA (Minchat Shlomo 74, 84), writes the following:

In my opinion there is no prohibition [to use electricity] on Shabbat or Yom Tov... There is no prohibition of ma'keh bepatish or molid... (However, I am afraid that the masses will err and turn on incandescent lights on Shabbat, and thus I do not permit electricity absent great need...) ... This matter requires further analysis.
However, the key point in my opinion is that there is no prohibition to use electricity on Shabbat unless the electricity causes a prohibited act like cooking or starting a flame.

He states unequivocally that since the minhag is to prohibit the use of electricity, and this minhag received near unanimous approval from the poskim absent great need we should accept this tradition.

My point in my previous post was that soon we will reach a point where it will be very hard to refrain from using electricity in some form given the ubiquity of electronics and sensors everywhere and this minhag may need to be revisited.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Staying in a hotel with electronic locks on Shabbos

I stayed in a hotel this Shabbos in a small Jewish community near the shul. These days it is a big problem to stay in a hotel for Shabbos because almost all hotels have switched over to electronic keys. Electronic keys use electricity and therefore are prohibited to use on Shabbos for whatever reason electricity is prohibited (there are a number of reasons given including the opinion of the Chazon Ish that creating a circuit is Boneh min hatorah, RSZA holds that there is no issur whatsoever however, it is prohibited based on minhag). The bottom line is we assume that electricity on Shabbos is prohibited at least m'drabbanon.

The advice that I got was to tape up the lock and leave the door unlocked on Shabbos when I go out, I did this and while it worked it made me very nervous. R' Willig told me that if you get locked out you can ask a non-Jew to open it as it is a shvus d'shvus b'makom kitzva.

This illustrates the problem that electricity poses for us and is going to pose for us in the near future. Everything is going electronic. Soon it will be very hard to find anything that doesn't have some kind of electronic sensor on it. If you go to a hotel you can see some of them for example:
Electronic keys
Motion sensors which shut off the lights and air conditiong if there is no movement
Faucets that go on and off based on motion sensors
Toilets with sensors
Automatic doors
Security cameras

Household appliances are changing as well. New refrigerators all have sensors that are put into action when you open the door etc. (even if you tape down the light switch). Modern burglar alarms have sensors on the door and register when the door opens even if the alarm is off. There are surveillance cameras everywhere.

The point is that electronics and sensors are becoming ubiquitious, they are going to be everywhere. It will soon reach a point that we will not be able to do anything without causing some reaction in some sensor.

The question is what will the reaction from the poskim be? RSZA opinion that there really is no issur seems to be very well reasoned and I believe is generally accepted. The question is will anyone have the courage to run with it and say that in the modern world where circumstances have changed we need to allow certain things (like electronic locks, refrigerator sensors etc.) The fact is that in the next 10 years the incandescent light bulb will go the way of the dodo which will remove the only issur doraysa related to electricity. I know that there is a very fine line it is clear that we don't want people using computers, tv's, mp3 players on shabbos, on the other hand we are rapidly reaching a point where we will be unable to do anything on Shabbos in a modern home. The poskim need to come up with some kind of balance, given what is going on in the Jewish world I am not optimistic.

When is the proper time to say selichos?

The shulchan aruch in siman 581 states that the minhag is to get up early in the morning before alos hashachar and say selichos. The acharonim quote another minhag of saying selichos right after Chatzos.

It is clear from the Shulchan Aruch and the acharonim that the above 2 options are the proper times to say selichos. What about other times?

The Mateh Efraim discusses saying selichos after Alos and says that b'dieved this is fine and that it is better to say selichos after Alos then not say them at all.

The Acahronim discuss one other time, the first half of the night. Most Acharonim are very much against this as the first half of the night is a time of din and in fact, R' Ovadya Yosef states that it is better not to say selcihos at all then say them in the first half of the night.

R' Willig told us that based on this, that instead of saying selichos at 10:00PM, amuch better choice is to daven mincha a little early and say them between mincha and maariv at the end of the day before sunset.

To sum up there are 4 possible times to say selichos
1. Early morning before Alos - best time to say selichos
2. Right after Chatzos - also l'chatchela
3. During the day - anytime after Alos until sunset, not l'chatchela but better to say selichos at this time then not say them
4. First half of the night - according to some Acharonim it is better not to say selichos at this time, according to others this is really b'dieved (if you absolutely have no other choice).

The above is only a general guideline, as always, ask your local Rav any specific questions.


Here are some specific references about the issue

Mishnah Berurah 565:12, selichos should not be recited before midnight.

Sha'arei Teshuvah 581:1 quoting Birkei Yosef, one who finds himself in a shul where selichos are being recited before midnight, should not recite the Thirteen Attributes along with the congregation.

Igros Moshe O.C. 2:105, R' Moshe is very against the practice of saying selichos before midnight.

Yechave Da'as 1:46, prohibits saying selichos before midnight, instead he advises reciting selichos before Minchah.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

A Baal Teshuva's fate in the Charedi world

Mishpacha had an article last week (I think by a Baal Teshuva) about the problems that they encounter in the Charedi community. The main one is that their kids are not accepted in mainstream Charedi schools. She told a story of a new school that started that originally accepted the children of Baalei Teshuva and as soon as they became successfult they kicked them all out. Of course this continues on with Shidduchim.

This week they published a response. The woman who responded is married to the son of a Baal teshuva. She explained that she originally also felt very bad about this but a relative in Chinuch explained the situation. He said that many Baalei Teshuva stay in contact with their non-religious families. Therefore they are a tremendous danger to everyone else. After all, the friends may actually see a non-religious person in the house etc. Of course she threw in the obligatory anecdote about such a thing really happening (going off the derech due ti the influence of a baal teshuva friend). Therefore she concluded, that it is better to hurt individual baalei teshuva then to put the whole community at harm.

I could not believe what I was reading. What kind of paranoia is this? Why punish all the baalei teshuva? The Charedi world has such little faith in their kids, they feel that any little thing will throw them off the derech.

I really feel bad for any Charedi Baal Teshuva, these people have no idea what they are getting into.

Last week in Mishpacha they had an article about the workload of Girls seminaries. Many parents complained that the workload was too high. The administrator's justification, we need to keep the girls busy, otherwise who knows what they will do? The same story, a complete lack of faith in the kids and their education.

These kinds of things really bother me about the Charedi comunity.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The destruction of the shuls in Gaza

Whatever the Israeli government would have done, the destruction of the shuls was a forgone conclusion after the disengagement. No one really believed that the Palestinians would prevent the buildings from being destroyed. I agree with what Israel did for the following reasons:

1. Most of the poskim who were asked (including R' Ovadya Yosef and other prominent poskim) agreed that it was prohibited for Jews to destroy the shuls
2. It would set a bad precedent worldwide
3. The Palestinians got bad PR from the destruction

I am sure that many people when hearing/seeing the destruction thought what barbarians, we would never do that to a mosque. While it is true that the Israeli government (or the US government) would never do that, the halacha may require us to do just that. The Torah commands us to destroy Avoda Zara especially in EY, so if Islam is considered avoda zara then mosques would need to be destroyed. Even if it is not avoda zara, a mosque certainly has no kedusha and is no different then any other building.

Again, we see the conflict between the Torah and Western values. There is an international treaty prohibiting the destruction of any religious site, while the Torah commands us to destroy avoda zara.

In fact, the parshiyos that we have read lately and are reading in Devarim, are very un-pc. In parshas Reah we have the din of עיר הנדחת, where if the majority of people worship avoda zara we raze the city and kill ALL the inhabitants, in Shoftim we have the halachos of war, including the halacha to wipe out the 7 nations. In this weeks parsha, Ki Tetze, we have the mitzva of wiping out Amalek.

On Rosh Hashana, we emphasize the Akeda. If we think about it Avraham Avinu was willing to kill/sacrifice his son to fulfill the will of Hashem. Again, this is something that conflicts with the Western sense of morality. Avraham Avinu who was the איש חסד par excellance was able to overcome his feelings of חסד and fulfill the will of Hashem. Not only that, this act did not affect him negatively and he remained the איש חסד par excellance. In passing the test of the Akeda, Avraham Avinu passed down to us this quality, that we have the ability to fulfill the will of Hashem even where it is seemingly cruel and not be affected by it.

I am not advocating actually doing any of these things today, we cannot. My point is that we need to look at the halachos relating to these issues and from there understand the Torah's idea of morality/justice and how it conflicts with Western morality.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Is it ever too late to do teshuva?

If you look at any mussar sefer the answer is no, as chazal say אפילו חרב חדה מונחת על ראשו אל ימנע עצמו מן הרחמים. Yet, the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva (6:3) states explicitly that it could be too late:

ואפשר שיחטא האדם חטא גדול או חטאים הרבה, עד שייתן הדין לפני דיין האמת שיהיה הפירעון מזה החוטא על חטאים אלו שעשה ברצונו ומדעתו, שמונעין ממנו התשובה ואין מניחין לו רשות לשוב מרשעו, כדי שימות ויאבד בחטאים שעשה.
לפיכך כתוב בתורה "ואני, אחזק את לב פרעה" (ראה שמות ד,כא; שמות יד,ד): לפי שחטא מעצמו תחילה והרע לישראל הגרים בארצו, שנאמר "הבה נתחכמה, לו" (שמות א,י), נתן הדין למנוע ממנו התשובה, עד שנפרעין ממנו; לפיכך חיזק הקדוש ברוך הוא את ליבו.
וכן ישראל בימי אלייהו לפי שהרבו לפשוע, מנע מאותן המרבים תשובה, שנאמר "ואתה הסיבות את ליבם, אחורנית" (מלכים א יח,לז), כלומר מנעת מהן התשובה.

It is possible that a person can do a great sin or many sins until the judgement for his sins that he did willingly is that he is prevented from doing teshuva and he is not given permission to repent so that he will die with the sins that he did
therefore the Torah writes that I will harden Paroah's heart ...
and also the Jews at the time of Eliyahu because they sinned so greatly were prevented form doing teshuva ...

We see black on white that the Rambam writes that a person can be prevented from doing teshuva, in other words it is too late.

What do the mussar sefarim do with this Rambam? R' Schwadron, who edited the Lev Eliyahu, asks this question on the Lev Eliyahu in Parshas Bo in a footnote and answers as follows.

The Rambam's proof from Bnei Yisrael in the time of Eliyahu is very difficult, after all the story there ends with Bnei Yisrael screaming ה' הוא האלוקים, in other words doing teshuva. He answers that even if teshuva is closed off tefilla never is. A person can always daven to hashem that the punishment should be lifted and he should be allowed to do teshuva. This is exactly what Eliyahu Hanavi did.

How does this work? When a person is prevented from doing teshuva it means that his yetzer hara is given more power and there is no way for him to overcome the yetzer. However, he can daven to remove this. This is like a person who loves to talk loshon hara. The person knows it is assur but just can't help it. The person may even daven to hashem to help him overcome. This is the same idea here. The yetzer hara is too strong to do teshuva but tefilla can help weaken the yetzer hara and then he will be able to do teshuva.

Therefore, the Rambam is right that sometimes it is too late to do teshuva, but even so the mussar sefarim are right that it is never too late, a person can always ask for rachamim and the ability to do teshuva.

We should keep this in mind in Chodesh Elul that tefilla is never too late.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

R' Ovadya Yosef - Katrina is punishment for the disengagement

גלי צה"ל this morning played on the radio an excerpt of a shiur that R' Ovadya Yosef gave last night where he blamed Hurricane Katrina on Bush's support for the disengagement.


Here is a link to what R' Ovadya said Shas rabbi: Hurricane is Bush's punishment for pullout support

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a former chief rabbi and the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas movement, said on Wednesday that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for U.S. President George W. Bush's support for Israel's Gaza pullout.

"It was God's retribution. God does not shortchange anyone," Yosef said during his weekly sermon on Tuesday. His comments were broadcast on Channel 10 TV on Wednesday.

Yosef also said recent natural disasters were the result of a lack of Torah study and that Katrina's victims suffered "because they have no God," singling out black people.

"He (Bush) perpetrated the expulsion (of Jews from Gaza). Now everyone is mad at him. This is his punishment for what he did to Gush Katif, and everyone else who did as he told them, their time will come, too," Yosef said.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The international dateline and halacha

I may be traveling to Japan on business so this may be very relevant halacha lamaaseh to me.

There are 3 major opinions on where the halachic dateline is.

1. The Chazon Ish, Brisker Rav and others hold that the dateline is 90 degrees east of Yerushalayim. This is based on the Baal Hamaor's interpretation of the gemara in Rosh Hashana 20b. The Baal Hamaor explains that Bait Din has until noon on the day that they see the molad, new moon, to declare Rosh Chodesh on that same day. However, if it is after noon, then Rosh Chodesh is on the next day. This explanation would only make sense if the Halachic Date Line was at the Kitze Hamizrach which is 90° east of Jerusalem. This is so because the reason why the Baal Hamaor said noon is because that is the last time in Israel that somewhere else in the world that the day is just starting. In order for Rosh Chodesh to be on that day, it must be possible for Rosh Chodesh to last 24 hours somewhere in the world. Since noon is 18 hours into the day (starting from sunset on the night before), the place where the day is just starting is 18 hours to the west of Israel which is 270° west of Israel because every time zone is made up of 15°. So, the place where the new day starts, or the Halachic Date Line, must be six hours to the east of Jerusalem which is also 90° east of Jerusalem. This Line is on the 125E meridian (the explanation of the Baal Hamaor is taken from David Pahmer, The International Date Line and Related Issues, The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society Number XXI, Staten Island, NY, 1990). This line passes through Australia, China, and Russia. The Chazon Ish writes that all the Rishonim who discuss the topic (the Baal Hamaor, the Kuzari, and others) agree with this opinion.

The Chazon Ish however, throws in a wrinkle. He claims that the dateline doesn't split up a continent and therefore all of China, Russian and Australia, are on the same side of the dateline as Eretz Yisrael, even the parts that are more then 90 degrees east of Yerushalayim. The Brisker Rav disagrees on this point.

As an aside, RHS pointed out that it would seem that the Chazon Ish and Brisker Rav are l'shitasam. The Brisker Rav takes his analysis to it's logical conclusion and that is it. If the Halacha states that on this side of the street it is Shabbos and on the other side it is Sunday so be it. The Chazon Ish on the other hand says that it can't be so (it would be too confusing, people could walk in and out of Shabbos, even skip Shabbos, etc.) and therefore comes up with his chiddush about landmasses. We find a similar machlokes by taking Terumos and Maasros from fruit juice. The Brisker Rav says tough luck, since the halacha states that fruit juice is just maya b'alma you can't take teruma from it so the juice remains tevel. The Chazon Ish writes that you can't have something that is Tevel that has no way to be mesaken it and therefore disagrees.

RHS (and others including R' Sternbuch) point out the following anomoly according to the Chazon Ish. If one is on the East Coast of Australia and sails out to sea on a boat or takes off in a plane on Sunday (anywhere in Australia past 90 degrees), you will sail or fly into Shabbos. The Chazon Ish's chiddush only applies on the continent itself, however, once you leave the continent (either by plane or boat) then since you are past 90 degress from Yerushalayim, you have crossed the dateline and Sunday turns into Shabbos. This has very serious halachic implications for people living in these places with regards to plane and boat travel on Sunday.

According to the Chazon Ish Japan is on the other side of the dateline from EY and therefore what the Japanese call Sunday is really Shabbos.

2. Rav Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky holds that the dateline is 180 degrees from Yerushalayim based on the gemara that states that Yerushalayim is the the center of the world. If so, the dateline is on the exact opposite side of the Earth, halfway around the globe at 144.8 degrees. This places Hawaii on the other side of the Dateline from the United States. Hawaii would then be nineteen hours ahead of NY, rather than five hours behind, as it is on the same side of the Dateline as Asia. The day Hawaiians call Friday is halachically Shabbos, and the day they call Saturday is halachically Sunday.

According to this opinion Japan is not an issue because it is on the same side as the international dateline puts it.

3. Some poskim claim that there is no such thing as a Halachic Dateline. Instead, a person just follows the day that the country that he is in is observing. In other words the halachic dateline is the international dateline. There are other poskim who put the halachic dateline very close to the international dateline (2 or 3 degrees difference).

To sum up, the problematic places are Japan, Hawaii, and New Zealand.

According to the Chazon Ish, Sunday is Shabbos in Japan, according to opinions 2 and 3 Saturday is Shabbos in Japan.
According to the Chazon Ish and opinion 3, Saturday is Shabbos in Hawaii, while according to R' Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky, Friday is Shabbos.
New Zealand
Same as Japan.

Someone I know went to Japan and asked what he should do for Shabbos. The answer he got was to observe shabbos on Saturday, but to refrain from melacha d'oraysa on sunday in deference to the Chazon Ish's shita. This seems to be the consensus of the poskim today.

Some other interesting issues that come up with regards to the dateline are what if you cross the line during sefira, Chanukkah?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

עיר הנדחת and תשובה

In this past weeks parsha we had the dinim of עיר הנדחת. The Rambam in Hilchos Avoda Zara (4:6) writes a very difficult din. He writes that if the people do teshuva the city no longer has a din of עיר הנדחת. The Raavad there asks that we don't find that teshuva ever helps by a punishment of בית דין.

Many acharonim ask why is this so? Why doesn't teshuva help to save a person from a punishment of בית דין? There are many answers, I will mention 2.

The Chida writes that in theory Teshuva would help, but the בית דין can never ascertain whther a person really did teshuva. Only Hashem can, and therefore theבית דין cannot take teshiva into account.

A more fundamental answer is based on the following. We can ask how can teshuva work? After all normally we say לא אתי דיבור ומבטל מעשה, words cannot wipe out actions. The answer is that teshuva does not work with the notmal principles, teshuva is not of this world, in fact, Chazal state that teshuva preceded creation. Therefore, בית דין cannot take into account teshuva because it is not part of the system of this world.

This all strengthens the Raavad's question.

RYBS (printed in קובץ חידושי תורה) explained the Rambam as follows. When the Rambam writes that if they do teshuva they no longer have a din of עיר הנדחת he doesn't mean that the guilty go scot free. He means that the city is no longer an עיר הנדחת and all the various dinim of עיר הנדחת don't apply, however, those individuals who worshipped avoda zara are punished as individuals. Why is this so? RYBS explained that the gemara (based on the pesukim) says that the people of an עיר הנדחת are בני בליעל, reshaim who have no chelek in olam haba. The Rambam understood this as part of the definition of an עיר הנדחת, that the people need to be reshaim who have no chelek in olam haba. Therefore, if they do teshuva, it doesn't absolve them and prevent punishment but takes away the חלות שם of עיר הנדחת because they can no longer be called בני בליעל, Since, בני בליעל is part of the definition of עיר הנדחת the city no longer qualifies, however, they are punished as individuals.

Friday, September 02, 2005

117,500 - The number of people learning full time in Israel

53,500 learning in Kollel
41,000 learning in Yeshiva
23,000 learning in Yeshiva Ketana

These numbers are amazing.


The numbers are from this weeks Mishpacha, they are based on figures from the government.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A Fundamentalist Christians view on world events

Unfortunately the Jewish religious world is not that far behind. The interview with Mary Fowler (and the subsequent comments) are eye opening Conversations at the Gas Pump.

Mary Fowler, 54, Housekeeper

Why do you think gas prices are so high?

From what I've read, they say it's because of the Iraq war. I've also read about alternatives to gas and even automobiles that use alternatives, but for some reason, the big oil companies bought up the patents for that, so it's not just the Iraq war and it's not President Bush's fault. He gets blamed for everything, but it's not his fault. It's just greed from other people. I feel like the president is doing everything he can to help.

Like what?

For one thing, he is protecting our country by being in Iraq. We can't pull out too soon because they'll think we're chicken and they'll try to attack us again. We can't pull out until they're able to fend for themselves. Those who are strong are supposed to help those who are weak. We are strong and we're that way for a reason. We've always been peacemakers. As long as we keep the peace, we'll be blessed.

So you believe we're acting as peacemakers in Iraq?

Yes and we're protecting the innocent. Muslims want to rule the world. They want to take over the whole world. That's their evil purpose.

Do you know any Muslims?

I've ministered to them. A few lived in my apartment building and they invited us over for dinner. I went with a Christian guy. They were nice. The food was nice. At the end, we said, 'Can we pray for you?' And they said yes, if we can pray for you. We prayed for the peace of god. Most of them are very harsh. There's no tenderness or love.

Do a lot of Muslims live in this area? Have you met any others besides the ones who invited you over for dinner?

Most of them live in Tulsa.

Why do you think we're in Iraq? People say we're freeing the Iraqis one minute and then change their opinion and say they're horrible people.

Soldiers over there say we don't get half the news. There's so much good going on. The majority of the people appreciate the help. The majority, not the weirdos who are deceived.

Where do you get your information about the war?

The Bible and the 700 Club. I also listen to preachers who know what's going on. Pat Robertson.

What do you like about Bush?

He's a praying man of god. He's a family man and he does care. He gets blamed for everything. If this country would turn back to god, things would get better. You can't go on killing babies and allowing homosexual stuff to stay. We do love the people, but we don't love their actions.

Do you think talking about homosexuality does anything to improve healthcare or poverty?

I guess for me I've always had to trust the lord for the next job, which is usually housecleaning. If you have your eyes on him, he'll take care of you. The government can't help us.

Do you always vote?

Yes, I volunteered for the Republican Party and I enjoyed it very much.

Have you always been Republican?

When I first registered, I was a Democrat. Just from studying in school, I thought that's what I wanted to be because I believed in government for the people, by the people and of the people. But after I was saved, I realized the Republican beliefs are me so I switched and I'm glad I did.

What does it mean to be a Republican?

Republicans pick the people who believe like we do.

You mean believe in the Bible?

Yes and godly principles. If we kick god out, we'll be like other countries that have AIDS, sickness and poverty. God created the earth, he created the rules and he knows what's best for everybody.

Unfortunately, we have AIDS, sickness and poverty in this country.

Yes, because we allow homosexuality.

You blame homosexuality for AIDS, sickness and poverty?

Well, sometimes people are innocent. This nation is in trouble. The ACLU are run by communists and funded by communists. What does that tell you? They want to take god away from us.

The ACLU once helped Pat Robertson's son set up churches. They also helped Jerry Falwell fight church restrictions three years ago. If they wanted to take god way from you, why would they help Pat Robertson's son and Jerry Falwell?

I haven't heard about that. I'm sure there are a few good people in the ACLU.

I've interviewed a lot of people on this trip and while they want freedom of religion, none have said they want to take god away.

When they first started the country, those that didn't believe in Jesus were put in jail. Once a country is dedicated to god and founded on its principles, it has to stay that way.

What issues are most important to you?

Getting the right Supreme Court Justice in you. I want god back in the schools. They kick god out of schools and they wonder why we have drugs and sex in the schools.

(At this point in our conversation, a gas attendant approached me and said I couldn't interview people without permission from the corporate office. I took a photo of Mary and her Bible sticker and went on my way.)