Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Chazal and Mistakes in Science

I am learning Bava Basra in the mornings and I just learned daf 25b. After learning this sugya I cannot understand how anyone can say that Chazal were not mistaken in science.

The gemara there has a dispute between R' Eliezer and R' Yeshoshua.

R' Eliezer says that the world is like a three-walled building; the north side is not covered; The sun travels along the inside of the building during the day. When the sun reaches the northwest corner, it goes above the building (therefore we can't see it, and goes eastward overnight, and rises in the northeast in the morning).

R. Yehoshua says, the world is like a box, the north side is covered;

1. When the sun reaches the northwest corner, it goes (through a window) in back of the box.
2. "Holech El Darom v'Sovev El Tzafon" - the sun (always) travels along the south by day, and circles around the north side by night.

It is absolutely clear that the above is incorrect. We know that the world is not covered by anything and the sun doesn't go behind it. We know that the Earth spins and this is what causes the Sun to rise and set and we know that the Earth revolves around the Sun. These are not theories, they are facts and they are undisputable, we have all seen the pictures from space with our own eyes contradicting this gemara.

The Maharal explains this gemara allegorically. He understands that Chazal hid deeper meanings in statements like these describing the world. However, even according to the Maharal, Chazal did not just make this up, they were describing the world as they knew it, which was mistaken, and through that telling us secrets of Torah.

I will be thrilled if anyone can explain this gemara based on the observable facts that we have seen about the world. I do not believe that it can be done.

In the same vein as R' Nathan Kamenetsky said in his shiur at YU, I say, if believing that this portrayal of the movement of the Sun as the gemara describes is correct, is one of the Ikkarei Haemuna, we are in very deep trouble indeed.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

ציצית - wool or cotton?

The daf yomi just learned a sugya that discussed what the Torah calls a בגד in various areas of halacha, tumas negaim, tumas sheratzim, and ציצית. It comes out according to some of the opinions in Tannaim that only צמר ופשתים are considered a בגד for ציצית.

There is a machlokes how to pasken. The Rambam and in his footsteps the שו"ע paskens that only wool is חייב in ציצית min hatorah, and the Rama paskens that all types of materials are חייב in ציצית min hatorah. The mishna berura suggests that a person should be machmir and wear wool.

The Gra and the Chazon Ish both didn't wear wool because they held that we pasken like the Rama and they wanted to emphasize that. We see from here the tremendous differnce in approach in psak between them and the Mishna Berura (as Dr. Chaim Soloveitchik pointed out in his article Rupture and Reconstruction). The Mishna Berura sees 2 opinions by ציצית so he says you should try to be יוצא both. The Chazon Ish and the Gra on the other hand held that we pasken like the Rama and therefore we should do like the Rama.

In today's world the Mishna Berura's method is the prevalent one, and that is one of the reasons why we have so many chumras today.

More Charedi censorship

In this week's בקהילה newspaper they published a letter attacking something that was printed last week. Last week they wrote an article about Gush Katif. In the article they wrote the following:
The settlers in Gush Katif asked R' Yaakov Kamenetsky if they are allowed to live there, maybe they should move because of Pikuach Nefesh? He answered that it is a milchemes miztva (and therefore there is no halacha of pikuach nefesh like the Minchas Chinuch, my interpretation). The writer of the article then said that R' Yaakov's position makes a lot of sense although you can certainly argue on it.

The letter writer was very upset with this. He has 2 problems:
1. The Charedi Gedolim hold that it is not a milchemes mitzva because the Rambam says that you need a king to have a milchemes mitzva
2. People living in Gaza are violating the 3 oaths because the non-Jews didn't give it to us.

In truth, both of his problems are very problematic, we will deal with this later.

In any case, what exactly is his problem? It sounds like he agrees that R' Yaakov said it (I heard this psak from other sources as well).

Was R' Yaakov not a charedi gadol? Is he not entitled to an opinion? Even if most of the gedolim disagreed with him so what? Do we wipe out dissenting opinions? This is a very disturbing pheneomenon of zero toleration of dissent. This is simply anti-Torah. The Torah has always quoted (Mishna, gemara) dissenting opinions.

About his "problems".

1. R' Shachter wrote an article in the RJJ journal (I think 20 or 21) where he discusses Land for Peace and brings down a similar psak of R' Yaakov that it is a milchemes mitzva. In the next issue they had a letter with a similar complaint from the Rambam. R' Shachter answered politely, but I remember in Shiur how he dismissed such an opinion, that of course the Rambam would agree that any government has the din of a melech for milchemes miztva.
2. The Steipler writes (I think in letter 205) that even though the Zionits violated the 3 oaths whgat is done is done and we don;t have to give it back. That certainly applies to Gaza as well.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Where do I belong?

The following expresses much better then I could many of the issues that I have with contemporary orthodox society, Ready To Be Orthodox, But No Place to Go. Obviously I am religious, but I find myself not really fitting in, either in MO or UO. Below are some excerpts, it is very worthwhile to read the whole article and the comments

...The MO strike an occasional responsive chord within me. While Torah study is primary for me, I am in favor of some secular learning, want to be part of the world, and support fully the State of Israel.

But there are aspects of MO that give me pause. I find them too casual, and careless, about their Judaism
More seriously, I find in the MO an emphasis on material success and careers – just like in the majority culture. While I agree that a Jew should be part of the world, I think the MO tend to blur the narrow line between involvement with the world and yet resisting the vulgar values that permeate that world
Yes, they are technically observant, but it’s an observance that to me seems superficial, robotic, without passion. In many MO day schools, Torah study is a subject among other subjects
I would like to identify with them, but I am uncomfortable with the whiff of compromise that they exude
With the yeshiva/haredi world? Not really.
After 120 years, are we to be asked about our hat color and brim width? Do we burn in hell if we wore a gray hat, or a blue one? Is admission to heaven denied to those who wore suits of gray or blue, or, heaven forfend, a sport-jacket?
In the real world, there are gradations of gray between black and white – there actual colors out there ! – but for the haredim these do not exist.
In general, haredim seem to want to close themselves off from the world of art music, culture – and one cannot blame them. After all, it was the cultural elite of the 20th century who were also the leaders of 20th century brutality, playing Bach while the crematoria did their work. Nevertheless, there is a world out there that helps us understand Creation: physics, biology, mathematics – even music.
within their world, is there also room for genuinely pious and learning people who also work, earn livelihoods, have university degrees?

Obviously he is painting with a very broad brush, but there is definately some truth to his characterizations.

שמיטת כספים and פרוסבול

In last week's parsha, Behar, the Torah writes the din of שמיטת כספים. The gemara in Gittin 36a states:
הלל התקין פרוסבול וכו': תנן התם פרוסבול אינו משמט זה אחד מן הדברים שהתקין הלל הזקן שראה את העם שנמנעו מלהלוות זה את זה ועברו על מה שכתוב בתורה (דברים טו) השמר לך פן יהיה דבר עם לבבך בליעל וגו' עמד והתקין פרוסבול

Hillel saw that people were not lending money and therefore created פרוסבול so that the loans would not be canceled by shemitta.

Many misguided people look at פרוסבול and say that from here we see that the Rabbis can do whatever they want, where there is a rabbinic will there is a rabbinic way. In fact, as I will show פרוסבול shows us just the opposite.

The gemara asks on Hillel
ומי איכא מידי דמדאורייתא משמטא שביעית והתקין הלל דלא משמטא

How could Hillel be מתקן פרוסבול when the torah says that the loan is canceled?
The gemara answers:
אמר אביי בשביעית בזמן הזה ורבי היא

Abaye answers that פרוסבול only works if shemitta is d'rabbanan. The gemara then asks the reverse question:
ומי איכא מידי דמדאורייתא לא משמטא שביעית ותקינו רבנן דתשמט

How could the chachamim make shemitta derabbanan, min hatorah he has to pay back the loan? The gemara answers
רבא אמר הפקר ב"ד היה הפקר

Beis Din has the power min hatorah to take away your money.

The simple reading of the gemara is that פרוסבול only works if shemitta is d'rabbanan. In other words, the Rabbis don't have the power to what they want, if shemitta is min hatorah they can't do anything. In fact, this is how the Rambam (הלכות שמיטה ויובל פרק ט) paskens ואין הפרוזבול מועיל אלא בשמיטת כספים בזמן הזה, שהיא מדברי סופרים; אבל שמיטה של תורה, אין הפרוזבול מועיל בה

The Raavad there argues on the Rambam and has a different interpretation of the gemara, Rashi also learns like the Raavad.

They explain the gemara as follows. Rava's answer of הפקר ב"ד היה הפקר answers the original question as well. What is the machlokes the Rambam and the Raavad? Here are 2 possible explanations:
1. There is a famous machlokes what is the power of הפקר ב"ד היה הפקר min hatorah? Is it a) the simple translation of the words that beis din can declare your property ownerless or is it more then that, b) they can take your property and give it to someone else.
One case where this comes up is where a man is mekadesh a woman with a kinyan d'rabban, is she married min hatorah? Kinyanim d'rabban work based on הפקר ב"ד היה הפקר if we hold like a, then a kinyan d'rabbana only works m'drabbanan, min hatorah the woman has not yet received the money and therefore min hatorah is not yet married. However, according to b, a kinyan d'rabbana works min hatorah and she is married min hatorah.

Based on this we can understand the machlokes the Rambam and the Raavad. The Raavad holds like b, that Beis Din can take from a and give to b, that is how a פרוזבול works, Beis Din takes the money from the borrower and gives it to the lender before shemitta, therefore there is no loan for shemitta to cancel. the Rambam on the other hand holds like a, Beis Din min hatorah can only take away your money but they cannot give it to me and therefore it doesn't help for shemitta, by shemitta they need to give you the money and they can't, and therefore shemitta cancels the loan.

The gemara there brings 2 sources from where הפקר ב"ד היה הפקר is learned out. דאמר ר' יצחק מנין שהפקר ב"ד היה הפקר שנאמ' (עזרא י) וכל אשר לא יבוא לשלשת הימים כעצת השרים והזקנים יחרם כל רכושו והוא יבדל מקהל הגולה רבי אליעזר אמר מהכא (יהושוע יט) אלה הנחלות
. The Rashba seems to say that the above machlokes depends on what the source is. The pasuk in Ezra is like a, Beis Din can take away your money, while the pasuk by nachala is like b (they took from 1 and gave to another). The Rambam when he brings down the din of הפקר ב"ד היה הפקר quotes the pasuk in Ezra as the source, the Rambam lshitaso that הפקר ב"ד היה הפקר is like a, and doesn;t work for shemitta min hatorah.

2. How does shemitta cancel a loan? a) Does it cancel the monetary aspects of the loan or b) does it NOT affect the monetary aspects, rather it prohibits the lender from collecting. The Rambam holds like b, it is an issur, therefore הפקר ב"ד היה הפקר is not relevant it can't be matir issurim, the Raavad on the other hand holds like a, and therefore הפקר ב"ד היה הפקר can restore the monetary aspects.

The gemara later om daf 37 has the following strange din
המחזיר חוב לחבירו בשביעית צריך שיאמר לו משמט אני ואם אמר לו אע"פ כן יקבל הימנו שנאמר (דברים טו) וזה דבר השמטה אמר רבה ותלי לי' עד דאמר הכי

If the borrower wants to return the money after shemitta anyway he can, but the lender must first refuse. Raba says that ותלי לי the borrower can do this to the lender until he says that he wants to pay back. What does ותלי לי mean? Rashi explains the gemara literally, the lender can string the borrower up on a tree and force him. The Rosh asks how could that be? This destroys the whole din of shmitta. We can explain the machlokes like 2 above. Rashi holds that shemitta doesn't cancel the loan, the borrower is still obligated, however, the lender cannot go and collect the loan. Therefore, he can force the borrower to pay as the gemara says. The Rosh holds that the loan is cancelled and therefore how can he force the borrower?

To conclude, we see that פרוסבול is an example of chachamim working within the halachic system and not just waving their magic wand. In the area of money the chachamim have more powerful tools to work with and may be able to do more, but in the end, they need to work with the halachic tools available.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Chanuka in May

Yesterdays and todays daf (Shabos 21-22) contain just about all of the gemara relating to Chanuka. It is really weird to be learning this in May. Every December we come back to this gemara to discuss the various issues. It was nice to learn this at a different time as well. I will not post the various halachic discussions now, I will bli neder post them right before Chanuka.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Torah Leadership, inherited or earned?

In our generation it seems that Torah leadership is now inherited. Discounting the Hassidic world which has always done this, it seems now that the Yeshivish world is doing this as well. Note, I in no way mean to cast aspersions on any of the Roshei Yeshiva mentioned here, I am merely pointing out a trend.

If we look at many of the yeshivas we see that there is a dynasty.
Lakewood - Founded by R' Aharon Kotler, his descendents have been the Rosh Yeshiva
MTJ - founded by R' Moshe Feinstein, R' Dovid Feinstein is now the Rosh Yeshiva, R' Reuven Feinstein is the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva of Staten Island (an offshoot of MTJ).
Philadelphia - the current Rosh yeshiva is R' Shmuel Kamentsky, R' Yaakov Kamenetsky's son.
Mir Yerushalayim - The founder was R' Nasan Tzvi Finkel, the current Rosh Yeshiva is also a Finkel
Brisk Yerushalayim - The founder was the Brisker Rav's son, the current Rosh Yeshiva is the Brisker Rav's grandson.
R' Shmuel Auerbach (R' Shlomo Zalman's son) is the Rosh Yeshiva of Maalos Hatorah.

You may ask, what is bad? The answer is that throughout history we have seen that many/most times sons of great men are not great. In fact this is a gemara. The gemara in נדרים פ"א states the following:
הזהרו בבני עניים שמהם תצא תורה ... ומפני מה אין מצויין ת"ח לצאת ת"ח מבניהן אמר ר יוסף שלא יאמרו תורה ירושה הוא אצלם ר ששת בריה דר אידי אומר כדי שלא יתגדרו על הציבור.

Be careful with the children of the poor because from them will come the talmidei chachamim ... R' Yosef said why is it that talmidei chachamim's son's are rarely talmidei chachamim? So that people will not say that Torah is an inheritance. R' Sheshes the son of R' Idi said so that they will not become haughty and imperious over the people (because they and their ancestors were Talmidei Chachamim).

We see from the gemara that Torah is not an inheritance and being the son of a talmid chacham not only doesn't guarantee that you will be one, but in fact the Gemara states that he probably will not be one.

If we look historically we will see this to be true. Look at the Rishonim, almost of all of their parents were not Rishonim (e.g. Rashi, Ramban, Rashba, Ran, Raavad, Ritva, etc.) and almost none of their children were Rishonim. The same goes for the Acharonim, who ever heard of the Vilna Gaon's son or the Ketzos's son. If we look at the pre-war Gedolim we see the same pattern. Who was the Chafetz Chayim's father, son? R' Aharon Kotler's, R' Yaakov Kamanetsky's, R' Shimon Shkop, etc.?

There have always been exceptions, but that is exactly the point they are exceptions. and they prove the rule.

This ties in to the previous post about kollel only schools. We see from here that this is not the way that things ever were in Klal Yisrael. As the gemara saysהזהרו בבני עניים שמהם תצא תורה, the next generation of Gedolei Torah will not necessarily come from the parents who are learning in Kollel.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Kollel Only Schools

Marvin Schick writes a very good article Kollel Only Schools decrying this new phenomenon.

He is absolutely right that this is a terrible thing and should be opposed. The fact is that the children of great men many times fail to live up to their illustrious parents while children of humble backgrounds become Gedolei Hador.

R' Wolbe whose passing was mourned by the whole Yeshiva world was one such person whose parents were not even frum. Would he even have a chance today to blossom into the Adam Gadol that he became?

Behab and Pesach Sheni

Tomorrow is the last day of Behab which is also Pesach Sheni, which creates a contradiction. On Pesach Sheni the minhag is not to say Tachanun, on Behab we add selichos. The luach in Israel quotes 2 minhagim one to say selichos and 1 to not say selichos. The shuls that I daven in have elected not to say selichos and observe Pesach Sheni.

Let me know if your shul says selichos tomorrow or not.

Going on a boat within 3 days of Shabbos

Yesterdays daf (Shabbos 19a) has the din that you are not allowed to go on a boat trip 3 days before Shabbos (if the trip will last over Shabbos). The Rishonim offer a whole host of possibilities what the reason for the issur is.

Rif, Rambam - it is because of oneg shabbos, in the first 3 days you will probably be seasick
Tosafos - a gezera that you aren't allowed to go on water
R' Chananel - it is talking about very shallow water (less then 10 tefachim) and is a problem of techum shabbos
Baal Hamaor - it is talking about where you will most probably have to do melacha for pikuach nefesh (boat trips were dangerous then) on shabbos
Ramban - it is talking about where the only people on the boat are Jews so the non-Jew is doing melacha for a Jew.

The Shulchan Aruch (סימן רמ"ח)seems to go with the Rif and the Rambam, however the din of techumim and pikuach nefesh is mentioned as well.

It comes out based on the above that nowadays it would be permitted to go on a cruise ship on Friday because none of the reasons (except maybe for Tosafos which is not accepted) apply.

However, this din is quoted l'halacha in other circumstances. If a person is having elective surgery (e.g. hernia, knee operation, etc.) where the surgery is not urgent, then they should not schedule it within 3 days of shabbos if possible for 2 reasons.
1. Oneg shabbos, the first few days after surgery are the most painful and will take away from oneg shabbos
2. Pikuach nefesh - the first few days after surgery can be dangerous and according to the Baal Hamaor you are not allowed to put yourself in a situation (within 3 days of Shabbos) where there is a good possibility that you will need to do melacha for pikuach nefesh.

פרקי אבות - Ethics of the Fathers?

פרקי אבות is normally translated as Ethics of the Fathers, is this correct?

In fact, it is a machlokes. Rashi on the last mishna in פרקי אבות (which isn't really a mishna ואכמ"ל) comments that it is called אבות because it brings down the opinions of the אבות הגדולים, the great chachamim from Moshe through the אנשי כנסת הגדולה. Therefore to translate אבות as fathers is reasonable, although another word might be more appropriate.

Other mefarshim however, say that אבות is being used here like אבות מלאכות on shabbos and אבות נזיקין. In other words אבות meaning principles or building blocks. This name seems to fit better because this is really what פרקי אבות is, principles for living a torah true life.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

More on טומאת ארץ העמים

The Gemara in Avoda Zara (13a) states that a cohen is only allowed to leave Israel (because of the gezera of טומאת ארץ העמים) to learn torah, get married, or save his money from a goy. This is brought down l'halacha by the Rif, Rambam, Rosh, Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Siman שס"ט ושע"ב) in Yoreh Deah. However, the Maharshal and in his footsteps the Shach and Taz, say that this din doesn't apply nowadays.

This is very difficult because gezeros apply even if the reason doesn't apply. In fact, the Shvus Yaakov (quoted by the Pischei Teshuva on Shulchan Aruch) disagrees with them and claims that the din applies nowadays. It is clear that the Rif, Rosh, Tur and Shulchan Aruch hold this way as well, otherwise they would have left this din out. The Shvus Yaakov says that a Cohen who lives in Chutz Laaretz is considered an Anus and doesn't have to pick up and move but a Cohen who lives in Israel is only allowed to leave for the reasons listed in the Geara.

R' Akiva Eiger (סימן שס"ט) also is bothered why people don't observe this din. He offers 2 suggestions:
1. A person who has a parnasa in chutz laaretz is no worse then someone going to save his money from a goy
2. Since we are all tamei meis anyway the gezera doesn't apply (I don't understand why).

The Gra in או"ח סימן תקל"א ס"ק ד is also משמע that this din applies nowadays.

טומאת ארץ העמים

In yesterday's daf (Shabbos 15) the gemara discusses the gezera of טומאת ארץ העמים. Chazal made a gezera that חוץ לארץ has a din like a cemetary and therefore whoever goes to חוץ לארץ becomes a טמא מת.

This is a serious issue for Cohanim, how are they allowed to go/live in חוץ לארץ? After all they are prohibited from being מטמא למת and chazal gave חוץ לארץ a din of טמא מת.

The acharonim discuss what was the motivation for such a gezera? Some suggest that the motivation was ישוב ארץ ישראל, that by declaring טומאה on חוץ לארץ it would discourage people from leaving ארץ ישראל.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Take a shower and become טמא

Todays daf (Shabbos 14a) has a whole slew of gezeras relating to טומאה and טהרה. Among them is a gezera that anyone who takes a shower becomes a שני לטומאה and is מטמא תרומה. The reason being that the chachamim were afraid that people would think a shower is as good as the mikva. Although this gezera has no relevance nowadays, when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt and we have תרומה this will be very relevant, anyone taking a shower will need to go to the mikva.

The Mordechai applies the previous gezera in the gemara (if you take a shower after going to the mikva you are טמא) to hilchos nidda. The simple understanding of the gemara is that the chachamim made up a new טומאה and therefore it has no relevance to hilchos nidda. The Mordechai however learns that the pshat is that taking a shower cancels the tevila, and therefore a woman who goes to the mikva and then takes a shower is prohibited to her husband. We are machmir for this Mordechai לכתחילה. The poskim have different shiurim for how long she can't take a shower. One shiur given is until she is נוהג היתר with her husband, after that it is clear that the miva was matir and not the shower.

Today is the first day of בה"ב

What is בה"ב? It stands for Monday, Thursday, Monday. The בעלי התוספות instituted 3 fast days after Pesach and Succos to atone for any sins that we did over the Yom Tov (we ate too much, socialized with the opposite sex improperly, etc.). Because we are not allowed to fast in Nisan we observe it in the beginning of Iyar. Nowadays, there are very few people who actually fast. However, some shuls do say selichos (for example where I daven we said selichos this morning) .

It will be interesting to hear what the readers know/do about בה"ב, and therefore I would like to ask the following questions of the readers:

1. Had you heard of בה"ב before reading this blog?
2. Do you fast or know of anyone who fasts?
3. Do you (or your shul) say slichos?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Why in Sefira do we count up and not down?

Whenever a person anticipates an event they count down to it, 49 days left, 48 days left, etc. Why by sefiras haomer when we are counting to matan torah do we count up 1,2,3,...?

R' Pincus explains as follows. In Parshas Vayetze the Torah describes Yaakov's wait for Rachel as follows "ויהיו בעיניו כימים אחדים באהבתו אותה", they were like a few days because of his love of Rachel. If you ask anyone they will tell you just the opposite. When you are anticipating something that you want every day that you have to wait is torture. So why did the days go by quickly for Yaakov? R' Aharon Kotler explains as follows. Take 2 men A and B, A is promised $1,000,000 in 100 days while B is promised that he will have the opportunity over the next 100 days to make $10,000 a day. A will regard every day as an obstacle keeping him from his money and would like to skip over them. Therefore, each day is like torture. B on the other hand will cherish each day, each day needs to be utilized to it's fullest to make the $10,000. For him the days are meaningful and full and therefore pass by quickly. Yaakov was like B. He understood that he needed to utilize those 7 years to build himself up, to perfect hic character and his torah knowledge so that he could father the 12 shevatim. Therefore, for him, the 7 years were meaningful and full and therefore they passed by quickly.

The same concept can explain why we count up. The days of sefira are supposed to be days of growth where we prepare to receive the Torah. Just like B would count up, on day 1 he would say so far I have made $10,000, on day 2, $20,000, etc. we also count up to show that each day is valuable and that we are utilizing each day to it's fullest. Counting down on the other hand, shows that you don't value the days you just want them to pass, they are meaningless.

This is a great lesson for the days of sefira. We are not just counting down to matan torah. These are not just empty days. Rather we are supposed to be counting up, building oursleves up and preparing for matan torah by increasing our limud hatorah and kiyum hamitzvos.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Understanding davening: שבת היא מלזעוק ורפואה קרובה לבא

We hear these words every week on shabbos in the מי שבירך לחולים, what does it mean? In today's daf (Shabbos 12a) the gemara says that someone who goes to visit a sick person should say this (שבת היא מלזעוק ורפואה קרובה לבא) to the sick person. Rashi explains, we are telling the sick person to try not to be sad because it is shabbos and a person is supposed to be happy on shabbos. The Ran has a different peshat. He says we are telling the sick person that since it is shabbos we can't daven for him.

Rahsi's peshat fits in better with the מי שבירך לחולים, we say the מי שבירך and then we tell the people in shul, don't be upset about the sick person it is shabbos. However, according to the Ran it is a bit difficult, we are contradicting ourselves, we just said a prayer for the sick person and we end off by saying we really aren't allowed to daven for you. Maybe the pshat is that we are explaining why this is the only tefilla we are saying for the sick person.

To be mechadesh in machashava

The GH in his blog has devoted a lot of time to machshava/hashkafa issues and wonders why there is no new machshava coming out of the frum world. The follwoing anecdotes may explain things.

I heard the following from R' CY Goldvicht Rosh Yeshiva of KBY. He was a talmid of both the Chazon Ish and the Brisker Rav and a big baal machshava. He once asked the Chazon Ish why he only talks in halacha to his talimdim, why doesn't he talk hashkafa? The Chazon Ish answered that in Halacha there are boundaries. We have the words of the tannaim, then amoraim, then rishonim, acharaonim and the shulchan aruch. If we go off the path we will see it right away. In machshava, when we interpret a midrash, we are trying to say pshat in the words of the tannaim with no intervening generations. Also, there is no shulchan aruch and therefore it is very easy to make a mistake.

RHS told the following story about RYBS. Ater a shiur he gave in Moriah about aggada one of his talmidim came to the Rav and asked him where does he get it from? How does he know to say such big chiddushim in aggada. The Rav answered, and why don't you ask about my gemara shiurim? The talmid answered, there you have a basis, the rishonim, the acharonim, your grandfather, here there is none of that. The Rav answered, "my father taught me to read between the lines".

We see 2 things from these stories.

1. You need to be an adam gadol to say chiddushim in machshava, otherwise you are liable to make a mistake.
2. You need a Rebbe to teach you to read between the lines.

Even more important is to be humble. I detect a great amount of hubris nowadays, people think that because we know so much science and understand how the physical world works we are greater then previous generations. This leads to a zilzul in chazal. We need to understand that they were closer to matan torah and therefore had a much better understanding of hashem and torah.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

What should you wear for davening?

Today's daf (Shabbas 10) has the din that a person needs to be dressed properly for davening. The gemara states that a person cannot daven without a gartel (belt) based on the pasuk of הכון לקראת אלוקיך. The poskim explain that this means that a person needs to be fully dressed and ready to speak to the king.

RHS told over a funny story from R' Schwab. He was going to daven mincha and there was a businessman wearing a suit. The man had forgotten his gartel, so he took his tie off and used it as a gartel. R' Schwab commented that what the man did was incorrect. Nowadays, a gartel is a minhag, it is not part of a person's dress. However, a tie is an integral part of a person's dress (for businessman) and for many people if they are not wearing a tie they are not fully dressed. Therefore, the man would have been better off leaving the tie on and not davening with a gartel as the gartel is stam a minhag while the tie could be min hadin.

RHS mentioned a story about RYBS (in Nefesh Harav) that at some point the Rav stopped wearing a jacket for shacharis during the week. One of the talmidim asked him why? He explained that he started wearing R' Chaim's old tefillin, and the batim were very large so he couldn't put his arm with the tefillin on them into the sleeve. So what? He said that no one would walk around in the street or to meet an important person with their jacket on like that (one arm not in) and therefore he thought that it was more kavod not to wear the jacket at all.

In YU and other places, many people have a minhag to wear a jacket for davening. However, they wear any old light jacket (windbreaker). This minhag seems very difficult, the idea of wearing a jacket is this din of being fully dressed, wearing an ordinary light jacket would not seem to fulfill this din.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Moving to Israel

Given that tomorrow is Yom Haatzmaut I decided to write about this topic. Living in Israel I meet a lot of people (both young and old) who ask me why did I move to Israel? This question really annoys me becuase I think that it shows a warped viewpoint. The question everyone should be asking is why am I still in America? What is my heter? If you are not Satmar or Neturei Karta then the consensus opinion is that living in Israel is a mitzva d'oraysa nowadays (maybe only kiyumis). R' Zev Leff (not an RZ) has a tremendous essay in the book To Dwell in the Place, where he asks, how come people who are so medakdek on every din drabbanan don't even think to fulfill this mitzva d'oraysa? They don't even ask a question.

When I speak to kids who are in Israel for the year, it really bothers me when they announce that they have no intention of coming back to live here. That is a terrible thing. The education system has failed. Every Jew should realize that their place is in Israel. Yes, not everyone can get here, but if at the age of 18 you don't even aspire to come we have a big problem.

Israel is a small place. If all the religious Jews in America came it would have a tremendous effect on all aspects of life for the better. It is like the chicken and the egg, people don't want to come because of whatever, but things won't change until more religious people come.

Monday, May 09, 2005

2 difficult leniencies in halacha

There are 2 kulos in halacha that are very widely adopted and are very difficult.
1. Chodosh is permitted in חוץ לארץ
2. The fact that you need 600,000 people to make a רשות הרבים

I thought about these now because Pesach just passed meaning that there is no problem of chodosh, and the daf yomi just started learning the first perek of shabbos where the issur of הוצאה is discussed

1. There is a Torah prohibition not to eat any products of the five types of grains specified in the Torah (wheat, barley, oats, spelt, and rye) before the second day of Pesach, the 16th of Nissan, when the Korban Omer was brought. If planted before the 16th of Nissan, it may be used after that time. However, if planted (or actually take root) after that time, it may not be eaten before the 16th of Nissan of the following year. Therefore, wheat etc., planted during the summer and harvested in the fall, may not be eaten until after the next 16th of Nissan, in the spring. During the time that it is prohibited, it is known as "Chodosh", the new grain. When it is permissible, it is known as "Yoshon", the old grain. All grains sold during the spring and the summer can be assumed to be Yoshon, since it is likely that they were planted before the 16th of Nissan. The problem starts to arise when the spring and summer grains hit the market in the fall.

According to all the standard rules of pesak we should pasken that it applies in Chutz laaretz as this is the position of most of the Rishonim (including the Rambam). Everyone relies on the Bach who was matir. In his day and throughout the generations in Europe (as the acharonim say) it was a question of survival, without chodosh Jews would have had a hard time surviving. Obviously today the situation is much different.

The reason why this only recently became a problem in America is because for many, many years America had a surplus of wheat that they would store, and would only sell the older wheat to the millers. Therefore, all wheat was Yoshon. However, approximately 10-15 years ago they sold off their surplus wheat to the Russians, and the new wheat is hitting the market before the 16th day of Nissan. Although they once again have a surplus, the experts say that they are storing the older wheat indefinitely, and allowing the new wheat to come to the market.

Note: in Israel this is not an issue as chodosh is prohibited according to everyone and therefore all the hechsherim are makpid on chodosh.

2. One of the melachos of shabbos is הוצאה, you are not allowed to carry an object from a private domain to a public domain, in addition you cannot carry an object 4 amos in a public domain. The gemara at the beginning of Shabbos (daf yomi), define what is a רשות הרבים. Nowhere does it say that you need 600,000 people. Rashi (Tosafos also) came up with this idea in Eruvin. It is very difficult for a number of reasons, chief among them it doesn't say it in the gemara.

Why is this important? All our eruvin rely on the fact that we don't have a רשות הרבים min hatorah because they use a צורת הפתח (this requires a whole separate discussion which is not for now). Why don't we have a רשות הרבים min hatorah? because we lack 600,000 people (this is a big part of the controversy of the Brooklyn and Manhattan eruv). If we deny this requirement of 600,000 people, then all our eruvin are no good. Again, the accepted principles in psak would dictate that we should follow the more stringent opinion, however the minhag is to be מיקל.

The truth is that by chodosh more and more people are starting to be machmir. If you go into most of the kosher pizza stores in Brooklyn or in Queens you will see a sign קמח ישן. This really requires the kashrus agencies to decide that they want to be makpid on this.

The issue with eruvin is more difficult because without an eruv you condemn the women with little babies to sit inside all shabbos. I know a number of people who they themselves are machmir not to use an eruv, but allow their wife to use the eruv. This is very difficult to me, if you think it is assur how can yu let your wife do it and if you think it is mutar so why are you machmir?

In any case, we find that in these 2 cases the minhag seems to override the halacha.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Payists part 1

In this past weeks Parsha, Kedoshim, the Torah has the din of פאות הראש. I would like to discuss some of the halachos:

I. Where do the פאות הראש end?
Rashi on the mishna in מכות כ comments that the head is divided into 2 parts, the hair and the face. The dividing line is the bone on the side of the ear. In other words, פאות הראש are up until the middle of the ear. Rashi says this on the gemara as well and in Shavuos (6a) also. The Tur paskens this way. However the Beis Yosef found another Rashi on the mishna, where Rashi writes that פאות הזקן start below the ear and anything above that is פאות הראש. The shulchan aruch in סימן קפ"א is machmir like this opinion.

However, many acharonim disagree and point otu that the the shulchan aruch is like none of the rishonim. The ארץ הצבי brings an interesting proof. He points out that people whose beard is a different color then their hair, the changeover occurs in the middle of the ear and therefore we see clearly that the middle of the ear is the dividing line. This seems to be the accepted minhag.

II. How much hair needs to be cut off?
There is a machlokes the Rambam and the Semag from one end of the spectrum to the other. The semag based on a Tosefta in מכות פרק ד says that if you cut off even 2 hairs in the area of פאות הראש you are chayav. The Rambam seems to hold as follows. Min Hatorah, you only violate the issur if you cut off all the hair, if you leabe even 2 hairs you are not chayav. M'drabbanan you need to leave either 4 or 40 hairs. Rashi sounds like he agrees with the Rambam

III. How can you cut the hair?
Again a machlokes, the Rosh and the Rambam. The Rambam holds that it is just like פאות הזקן, you are only chayav with a razor. The Rosh holds that you are chayav even with מספרים כעין תער.

IV. What is the shiur for each hair?
According to the Rosh that you are chayav for מספרים כעין תער how long does each hair have to be? The poskim point out that the shiur of hair in general is to bend back the hair on itself, about a half a centimeter. In other words, ע"פ דין, there is absolutely no source for long payists. Each hair has to a 1/2 centimeter long, that is it.

To be continued ...

Friday, May 06, 2005

Yom Hashoa

Many people have been discussing why the religious world (especially UO) doesn't observe Yom Hashoa, and why the religious world didn't make it's own day. I believe that there are 2 main reasons:
1. The Yom Hashoa ceremonies, are just that, ceremonies. As RYBS said (see Nefesh Harav pp. 94-95) Judaism does not believe in ceremonies. Whatever we do needs to be a kiyum of some din. To stand silent for 2 minutes is a ceremony taken from the non-Jews and has no kiyum in din. The Jewish response to tragedy is fasting, mourning, learning for the person etc., not ceremonies.
2. The Chazon Ish writes (Igros Chazon Ish letter 97) that to be קובע תענית is like to make תקנה דרבנן. Our generation is not on that level to do such a thing. And therefore he says we should not make any new day of memorial. We are not at the proper level to make such a תקנה. In other words, the proper response would be to קובע תענית, however we are not at the level to make such a תקנה. When chazal made dinim d'rabbanan they did it with soem aspect of ruach hakodesh which we lack.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

חטא בשביל שיזכה חבירך

Are you allowed to sin to save your friend from a worse sin? The gemara in Shabbos (4a), tommorrow's daf, discusses this point. The gemara discusses the following case. Someone put bread in the oven on Shabbos. If it stays in the oven they will violate the issur d'oraysa of bishul. Taking it out would violate an issur d'rabbanan of r'diyas hapas. Are you allowed to take out the bread and save your friend from an issur d'oraysa? The gemara says no. Tosfaos asks, but we find cases where people freed their slaves (which is an issur d'oraysa) so that they could do a mitzva? Tosafos gives 2 answers.
1. A mitzva rabah is mutar. You are allowed to do an aveira to allow your friend to do a mitzva rabba
2. It is mutar if your friend is not at fault.

This is very relevant halacha l'maase regarding kiruv. Many times people working in kiruv need to violate an issur d'rabbanan, based on these 2 opinions in Tosafos there is room to be lenient. This is discussed in earlier poskim regarding cases where a person's child was kidnapped on shabbos to became a priest or nun. Can the parents be mechalel shabbos to try to save them?

These are very difficult questions and need to be answered by a real posek. I am posting this to raise awareness of the issue and show how while learning daf yomi you get many yedios in shas.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Who is entitled to an opinion about Torah issues?

Why is it that most people would never offer an opinion on a complicated medical issue, legal issue, physics issue, etc. because they understand that they just have no clue, while on complicated halachic and hashkafic issues every Joe Yid feels that he has the right to offer an opinion even though in reality he has no clue? Just like we understand that it takes years to master physics it takes years to master torah.

I recently saw a post on a blog discussing miracles, techiyas hameisim and other related topics. With all due respect to the posters there, they are discussing deep issues which require years of learning to understand, and have a myriad of sources that they have never seen. What makes them think that they are competent to discuss something like techiyas hameisim? Have these people even learned shas once?

Let's imagine instead of techiyas hameisim we were discussing quantum physics, bio-chemistry, particle physics, etc. Would you offer an opinion about whether something that Stephen Hawkings (pick your expert) said is correct or not? I would venture to say no, because you realize that you really have no clue about the subject and what seems illogical/impossible to you from your laymans/ignoramus perspective may be perfectly logical and correct to someone who has devoted to their life to this.

The same applies to Torah. Most people are layman who have not spent years learning Shas (bavli and yerushalmi), poskim, medrashim, zohar, etc. The GRA, Beis Yosef, Rambam, Ramban, etc. did. Therefore most people are not qualified to offer an opinion on these torah issues just like they are not qualified to offer an opinion about quantum physics. Imagine if you went to Stephen Hawkings and told him that you believe or don't believe in black holes because you it sounds logical to you, would he take you seriously? He would laugh you out the door, what do you know about black holes? The same applies to some Joe Yid making a similar statement about techiyas hameisim, miracles, sheydim, etc. In fact, it applies more to Torah because to really understand Torah a person has to be ממית עצמו and needs siyata dishmaya.

What about this blog? After all I post about halachic and hashkafic issues, why am I entitled to an opinion? The answer is that I only post things that I have heard from my Rabbeim or are basic halachos. I learned in YU (and in the Morasha Kollel) for a good number of years and picked up my derech in learning as well as my hashkafos from my Rebbeim, R' Willig and R' Shachter. Basically what I write on this blog relating to Torah is based on what I learned from them.

Siyum on Berachos today

The daf yomi is finishing Berachos today, for all those who are learning daf yomi congratulations.

I am very happy with my decision to start learning daf yomi, I fell that I am getting a lot from it (you can even see it from the posts that I have made here with things from the daf yomi). The best thing is the fact that you can't miss a day no matter what. It creates a feeling of obligation and קביעות that is hard to match.

Monday, May 02, 2005

How do you explain not shaving during sefira?

I am not shaving (since the first day of Pesach) until Lag Baomer. I am not good at explaining why to people at work . Saying that the talmidim of R' Akiva died 2000 years ago doesn't really move anyone. Anyone have a good way of explaining this minhag to no-religious Jews or non-Jews?

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Non-literal interpretation of aggada

The gemara at the end of berachos (54b) has a bizarre story about Og. The gemara describes how Og had planned to destroy Israel. He planned to uproot a mountain three miles in size, throw it upon them and kill them. The gemara then goes on to describe how Moshe killed Og. I am not the one who calls this wild. The Maharsha comments on this story "זר הוא" that the story is bizarre. The Maharsha then proceeds to quote a Rashba who interpreted the story allegorically and the Maharsha himself offers a differetn allegorical interpretation.

We see from here that we not every statement of Chazal needs to be taken literally.

US Tax Day is good for the American Jews of Israel

April 15th passed not so long ago and while those of you living in the US dreaded that day when you have to pay your taxes, here in Israel, many American citizens are happy when tax day comes around. Those of us who work in Israel get money back from the US Government. A number of years ago, the US introduced a refundable child tax credit which started at $600 a child and is now $1000 a child. American citizens who live, work, and pay taxes in Israel, report their Israeli income to the IRS, but, because taxes are higher in Israel then in the US the taxes paid in Israel more then offset any tax that would be owed to the US government (by treaty there is no double taxation). Therefore, they end up owing no taxes to the US government and because the tax paid in Israel more then offsets the tax that would have been due in the US, they end up receiving a refund of almost $1000 a child. This has become widespread in Israel and I would guess that many/most Americans living in Israel are doing this. Note, this is perfectly legal and legitimate, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, it is just a unintended consequence of the changes in the US tax system.

The truth is the money is going to a good cause, the readers who live in the US are helping support ישוב ארץ ישראל.

I'm back after Pesach

I had a very enjoyable Pesach in which I turned off the outside world for a week. I will now be back to my regular blogging schedule.