Thursday, June 30, 2005

An approach to learning

There are a number of problems with the contemporary approach to learning.

1. In Yeshivas hardly any ground is covered. This is not just my complaint, if you read R' Shach's letters he complains about how in a year in many Yeshivas they maybe learn 20 blatt.
2. There is little emphasis on review (chazara). This is especially apparent among those who work and who have a limited amount of time. For example, someone who has 1-2 hours a day to learn and spends most of it at a daf yomi shiur will have little or no time to review. This leads to in one ear out the other. I don't mean to pick on Daf Yomi, but how many people who learn Daf Yomi can tell me what is on shabbos daf 48 which was learned not long ago? I myself found this problem with Daf Yomi, the pace moves so fast that you have no time to review. This is also a problem in Yeshivas, chazara is not stressed nearly enough.

Recently, I started learning an Amud Yomi, with massive chazara and tests. You spend much more time reviewing then learning something new, yet an amud yomi is not a bad pace. I find that I actually remember the gemara and can tell you the whole shakla v'tarya of the 5 blatt that I took a test on. There is also an emphasis on who said what. I think that is very important as well, to know which Ammoraim and Tannaim said what. This is also neglected nowadays.

This approach is not foolproof, it doesn't deal with learning b'iyun. I personally, have enough time to do all the chazaras (review the day's amud at least 5 times, plus spend a half an hour reviewing previous amudim) and still be m'ayen. This approach gives me the best of both worlds. I am covering ground but on certain interesting sugyas I can go deeper into the gemara, rishonim, etc. So far, I am very happy with this approach, I feel that using this approach, I will actually retain the information.

People might think, tests? Who wants to take tests? The tests are a tremendous thing. They give you a goal, they force you to chazer (no one wants to look like an idiot), and they give you an impartial assessment of how you are doing.

I wish that I had taken this approach when I was learning in Yeshiva. If from the age of 18-25 I had done something like this, learning either an amud or a daf a day with massive chazara (2-3 hours a day total), and periodic tests, while still learning b'iyun in the mornings, I would have a mastery of most of shas on a basic pshat level.

I am not advocating not learning b'iyun in yeshiva, what I am advocating is a structured program of bekius where in a few years guys can master much of shas on a basic pshat level.

I conclude with a story.

A Hungarian godol once visited R' Chaim in Brisk. R' Chaim pointed to his 14 year old son Velvel (who became the Brisker Rav) and said proudly he knows all of shas with Rashi. The Hungarian godol asked in astonishment, I thought in Brisk you advocated iyun, chiddushim??? R' Chaim answered, certainly we do, but if someone doesn't know shas with Rashi he can't say even begin to be m'ayen and say chiddushim.

We need to get back to the basics, people need a solid grounding in gemara and Rashi so that their learning b'iyun is meaningful. I think that an amud yomi, with a lot of chazara and yes, tests, is a very good way to do it.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Working hard in learning torah

The story of the מרגלים is a troubling story. You have the leaders of the Jewish people, tzadikim, suddenly do a terrible sin, why?

One approach is as follows. The leaders made the following calculation. Things were good in the midbar. They had a spiritual life with no effort. Manna came down from heaven every morning. If they had a question they asked Moshe who asked Hashem. In short, spirituality was handed to them on a silver platter. On the other hand they realized that in Israel life would change radically. They would not live a life of nissim, manna would not fall from heaven. They would have to work hard to retain their spiritually. If they had a question in Torah they would have to figure out the answer.

Based on the above, the meraglim decided life was better in the midbar and therefore did what they did.

What was their sin? They didn't want to work hard at their spirituality. They wanted everything handed to them on a silver platter.

This message is especially relevant nowadays in the executive summary/fast food society of ours. No one has time to work hard on something, everyone wants everything to come easy. No one wants to sit and sweat over pshat in a gemara, they want it spoon fed to them. This is one of the reasons why there is such a proliferation of (kitzur)handbook sefarim, people are not willing to put in the effort to learn the sources. this is why the Artscroll gemaras have become so popular, they make learning gemara easy.

I would like to go a bit further with this. Learning torah is different then learning any other discipline. Other subjects, what is paramount is that you obtain the knowledge, how you get there is irrelevant. The bottom line is what do you know. In torah this is not true. In torah, how you get there is more important then what you know. The act of learning torah is the mitzva. If someone could magically impress on your brain all of torah, that would be nice, but you would get no mitzva for that. The Mitzva is to learn it yourself. Hashem wants us to be עמלים (work hard) in Torah. Nowadays, we have lost this. People would rather take it easy with an Artcsroll gemara then break their head to understand the sugya.

After 120 years a person will not be asked what they know, but, did you fulfill your potential. There may be a guy who knew all of Shas because he was a genius, but his potential was that he could have been another Vilna Gaon. In this world he was very respected guy he knew Shas, however his potential was so much greater. On the other hand there may be an average guy who fulfilled his potential but never even really knew shas. In this world he was basically ignored, he worked hard at learning but was not that successful. But, he fulfilled his potential. Who do you think will get the bigger reward in the next world.? This is what the gemara means when it says עולם הפוך. In torah learning effort not results is what ultimately counts.

Some people will misinterpret this to mean that I am saying a person can sit and learn all day and know nothing. Absolutely not. What I am saying is that a person is judged by his potential, every person needs to maxmize it. It is amazing to see what an average person can do if they really push themselves (more about this in upcoming posts), but the average person will not become the Godol Hador and in shamayim no one will ask him why he wasn't the godol hador.

One of the good things about my commute to work is that it gives me time to think. Many times, in the morning I learn a piece of gemara with my chavrusa and something bothers us. On the way to work for an hour I think about it, I think about the question, possible answers, etc. and many times after an hour or 2 I will either have an answer or at least a better understanding of why it is really a question. The only way to come up with a chiddush is to sit and think. Unfortunately most people never really think in learning. They run right away to look in some sefer for an answer.

The proliferation of sefarim is both a blessing and a curse. For many, it makes life too easy, they never have to think about what is a question and what is an answer, Artscroll (or some other sefer) spoon feeds it to them.

Don't get me wrong, Artscroll and other aids have their place. They have allowed many people who couldn't learn gemara without it learn. The problem is that they allow many other people who could learn gemara if they worked hard at it be lazy and not push themselves.

Every person has to evaluate their situation and balance where they are to understand how they should go about learning.

In the next few days I am going to post about more about derech halimud.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

How does the Jewish calendar work today?

The first mitzva given to the Jewish people is החדש הזה לכם the mitzva of קידוש החדש. This meant that Rosh Chodesh was determined by the testimony of the witnesses in front of the בית דין and that it was their determination and pronouncement that actually made it Rosh Chodesh. At some point about 1800 years ago this stopped and since then we have been using a fixed calendar. The obvious question is how does this work?

The Rambam states both in the Sefer Hamitzvos and the Mishna Torah that there are 2 systems in halacha of determining when Rosh Chodesh is.
1.קידוש החדש
2.A הלכה למשה מסיני of חשבון (calculation, e.g. the calender).

According to the Rambam when קידוש החדש stopped about 1800 years ago, the הלכה למשה מסיני of the calendar kicked in.

The Rambam writes that nowadays what is מקדש is the ניהוג of ראש חדש by the Jews in Israel. Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh (5,13)
זה שאנו מחשבין בזמן הזה כל אחד ואחד בעירו ואומרין שראש חודש יום פלוני, ויום טוב ביום פלוני--לא בחשבון שלנו אנו קובעין ולא עליו אנו סומכין, שאין מעברין שנים וקובעין חודשים בחוצה לארץ; ואין אנו סומכין, אלא על חשבון בני ארץ ישראל וקביעתם. וזה שאנו מחשבין, לגלות הדבר בלבד: כיון שאנו יודעין שעל חשבון זה הן סומכין, אנו מחשבין לידע יום שקבעו בו בני ארץ ישראל איזה יום הוא; ובקביעת בני ארץ ישראל אותו הוא שיהיה ראש חודש או יום טוב, לא מפני חשבון שאנו מחשבין.

RYBS explains the Rambam as follows. He has a יסוד (with many proofs, not for now) that one of the jobs of the Sanhedrin is to represent the Jewish nation (this is for example why real semicha can only be given in Israel). Based on this he explains as follows. קידוש החדש is really a mitzva on all of the Jewish nation. However, all of the Jewish people cannot do קידוש החדש, therefore the Sanhedrin does it as our representative. However, when we switch over to the הלכה למשה מסיני of חשבון, the mitzva reverts back to the Jewish nation and it is the ניהוג of the Jewish nation that is what is actually מקדש, and because the Jewish people as a nation only exists in Israel (there are many proofs to this, not for now) it is the קביעות of the Jews living in Israel which is what is actually מקדש the חדש.

This Rambam is used to answer the question of why the Rambam left out the mitzva of ישוב הארץ?

Some answer that we see from this Rambam that ישוב הארץ is not just a regular mitzva, the whole calendar depends on jews living in Israel and therefore it is a mitzva כללית and according to the Rambam's principles is not listed.

In any case, we see the tremendous emphasis the Rambam placed on living in Israel.

The Ramban disagrees with the Rambam and claims that he never heard of such a הלכה למשה מסיני, rather, he explains that the calendar is really based on the regular halacha of קידוש החדש. The chachamim at that time got together and were actually מקדש all the future ראשי חדשים, and they left us a calendar which tells us what days they were מקדש.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

My (crazy) schedule

This is my weekday schedule:

5:30 - 6:30 - learn in shul with a chavrusa before davening
6:30 - 7:15 - shacharis
7:15 - 8:15 - breakfast with the kids, help get them up and out
8:15 - 8:30 - take kids to school
8:30 - 9:30 - drive to work, while driving I usually go over what I learned in the morning
9:30 - 7:00 - work
7:00 - 8:00 - drive home, while driving I either, go over what I learned in the morning again, listen to a shiur, listen to the radio (news or talk), or just think about things
8:00 - 9:00 - eat dinner, help my son with his homework, talk to my wife
9:00 - 10:30 - Night seder in the shul/beis medrash
10:30 - relax, read blogs, have a snack, get ready for bed, etc.

All in all a very busy schedule with very little free time and not enough sleep time.

My schedule is so different from everyone else's at work that many times it feels like I am from a different planet. Most people at work don't get up before 7 and spend the night watching TV, movies, sports, etc. We have little or no common ground except for work.

Of course to keep such a schedule requires a wife who will allow it and even encourage it. There is no question that my schedule is very tough on my wife. I am hardly around during the week. She needs to deal with the kids in the afternoon, give them supper, put them to sleep, clean up, deal with the house, etc. with little or no help from me. This is the mark of a true אשת חיל, encouraging her husband to go out and learn Torah even when it makes her life more difficult.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Not Answering 'Amen' to the Second Bracha of Shema: Explaining the Mishna Berura

Adderabbi has an excellent post ( Mistaken Minhag - Not Answering 'Amen' to the Second Bracha of Shema: The Unabridged Version") tracing this halacha from the sources. He concludes

the Mishna Berurah INVENTS a doubt about what to do in that scenario, INVENTS a machloket between Ramah and Rambam, and then reads it back into the Shulkhan Arukh!

I would like to explain the basis for the psak of the Mishna Berura and show that it was not a mistake and that it has a solid basis. To really understand this post you should read Adderabbi's post first.

The Tur in Siman 59 brings down a Rosh. The Rosh says that his practice was to say the words of bircas krias shema with the chazan, but that it’s proper for one to finish up the bracha before the sha”tz so that he can answer ‘amen’, because it’s inappropriate to do so if he finishes along with the sha”tz (because then it would be like answering ‘amen’ to his own bracha). The Rosh furthermore doesn’t differentiate between the brachot of ‘yotzer’ and ‘ha-bocher’. The same practice should apply for both, namely finish before the chazzan and answer amen.

The Beis Yosef there is bothered by the following question. He asks how can the Rosh have answered amen to הבוחר it should be a הפסק? Remember, the Rosh was saying amen to the chazan's bracha because he finished before the chazan. Already we see that the Beis Yosef entertained the possibility that even answering amen to the chazan is a הפסק and therefore he is bothered by the question. He quotes the Rambam, Rabbeinu Yonah, and the Ramban who all say that you are not allowed to be מפסיק between הבוחר and shema.

The Beis Yosef gives 2 answers:
1. There is a fundamental dispute what is the nature of the beracha of הבוחר. The Rambam, Ramban, and Rabbeinu Yonah all hold that it is connected to shema (most probably a bircas hamitzva, the Ramban at the beginning of Berachos says this explicitly) and therefore there is a probnlem of הפסק, while the Rosh holds that it is not connected to shema and therefore there is no problem of הפסק
2. We differentiate between answering amen to your own beracha vs answering amen to the chazan's beracha. The Rambam etc. only prohibited answering amen to your own beracha, answering amen to the chazzan's beracha is not considered a הפסק.

We see explicitly that according to the first answer of the Beis Yosef answering amen to the chazan by הבוחר is a problem of הפסק according to the Rambam etc. The Biur Halacha paskens like this answer in the Beis Yosef and therefore recommends to finish with the chazzan and not answer amen.

However, there is a problem. The Beis Yosef himself seems to go with the second answer at the end when he quotes the Ramah that if you finish before the chazan you do answer amen. He says explicitly that you do answer amen to the chazzan.

If we stopped here the Mishna Berura would be in trouble. However, when we look in Shulchan Aruch we get a different picture. The Beis Yosef (there on the Tur) paskened explicitly that you say the 2 berachos of shema with the chazzan and you don't answer amen (to your own beracha) to either one of them. In Shulchan Aruch (49,4) he states
The Brachot of ‘Yotzer’ and ‘Arvit’ (i.e., the first bracha of Shema), one
should say quietly along with the Sha”tz, and he should not answer ‘amen’ at
the conclusion of “ha-bocher…” because it’s a ‘hefsek’.

If we look carefully we see that he left out the halacha of not answering amen to the first beracha of shema. He starts out talking about the first beracha (that it should be said with the chazzan) and then says you don't answer amen to the second beracha. What about the first beracha? Why didn't he say that you don't answer amen?

This seem to be the basis for the Mishna Berura. The Mishna Berura understood that if the Shulchan Aruch was just taking about the din of not answering your own beracha (as Adderabbi posits), then why single out הבוחר, the same halacha applies to the first beracha as well (which he did say on the Tur). Therefore it must be that the shulchan aruch is telling us a halacha that only applies to הבוחר, namely the din of הפסק (the din of not answering your own beracha is well known and paskened in hilchos berachos so he didn't mention it here). Once we come on to הפסק, then we are back to his first answer in the Beis Yosef where he explicitly said that the problem of הפסק applies even to the beracha of the Chazzan. Therefore the Mishna Berura paskens that according to the shulchan aruch you shouldn't answer amen to הבוחר because of הפסק.

The Gra (as Adderabbi pointed out) clearly disagrees withe the Mishna Berura because he explains the reason for the shulchan aruch as having to do with answering amen to your own beracha.

To summarize, the Mishna Berura is going with the Beis Yosef's first answer in the Tur, that there is a problem of הפסק even by the chazzan, he feels compelled to say this based on the fact that the Shulchan Aruch left out the din of not answering amen by the first beracha.

You can certainly argue on this analysis of the Mishna Berura but it clearly has a basis and is not a mistake.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Putting garbage into an empty garbage can on Shabbos

Yesterday's daf (Shabbos 43) has the din of מבטל כלי מהיכנו, which means that you take a כלי and put some מוקצה into it rendering the כלי unfit for use the rest of Shabbos. Rashi on the mishna (42b) says that the prohibition is based on בונה. Since you are causing the כלי to be fixed in place (you aren't allowed to move מוקצה) it looks like בונה. Rashi later on in Shabbos states that it is based on סותר. You are taking a כלי which is fit for use on shabbos and making it unfit for shabbos.

Based on this, we have the following problem. Most people take out the garbage before Shabbos. If the garbage can is empty on Shabbos, then when you put garbage in on Shabbos it should be a problem of מבטל כלי מהיכנו. You are taking the garbage can which is a כלי and putting מוקצה into it. Therefore, some people are machmir to make sure to put in a piece of garbage before Shabbos.

The minhag is to be מיקל, what is the basis? Many say that since the garbage can is made to put garbage into it and that is it's whole purpose it is not called מבטל כלי מהיכנו. This makes a lot of sense if the prohibition is based on סותר. Since putting garbage into the can is it's purpose in life you can't call it סותר, you aren't destroying the כלי you are using it. However, if the prohibition is based on בונה this shouldn't matter, you are making the garbage can unmovable.

The bottom line is that most poskim are מיקל.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

כלי שני אינו מבשל why not?

Daf Yomi recently learned the gemara in Shabbos(40b) which states a principle that כלי שני אינו מבשל. The question is why not?

There are 2 possible approaches:
1. It is a דין. In other words the halacha states that cooking in a כלי שני is not called cooking. We find for example that בישול בחמה is permitted.
2. It is a מציאות, the gemara is telling us an empirical fact, that in general a כלי שני doesn't cook.

Many of the Rishonim state explicitly that כלי שני אינו מבשל is a מציאות. The Rashba there in Shabbos, the יראים quoted by many other rishonim and others. Tosafos there also seems to say this because they explain the difference between a כלי ראשון and a כלי שני based on מציאות, that a כלי ראשון has hot walls while a כלי שני doesn't.

The gemara about קלי הבישול seems to support this position. The simple reading of the gemara (39a and other places) is that there are certain things that are easily cooked and you are חייב if you cook them in a כלי שני. If it was a din then how wcould you be chayav by קלי הבישול?

None of the Rishonim (that I saw) say explicitly that it is a דין (however see Tosafos shabbos 42a where they discuss a hot bath and other Rishonim (Ramban, Ritva) which could be interpreted this way). However the אור שמח (hilchos shabbos perek 9) goes with this idea explicitly, and explains it as follows. He says that the gemara states that cooking in halacha is defined as by fire or the result of a fire. He says that a כלי שני is so far removed from the fire that it can't be called תולדות האש and therefore is not considered cooking in halacha. This is similar to the din that cooking in the sun is not considered cooking. He explains that קלי הבישול is a gezera because people do cook קלי הבישול in a כלי שני therefore they prohibited it m'drabbanan.

There are a number of practical differences in halacha regarding this question, I will mention 2 of them:
1. If the כלי שני is really hot. The Chayei Adam based on a Rambam in Maaser Sheni holds that if the כלי שני is boiling hot (if you touch it you will get burned) then the rule of כלי שני אינו מבשל doesn't apply. This is clearly going with the 2, that it is a מציאות, according to the אור שמח it shouldn't matter.
2. Is there a קולא of כלי שלישי? The Mishna Berura quotes a Pri megadim who is מיקל by a כלי שלישי by קלי הבישול, that you would be permitted to put them in a כלי שלישי. The Chazon Ish and others disagree. they hold that there is no difference between a כלי שני and a כלי שלישי based on Tosafos, both have cold walls and both have the same amount of heat. If you hold like 2 then the kula of כלי שלישי makes no sense. However according to the אור שמח that כלי שני אינו מבשל is a din and the humra by קלי הבישול is only a din drabbanan, then it makes sense to say that the gezera was only made on a כלי שני and not on a כלי שלישי.

Interestingly enough, the Mishna Berura quotes both of these dinim. He is machmir like the Chayei Adam which is based on מציאות and מיקל like the Pri Megadim which seems to be based on the fact that it is a din and not a מציאות.

At first glance opinion 1 (din) seems much more logical then 2. It seems very difficult to say that the gemara is telling us a מציאות without qualifying it. If the Chayei Adam is right how come the gemara didn't warn us about it. The Chayei Adam's scenario is not so uncommon and leads to an issur d'oraysa. The gemara's statement lends itself to be interpreted as a general principle in halacha not a מציאות. Therefore I was very happy to see the אור שמח expound the position of din explicitly.

There is another way to understand Tosafos in Shabbos. Tosafos holds that כלי שני אינו מבשל is because it is not the normal way to cook in a כלי שני and tosafos is just explaining why, because the walls are cold and therefore people don't generally cook in such a כלי. This is very similar to the אור שמח that really it is a din not a מציאות. The difference would be if you had a כלי שני that people did cook in, or food that people normally cook in a כלי שני such as קלי הבישול then it would be an issur d'oraysa according to Tosafos while according to the אור שמח it is never an issur doraysa.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

קבלת התורה of תורה שבעל פה

The gemara in Shabbos comments that Hashem held the mountain over the Jewish people's head and forced them to accept the Torah. The obvious question is that they said נעשה ונשמע. The acharonim point out that the medrash in Noach asks this question and answers that they said נעשה ונשמע on תורה שבכתב but they had to be forced to accept תורה שבעל פה because it is infinite and hard to master. It was only at the time of Purim where the Jews were mekabel תורה שבעל פה out of their own free will (קימו וקיבלו) and this is why the flowering of the תורה שבעל פה only came about in the time of the second beis hamikdash.

RYBS explained the idea of kedushas haaretz based on this. He explained that all kedusha stems from Torah, it is the only source of kedusha. If so, where does kedushas haaretz come from. He explained that when Bnei Yisrael conquered Israel they sent the Aron in front of them which actually won the battles, the Aron represents תורה שבכתב and therefore the land was niskadesh with the kedusha based on תורה שבכתב.

Based on this he explained why kedusha rishona didn't last while kedusha shniya lasts until today.

The Rambam already gives a cryptic explanation, that the first kedusha was based on כיבוש and therefore since the land was conquered from them it was destroyed while the second kedusha was based on חזקה. However, this is not easily understood why should this be so.

The Rav explained as follows. The first kedusha was based on תורה שבכתב which is finite and physical and therefore just like the תורה שבכתב can be destroyed so too the kedusha can be destroyed. The second kedusha on the other hand was kedusha b'peh, based on תורה שבעל פה which is not physical and infinite and therefore the kedusha it produces cannot be destroyed. The first kedusha had to be based on תורה שבכתב because that was all they had, they had not accepted תורה שבעל פה out of their own free will. Only at the time of the second Beis Hamikdash after they had already accepted תורה שבעל פה freely could they use it's power to be mekadesh the land.

Friday, June 10, 2005

How much different is Charedi society then Saudia Arabia II?

My previous post was not written well and therefore misinterpreted. I will restate the point I was trying to make in different terms.

There is a fundamental clash of culture between Western liberal democracy (especially the US) and fundamentalist Islam (Saudia Arabia being an example), and Orthodox (especially Charedi) Judaism.

Using the US as an example (since that is where I was born and lived most of my life) let us look at a number of the fundamental principles underlying the US:
1. All men are created equal
2. Freedom of religion
3. Freedom of speech
4. Democracy

All of these are denied by Orthodox Judaism and Fundamentalist Islam.
1. All men are created equal - non-believers are not equal, women are not equal, etc.
2. Freedom of religion - hilchos avoda zara
3. Freedom of speech - various issurim of mekallel hashem etc.
4. Democracy - this is self evident

Therefore, if you would take a halachic state and look it from an American viewpoint it would not look much different from the outside then Saudia Arabia.

There is a simple test. A Charedi Jew can live very well and prosper in the US without the government really bothering him. He/she can dress the way they want, educate their children for the most part the way they, etc. The same could not be said for a halachic state. Put the average American in a halachic state and they would have to change their way of life. They couldn't dress the same way, worship, etc. From that perspective it is not very different from Saudia Arabia.

That was really my point. I was not trying to compare the 2 any more then that.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

How much different is Charedi society then Saudia Arabia?

This sounds very strange but when you think about it you realize that it is not so far-fetched. The NY Times has an interesting article Reformers in Saudi Arabia: Seeking Rights, Paying a Price. Many of the things mentioned in the article could apply in some measure to Charedi society as well. Some examples:
  • The overwhelming emphasis on religious education to the detriment of secular education

  • The complete segregation of the sexes (think of the Tznius patrol etc.)

  • The role of women

  • The intolerance of dissent (e.g. the Slifkin affair)

  • The denigration of science and Western culture in general

The list goes on.

Clearly there are major differences, especially regarding respect for life, and many many other issues, but I still believe that the comparison is valid.

Today it is almost impossible to close your society off from the rest of the world as the Saudis are seeing. The Charedi leadership is attempting to do the same thing by banning internet, cell phones, etc. I am very skeptical that this will work and this approach may cause major problems when Charedim are exposed to the outside world with little or no preparation.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Putting cold food on a hotplate on Shabbos

Daf Yomi just started פרק כירה which discusses these issues.

The first mishna there has a gezera that you are not allowed to put food even on a covered fire on shabbos (even where there is no problem of bishul). The Rishonim offer 2 reasons why:
1. שמא יחתה בגחלים - maybe you will stoke the coals
2. מחזי כמבשל - it looks like you are cooking

Based on this a number of poskim (R' Moshe, R' Eider, R' Willig) hold that the issur doesn't apply to a non-adjustable hotplate because there is no שמא יחתה בגחלים because you cannot change the temperature, and it is not מחזי כמבשל because no one cooks on such a hotplate. Therefore they hold that you can heat up solid cooked foods on shabbos on a hotplate. The Shmiras Shabbos disagrees. Note, it is not so simple to just be machmir, because you are taking away from your oneg shabbos, it is clearly more oneg shabbos to have hot food.

R' Moshe has another interesting chidush (not למעשה). He says that our stove tops should never need a blech. He explains that the whole reason for a blech is to prevent שמא יחתה בגחלים, with out stove tops that is impossible, there are no coals to stoke. What about turning up the gas? That is adding fuel which the gemara was never gozer on.

Interestingly enough, R' Aharon Kotler also dealt with this point albeit differently. He said that since today the worry is that a person will turn up the gas, the blech needs to cover the knobs (maybe it doesn't even need to cover the fire) so that the person will have a reminder not to turn up the gas.

Lastly, the Chazon Ish holds that the idea of grufa uktuma in the Mishna is that it lowered the heat significantly and therefore he holds that what we call a blech is no good as it doesn't lower the heat. According to him you need a blech like an upside down pot which does lower the heat.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

More about צאת הכוכבים

The Daf Yomi shiur that I go to is given by a big Talmid Chacham who is UO (he has been learning in Kollel for 12+ years). It was interesting to see how he dealt with R' Tam being against reality. Basically he threw up his hands and said the simplest answer is to say נשתנה הטבע. To me this is difficult to accept, there is absolutely zero evidence for that (certainly not since R' Tam's time which is less then 1000 years ago). I would rather say that R' Tam made a mistake in science. The fact is that one of the main acharonim who discusses this topic, the Minchas Cohen, made a clear error in science. He writes that even thought where he lived in Europe reality contradicts R' Tam, but it must be that in Israel R' Tam corresponds to reality. Of course, in fact, twilight is shorter in Israel then Europe and therefore contradicts R' Tam even more. In other words, the Minchas Cohen made a mistake in science. R' Tam lived in France and very possibly made the same error.

What amazes me more is that in America so many people are machmir for 72 minutes. Besides what I pointed out in my previous post (that 72 minutes is probably not shitas R' Tam), R' Tam's shita is against reality, it is pitch black out well before 72 minutes. I understand that this is the shita of many Rishonim and the Shulchan Aruch, but it is not a halacha l'moshe m'sinai, the Gemara gives astronomical signs which we are 100% certain come well before 72 minutes.

Am I being arrogant or anti-Torah in thinking that R' Tam made a mistake? It isn't just me, that Gra made the same point (that R' Tam contradicts reality). I can't help it, I have been brought up to think logically and shitas R' Tam just makes no sense.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Protecting Torahs from theft

New Tech Protects Ancient Torahs is an interesting article which describes 2 methods available to identify Torahs and prevent thefts.

When is צאת הכוכבים?

Yesterday's and today's daf (Shabbos 34-35) discuss this issue. Most of what I write here is based on R' Willig's piece in his sefer on berachos עם מרדכי.

There is a famous machlokes R' Tam and the Geonim. In Shabbos (34) R' Yehuda says that from suntil until צאת הכוכבים is 3/4 of a mil (we will define how long a mil is later). The gemara in Pesachim (94) states that according to R' Yehuda there are 4 mil from sunset until צאת הכוכבים. R' Tam (and many Rishonim such as the Ramban, Rashba and the Shulchan Aruch and the Rama) explain as follows. There are 2 shkia's, from sunset until 3.25 mil after sunset it is day then there is 3/4 of a mil bein hashmoshos (safek day safek night) and then night. The Geonim hold that bein hashmoshos starts right away after sunset and night is 3/4 of a mil later. The Gra popularized this shita and explained that the Gemara in pesachim is talking about when all the stars come out. The Gra's main proof against R' Tam is החוש מכחיש, R' Tam is against reality. well before 4 mil after sunset it is pitch black outside and you can see hundreds of stars.

There are 2 other related disputes.

1. How do we count the hours of the day? The halacha always divides the day into 12 equal hours, do we count from sunrise until sunset or from alos hashachar until צאת הכוכבים?
It would seem that is dependent on the machlokes R' Tam and the Geonim. According to the Geonim it makes no sense to count from alos until צאת הכוכבים the day wouldn't be balanced, and since the day ends at sunset it makes sense to count until sunset. According to R' Tam it makes little sense to count only until sunset, it is still day for another hour. In addition the Rishonim say explicitly that Plag Hamincha (10.75) is an 1.25 hours before צאת הכוכבים

2. How long is a mil? The gemara in Pesachim says that a person walks 40 mil in a day. If you divide 720 by 40 you get 18. Others hold that it is 22.5.
R' Willig brings a very strong proof that R' Tam holds 22.5 based on the fact that the Rishonim (Ramban, Rashba and others) state that Plag Hamincha is 1/6 of a mil before sunset. If you do the math the only it works out is if a mil is 22.5 minutes.

R' Moshe claims that even according to R' Tam after 50 minutes it is definately night in NY because it is pitch black. However, this is very difficult. This was exactly the Gra's question on R' Tam, that it is against reality. The fact is that R' Tam says 4 mil which is at least 72 minutes, according to R' Moshe there is no such case.

The simple understanding is that the times given are for Israel at the equinox, during the year and in other places the times will change. We see this from the fact that the gemara also gave astronomical signs, these clearly change from place to place and season to season. Therefore in any place further from the equator then Israel bein hashmeshos will be longer.

R' Willig concludes that holding 72 minutes is NY is meaningless for the following reasons:
1. R' Tam would seem to hold that a mil is 22.5 minutes (4 mil = 90 minutes)
2. Whatever the shiur of a mil is, NY is further from the equator then Israel and therefore bein hashmeshos will be longer so even if a mil is 18 minutes that is only in israel at the equinox in NY it is longer.

R' Tam's shita has always really bothered me. The Gra's question of החוש מכחיש is so powerful and obvious I don't understand how the Rishonim could have said what they said. Did they never go outside an hour after sunset and see that it was pitch black and you could see hundreds of stars?

In any case we see a very important point from this Gra, החוש מכחיש (reality contradicts) is a good question. Torah has to correspond to reality, if it doesn't we are misunderstanding the Torah.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

A Big Nisayon of Working

As a followup to R' Breitowitz's article about working vs kollel I would like to bring up a related issue.

For those of us who work and are relatively successful, to what do we attribute our success? American culture tells us we should attribute it to our hard work, intelligence, etc., in other words כחי ועוצם ידי. Judaism on the other hand, states that הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים. Everything is from Hashem. If we are successful at work it is from Hashem. If we make a lot of money it is from Hashem. The gemara in Rosh Hashana states מזונות של אדם קצובין לו בראש השנה. How many of us really believe this?

For me at least, this is one of the biggest nisyonos (tests) of working. It is so easy to believe that your success comes from you and your money comes from you when you work and you are good at what you do. When you work hard on a project and at the end you get a bonus, you feel that you "earned" the money, and yet, it was already allocated to you from Rosh Hashana. It is very difficult to keep the proper perspective of where everything comes from when you earn a good living working. We are so far removed from Hashem in our parnasa these days, it really feels like it is in our hands.

This is not a reason not to work, rather it is something that those who work should think about and work on. If someone works and can come to this recognition they have indeed reached a high madrega.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Work vs. Kollel

Hirhurim linked to 2 articles by R. Yitzchak Breitowitz (Torah and Professionalism and Choosing a Profession: Torah Considerations) which compare the good and bad points of learning in kollel vs working. It is definately worth reading.

He left out some important negatives of kollel.

1. The wife has to work full time to support the husband, meaning she has to go out in the world, not kol kevuda bas melech pnima. In addition, the children end up being brought up by the babysitter.
2. It places a tremendous burden on the parents, the parents need to support the young couple while he is sitting and learning.

The ad from Hamodia

This is the best I could do with my digital camera (my scanner doesn't work). Why R' Shachter, R' Moshe Shapiro, R' Aharon Leib Shteinman, R' Wolbe etc. are called Kiruv leaders is beyond me.

Hamodia Ad

How to spend the summer

With the onset of summer I started thinking about summers past that I spent in the Morasha Kollel (both high school and college). I believe that the Kollel is a great example for MO and shows the heights that MO can reach in Limud Hatorah.

For those aren't familiar with it I will describe the schedule, the atmosphere etc. Many of the younger Rabbeim at YU and other MO institutions were there in the 80's with me such as (this is a very partial list off the top of my head), R' Greenwald, R' Simon, R' Sobolofsky, R' Sheinfeld, R' Hochberg, R' Haber, R' Hirsch, R' Tarragin, etc.

The schedule was as follows:
7:30 - Shacharis
8:15 - 9:00 - Breakfast
9:00 - 12:30 - preparation for shiur (R' Willig learned halacha l'maase topics when I was there, and not necessarily Orach Chaim)
12:30 - 1:30 - Shiur
1:30 - 1:45 - Mincha
1:45 - 2:15 - Lunch
2:15 - 5:00 - free time, most people played ball (basketball, softball, tennis, swimming), some days R' Willig would play with us
5:00 - 6:30 - Bekius seder
6:30 - 7:30 - Dinner
7:30 - 8:30 - Chavrusa with a HS guy
8:30 - 10:00 - Night Seder
10:00 - 10:15 - Maariv
after night seder you were officially free, most people kept learning, I personally had a seder until 12:30.

The HS Kollel (R' Cohen) has a similar schedule.

If you add up the hours of learning it comes to about 11 hours a day. The atmosphere was amazing, you had older guys who you could talk to, the Rebbeim were there with their families and of course you could play ball for 2.5 hours a day. All the guys who went there truly grew tremendously in both learning and ruchniyos. It was an opportunity for 2 months to sit and learn with nothing else to bother you (no tests, hw, papers, etc.).

When you compare the experience to a regular MO camp, the difference is startling. In a regular MO the learning is a joke, many people regress spiritually. And yet, if you look at the numbers, about 50 people a year went to the kollel and thousands went to regular camps.

I am not advocating the schedule for everyone, it is definately a tough schedule, but it pushes the guys to greater heights. The problem is that there is nothing in between, it is either 11 hours a day or 1 hour a day.

There is another problem. many people in college have no time to just sit and learn for a summer. They have the following issues:
1. Financial - it cost money, while to be a counselor at a camp you make money
2. School - many people go to summer school to finish college faster
3. Job/Graduate school pressures - many people feel that they need to work in their field in order to get a job after they graduate or get into graduate school.

While these may be important, these summers are many people's last chance to sit and learn full time and I think that the community needs to encourage this much more.

The existence of such a program is a good thing for MO and shows that at least a small part of the MO world is machshiv torah, on the other hand we can look it as the exception that proves the rule that the majority of MO isn't machshiv torah enough.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Ad in Hamodia acknowledges R' Shachter as a Gadol

I saw an ad in this week's English Hamodia which really surprised me. The ad is for the Taryag Mitzvos Program, where people learn about the Taryag Mitzvos. They have a full page ad in Hamodia with haskamos from a whole list of gedolim. I was perusing the list and saw, R' Elyashiv, R' Chaim Kanievsky, R' Mattisyahu Solomon, and then I almost fell out of my chair "R' Hershel Shachter Rosh Hayeshiva, Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan". Right under his name comes R' Moshe Shapiro, then R' Shteinman.