Monday, January 30, 2006

The mitzva of Kiddush Hachodesh

In this week's parsha (בא) we have the mitzva of Kiddush Hachodesh. A while back I explained how this mitzva works nowadays in the following post:
How does the Jewish calendar work today?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The latest salvo in the Charedi culture wars - MP3 players

I just read in this past week's Mishpacha magazine that there was a
meeting of Roshei Yeshiva to discuss MP3 players. According to the
article these are very dangerous because they can hold tremendous
amounts of data, songs, etc. and who knows what kind of spiritually
dangerous material is on them.

The Charedi world is slowly turning into the Amish.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hamas wins the parliamentary elections

Believe it or not I believe that this is good for the Jews and Israel. The Palestinian mask has finally been removed. Since Oslo in 1993, the US, the Left in Israel, the EU, many misguided Jews in the US, and others, have believed or pretended to believe that the Palestinians were interested in co-existence with Israel and recognized Israel's right to exist. Now the illusion is shattered. Hamas openly declares that Israel has no right to exist and that their goal is an Islamic state in all of Palestine. At least now the enemy has declared himself and we can openly fight with him. It is much better to face an enemy who declares his hatred for you then an enemy who pretends to be your friend.


After reading some of the responses in the Israeli press and some of the responses by readers, I am amazed how blind and stupid the left is. There are still people saying, of course we will talk to Hamas, you make peace with enemies. I am sure that the Yossi Beilin's of the world would have wanted to talk peace with Hitler as well. Imagine, Hamas is saying we want to destroy you, you have no right to exist and yet these left wing idiots want to talk to them. What exactly do they think they are going to talk about? The flight arrangements back to Europe? Hamas means what it says, why is that so hard to understand? Professor Auman was so right , Peace Now is a very bad strategy to bring peace it brings war instead.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Peace Now actually brings war

Nobel Prize winner Professor Auman said the following

The Arabs always said they have time, and that they can wait 10, 20 or 50 years until we disappear. But our problem is that we don't have time; we're rushing. We want 'peace now,' and so we go and destroy beautiful blossoming productive communities. We destroy the lives of tens of thousands of people on the altar of 'we have to do something.' The very act of running crazedly after the longed-for peace is precisely that which distances it from us.

Professor Auman knows what he is talking about as his Nobel Prize was for "enhancing our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis."

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

How did the חרטומים turn blood into water?

The answer would seem to be that magic really worked in those days. Now the question becomes why did it stop working?

The answer is that to enable free choice Hashem has to create balance in the world. In a world where there is נבואה there needs to be a counterbalancing force, otherwise belief in Hashem would be coerced. Therefore, magic worked.

We find this idea expressed in a number of other places as well.

The gemara in Shabbos comments that כפה עליהם הר כגיגת by matan torah. The obvious question is didn't they say נעשה ונשמע, meaning that they excepted the Torah willingly? The Meshech Chochma answers that the gemara is meant to be taken allegorically. The revelation when Bnei Yisrael left Egypt, krias yam suf, and matan torah was so great that it was as if Hashem forced them to accept the Torah. The revelation was so great that they could not say no, Hashem's presence in the world and Torah's importance were self understood like the sun is shining. They understood that if they did not accept the Torah the world would be destroyed, not as a threat but as a fact, as reality. In other words, their free choice was taken away by the tremendous revelation.

The Anshei Knesses Hagedola asked Hashem to be mevatel the yetzer hara for avoda zara at the beginning of the second beis hamikdash and Hashem agreed. However, as a consequence, נבואה ended as well. נבואה can not exist in the world without a counterbalancing force.

Likewise, magic cannot exist without a counterbalancing force like נבואה and miracles. Since we don't have these magic doesn't work as well.

This idea also explains how/why Hashem hardened Pharoah's heart. The revelation of the makos took away his free choice, the hardening of his heart restored that balance.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The electoral system in Israel is broken ...

and needs to be scrapped. It just does not work for many reasons. Some of the things can be fixed but many cannot. Here are some of the problems:
  1. No one actually represents you in the Knesset. There is no one MK the average person can turn to if they have a problem. MK's are chosen in various different ways, but unless you are active in party politics you have no representation.

  2. The Knesset is based on a list based system. You vote for a party not for any specific people. Yet once in the Knesset an MK can do whatever he wants including taking his seat and creating a new party as Sharon and the Likud MK's did. That is a complete and utter perversion of the democratic process. None of them were elected, the Likud was elected and therefore the seat should not be theirs.

  3. There are too many small parties. Since elections are on a national basis, anyone who can get 2.5% of the vote (and in the past it was even less) is in the Knesset. This makes every government unstable and at the mercy of extortion by small 1 issue parties.

  4. MK's are chosen in various ways most of which are undemocratic. Kadima is clearly undemocratic, 1 man is deciding the list. But even the Labor party which has primaries is not really democratic for the following reasons:
    • Various people are protected, for example, the 6th spot is reserved for a woman, the 9th spot for this person etc.

    • A primary in which 90 people run and you have to pick among them is a bit silly. It is very hard for the average voter to rank 90 candidates, in fact to even know what all the 90 candidates stand for and therefore, the vote is not that relevant.

I believe that Israel needs to make a large percentage of the Knesset seats district based. Create 90 districts (3/4 of the Knesset) and have 1 MK represent a district (and impose a residency requirement). The other 30 seats would be allocated based on the current system but with a much higher threshold like 10%. This would allow the large parties to have their leaders protected and be able to devote themselves to the larger picture while still enabling every one to have a representative. Alternatively, adopt the British system where every seat is district based. The advantages of this plan are:
  • Every person has a representative that they can turn to

  • This would eliminate many of the smaller parties

  • Anyone could run to be an MK from a district

  • The MK's would need to be more responsive to the needs of people not from their group in society. Imagine a district with a sizable Charedi population (20%). Whoever would represnt that district would need to take the Charedim into account, their support could swing the election. We might actually get a chiloni represnting Charedi interests in the Knesset and vice versa. It would create a lot more understanding and a lot less posturing.

The other alternative is a Presidention system like the US. I am against that for 1 simple reason. if you look around the world, presidential regimes often turn into dictatorships, the President ends up being much more powerful then the legislature and dominates. On the other hand, there has never been a parliamentary democracy that become a dictatorship, it simply can't happen because the Prime Minister is just an MK.

The bottom line is that the system in Israel is utterly broken and needs to be changed. Unfortunately, there are many people with vested interests in the current system which will make it very difficult to change. Sharon could have pulled it off (and wanted to change the system), I don't know if anyone else has the power or even the will.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Freedom of Inquiry in Judaism

How free are we in our intellectual pursuits? Does the Torah limit us as to what we can study?

The UO world clearly holds yes, and therefore they ban books, internet, etc. Much of the MO world sets no limits. Interestingly enough this is a dispute between R' Parnes (when he wrote this he was at YU) and Drs. Lawrence Kaplan and Berger in the first 3 issues of the Torah Umadda Journal. They had a back and forth dispute where R' Parnes wrote an essay Torah Umadda and Freedom of Inquiry where he took the position that our inquiry must be limited and not touch on areas of kefira and minus. Dr's. Berger and Kaplan responded in an essay On Freedom of Inquiry in the Rambam and Today and disagreed. They stated To artificially limit serious fundamental inquiry where the person is properly prepared, even if such inquiry involves reading works of heresy is to stultify an individual's religious growth. R' Parnes summed up the dispute in Volume 3 Response and Closure [reply to Kaplan & Berger, and to Carmy]

R' Parnes expressed it best at the end of the article.

...Yet what is most important is that I have raised a halachick issue essentially no different then a a question in kashrut. In fact this is a question of kashrut in the sphere of intellectual activity. ... Of course there has been mention of the possibility that feedom of inquiry is not a halchic issue. ...Either way the matter cannot be swept under the carpet as a concession to the practicability and twetieth century living!

This is a genuine recurring unresolved issue that needs resolution ... If the matter is not dealt with in the classical manner of horaah Torah UMadda adherents may be left adrift in a sea of ambiguity and self doubt.

I have raised this critical issues to coax the advocates of Toprah Umadda to define it clearly to all of Jewry.

Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge R' Parnes's pleas has not been answered.

Monday, January 16, 2006

A visit to a gadol

I recently had the privilege of visiting one of the Gedolim in his house in Bnei Brak. The visit reminded me of a famous story about the Chofetz Chaim. A wealthy man once visited the Chafetz Chaim. He was shocked that the Chofetz Chaim had no furniture in his house. The Chafetz Chaim explained as follows. He asked the rich man where is your furniture? The man answered at home in my house, now I am just travleing. The Chafetz Chaim answered I am also just traveling through this world to get to the next world, therefore I have no furniture here.

I felt like I was reliving this story. We walked into a dingy old apartment that you and I would never live in (in fact, we would call it a dump). The only furniture was a table, some chairs, and bookcases full of sefarim. It is clear that the gadol doesn't see things the way we do and has no problem living in this kind of apartment. After all, he has a chair a table and a bed (I am being serious).

This was very inspiring to me. I realized that this man was so far above me and that all his life was torah and only torah and the material things in this world did not concern him 1 bit. However, it scared me as well. Will there be anyone in the next generation willing to live like that, or are we all too spoiled? Who in our generation is willing to sacrifice for Torah like that?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

אני יוסף העוד אבי חי What was Yosef asking?

Yehuda just finishes telling Yosef the whole story including that his father is alive, so what exactly was Yosef's question. In addition, Rashi quotes the medrash that this was a great תוכחה. What exactly was the תוכחה?

The Beis Halevi explains as follows. Yosef told his brothers you claim that you are so concerned about your fathers health, yet, I am Yosef is my father still alive? Meaning, he asked them if you really cared for your father how could you put him through the pain of of my disappearance. He exposed the hypocrisy of Yehuda's claim through Yehuda's own actions. Now we also understand why this is called a תוכחה as well.

The Beis Halevi says that this is what will happen as well when a person goes up to שמים after 120. Whatever excuses he gives for not doing mitzvos or aveiros will be shown to be hypocritical by his own actions. I will give 1 simple example. A person doesn't go to minyan on Sunday mornings, he claims that while he understands the importance of davening with a minyan he is just so tired he needs to sleep late. In שמים they will show him that whenever he had some other important event on Sunday morning he always managed to get up and therefore goign to a minyan was really not that important to him.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Could Shlomo Hamelech have invented cars?

This sounds bizarre but this actually came up in a conversation.

Someone told me that his son came from home school and said that his Rebbe had told him the following. We shouldn't think that we are better nowadays because we have modern technology. In fact, the Rebbe said, Shlomo Hamelech was the wisest man who ever lived and he knew everything the scientists know and he could have created cars, phones, etc., anything that we have from modern technology. Why didn't he do it? He felt that a simple non-technological lifestyle was better.

I was stunned speechless. I could not respond. After this conversation I definately better understand the reaction to R' Slifkin's books and the Charedi attitude towards science and scientists.


Rabbi Sander Goldberg in his defense of R' Slifkin (THE SLIFKIN AFFAIR – ISSUES AND PERSPECTIVES) wrote essentially the same thing:

...most certainly if Chazal wanted to invest the time into scientific research, after a generation or two, they could have invented an atomic bomb. But it didn’t happen. First, they spent their time plying the depths of Dvar Hashem, but second, they saw no net advantage to man. Just the opposite, although we communicate and travel more easily nowadays, and have better medicine and air-conditioned homes and have mechanical slaves to do back-breaking work, the very same technology has been abused and utilized to murder millions of people, caused a segment of mankind to live in misery and has freed up time for mankind to get into all kinds of mischief. Accordingly, perhaps Chazal, privately, were skeptical of some accepted scientific “facts and theories” of their times. However, perhaps they did not want to even hint that those facts and theories would eventually be discarded; they felt it was healthier for the world to remain in the dark and not to develop technology at too rapid a pace

This is basically the thesis that I quoted above. Chazal could have invented everything we have today, but they felt that the benefits of modern technology were outweighed by the bad that would be done with it.

Is there a חיוב כיבוד אב ואם for Grandparents?

In last week's parsha (Vayigash) the pasuk states ויזבח זבחים לאלקי אביו יצחק. Rashi comments (based on the medrash) that we see from here that a person has a greater chiyuv to be mechabed a father then a grandfather. We see from Rashi that there is a chiyuv to be mechabed a grandfather.

This seems to be contradicted by a Gemara in Makos 12a. The gemara there has 2 different beraisos whether a son can become a גואל הדם to kill his father, one says yes and one says no. The gemara resolves the contradiction by saying that 1 refers to a son being the גואל הדם for his brother which he cannot do and the beraisa which says that he can be a גואל הדם is talking about where a father kills his son and the grandson becomes the גואל הדם. Rashi explains that this is permitted because he is not chayav in the kavod of his grandfather.

The Rama in Siman 240 sif 22 brings down 2 opinions. First he quotes the Maharik who says there is no chiyuv whatsoever for grandparents, the Gra there comments that this is badsed on the Gemara in Makos. Interestingly, the Taz asks on the Maharik that he forgot a Rashi in Chumash. Presumably the Maharik would answer that the gemara in Makos contradicts the medrash. The Rama paskens like the second opinion which follows Rashi in Chumash that there is a lesser chiyuv.

How does the second opinion explain the gemara in Makos? One pshat I saw was as follows. In the gemara in Makos the grandson becoming the גואל הדם is a fulfillment of kibud av v'em for his father (the victim) and therefore overrides the chiyuv for his grandfather. In other words, since the grandfather's chiyuv is on a lower level then the father's wherever there is a conflict the chiyuv to be mechabed the father takes precedence. Here, the kibud of the father is to become the גואל הדם on the grandfather.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

רבות מחשבות בלב איש ועצת ה' היא תקום

For the past few months we have been hearing about how Ariel Sharon is going to set the permanent borders of Israel, change the political system to a Presidential one, change Israeli politics, etc.

Given the events of last night and this morning it is clear that he will be doing none of this and he may not even live out the day.

We should learn from this that a person can make all kinds of plans, but ultimately everything depends on Hashem. You can be the most powerful person in the country 1 minute and be struck powerless the next.

In addition we should all take a lesson from this and not put things off until tomorrow (I will learn more, do more mitzvos etc.), because tomorrow may never come.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Chazal and their attitude toward figures in Tanach

Most of us are familiar with the statements of Chazal that Reuven did not sin (with Bilha) and David did not sin with Bat Sheva, etc. However, what many people do not realize is that there are other opinions in Chazal that hold that these aveiros did happen. Many people do not know that these opinions even exist.

The Gemara in Shabbos 55b starts out with the famous opinion that Reuven did not sin with Bilha but just moved the beds. This is the opinion that everyone quotes. However, the Gemara continues and quotes 2 Tannaim who hold that Reuven did sin. They take the word פחז as an acronym, R' Elazar says Pazasah (you were hasty), Chavtah (you became liable) Zalsah (you disgraced); R. Yehoshua says, Pasatah Al Das (you overstepped the law),Chatasah (you sinned), Zanisah (you had illicit relations).

The Gemara in Kesubos 9a-b discusses the case of David and Batsheva. The gemara there gives 2 answers why she was permitted to him. The second answer is that everyone who went to war in David's army wrote a document of divorce to his wife and therefore she was really divorced. However the gemara has a first answer and that answer is that David did sin and she was permitted to him because it was ones (forced, because she was a minor at the time) therefore she was not prohibited.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Kesubis 17a: 2 interesting points

I am learning Kesubos now so I would like to relate 2 interesting points from Daf 17a.

1. The gemara states that a King is not allowed to be Mochel on his kavod and brings an incident with Agrippas the King. The Rishonim point out that even though Agrippas was not a legitimate King as both his parents were not Jewish and he was not allowed to be King, he still had to be honored as King (draw your own conclusions).
2. The gemara states for the funeral of someone who is קרי ותני everyone needs to go to the funeral (and even מבטלים תלמוד תורה)until there are 600,000 people. This is quoted l'halacha in Shulchan Aruch Siman 361. The Rama points out that in his day everyone is assumed to have the din of קרי ותני. The question is why don't we observe this din today? The acharonim come up various answers, the question is better then the answer. If we did everyone who lived in a big city would be busy going to funerals all day.