Friday, March 31, 2006

Election results update

The numbers changed a little.

The winners

  • Kadima 29 (up from 28)

  • Likud 12 (up from 11)

  • Meretz 5 (up from 4)

The losers:

  • Shas 12 (down from 13)

  • Lieberman 11 (down from 12)

  • Raam-Tal 3 (down from 4)

This changes things a bit as now Olmert in theory can make a coalition of
Kadima - 29
Labor - 20
Meretz - 5
Pensioners - 7

61 seats without any of the right wing parties.

This may lead to the right wing supporting Amir Peretz for PM.

The next few weeks will be very interesting

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

An interesting coalition possibility ...

If Netanyahu is deposed or resigned. If that happens, Labor could make a government with the following parties:
Labor - 20
Yisrael Beitenu - 12
Shas - 13
Yahadut Hatorah - 6
Likud - 11

62 seats

This would allow the Likud and Labor to effectively kill Kadima. Kadima would not survive as an opposition party.

Election results in Israel

Th election results had a number of pleasant surprises and not so pleasant surprises. Here is my analysis.

Diplomatic Front

While Kadima ended up with the most seats, their position is quite weak. Kadima and Labor only have 48 seats, even if you add in the pensioners (who may have right wing views) that is only 55. They need one or more of the following parties to join, each one of whom has stated that they are against a unilateral pullout.
  • Shas - I don't think that Shas will support a pullot from Yehuda V'Shomron. I can't see R' Ovadya supporting evicting Jews from Hevron, Bet El, etc.

  • Yahadut Hatorah - I don't think that they will support a pullot from Yehuda V'Shomron. I can't see them supporting evicting Jews from Hevron, Bet El, etc. although you never know with them.

  • Yisrael Beitenu - Lieberman stated that he opposes unilateral pullouts. Labor does not want him in the government.

If you look at the Jewish vote, the right wing anti-pullout camp got 51 seats, the pullout camp got 52 (Kadima 28, Labor 20, Meretz 4). Given these numbers, to say that Olmert now has a mandate for his pullout plan is ridiculous.

In short, Kadima will not have an easy time forming a coalition to support a unilateral pullout.

Economic Front

The election results are a disaster for the economy. Below are the parties who will probably be in the government.
  • Kadima - Hard to say what their economic outlook is, but in any case they will be forced by their coalition partners to adopt a more socialistic policy.

  • Labor has only 8 seats less then Kadima and will have a tremendous influence on economic policy. Labor is led by the "King of Strikes" Amir Peretz, and has a socialist ideology.

  • Shas - Their main plank was to restore the child allowance cuts. Although this will personally benefit me (I have a lot of children), it is a very bad idea for the economy. In general, Shas is for more government control and spending.

  • Yahadut Hatorah - Very similar to Shas

  • Pensioners - They also want the government to spend more money

  • Yisrael Beitenu - I don't know, but in any case I don't think they will have much influence on economic policy.

In short, Netanyahu was a very good finance minister, he accomplished a lot and got the economy moving again. I fear that many of his reforms will go by the wayside and the economy will go downhill again.

Big Winners

The big winners are:
  1. Lieberman - He is now the leader of the right wing and will have a lot of influence

  2. Shas - With 13 seats they beat the pollsters expectations. Olmert needs them for the coalition and therefore they will have a lot of influence.

  3. The pensioners- This was definately the surprise of the election. with 7 seats they will get what they want.

Big Losers

  1. Netanyahu - With the Likud only getting 11 seats he is in big trouble. I hope that he stays and leads the Likud in opposition.

  2. Olmert - With only 28 seats and the need to take in a right wing party for his coalition, he is going to have trouble governing.

  3. Shaul Mofaz - Labor will probably get the defense ministry leaving Mofaz without a ministry. Makes me very hapy.

  4. Yossi Beilin - With Meretz only getting 4 seats, I think he is done. Good riddance.

  5. The pollsters - Again, all the pre-election polls were wrong. No poll was even close to 28 for Kadima and 11 for the Likud. The pollsters completely missed the Pensioners and predicted they would not even get in to the Knesset. Hopefully, people will learn something from this and the next election won't be so poll driven

In summary, althoug Olmert and Kadima won and will make the next government, they will have a hard time making any unilateral moves. IMHO, there is no way that this government lasts 4 years.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The upcoming election

Polling in Israel has become a joke. In Maariv today we haveהסקר האחרון: קדימה נחלשת, הימין מתחזק with the right wing up to 54 seats. On the other hand, YNet has very different results and so does Haaretz where the left is gaining strength. I really hope that the polls are proven wrong again and once and for all people stop believing the polls. The polls have really changed the election hopefully to Kadima's detriment that many Kadima supporters won't get out and vote because they will think that the lection is in the bag.

The best scenario that I see is the right wing (Likud, Yisrael Beitenu, Ichud Haleumi Mafdal, Shas, and Yahadut Hatorah) getting 61 seats. While this is not probably it is possible. Netanyahu (the best of the worst) would be Prime Minister. This would destroy Kadima.

Another alternative would be for Labor and Likud to form a coalition to block Kadima. This most probably won't happen because of Amir Peretz's hate of Netanyahu.

In any case, the Charedim are sitting pretty. Kadima, Labor and Meretz will probably not have 61 seats and therefore the Charedim will be needed to make a coalition. This is their dream, to be the make or break party for the coalition.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Only in Israel: A party called מלחמה בבנקים

The platform is as the name suggests "War on the Banks".

Here are some more interesting parties:
  • גיל - a party for retirees. The party platform is to protect the rights of retirees e.g AARP

  • צדק לכל - The party platform is equal rights for men regarding family law

  • לח"ם - Anti-corruption party

  • עלה ירוק - Main platform, the legalization of marijuana

  • עתיד אחד - Main platform, to bring all the Ethiopian Jews to Israel

  • ציונות חדשה - Main platform, government reform

The common denominator among all these parties is that they are narrow 1 issue parties. The only reason they exist is because of the election system in Israel where elections are nationwide using a proportional representation system. In a normal political system none of these parties would exist, rather they would be subsumed under one of the larger parties. There are 30!! parties running in the current election between 10 - 15 will get into the Knesset. There is no way that the next government (whoever leads it) will be stable given these numbers.

It is obvious that the political system in Israel needs to be changed to some kind of district based system. I an very skeptical of this getting done, no politician wants to vote himself out of a job.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

יהדות התורה campaign site

Even though the Gedolim have banned the internet, יהדות התורה has an internet campaign site where you can watch their campaign videos and listen to their jingles and get information.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Women's prayer groups

My last post sparked a debate about Women's Prayer Groups so I would like to devote a post towards it. This will not be a comprehensive treatise, I will only be discussing the 1 point raised in the previous post.

RHS and R' Bleich make the following argument (1 of many reasons that they have in opposing them). Everyone agrees that women are not chayav in tefilla betzibur. However, they state that if a woman decides she does want to go to daven outside of the house in an organized fashion she now has 2 choices, a regular minyan or a women's tefilla group. She needs to make a choice. The halacha is unequivocally clear that tefilla betzibur is the best way to daven. Therefore if a woman picks the womens tefilla group she is ignoring what the halacha states is the best option and instead doing what she feels serves her spirituality best. This is what the Beis Halevi thinks was the chet haegel. Nowadays we assume that most people in any case cannot have true kavana and therefore to abandon what chazal say is a tefilla that Hashem always listens to for tefilla beyachid is incorrect. When the MB quotes an opinion that a person can daven beyachid if he will have more kavana he brings down from the Pri Megadim that this is only for gedolei hador. I don't think that any of the women going to these prayer groups think that they are on that level.

RHS writes:

It is true that women are not obligated to pray with a minyan (it is also a matter of debate whether men are obligated to do so). However, when women get all dressed up on Shabbos and leave their homes to pray in an organized service, and they choose to go to a WPG instead of a minyan, they are choosing a sub-optimal mitzvah over an optimal mitzvah; they are actively rejecting the more complete fulfillment for the lesser. If they stayed home, they are opting to pray alone rather than put in the effort to go to shul. However, when they put in that effort but go to a WPG instead of a synagogue, they are making a statement that they prefer the lesser fulfillment over the greater. They are figuratively being ma'avir al ha-mitzvos, stepping over a mitzvah. That, I believe, is sufficient reason to label a WPG a distortion of Torah principles. If most of the attendees of a WPG are actively choosing it over a minyan, the WPG is an instrument of misguided Torah principles, a teacher of distorted values.

R' Bleich makes the same point:
Women who pray with a minyan have a guaranteed better reward for their prayers than women who pray with a Women's Prayer Group. If women are willing to take on the burden of leaving their homes and going to a place of prayer (i.e. they are willing to invest their money in an opportunity) and choose the lesser option of praying without a minyan (i.e. place their money in the opportunity that gives a lower return), they are making a foolish choice. Anyone who advises them to do so is giving bad advice, with all of the attendant implications.

...Assuredly, the guaranteed benefits of tefillah be-zibbur outweigh those of any possible subjective experience.

Those who support Women's Prayer Groups have have tried to deflect this opinion by IMHO bringing irrelevant sources. For example, a letter of the Gra is quoted where he advises the women of his family not to go to shul. IMHO this is completely irrelevant. There were many reasons for women not to go to shul including as Jerusalem's Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shalom Messas records, that most Moroccan Jewish women never attended synagogue even on Yom Kippur. As a result, few synagogues even had women's sections. Those women who did come to the synagogue rarely participated in the prayer service. R. Messas attributes this primarily to the women's illiteracy and lack of education.

These and other similar arguments have no bearing on our case where the woman is leaving her house and going to a public prayer service. In our case she needs to make a decision, she has already decided that she wants to do more then what is required. Does she follow the guidelines of Chazal who praised Tefilla Betzibur and saying devarim shebekedusha or does she follow her "spirituality" and give these all up for a subjective spiritual experience.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Understanding the חטא העגל

The question is obvious, how could the Jewish people who had just seen all the ניסים and were mekabel the Torah turn to avoda zara so soon after?

The Beis Halevi explains as follows. Beni Yisrael really made the עגל l'shem shamayim. They were looking for a way to worship Hashem after they thought that Moshe Rabbenu was gone. They thought that they could make up their own way of worshipping Hashem and use the עגל as an intermediary/replacement for Moshe Rabbenu. They were not worshipping the עגל per se, rather they wanted to worship Hashem through the עגל. They wanted to invent a new way of worshipping Hashem not found in the Torah. This was exactly their sin. After Matan Torah, we are not allowed to create new ways to worship hashem. Even more then that. The Beis Halevi says, eveen if a person knows that doing x will do great things in shamayim, if it is prohibited by the Torah he cannot do it. This is contrast to pre matan torah where the Avos were allowed to be creative in their worship. One answer for how was Yaakov allowed to marry 2 sisters is that he knew that for him it was the right thing, that marrying 2 sisters is what he needed to do to carry out his mission. Since this was pre matan torah he was allowed to do that.

This Beis Halevi is very important for our times. What we need to do is serve Hashem not feel good or spiritual. Today, people want to feel good/spiritual. There is nothing with wrong with that, but it has to take a back seat to serving Hashem and keeping the Torah. There is absolutely no heter to violate even the smallest issur for any "spiritual" activity.

This is one of RHS's points against many of the innovations in certain MO circles. Instead of focusing on avodas hashem and what the Torah says the person needs to do, a focus is put on the person feeling spiritual (והמבין יבין).

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The responsibility of a Rebbe, learned out from מחיית עמלק

The gemara in Bava Barsa (21a-b) has the following story (my rough translation):

Yoav killed all the male Amelekites. Dovid Hamelech asked him why did you kill only the men? Yoav answered because the pasuk says "Timcheh Es Zachar (the males of) Amalek". Dovid answered, no, the word is read as "Zecher (the remembrance of)"! Yoav answered, I was taught 'Zachar'! They called Yoav's Rebbi, who said that he taught זכר (since the gemara has no nekduos we don't know if he answered zecher or zachar in fact this is a machlokes). Yoav drew his sword to kill him based on the pasuk "Arur Oseh Meleches Hash-m Remiyah". Some say, he killed him; others say, he did not

What did the Rebbe teach Yoav and why was he blamed? Tosafos (21a) as well as the Rashba understand that the Rebbe taught Yoav "zecher" correctly. If so, why was Yoav ready to kill him? What did the Rebbe do wrong? The answer is that the Rebbe needs to not only teach the students correctly but he needs to ensure that they actually know the material correctly. Since Yoav left the with the incorrect p'shat of zachar we blame the Rebbe.

The Maharsha disagrees and understands that Yoav's Rebbe taught him "zachar" and his sin was that he became a teacher without first learning enough to teach correctly.

According to the Rashba we see the tremendous responsibility that a Rebbe has. If a student leaves the class with the wrong p'shat even if the Rebbe explained it correctly, the Rebbe is blamed. The Rebbe needs to make sure that every student gets the correct p'shat.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Everyone saying the עשרת בני המן out loud

This is a common minhag whose source is not so clear. It can be explained based on the following.

The gemara in Brachos 21 states that if you come in late you are not allowed to start שמונה עשרה if you cannot finish by kedusha.

There is an interesting dispute relating to this halacha. What should you do if somehow you are in the middle of שמונה עשרה and the ש"ץ reaches kedusha. Rashi in Succa says that you should stop saying שמונה עשרה and listen to the ש"ץ and be יוצא שומע כעונה. Tosafos (in Brachos) has 2 questions on this:
1. If this is true then why aren't you allowed to start שמונה עשרה at any time, you aren't losing anything, you are יוצא קדושה through שומע כעונה anyway?
2. If you are יוצא why isn't it a הפסק ?

Tosafos answers 1 by saying that although you may be יוצא with שומע כעונה it is better to say the words (this needs explanation). Tosafos doesn't answer the second question.

We can explain the dispute based on the following. There are 2 ways to look at שומע כעונה:
1. Take the words literally, the halacha is saying that if you listen the halacha views it as if you said the words
2. You are יוצא with his דיבור meaning that you didn't say the words, however the halacha says that you are יוצא by someone else saying the words.

Tosafos would hold like 1, therefore it would be a הפסק because the halacha views it as if you said the words, so you said kedusha during שמונה עשרה. Rashi however holds like 2 and therefore there is no הפסק, you said nothing you are יוצא with his דיבור so it is ok even in the middle of שמונה עשרה.

This is the pshat here by the עשרת בני המן as well. The Rogatchover says that although the whole megilla you are יוצא with שומע כעונה you can't be יוצא the minhag of saying the names in 1 breath with שומע כעונה. Why not? It would seem that the Rogatchover holds like Tosafos, and therefore שומע כעונה makes it like you said the words but it can't add anything over and above that, so you said the words but not in 1 breath. However, according to rashi you are יוצא with his דיבור and his דיבור was good (in 1 breath) so just like he is יוצא with his דיבור you are as well.

The same question comes up as well by bircas cohanim. Can 1 kohen make the bracha and all the other cohanim will be יוצא with שומע כעונה? The Beis Halevi said no because bircas cohanim requires קול רם that everyone in the shul needs to hear you. It would seem that the explanation is the same as for the עשרת בני המן that שומע כעונה can't create קול רם.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

What is the nature of the mitzvah of משלוח מנות

There is an interesting dispute about this. The Manos Halevi explains that the mitzvah is to show friendship (the opposite of what Haman said מפוזר ומפורד). The Terumas Hadeshen says that the mitzvah is to make sure that everyone has enought food for the seuda.

The Acharonim point out a number of נ"מ based on this:
1. What if you send it to someone and they don't accept? According to teh Manos Halevi you were Yotze, you showed friendship, according to the Terumas Hadeshen you were not Yotze because the person did not get food.
2. What if you send it anonymously? Accordsing to the Manos Halevi you are not Yotze, you didn't show friendship, according to teh Terumas Hadeshen you are Yotze.

Getting drunk on Purim

I posted a nice explanation of this last year.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Pictures of the Gedolim in their youth

Have you ever wondered what gedolim looked like in their youth? If you think that they looked like yeshiva boys do today, you are in for a big surprise. Here is a site which is collecting pictures of the Gedolim in their youth. It is absolutely fascinating to see the way they looked and dressed (no black hats, no long payists behind the ears, stylish clothing, etc.).

I contributed some of the pictures (from the book Harav MiBrisk Volume 2 in Hebrew) so I will post 2 here (for the rest check out the link I posted above).

Below is a picture of R' Shach as a young man.

Rav Shach

Here is a picture of R' Aharon Leib Steinman as a young man (he is all the way on the right).

Rav Steinman

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Gedolim in Teaneck, what happened? - Updated

Was anyone there? Was it recorded? Can someone who was there provide a summary of what was said?

The reports that I am getting is that it was very uncontroversial, neither side brought up the real burning issues of the day. This is really too bad, a good opportunity was missed.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Why is the construction of the Mishkan given so much detail in the Torah?

This question has bothered me for years. The Torah goes into tremendous detail about the construction of the mishkan not once but twice, once the command and once the actual building. The obvious question is what is this coming to tell us? Why does the Torah give so much detail here when most mitzvos get almost no detail. Just a few examples
1. tefillin has 1 vague pasuk from which we can understand little
2. The torah says don't do melacha on shabbos and never defines melacha (in Torah Shebicsav)
3. The torah says many times to shcecht but never explains what shechita is.
In short, most mitzvos have very little in teh Torah Shebicsav, most of teh mitzva is expounded in Torah Shebaal Peh, the contruction of teh mishkan on the other hand has tremendous detail in the Chumash.

What makes this even more troubling is that the construction of the mishkan was a horaas shaah. The mitzvah ledoros is to build the Beis Hamikdash, if so why does the Torah go into all this detail about building the mishkan?

I have not seen a good answer for this. Any answers would be appreciated.

I am back

I was traveling on business and didn't have much time to post. I am back and will be bakc to my regular posting schedule.