Sunday, April 30, 2006

Not eating chametz that was sold to a גוי

This has become a very popular chumra in Israel in the past few years. In fact, for the past few years the major bakeries accomodated this chumra. Flour used in baking is washed before used which makes it into chametz. Therefore, the major bakeries (Angel's, Berman's, etc.) would use only unwashed flour right after Pesach until they received flour that was ground after Pesach. This year both Angel's and Berman's decided not to do this, they felt that it was too much work (the flour was hard to use and didn't bake well) and therefore after Pesach they used regular flour. This caused an uproar in certain segments of the Charedi community, there was a big article about this in the Mishpacha magazine this past week how it is terrible that this year we went backwards in terms of chumras.

Interestingly enough, the Badatz Eidah Chareidis (who gives the hashgocho on the bakeries) has no problem with this. They hold that the sale of the chametz to a גוי(which they arranged) is perfectly valid and therefore there is no reason to be machmir.

This is one thing that we can all learn from the Eidah Chareidis. they have their shitos and they hold from them. They don't care if other people are machmir, if their poskim hold it is mutar, it is mutar and they offer no apologies. The same thing applies in shemittah. They pasken that non-Jewish produce has no kedushas sheviis, while many in the Yeshivish community are machmir like the Chazon Ish that the produce has kedushas sheviis. Again, they follow their mesora with no apologies.

The serious MO community needs to take a lesson from them and follow their rabbanim בין לקולא בין לחומרא and not be influenced by the chumra of the day attitude in some parts of the Charedi community. If the MO poskim like RHS, RMW, etc. are matir then don't apologize, follow the poskim with pride.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Ramban in this week's parsha (תזריע) ...

quotes Chazal (Gemara in Nidda) as follows:

איש מזריע בו לובן שממנו גידים ועצמות ... אשא מזרעת אודם שממנו עור בשר ודם
The man provides the white from which the bones and sinews grow ... the woman provides the red from which the skin, meat, and blood come

The Ramban then quotes the Greek philosophers who disagree with Chazal

ועל דעת חכמי הפלוספי היונים כל גוף העובר מדם האשה אין בו לאיש אלא ... שהוא נותן צורה
And the Greek philosphers say that the all of the body of the child comes from the blood of the women the only thing that comes from the man is the tzura (whatever that means)

The Ramban clearly and unequivocally records the opinion of the Greek philosophers who argue on a scientific opinion of Chazal.

This is the same Ramban who is the foundation of much of Jewish thought today and who was a great mystic/kabbalist.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Shaving this Friday

For those people who don't shave during Sefira, this Friday is an opportunity to shave. Because it is both Rosh Chodesh and Erev Shabbos, the Mishna Berura (סימן תצ"ג ס"ק ה) writes that since there is additional simcha of both Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh, even those who are noheg not to shave from Pesach until Lag Baomer are allowed to shave on this Erev Shabbos which is also Rosh Chodesh.

In previous years I have always forgotten and when I came to shul Friday night and saw the shaven faces I kicked myself. This year I don't plan on forgetting and am going to trim my beard nicely (it doesn't seem worth the effort to shave it all off).

Monday, April 24, 2006

Why don't we say שהחיינו on the mitzva of ספירת העומר?

The בעל המאור in Pesachim gives a cryptic answer, he states that it is only זכר למקדש and therefore there is no שהחיינו. This is difficult because we find that we do say שהחיינו on מצות דרבנן. The Brisker Rav explains the בעל המאור as follows.

There are different types of מצות דרבנן
1. A new mitzvah like Channuka
2. A mitzva that used to be min hatorah that no longer applies min hatorah. The Chachamim tell us to do the same exact mitzva m'drabbanan, for example, מרור nowadays
3. A new mitzva זכר למקדש

The Brisker Rav claims that according to the Baal Hamaor, ספירת העומר is category 3, it is a new mitzva זכר למקדש. He brings a number of interesting proofs.

The gemara in Menachos comments that some of the Amoraim only counted days and not week, because it is only זכר למקדש. If it was in category 2 we would say that the mitzva needs to be done exactly as it was done min hatorah. However, if it is a new mitzva זכר למקדש we can say that they only instituted days and not weeks and understand the opinion of these Amoraim.

After counting we say הרחמן הוא יחזיר וכו. We don't say this after we eat maror or after we shake a Lulav (after the first day of Succos which is only מדרבנן). The reason is because we are being מקיים the same mitzva only מדרבנן. However, ספירת העומר is a new mitzva specifically instituted זכר למקדש and therefore we mention that we hope that the Avoda in the Beis Hamkidash is restored becuase that is the whle purpose of the mitzva.

If ספירת העומר is a new mitzva זכר למקדש we can also understand why we don't say שהחיינו, we are not happy that we are doing this mitzva, rather it reminds us that we don't have a Beis Hamikdash.

We should keep this idea in mind during sefira as we prepare for Kabbalas Hatorah, the lack of a Beis Hamikdash should be bother us and hopefully we will all be able to celebrate Pesach Sheni in the Beis Hamikdash.

The largest government ever in Israel 27+ ministers

It is pretty clear from all reports that the new government will have 27+ ministers (7 out of 19 Labor MK's are going to be Ministers!). This is another symptom of a failing system, 27+ ministers in the government with at least 4 of them being Ministers without Portfolio is a very overblown government. In addition, there are a whole host of Deputy Ministers. Remember, this is out of only 120 members of Parliament, meaning that over 1/4 of the MK's are ministers or Deputy Ministers.

Not only does this cost a fortune, it is creates a very inefficient unwieldy government where it is very hard to get anything done. The ministries have turned into money machines where every ministry gets a budget that the minister has control over.

If we look around the world we can compare Israel to other democracies
  • Australia - 16 Ministers

  • Denmark - 20 Ministers

  • Finland - 17 Ministers

  • France - 16 Ministers

  • Germany - 15 Ministers

  • Japan - 17 Ministers

  • Norway - 18 Ministers

  • Sweden - 10 Ministers

  • United Kingdom - 22 Ministers

  • United States - 15 Ministers

Given the small population and size of Israel in comparison to most of these other countries, we can see that 27 ministers is way out of line.

This is more proof that the system in Israel is completely broken and needs to be fixed badly. I offered a suggestion a while back The electoral system in Israel is broken ... on some possible reforms. It is clear that something needs to be done, unfortunately, given the current makeup of the government I am very pessimistic that anything will be done.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

מים אחרונים nowadays

At the end of last week's parsha (שמיני) the pasuk says והתקדשתם והייתם קדושים. The gemara in berachos coments on this that והייתם קדושים refers to מים אחרונים.

In some circles today מים אחרונים has fallen out of favor. I would like to explain the reason for this.

The Gemara in Chullin (105a) requires מים אחרונים before benching because of the concern of מלח סדומית that may remain on the hands from the meal, potentially causing blindness through contact with the eye. Tosafot (both in Berachos and in Chullin) comment that the minhag in their day was not to wash מים אחרונים. They justify the minhag by saying that we no longer have מלח סדומית and therefore there is no need. Many Rishonim disagree with Tosafos based on the gemara in Berachos that links מים אחרונים to Kedusha.

The Tur and Shulchan Aruch quote the opinion that requires מים אחרונים, Tosafos's opinion is quoted as a יש אומרים. The Gra vehemently rejected the opinion of Tosofos as did the Kabbalists.

The Mishna Berura (כדרכו) is machmir that one should wash מים אחרונים.

Rav Yaakov Emden (Mor U-ketzia 181) writes that people during Talmudic times would eat without cutlery, thus necessitating hand washing before benching. Now that people do not eat directly with their hands, no obligation of מים אחרונים exists, even according to the Kabbala.

Both R' Shternbuch (Teshuvos V'Hanhagos) and R' Wosner hold that women do not need to wash מים אחרונים. They hold that chiyuv today is a chumra based on kabbala and only men accepted upon themselveves chumra's based on kabbala.

In short, the basis for not washing מים אחרונים nowadays is:
1. Tosafos which is quotes as a יש אומרים in Shulchan Aruch
2. R' Yaakov Emden that nowadays we use cutlery and therefore there is no chiyuv according to everyone
3. According to R' Wosner and R' Shternbuch nowadays it is only a chumra based on kabbala

Psak in the name of R' Elyashiv: Valis is innocent


I finally saw the pashkevilli and it did not say what the JPost article said. Nowhere is there a psak that he is innocent, rather it just says that everyone should help the family to prove that he is innocent.

Below is the actual קול קורא

End of Update

For those of you who have not followed the news in Israel, Yisrael Valis, a 19-year-old father is accused of violently killing his infant son. He was arrested before Pesach and is sitting in jail.

I cannot comment on the facts of the case other then what I have heard in the media.

Today I heard on the radio and saw online Halachic decree: Valis is innocent that R' Elyashiv paskened that he is innocent.

I don't understand this for many reasons.
1. This is not something that can be paskened on, he either did it or he did not. There is nothing to pasken.
2. There was no trial, no witnesses etc. brought before R' Elyashiv, the psak is based on what the "askanim" told him.

IMHO, this is a tremendous chillul hashem when these kind of "psakim" are reported. It makes halacha and psak into a joke.

The day he was arrested I heard an interview with Yehuda Meshi Zahav, the founder of Zaka, who is no stranger to being arrested. He said that while he does not know the specifics of this particular case, terrible things happen in the Charedi world (which he personally has knowledeg of through Zaka) and that the Charedi world need to stop trying to hide everything under the rug.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Eating on Pesach

The mitzvah's of Pesach all revolve around eating, eating, matzah, korban pesach etc.

In fact, Matzah is the only time that we eat a cheftza shel mitzva nowadays. On succos while we have a mitzva to eat in the succah, the mitzva is on the person, the food is not a cheftza shel mitzva. By matzah, the matzah becomes a cheftzah shel mitzva.

Likewise, Korban Pesach is unique amnog korbanos. It is the only korban where there is a chiyuv on the person to eat the meat. Every other korban just has an issur that it shouldn't become נותר, there is no specific chiyuv on you to eat the meat.

The reason for all this is that Pesach is the birth of the Jewish people. Hashem wanted to teach the Jewish people a critical lesson that the purpose of life is to be mekadesh the gashmiyus. A person is supposed to take physical acts and turn them into spiritual acts. This is what eating Matzah and Korban Pesach do. It turns a physical act of eating into a sublime spiritual act. This was a crucial lesson that need to be imparted to the Jewish people before Matan Torah. Eveyrthing depends on a person's kavana, with the right kavan the most physical act can be sanctified.

How is Kiddush Pesach night different then other nights?

I would like to point out a number of differences.

I. When can you make Kiddush?

On Friday night the Gemara in Berachos states that a person can daven early as well as make Kiddush early (before nightfall). This is generally assumed to be because when you are mekabel shabbos early it turns day into Shabbos.

What about on Pesach night?

The Gemara in Pesachim comments based on a Pasuk that the Korban Pesach needs to be eaten at night. The Rishonim add on, that likewise the other mitzvos (Matzah and Maror) which need to be eaten with the Pesach need to be at night as well. The Shulchan Aruch adds on that you can't make Kiddush until night either. Why not? The Magen Avraham explains that Kiddush is the first of the 4 cups and just like the other Mitzvos need to be done at night , so too the 4 cups because כעין דאורייתא תקנו. The Taz ofers a cryptic suggestion. RYBS explained the Taz as follows. Kiddush is part of Magid, it is the beginning of the telling of the story of yetzias Mitzrayim and therefore as part of Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim it needs to be at night.

II. Can you use grape juice?

There is a general dispute whether you can ever use grape juice for Kiddush, we will not get into that. Assuming that in general you can, what about Pesach night? The gemara in pesachim comments that if you drink יין חי, you are יוצא the 4 cups, but you are not יוצא חרות. What is יין חי? It is undiluted wine. The wine in the time of Chazal was basically undrinkable without diluting it.

Based on the fact that the gemara said that יין חי is not יוצא חרות a number of poskim say the same applies to grape juice. Since it is not alchoholic it is also not a sign of freedom. Others disagree and say that there is no comparison. יין חי is undrinkable wine, no one drinks it. Grape juice is drunk and enjoyed by many and therefore you would be יוצא חרות if you enjoy it.

Bottom line is if you can drink wine it is better to drink wine.

III. How much do you need to drink?

On Friday night you need to drink a cheekful of wine which is a a majority of a reviis. What about Pesach night? On Friday night, there is no chiyuv to drink wine per se, rather since you are making a beracha on a cup of wine you need to drink from it. On Pesach night there is a chiyuv not only to make kiddush but drink 4 cups of wine. Kiddush is one of those, and therefore you need to drink either the whole cup or at least a majority of the cup.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Early Shabbos Primer

With the changing of the clock both in Israel and in America many people will once again start making early Shabbos. Here are 2 posts from last year which explain many of the relevant halachik issues. Early Shabbos Primer and Early Shabbos primer continued

A very relevant interpretation of the רשע in the Haggada

I posted this last year, I think this is worth repeating.

The Beis Halevi explains the רשע's question as follows. He says that the רשע is asking why do we need to do the mitzvos nowadays. Who wants to bring an animal sacrifice in 2005? The רשע understands why the Jews in Egypt brought it, but we have grown up, who needs all these anachronistic miztvos? The answer given is "בעבור זה עשה ה לי בצאתי ממצרים". The Beis Halevi asks this is strange answer? I would have expected something like, because hashem took us out of Egypt we do these mitzvos. He explains this as follows. We see from many sources that the Torah preceded the creation of the world. We think in terms of cause and effect. Because we left Egypt we have Pesach and all the mitzvos. However, this is incorrect. The mitzvos existed before the world was created. The events unfolded the way they did because they had to, so that the mitzvos in the torah would make sense. Based on this we understand the answer, "בעבור זה" because of this, the Torah, עשה ה לי, Hashem made the events of יציאת מצרים happen. This answers the רשע, that the mitzvos preceded the events and are not anachronistic at all. The Mitzvos are not based on the events, rather the events are based on the mitzvos, and therefore the mitzvos are timeless.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The next government of Israel

It is now pretty clear who is going to be in the next government.

The basis of the coalition will be:

Kadima - 29
Labor - 19
Yisrael Beitenu - 11
Pensioners - 7

This adds up to 66 seats.

The big question is what about the Charedi parties, Shas and Yahadut Hatorah and why Lieberman?

Shas - There are a number of reasons why Olmert does not want Shas in the coalition:
1. Money - Labor and the pensioners have already blown up the budget, Shas will just make things worse with their economic demands
2. Ministries - Shas wants a number of key Ministries (including Misrad Hapnim), Lieberman will probably be cheaper
3. Disengagement - Shas is against disengagement and cannot afford to change it's mind. Shas's voters are right wing and are very against disengagement

Yahadut Hatorah has a good chance of being in the coalition without Shas for a number of reasons:
1. They only have 6 seats so their demands won't be that high
2. They don't want any ministries
3. They will go along with disengagement. They will tell the Charedi population that Olmert had a majority for disengagement anyway and therefore their being in the government is irrelevant and by being in the government they can get money for Torah, etc.

Olmert wants Lieberman for the following reasons:
1. Economically it doesn't cost him anything. Lieberman is like Netanyahu and therefore will not request more governement spending
2. Olmert believes that he can be persuaded to support disengagement in some way or another

Another interesting question is who will get which ministries. As of now it looks like the following:
Amir Peretz, Defense Minister - IMHO this is not a bad thing for the following reasons:
1. He will not be Finance Minister
2. It is a good thing to have a civilian Defense Minister
3. Good riddance to Mofaz
Yuli Tamir, Education Minister - I don't know much about her, but I know that Kadima's candidate Reichman was one of the founders of Shinui so she is better then him. In fact, good riddance to Reichman who thought he could parachute in to be Education Minister.

To sum up, I think that Shas is going to be the big loser here, either being left out of the government completely or getting in at a much reduced price.

Religion and the Jewish State: An Interview with Rav Aharon Lichtenstein

This is a fascinating interview in the YU Commentator which covers a lot of the major issues of the day.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

US Taxes in Israel

Any American citizen with children living and working in Israel should file a US tax return and get money (in the form of the child tax credit) back from the US Government. This is perfectly legitimate, in fact, US citizens living anywhere in the world are obligated to file a tax return. For more on this see this post US Tax Day is good for the American Jews of Israel from last year.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

'אל פתח אהל מועד יקריב אותו לרצונו לפני ה

The pasuk uses a strange phrase, 'לרצונו לפני ה, The standard pshat is as Rashi comments that כופין אותו עד שיאמר רוצה אני, that every Jew really wants to do mitzvos and by forcing them we are just bringing out their true desire.

The Chasam Sofer explains the pasuk as follows. He says that the pasuk is teaching us an educational lesson. A person has to take his children אל פתח אהל מועד, send them to yeshiva, take them to shul, show them kedusha, even against their will, and then when they get older, Yiddishkeit will be לרצונו לפני ה for the child. The child will do mitzvos out of his own free will if when he is young we make sure to bring them אל פתח אהל מועד.

Economic ramifications of the election

I am not a big fan of Harretz (to put it mildly), but on economic issues they are ok. Their analysis is the same as mine, the election results are bad for the economy.

Two percent? It should have been 10 percent!

Make no mistake: Financially, the election results are somewhere between bad and very bad
1. A fragmented coalition: The combination of Kadima, the Labor Party and the Pensioners Party (Gil) gives the coalition 55 seats. Thus, a fourth coalition member will be necessary to give the coalition a majority. Meretz, with four seats, will not be enough. Therefore, we can assume there will be no choice other than to add one or more of the religious parties
The party is composed of experienced former union leaders, and large Histadrut unions to boot. As we know, the Histadrut labor federation is vehemently opposed to pension reforms carried out by the previous government. We can assume the subject of turning the clock back on these reforms will come up in coalition negotiations.
Labor: The Labor Party, the second-largest in the coalition, is expected to demand a senior portfolio. Finance is the most natural choice, assuming that the Foreign Ministry does not interest Amir Peretz. Peretz as finance minister again means a retreat from pension reform, and also a possibility of backtracking on capital market reform - the Bachar reforms.

It will certainly mean a rise in the minimum wage. And don't forget the remaining privatizations: Mekorot, the Israel Electric Corporation, the Israel Military Industries and the Israel Aircraft Industries. These will all fall by the wayside, as will any prospect of government reform, both local and national, and probably education reform as well. All of these reforms demand a greater level of job market flexibility.

Structural paralysis, with everything it entails for the Israeli economy, which is in desperate need of continued reform, is the recipe Peretz is undoubtedly preparing for us. For the economy and the capital markets, this is very worrying news indeed.