Saturday, June 24, 2006

The number of poor people in Israel

In the last few days there have been a lot of articles in the Israeli press (both Charedi and non-Charedi) about how Israel has the largets umber of people living in poverty percentagewise in the developed world (over 17%). This has turned into an attack on Netanyahu's policies and a call for more government help for the poor.

The fact is that these numbers are very skewed by the Charedim and the Arabs. The Charedim are between 7-9% of all the poor in Israel and more then 50% of Charedim are living in poverty. However, Charedi poverty cannot be laid at the governments doorstep. Charedi poverty is by choice/idealogy.

There is no other subgroup in the developed world which believes in the following 2 ideas:
1. No secular education
2. Every adult male should be sitting and learning in Kollel

When you add in the large families it is a wonder that the level of poverty is not higher. If adult males do not work, that is asking for poverty and cannot be blamed on the government. Even if they do work, in the modern world, without higher education it is very difficult to make a living, period.

Therefore, if you take out the Charedi factor from the poverty statistics poverty in Israel would be about 10% of the population which is very much in line with Western Europe.

The Charedi world wants to have its cake and eat it too. On one hand, teach their children no secular studies and sit and learn and not go out to work, while on the other hand crying foul when the government decides to cut back the subsidies for that lifestyle. The Charedi world cannot expect the average Israeli taxpayer to subsidize their life.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Does the Torah permit cannibalism?

Is a person allowed to eat human flesh?

The gemara in Kesubos 60a has a discussion about why mother's milk is permitted to drink. The Gemara says that we learn out from the fact that the Torah repeats the prohibition by a גמל, that a camel is prohibited but the milk and blood of a human being is permitted. The rishonim (Tosafos, Ramban, Rashba, and others) point out that in the Sifri (שמיני) instead of blood being permitted it says that בשר, human flesh is permitted. These Rishonim say that there is no contradiction and in actuality all 3 (milk, blood, and flesh) are permitted min hatorah.

The Rambam (מאכלות אסורות ב,ג) disagrees and writes that although there is no לאו there is an איסור עשה to eat human flesh. The Acharonim explain that the Rambam understood as follows. If human flesh was permitted to eat, then why do we need a pasuk to permit milk and blood, after all, there is a principle that יוצא מן הטהור טהור? Therefore there must be an issur to eat human flesh and consequently we need the pasuk to be מתיר milk and blood. Presumably the other Rishonim hold that all 3 are learned out together and therefore we can't apply the Rambam's logic.

The Malbim (שמיני) has a fascinating explanation as to why human flesh should be prohibited. He writes that a human being is never called a חיה (except for once in Bereishis where it says נפש חיה, but that has a different meaning). Therefore, human flesh cannot be prohibited based on the pesukim prohibiting animals. Rather, the prohibition is based on the original prohibition on אדם הראשון. After אדם is created Hashem permits him to eat from all the trees in Gan Eden, but he was prohibited from eating anything else (meat) including human flesh. After the mabul when Hashem permitted Noach to eat meat, he was only permitted to eat the flesh of animals, the original prohibition on אדם as it related to human flesh still applied and still applies today. In other words, the Malbim says, why can't we eat human flesh today? Because hashem prohibited it to אדם.

To sum up, there is a whole group of Rishonim who hold that min hatorah there is no issur in eating human flesh while the Rambam holds that it is an איסור עשה.

Please note, the whole above discussion is on a level of d'oraysa and does not get into various side issues (such as a dead body is אסור בהנאה) and ethical issues.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Are you obligated to pay someone who saved your life?

If someone saves your life and in the process spends money do you have to pay them back?

The Gemara in Kesubos 49b seems to say yes. The Mishna there discusses the obligations a wife has to her husband. One of those obligations is to nurse their children. The gemara comments that if she is divorced we don't force her to nurse the baby (the father is obligated to suport his infant children and therefore would need to hire a wet nurse). However, the gemara says, if the baby is already attached to her (the gemara later has a machlokes what exactly the shiur of attachement is, 3 months, 50 days) then it is an issue of pikuach nefesh for her not to nurse and we force her to nurse the baby, but the father has to pay her.

The acharonim point out that we see that even though she is nursing the baby for pikuach nefesh reasons the father still needs to pay her. The same would apply in any situation of pikuach nefesh, the saved person would need to pay the saver for any monetary loss incurred.

The Rosh at the beginning of the 8th perek of Sanhedrin paskens this way, in fact, acharonim ask why he didn't bring the gemara in Kesubos as a proof. The Rosh is quoted l'halacha in the Tur in the last Siman in Choshen Mishpat.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

What was the חטא of the meraglim?

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.

The medrash quoted by Rashi in Parshas Shelach states on the pasuk ויבכו העם בלילה ההוא that it was the night of Tisha B'av and Hashem said that you cried for no reason, I will give you a reson to cry on the future. In other words, the חטא of the meraglim is the source of the Aveilus of Tisha B'av. Now we need to understand how does the חטא of the meraglim relate to the punishment? Where is the midda kneged midda?

Given the above we can understand the midda kneged midda. They wanted to have a life of miracles and easy spiritually. Hashem said, I am going to destroy the Beis Hamikdash on this day and go into hester panim. In other words, just the reverse of what the meraglim wanted. To be spiritual in Golus without the Beis Hamikdash takes even harder work. The Beis Hamikdash was a mini midbar. People could come and be spiritually recharged by the Nisim and the giluy hashechina in the Beis Hamikdash. Therefore Hashem says I am going to take even that away and send you into Golus so that you can fix the Aveira.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A 7 branch Menora

In last week's (this coming week in חו"ל) parsha, בהעלתך, the parsha starts out with the lighting of the menora. I would like to discuss a relatively obscure halacha which is still relevant today.

The gemara in Avoda Zara lears out from the pasuk לא תעשון אתי that you are not allowed to make figures of the sun, the moon, etc. and the כלים of the mikdash including the menora.

The Minchas Chinuch points out that the Rambam has a fundamentally different understanding of this halacha as it applies to the כלים of the mikdash then the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch. The Rambam brings this halacha in Hilchos Beis Habechira (7,10) where he discusses the halachos of מורא מקדש. The Rambam clearly understands that these dinim are not related to avoda zara. The Tur/Shulchan Aruch on the other hand brings these halachos down in hilchos avoda zara. After discussing how you can;t make the sun and the moon, they continue with these halachos.

The big question today is does this halacha apply to any 7 branch menora? The Acharonim seems to hold that the only time you violate this halacha is if the menora would be כשר in the mikdash. The acharonim discuss what about the גביעים and כפתורים on a gold menore where they are מעכב?

R' Moshe has a teshuva (יורה דעה חלק ג' סימן ל"ג) where he discusses this issue. He brings up the issue of how much oil does it need to hold, and he points out that it must hold at least enough oil for the night.

What about what to learn? Today there is a whole group of people who are building replicas of the כלי המקדש, is that permissible? Can they build a replica of the menora? R' Moshe is מיקל that for learning purposes it would be mutar. It would seem that for sure according to the Rambam it would be mutar, as there is no violation of מורא מקדש, they are trying to promote מורא מקדש.

In conclusion, the average person has nothing to fear from this din as it is very improbable that they would have a menora with 7 branches which would be כשר in the mikdash.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Non Cohanim and ברכת כהנים

Last weeks parsha (this coming weeks parsha in America), Naso, has the mitzva of ברכת כהנים. An interesting question that comes up is can a non-cohen perform ברכת כהנים? This is not so farfetched, every Friday night fathers bless their children with ברכת כהנים, is that problematic?

The Gemara in Kesubos 24b seems to say that there is an issur עשה for a non-cohen to go up and duchen (see Rashi there who learns pshat that way). However, Tosafos in Shabbos 118b can't find an issur for R' Yosef a non-cohen who went up to duchen. The acharonim work hard to explain this contradiction.

2 of the acharonim disagree with Rashi's pshat in Kesubos and hold that there is no issur. The הפלאה explains as follows. A yisrael has a mitzva to receive the Cohen's beracha, therefore if a Yisrael goes up to duchen he is violating that עשה of not receiving the Cohen's beracha. It comes out that if he is alone (there are no Cohanim), then there is no issur. The Nesivos has a similar idea. He says that there is an issur for a Cohen not to go up and duchen if he is called. If we will make the Cohanim go through all kinds of Yichus checks before letting them duchen, Cohanim will be reluctant to go up and will violate this issur. Again, there is no issur on a Yisrael to go up and duchen.

The consensus of acharonim is that there is an issur for a non-cohen to duchen.

The Mishna Berura at the beginning of סימן קכ"ז, discusses why it should be permitted for a father to bless his sons with Bircas Cohanim. He differentiates based on what your kavana is, when you bless your children your kavana is not the mitzva of Bircas Cohanim. There is a Rama there as well as a Magen Avraham who offer various answers to the above contradiction.

The Gra because of this issue would not give a beracha with 2 hands. he held that the issur was only בנשיאת כפים and therefore without spreading out both hands there is no issur.

I think the minhag is to be מקיל to use 2 hands although some do follow this Gra.

Kosher cell phones reach America

It used to be trends started in the US and then moved to Israel. With chumras it is just the opposite, they start in Israel and migrate to America.

What is interesting here is the inherent contradiction in the way these phones are being marketed. On one hand the phone is just for talking. On the other hand the article (and the ads here in Israel) emphasize that these are sophisticated, elegantly designed devices with color screens etc. If the phone is just for talking why do you need a sophisticated device with a color screen?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Artscroll Eretz Yisrael Adapter Pamphlet

I saw this in shul recently, it is cute. In truth, Artscroll just came out with a siddur for Israel, however, only in Hebrew.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The decision making process in Israel as it relates to Disengagment and Convergence

Haaretz (a left wing newspaper) has a fascinating interview with the outgoing head of the National Security Council (NSC), Major General Giora Eiland. The article is well worth reading. Among other things, he outlines the decision making process that led up to the disengagement. In short, there was no process.

Q. In the government establishment, in which you were a member, was there an organized discussion on whether the disengagement was the right move?

A. No. When I assumed my office, on 18 January, 2004, there was only an amorphous term 'disengagement' from a speech in Herzliya. I asked Sharon how much time I had to formulate a plan and he told me, four months. But very quickly it became clear to me that [PM Sharon's adviser] Dov Weissglas had already met with the Americans and committed us to a major unilateral step both in Gaza and the West Bank.

"Immediately after, Sharon committed himself to the evacuation of 18 settlements in the Gaza Strip in an interview to [Haaretz's] Yoel Marcus, and at that point the game was up. The planning process I had began blew up.
"When we talk of a solution of two states for two peoples we make two assumptions: that it is possible to solve the conflict in the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, and that the reference for a border between the two states are the 1967 lines with minor changes. I reject these two assumptions. I think that between the sea and the river there is not enough area to contain two states, and I think that in order to maintain a defensible border, Israel needs at least 12 percent of the West Bank. The 1967 lines, even the Clinton Plan, do not give Israel defensible borders."

Q. And a Palestinian state in only 88 percent of the West Bank territory is a viable state?

A. "That is the second mistake. I argue that even a Palestinian state with 100 percent of the Gaza Strip and 97 percent of the West Bank is not viable. Such a country will be poor, radical, restive, where the demographic pressures will be unbearable. In 2020 there will be 2.5 million people in the Gaza Strip, in area of 365 square kilometers. This will inevitably lead to pressure against the fences."
Q. Did you talk with Olmert about the convergence?

A. "No."

Q. How is that?

A. "I read about it in the papers like every other citizen. I have no problem with this. The prime minister is a very intelligent man, capable of making decisions, and is handling the situation in an impressive manner. I am sure he consulted with other people."

Q. But in the government establishment there has not been a discussion on whether the convergence is good for Israel.

A. "Right."

Q. Not related to Olmert or Sharon specifically, the decision-making process in Israel appears to be sound to you?

A. "No."

So much for all those who believe that disengagement was a well thought plan and that convergence is a good idea. It is clear from here that disengagement took place without any real discussion of the implications and the same thing is happening with convergence.