Sunday, December 31, 2006

Not just El Al, the railroad is next

Below is a picture of a pamphlet being given out decrying the chillul shabbos of the railroad in Israel.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Is there a חיוב כיבוד אב ואם for Grandparents?

See this post Is there a חיוב כיבוד אב ואם for Grandparents? from last year for a fascinating discussion about this issue based on a Rashi in this weeks parsha.

אני יוסף העוד אבי חי What was the תוכחה?

Rashi quotes the medrash that this was a great תוכחה. What exactly was the תוכחה? Last year I posted the Beis Halevi's very relevant pshat ( What was Yosef asking?").

This week I heard a different pshat in the name of the Chofetz Chaim. He explained that the simple fact that Yosef revealed himself was the Tochacha. As soon as the brothers saw Yosef as the King they realized without Yosef saying or doing anything that their whole outlook had been wrong and mistaken. The same thing applies to us when we go up to heaven. The simple fact that we see that Hashem really exists will be the greatest Tochacha. The only way a person can do an aveira is to deny the existence of Hashem on some level. If they really felt Hashem's presence there would be no way to do an aveira. Therefore the simple act of revealing himself will be the tochacha.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

How to stop Charedim from burning garbage bins

I read in one of the free newspapers, a novel idea of how to stop the garbage bin burnings in Charedi neighborhoods. Put pesukim with the shem of Hashem on the bins, because no one would chas v'shalom commit the aveira of destroying Hashem's name.

This is so laughable it is pathetic. Burning the bins is clearly an issur of gezela (stealing) yet for some reason that doesn't stop the burners. And yet, the issur of destroying the shem Hashem will deter people, it shows how badly out of whack our priorities are.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The laining on Chanuka in chu"l and EY

I have lived in EY for a number of years and to my embarrassment until this year had not even realized that the laining here on Chanuka in EY is different then in chutz laaretz.

On Chanuka we read the parsha of the נשיאים, every day the נשיא for that day. Each נשיא is 6 pesukim and we have 3 aliyas. That means we are 3 pesukim short. There is a machlokes the Mechaber and the Rama how we remedy the situation. The Mechaber writes that we simply read over that day. In other words, tomorrow morning Kohen will read the first 3 pesukim of the 4th נשיא, Levi will read the next 3, and the third aliya simply repeats all 6 pesukim of the 4th נשיא. The Rama on the other hand says, that for the third aliya you simply read the next day. In other words, tomorrow morning Kohen will read the first 3 pesukim of the 4th נשיא, Levi will read the next 3, and the third aliya reads the 5th נשיא. In chu"l the minhag is like the Rama and in EY the minhag is like the mechaber.

The Gra points out that this לשיטתם by chol hamoed succos. On chol hamoed succos the problem is greater, each day is only 3 pesukim and there are 4 aliyos. According to the Mechaber in chu"l kohen and levi read the 2 days of sefeka d'yoma and then the next 2 aliyas simply repeat them. The Rama writes that שלישי reads the next day and רביעי goes back on the first 2 days. In EY the macheaber writes that we simply repeat the same thing 4 times. Here also the minhag in EY is like the mechaber.

The machlokes would seem to be does the next day have any connection to today and does it make sense to read it.

Interestingly enough the Ashkenazim in EY are noheg like the Mechaber both on Succos and on Chanuka.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

When to daven mincha this Friday?

What is different about this Friday? This Friday we will light the first candle of Chanuka. Usually on Friday, most people light Shabbos candles and then they go to daven Mincha. The minhag on Shabbos Chanuka is that we light Chanuka candles before Shabbos candles (this needs a post by itself to explain why). Davening mincha after lighting Chanuka candles is problematic for 2 reasons:
1. The Chida writes that since Chanuka candles are זכר למקדש, they should be lit after Mincha because in the Beis Hamikdash the menora was lit only after the תמיד של בין הערבים. Nowadays, Mincha is instead of the תמיד.
2. There is a machlokes what is the nature of the mitzvah of lighting candles on Chanuka? Is it a mitzva of לילה? Or is it a mitzva of פרסומי ניסא? According to some Rishonim (the Rashba and others) it is a mitzva of night (see What is the nature of the mitzvah of lighting candles on Chanukka? for a lengthy explanation of the machlokes). Based on this, when we light before sunset on Friday night, it is the regular din that you can do mitzva's of night starting from plag hamincha. If so, when we light we are designating the time from plag hamincha until shkia, night and therefore it is inappropriate to daven mincha then (this is similar to the early Shabbos problem of davening Mincha and Maariv between plag and shkia).

Based on these 2 reasons, the minhag in many places has become to daven Mincha this Friday early (mincha gedola time) so that Chanuka candles will be lit after mincha.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

בחירה חפשית: Can I kill an innocent person?

Imagine 2 people Reuven and Shimon. Last Rosh Hashana Shimon was granted life for the year. Now Reuven and Shimon get into an argument and Reuven wants to kill Shimon. Can he kill him? On one hand we have the idea of בחירה חפשית on the other the idea of hashgocha pratis. In this week's parsha (וישב) a number of mefarshim address this question.

When the brothers are planning on killing Yosef, Reuven saves him by suggesting throwing him into the pit. The mefarshim ask what did Reuven accomplish, the pit was very dangerous (full of snakes, etc.), even life threatening. The אור החיים and the אלשיך both answer as follows. A person has בחירה חפשית and therefore the brothers could kill Yosef even if he was not supposed to die. However, animals since they have no בחירה חפשית cannot kill someone if he is not supposed to die. In other words, בחירה חפשית trumps hashgocha pratis. The Netziv gives this answer as well, however he qualifies it by saying that this only applies to someone who is not a צדיק גמור, but a צדיק גמור cannot be harmed even through בחירה חפשית.

The truth is that this should not be surprising. Most (if not all) the Rishonim limit Hashgacha Pratis. The Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 169, writes:

There are sects among mankind who maintain that Divine providence controls all the matters of this world… that when a leaf falls from a tree, He decreed that it would fall…. This approach is far-removed from the intellect.

Both the Rambam and the Ramban based hashgacha pratis on a person's closeness to hashem.

Meshech Chochma( Shemos 13:9)writes:

Divine Providence is manifest for each Jew according to his spiritual level as the Rambam explains in Moreh Nevuchim (3:18): Divine Providence is not equal for everyone but rather is proportional to their spiritual level. Consequently the Divine Providence for the prophets is extremely powerful each according to their level of prophecy. The Divine Providence for the pious and saintly is according to their level of perfection. In contrast the fools and the rebels lacking spirituality are in essence in the same category as animals... This concept that Divine Providence is proportional to spiritual level is one of foundations of Judaism...

Today, this idea (that the Chinuch explicitly rejects) of hashgacha pratis on everything has taken hold. There is no question that it is a very calming thought. You don't have to worry about chance occurrences affecting you, everything is directly from Hashem. However, this was not the view of the overwhelming majority of teh Rishonim.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Neturei Karta now Holocaust deniers as well?

Neturei Karta members showed up in Teheran at Iran's holocaust denial conference. Here is their excus for being there ("Neturei Karta: Iranians making logical claim)":
Neturei Karta's justification for attending the Holocaust denial conference is that they feel the need and the right "to declare on every Jewish stage that the Zionists don't represent the Jewish people, don't belong to the Jewish people, and don't belong to the Holy Land at all."
Neturei Karta's justification for attending the Holocaust denial conference is that they feel the need and the right "to declare on every Jewish stage that the Zionists don't represent the Jewish people, don't belong to the Jewish people, and don't belong to the Holy Land at all."

Rav Lau a Holocaust survivor expressed his outrage in a sentiment I think that we can all agree with:
According to Lau, "This is something not tolerated by the intellect, something that is complete insanity, truly chaos. If it could be that any Jew, for whatever reason, who is capable of shaking the hand of a Holocaust denier in a generation when there are still people with numbers tattooed on their arms among us – this is insanity that not only has no justification, but also no explanation."

As a Holocaust survivor, Lau wants to remind people: "What is the meaning of the number on the arm? The meaning is that the Nazis and their collaborators erased the humanity in people and turned us into numbers. I, for instance, wasn't Israel Lau, not even Lulek, my Polish nickname. I was Buchenwald prisoner number 117030, while I was still 7 and a half years old."

How the Neturei Karta can associate with people who deny the Holocaust is beyond me.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Why did the בני יעקב ask the people of שכם to convert?

I saw an amazingly relevant פשט on this. The brothers realized that if they killed a whole city of גוים the rest of the world would be outraged and would not leave them alone. However, they realized that if the people of שכם converted they could then kill them with impunity as they would be killing Jews and no in the world cares when Jews are killed.

When I first heard this I thought that it was a modern pshetl, but then I saw it is said in the name of R' Yonason Eyebeshutz. It is amazing that this basic truth has not changed in the past 250 years.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What does אחרון mean in Biblical Hebrew? Updated 12/10

In modern hebrew it means last. Does it also mean last in Biblical Hebrew?

RHS mentioned the following. Someone once asked the Tosfos Yom Tov how do we believe that there is going to be a third Beis Hamikdash, after all the pasuk in חגי talking about the Second Beis Hamikdash states: גדול יהיה כבוד הבית הזה האחרון מן הראשון, the pasuk states that the second Beis Hamikdash is the אחרון, the last one?

He answered based on a pasuk on this week's parsha (וישלח). The pasuk says: וישם את השפחות ואת ילדיהן ראשונה ואת לאה וילדיה אחרונים ואת רחל ואת יוסף אחרונים

Leah and her children were second in line followed by Rachel and yet the pasuk says with regards to Leah and her children, אחרונים and then the pasuk says Rachel and Yosef אחרונים. We see clearly that אחרון does not mean last but rather just means after. Therefore the Tosfos Yom Tov said, that is what the pasuk in חגי means as well, אחרון does not mean last but rather means the one after the first.


The Torah Temima quotes the Tosfos Yom Tov (דמאי ז:ג) on that pasuk. The Tosfos Yom Tov is explaining the use of the word אחרון in Mishnaic Hebrew, there also it means after and not last.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

עם לבן גרתי ותרי"ג מצות שמרתי

Rashi comments based on the medrash that גרתי = תרי"ג and therefore Yaakov was saying to Esav, even though I lived in Lavan's house I kept all 613 mitzvos.

However, there is an obvious question here. No one can actually keep all 613 mitzvos. Some mitzvos are just for Cohanim, some are just for the Cohen Gadol, some just for the King, some just in Israel, etc. Therefore, how could Yaakov say he kept all 613 mitzvos? Additionally he clearly didn't keep all 613 mitzvos because he married 2 sisters.

There are a number of answers I will mention 2.

1. Yaakov was referring to those mitzvos that are שקולה כנגד כל המצות, like talmud torah, tzitzis, etc. He meant that he kept those mitzvos and therefore it was as if he had kept all 613.
2. By the ברית בין הבתרים Avraham asks Hashem based on what will his children be זוכה? Hashem answered בזכות הקרבנות. Avraham then asked, what about when there is no Beis Hamikdash and no קרבנות? Hashem answered that if we say (learn) the קרבנות it is considered as if we were מקריב them. This is why we daven musaf on Shabbos and Yom Tov and mention the Musafim, ונשלמה פרים שפתינו.

As an aside, based on this RHS says that if you come late to shul it is better to say all of קרבנות and skip in פסוקי דזמרא, then skip קרבנות because קרבנות is a קיום דאורייתא while פסוקי דזמרא is just a nice thing.

Some acharonim say that this is not just a din by קרבנות but it applies to other parts of Torah as well. Whatever mitzva you personally cannot fulfill, if you learn the dinim of the mitzva it is as if you fulfilled the mitzva. Based on this, Yaakov was telling Esav that whatever mitzvos he could keep he kept, all the rest he learned the dinim and it was as if he kept them as well.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Charedi boycott of El Al and the Chiloni response

Because of the strike last week in Israel, El Al had a number of flights that flew on shabbos. Because of this the Charedi world is threatening a boycott.

I support this. El Al is a business and if they want the Charedi public's money they have to take care of them as customers. El Al understood the consequences of flying on Shabbos and now they have to deal with it. This is a perfectly legitimate consumer decision and has nothing to do with religious coercion.

Ynet published an article about this and the talkbacks to the article are very scary for their absolute hatred of the Charedi public, and complete ignorance and stupidity. Here are some of their silly claims:
1. Continental, Lufthansa, etc. fly on shabbos so how are they different from El Al? Somehow they can't understand that a goy is allowed to work on Shabbos and a Jew is not.
2. On Continental, Lufthansa, etc. the charedim will have no food to eat.
The chilonim haven't figured out that on just about any airline in the world I can get kosher food.
3. All the chilonim are now going to fly on El Al.
This is so ridiculous it is funny. The chiloni public will forget about this tomorrow and will fly on whatever airline gives them the best price.
4. This is religious coercion
Not at all. This is a group of consumers telling a company that they will only do business with them on their terms, take it or leave it. This is market economics at it's best.
5. No other airline wants the Charedi public
Given that the Charedi public makes up a large percentage of the traffic between Tel Aviv and NY there will be plenty of airlines who will try to accomodate the Charedi population to capture this market. Israir is already talking about signing an agreement not to fly on Shabbos.

There is 1 common thread on most of the talkbacks, hate for the Charedi public, especially the way they are perceived to act while flying. The impression that the chiloni public gets from the Charedi traveler on El Al is a very negative one. People are constantly walking around blocking the aisles and making noise, the minyan blocks the aisles and the bathrooms etc. While this also may be biased, there is definitely some truth to this and the Charedi public needs to realize when traveling, that to the average chiloni they represent Torah Judaism and therefore they need to act in a fashion that creates a kiddush hashem and not a chillul hashem.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The interesting story of Dina and Yosef

In last week's parsha (ויצא) we have the story of the birth of Dina. Rashi there comments (based on the Medrash) that Leah understood that she was pregnant with a boy and if she had another boy then Rachel would only have 1 of the shevatim, therefore she davened and Hashem made a miracle and turned the baby into a girl, Dina.

There are a number of problems with this Rashi as well as with the whole story of Dina.

In Parshas ויגש, the Torah writes when it lists the descendents of Yaakov, ואת דינה בתו. Rashi comments (based on the Gemara in Nidda) that we see that the Torah calls Dina the daughter of Yaakov to show us that the father is responsible for having a daughter. The Maharsha there asks, what is the proof from Dina, after all Dina started off as a boy (per the medrash in ויצא) and therefore how can any proof be brought from Dina?

Another problem that comes up in Parshas Vayigash is that Rashi comments (based on the medrash) on the pasuk ושאול בן הכנענית, that after what happened with Shechem, Dina made Shimon promise to marry her. The obvious question is how could Shimon marry Dina, his full sister? Even though there is a machlokes whether the shevatim had the status of klal yisrael and had to keep all the mitzvos, they certaionly had to keep the 7 mitzvos of בני נח, and one of those is arayos which prohibits them to marry their sister from their mother.

Both the Tur and the Maharsha answer based on the תרגום יונתן in ויצא. The תרגום יונתן explains the birth of Dina as follows. Both Leah and Rachel were pregnant, Leah was pregnant with Yosef and Rachel with Dina and miraculously the fetuses were switched. Therefore, Dina was always a girl and the proof from the pasuk (that the man is responsible for girls) is fine because Yaakov caused Dina to be a girl. Also, since Yosef and Dina were switched, על פי הלכה Leah was not Dina's mother, rather Rachel was and a בן נח is allowed to marry his sister from his father.

This Tur however, raises another question, what about Yosef? Who על פי הלכה is considered to be his mother? If it is Leah, then what good was the נס? Rachel still ended up with only 1 of the shevatim. Therefore we need to differentiate and say that both Dina and Yosef were Rachel's children.

When we consider how the halacha determines who the the mother of a baby is there are 3 possible alternatives:
1. Whoever conceives the child
2. Wherever the fetus is 40 days after conception (as until then it is considered מיא בעלמא and for example you are allowed to daven for the sex of the child)
3. Whoever gives birth

We see that the Tur cannot hold from 1 because even though Yosef was conceived by Leah he is considered Rachel's son. The Tur cannot hold from 3 either as the Tur holds that Dina was considered Rachel's daughter even though Leah gave birth to her. It would seem that the Tur holds like option 2.

With this we can say the following about Yosef. Leah was pregnant with Yosef but it was before 40 days while Rachel was pregnant with Dina and it was after 40 days. Therefore when they switched Yosef was less then 40 days so he was considered Rachel's son as on day 40 he was in Rachel's womb, while Dina had already passed day 40 in Rachel's womb so she was considered Rachel's daughter even though Leah gave birth to her.

It turns out according to the Tur that Rachel was the mother of both Dina and Yosef.

This Tur clearly has ramifications l'halacha with regards to surrogate mothers etc.