Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Haim Ramon -- Guilty

Good riddance.

What is really pathetic is that his whole defense was that it was consensual. He is a 50+ man, Justice Minister, a leader, one of the elite of Israeli society, and he is playing around with 21 year old girls? What kind of judgment does that show? What kind of morals is that even if it was consensual?

What is also disturbing is the reaction of Eli Yishai.
Reactions from Politicians
This is a prominent public and political leader, who has given so much to the Israeli political system. I am sure that Ramon will take advantage of his right to appeal

Eli Yishai is the leader of Shas a religious, Haredi party. Even if Ramon is "innocent" he doesn't deny what happened just the interpretation (consensual or not). What happened is not the mark of a leader and certainly not someone who should be praised by the religious community.

Hopefully this is the beginning of the end of Kadima.

There is 1 downside to this whole story. It strengthens the judicial dictatorship currently ruling the country. This decision strengthens AG Mazuz and makes him by far the most powerful person in the country (unelected of course). This greatly weakens the chance that something wil be done to break the judidical dictatorship.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Rabbi Elyashiv: Jews in Eilat must hold two Seder nights

This is from an articles in Globes
Religious and haredi (ultra-orthodox) Jews who travel to Antalya, Turkey, or Eilat for Passover must hold two Seder nights, the same as Jews in the Diaspora ever since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Bnei Brak local paper “Kol Ha’Ir” quotes Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv as saying. Eilat is included in the rabbi’s ruling because it is not part of the Land of Israel.
Eilat chief rabbi, Yosef Hecht says that the town’s residents and hotels hold only one Seder night.

If you want peace, prepare for war

This is what the left in Israel simply cannot understand. Professor Auman (the Nobel Prize winner) spoke recently:

I will allow myself to say a few unpopular, unfashionable words: our panicked longing for peace is working against us. It brings us farther away from peace, and endangers our very existence.
Roadmaps, capitulation, gestures, disengagements, convergences, deportations, and so forth do not bring peace. On the contrary, they bring war, just as we saw last summer. These things send a clear signal to our 'cousins' [the Arabs -ed.] that we are tired, that we no longer have spiritual strength, that we have no time, that we are calling for a time-out. They only whet their appetites. It only encourages them to pressure us more, to demand more, and not to give up on anything. These things stem from simple theoretical considerations and also from straight thinking. But it's not just theory: it has been proven and re-proven in the field over thousands of years. I returned today from a trip to India, where we heard about historical stories that illustrate the same. Capitulations bring about war; determination and readiness bring about peace.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Kiddush Hachodesh

In this weeks parsha we have the first mitzva given to the Jewish people, החדש הזה לכם the mitzva of קידוש החדש. This meant that Rosh Chodesh was determined by the testimony of the witnesses in front of the בית דין and that it was their determination and pronouncement that actually made it Rosh Chodesh. At some point about 1800 years ago this stopped and since then we have been using a fixed calendar. The obvious question is how does this work?

The Rambam states both in the Sefer Hamitzvos and the Mishna Torah that there are 2 systems in halacha of determining when Rosh Chodesh is.
1.קידוש החדש
2.A הלכה למשה מסיני of חשבון (calculation, e.g. the calender).

According to the Rambam when קידוש החדש stopped about 1800 years ago, the הלכה למשה מסיני of the calendar kicked in.

The Rambam writes that nowadays what is מקדש is the ניהוג of ראש חדש by the Jews in Israel. Hilchos Kiddush Hachodesh (5,13)
זה שאנו מחשבין בזמן הזה כל אחד ואחד בעירו ואומרין שראש חודש יום פלוני, ויום טוב ביום פלוני--לא בחשבון שלנו אנו קובעין ולא עליו אנו סומכין, שאין מעברין שנים וקובעין חודשים בחוצה לארץ; ואין אנו סומכין, אלא על חשבון בני ארץ ישראל וקביעתם. וזה שאנו מחשבין, לגלות הדבר בלבד: כיון שאנו יודעין שעל חשבון זה הן סומכין, אנו מחשבין לידע יום שקבעו בו בני ארץ ישראל איזה יום הוא; ובקביעת בני ארץ ישראל אותו הוא שיהיה ראש חודש או יום טוב, לא מפני חשבון שאנו מחשבין.

RYBS explains the Rambam as follows. One of the jobs of the Sanhedrin is to represent the Jewish nation (this is for example why real semicha can only be given in Israel even thoug it is clearly not a מצוה התלויה בארץ, based on this as well he explains a contradiction in the Rambam between Hilchos Terumos and Hilchos Melachim in the definition of כיבוש רבים and more). קידוש החדש is really a mitzva on all of the Jewish nation. However, all of the Jewish people cannot do קידוש החדש, therefore the Sanhedrin does it as our representative. However, when we switch over to the הלכה למשה מסיני of חשבון, the mitzva reverts back to the Jewish nation and it is the ניהוג of the Jewish nation that is what is actually מקדש, and because the Jewish people as a nation only exists in Israel it is the קביעות of the Jews living in Israel which is what is actually מקדש the חדש.

This Rambam is used to answer the question of why the Rambam left out the mitzva of ישוב הארץ?

Some answer that we see from this Rambam that ישוב הארץ is not just a regular mitzva, the whole calendar depends on Jews living in Israel and therefore it is a mitzva כללית and according to the Rambam's principles is not listed.

In any case, we see the tremendous emphasis the Rambam placed on living in Israel.

The Ramban disagrees with the Rambam and claims that he never heard of such a הלכה למשה מסיני, rather, he explains that the calendar is really based on the regular halacha of קידוש החדש. The chachamim at that time got together and were actually מקדש all the future ראשי חדשים, and they left us a calendar which tells us what days they were מקדש.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

How did the חרטומים turn water into blood?

The answer would seem to be that magic really worked in those days. I think we all understand that magic does not work today. The question is 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 and served as teh counterbalance to נבואה.

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. Otherwise people will lose their בחירה חפשית.

Likewise, magic cannot exist without a counterbalancing force like נבואה and miracles. Without the counterbalance the pendulum will swing too far away from belief in Hashem. Since we don't have these counterbalancing forces magic can't work today.

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. Hashem didn't take away his בחירה חפשית by hardening his heart, rather he restored it. By taking the makos out of the equation he gave Pharoah free choice whether to release Bnei Yisrael or not.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

1 down 2 to go

The Chief of Staff Dan Chalutz resigned last night because of his performance in the Lebanon war. Better late then never. It is clear that he did an awful job in the war and needed to go. Hopefully his other 2 partners Peretz and Olmert will also go soon.

The resignation of Chalutz casts a very bad light on Sharon (and Mofaz) who appointed him. It is clear that he was appointed for 1 reason only, he would follow orders and execute the disengagement. As we look back it is becoming crystal clear that Sharon was one of the worst PM's ever and that just about every major decision that he made was a mistake.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Slifkin affair erupts in RBS

R' Slifkin recently started giving shiurim at the shul he davens in about topics related to the animal kingdom (not science and torah). The "Rav Av Beis Din of RBS", R' Perlstein recently publicized an anti-Slifkin letter denouncing these shiurim.

The letter is written in flowery and rabbinic Hebrew and is quite hard to literally translate. Here is my attempt at a translation:

Regarding what you asked about Natan Slifkin, it is definitely prohibited to participate in the shiurim of one who distorts and cuts up the words of Chazal. Woe to the ears of one who hears such nonsense, especially since all the Great Sages in both Israel and America have declared that it is prohibited to read his books and to listen to his shiurim, and it has already been publicized many times, who would not be careful with his soul and keep their distance from him. Give it some thought, when expert doctors warn against eating something specific because of a small possible danger, who would dare eat it, and this all the more so that the Great Sages said with certainty that his writings are prohibited and his words are suspected of containing heresy, who would want to lose his world (to come), destroy his portion and abandon the source of pure spring water (e.g. Torah), and drink from broken wells, at a time when the torch that was given to Moshe is passed through the generations via our sages, who kill themselves in the tents of torah and guard the holy watch, they are the same ones who said not to touch (Slifkin's works) therefore I say faithfully, (quote from a pasuk) people should listen to shiurim only from those who are confirmed in Torah and fear of Heaven and the words of chazal are embedded in their hearts like nails. With this you will be blessed with children and grandchildren learning torah and doing mitzvos from the purity of their heart as it has been passed on from generation to generation.

We should continue to go with the light of the torch of the Great Sages and blessed are we that the Torah was given to his guards.

Rafi Goldmier published a response from R' Malinowitz who is the Rav of the shul that R' Slifkin davens in and is the general editor of the Artscroll gemaras.

The response is quite interesting, R' Malinowitz accuses someone of forging the letter as he says that the letter is so inaccurate that it could not possibly have been written by R' Perlstein. For a full translation see And the Slifkin Saga Continues...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Moshe not nursing from a מצרית

The pasuk in last week's parsha (Shemos) says they brought a nursing woman from the Jews. The Medrash brought down by Rashi comments that Moshe refused to nurse from an Egyptian woman because he was going to grow up and be a Navi so how could he eat non-kosher food. In other words, the non-kosher food would have affected his soul and made it impossible for him to be the Navi that he became.

The Gra comments that this Medrash is the source of the din in Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah Siman 81 that although Jewish baby is allowed to have a non-Jewish wet nurse, the Shulchan Aruch says that you shouldn't do it because the non-kosher food will harm the baby spiritually. Likewise the Rama there states that a Jewish woman who needs to eat non-kosher food for health reasons should not nurse her baby because the non-kosher will harm him.

We see from the above, that non-kosher is intrinsically harmful for a person's soul even if they eat it b'heter.

The Ran in his Drashos says this explicitly. In the 11th drasha he discusses why Halacha is decided by Chachamim and not Neviim. He asks the following question. He says that if a Chacham makes a mistake and permits a forbidden food it is like a doctor who makes a mistake and gives a patient poison instead of medicine. In both cases the person is harmed. If so, why don't we have Neviim decide halacha with nevua and there would be no mistakes? He answers that nevua is not always available (see the drasha for more details). He then explains that even though eating non-kosher food is harmful the mitzva of listening to Chachamim may counterbalance the harmful effects. In any case, we see clearly from the Ran that non-kosher is objectively poison and harmful even if you eat it b'heter.

The Abarbanel (Devarim 17,4) disagress with the Ran. He holds that a person is never harmed by following the Chachamim. If it is mutar then it cannot be harmful. It would seem that the Abarbanel holds that non-kosher is not objectively harmful, rather it is harmful because it is prohibited. If for you there is no prohibition then it is not harmful.

Rashi in Chullin(5a) seems to agree with the Abarbanel. The gemara there is discussing whether a mumar l'avoda zara can do shechita. The gemara tries to bring a proof from Eliyahu Hanavi. At 1 point Hashem tells Eliyahu to go live by himself and the Orvim (birds) brought him meat to eat from Achav's place and (almost)everyone in Achav's palace worshipped Avoda Zara. How could Eliyahu eat the meat if meat slaughtered by a mumar is not kosher? It must be that a mumar is allowed to slaughter. The Gemara answers that על פי דיבור שאני. Rashi explains that Hashem permitted him to eat non-kosher meat (a Navi is allowed to violate the Torah based on his nevua). The obvious question is how could Eliyahu Hanavi eat non-kosher food if it is spiritually harmful? It didn't seem to affect him as he continued being a Navi. The answer would seem to be like the Abarbanel that because he ate it b'heter it was not spiritually harmful.

In fact, the Ritva in Chullin as well as the Maharsha understand the gemara's answer differently. They understand that the Gemara answered that Eliyahu Hanavi knew b'nevua that the meat was kosher, that it had been slaughtered by Ovadia who did not worship Avoda Zara. According to them, Eliyahu Hanavi did not end up eating non-kosher food.

To sum up, we have a major dispute whether non-kosher food is objectively harmful to a person (even if he eats it b'heter like a nursing baby) or not.

R' Moshe (Orach Chaim 2:88) quotes a teshuva of the Chasam Sofer where he discusses a handicapped girl in the following situation. If she stayed at home she would never develop and remain an ayno bar daas. However, if the parents sent her to a special school they claimed that she would reach the potential of a 13-14 year old. However, the school was in a non-Jewish area and there was no possibility of providing kosher food. The Chassam Sofer said that al pi din it is muttar, however he recommends against sending her for the following reason. If they send her she will become a bar daas and be chayav in mitzvos. However, the non-kosher food will affect her lev and she will probably violate torah and mitzvos and therefore it is better for her to remain an ayno bar daas.

We see clearly that this idea that any non-kosher food is metamtem halev, even if eaten b'heter (the girl was a ketan and an ayno bar daas so there was no issur), is brought down l'halacha.

The fallout from the El Al boycott

The Charedi press had some interesting points over the weekend.

In Mishpacha (Hebrew), one of the writers wrote that the public is still waiting for an explanation of why El Al was boycotted, but Egged (which runs buses on Shabbos), Israel Railways, Israir , etc. are not boycotted.

They also pointed out that the agreement is secret and no one really knows what exactly it says.

In Hamodia, they made the point that El Al may have made a lot of money from the boycott as they got all the cancellation fees and were able to sell cheap tickets at higher last minute prices.

Finally, The Yeshiva World (Israir: Sefer Torah update) has the following item about Israir

Radio Kol Chai has reported that a compromise has been worked out regarding the Sefer Torah on the Israir 767 that flies to Paris and London on Shabbos when not doing the transatlantic run. The Sefer Torah will now be removed from the aircraft and left with the Ben Gurion Airport Rabbi; in the airport shul aron kodesh for the weekends. It’s interesting to note that Israir did not blink, of course, about its 27+ scheduled flights every Shabbos.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

More news from our wonderful Prime Minister

Prime Minister: Unilateralism policy has been a failure, remember, Olmert a year ago was so inspired by the disengagement that he was going to do it again, that was his main campaign plank. In fact, if the war in Lebanon had not occurred he may have gone ahead with it.

What does this say about the government? Why did he think that unilateral withdrawals would work? In essence, Rabin, Barak, Sharon, and Olmert are all experimenting with our lives at stake.

Olmert has now run away to China to get some applause and get away from from his problems in Israel. When he comes back it looks like he will be facing a criminal probe regarding his conduct in the Bank Leumi sale. In addition, the Jerusalem Post reports State to open criminal probe on Olmert that there are at least 2 other examinations involving criminal allegations against Olmert.

One has to do with his purchase of a private home on Cremieux Street in Jerusalem's German Colony. He is suspected of having bought the home for hundreds of thousands of dollars below the market price. In turn, he allegedly promised to use his influence at city hall, where he had served as mayor, to increase the contractor's building rights.

Another case involves allegations that Olmert made political appointments in the Small Businesses Authority when he served as Minister of Industry and Commerce under prime minister Ariel Sharon.

When there is smoke there is usually fire. There is no doubt in my mind that Olmert is very corrupt and that these are just the tip of the iceberg. It is amazing how such a loser was elected and not surprising that 77% of the people think he is doing a bad job and that 60% believe that Olmert is corrupt ( Some fascinating poll numbers about Olmert).

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Election reform in Israel

The Megidor commission was appointed by the President 2 years ago to look into how the system of government in Israel could be changed for the better. They released their findings this week. I posted about this ( The electoral system in Israel is broken ...) a while ago and their main recommendation is along the lines of what I posted. The main points were:
  1. Half the Knesset (60 MK's) whould be elected in regional elections in 17 districts each district sending 2-5 MK's to the Knesset

  2. The other 60 MKs will be elected by proportional representation, according to the total number of votes that each party wins in the regional elections.

  3. The number if ministers is capped at 18

  4. Except for the prime minister and his deputy, all other MKs chosen for the cabinet will have to resign their Knesset seats

In yesterday's Yated Neeman there were a number of articles blasting the proposal and claiming that it will take away the Charedi representation in the Knesset. While they are probably right that the number of Charedi MK's will go down, it does not necessarily mean that Charedi interests will not be represented. In the US, there are no Charedi Senators or Representatives and yet, the Charedi population's interests are looked after. What this system will mean is that the modus operandi will need to change. The Charedi population willl need to work through non-Charedi representatives. Imagine a district with a sizable Charedi population (20%). Whoever would represent that district would need to take the Charedim into account, their support could swing the election. We might actually get a chiloni representing Charedi interests in the Knesset and vice versa. It would create a lot more understanding and a lot less posturing.

Some fascinating poll numbers about Olmert

A poll was released yesterday in Israel about Prime Minister Olmert. The numbers are pretty bad (or good depending on how you look at it).

Here are some of the results:

77% think he is doing a bad job
69% believe that his leadership skills are lacking
80%!!! believe that the decision to go to war with Lebanon was not thought out and did not take all the factors into consideration
70% believe that the way he makes decisions is bad
60% believe that Olmert is corrupt
62% believe that he cannot stand up to pressure

If elections were held today the results would be:

Likud 20 seats
Kadima 15 seats
Labor (under Peretz's leadership) 15 seats

These poll results are why Olmert and Peretz will do absolutely anything to avoid new elections.