Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Laining on Rosh Chodesh

Today's and continuing to tomorrow's daf (Megilla 21b,22a), discusses how to split up the aliyas on Rosh Chodesh. There are 4 aliyas on Rosh Chodesh and the laining consists of 3 parshas of 8,2 and 5 pesukim. The gemara has 3 principles (the last 2 are really extensions of the first) that need to be followed when splitting up aliyas.
1. An aliya must be at least 3 pesukim
2. An aliya cannot start less then 3 pesukim from the beginning of a parsha lest someone walk in and mistakenly think that the previous aliya was only the 1 or 2 pesukim at the beginning of the parsha
3. An aliya cannot end with less then 3 pesukim left in the parsha lest someone leave and think that the next aliya will only be 1 or 2 pesukim (to finish the parsha).

There is no way to split up the Rosh Chodesh laining as is without violating one of these principles. The Gemara brings up a similar problem by maamados and answers that you repeat one of the pesukim. The maskana of the gemara is that we repeat a pasuk in the middle. It is not so clear what the maskana really means (is it referring to Rosh Chodesh or maamados? What does middle mean when you have 4 aliyos?).

The Ran quoting the Geonim explains the maskana as referring to Rosh Chodesh, and the laining is as follows.

Kohen - the first 3 pesukim
Levi - repeat pasuk 3 and read the next 2 (pesukim 3,4,5)
Shlishi - read pesukim 6,7,8 and the 2 pesukim of the parsha of shabbos
Revii - read the parsha of Rosh Chodesh (5 pesukim)

The Ramban asks a bomb question. What does it help that we repeat pasuk 3, we are still violating principle 2. By starting Levi with the third pasuk someone who walks in may think that the first aliya was only 2 pesukim, so what did we gain by repeating. Therefore, the Ramban says that the maskana of the gemara was for maamados and on Rosh Chodesh you don't repeat anything (and violate principle 2).

In Shulchan Aruch (Siman 422) we pasken like the Geonim quoted by the Ran.

The Gra there based on a Maseches Sofrim comes up with a way to split up the aliyas by repeating 1 3 pesukim without violating any of the principles. The Gra proposed the following:
Kohen - the first 3 pesukim
Levi - next 5 pesukim (4,5,6,7,8) until the end of the parsha
Shlishi - repeat pesukim 6,7,8 and the 2 pesukim of the parsha of shabbos
Revii - read the parsha of Rosh Chodesh (5 pesukim)

What the Gra proposes is an elegant solution to the problem and it is interesting that the minhag haolam is not like the Gra. In Israel many of the shuls (for example where I daven) are noheg like the Gra.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

How much does it cost to get engaged in Charedi Israel?

Well over 20,000 shekel and this is not including the wedding, an apartment, sheva berachos, etc. This is just the engagement period. Here is a list of gifts that need to be given:
Watch - Chasidim give a gold watch costing $1000+ many times costing between $1500 and $2000. In yeshivish circles they spend less only around 1200 shekel
Diamond ring - starts at $450
Necklace - $800 - $1200, Chasidim add another necklace for another $300 - $700
Bracelet - $500 - $700
Earrings - $250
Candlesticks - $300 - $500
Set of Machzorim - 750 shekel
Siddur and Tehilim - 300 shekel

This comes out to almost $4000.

Watch - Chasidim $1200 - $1500, yeshivish $500
Shas - 1500 - 3000 shekel
Tur - 1400 shekel
Kiddush Cup - Chasidim $400 - $500, Yeshivish $100 - $200
Menora - $300 - $700
Esrog Box - Chasidim $200 - $600
Atara - Chasidim $200
Miscellaneous - $250

This comes out to around $3000.

Remember, this is a very poor society, a very large element of the Charedi population lives under the poverty line. To spend these sums of money on (impractical) wedding gifts seems ridiculous especially when you need to multiply this by 7 (for each of the kids).

There is a problem of priorities when people who can hardly put food on the table are suddenly spending thousands of dollars on jewelry.

All the numbers are from this week's (Teruma) Hebrew Mishpacha magazine.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

More judicial tyranny

After the resignation of the Police Chief, the Internal Security Minister, Avi Dichter, appointed Yaakov Ganot as his replacement. Yaakov Ganot has a problematic past where he was indicted for bribery and although acquitted came out of the whole story looking very bad. Based on this, the good government groups immediately ran to the Supreme Court asking it to cancel the appointment. Everyone agrees that from a purely formal legal perspective the appointment is legal. If so, how can the Supreme Court get involved? The Supreme Court under Aharon Barak decided that everything is judiciable and that the Supreme Court can decide that the government's actions were unreasonable. There is no way to describe this except as judicial dictatorship. The elected government makes a decision based on their judgment of what is best and comes the Supreme Court and substitutes it's judgment and says that the decision was unreasonable. Why should the opinion of unelected judges hold more weight then the man elected and charged with the responsibility?

With regards to Yaakov Ganot, the Minister, Avi Dichter, whose responsibility it is to pick the Police Chief, decided that Ganot is the best candidate for the job. One of the fundamentals of representative democracy is that the people elect representatives who are supposed to use their judgment in running the government. Basically what the petitioners are saying is that based on our judgment we think he is a bad candidate and we would not have appointed him. The problem is that Avi Dichter was elected to apply his judgment as to what is best, if you don't like it run for the Knesset.

The only ray of light is that the mainstream newspapers have published a number of opinion pieces over the past few days (for example לגנות את בג"ץ גנות ) agreeing with my position here. Maybe now with the retirement of Aharon Barak we will see a return to sanity by the Supreme Court.

Monday, February 19, 2007

No more vacations in Miami Beach

I saw here that a group of Rabbonim have prohibited visiting (and kal vachomer living in) Miami Beach because of the pritzus. The question we need to ask is NYC that much better in the summer? Where does it stop?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Commentary on Jonthan Rosenblum's latest article

Jonathan Rosenblum wrote a very important article Look Before You Leap about the new Charedi "life insurance" plan in Israel. As he points out it is not a life insurance plan and is quite problematic. I would like to relate to the points that he raises at the end of the article.

He makes 3 observations:

Observation 1:
The first is the suspicion of experts. When the idea of a self-insuring group was first raised, the need to consult trained actuaries and lawyers with a background in insurance law should have been obvious.

There are a number of reasons for the Charedi population's suspicion of experts.
1. Charedi society in Israel denigrates all knowledge except for Torah. Secular education is kept to a bare minimum. Expert opinions on various subjects (such as the age of the world, evolution, and other areas that seem to contradict Torah) are made fun of. The overall atmosphere in the Charedi world is that everything is in Torah and that secular knowledge is unimportant and experts know nothing. When people in the Charedi world believe that Shlomo Hamelech could have invented cars, nuclear weapons etc., (see Could Shlomo Hamelech have invented cars?) then who needs secular experts? Given this atmosphere why would you think an expert opinion on this subject would be sought?
2. The average Charedi has no idea that there is such a thing as an actuary or that math can actually help here. When the extent of your mathematical education is arithmetic it is hard to relate to an actuary and understand that he actually has the tools to deal with these issues.

Observation 2:
The second is the tendency to believe that we have found a way to outsmart the odds – the financial equivalent of Ponce de Leon’s fountain of youth. Every year or so, we hear of avreichim who have lost all their chasanah money in some new Ponzi scheme that promised 30% returns, with no risk.

The premise is simply mistaken. He assumes that the average Charedi avreich understands what a Ponzi scheme is and that a 30% return is not realistic. While Jonathan Rosenblum knows this, I know this, and everyone reading this knows this, I don’t believe that the average Charedi avreich in Israel knows this. Someone who has grown up completely sheltered from secular society, doesn’t read newspapers, etc., has no secular education, has absolutely no idea how the economy works, has no reason to think that a 30% return is out of the ordinary. Based on what should they judge an investment? They have been give no tools to make a judgment about the worthiness of an investment and therefore it is not fair to hold them accountable.

Observation 3:
The sociology of our community is such that most families would not individually purchase relatively low-cost term life-insurance if they did not participate in this program. A group program sponsored by highly respected tzedakah organizations has a much better chance of providing some degree of protection to a large number of families.

Why can't we change the sociology? Why shouldn't the askanim go to the Gedolim, explain the problem, and offer a solution, low cost life insurance. If the gedolim would encourage everyone to buy life insurance wouldn't people listen? Why should we agree to a solution that is a poor second to real life insurance?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Rabbi Wein: The end of an era

Rabbi Wein has a fascinating article about Tu Bishvat where he states that we have reached the end of an era in Jewish history and today there is a tremendous lack of leadership in the Jewish world and that we need a new approach (within Torah).

Thus there is a great feeling of apathy and emptiness in the Jewish world today. In the realm of traditional Jewry, much of Religious Zionism has lost its steam; Chasidut has pretty much frozen and atrophied and become insular; the yeshiva world has become a place of narrow focus and elitism; the Mussar movement no longer exists; and modern Orthodoxy has not found its voice and parameters.

Therefore we are witness to the end of an era. The old is going and the new has not yet arrived. Hence the apathy and ennui, and the seeming lack of leadership that grips the Jewish world today. It is at such moments in Jewish history that a renewal of faith and idealism has always occurred.
The old tactics are no longer efficient for the solution of today’s problems. The answers are available within the framework of tradition and halacha as they were when Chasidut revolutionized Ashkenazic Jewry in the eighteenth century and Mussar created the yeshiva world of the late nineteenth century. We will not be able to live forever based on Holocaust memorials or Zionistic slogans that belie the reality of our situation here in the Land of Israel. We need a new way to govern here, to reform our politics and make it more representative.

The Torah should be freed from the chains of party politics that currently smother it.

I wholeheartedly agree with him, the current systems (Charedi or MO) are just not working.

What is the din if you kill 2 people בשוגג?

Take the following case, Reuven kills Shimon and Levi בשוגג, he goes to גלות and the כהן גדול dies. Does Reuven go free or does he have to go back to גלות again to wait for the new כהן גדול to die as punishment/kappara for the second killing?

This would seem to be a machlokes Rashi and the Baalei Hatosafos on Chumash. Rashi quotes the Medrash that Hashem makes sure that everyone is punished for their actions. The Medrash gives the following example. Reuven killed בשוגג and Shimon killed במזיד both without witnesses. Hashem will then arrange it so that Reuven kills Shimon in front of witnesses so that both get thier punishments. Reuven will go to גלות and Shimon will be killed. The Baalei Hatosafos ask on Rashi, Reuven is chayav to go to גלות twice once for the first killing with no witnesses and once for Shimon so how is he getting his punishment? We see clearly that they hold that each killing needs a separate גלות. Rashi on the other hand would seem to hold that one period of גלות can serve as the pubishment for a number of killings and therefore Reuven's one trip to גלות serves as teh complete punishment for both the killings.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Brisker Rav on teaching Hashkafa

The following is quoted in the name of the Brisker Rav (הרב מבריסק Volume 3 p. 179) with respect to the proper way to teach hashkafa.

... it is prohibited to teach students a number of opinions while explaining each opinion and how they differ, rather you should only teach the correct hashkafa

This statement of the Brisker Rav is clearly one of the points where MO and UO disagree. The Charedi world today follows this Brisker Rav to a T, they only teach the correct hashkafa. The MO world is more open to other hashkafic approaches and at least acknowledges that they exist and are valid.

However, the question we need to ask is, how do we know what is the correct hashkafa? There is no shulchan aruch in hashkafa and in fact the Rambam writes in a number of places that there is no psak in hashkafa (see Is there psak in hashkafa?).

I heard the following from R' CY Goldvicht Rosh Yeshiva of KBY. He was a talmid of both the Chazon Ish and the Brisker Rav and a big baal machshava. He once asked the Chazon Ish why he only talks in halacha to his talimdim, why doesn't he talk machshava? The Chazon Ish answered that in Halacha there are boundaries. We have the words of the tannaim, then amoraim, then rishonim, acharaonim and the shulchan aruch. If we go off the path we will see it right away. In machshava, when we interpret a midrash, we are trying to say pshat in the words of the tannaim with no intervening generations. (see To be mechadesh in machashava for more on this)

This applies to hashkafa as well, there is no shulchan aruch and therefore it is not so simple to know what is the correct hashkafa and what is not.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Lubavitcher Rebbe as a god

If this article is correct many Lubavitchers have literally started worshipping Avoda Zara.

Rabbi Ariel Sokolovsky is a Moldova-born Chabad rabbi in Portland, Oregon, and a more amiable soul would be hard to find. Yet Sokolovsky maintains a blog he entitled "Rebbegod" and refers to Schneerson as "Rebbe-Almighty" among other adulatory sobriquets.
He concedes that there are few people like him who will openly call the Rebbe God. He claims, however, that many people believe it, but do not say so openly for fear of scaring people away from Chabad altogether.

"The Rebbe and God are not the same thing exactly, but I do not object to people thinking that they are the same thing."
Above all else? Above God? "As far as we are concerned, we can pray to the Rebbe and he can deal with God for us."
If one believes in God but leaves the Rebbe aside, is one still Jewish? "When the messiah reveals himself, those who didn't see him won't be saved, so you should work on..." He is interrupted. "Look, what you need to do is start with God and work your way up to the Rebbe."
How do they view the connection between Schneerson and God? "The Rebbe is not something different from God - the Rebbe is a part of God," says a British teenaged student.

Does this not 'idolize' Schneerson, in the literal sense? "We cannot connect to God directly - we need the Rebbe to take our prayers from here to there and to help us in this world. We are told by our rabbis that a great man is like God and the Rebbe was the greatest man ever. That is how we know he is the messiah, because how could life continue without him? No existence is possible without the Rebbe."

I don't understand why the frum world is standing by and not saying anything (except for Dr. David Berger). This is literally avoda zara.

Recently, I was in the airport and a Lubavitcher was putting tefillin on people. After they put on the tefillin he told them to say shma and then "יחי אדונינו ורבינו מלך המשיח", I was blown away. It is nice that Lubavitch go around with tefillin and put them on non-religious Jews, but making them say the יחי is a terrible thing.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

2 opposing viewpoints on Charedi education

Today I read 2 different articles which are in stark opposition to what should be taught in the schools.

In shul this morning I saw a pamphlet decrying the secular education that girls get in Bais Yaakov.

It advocates a return to basics where girls would not learn computers, english, etc. where academic standards would be low and there would be no pressure. Here is a short quote:

... the expectations are unreasonably high, the workload is much too great, and the fattening up of the girls with knowledge and information that does not contribute towards building their character and personality. The girls are exposed to a heavy amount of information, math, English, science, and other subjects with a tremendous amount of pressure and competition. The expectations are unreasonable and they grow up as students of Judaism and and general knowledge (my emphasis).

Here are the kind of teachers that they want.

...oversight of the curriculum! checking of goals! We are not interested in teachers who have a good (secular) education for our daughters, we don't want teachers with degrees, rather we want teachers who know less (my emphasis), who are vessels full of fear of God who can influence their surroundings - meaning their students through their character, their davening, and most importantly by their actions serving as a personal example.

What is the result of this?

.. I have heard from mothers that their learned daughters when it comes to marraige relate to "Bnei Torah" who went up in fear of God and torah but are not worldly, disparagingly . They dismiss the possibility of building a house with them by saying if I marry him I should get money for becoming a shmatta. One mother quoted to me from her learned daughter "he is not interesting, he is small minded, he doesn't know what is going on in the world, he doesn't know geography, and worst of all he doesn't speak correctly (grammar errors) ..." and this is not the place to go on about what happens after marriage!

In short, the girls need to be protected from the outside world, not be so learned so that they can be wives for the Bnei Torah.

This position is untenable today for 1 simple reason, the girls need the education in order to be able to work and support their husbands who learn in kollel. You can't have it both ways.

The second article Are Our Children Too Worldly? takes a very different stance. His thesis is that our children are not worldly enough. This is a very worthwhile article to read. Here is 1 short quote which drives home the point:

We had put a number of practical questions about teaching to Reb Yaakov. To cite just two examples: whether and how to teach a) evolution, and b) the history of the Roman Catholic Church and Greek mythology. Reb Yaakov answered each of these questions with specific suggestions and advice
I’ll tell you. I’m often asked here in Monsey and especially regarding girls, “How much should we or can we shut them off to protect them from the culture at large?” I
always tell them, “You can’t! Unless, that is, you live in Squaretown.”
Not tell a young boy about evolution and then wait until at age 16 or 17 he reads in the New York Times, which he ‘knows’ prints only ‘verified facts,’ that the bones of a person 2 or 3 million years old were found!?? And the Times will print this without any mention of detracting opinions or controversy. What will this young man do? He’ll be completely lost! This would not happen if he had been taught at an earlier time in school by his rabbei’im and teachers
Reb Yaakov was talking about two kinds of knowledge to which he felt our talmidim should be exposed.
1. A knowledge and understanding of ideas that are widely accepted in the general culture, where a lack of understanding of which, can potentially harm our children and of which our children will perforce become aware.
2. A knowledge and understanding of those aspects of the general culture which are not only benign, but perhaps also important for our growth; language, history, science, social mores, etc.

This quote is quite sad, what kind of education is it when you can't ask serious questions.

There is an unwritten but whispered rule amongst Bais Yaakov girls that, “If you have some really serious questions, whatever you do, don’t ask your teacher, not unless you don’t care what it does to your shidduch chances!”

As you can imagine I agree with the second viewpoint and think that all of the efforts to create more and more walls are destined to fail and even backfire.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The right decision for the wrong reasons

PM Olmert actually made a good decision in deciding to appoint Daniel Friedman as the new Justice Minister. As I have written before, ( Judicial Tyranny in Israel, The Israeli Supreme Court) Israel is a judicial dictatorship where the judges and the AG have tremendous power. Professor Friedman is a staunch advocate of cutting back the power of the Supreme Court and changing the way judges are chosen which is a very good thing.

However, the decision was probably made for the wrong reasons, namely, to get back at the Justice system because it has made the PM's life miserable.