Monday, November 26, 2012

Party primaries in Israel, democracy at work or a big joke?

Yesterday I voted in the Likud primaries and I have to say it is a big joke. There is nothing remotely democratic about it.

The way the system works is that every voter has to pick a list of candidates that they want to serve in the Knesset. In the Likud voting yesterday every voter had to pick 12 national candidates. There are a number of glaring problems with the system:

1. There is no ranking. Everyone you pick is equal. Imagine you have a few candidates you think are really worthy so you vote for them. Now you have to vote for another bunch of candidates just so your ballot is valid. In other words, your vote for some Joe Shmo as your 12th pick who you know nothing about counts as much as your number 1 pick. Just to be clear, you HAD to vote for 12 candidates for your vote to be registered.
2. You end up voting for people that you never heard of and know nothing about. What ends up happening is that every serious candidate makes up lists of recommended people and that is who people vote for even though you have no idea who half the people are.
3. There are all kinds of deals and revenge lists. Every serious candidate has workers at every polling station giving out their recommended list of who to vote for. Every person that I saw at the polls (including myself) had a printed list with 12 numbers (the people to vote for). The system lends itself to gross manipulation by organized groups.

This is not just a problem with the Likud. All of the parties with primaries (which is not too many) have basically the same system because they all need to pick a list of people for the Knesset..

It is clear that the only solution is a district based system where every MK is elected from a district and then you can have district based primaries.

I have a few posts about election reform from a few years ago, unfortunately there has been a lot of talk but no action.

The electoral system in Israel is broken ...
Election reform in Israel

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How many times does a form of the word מלאכה appear in the Torah? (Shabbos 49b)

Todays's daf (Shabbos 49b) attempts to find a source for the idea that there are 39 melachos on Shabbos. The Gemara says that the various forms of the word מלאכה appear in the Torah 39 times.

However, there is a big problem. In actuality the various forms of the word מלאכה appear 65 times in the Torah. Many of the Rishonim in Shabbos quote R' Chananel that it appears 61 times and they are bothered by this obvious contradiction.

The Rishonim and Acharonim give a number of answers:
1. R' Chananel (quoted by the Ramban, Rashba and others) - The Gemara only counts the word מלאכה when it is written in the context of an act that is forbidden on Shabbos. This excludes things like מלאכה when described in Bereishis, etc. This also excludes all the references to מלאכת עבודה  by Yom Tov since all 39 מלאכות are not prohibited on Yom Tov.  According to this, the number of remaining appearances of the word מלאכה is thirty-nine if you start with 61 (see above). However, this is very difficult as we know that מלאכה really appears 65 times and therefore we are left with 43 not 39.
2. The תוספות יום טוב (Shabbos 7:2) explains that the Gemara excludes all appearances of the word מלאכה  that appear in the context of לא תעשה מלאכה. The תוספות יום טוב claims that the count, not including all of these, comes to a total of thirty-nine. However, this is simply not true as the תוספות יום טוב missed a few occurrences.
3, The מראה פנים says that the word מלאכת is not included in the count, however, this is difficult for a number of reasons. Firstly it does not get the count down to 39, secondly the Gemara explicitly says that מלאכת is included in the count.

This is one of those very difficult Gemaras which seems to imply that the text of the Chumash that we have is not even word perfect with that of the Amoraim and Rishonim (R' Chananel's 61 versus our 65 versus's the Gemara's 39). In fact, R' Akiva Eiger (Shabbos 55a) collects over 20 cases from all over Shas, medrashim, etc. where our mesora differs from either Chazal's or the Rishonim (see Does our sefer torah have an extra letter(s)? for more).

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Charedi leadership tone deaf? Is now the time to call for tefilos against the draft? Updated

The Charedi leadership is calling for 3 days of tefilos and learning against the draft. While that is very nice, you have to question whether now is the time to do this. With a mini-war going on in Gaza, the Northern front with Syria heating up and the reserves being called up it doesn't seem like this is the time to emphasize the Charedi world's non-service in the army. Would it not have been better to call for 3 days of learning for the safety of the soldiers fighting and the people in the South under attack and leave the draft issue until things calm down?

Here is the article from Thursday's Yated Neeman:

The rockets are flying in the South, the Yeshivas are running away to the North

This discussion comes up every time the South of Israel comes under rocket fire (see for example my post from 2009 Yeshivas are moving north out of danger, what about the protection of Torah learning?) Should the yeshivas move out of those areas? According to reports (See for example בהוראת הרבנים: הישיבות לצעירים נוטשות את הדרום ) both R' Shteinman and R' Chaim Kanievsky have told the yeshivas to leave the South and come to Bnei Brak.

On one hand the move is understandable, with rockets landing in Ashdod, Ofakim, Kiryat Malachi, etc. they want to move to a safer place. However, on the other hand, this raises some serious questions. The Charedi world justifies the draft exemption for yeshiva students based on the following:

1. Torah learning protects everyone
2. The boys are engaged in מלחמתה של תורה
3. Talmidei Chachamim don't need protection

Based on these it would seem that the Yeshivas should stay where they are. If the boys who are learning are engaged in war just like the soldiers why should they abandon their posts? In addition if Torah learning protects, let them stay where they are and be protected by their Torah.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Charedi Seminary in Bnei Brak is offering a course in developing smartphone applications

According to newspaper reports one of the prestigious seminaries in Bnei Brak is starting a course to teach girls how to develop smartphone applications.

Isn't this ironic, on one hand, the Charedi rabbanim are railing against smartphones and on the other hand the wives of Kollelnicks will be writing applications for those very same smartphones.

A Charedi spokesman offered the following explanation:
This is the crux of the conflict of the Charedi world with technology. On one hand it causes great damage, Yeshiva students are addicted to their iPhones and plummet in their level of religiosity. On the other hand, the world is moving ahead and people can make a good living from this.

The question we need to ask is how far will the Charedi world allow the women to go in supporting their husbands in learning? To develop smartphone applications you need a smartphone at some point (simulators/emulators are only good up to a certain extent, at some point you need to test on a real phone). What kind of rules will they need to invent to control the smartphone usage? Will it work? What will be the effect on the women?

This is a perfect example of the quagmire that the Charedi world is in today. You either need to become like the Amish and shun ALL modern technology or you need to embrace it, it is all but impossible to take a middle ground.

Source: ב"בית יעקב" בבני-ברק ילמדו לפתח אפליקציות

Sunday, November 11, 2012

R' Hirsch: Chinuch lessons from Yaakov and Esav

This post, R' Hirsch: Chinuch lessons from Yaakov and Esav, from three years ago is just as relevant today as it was then. Please take a look and read it.

Was עשו created as a רשע?

The answer according to the way the Maharal understands Rashi at the begining of this weeks parsha seems to be yes. Rashi on the pasuk ויתרוצצו הבנים, quotes the famous medrash that whenever Rivka passed a house of avoda zara עשו tried to get out. Rashi a few פסוקים later comments on the phrase ממעיך יפרדו

 מן המעיים הם נפרדים זה לרשעו וזה לתומו

From Rashi it seems clear that already in the womb Eisav was a רשע who wanted to worship avoda zara. The obvious question is why?

The Maharal points out that a person has no yetzer hara until he is born. The Maharal ( says

 אבל כאן מה שעשה עשו לא בשביל יצרו אלא מפני שהיה עשו רוצה לצאת לשוב אל מינו וטבעו שכל דבר ודבר מתעורר אל טבעו לפיכך כשבא יעקב לבתי מדרשות היה מתעורר אל רוח הקודש ומתעורר לצאת בטבעו וכן עשו כאשר היתה באה לפני בתי ע״ז ולא משום יצרו הרע.

Basically the Maharal says that Esav wanted to return to his nature (which was a rasha from creation and Yaakov wanted to return to his nature which was קדוש from creation). עשו wanted to worship avoda zara not because of a choice he made but rather because that was how he was created, that was his nature. The Maharal makes a similar comment in Parshas Noach (8,21, bottom of the second column):

ובבטן אמו אפשר לו לעשות מעשה רע ואין לו יצה"ר רק שהוא פועל כך בטבעו לפי שהוא רשע מבטן

 The Maharal says explicitly that a person can do bad things without a yetzer hara but rather because he was created a רשע.  

This raises some very troubling questions.

Isn't one of our fundamental beliefs that a person is NOT born a רשע but has free will? How does this fit in with this Maharal? How else can we explain why Eisav wanted to worship avoda zara in the womb according to the Medrash quoted by Rashi? This also raises questions as to the greatness of Yaakov. If Yaakov was created with a natural instinct to go to the Beis Medrash then he did not choose to be a צדיק but rather was born one, just as it seems עשו did not choose to be a רשע but was born one.