Monday, April 28, 2014

Why do Skverer Hasidim wear boots?

One thing that differentiates Skverer Hasidim's dress from other Hasidic groups is that they wear high boots on Shabbos.

The Mishpacha profile (referenced in my last post) quoted 2 reasons for this minhag, one a typical Chasidish story and one a very practical reason:

  1. One of the previous Rebbes went to visit his brother for Shabbos. On Erev Shabbos he put on the traditional white knee high socks, however, he saw that his brother was not wearing white socks because he was too poor to afford them. In order not to embarrass his brother he put on his high boots for Shabbos.
  2. Skver located in the Ukraine is a very cold place and therefore they wore boots all the time to keep their feet warm.
The question that we can ask is what is the relevance of wearing boots today? Especially according to the second reason, why wear heavy boots in a warmer climate where everyone has heat? Why did clothing styles get frozen in the style of 150-200 years ago?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

New Square: Total Conformity, is this what Judaism is about?

Mishpacha magazine (Hebrew) published an interesting supplement for Pesach where they had a writer spend a Shabbos in different places and describe the experience. One of the places was New Square.

The piece emphasized the total conformity in New Square in every aspect of life. Here are some example:

  1. There are no restaurants, bakeries, prepared food stores in all of New Square. The only supermarket sells only basic items, no prepared food, no national brands. Everyone eats the same few staples
  2. Everyone eats the exact same food on Shabbos. For example, the menu in every family in New Square for the Friday night meal without exception is 
    1. Gefilte fish
    2. Chicken Soup
    3. Chicken
    4. Fruit compote for desert
  3. There are no individual simchas. Every Shabbos there are approximately 10 aufrufs and ten bar mitzvas, they only throw candy at the end for everyone and there is 1 small kiddush after davening
  4. There is only 1 shul with only 1 minyan. On Shabbos morning at 8AM they start saying Tehilim for 3 hours, at 11AM they start Shacharis which takes over 3 hours
  5. There are 3 tishes every Shabbos which everyone must attend
  6. All the men dress exactly the same down to the boots that they all wear.
  7. There is complete separation between men and women
    1. separate sidewalks, one side men one side women, married couples aren't allowed to walk together
    2. separate waiting rooms at the doctor
    3. mechitza buses
    4. women leave shul after kedusha so that when the men leave there isn't a woman around

Another aspect mentioned in the article is the fact that the Rebbe is in total control of the town. The mayor, city councilmen, city workers are all appointed by the Rebbe and nothing happens without his say so. Since, the Rebbe is the absolute focus of the town, before anyone does anything they consult the Rebbe. Consulting the Rebbe is not cheap, first you have to pay the Kvitel writer, then there is a Gabbai in charge of the door to the Rebbe's room, you have to pay him as well. Last but not least you need to leave money for the Rebbe himself when you finally meet him.

I understand the importance of minhagim and mesora but this seems completely stifling. Where is the room for the individual? Everyone is not made from the same mould. Does saying tehillim for 3 hours every shabbos morning really talk to everyone? Aren't there people who could use their time more productively (in a spiritual sense)? Can everyone sit 6 hours in shul? What if a person wants to daven vasikin? Daven before סוף זמן תפילה? Must everyone eat the same exact food? Where is the opportunity for individual spiritual growth? The opportunity to use your own כוחות? To think for yourself?

The level of control that is described here seems "cult" like to me. The individual has basically no autonomy to do anything, everything is completely regimented. Is this really the way Hashem wants us to live, as faceless automatons all doing the exact same thing? 

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Could we bring enough Korban Pesachs for everyone?

There is a chiyuv on every person to bring a Korban Pesach, in fact it is one of the 2 mitzvos aseh that you are chayav kares for not fulfilling. However, it is very difficult to see how the Jewish people could actually have ever fulfilled this mitzva in the practical sense and certainly with the population today (~14,000,000 Jews) it is hard to see how enough Korbanos could actually be brought.

The Gemara in Pesachim 64b states that King Agrippas wanted to take a census so he had the Cohanim count the number of Korban Pesachs that were brought and it came out to 1.2 million korbanos, 12 million people (10 to a korban).

1.2 million korban pesachs seem to be a very problematic number. There are a number of major issues:

  1. The Korban Pesach is only brought on the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan after the korban tamid is brought. The Mishna (58a) states that on Erev Pesach the Tamid was brought from 7.5 - 8.5. That leaves just 3.5 hours (8.5 -12) to bring the korban pesachs. That means that they had to sacrifice over 340,000 korbanos an hour, over 5700 a minute and over 95 a second. That is simply impossible.  Let's think about what needed to be done.
    1. shechita
    2. collect the blood
    3. sprinkle the blood on the mizbeach
    4. Skin the animal and take out the organs to be burned on the mizbeach.
    All of this at the pace of 95 a second??? Just for comparison a modern slaughterhouse kills about 1000 animals an hour, so in the time allotted could get to 3500 animals. 
  2. How could they possibly fit all of the people and animals in the Azara? The Gemara states that the Korban Pesach is brought in 3 shifts. 1.2 million korbanos means 1.2 million animals and at least 1.2 million people, even in 3 even shifts that is 400,000 people and animals a shift!!! The Beis Hamikdash was simply not that big the whole thing was 100 ama x 100 ama. Even assuming a large ama of 2 feet that is only 40000 sq feet. In addition the Kodesh Hakadoshim was 20 ama long which takes away 1/5 of the total space. In any case, not only does it not fit 400,000 people and animals, it doesn't even fit 40000 people and animals. In addition, moving 400,000 people into and out of a confined space takes hours, the whole 3.5 hours would have been taken up by simply trying to get the people in and out without having time to do anything.
  3. This leads to the question that given the dimensions of the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash and the number of people, how did everyone ever bring a korban pesach? The numbers just don't work. 
  4. As I mentioned above there are over 14 million halachic Jews today, more then in the time of King Agrippas, if Moshiach came now, how could we all possibly bring a korban Pesach in the 3.5 hour window on Erev Pesach
I have seen various answers suggested all very difficult:
  1. The numbers are an exaggeration. This is difficult for a number of reasons:
    1. Nowhere in the Gemara (or in any of the Rishonim/Acharonim that I saw) is there even a hint that these numbers are not real.
    2. Even much smaller numbers are unrealistic, even 1/10, 100,000 korbanos, is impossible
    3. How would we do the mitzva today if Moshiach came with the population numbers as they are?
  2. It was all a miracle. This is also very very difficult:
    1. The fact is, that on this very daf, indeed, just a few lines above, there is the famous machlokus between Rava and Abaye on ... are we allowed to rely on nissim. "Abaye said: it was taught that it was closed [referring to the gates of the azarah] , Rava said, that they closed it. What is between them? This is between them: to rely on a miracle.  Abaye who says that it was closed, like it was closed by itself and they relied on a miracle [to ensure there were two other groups].  Rava says they closed it, and we do not rely on a miracle. ..." If the entirety of the aliya laregal and particularly the korban pesach was ma'aseh nissim from beginning to end, then Rava's position is rendered untenable - nobody went into the Azarah for pesach without relying on countless miracles, so what is the closing of a door or allowing it to be closed in the grand scheme of things?   And generally machlokus Abaye and Rava we posken like Rava - so where does that leave us halacha l'ma'seh?
    2. This is quite a big miracle and yet nowhere in the Gemara or even the Rishonim or Acharonim do we have a hint about this very big miracle.
Here is another point to consider. In addition to the Korban Pesach which would have 10 or more people in a chabura there was a chiyuv on every male to bring an olas r'iya on the first day of Yom Tov, this is 1 korban per person, so if there were 1.2 million korban pesachs each with at least 10 people, that is at least 6 million olas r'iyas that needed to be brought.

In addition, there was the chagigas yud daled which was supposed to be brought to provide meat to eat at
the seder (especially if there were big chaburas for the korban pesach) plus additional shalmei simcha. This all adds up to hundreds of thousands if not millions of additional korbanos besides the Korban Pesach that needed to be brought at this time. It just doesn't seem possible.

Until now we have discussed how this could have worked in the Beis Hamikdash. However, Bnei Yisrael brought the Korban Pesach the second year in the Midbar as well. At that time there were only 3 Cohanim, Aharon and his 2 sons. The population was 600,000 men plus presumably 600,000 women, assuming even 20 people per chabura that leaves 60,000 korbanos. Even if the shechita was done by a non-kohen, 3 cohanim had to do all the other avodos, kabolos hadam, holacha, zerika, ... burningthe emurim on the mizbeach. That is certainly an impossible task for only 3 cohanim. Could 3 cohanim really be makriv tens if not hundreds of thousands of korbanos in a 3.5 hour window?