Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A new logo for UNRWA

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The role of human initiative and action

The article that I quoted yesterday  It's not Iron Dome [saving us] it's Hashem, where Chaim Cohen claimed that Hashem is diverting the Hamas rockets to non-inhabited  areas and that our hishtadlus (Iron Dome) has little to no effect, started me thinking about this question. The article is perfect example of the current Charedi approach that a leaf doesn't fall without it being decreed from heaven (see my post Hashgocha Pratis, what does it mean? for an elaboration of this). I believe that this shita has taken over the Charedi world in the last 50 years for the following reasons:

1. It is theologically simple. It is a very black and white answer which fits into the current Charedi mindset and it promotes emuna peshuta
2. It is as the Chinuch wrote far-removed from the intellect, which fits the current anti-intellectual climate
3. It fits very well with a Torah only mindset. If everything (even a leaf falling) is from Hashem then Torah only makes a lot of sense. Everything else doesn't count anyway.

While this shita is certainly legitimate and has it's sources, it creates a lot of serious questions about man's role in the world. Basically, according to this shita, man has no real role in the world. This world is simply a test and nothing that man does has any real effect (see R'Dessler). The problem is that we see with our own eyes that this isn't true. Of course R' Dessler says that we are simply mistaken and it is all a test, but I think that most people have a very hard time with this. We see that people take initiative and do things and do have success. People work hard and get promoted for their hard work, get good grades and based on that get high paying jobs, etc. While this shita may have made sense for people in earlier times when man had basically no control over anything, today, when we do have limited control, and we can see the direct results of our actions this shita is much more difficult to accept.

In fact, even in the real Haredi world we find that this shita is not accepted when it comes to certain things, medicine for example. Haredim many times move mountains to see the top specialist in the field (for a famous case see Should we go to the best doctor?).  However, according to R' Dessler (and the Chazon Ish) this really should be considered too much השתדלות and a lack of בטחון. After all, Hashem is doing the healing not the surgeon and once we have done our השתדלות, going to the doctor and having the surgery, why should it matter whether the surgeon is the best in the world or simply Joe surgeon who is competent? As long as we do our השתדלות to avoid requiring a נס, the rest is a גזירה מן השמים. If the גזירה is that the surgery will be successful, then it will be successful even if done by the average surgeon, and if the גזירה is that it won't be successful then it won't help that you have the best surgeon.

In fact, what does it actually mean that someone is considered the best surgeon? After all, הכל בידי שמים, our success is actually an illusion to make it look like it is our skill. In fact, our success in worldly matters is simply a גזירה מן השמים so the fact that he successfully operated is not due to his skill but due to the גזירה מן השמים. This is essence Chaim Cohens claim against Iron Dome, all hishtadlus is simply an illusion and doesn't really matter.

There is however, a different approach, that while there certainly is hashgacha in the world, man also has the ability to take initiative and accomplish things. As I pointed out yesterday, the Ran in his Derashos (10) explains that in truth a person can say that כחי ועוצם ידי עשה לי את החיל הזה as long as he recognizes that his raw talents come from Hashem. because we see that different people have different talents and some people are truly gifted. With this approach, Hashem has given every person certain כוחות and it is up to us to use those כוחות in the world. According to this approach, Iron Dome itself is from Hashem because he gave the designers and implementers the intellect and skill to build it. However, it didn't just come down from heaven, people had to actually use their initiative and skills to make it happen.

This is much more theologically complex position, but ultimately one that fits in much better with the way we see the world working and I believe gives more meaning to what we do in our lives.

Monday, July 21, 2014

It's not Iron Dome [saving us] it's Hashem - Updated

So writes Chaim Cohen in a column on the Charedi website Kikar Shabat. He is upset that all we hear about in the news is praise for Iron Dome and that no one gets up and says that we are being saved by Hashem in the merit of our Torah learning and mitzvos. He even claims that Hamas believe this quoting an interview on CNN where he claims that someone from Hamas said that their rockets are very accurate and that 80% of the rockets are diverted to uninhabited areas by your god.

I have a few issues with this article.
1. Why is it that when it comes to the good things done by the government they always come from Hashem but yet the bad things are always from the government? If you really believe that Iron Dome has little to no role in protecting us, it is all from hashem then where is that faith when it comes to other things like government money? Why scream, kick and yell when the government cuts funding, after all that also comes from Hashem? Why bring in the top heart specialist to treat R' Elyashiv (see Should we go to the best doctor?) when everything is from Hashem?
2. As many people pointed out in the comments on Kikar Shabbat, there was no such interview on CNN, it looks like he simply made it up. The claim that their rockets are accurate is laughable and ridiculous. Everyone knows that their rockets are very inaccurate especially the home made ones and therefore 80% landing in uninhabited areas is perfectly reasonable.
3. Where is the Hakaros Hatov to the soldiers and the defense establishment? Soldiers are dying in Gaza protecting him and his family and is pontificating about having faith.
4. His argument is silly. He can claim anything but he has no way to prove it.

Updated 10:30PM

R' Aviner has what I believe is a much truer Torah perspective. He says that we need to understand that Iron Dome is from Hashem. He quotes a Ran in his Derashos (10) where the Ran explains that in truth a person should be able to say that כחי ועוצם ידי עשה לי את החיל הזה because we see that different people have different talents and some people are truly gifted. However, the Torah tells us that we need to remember that these כוחות are from Hashem and therefore ultimately it is all from hashem. This is the way that we need to look at Iron Dome, Hashem gave the Jews who built the system the intelligence and skill to build it. Therefore, Iron Dome is itself a נס  and worthy of praise.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Summer Safeguard Campaign

When I first heard about this I thought this was a safety campaign for the summer. However, when I saw this ad I realized that this was nothing of the sort.

I think this is a very unfortunate and damaging phenomenon. It makes Judaism into magic and promotes a quick fix. You have a problem do this סגולה and your problem will be solved. That is not how it is supposed to work. You are supposed to be מפשפש במעשיו do teshuva, etc. not some quick fix.

For a whole list of Segula ads see The latest סגולה and Some of the segula type ads that I have seen in the past.

I recently heard a drasha from a Charedi Rosh Kollel who decried the whole segula business and he said the following. When Bnei Yisrael fought Amalek the Torah says that when Moshe raised his hands they won and when he lowered them they lost. Chazal asked did Moshe's hand win the battle? The Rosh Kollel said that if we asked this question today about a Gadol (do R' Chaim Kanievsky's raised hands make us win the war?) the answer would be "of course" and "how can you even ask such a question"? Yet, Chazal did ask this and didn't answer of course.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Charedi Yeshivas are again running away from the missiles in the South, what about the protection of Torah learning?

Source: Mishpacha Newspaper י"ב תמוז

This is the third time in 5 years that this is happening and I am posting about it (Yeshivas are moving north out of danger, what about the protection of Torah learning?Should yeshiva students move away from the South to avoid the missiles?). Three times in Halacha makes a חזקה, so it is fair to say that we can draw conclusions from the actions of the Yeshivas. What I posted then is as relevant today as it was then:

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. Talmidie 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. Their move undermines the claim for draft exemptions and looks very bad. The soldiers are preparing to entering Gaza to fight while the yeshiva bachurim are fleeing to safer havens.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Skverer Chasidim are now censoring the Chumash

Skverer Chasidim have come out with a new Chumash for their girls school that has censored out whole swathes of the Chumash. It only starts at לך לך as בראשית and נח are too theologically challenging and then it censors out things like Lot's affair with his daughters, Yehuda and Tamar, Yosef and Potiphar's wife. In short, anything having to do with relations between men and women.

I always joked that the Chasidim would need to censor things out of the Chumash but I am still surprised to see it actually happening.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

How many people can a פרה אדומה be מטהר? Part 2

In my previous post I asked about the strange distribution of פרה אדומה 8 in the period of the second בית המקדש and only 1 from Moshe to Ezra.

The ערוך לנר (Succah 21a) offers an answer explaining why there were so many in the second בית המקדש. He posits that פרה אדומה are very rare, it is very hard to find an animal that meets all the criteria. Therefore he says that whenever they did find one they used it even if they did not need the ashes. In other words, the reason why there were 7 פרה אדומה during the time of the second בית המקדש is that 7 suitable animals were found. If more animals had been found there would have been more, if less animals had been found there would have been less. The פרה אדומה were not done specifically out of need.

However, this does not explain the period from Moshe to Ezra:
1. How could 1 פרה אדומה last for 800 years?
2. Why didn't they make more פרה אדומה even if they didn't need them like they did in the second בית המקדש? It is logical to assume that פרה אדומה were as rare in that period as they were in the period of the second בית המקדש and therefore whenever they discovered a suitable animal they should have used it.