Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Prenups VI – Midway through the Seder

Author's note - Please see my previous post HERE.

As I ended my last post, I promised to make some “seder”. My intention at that point was to serve up the other half of the Trei Gadya post (the afikoman?). But I am not going to complete that post just now. I need to make a slight detour from my initial flight plan.

The reason for this is that, in the interim since my last post, I received some behind-the-scenes feedback from a few sources. Based on some of this information it behooves me to make some corrections and clarifications on things that I wrote. So I will be making some “seder” but not in the way I originally planned. I hope to get back to the Trei Gadya post right after this one.

One of these sources corresponded to me under a pledge of confidence, so I cannot reveal a lot of what I learned but there are some side points that I do need to reveal since they impact upon my previous post.

The first of these side points is that this person cleared up a gross misconception that I had until this point. I believe the bulk of American Orthodox Jews share this misconception with me. It concerns the relationship between the BDA (Beth Din of America) and the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America). 
I assumed that the RCA is a parent body and the BDA is the judicial arm of the RCA. In effect, the BDA is a subsidiary of the RCA and, as such, the RCA governs the BDA. My confidential correspondent told me that this is not so; it is not close to a parent-child relationship. They are two separate organizations. It’s more like two cousins with the same last name. 
This is not a total misconception. They did begin as a parent-child relationship. The RCA established the BDA. It says so right on their website:
The Beth Din of America was founded in 1960 by the Rabbinical Council of America. In 1994, the Beth Din became an autonomous organization, headed by an independent board of directors.

So, many of us are aware of the “founded” part not aware of the “autonomous” part that happened 34 years later. Still and all, they are both offspring of the same grandfather – REITS (Yeshiva University) – and, perhaps, most of the BDA members have RCA membership as well. Nevertheless, they are currently two independent bodies and one does not govern the other.
In terms of what I have written, there are two major ramifications:

·        The 2013 resolution that claimed that the BDA prenup (referred to by name) is 100% effective, was stated by the RCA and not the BDA. The BDA never made such a claim in writing. (I suppose parents like to brag about their "children".)

·         The 2016 resolution that requires RCA Rabbis to compel a prenuptial agreement was likewise put out by the RCA and not the BDA. Truth be told, after they laud the greatness of the BDA prenup, they say in their resolution to use any kind of prenup.

Despite this, it is very hard to say that the BDA does not carry responsibility for these two matters. After all, the two organizations are cousins who share the same last name and are both offshoots of RIETS and they are affiliated and I am not the only person who thinks they are one body (by far). (It's an honest mistake.) Moreover, the BDA prenup is referenced by name in both resolutions. So if they (the BDA) are not backing up these two resolutions, they have an obligation to disassociate themselves from them, just like Rabbi Rosencrantz in the Eiruv saga.

Another side point is that it seems that the state of California mandates reciprocity in all prenuptial agreements. This is what distinguishes the BDA “California” agreement from the Standard one. Hence, BDA no longer displays a “Reciprocal” agreement since this is identical to the California one. If a couple wishes, they can use the California agreement in any other state but they cannot use the Standard version in California. (Advice, if you live in California, put your prenup and your real Ketuba in a fire-proof box.)

The last side point that emerged from our correspondence was that it is possible that I have been living away from America for far too long (thank G-d), and I am not up-to-date with the current situation in the diaspora. Here in Eretz Yisroel, things are a lot simpler because we have a Rabbanut Beis Din which is not an arbitration panel, but rather a state empowered judicial body. Hence, it has all of the jurisdiction of the secular court. It has the power to summon spouses to appear even if they did not sign any type of agreement. They can also issue a tzav ikuv (no-exit order). Since we live in a very small state and a police state, at that, there is nowhere to run.

A Beis Din in the diaspora, even if it calls itself THE Beth Din of America, has no such power. Apparently, the primary function of the prenup is to force the couple to show up to Beis Din. Once they are there, BD can really make binding mezonos requirements even without a prenup. Since the BDA is merely an arbitration panel, it has no jurisdiction to force anybody to show up unless they have a previously signed arbitration agreement to do so. So, in America, it is a lot harder to get a husband who has gone OTD and abandoned his wife for an Italian shiksa (or a Mexican one for the California version) to show up to Beis Din than it is here in E”Y. (Besides, there is an acute shortage of qualified shiksas here in E”Y. I know, I looked – okay, just kidding.) This is why it is so important to have an arbitration agreement up front. The “Halachic concerns” can be addressed in Beis Din after they show up.

End of side notes and corrections.

The picture that emerged from all the feedback was as follows. Marital discord, like most things in this world, works on a spectrum of extremes and all the points in between. At one end of the spectrum is the scenario where the husband is the “shtinker” and the wife is a saint in comparison. This is the case I was referring to above where the husband abandons his family and possibly all of Yiddishkeit. He has his needs met by other women (let’s hope they are women) and is not interested in revitalizing his social status in the Orthodox community. In short, he has no impetus to give his wife a get.

When it comes to this type of marital discord that winds up in a courtroom (or Beis Din), it is certain that the wife is fully entitled to, as HRHG Rav Asher Weiss says, “reasonable support”. Moreover, in this case, it is very easy to dismiss the issue of get meuseh. This is because the husband is voluntarily neglecting his obligations toward his wife (a mored) and is megaleh daas that he has no interest in continuing his marriage to her. So, even if he is not very cooperative about a get, as long as he is not forced at gunpoint, zapped by an electric cattle prod, or hung out of a six-story window by his ankles, any indirect pressure can be seen as “rotzeh ani”.
[Update - After rechecking even HaEzer 77:1, it seems that there is no din of get meuseh and, depending on how we define the term "kofim", it may even be permissible to threaten him with a gun and zap him with a cattle prod!]

The other end of the spectrum is the exact opposite. This is the scenario where the wife is the “shtinker” and the husband is the saint in comparison. She may be sick of wifehood or of his corny jokes and leaving the seat up and is just not into him and very possibly into somebody else and she wants out. Especially if he is struggling to make a comfortable living (and the other guy who doesn’t have to pay tuition for five kids is loaded). In short, she is a moredes. He is willing to do anything to make things good. He doesn’t want to give her up. In some cases, she is the one who refuses to go to the mikveh and goes OTD.

In this scenario, the wife-to-was is technically not entitled to mezonos and any undue pressure put upon a husband to divorce a wife that he sincerely wants to keep can and should be construed as a get meuseh.

Of course, as noted, there are all kinds of scenarios in between, but these two extremes cause a tremendous conflict in the rationality and legitimacy of the BDA or any other PNA. I believe that this is the crux of the controversy and I will need to get back to this dichotomy when we really do reach the “afikoman”.

But it is not yet chaztos and we are not there yet. I still need to partake in a little bit of Shulchan Aruch.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Prenups V – Trei Gadya, Trei Gadya: Part One - Is the Shunra Guarding the Goat-pen?

Author's note - Please see the previous posts about the BDA Prenuptial Agreements - Part 1 , Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

In this week’s Parsha, Rivka Imenu instructs Yaakov to go to the goat-pen and take “for me” two kid goats. Rashi tells us that Rivka was instructing Yaakov to take what was rightfully hers to take “...for this is what Yitzchok wrote to her in her Ketuba, she may take two kid goats each day.”

Yes, I took that last written test in the Toen Rabbani cycle two days after Rosh HaShannah. It takes quite a while to get the results of one of these tests. They usually come out about a week before the next test on the cycle – close to Chanukah. I won’t know if I passed the test until then but I have a good feeling about it.

In the meanwhile I am prepping myself toward this line of work and am learning new things all the time. And the more I look into the concept of the BDA prenups, the more concerned I am.

For starters, it’s been a full year since I opened this series. The results of my previous analyses indicated that the language of the document, at best, needs at least two corrections. None have been made.

One language problem is that the term “and I recite that I shall be deemed to have repeated this waiver at the time of the wedding” is useless. This is because the groom has no intention for the waiver to take effect at the time of the wedding, only at the time of the separation. So this is what the contract must say. Even after this, it is not certain that the waiver takes effect and it is almost certainly revocable until the time of separation. Details HERE.

The second language problem is that the clause about “through the Jewish law mechanism of Kim Li” in the last paragraph is likewise faulty. If anything, it must say: “through the Jewish law mechanism of Kol Tnai she’b’mammon kayam”.  Details HERE.

So a year has passed and I have seen no changes. I know for certain that my posts have reached the eyes of some of the chief architects and promoters of this document and it would surprise me to learn that it hasn’t reached the attention of Rabbi Willig, Shlita. Although I can understand a dissenting position on the first correction, there is absolutely no room for dispute on the second correction.

The fact that the document continues to remain uncorrected tells me that the BDA does not take these issues seriously. I think this undermines their integrity. The impression I get is that they maintain that their document has been tried and tested and endorsed by some prominent Gedolim so they can ignore all the detractors. It doesn’t matter if someone brings up issues that haven’t been addressed – if it ain’t fixed, don’t break it.

What frightens me more than their complacence is their claim in a 2013 resolution that “the BDA prenuptial agreement maintains a 100% success rate in preventing get-refusal in the context of a divorce following marriages where it was properly signed and notarized”. Firstly, this sounds like propaganda. How can they verify this "statistic" to the public?

Secondly, there are two scenarios where, even according to the BDA (and Reb Shalom Spira’s prenup, as well) the prenup would not be effective. One is a case where the husband is flat broke, and more likely in debt, and he doesn’t really care about how much money he needs to pay his wife for mezonos. He doesn’t have it and he won’t pay it. Let her hair turn grey.

The second is the case of moredes - a rebellious wife - where the woman is not entitled to mezonos. It won't matter how large is the support allowance; she is not entitled to it. I intend to elaborate on the moredes issue in Part Two of this post.

Now, Reb Michael J. Broyde, in a guest blog post in Emes V’Emunah on August  20, 2017 addressed the moredes scenario. He had two responses. His first response is to promote the controversial Halachic position that even though a moredes loses her rights to support, if the husband withholds the get, he is still liable for the support. There are numerous problems with this position that I hope to discuss in Part Two.

The other response is that, “since the BDA Prenup is an arbitration agreement, the bet din panel hearing this matter could decide not to order the payments…” This says that they have the absolute power to decide whether or not the wife is a moredes

What this means is that the “husband-to-be” is entrusting the moredes status into the hands of the BDA Beis Din who have a vested interest in somehow making sure the woman is not ruled a moredes if only to keep up their flawless track record. This may be so even where, under more objective conditions, a typical Beis Din would rule that she is a moredes. Bear in mind that for the mezonos part of this contract, the basic Halacha is that any questionable case (sefeika d'dina) has to be ruled in the payer's - the husband's - favor. It is very questionable to say that the bizarre kim li clause at the end of the agreement overrides this privilege.

The shunra (cat) is watching the goat-pen.

For now, I only want to comment that, in light of these limitations, can the RCA really claim the PNA to be 100% effective? You mean in 26 years they never had to deal with a deadbeat husband? In all that time there was never a bona fide moredes? Or, are they fudging the numbers the same way the unemployment office does – if you simply gave up on looking for a job, you are not called “unemployed” so you don’t count for the statistics; here, too, if she is disqualified for being a moredes or if the husband is a deadbeat, it was not meant to work so it doesn’t count for the statistics?

100% is just too “neat and clean”; like the Beis Din that votes 23-0 to convict (Rambam Sanhedrin 9:1). Clearly, the BDA is not an objective Beis Din (we already established this with the "kim li" clause), and this is very troubling.

However, time wounds all heals. The claim of 100% was made in a resolution dated 2013. It’s been five years since that time, and perhaps their record is not so impeccable. So, what if the statistic is no longer 100%, would they have the integrity to tell us? Or do they want us to think that what they claimed in 2013 is in effect forever even if it isn’t?

My experience is that when conditions change away from one’s preferred position, he doesn’t bother to update his followers. (Like on all those Jewish sex offender lists. When a person who was listed as “Arrested” gets fully acquitted, somehow this development is never noted on the list. More on this in upcoming posts.)  In fact, the RCA added another resolution about prenups in 2016. This is the one about mandating their Rabbis to require them. For some strange reason the 100% claim is notably absent. What does this say to me?

While we are discussing updating things and the 2016 resolution, there is another serious issue that, to date, nobody has brought up. Endorsements.

To understand the problem, I need to go back to my tale about the Eiruv in “Hammerstone Hills”. I wrote that one of the supporting Rabbanim rescinded his support about 2 or 3 years after the eiruv was constructed. He gave a public speech in his shul to explain why he rescinded and he gave numerous reasons. 

The first reason was that he initially supported the eiruv because he knew that it could and would be erected according to the Halachic standards of Rav Moshe Feinstein, ZT”L. However, after the construction, when certain defects and shailos came up, instead of making the necessary repairs, the “committee” used some lower standard bidiavad kulos to consider the eiruv valid. What came out was that, although the eiruv was built in accordance to the standards of Rav Moshe, it was not being maintained at the standards of Rav Moshe.  It’s like when a kosher food product changes its formula and loses its hechsher or the mashgiach retires and isn’t replaced. If there is no Kashrut Alert, it stays “Kosher” forever.

His second issue was that they had plans to unite this eiruv with new eiruvim being built for adjacent neighborhoods. Those eiruvim were not planned to comply with the standards of Rav Moshe even from the get-go. This Rabbi was afraid that the tzibur will use the reputation of the first, more proper eiruv, along with his endorsement, to falsely imply that the other eiruvim were just as kosher (and that he endorses them). This is the old “Kosher by association” trick where one product or restaurant/bakery is certified kosher and then the owner opens a second restaurant or bakery with the same logo but no such hechsher. People will think the baal-hamachshir on the first establishment also endorses the second one.

The 2016 resolution that mandates all RCA Rabbis to require a PNA for every wedding they officiate at, or refuse to officiate, is very scary. As it is, the PNA is treading on thin ice in the area of coercion and many are those who invalidate it for this reason. But even those who do not – and we know that Rav Asher Zelig Weiss’s letter of endorsement only addressed the issue of coercion – may feel that this resolution crosses the line. It certainly invokes the words of the Rema in Even HaEzer 134:4 who stated that bidiavad, if the husband gives a get while under the influence of a self-imposed penalty, the get is still valid “since initially he was not compelled to do this…”. The obvious implication is that if the fellow was compelled to accept this fine, it is a forced get by all opinions. In line with this remark in the Rema, even though we are now dealing with mezonos and not a fine, for one to be compelled to accept upon himself an exaggerated amount of mezonos is very problematic to say the least.

But wait! This PNA is endorsed by such great men as Rav Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg, Rav Ovadiah Yosef and (supposedly) Rav Asher Zelig Weiss, no?

Well, it is definitely true that Rav ZN Goldberg, Shlita, Rav Ovadiah Yosef, ZT”L, Rav Chaim Zimbalist and Rav AZ  Weiss, Shlita endorse the concept of the PNA. Further, the basic language of the agreement, more or less a copy of the Toras Gittin, was endorsed by Rav ZN Goldberg, Rav Ovadiah and three others back in 1992. Rav Asher Zelig Weiss wrote an undated letter where he outlined the mechanics of reasonable mezonos and ruled that there is no problem of coercion in this case. He clearly implies that if the allowance for mezonos is not reasonable, we are in trouble. We have no idea from his writing at what point the mezonos are considered unreasonable. Of course, we can always ask him (AMV”Sh).

However, there have been a few changes since 1992. Did anybody endorse those? There was a strong resolution in 2006, another in 2013 and the strongest yet in 2016. Each one takes the question of get meuseh up one notch. Did any Gadol endorse any of these resolutions?

Other Halachic issues were raised such as the issue of asmachta raised by Harav J.D. Bleich, Shlita. Of course there is the system of “meachshav” and Beis Din chashuv but there are other issues. Rav Shalom Spira in his essay mentions opinions that hold that meachshav and Beis Din chashuv only apply if there is a single unknown condition. But when there are multiple unknown conditions, even these mechanisms do not help.

Beyond this is a similar asmachta issue that nobody has yet brought up (you heard it from me first): There is a question if one can make a binding undefined obligation (התחייבות לדבר שאין בו קצבה). If one cannot, this would be a big problem for the BDA prenup. Of course, it is no problem because only the Rambam holds it is not binding and all other rishonim say it is binding, and we go with the majority (kim li is still an issue). The Mechaber tells us this in three places in Choshen Mishpat.

But wait! Comes the SM”A in one of those places (CM 131:13 sk 25) and says that this is only when the obligation is unconditional. But if it depends on a condition which makes it an asmachta together with the undefined obligation, then even where an asmachta would normally work (like meachshav or BD chashuv), the rishonim will agree with the Rambam that with this double whammy, there is no binding obligation!

Did Rav ZN Goldberg and Rav Ovadiah and Rav AZ Weiss address these issues and give their endorsement in the face of them?

And, finally, I am back to where I began this post. In the first three parts of this series, I raised the issue of flaws in the waiver of the wife’s earnings. I summarized them earlier. Rav Willig, Shlita, in his famous shiur conceded that this waiver is a "very sticky" issue. He mentioned that Rav ZN Goldberg addressed the issue of a hodaas baal din on a future event (exceedingly novel and controversial). But the issues I raised are different ones. There is no indication that Rav ZN Goldberg addressed them. The BDA doesn’t want to acknowledge them (they have a lot on their plate with this PNA). But they do not have any outside Gedolim who examined these issues and were able to dismiss them.

We like to think that all major poskim are flawless geniuses who, without fail, take all Halachic angles into account whenever they rule on an issue, and so, all of these issues are covered. The truth is, they only deal with the point of the question that is being asked. Very often, they do indeed bring up collateral issues but not always. They are all very human and don’t think of everything.

It looks to me that the 1992 endorsement certificate is long expired but the BDA is holding it on life support.

I have spent this entire post complaining about corrections, changes and updates that needed to be made but were not. I want to comment now on one change that was made. 

When I examined the BDA PNA a year ago to analyze them, there were two versions: a regular one for a unilateral commitment by the "husband-to-be" and a reciprocal  bi-lateral one which included a commitment by the "wife-to-be" to adhere to the rulings of the BDA court under penalty of a fine to her husband (women can pay fines to their husbands). The reciprocal agreement was more balanced and, consequently, more practical. The financial risks to the husband stay the same, but since there are also financial risks to the wife, it is less likely to be abused. As a bonus, this version serves as a sop to reassure mankind that this isn't all a liberal feminist plot to artificially empower the women in divorce cases. 

When I checked the forms on the website of late to confirm that the language had not been changed I was astounded to discover that the reciprocal version is nowhere to be found. It vanished!

Where did it go - and why?

The lack of this version (especially after it was initially in circulation) now presents the opposite effect. It confirms to mankind that this document is indeed a liberal feminist instrument. With all its other problems, this does not help matters.

Believe it or not, all the above was the intro for what I really wanted to write in this post. But, it’s getting late and I can only make a post so long. I have discovered that once in a while there are people who actually read them.

So I still haven’t let on what I want to discuss now and what it has to do with the Rashi about Rivka and the two kid goats. But, let that be its own hint and we will leave it for the next post (I hope).

In the next post, I hope to make some “seder”…

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Techeilis 3 – How Much is Too Much?

In our past post we noted that some of the teachings of Chazal can be very confusing because it may not shtim with other words of Chazal. The situations that we discussed were conflicts in textual accounts (girsaot), conflicting opinions among members of Chazal (chilukei deos), and conflicting unrelated passages (contradictions). In this post, I want to discuss the things that really count. 

One of the most confusing aspects of Chazal is the tendency to exaggerate numbers and sizes. In some cases, the exaggerations are more than obvious and confirmed by the meforshim. In other cases, it may not be quite so obvious.

We will start with the gemara in Chullin 90b that tells us straight out that Chazal tend to exaggerate. It even says that there are exaggerations in the Torah and Neviim. The gemara there brings a few examples of Chazal and one each from the Torah and Neviim. From the tone of the gemara, it seems that these examples are the sole instances of this phenomenon. As I wrote in the earlier posts, it is amazing to what extent Chazal take their statements literally.

At least, in divrei Chazal, there are other examples of exaggerations. Let’s look at the Rashbam in Pesachim 119a. The gemara is trying to impress us with how wealthy Korach was. It states that Korach had 300 mules laden with the keys to his treasure house[s]. Rashbam states that the number “300” is not exact. He seems to mean that Korach had a large number of laden mules but not necessarily 300. And he adds “this applies to every place that it says 300 in Shas”. In other words, “300” is a universal code word for “a large amount”. This fits in perfectly with the previously mentioned gemara in Chullin because the cases they bring likewise are displaying the inexact number “300”.

A few questions occur to me: (1) Why is 300 chosen as this universal exaggerated number? (2) Does this mean that we cannot say this for any other number in Shas?

The gemara then goes on to tell us that these keys were made of leather and not metal to imply that these mules each carried a tremendous amount of keys (mules are pretty strong and can carry lots and lots of leather keys). The Rashbam stresses: And even so it was the amount of 300 mule loads. (Note – Rashi says the same thing in Sanhedrin 110a.)

Questions: (3) Didn’t Rashbam just say that the number 300 was not exact (implying that it is on the high side)? (4) Have you ever seen a leather key? (I haven’t) How do they work? Were the locks on the treasure houses full of valuable gems and gold and silver also made of leather?

Well, both Rashi in Sanhedrin and Rashbam in Pesachim give a second pirush that these were really metal keys and they were not for the storehouses but for the individual treasure sacks which were made of leather. This would greatly reduce the amount of keys and the amount of treasure that each key could access and make this Chazal a bit more realistic. This also makes sense if Korach actually had only one treasure house which is indicated by the girsah in all texts “beis genazav” and not “batei genazav”. Still, this is only presented as an alternative pirush. Besides, it really does not make much sense. What good is a lock and key on a leather treasure sack? Any thief could just take a knife and slice open the sack!

All told, this is an awful lot of treasure. And it’s only 1/3 of the treasure that Yosef stored in Egypt!

More questions: (5) Where exactly was this (or these) treasure house[s]? were they in Egypt? How did Korach plan on retrieving it despite his 300 large mule caravan of keys? (6) After the makkas dever and makkas barad that killed all the Egyptian animals, where did Korach get 300 white mules? Did he already have them before the makkos so they didn’t die? When exactly (and how) did he discover this vast treasure? I suppose since the Leviim were not slaves, they had plenty of spare time to go treasure hunting.

Well, perhaps he got the mules from Libya. After all, the gemara in Bechoros 5b tells us that every single person from the Israelites had 90 Libyan donkeys laden with the gold and silver of Egypt.

Let’s look at this. Does this mean 90 donkeys for every single man, woman, and child or only for every one of the 600,000 baalei-batim that went out? Please, let’s take the second option.

600,000 people with 90 donkeys each? 54,000,000 donkeys? Just in Egypt alone? After the makkos that killed all the animals? Are you kidding me? (My answer is – Yes.) Where in the desert did they keep 54,000,000 donkeys in a camp that was 12 KM by 12 KM (size of present day Jerusalem) that already had 3-5 million people in single level dwellings? (Note- This figure does not include the eirev rav.)

Per Google, today’s world population of people is 7.6 billion and the total world population of donkeys is about 44 million and you mean to tell me that when the world was 3300 years younger and barely populated there were 54 million donkeys in Egypt alone?

The Ben Yehoyada asks these exact questions (well, the main ones) and gives some very weak suggestions. One is that we are talking about donkey loads and not real donkeys. This answer will totally nullify the whole purpose of this Chazal which is to explain why donkeys were singled out for pidyon peter chamor. Another suggestion is that only the dignitaries of the nation had this caravan of donkeys. This would contradict the language of Chazal that each and every Israelite had them and raises the question – why only them?

Oh, and by the way, all this donkey treasure is on top of the three treasure troves that were stored by Yosef. What heavenly purpose is there to all this exorbitant wealth? Does anybody really need a 747 with solid gold toilet seats? Will this wealth help us fix the sin of Adam HaRishon?? And, if I had some, would it spoil some vast eternal plan?

Bottom line is that there is an awful lot of exaggeration and allegory in the words of Chazal. We are told this in numerous places. At the top of the list are the tall tales at sea in the fifth perek of Bava Basra. There are the allegorical riddles in the debates of Ravi Yehoshua and the wise men of Athens in Bechoros. And, of course, the sukka test in the beginning of Avoda Zara. In all these places, the masters of Aggada – Gr”A, Maharsha, Maharal, Rashbam, Ben Yehoyada and others – tell us straight out not to take these pieces at face value and decipher for us the hidden messages.

We have smaller pieces of this same kind of Aggadata scattered all over Shas. In fact, in the earlier part of this sugya in Pesachim (on 118b) the gemara tells us that there were 365 markets in the great city of Rome (could possibly mean all of Italy) and each one has 365 buildings (we are up to 133,225 buildings) and each building has 365 “steps” (maybe “stories”? anyway, we are at 48,627,125 steps) and each “step” contains enough food to feed the entire world.

I foresee a lot of wasted food.

In any case, Maharsha gives an enlightening explanation that the “city of Rome” is a codeword for a human who has 365 sinews (giddin). Each of those has 365 compartments each with 365 sub-compartments (cells?). Perhaps the idea of each one with "food for the entire world" is a cryptic reference to DNA such that the DNA in each cell can recreate the entire organism. If so, it is very cryptic.

Other cryptic gemaras are the stories of Dovid HaMelech in the last perek of Sanhedrin – his encounter with Yishbi of Nov (95a) and that he wanted to worship avoda zara as he ran from Avshalom (107a, see Maharsha); Iyov’s discussions with HKBH in the first perek of Bava Basra; and everything the gemara tells us about Og King of Bashan (Niddah 22b and Brachos 54b; these two accounts contradict each other; see Maharsha both places).

The problem with all this is that once we know for certain that pieces of Chazal are allegorical and cannot begin to be taken literally, what about other pieces of Chazal which are not as farfetched? For example, when the gemara tells us that 40 days before a baby is formed a heavenly voice announces his future spouse, is this one that we can take literally or not? We all do, but should we? Are all our marriages really pre-destined?

I wrote an elaborate post about this right HERE.

The well-known gemara in Shabbos 92a is waffling on whether all of the Leviim were 10 amos tall. Even if not, it seems to maintain that Moshe himself was 10 amos tall. Some say also Aharon. Well, how tall were Tziporrah and Elisheva? 9.5 amos?

The gemara sticks with the 10 amos in the Og story in Brachos 54b. If that story were to be taken literally, Og at 30 amos at the ankle would be around 540 amos tall (720-1080 feet). Now Rashi tells us in Breishis (14:13) that the reason Og tipped off Avrohom Avinu about Lot’s capture was in the hopes that Avrohom would die and he could marry Sarah.

How tall was Sarah?

Hey, I am personally not in the market for a woman (so says my wife) but, if I was, and I (at 5’ 10”) had Og’s standards, I would probably be interested in a 5’ 7” replica of a Barbie doll. But, trust me, the exact same girl at the real size of a Barbie doll, all of 10 inches, would not get a first date, I don’t care how stunning she is. The parts wouldn’t fit together. It just wouldn’t work. I can't even begin to imagine how she could cook me a decent supper and bring it to the table she can't reach or change the sheets on my massive 9 amos iron bed down in Amman.

Both the Ibn Ezra (Dvarim 3:11) and Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim say that Og was about twice as tall as an average person (six amos). I think even this would cause marital issues but it’s way more down to earth. Maharsha in Brachos says he was at the high end of the scale of reasonable human size. Personally, I don’t believe Moshe and Aharon were 10 amos tall, either. Why should they be taller than Og?

Did Zimri ben Saleu really enter Kozbi 424 times while Pinchas just stood and watched (Sanhedrin 82b)? Why did Pinchas take action precisely after round number 424? Why not another 50 or 100 rounds (how about 613)? And was Zimri really more than 250 years old at the time (see Maharsha about Shaul ben HaCannani)? What was he on?

Were the grains in the days of Shimon ben Shetach really as big as kidneys and olives and were the lentils like gold coins (Taanis 23a)? Did Choni HaMeagel really sleep for 70 years (Ibid.)? Incidentally, Wikipedia tells me that a carob tree sees fruit within eight years and it has peak production as of 20-25 years. Also know that the Yerushalmi has quite a different version of this story. Did Rabi Chanina ben Dosa really get a golden table leg?

So we have so far seen that 300 is not the only number that is an exaggeration. We also have 365 [markets], 90 [donkeys], 10 [amos], 70 [years], 424 [won’t say]. What else?

How about the number 400?  

The number 400 is all over Shas as a high amount of money such as the wager to make Hillel angry, the value of the glass broken by Rav Ashi at his son’s wedding, the value of the dress that Rav Ada ripped from the lady in red. Also, Rav Preida taught his student the lesson 400 times. Likewise, there are numerous appearances of this number in Tanach. We start with the 400 shekels that Avraham paid for the Mearat HaMachpelah. Then there are 400 men with Eisav and likewise 400 men with Dovid HaMelech. Eliyahu was challenged by 400 false prophets. And, back to the gemara, the 400  shuls in Beitar with 400 rebbes each with 400 students. The 400 boys and girls who jumped into the sea so as not to be violated. 

The general consensus is that all of the references in of 400 in Chazal are inexact, just like the ones for “300”. It’s because 400 is the biggest number that can be represented by a single Hebrew letter, since the last letter of aleph beis, the tav, is the one with the highest numerical value. Thus, early texts simply put a tav to represent a large number. I have seen other more mystical reasons, but the bottom line is that the number is usually not precise. As for those in the scriptures, with the likely exception of the 400 shekels for the Mearat HaMachpelah, it can well be that those numbers are approximations, as well.

So we would not really expect the number 400 to be taken literally in most cases.

But, alas, Rashi, or the Tanchuma that he is inaccurately quoting in Bamidbar 13:25 take it very seriously. The pasuk tells us that the spies returned after 40 days. Rashi is astounded:

But the size of Eretz Yisrael is 400 parsah by 400 parsah and an average person can only walk 10 parsah in a day? It’s a 40 day journey just from East to West, and they investigated the length and breadth?! We must say that since HKBH knew he would punish the Israelites a year for every day in E”Y, so he “shortened” their journey (to limit the punishment).

What is a parsah? It is defined as 4 mille. A mille is 2000 amos or roughly a kilometer. So a parsah is four Km. This makes a lot of sense because the average person today can do about 4 Km in an hour and during a twelve hour day, if he spends 10 of those hours on the move he will cover 40 Km or 10 parsahs. One thing we see is that the meraglim were anatomically and physically average people.

Okay now. So Eretz Yisrael is, according to Rashi, is 400 parsah square which is 1600 Km by 1600 Km. How big is Eretz Yisrael really?

Well, the distance between Eilat and Maalot today is 465 Km (11.5 day walk). And the distance between Rafah and Ein Bokek is 107 Km (2.5 day walk). Did they really need “kitzur derech”?

Clearly, the Eretz Yisroel that is outlined in Bamidbar 34 which is the part checked out by the meraglim is nowhere close to 400 parsah on 400 parsah. It just isn’t. So, why does Rashi think that E”Y is 1600 Km by 1600 Km?

He seems to be referring to several places in Shas (Megillah 3a and Bava Kamma 82b) where it is written that Eretz Yisroel shook 400 parsah by 400 parsah. Firstly, as I have been saying, it is very clear that virtually every time it says the number 400 in Shas, it is an exaggeration or at least an imprecise number, just like 300. So this should not be taken literally. But even without this. The Shas does not really say that Eretz Yisroel is 400 parsah by 400 parsah. It says that when these two calamities happened, the land of Eretz Yisroel quaked for a distance of 400 parsah by 400 parsah.

Earthquakes do not recognize borders. We can easily say that while the quake was centered in Eretz Yisroel, it affected the surrounding lands so that it could be felt as far as 400 square parsah. It does not need to mean that every inch of it or even the majority of it was Eretz Yisrael proper. We certainly cannot conclude from here that Eretz Yisrael is that big, and, in truth, it isn’t.

But this doesn’t stop Rashi. I don’t really blame Rashi because he is really [mis]quoting the Midrash Tanchuma (Shelach Lecha 8). Only two interesting tidbits. (1) The Tanchuma does not explicitly say E”Y is 400 parsah square. He says that “the journey from South to North itself was a 40 day journey”. This seems to indicate the same thing but he only mentions one direction. And I wonder what does Tanchuma himself base this on? (2) Strangely, Tanchuma says their journey “from South to North” was one of 40 days and Rashi says “from East to West…” If Tanchuma is Rashi's source, why does he change the orientation?

All I can say about Rashi, and I love him dearly, is that this isn’t the first time he does this.

While we are talking about numbers that don’t work, we have plenty of issues about the population of Jews before, during, and after the Exodus from Egypt.

The Torah tells us that the population leaving Egypt was about 600,000 adult males. It expressly says it is not including children and we assume not women either. As such, based on conservative estimates of normal family sizes, the total population would have to be at least 3,000,000 and even 5,000,000 is more realistic. As I said earlier, this does not include the eirev rav.

One logistical issue is that, since the families all lived in single level tents, it is very hard to fit all those people at ground level in a 12 km by 12 km area. Don’t forget the eirev rav and all those donkeys and other livestock.

I suppose we can shrug this off. But here come Chazal and tell us that this number was only 20% of the amount of Jews who lived in Egypt before makkas choshech. So this means that there were between 15 to 25 million Jews in Egypt a few months earlier. Oh, and only seven thousand Leviim between 30 and 50 of which only about 10 of them came from Kehas.

Now, I understand the Chazal about everyone having sextuplets, but since only about 130 of the 210 years were years of servitude it is still a stretch to come out with 15-25 million from 70 souls in such a short time (maybe the sextuplets were coming from day one.) Also, even though this plague happened when the Egyptians weren’t looking, it is hard to imagine that 12-20 million Jews are going to vanish in a week and the Egyptians don’t notice. Unless they figured they left early.

But let’s accept all of this and look at a gemara in Sanhedrin 111a:

Tanya, Rabbi Simai expounds: It states “and I will take you to me for a nation” and it states “and I will bring you to the land”. We learn a comparison between leaving Egypt to entering Eretz Yisrael. Just as only 2 out of 600,000 who left Egypt entered E”Y, so too only 2 out of every 600,000 in Egypt left Egypt.

You get this? Not one out of five, but two out of 600,000 (one out of 300,000)! Rashi confirms that all the rest died in the three days of darkness so that the Egyptians won’t notice the downfall of the Israelites.

Can you imagine this number?

Maharsha is silent, but the Ben Yehoyada tries to tone it down by suggesting, unlike Rashi, that it means those born and died over the course of the 210 year exile, not in 3 days. Even so, it’s just too much.

But here is the topper. The gemara in Sanhedrin doesn’t end there. There is a short trailer:

Says Rava:... and likewise in the days of Moshiach.

Rashi – That there will not remain from every 600,000 except 2.

According to Rashi, if we assume 18 million Halachic Jews currently in the world (I tend to doubt it), there will be a mere 30 spots for the grand winners. I signed up already. According to the earlier Ben Yehoyada, there is hope for a few more. Personally, as much as I love Rashi, I love the Ben Yehoyada more.

But we do know this. At the Exodus from Egypt, there were approximately 600,000 heads of household from the age of twenty on up. We know that after forty relatively peaceful years, there were…drumroll… approximately 600,000 heads of household from the age of twenty on up. Note that the original count in 1 Iyar 2449 was done after the maaseh eigel and first war with Amalek. There wasn’t another war for 38 years after Aharon died.

Now, for all the 600,000 heads of household between 20 and 60, there were probably an average of 1-3 sons per family below age twenty already in place. Add to this the gemara in Shabbos 89a-b. This gemara tells us that the Sinai desert had five names. One of which was Midbar Paran. Why Midbar Paran?

שפרו ורבו עליה ישראל That the Israelites multiplied in number there.

Rashi tells us that every one impregnated his wife with a male child upon the order of Shuvu lachem go back to your tents. He adds that he has no idea how this is indicated from anywhere in the Torah.

If this is so, then precisely nine months after Matan Torah – about 7 Adar 2449 – another 600,000 boys hit the scene. Evidently, there weren’t enough mohelim to take care of them so they let it go and blamed it on the eastern wind. After all this, there were just about forty years of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness in the desert. Anyone born in the first twenty years would be twenty at the time of entry to E"Y. Based on these Chazals and normal population growth without sextuplets, there would definitely be at least three times the 600K figure after the first twenty years that would be twenty by the end of the forty years. How can this initial figure remain unchanged? 

Perhaps we can knock out the lion’s share of those boys already born at the Exodus based on the Midrash that says that even boys less than 20 years old, if they agreed with the meraglim, they also died. So maybe most of them agreed with the meraglim. But this won’t account for those who were born after the meraglim (and the 600K newbies).    

I am not the only one to ask this, but nobody can come up with a suitable answer except to say plagues and more plagues.

This did indeed bring up a big issue with the number of judges that were in office and how many Jews they killed after the debacle of the Bnos Moav. I wrote about it in this post in 2008. (The solution is in this post.)

The final anomaly for this post has to do with the people that Ezra brought up from Bavel. In Sefer Ezra it states that Ezra took up a group of 42,360 folks. We would assume a normal population distribution; something like 40% between 20 and 60 and another 40% between 0 and 20 and 20% from 60 on up with the bulk below 80 and a few old codgers over 80. This is basically the distribution estimated in the population that left Egypt and it is pretty standard.

Now the gemara in Temura 15b needs to justify some Chattas offerings that were brought as soon as the second Bais HaMikdash was operable. Apparently, these offerings were meant to atone for the idolatry that was done by the tzibur in the times of the first Bais HaMikdash. These offering can only be brought if the tzibur, meaning the majority of the current population, requires it; which means they were alive 70 years earlier and committed the idolatry and are still here today. Not only still here today, but they must be the majority.

To prove that the majority of the population was alive 70 years earlier, the gemara expounds from the pasuk that says that when they opened the second Bais HaMikdash, some people were rejoicing but others were crying because they remembered how beautiful was the first Bais HaMikdash and this new Bais HaMikdash could not compare. Obviously, this crying was done by the old-timers. But the pasuk says that the sound of the crying overwhelmed the sound of the rejoicing. The gemara understands that more people were crying than rejoicing. Ergo, the majority of the population that came up with Ezra were those who required an atonement for their sins 70 years earlier.

But, in order to be sinful 70 years earlier so as to require atonement, one had to be at least 13 years old at the time. Hence, these folks who made the majority were not a day younger than 83 years old. And this was the majority!

And what kind of majority was it?
It doesn’t seem like a scant 50.5% vs. 49.5 % majority because this majority was strong enough to drown out the rejoicers (who were all younger and more vibrant, by the way). The minimum I could imagine is like 55% vs. 45%. Let’s go with this and apply it to the original number of 42,360 souls. We will arrive at about 23,300 people above 83 and 19,060 total population of all the olim from 0 to 83.

You mean to tell me that in the year of the churban bayis rishon there were not less than 23,300 able bodied people from 13 to, let’s say, 25 who were pious Jews and who survived and remained “frum” all 70 years and this group could not produce in 70 years from their children and children’s children and at least one more generation, more than 19,060 Jews willing to make Aliya?

Was the stock market in Bavel doing that well that nobody wanted to come?

Under normal circumstances, this kind of distribution is overwhelmingly lopsided. It just doesn’t shtim.

The only thing that I can think of to answer is that these old codger survivors were mostly men. Very few women survived the churban because they were even younger and more vulnerable and invading armies have a habit of culling out all the eligible women for special treatment. As such, there were very, very few eligible Bais Yaakov maidels for these fellows and they either went without wives or married non-Jewish ones. As such, for quite a while, reproduction was at a low and, even after 70 years, the old timers actually outnumbered all of 70 years worth of [re]production. Perhaps this is why, right after this incident with the crying and rejoicing, Ezra had to tell so many of them to lose the non-Jewish wives.

So, all told, perhaps there is a good explanation. Nevertheless, I am greatly perturbed that, to date, I haven’t seen anybody who even makes note of the problem.

The purpose of all of this is to point out that, all through Shas and other Talmudic bodies, “shtimming” with Chazal can be an immense challenge. You have seen that wherever possible, I have made an attempt to present a “teirutz”. HaRav Reisman, Shlita, stated that we cannot build Halacha on teirutzim.

It would be nice if this were so. Like it or not, all of our mesora depends on teirutzim.

More to come…

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Hidden Thoughts of Teshuva

As Yom Kippur approaches, I thought to share some very inspiring insights from Niflaos MiTorasecha from Rav Mordechai Aronovsky. This is the sefer that reveals words hidden in Tanach in either roshei teivos or sofei teivos sequences and explains their significance.


The word צום does not appear in a roshei teivos sequence anywhere in the Torah. It does appear about ten times as a sofei teivos sequence. Four of those are a phrase that is repeated four times throughout the Torah (although none of these are in the Yom Kippur service in Acharei Mos):

ורחצ בשרו במים

Rabbi Aronovsky writes that this indicates that the Fast of Yom Kippur requires the Kohen Gadol to immerse four times. He comments that although the Mishna says he must be tovel five times, the first one of these is the standard tevila he must do on any day that he wants to do avoda and is not unique to Yom Kippur.

Another three occurrences coincide with this phrase that appears three times:

על הארצ תשפכנו כמים

He says that this is a remez that on the fast day of Yom Kippur one must pour out his heart like water like the pasuk says in Eicha: שפכי כמים לבך נוכח פני ה'

The eighth occurrence can be found in this pasuk:

ויהושע בן נון וכלב בן יפונה מן התרים את הארצ קרעו בגדיהם

He says this is an indication of the procedure to tear one’s garments as a part of the teshuva process together with his fast. He goes on to support this with this pasuk in Melachim 1 (21, 27):

ויהי כשמוע אחאב את הדברים האלה, ויקרע בגדיו וישם שק על בשרו ויצום.

We all know that the megillah also mentions wearing sackcloth as part of a fast for teshuva although it does not mention tearing one’s clothes.

He notes two other occurrences. Although he doesn’t comment on them as having a connection to Yom Kippur, they are both very inspiring and show that these occurrences are not random.

One of them is the pasuk in Parshat Noach that we find quoted in our machzorim as the first pasuk in Seder Zichronos on the musaf for Rosh Hashannah (Breishis 8:1):

ויזכור א-לקים את נח...ויעבר א-לקים רוח על הארצ וישכו המים.

Perhaps Noach also prayed and fasted while he was on the teivah and this hastened the end of his ordeal.

The last one does not have much to do with teshuva but it has a different fascinating “coincidence”. This deals with the prohibition to eat non-kosher fish and shrimp and lobsters. Here is the pasuk (Vayikra 11:11):

ושקצ תהיו לכם, מבשרם לא תאכלו ואת נבלתם תשקצו.

Here you have the word צום in code while you have the term לא תאכלו in the open text. Rav Aronovsky says that there is always some hidden meaning when an encoded word (צום) is identical or strongly relates to the open text (לא תאכלו) in the same pasuk although he makes no suggestions here.  

טבל Immersed

We mentioned earlier that the צום of Yom Kippur comes together with the mitzvah to immerse, did we not? Well, let’s look at word טבל. The letter “tes” (ט) is a very rare letter and the word טבל occurs as a roshei teivos sequence only two places in all of Tanach. One is found in Eicha 1:9:

טומאתה בשוליה לא זכרה אחריתה.

Its tumah is in its lowest point. They do not remember (consider) the end result.

Rav Aronovsky explains that the hidden message here is that the teshuvah and tevilah (purification) of the generation of the churban is not accepted because the tumah remains in their depths – they have not cast away the “sheretz” that is defiling them.

The other occurrence (more optimistic) is here (Tehillim 51:12):

לב טהור ברא לי א-לקים

When one does indeed cast away the sheretz and immerses himself, he becomes like a new briah.

חיים Life

Hard to believe that there is not a single roshei teivos sequence of חיים in all of Tanach! There are three sofei teivos occurrences two of which are in the Torah.

One is in reference to the mizbeach hanechoshes in Shmos 27:6:

ועשית בדים למזבח בדי עצי שיטים וצפית אותם נחושת.

We know that there is a Mishna in Midos 3:4 which says that the mizbeach haolah which will eventully be made from stones cannot be fashioned with any kind of an iron blade. This is because “iron shortens the life of a person and the mizbeach is meant to extend the life of a person”.

The second occurrence is more connected to Yom Kippur. Vayikra 16:5:

ומאת בני ישראל יקח שני שעירי עזים לחטאת ואיל אחד לעולה.

The basic message is self-explanatory. The avoda of Yom Kippur and the sacrifice of the two goats is a preservative of life for the chosen people. But if we extend the code sequence we see something else:

 ומאת בני ישראל יקח שני שעירי עזים לחטאת ואיל אחד לעולה.

It says: לחיים תלד

Says Rav Aronovsky that the avoda of Yom Kippur is meant to bestow many benefits. These are spelled out in the special Yehi Ratzon prayer that the Kohen Gadol says as he exits the Kodesh HaKedashim as is printed in all of our machzorim. Among them is this:

שנה שלא תפיל אשה את פרי בטנה.         A year in which no woman should miscarry…

So one of the benefits that we hope to achieve with our avoda is protection from miscarriage. This benefit seems to be encoded in our pasuk in the words לחיים תלד.

סדום Sodom

There is one roshei teivos sequence of the word סדום in all of Tanach. There is no sofei teivos sequence whatsoever. The sole sequence is also found in the avoda of Yom Kippur in this pasuk (Vayikra 16:12):

ולקח מלא המחתה גחלי אש... ומלא חפניו קטרת סמים דקה והביא םבית לפרכת.

Rav Aronovsky has a lengthy explanation on this one but, to summarize briefly, he says the following. There are five types of damage that occur due to the wrath of HKBH which is generally called חרון אף – the wrath of His “nose”. These are: עשן, אש, חמה, אף, משחית. Each of the five kingdoms of Sodom corresponded to one of these damages. Thus it says in Parshat Nitzavim:

כמהפכת סדום ועמורה אשר הפך ה' באפו ובחמתו

Certainly, when we anger HKBH, we also instigate the damages that come from this “wrath of the nose”. Hence HKBH instructs us to bring the ketores ­– a rayach nichoah, a pacifying scent – into the Kodesh Kedashim on Yom Kippur to assuage the anger of HKBH.

לב עצובA Despondent Heart

My final entry for this essay is the word עצוב. This also only occurs one time in Tanach in aroshei teivos sequence and not at all in a sofei teivos. This also appears in the avoda of Yom Kippur in this pasuk (Vayikra 16:17):

וכל אדם לא יהיה באהל מועד בבאו לכפר בקדש עד צאתו וכפר בעדו ובעד ביתו ובעד כל קהל ישראל.

Throughout his magnificent work, Rav Aronovsky looks at the pasuk as if the encoded sequence is the open text of the pasuk. In this case, the pasuk would then read:

וכל אדם לא יהיה באהל מועד בל"ב עצו"ב.

No man may be in the vicinity of the Tent of Gathering (the Mishkan) with a despondent heart. In short, nobody is permitted to be despondent on Yom Kippur!

These are the encoded messages that we find in the Torah. Hat tip to Rav Mordechai Aronovsky and his sefer, Niflaos MiTorasecha. I only want to add another code that is not divinely referenced in the Torah, but fascinating just the same.

My youngest brother is a paramedic for the local Hatzala of a sizable “out of town” community. He always talks about the importance of C.P.R. and why it is essential for everyone to be skilled in it. A few days ago, he posted the following on his Facebook page:

A new perspective on the importance of KNOWING CPR:

If you have ever had a patient in cardiac arrest, then you know the only chance of survival is Quality CPR. As we approach the New Year we must remember to awaken our souls and bring LIFE back into our LIVES (now more than ever in these troubled times).

On Yom Kippur, we 'bang' on the left side of our chest (over our heart). We use our closed fist (approx size of our heart). We go at a steady beat against our heart.

Heart/Lev= Lamed Beis= 30:2 - As if we are doing CPR on ourselves c"v.

Make those 'compressions' QUALITY ones; to secure LIFE for yourself, not just to get pulses back.

But there is more. Before a person goes into cardiac arrest, there is a time when they are sick; and if not treated, can get worse to very sick c"v. If they get treatment early enough, they won't need to be resuscitated.

That time is now - Elul and Rosh Hashanah.
We are at the moments before we would need CPR on ourselves. We have the tools to secure LIFE for ourselves, families, and loved ones.

Please utilize the time NOW. Secure the 'treatment' (Tefillah) and grab the 'cure', before it's c"v too late.
C = CHARITY – צדקה

A gut gerbencht year filled with Nachas and Simcha for:

C = Children (family) בני
P = Parnassa (work) –
R = Refuah (health) –

Written by a Hatzalah Paramedic, just a shliach of Hashem trying to help others.

May we all have a gmar chasima tova, arichas yamim and בני חיי ומזוני!