Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Parsha Challenge - Parshat VaYigash: A Breech in Protocol

On pages 260/1 of One Above and Seven Below, I touch on to an issue that is widely recognized yet largely undefined within Jewish ideology.

When do we really grow up?

Here is what I wrote:

Do you have time to take a one question survey? Okay, here’s the question:

At what age does an Orthodox Jew become an adult?

Now, I haven’t actually conducted this survey so I will have to speculate the results. My guess is that about 2 out of 3 respondents would answer “at the time of bar or bat-mitzvah.” It is our tradition that every Orthodox Jew is considered an adult at the onset of adolescence. At this age, 13 for a male and 12 for a female, the subject is obligated in all of the relevant commandments and is liable for damages and for full judicial punishment for any transgression. This includes the death penalty where applicable. Likewise, at this age, a male is eligible to be counted in a minyan (prayer quorum), a mezuman (Grace after meals quorum), and to recite blessings and Torah readings on behalf of others. A 13-year-old boy is eligible to be a witness for the sanctification of the new moon and thus establish the dates of the festivals of which the entire Jewish nation is obliged to uphold. He is likewise eligible to be a witness for capital cases and to determine the marital status of a woman. He can be a king and if he is from the order of priests (Kohen) he can perform the duties of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.

That is quite a load of responsibility.

Nevertheless, I am certain that some learned respondents will point out that only from the age of twenty on up is one eligible to be included in the national census, to receive a portion of the Land of Israel, and to enlist in the army. Moreover, it is only from the age of twenty that his fixed value for vows reaches the full value of fifty shekels.[47]

I have conducted a great deal of research to explain this discrepancy and, frankly, I am stumped. If one is mature enough to kill or be killed in a court of law, must perform every single commandment, and can be a king and High Priest, why doesn’t he count in the census? Why can’t he go out and fight and receive a portion of the land? Why is his fixed value for vows less than the full value?

Did you notice a flag for footnote 47? Well, this is the text of footnote 47:

47 There is also a tradition that until the age of 20, one is not liable for punishments meted out by the Heavenly court. Though this has a basis in an Aggadic passage in the Talmud (tractate Shabbat 89b) and is supported by Rashi in his commentary on Genesis 23:1 (s.v. Vayihiyu - based on Bresihis Rabba 58:1) and Numbers 16:27 (s.v. U’Nesheihem - based on Midrash Tanchuma BaMidbar, Korach 3 also Midrash Rabba BaMidbar 18:4), there is no firm Halachic basis for this. As such, there is much debate among Torah scholars as to what are the “terms and conditions” of this “exemption.” See Question 69 of Kaba D’Kashiyata from the responsa of Chelkat Yoav. See also Pardes Yosef on Genesis 23:1.

To rehash this comment, we have a puzzling phenomenon. We have three sources in Chazal that refer in passing to some established protocol that one is not liable for heavenly punishment before the age of 20 - yet, there is no source whatsoever that establishes this protocol in the first place and derives it from some pasuk somewhere in Tanach!

V'chi teima - if you want to suggest - that this protocol is clearly indicated from the fact that the penalty of the דור המדבר was imposed from the age of 20, we have the Midrash Rabba (BaMidbar 16:23) that says that even one who was less than 20 years old, if he was allied to the spies, he did not enter the land. Thus, not only does this Midrash not support the protocol, but to some extent, it negates it.

The issue is made all the more puzzling by one pasuk in this week's parsha (Breishis 46:12):

ובני יהודה ער ואונן ושלה ופרץ... ויהיו בני פרץ חצרן וחמול.

What is the significance of this pasuk?

It tells us that Peretz (which means the "one who breeches") was a bit hyperactive. Not only did he pull a fast one by beating his aspiring brother out of the womb, but he showed up all of the grandsons of Yaakov by being the only one who fathered a new generation before they descended to Egypt. None of the einiklach had children except for him.

How old was he?

Well, let's have a look. It seems that Yehuda had a tough time finding a shidduch. At the time of mechiras Yosef, Yehuda was pushing 22 years old and he was still single! Unheard of for that period (he was obviously taking after Yitzchok). We know this because his adventures in shidduchim were recorded in the Torah as happening בעת ההיא which is explained in Chazal as subsequent to mechiras Yosef.

Now we know that from mechiras Yosef to the descent to Egypt there were 22 years. So now, in all of 22 years, Yehuda (1) got married (2) fathered 3 boys one after the next (no twins or trips), (3) waited for his first to grow up and married him off, (4) saw his oldest die and the next one get married, (5) saw him die, as well, and waited for the 3rd son to grow up (presumably to at least 13 years), (6) passed on the opportunity to marry him off and let a year go by (Breishis Rabba 85:6), (7) got reeled in by Tamar and fathered a set of twins - after his 3rd boy is already a "grown up", (8) sees his new tachshitel grow up and get married and have 2 boys of his own, and finally, (9) they all go down to live in Egypt.

All this in 22 years.

That's being pretty productive for somebody who married late.

Now, already we are in chronological trouble. Sheilah (honorable #3 son) could not have been born less than 2 years after mechiras Yosef since he was number 3 from a string of single births (we are talking the likes of consecutive 7 month pregnancies to do this). If he was indeed 13 years old (as is generally implied by the term יגדל שלה as the two first letters - יג - imply 13), and if Tamar waited 12 months from then, it must be already 16 years after mechiras Yosef when Tamar pulled her "trick" (excuse the expression). Peretz was born one pregnancy (minimum 6+ months) later, so he enters the world with less than 5.5 years until golus mitzrayim. And he manages 2 kids?? (No other grandson pulled this off).

I tell you, this kid doesn't waste a minute. He probably never missed krias shema by the Magen Avraham once in his life!

Now, even this chronology assumes that Ehr and Onan made it to 13 before their respective departures. And it squeezes Peretz to less than 6 years old (father of 2) at golus mitzrayim. Now, the Talmud in Sanhedrin 69b tells us that even though nowadays we do not consider a male capable of reproduction younger than 9 years old, in the "earlier generations" we have indications that they were capable as early as 8.

This is still a bit more than 5 and a half.

This doesn't work.

The Ibn Ezra and the Daas Zkeinim M'Baalei Tosafot ask this question. And, accordingly, we are forced to consider one of 2 options:

  1. The whole episode of Yehuda's initial marriage occurred a number of years before mechiras Yosef. This is the Ibn Ezra's approach. He posits that Ehr and Onan were born before mechiras Yosef and married about the age of 12. This challenges the Midrashim that בעת ההיא was a direct consequence of mechiras Yosef.
  2. Even Ehr, Onan, and Sheilah were considered "grown" at a younger age - approximately 9 years old. This seems to be Daas Zkeinim's approach. With this approach he is trying to preserve the chronology of בעת ההיא , although it comes at a price of saying that Ehr and Onan were not even Bar Mitzvah when they died.
    But, let's work this out. If Ehr was born 7 months after mechiras Yosef, followed by Onan and Sheila at 7-8 month intervals, then Sheila is 2 years younger than Ehr. Assume that Ehr and Onan each married at 8 and died at the age of 9 - about 9.6 and 10.3 years after mechiras Yosef - and Sheila reached 9* about year 11 after mechiras Yosef. Breishis Rabba says Tamar waited for him for one year (year 12) and then seduced Yehuda. It was a short pregnancy (Rashi Breishis 38:27) so let's say a bit shy of 7 months. This would make Peretz 8 years old about at about 20.7 years after mechras Yosef and would give him a bit less than 1.5 years to produce 2 sons.

That's really cutting it close. So, even this approach makes it difficult to substantiate the בעת ההיא . Indeed, I found a sefer written by a contemporary scholar entitled Yagel Libeinu which quotes Midrash Sechel Tov (Breishis 38:2) that Ehr and Onan were born before mechiras Yosef and were 7 years old when they were married!

The bottom line is that it appears that by all accounts, Ehr and Onan were relatively young when they were "put to sleep". They may have been as young as 8 or 9 or possibly they reached Bar Mitzvah age but nobody suggests that they were close to 20 years old and, indeed, it's all but impossible to say so.

Yet, evidently, nobody seems to be bothered with the obvious breech of protocol. Don't we say that the Heavenly court does not impose punishment before the age of 2o?

Why did this rule not apply to Ehr and Onan?

I did come up with a rather feeble answer. But I want to see if any readers have anything to suggest.

In the meantime, I must caution all of you young folks that the sources we have examined indicate that there are exceptions to the 20 year immunity rule - aside from the fact that we are not sure where it comes from to start.

So, boys and girls, don't try anything naughty at home.

*We must say that "growing up" for Sheila has to mean at least 9 years old. It cannot be our minimum of 8 because, according to our chronology, Sheila was already 8 when Onan died at 9 and still they had to wait for him to "grow up".

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Is the Financial Meltdown Saving Marriages?

Re: NY Times - In Housing Fall, Breaking Up Is Harder to Do

I recall this copy of a "Personals" ad in a Purim spoof publication:

All my friends are doing it and, frankly, I feel left out.
SJF, 38, Never married - Seeks divorce

Divorce was never meant to be easy. It was never meant to be profitable. And it was never meant to be de rigeur. Not for us Jews and not for anybody. In Talmudic times, a divorce would be absolute ruination for a woman. There was no Takanos Rabbenu Gershon then. The husband did not need her consent to give her a get and he did not need a heter meah rabbanim to marry another woman. Marital assets were not jointly owned. There would be no alimony, no child support, no "automatic" custody. No Internet support groups and no CWJ or ICAR. Nothing but pre-marital assets and the proceeds from her Kesuba. That's about one year's cost of living.

Perhaps this system was unkind, but it kept families together.

Over the past few decades, the rate of divorce within the Western world has surpassed 50% of marriages. Part of it has to do with the breakdown of family values. Part of it has to do with marrying "for the wrong reasons". Part of it has to do with feminism. Part of it has to do with the destigmatization of divorce.

But, in addition to all of the above, a lot of it has to do with making divorce easier and more financially worthwhile for a woman. Recent decades have introduced to us no-fault divorce, equitable distribution of marital assets, and maternal dominance in child custody procedings. Today, a well represented woman who is looking for brighter horizons can dump the chump and come away with the house, the car, the kids, and a chunk of his paycheck, to boot.

And they do.

Well, according to a current NY Times article, the honeymoon may be over for "smash and grab" divorces. Now that, in many situations, people owe more on their houses than they can sell them for, bickering couples are fighting over who doesn't get the house!

It seems that people who have already invested a few years of their lives and enormous legal expenses to split the cake are discovering that all they will be sharing is a portfolio of liabilities.

If only they would have known!

The gemara in Bava Metzia (59a) says:

אמר רב יהודה לעולם יהא אדם זהיר בתבואה בתוך ביתו שאין מריבה מצויה בתוך ביתו של אדם אלא על עסקי תבואה שנאמר השם גבולך שלום חלב חטים ישביעך

Rabi Yehuda says: A person should always be vigilant with the supply of grain (financial stability) in his household because the cause of marital discord within a man's home is due to nothing but matters of sustenance as is written, "He makes your domain a peaceful one, as the fat of the wheat sustains you."

This used to mean not having enough dough in the house. More recently, it has come to mean having too much dough in the house.

For frivolous divorces, the honeymoon is over!

Now maybe everyone can just get on with their lives...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Richest Man in the Cemetery

Re: A matter of trust

לכך נקרא שמם נכסים שנכסים מזה ונגלין לזה ולמה נקרא שמם זוזין שזזים מזה ונותנין לזה ממון מה אתה מונה אינו כלום מעות מה לעת

Hence they are called נכסים (assets), they become concealed נכסים from the first owner and revealed to the second. And why are they called zuzim? Because they move (זזים) from one person to another. Mammon (ממון) means: what you are counting (מונה) is actually nothing. Maot (מעות) is מה לעת it's just for this moment. - (Breishis Rabba BaMidbar 22:8)

A scary realization has emerged from the Bernard Madoff debacle. Many foundations have lost a tremendous amount of money. And we find out that many foundations had a lot of money to lose. Perhaps, too much. This is the crux of the op-ed piece written by Carmi Wisemon in the Dec. 23 Jerusalem Post.

This is the main part of her article:

For the average person, regaled by the media over the past week with the monumental losses of banks, universities, hospitals and foundations, many of them serving the Jewish community, there has dawned a true realization of the tremendous amount of wealth earmarked for charitable purposes. Yet we have become used to hearing that there is simply not enough money to fill the growing needs of the community.

Our shock has been heightened by the knowledge that a sizable portion of the vast wealth accumulated by prominent Jewish institutions and foundations was passed on to a select few who neither used these funds to help people or run programs but instead perpetually reinvested the money to create ever larger endowments of their own.

Small but worthy grassroots initiatives with high impact and minimal overheads rarely receive funding from closed philanthropies, some of which appear to have spent significant funds to expand the size of endowments of large Jewish institutions. Just imagine how the gigantic sums of money sucked into the Madoff black hole could have enriched the Jewish world if they had been used for the benefit of those for whom the money was supposedly earmarked. Instead, these foundations sat on the money like nesting hens, ineffectively passing large shares of it to large institutions which themselves reserved the right not to use the funds, but rather reinvest them (and ultimately lose them).

FOUNDATIONS AND institutions have the right to distribute their funds and services as they see fit. Yet it is no secret that in the years leading up to today's economic crisis, many people, both donors and recipients, have lost faith in the mechanisms of Jewish philanthropy and institutional life.

As budgets are reduced, small grassroots initiatives will be hit the hardest and hear more than ever before, "Sorry, there is no money available to support your cause, noteworthy as it may be." The message will be clear, "Please don't bother us during such a time; can't you see that we can barely keep ourselves afloat?" The public should take a hard look at the institutions it supports. Not only because of past misplaced trust, but because the bottom line is that many of the large Jewish institutions which have lost parts of their endowments state that they still have a hefty nest egg to rely on.

And so, it is with mixed emotions that we learn that even though Yeshiva university lost 110 million dollars, they are still very financially sound because their total endowment is $1.2 billion.

1.2 billion is $1,200,000,000.00. I wish any numeral in my bank account had that many zeros! (I don't really because I am in overdraft!)

It's nice to have money. There is so much we can do with it. But if we don't do anything with it - why do we need it? G-d doesn't give us money to horde away for future generations. And it is no blessing to do so. Reish Lakish told us this. The gemara in Gittin 47a tells over that as Reish Lakish was dying, he had to his name nothing but a kilo of paprika that he had not managed to consume. With this, Reish Lakish admonished himself: "And they leave over to others [the fruits of] their strength." (Tehillim 49:11).

This is the lesson that we are meant to learn from the mahn that fell in the desert. The Torah commanded us not to leave any over for the next day. Those who tried it had to discard it while holding their noses. The lesson was clear: If you have what you need for today, you are as rich as anybody.

This is because money, like every other resource is a test and an opportunity. It is an opportunity to do important things. To do mitzvos and chessed. Using money properly is what upholds the world. For G'milas chassadim is one of the three pillars of the world (Pirkei Avos 1:2) and Dovid HaMelech wrote (Tehillim 89:3): עולם חסד יבנה . The world is built through chessed.

It is also a test. Many commentaries have noted that the gematria for ממון - the word that is printed in every Machzor above "U'Tzedaka" is identical to the gematria of the word סולם , a ladder - both are 136. This is a message that money is a ladder with which we can raise ourselves to great heights or lower ourselves to the gutter.

Of course, it is wise to have some money stored away in a reserve for unanticipated expenses and it is essential to store away money for known projected expenses - e.g., educating and marrying off our children - or for a concrete goal - e.g., to be able to afford a bigger house. But, somehow, squirreling away piles of money in order to be the richest man in the cemetery rings a bit hollow. Reish Lakish (like Kenny Rogers's gambler) was happy to break even.

So, let's look again at YU's $1.2B. What were they doing with it? Well, I can tell you what they weren't doing with it.

Let's be very conservative. If the money was invested and returning an average of, say 5%/year (Madoff was giving 10% while he was kicking), we get $60M. Now, I don't know the rules, but I suspect that money won't be taxed too much being a non-profit organization and all. In America, schools don't need to pay a 16% off-the-top tax on donations like every single Yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel does.

Now, the news says that YU has a total 0f 7000 students. This means that the modest interest that I calculated works out to a bit more than $8,500 / student for each and every student. (Bear in mind that the average full salary in Israel for somebody who works 8.5 hrs /day plus travelling is NIS 8000 - USD $2,075 - per month BEFORE TAXES and there is no such thing deductions for dependents for any male worker. A man with 10 kids is taxed as much as a bachelor). So, how about reducing every student's tuition by around $5-6000 to take the burden off of lower or middle class parents. Oh, I know there are scholarship funds and programs, but what does one need to do to qualify and, does this come from the endowment or a standalone fund?

It looks like I am not the only one who sees things this way. Here are the remarks of Talkbacker #10:

10. Endowments should pose a halachic question: the profits they generate should be used to offset running costs, tuition, etc.

An acquaintance in education fervently believes every day school, yeshiva should strive in its early years, when costs are lower, to raise a nest egg which could generate profits/interest which over the years can serve as a source of revenue. If doable, its a great idea. Hording an endowment and not using the profits, and trying to raise further donations, sounds clearly wrong, and it shows a lack of trust in Hashem. This article is correct-a portion of charity goes to the wrong places, where its not needed. Orgs. and schools, too, are greedy, not just individuals. G-d is teaching us a lesson.

Roz - USA (12/24/2008 05:05)

I couldn't have said it better.

And here is something else that they aren't doing with it. This is a comment that appeared in the Emes Ve-Emunah blog which I have commented on in earlier posts (here and here):

A group of Roshei Yeshivah from Bnei Brak went to meet Rav Herschel Schechter last week in order to beg him to help them raise $12 million for the kollels. Rav Schachter said, let the guys go out and get jobs! They said, we've had siyata d'Shmaya for 25 years, we're not going to give up now. Rav Schachter said, But this was a time-bomb that was bound to self-destruct eventually!

Rick 12.07.08 - 5:00 am #

Firstly, let me repeat that I sincerely hope that this comment is not true. So far, nobody has confirmed or refuted it. Secondly, The people who approached Rabbi Schachter, based on this comment, were Roshei Yeshiva and Kollel Heads and they trying to collect money for peole who currently are, and in the future will be, Roshei Yeshiva and Kollel heads. These peole work very hard.

Now, as far as I know, Rabbi Hershecl Schachter is a Rosh Yeshiva and Kollel Head (says so right here in Wikipedia). So, now, can somebody please explain to me exactly what Rabbi Herschel Schachter does that is called a job more than the people who are appealling to him for help that he should advise them (or their students) to "get jobs"????? And if their students get jobs, then they won't have a job and if Rabbi Herschel Schachter's students go and get jobs, then he won't have one either.

Oh, I know the difference. His Yeshiva has a $1.2B endowment and theirs doesn't.

But, back to our discussion. At first, I thought that perhaps asking him to help for $12M was a bit much. That is quite a bit of money (as one US Senator said in the 1960's: a few million for this and a few million for that - next thing you know you're starting to talk about a serious amount of money!)

But, hey, come on. Be a sport. You are sitting on top of a Yeshiva with a $1.2 billion dollar endowment which, as I said, should bring in annual returns upward of $60M and all these fellows are asking for is help in raising a paltry $12M for hachzakas haTorah in Eeretz Yisroel.

What an opportunity!!!

Now, I don't suspect that he is the master of the $1.2B endowment. after all, he is only a Rosh yeshiva. He just works there. But, come on! I am sure his leverage with the board of Trustees should be able to loosen a million or 2. From the interest!!

But the story goes that this Rosh Yeshiva sent the other Roshei Yeshiva packing with a message that future Roshei Yeshiva (and mechanchim and mashgichim and dayanim and poskim) should get jobs. It's a time-bomb that is bound to self-destruct eventually.

This is because MY yeshiva has a $1.2B endowment and yours doesn't.

Boy, I hope this story isn't true. A Kiddush Hashem it's not.

In my reprint of Carmi Wisemon's article, I left out the closing paragraph. it speaks for me as my post's closing paragraph:

Now, despite their losses, is the time for foundations and institutions to stop hoarding their funds and use them to provide services needed by the Jewish community. Let them use some of their remaining investments to rekindle the community's dampened trust in many of our most venerable organizations.

And I will repeat the closing remarks of Talkbacker #10:

This article is correct-a portion of charity goes to the wrong places, where its not needed. Orgs. and schools, too, are greedy, not just individuals. G-d is teaching us a lesson.

G-d is teaching us a lesson. He doesn't want anybody to be the richest man in the cemetery.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Largest Ponzi Scheme in History

Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" award is traditionally awarded to the biggest newsmaker of each year in its closing weeks. I imagine that it surprised no one that this year's title was awarded to President elect Barak Obama. It is interesting that barely more than a year ago, Barak Obama was an obscure junior senator who was not a noisemaker – or newsmaker – on Capital Hill. Most of America, and certainly the world, had never heard of him.

Newsmakers materialize suddenly because news breaks suddenly.

Time Magazine's anti-climactic "Person of the Year" announcement was barely noticed. It barely made page 8. This is because a new newsmaker appeared out of nowhere and took a controlling interest in the front page news. Bernard L. Madoff. The 50 Billion Dollar Fraud. The largest Ponzi scheme in history. Not too late to win the 2008 "Monster of the Year Award".

The largest Ponzi scheme in history!

Or is it?

I am not so sure. I know at least 2 Ponzi schemes that are as substantial as his. Perhaps the numbers don't reach 50 Billion dollars. Or perhaps they exceed 50 Billion dollars.

What is a Ponzi scheme? It is when somebody who does not have his own capital and is not credit-worthy, borrows money from somebody else (or a group of people) and claims them as assets. This makes himself look like he is now credit worthy so he can borrow even more. And he pays his first creditor with what he borrowed from later creditors against the imaginary appreciation of value of his not-paid-for assets. At first, nobody notices that the assets are liability-ridden. Eventually, it is discovered that his current holdings are not really worth what he claims they are and are, in fact, worth less than his total liabilities. The game is over and the creditors lose.

A Ponzi scheme is a ticking time bomb. Something that is bound to self-destruct eventually.

Perhaps I could have explained this in simpler terms, but I purposely used this lengthy narrative to illustrate that there have been some very big Ponzi schemes in the past.

The first was the 1929 stock market crash.

What caused the 1929 stock market crash? It happened because hundreds of thousands of people who were not credit-worthy were buying stocks on low margins. That means they were buying stock without really paying for it or, in other words, borrowing the money that it costs. The idea is that all this buying drives up the value and gives a false impression that the assets are worth more than they are. So they "cash in" these assets and "buy" more for no money. They are really borrowing against the false value of the assets. They will pay for it with tomorrow's profits. It was no different than Madoff's except for 3 things: (1) It was a Ponzi scheme with collective ownership. Each person who bought on margin was his own Charles Ponzi. Because he depended on other people who bought on margin to make his assets appreciate. It was all of the investors bilking themselves as opposed to one person bilking everybody.(2) Secondly, the market merely crashed about 30-40% overnight. So, although it made people who already had no money in their pockets liable for stocks they first bought at 30-40% above their corrected value and sent them into debt, the money did not totally disappear. (3) It was all perfectly legal.

For these reasons, nobody wants to recognize it as a Ponzi scheme. But it was. I have no clue as to its total value but it was also probably in the billions of dollars.

It was a ticking bomb. Like any Ponzi scheme. Something that is bound to self-destruct eventually. Many pundits said so at the time. Few listened.

Likewise, what caused the current economic crisis? It was exactly the same thing except it wasn't stocks. It was real estate. People who were not credit worthy were buying houses and taking out "affordable" sub-prime adjustable rate mortgages. They were borrowing money to be paid by the projected appreciation of their real estate purchases. They are paying today with tomorrow's "income". But each person who bought with no money down was depending on a rising real estate market that was propelled by more people buying at no money down.

It was a ticking time bomb. Something that is bound to self-destruct eventually. And it was forewarned at least 9 years ago in a famous NY Times column during the Clinton administration. The Clinton administration was orchestrating a Ponzi scam much bigger than Madoff's. Another collective, self-inflicted Ponzi scheme. Just nobody wants to call it that.

If anything positive comes out of this catastrophe, it may be that, by its sheer magnitude, it will open our eyes to something we don't want to see. There are different types of Ponzi schemes. There is the sinister Charles Ponzi / Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme where one charismatic charlatan preys on the unsuspecting. But there is another variation where we do it to ourselves.

Which is more dangerous?

I suppose those of us who haven't fallen for any Ponzi scheme can give himself a pat on the back.

Not so fast.

There is a another Ponzi scheme going on. One that dwarfs all three of these scams put together. And it's been going on for longer than we know. And it is a ticking time bomb that is bound to self-destruct. And all of us are in it.

Just most of us don't know that we are in it.

It is humanity itself. This whole world is one big Ponzi scheme. Remember that a Ponzi scheme is when we borrow today against tomorrow's projected income. It's good as long as the projected income comes, then we can pay off today's loan and borrow again against tomorrow's projected income.

G-d gives us life up front. And He gives us our allotment of years and He gives us our allotment of parnassah. We don't pay for it and we are not credit-worthy. And we have to find a way to pay for it. Why?

Because after 120 years, we are going to submit an application for another allotment. An allotment for "years" and "parnassah" in the afterlife. If we covered the cost of our short allotment here, we will have a credit standing to borrow more for a second "allotment". But, if we don't, we pay for today's free money with tomorrow's allotment. And we fool ourselves that it's worth more than it really is. But its a ticking time bomb that is bound to self-destruct. When that happens, all of the false inflated value evaporates and what remains is the part that we actually paid for. The amount of principle that was actually paid off.

So - life is just another Ponzi scheme. And just like all of the other Ponzi shemes that were forewarned and ignored, this one is also forewarned. Rabbi Akiva exposed this sinister scheme about 2000 years ago:

הוא היה אומר: הכל נתון בערבון, ומצודה פרוסה על כל החיים. החנות פתוחה , והחנוני מקיף , והפנקס פתוח, והיד כותבת, וכל הרוצה ללוות יבא וילוה, והגבאים מחזירים תדיר בכל יום, ונפרעין מן האדם מדעתו ושלא מדעתו, ויש להם על מה שיסמכו, והדין דין אמת, והכל מתקן לסעודה.

He (Rabbi Akiva) would say: Everything is given out with a lien. And a net is spread over all those who live. The Store is open and the Storekeeper is extending credit, and the Ledger is open, and the Hand is writing. And all those who wish to borrow may come and borrow. And the Collectors make their rounds each day, and they exact payment from a person with consent and without consent. And They have [the necessary proof] to uphold their demands. And the judgement is one of truth. And with this, each person is rectified for the banquet.

So now it looks like G-d is pretty busy. He is running a Ponzi scheme and He is running a Pyramid scheme. The Pyramid scheme is the way out of the Ponzi scheme. In a Ponzi scheme, everybody loses. In G-d's Pyramid scheme, everybody wins.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Sun Comes Up...and Yaakov is Limping

In regard to my earlier post, Limping on our Thighs, there was a comment posted by one who identified him(?)self as YechezkelsFriendInTheHouseOfSun. One of the great things about blogging is that I am always making new friends. Of course, I would be tickled pink if this poster is somebody who actually knows me. In any event, I prepared a response to his list of objections and I tried to get it into the comments section just before Shabbos. For some reason, Blogger Central was on holiday and the response did not register in the comments section. So, I thought, perhaps it's an omen that I should post my response on the page.

I will first repost the comment as written. This is it:

First, you're going against the Gemorah if you blame non-learners for the system being broken. The Gemorah specifically says that learning will be supported when the learners are keeping G-d's Will correctly. If they're not being supported, it must be (according to the Gemorah) that they are "eino oseh ratzon shel maaleh."

Second, it's 100% wrong to see Yissochar/Zevulun as the model for the entire society. It was only 2 tribes. The other 10 were osek be'Torah while earning their own living. This was said explicitly by a Chareidi Rav in J-lem who (in Yechezkel's style) I'll call RYMHCR. There is no Torah support for saying that Y/Z is for all of Jewish society.

Third, if you think you're defending Yonasan Rosenblum, he himself has certainly said numerous times that something needs to be done besides assuming that everyone will be supported.

Fourth, Rav Shimon Bar Yochai doesn't "take care of" anything in Berachos. The Gemorah there doesn't pasken like him. And the Gemorah says that many tried his way and it didn't work.

Fifth, any man who is not providing his wife mezonos is violating Torah. Any man who doesn't teach his children a trade is violating a halacha de'Rabanan.

Last, I would like to see a mekor for your assertion that it is a Torah ideal for anyone who wants to learn to learn. Any mekor. Without a mekor, how can a chareidi make such a statement?

Now, I will repost it again (again in the same colored text) and intersperse my responses (in blue).

First, you're going against the Gemorah if you blame non-learners for the system being broken. The Gemorah specifically says that learning will be supported when the learners are keeping G-d's Will correctly. If they're not being supported, it must be (according to the Gemorah) that they are "eino oseh ratzon shel maaleh."

I mentioned that the "Yissachar" side is not blameless. Certainly, they must live up to their expectations as well. My point is that "Zevulun" should not be screaming at "Yissachar" to "Get to work" as Rabbi Schachter allegedly was. They should be screaming at him to "Get into the Bais midrash and shteig like your supposed to." Harry Maryles' (and RHS's) gripe is not that Yissachar is not doing his learning job. Rather, that they should close their gemaras and become their own "Zevuluns". Rashbi's reponse to this is: "תורה מה תהא עליה?"

Second, it's 100% wrong to see Yissochar/Zevulun as the model for the entire society.

It's not the only model there is. I also point to the Bnei Levi who were not required to serve in the army or do any commercial work and lived off of the Maaser of the entire society. The Rambam says that anybody who wants to (even a goy!!) can strive for this status. I wrote about this previously in my Parah Aduma post a back on Sept. 4.

It was only 2 tribes.

So what?

The other 10 were osek be'Torah while earning their own living.

That's one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is that Y/Z were the only case where one entire tribe took upon itself to look after the needs of another entire tribe. The other tribes were more heterogeneous whereas there were workers and learners within the tribe with wealthy people supporting the full time learners (Kollel) just as in today's society. There is no indication that every individual in all other tribes was self-sufficient.

This was said explicitly by a Chareidi Rav in J-lem who (in Yechezkel's style) I'll call RYMHCR.

Yechezkel happens to be a very loyal and ardent follower of RYMHCR (note that I quote him and even post his picture in my most recent post). Trust me, my hashkafa does not differ from his. I have been listening to his shiurim for over ten years. As for your comment, most often, things that are "said explicitly" are said with many words in front and many words in back of the words being referenced. I have no idea what you are referencing but if you provide me with a direct quotation in full context I will respond to it.

There is no Torah support for saying that Y/Z is for all of Jewish society.

You said this already. Nobody calls this an obligation. Only an optional arrangement where everybody gains - where the supporter's wealth and success come due to his commitment of support. Thus RHS is not helping anybody with his suggestion. Not the learners and not the workers.

Third, if you think you're defending Yonasan Rosenblum, he himself has certainly said numerous times that something needs to be done besides assuming that everyone will be supported.

The purpose of my post was to debate Harry Maryles, not to defend Jonathan Rosenblum. I wrote in my post that it didn't look to me that Harry Maryles was really addressing what R'JR wrote. He just used it as a springboard to digress to his own agenda. To elaborate why he is off the mark would require adding 2 or 3 paragraphs to my post which would distract us from the main issues. I didn't want to do it then and I don't want to do it now. One thing is clear. R'JR never said anything reflecting the position of Harry Maryles or (allegedly) Rabbi Hershel Schachter, and there's a reason for it. That is why Harry wrote a post complaining about it.

Fourth, Rav Shimon Bar Yochai doesn't "take care of" anything in Berachos. The Gemorah there doesn't pasken like him. And the Gemorah says that many tried his way and it didn't work.

I deal with this explicitly in Chapter 2 of my book which I believe can still be read online. Ayen sham, v'do"k.

Fifth, any man who is not providing his wife mezonos is violating Torah.

Please go to as many chareidi (Kollel) wives as you know (who have a stable marriage and whose husbands are serious shomrei Torah u'mitzvos) and ask any of them if they think they are too thin (though many may say that they don't have enough clothes).

Any man who doesn't teach his children a trade is violating a halacha de'Rabanan.

I believe you are referring to the last mishna in Kedushin (82a). If so, note the continuation of the mishna where R' Nehorai says: I will forsake every kind of craft and only teach my sons Torah for a man eats from it's reward in this world and the principal is preserved for the World to Come.
Different strokes for different folks.

Last, I would like to see a mekor for your assertion that it is a Torah ideal for anyone who wants to learn to learn.Any mekor.

Evidently, you never read my book.

My book focuses on Rashi in VaYikra 26:3 which is essentially a Toras Kohanim. If you want more I can offer Pirkei Avos 3:6 (and 1:2). We then move on to Rambam Hilchos Shmittos V'Yovelos 13:12,13 besides all of Hilchos Talmud Torah and Yoreh Deah 246.
If you require more sources (there are entire books and sefarim on this subject) I can provide them but, if you really need them, it is a very sad day in Beit Shemesh.

Without a mekor, how can a chareidi make such a statement?

You are so right.


To summarize, the main focal point is my response to your objection number 2 which was essentially a review of the points of my post. What it boils down to is that we chareidim believe that [the total] Jewish society is best off - both financially and spiritually - with as many people as possible in the Beis midrash. עץ חיים היא למחזיקים בה ותומכיה מאושר . Harry Maryles, Rav Herschel Schachter (allegedly), you, and most of the blogosphere believe that the more people in the Beis Midrash the worse off we are.

I have written profusely about it in this post and in some previous posts (G-d's Pyramid Scheme and Parah Aduma Syndrome). Ameilus B'torah brings bracha to all. That's what the Torah says in Vayikra 26:3. I have written that a chareidi is one who believes in this. We believe in it. Harry Maryles and RHS and you evidently do not.

From Harry Maryles's Emes Ve-Emunah, I question his Emes and I question his Emunah.

I once heard a vort that the reason why all of Bilaam's brochos reverted to klallos except מה טובו אהליך יעקב is because Bilaam thought like Harry Maryles that Jews spending their lives in the Beis Midrash as opposed to universities would keep them away from the materialistic world and be their ruination. So, even though HKBH forced him to say it, he said it with consensual conviction. Thus, while all the other "forced" brachos evaporated, this one stuck.

Our shitta is תלמוד תורה כנגד כולם and the blogosphere's shitta is כולם כנגד תלמוד תורה .

Thank you for writing and regards to ALL of my friends in Beit Shemesh

ו אל תראני שאני שחרחרת ששזפתני השמש בני אמי נחרו בי שמני נטרה את הכרמים כרמי שלי לא נטרתי


Friday, December 19, 2008

The Upcoming Census - Can we count on it?

Rabbi Yizchak Mordechai HaCohen Rubin, Shlita

The Census is coming.

Last Friday night, HaRav Yitzchok Mordechai HaCohen Rubin (some friendly commenter in a recent post identified him as RYMHCR) gave his dvar Halacha between Kaballas Shabbos and Maariv at Kehilat Bnei Torah on the subject of the census.

If any of you blog-readers are loyal readers of mine, you may recall that we have discussed this phenomenon before. On page 124 of my book, I lodge a formal complaint against Noah J. Efron for having the audacity to declare exactly what percentage of the population is chareidi. My main point is that if you don't define a chareidi with any clear-cut criteria, it is hard to decide who lives up to the criteria that you don't present. Unless one has a "scientific" definition of a chareidi, one cannot determine who is or isn't one and certainly cannot count how many (of us) there are.

My second point, expressed in footnote #4, was that, in any case, the only quasi-accurate way of determining what percentage of the population is of any given persuasion is to take a census. And do it right. I noted that our last census was in 1995 and the next one is scheduled for 2008. His book was written in 2003 (a full and fruitful 8 years after the last census), so on what authority can he present his "objective" population figure?

Well, 2008 is here and before this issue makes it into the "Chumra of the Week" Club, I want to nip it in the bud. So, let's get back to HaRav Rubin's dvar Halacha.

The question is whether it is permissible to participate in the census due to the issur of counting that is mentioned in Yoma 22b and Rambam Hilchos Temidim uMusafim 4:4. In a typical census, the respondents fill out a form where they write the number of people in their household. Is counting on paper the same as counting orally?

He said that the prevalent opinion among the poskim is that writing the number of people is another form of physically counting. However, here in Eretz Yisroel they gave a twist. In the census form, one merely names the members of the household without writing actual numbers. The tallying is done by strange unseen forces (aliens?). Though this makes it less direct, it is not clear if it alleviates the problem.

He continued to say that Halacha L'Maaseh, there is no problem with the census that is being currently conducted for two reasons. (Here is where the ignominious geirus controversy comes to play.):

The first of the reasons is that the prohibition is only to count up a population of Jews. The census is not counting up Jews. It is counting up citizens. Though it may strive to provide a figure for the population of Jews, nevertheless, due to long standing liberal policies of the government as to what is a Jew, as well as conversion standards that do not match up to those who abide by the Rambam and the Talmud, a strong percentage of citizens that are included in the population of Jews are nothing of the sort. Consequently, the census is not counting Jews but a population of citizens that are labeled as Jews but who are not really all Jewish. There is no problem with this.

The second reason is that, on this occasion, they are not actually conducting a census. They are merely conducting a "population survey". This means that they will not be approaching every single household for infornmation but that they will choose samples from various regions and population centers and obtain partial data sets from which they will calculate the projected figures. The prohibition is only to take an actual count.

Why aren't they taking a real honest to goodness census?

Well, the reason given, and it is probably the true reason, is that the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) is facing budget restraints just like everybody else. In order to carry out an accurate census, they would need to hire about 15,000 temporary census-takers (or recruit volunteers). They are not budgeted for that so we will just have to make do with the wonders of high-tech data processing techniques.

As I indicated, I don't doubt that budget constraints are the main player here. Still, it makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. Here in Eretz Israel we have surveys and polls for lots of things. How many people want this and how many peolple want that and how many seats will this party get and how many seats will that party lose.

Here is Israel, we do not append a poll with a "margin of error". We append it with a "margin of truth." Like "Kadima will get 33 seats in the next election - with a margin of truth of negative 50%" or "72% of the population thinks we should talk with Syria - with a margin of truth of next to nothing..."

Here we never know the real numbers. and when you don't know the real numbers, you have to guess. Odds are that my guess is not going to be the same as your guess. i think that my guess is better than your guess, but you think that your guess is as good as mine.

I am reminded of a story of a businessman who was looking to hire an in-house accountant. A number of qualified people applied for the job. The first one comes in for an interview. The boss asks him, "How much is 2 plus 2?" The applicant answers "4". The boss says, "I"ll call you."
A second applicant comes in for an interview. The boss asks him, "How much is 2 plus 2?" The applicant answers "4". The boss says, "I"ll call you."
A third applicant comes in for an interview. The boss asks him, "How much is 2 plus 2?" The applicant pulls down the window shades, locks the door, comes close to the boss and whispers, "How much do you need it to be?"
The boss says, "When can you start?"

Some people are absolute wizzes with numbers. They get the answers first and they do the math later. Of course, they don't bother counting. That could throw them off. They guess at the answers. And the answers are always right because they are such good guessers.

Just ask Uncle Bernie.

So, we can participate in the census because it's not really a census. It's a sophisticated mathematical equation that will be calculated by the best guessers in the business.

And how many chareidim are there really?

That's anybody's guess.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More on Names - Bernie Madoff

Bernie Madoff.

למה נקרא שמו Bernie Madoff ?

Because he burnt all his customers and made off with their money.

From Midrash Tanchumim.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Names of Shame

Your name shall no longer be said to be Yaakov. Henceforth, it shall be Yisrael, for you have struggled with angels and with men and you have prevailed. (Breishis 32:29)

Re: Jerusalem Post Article

The father of 3-year-old Adolf Hitler Campbell, denied a birthday cake with the child's full name on it by one New Jersey supermarket, is asking for a little tolerance.

Heath Campbell and his wife, Deborah, are upset not only with the decision made by the nearby ShopRite, but also with an outpouring of angry Internet postings in response to a local newspaper article about the cake.


The Campbells' other two children also have unusual names: JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell turns 2 in a few months and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell will be 1 in April.

My daughter has a friend whose given name is Shlomit. While this friend was in the shidduch parsha somebody approached Rebitzen Kanievsky (Rav Elyashiv's daughter) with a list of names for shidduchim that included hers. The Rebitzen remarked, "My husband (R' Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita) doesn't like this name (Shlomit)."

Initially, the remark was not taken seriously but a short time later, on another occasion, her name was again given to Rebitzen Kanievsky and she repeated the same remark. The family asked a shaila to Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Shlita, and he concurred with this sentiment and advised them to change her name. They changed her name to Shulamit. She got engaged almost immediately thereafter.
(Note - She was at the time a young girl just starting in shidduchim so there is no "proof" from this story that one thing has anything to do with the other. You take it how you like.)

We Orthodox Jews take the issue of names very seriously. A name is not merely a monicker, it is a description of the very essence of the person who bears it. We see throughout the Torah and Chazal and Midrashim how names are analyzed for their meanings. It began with Adam HaRishon who first named his wife Isha and then named her Chava. Many people had multiple name to describe various aspects of their complex characters: Yisro had seven names and Moshe did as well. Sarah was Yiska, Shem was Malki Tzedek, Eisav was Edom, Hadassah was Esther, Mordechai was Petachya, Haman was Memuchan. Zimri ben Saleu had 5 names. And bear in mind that G-d Himself is "defined" by numerous names (most of which we cannot even pronounce!)

We chareidim are taught (I have no idea where to source this) that when Jewish parents give their children a name, it involves a temporary infusion of Ruach Hakodesh (perhaps, even if they do use the name Shlomit). This may not mean that the name is predistined from Heaven but more that it is "confirmed and signed and sealed" in Shamayim once it is given.

Does it follow that when atheistic non-Jewish parents give a name, that it involves an infusion of Ruach HaTumah? From this article, I would guess it does.

What about atheistic Jews?

I have a good friend who learned shechita and milah many years ago. For milah he was a student of a very prominent and respected (perhaps THE most prominent and sought out) mohel from Washington Heights. I will not name him just in case this story isn't accurate or true.

This prominent mohel was called to do a briss for the son of a non-observant Jew. This was not just a non-observant Jew but a rebel to observance who came from a religious background and went OTD amidst much rancor and discord between him and his father (the baby's grandfather).

As the briss progressed, it reached the point of naming the child. The mohel reaches the words, "V'Yikarei shmo b'Yisrael..." and glances at the baby's father. The baby's father glances at his own father with acid filled eyes and says, "Amalek!".

The mohel says, "What?"

"Amalek, go ahead and name him Amalek!"

The mohel put down the cup and told him, "Look, I don't know what's going on between your father and you, but there is no way that I am going to name this kid Amalek."

The father relented and picked out some proper name to name the baby (I didn't hear what it was).

There are parents and there are parents. Some have Ruach HaKodesh and some do not. In all cases, names are very important.

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (4:13) says:

רבי שמעון אומר: שלשה כתרים הם: כתר תורה, וכתר כהנה, וכתר מלכות; וכתר שם טוב עולה על גביהן

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dai L'Chakima B'Remiza - The art of Subtlety

I received this email from an acquaintance. It was entitled:

How to ask your Boss for a salary increase

One day an employee sends a letter to his boss asking for an increase in his salary!!!

Dear Bo$$

In thi$ life, we all need $ome thing mo$t de$perately. I think you $hould be under$tanding of the need$ of u$ worker$ who have given $o much $upport including $weat and $ervice to your company. I am $ure you will gue$$ what I mean and re$pond $oon.

Your$ $incerely,


The next day, the employee received this letter of reply:

Dear NOrman,

I kNOw you have been working very hard. NOwadays, NOthing much has changed. You must have NOticed that our company is NOt doing NOticeably well as yet.

NOw the newspapers are saying the world`s leading ecoNOmists are NOt sure if the United States may go into aNOther recession. After the NOvember presidential elections things may turn bad. I have NOthing more to add NOw. You kNOw what I mean..

Yours truly,


I am Experiencing Technical Difficulties with this Blog

Over the past few days an unknown phenomenon occurred that causes my main Blog page to spike on CPU usage. On many computers it reaches 100% CPU usage and basically freezes the active browser.

I am in the course of trying to diagnose what is causing this problem. In the meantime, there is no point in adding new posts.

If you have arrived at this page and are experiencing CPU overload problems, please inform me by email at: Also, if you have any idea what may be causing this and how to fix it.

Thank you all,


Friday, December 12, 2008

Off Center: Limping on our Thighs (or: Harry's [Sciatic] Nerve)

Once again, I must take umbrage with a popular blog that calls itself Emes Ve-Emuna. I am now referring to a more recent post from December 5 entitled, What Happened to Jonathan? There is actually an even earlier post that I wish to comment about but this one relates to this past week's parsha (VaYishlach - I was hoping to get this posted before Shabbos) so it gets precedence.

In this post, Harry critiques a Jonathan Rosenblum article that was written for Mishpacha and carried in Cross-Currents. The article is an overview of a number of unusual hardships that are currently facing the Jewish nation. Jonathan devotes one paragraph to the economic meltdown and how it is taking a severe toll upon the learning sector.

There were two parts of Jonathan's article that fell into Harry's net. One was that single paragraph that I just mentioned. I will discuss this shortly. Before this part, Harry deals with a reported statement from R. Elyashiv, shlita on the severity of danger. Harry took exception to the tone that seems to confer upon RYSE the status of a Navi.

First Harry sets the record straight:

Rav Elyashiv is not a Navi. That is impossible since mankind lost that ability over two thousand years ago. Nor does he have Ruach HaKodesh.

That's cool, nowhere in R'JR's article was there such a claim. Now Harry goes on:

We may indeed need to worry about a coming Armageddon, but not becase it is Rav Elyashiv’s prediction. And we certainly need not pray about what he meant!

Believe it or not, I totally agree with Harry. He is absolutely right with his first line. We do need to worry about a coming Armegeddon and, indeed, not because it is Rav Elyashiv's prediction. It is because it is Yitzchok Avinu's prediction! I will explain momentarily.

Likewise, Harry is absolutely right with his second line, as well. It won't help to pray about what he meant. That is because it is absolutely clear what he meant.

You see, RYSE is not a Navi or the son of a Navi. And he does not need Ruach HaKodesh (though I am sure he has more than you or me). He is just a true chareidi that knows how to learn chumash – with the midrashim and commentaries.

RYSE was merely stating the words of the Minchas Shai on the Midrash Rabbah. He knows that when Yitzchok felt Yaakov's hands he exclaimed:

כב ויגש יעקב אל יצחק אביו וימשהו ויאמר הקל קול יעקב והידים ידי עשו

The well known Midrash Rabbah (Breishis 65:20) says:

When the voice of Yaakov is to be found in the Synagogues and study halls, there will not be "hands of Eisav". But, if not, there will be hands of Eisav.
The Minchas Shai elaborates:

Why is the first word קל missing the vav? So that you should read it like this: הקל קול יעקב when the voice of Yaakov in the shuls and Yeshivos is feeble (קל ) THEN the hands will be those of Eisav.

Rav Elyashiv, Shlita is merely telling us that the voices in the Beis Midrash are much more feeble than they should be (as was the case before WWII). Therefore, Yitzchak Avinu warns us that we are vulnerable to the hands of Eisav.

We don't need to pray about what Rav Elyashiv meant. We just need to pray!!

I hope I cleared this up.

The second part of Jonathan's article that Harry found disturbing was his paragraph on how the economic crisis is endangering the Torah community in Israel. Of the numerous issues, R'JR focused on a seemingly spiteful Livni policy to further reduce the already paltry government assistance that is allotted to Chareidi education.

Now, I have a mouthful to say about what this really means (I think Harry misread the paragraph) but I don't want to digress. Harry does. He wonders why Jonathan does not want to "admit" the real problem:

The system is broken!

Here again I agree with Harry (I don't know why I am suddenly being so agreeable). The system is broken. Though I may not see eye to eye as to exactly what is broken about it. This is because, before we determine that the system is broken we have to be clear about:
How is the system supposed to work?

Now, Harry calls himself a Centrist which means "Good G-d fearing Jew who is not chareidi". I call these people NCOJs (Non-Chareidi Orthodox Jews). Now, what Harry needs to admit is that there is a major difference in philosophy between these two camps.

Centrists such as Harry believe that Jewish society is meant to be comprised of 100% financially independent people. They understand תורה עם דרך ארץ (TIDE) to mean that it must apply to each individual. In other words, every Jew should be learned but only as learned as he can personally afford to be. If he can't personally earn what he needs to subsist on, he has no business spending all his time learning. It is not good for society that anybody should not be independent. Of course, this position is butressed by the Rambam in Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:10.

This is the NCOJ system.

The chareidim believe very strongly in an interdependent system. There is a learning class and working class within the community, and the working class helps support the learning class. The learning class should not need to become fully self sufficient, and should not be looking for ways to do it, particularly if it will compromise the quality of their learning. We also believe in TIDE but we understand it as a community value and not an individual one. The Torah and Derech Eretz do not have to be realized in the same person (although it's OK if it is). One person specializes in Torah and another in Derech Eretz. This is how Avos 2:4 conforms with Avos 3:6. As for the Ramabam in Hilchos TT 3:10, we understand it to mean that a person may not thrust himself upon the community and rely on charity reserved for the poor. It does not mean that he may not draw legitimate income from willing Torah benefactors as the Rambam himself did for part of his life.

Chareidim believe that society is meant to be interdependent. That's what G-d wants and that's why He wrote (Devarim 15:11): כי לא יחדל אביון מקרב הארץ . G-d didn't need to make any poor people . But he did. Why? So that everyone else can be מתקן themselves by helping them. He also made the Torah world to be dependent on the working class. Why? So that the working class can have a share in the achievements of the full time learners. Zevulun understood this and so he established the quintessential interdependent "you-wash-my-back-I'll-wash-yours" system. And he was so praised for this that he is blessed before his older brother.

We believe that there is supposed to be a full scale learning class and a working class. And within chareidi society, it exists. We also believe that this learning class should not be for the select few but for anybody who can live up to it. Anybody. The more the merrier. We don't believe that you need 100 Baalei Batim for every kollel guy. If there would be 99 kollel guys and one baal habayis – that should be enough. Because the Torah study brings the bracha to the baal habayis.

Vayikra 26:3 says that the more Torah that we support, the more material wealth we will have. This benefits everybody. It is the same concept of עשר תעשר - עשר בשביל להתעשר give your money away to become richer. In this way, both the baal habayis and the עני will have. I wrote about this at length in an earlier post entitled G-d's Pyramid Scheme. Hence, if somebody is truly learning there is no reason to say "Enough – get out there already!" What for? Who will gain?

So the way the system is supposed to work is that we should try to encourage as many Kollel people as possible and shovel in the money. In this way, the working class will be successful and become wealthy. As I wrote once in a blog comment - don't invest in IBM, invest in BMG (and IDT). Much higher returns.

It's all right there - in VaYikra 26:3.

And, it's guaranteed to work.

So---what went wrong?

What went wrong is that there were not enough people volunteering for the Zevulun job. Oh, they were plenty willing to take all that wealth, but just not anxious enough to channel it to the proper destination. And so, G-d says:

"If the working class Jewish people are not so crazy about supporting Kollel guys who will study and teach My Torah, what do I need them to be wealthy for? If all of Klal Yisroel is going to yell at Yissachar 'Get to work!!' like Harry Maryles does, what do I need Zevuluns for?"

So, maybe the problem isn't with the system. It's just that people like Harry don't know how the system is supposed to work. That's what I think and that's what R' Shimon bar Yochai thinks (Brochos 35b). And I have a hunch that this is what Jonathan Rosenblum thinks, as well. The "system" is fine. It's just that nobody was really reading the User Guide as to how to make it work.

We are the ones who are broken.

This said, I must turn my attention to some of the discussion that appeared in the comments of that Emes V'emunah post. particularly this one:

A group of Roshei Yeshivah from Bnei Brak went to meet Rav Herschel Schechter last week in order to beg him to help them raise $12 million for the kollels. Rav Shachter said, let the guys go out and get jobs! They said, we've had siyata d'Shmaya for 25 years, we're not going to give up now. Rav Schachter said, But this was a time-bomb that was bound to self-destruct eventually!

Rick 12.07.08 - 5:00 am

I truly hope that this post was a chunk of unabashed motzi-shem-ra. I am thoroughly ashamed at what I saw quoted in the comments in the name of Rabbi Hershel Schachter. The Kollel system a time bomb? Is the Yissachar Zevulun arrangement a time bomb? Is אם בחקתי תלכו a time bomb? Why can't it go on forever?

Is there not enough money for the learning sector? Does R' Hershel Schachter think that G-d cannot create as many Reichmans and Gutnicks and Wolfsons and Dunners and Rothschilds and Tannenbaums and Pluzceniks and Reicehenbachs and Esformises (and Rubashkinses) as HE wants?

התקצר יד השם?

Trust me, this is easier for G-d than krias yam suf (and solving the Shidduch crisis).

A time bomb? Ribbono Shel Olam!!! Does he follow the same Torah that I do? Does his Pirkei Avos not contain Mishna 3:6 (just for starters); does his Shas not include Barachos 35b, Sanhedrin 94b (story of Chizkiya HaMelech), Menachos 99b, Avodah Zara 2a?

Or do they skip the Aggadita in YU?

Does he not support Rashi and Toras Kohanim on VaYikra 26:3? There, Rashi seems to maintain that the brachos of Parshas Bechukosai (of material wealth) will only come with ameilus b'Torah.

What do I hear? "There are too many Yissachars!"

Chizkiya HaMelech didn't think so (Sanhedrin 94b). And his perspective on Talmud Torah explains why the 10 Tribes are lost...and we aren't.

What else do I hear? "If everybody was a Yissachar who would provide society with goods and services?"

Relax. Rabi Shimon bar Yochai handles this problem in Brachos 35b.

To repeat, the "system" is an interdependent Yissachar-Zevulun system. And, indeed it is broken. Doubtless, there are grounds to castigate the Yissachar side for not totally immersing themselves in Torah L'Shma and not being worthy of Zevulun's support. But part of Zevulun's job should be to make sure there are as many tuchuses filling the Beis Midrash chairs as possible. This is what will keep Zevulun's paycheck coming and his stock portfolio up.

This is what's really broken. But Harry Maryles has never admitted that. And he never will.

Still, we cannot say that this is unexpected. That is because it say in this (last) week's parsha (Breishis 32:25,26):

ויותר יעקב לבדו ויאבק איש עמו עד עלות השחר: וירא כי לא יכל לו ויגע בכף ירכו ותקע כף ירך יעקב בהאבקו עמו:
And Yaakov remained alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. And he saw that he cannot overpower him and so he made contact with the ball of his thigh and he dislocated the ball of his thigh as he wrestled with him.

Many commentators (see Oznayim L'Torah, ad loc.) explain this strange episode based on a well known Zohar (Breishis 171:1) as a preview of the destiny of the Jewish people. Such that, we are destined to wrestle with the forces of Eisav for the entire "night", i.e., for the duration of our long exile. Eisav will try with all his might to destroy us by weakening the "voice of Yaakov" in the synagogues and yeshivos. He knows the Midrash Rabba and Minchas Shai better than most of us.

But, we will prevail because the learning class will refuse to quit learning. Finally, as the "day" (i.e., redemption) is about to break, he will try one last desparate ploy - he will will turn his attention toward those who support learning, and he will "dislocate" the support system of the learning class and thus try to close down the Yeshivos. But Yaakov will continue the fight even on a "dislocated" thigh. (Note that Oznayim L'Torah wrote this about 50 years ago!)

And so, Harry Maryles and Rabbi Hershel Schachter, I think you are wrong. It is not the "system" that is broken. Perhaps Bernie Madoff's pyramid scheme doesn't work, but G-d's sure does.

So, what's broken?

It's Yaakov's thigh.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

From my Inbox: Clarification on Why Chareidim are Hated and Shunned

The following is an excerpt of an email I received off-line concerning my earlier post: Preview to Book II. The writer formatted the email with numbered paragraphs. The text in black is the original letter from the sender and the text in blue is what I responded:

Thank you very much for your letter. I do appreciate your taking out the time to write. I don't know if I can address all of your questions, but I will do my best:

1. It could be that some hate comes from a desire to control, but that does not necessarily mean that all desire to control is hate, or that all desire to control is negative. A teacher stands before the class - he wants to control his students. Does he hate them? If they are out of control, does that mean he hates them? A kiruv worker want to convince someone to keep shabbat, is his desire to control the persons behavior (to influence his behavior) hate? He wants the person to do what he thinks is best because he believes that he knows what is better for the person than what the person himself thinks is in his best interest.

I can understand how I may have been unclear in my writing. I never meant to say that the definition of hate is "the desire to control". What I meant to say is that hate is when Peter holds other people (let's say Paul) responsible for what is missing in his own (Peter's) quality world. The desire to control Paul's behavior is only an outgrowth (a symptom) of Peter's negative feelings toward Paul. It means that Peter refuses to change anything about himself because, in his eyes, he is A-OK. The reason he has "problems" is only because of Paul. Paul doesn't want to do things the way Peter wants him to. Peter thinks that Paul has to do the changing to conform with his own (Peter's) quality world. Paul won't do it, so Paul is the "bad guy".

It's not an easy concept to absorb.

Believe it or not, there are many secular and MO people who believe it would be better for haredim to work and serve in the army - better for the charedim and better for Am Yisrael. Is any attempt to influence the haredim to change their lifestyle = hate? Maybe its love!

An attempt to influence is not control. Influence means getting the other person to want to do the same thing you want. That's OK. Control is an attempt to coerce the chareidim to "work" (they already do, incidentally) or serve in the army (such as by supporting a stupid government policy that if one does not serve in the army, he is not allowed to work) when you have failed to influence them and they still don't want to do it. That's not love.

2. A lot of the negative feeling towards haredim comes from the opposite - the feeling that the haredim are trying to control the other people. What do I mean? Recently, a person we know suggested that they pass a law in the knesset that only people who do either army or sherut leumi will have the right to vote. People protested that that would exclude most of the charedim. This man made a good point - does it make sense for a haredi person who doesn't serve in the army and whose kids aren't going to serve in the army, yet he gets to decide the fate of the soldiers who DO serve in the army - by electing a government that may initiate a war, etc. etc. This man's sons are now army age, and he is very bitter. It's very easy for the charedim to complain loudly that Israel should send troops into Gaza, etc. etc., its not their sons who are going to risk their lives! So why should they get to help make the decisions any more than Jews who live in america or england, etc. and they don't get to vote in Israeli elections.

Here you present a story of a non-chareidi person who is trying to coerce the chareidim to change by denying them the right to vote (which is impossible in a democracy, by the way) - i.e., external control - and you call this "chareidim trying to control other people".

Can you explain this to me??!!

3. Another source of negativity comes from the air of superiority that many charedim have acquired - something that is the exact opposite of the humility that the Torah advocates.

The non-Jews hate all Jews because of the air of superiority that all Jews have acquired. The Nazis hated all the Jews because they are the "Master Race" and they cannot tolerate the "Chosen People" which suggests an air of superiority. I remember hearing some Arab spokesman on radio explaining that "we can surely have peace with Israel if she would only remove her arrogance". (He was not talking about the chareidim.) According to you, they were justified.
If not, what is the difference?

On the one hand, there is the scorn of people who work, but I see it doesn't stop them from complaining bitterly about how inept and inefficient everyone who works is - the city workers, the bus drivers, the politicians, etc. etc. I see this even in positive newspapers like Hamodia - which we subscribe to.

I don't subscribe to HaModia.

My question is: If you don't like how things are being handled by the masses of secular/dati-leumi, why don't you all roll up your sleeves and help run the country better, instead of saying that its "bitul Torah" to work yet complaining bitterly about how lousy all the workers are?

If they would only let us.

4. Another source of negativity comes from the fact that the haredim have a increasingly narrow definition of what Torah encompasses. In the haredi world, Torah has been boiled down to Torah study, and all the breadth and expansiveness of Torah as something that permeates every aspect of life has been cast aside. It is as if the kippah sruga man is enjoying gazing at the wonders of creation - a beautiful view of chessed, haschagah pratit, family life, spirituality, etc., and the haredi guy next to him glues a few dapim of Gemorrah onto his eyeglasses! If the most important mitzvah is to learn Torah, then why do we have any other mitzvahs at all?

The last Mishna in Makkos asks your question. Rabbi Chananya ben Akashya answers that it is to bestow merit on those who aren't up to learning Torah. I wrote a whole chapter about this in my book called Getting to the Heart of the Matter.

Why weren't men given the mitzvah to learn Torah, and women could have been given all the other mitzvot! Why did Hashem create a world beyond the beis medrash? The whole world could have been one big Bet Medrash! Its time to appreciate the whole world that Hashem created! The haredi rejection of the world leads to the non-haredi rejection of the haredim, middah kneged middah!

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos say that "This world is a vestibule for the World to Come." The chareidim "reject" the world because they are busy earning a more substantial (preferrable) World. Hashem created this world for those who think that this is "it".

If the haredim want more people to learn more Torah, they should emphasize that people should learn Torah as a preparation for taking action in the world, contributing to the world, making a kiddush Hashem in the world. Torah is a tree of life (the Torah expands and reaches out and upwards in the space of the world) -it is not a substitute for life! It is something that constantly grows and expands, it is not something that contracts further and further into itself.

Fine with me. Whatever works.

A week ago in Hamodia newspaper there was an article about chedarim that besides keeping the boys from daybreak to late at night during the week, are now having learning sessions every shabbat afternoon, "so the parents can sleep and learn"! Another reason, is so they won't get into fights with their siblings or other children. Why, if they are learning Torah all week long, they are not able to take a few hours on shabbat afternoon to APPLY what they have learned - honoring parents, mitzvot ben adam l'havero (not fighting with everyone!), not doing other averot. ? Why? And is the answer to this problem, to prevent them from having any free time during which they will have an opportunity to overcome their yetzer hara? In other words, keep them sitting in a classroom without a break from the time they are 3 years old till the time they are 18, so they never are tempted to do anything wrong! Maybe it would be better to let them be tempted and try to overcome the temptation! This is what I mean when I say that Torah study should not be a substitute for life! The Torah study during the week should be the preparation, and the TEST should be when you see how they behave during their few free hours on shabbat afternoon!

I haven't read HaModia but, in any case, nobody is forced to participate in these programs. It's for people who want them. So, why do you have a problem with it?

Hope I cleared up some details.

Hatzlacha Rabba,


Monday, December 8, 2008

Off Center: Is Harry Exercising Proper Judgment?

My mission is to speak up for chareidi hashkafos, and so I am steadily prowling around the blogosphere on the lookout for those who denigrate them. This is why I peek in at Harry Maryles' blog. Harry seldom lets me down.

Harry took a break from the action a few weeks back due to somber personal circumstances, but, ever since he's back, he's been batting close to 1.000. Every single post except for the Pollard and LBJ ones was critical (alright, I'm OK with the Tcheilis one, too). Even the one about "What Unites Us?" bothered me. This is because I don't see Harry doing much for unity. My position is, if writers like Harry wouldn't be making a career out of criticizing the chareidim, we would be more united without national tragedies and רחמנא לצלן bloodshed.

I have noticed that in the blog world, a hot topic usually cools off within 24 hours and the topic that I want to discuss relates to Blogspeak that is already a full 2 weeks old. Still, I want to pull it out of the freezer and reheat it in the microwave. This relates to Harry's first back-to-business post since his leave of absence. I wanted to comment on it right then but I was bogged down with some lengthy posts of my own and then the Mumbai tragedy sidetracked all of us, and besides, this is not an easy post to write.

I refer to Harry's post entitled The Valis Verdict (Nov 25, 2008). In this post, Harry muses as to whether the "verdict" (I think he means "sentence") in the Yisrael Valis case can be considered "fair". And, based on what Harry reads in the papers, here are his conclusions:

I’m not convinced that there was any bias at all.

Let us remember that the leniency that is being called for on the part of the Charedi community is for a man who was convicted of killing his son. How lenient should the courts be for that? Six years in prison.

I think that the verdict was probably just.

Harry seems disturbed at what the charedim think of the Israeli judicial system:

This is how far the secular authorities are not trusted. They are compared to anti Semitic Czarist Russia at its worst!

Harry thinks that the chareidim are makimg a case out of nothing more than pathos and self-righteousness:

This young fellow, an Avreich, had until then enjoyed an impeccable reputation among his peers and his mentors. He had a bright future ahead of him. He was supposedly a gentle soul who would not hurt a fly. The verdict - it is therefore thought - was biased. It was an opportunity to bash Charedim by a biased Chiloni court.

It is as though they sincerely believe that there can never be a fair verdict. If a religious Jew is arrested for any reason he is always seen as a victim of secular bias.

And then Harry weighs in:
But that simply cannot always be the case.

I beg to differ. I believe that it always is the case (see what I quoted below from the Law in Israel blog). It is not a biased chiloni court as much as it's an immoral chiloni court. What I mean is that it is lacking in moral jurisprudence.

Harry is misrepresenting the situation. The problem is that even though we are not zocheh to a Halachically based criminal system, the Halacha does tell us what moral legal standards are. If the acting court system merely deviates from these morals in some nuance, such as accepting eyewitness testimony from one witness, or a woman, or a non-believer, there are grounds to say that we can't meet every standard. Undoubtedly, it is wishful thinking to expect any Westernized judicial system to adapt the rigid standards of our Halachic system. Nevertheless, there are yet certain legal rudiments which most westernized societies recognize and live up to, but seem to be overlooked by the democratic State of Israel.

Both Halacha and normal Western judicial systems provide legal safeguards to ensure a fair trial. This is what makes a system moral. It follows that a system that is lacking in these or similar safeguards is illegitimate and immoral in its structure without an issue of bias. In other words, it is a faulty system for everybody which allows for unjust manipulation.

There are at least three primary safeguards:

Safeguard 1) Trial by consensus

(Pirkei Avos 4:8) אל תהי דן יחידי, שאין דן יחידי אלא אחד.

Do you know any Western society that decides a homicide case by a single judge?
It doesn't happen in the US, Canada, or Britain. In those places, any felony trial is decided by a jury. Not just a jury, but "a jury of your peers" who are selected jointly by the prosecution and defense. Other countries require a tribunal for homicide or other serious offenses.

Of course, the Halacha is even stricter. By right, nothing is decided by a single judge. It's all right there in the first Mishna of Sanhedrin (1:1).

Monetary cases are judged by a panel of 3 [judges]; thievery and personal injury cases by 3; property damage and punitive damage cases by 3; … judicial flogging by 3, in the name of Rabbi Yishmael it is said with 23; …capital cases with 23; bestiality with 23…

The point is that it seems to be a world-wide standard that serious offenses are not adjudicated by a single person.

There can be numerous logical reasons for this. For one thing, human beings are inherently biased. Every individual hears things his way and sees things his way. Also, they are selective listeners. A point that makes a deep impression on one, may not be the point that makes a deep impression on another. They are also, well, human and can start thinking about what's for dinner in the middle of litigation. When a group of people hear the same thing and deliberate about it, each one points out to the other things he may have missed. Moreover, we never know when somebody may have a secret personal agenda.

Now, here is how it works in Israel (Source: :

Generally, a panel is composed of a single District Court judge. A panel of three judges is established when the court hears an appeal of a Magistrates' Court's judgement, when the accused is charged with an offense punishable by imprisonment of ten or more years, or when the President or Deputy President of the District Court so directs. There are five District Courts in Israel - in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheva, and Nazareth.

This means that only if the sentence can be 10 years or longer does a person have a right to a tribunal. It may be that the 6 + 2 in our case is, in effect, all that a single judge can impose. This also means that as long as we are not putting away the defendant for 10 or more years, a single judge can do it.

No jury, no tribunal, no consensus. Just one judge.

And who appoints these "judges"? Not the people being judged. Not even in an indirect fashion by their parliamentary representatives. And not even in a retroactive indirect fashion such as that the parliamentary representatives must approve the appointments. Just an internal cronyist system.


Safeguard 2) Self-incrimination

In Halacha, there is no such thing a self-incrimination. It is forbidden by the Torah (Sanhedrin 9b, Bava Kama 64b). This means that a confession is not admissible in court under any circumstances. This basically precludes the possibility and advantages of forcing a confession out of anybody and saves us the trouble of having to determine whether a confession is genuine. We can't use it anyway.

In some western countries (not all) there are constitutional rights for the accused. In America, we have the Miranda rights and there is an obligation to inform each person of his rights before even detaining him. The rights are based on the 5th amendment and include that any accused person has the right to remain silent, which means that he does not have to answer his interrogators. He also has the right to legal counsel present at the interrogation. In America, a confession can be used against the accused but he must be told of this up front.

Here in Israel, there is no 5th amendment, nor the right to remain silent. I do not believe that there is a right to have a legal counsel present at the time of interrogation. And since there are no rights to inform the accused, he is not informed of any. Thus, he never knows what rights he may have.

Now, if this standard is a precept for moral jurisprudence in Halacha and, to a lesser degree, in America, then we can safely conclude that the State of israel is not in keeping with these standards of morality.

Safeguard 3) Presumption of innocence

I do not need to elaborate on this one as Rabbi Yaakov Menken so articulately critiqued it in his articles. I quote:

Judge Hannah Ben-Ami decided to convict him of manslaughter (not murder) because it was “reasonable to believe that there was awareness of the possible fatal outcome” of his actions — which stunned legal observers familiar with the meaning of “innocent until proven guilty.”

Do you want to read an amazing fact?

This I found in a blog called Law in Israel blog in an August 8 post entitled: Help! I've Been Arrested under the heading The conviction rate in Israel :

Finally, I have to tell you the bad news: 99.9% of all criminal cases brought before Israeli courts end in convictions (ie a “guilty” verdict). That figure is a real statistical calculation (from 2005) and is not a rough estimate or an exaggeration. It means that cases get decided in the police stations and at the district attorneys’ offices. If the police think you are guilty then so will the courts. If you have persuaded the police you are innocent, then might not prosecute. So, what happens during your interrogation is crucial.

Did you hear that, Harry? 99%!! No, this is not "Czarist Russia at its worst." It is worse than Czarist Russia. Mendel Beillis got a fairer trial than Yisrael Valis. (Beillis was acquitted.)

There are a number of other judicial safeguards to consider such as the public involvement toward judicial appointments that I snuck in in the consensus section. And, another one: we know that by Halachic law no evidence short of eye witness testimony is admissible. Today's advancements in forensic technology (fingerprints, DNA, etc.) can give us some facts that can support or discredit the theories of the prosecution, but no forensics can tell us precisely "what happened"*, and if the whole case hinges on it, then we have a hinge without a door.

That is 5 safeguards and not one of them exists here in the Western democratic State of Israel.

All told, we are dealing with a legal system that does not support regulated judicial appointments, trial by consensus, presumption of innocence, or the proscription of self-incrimination. When you combine this with the total lack of any eyewitness testimony whatsoever (forget about the Torah's standards for witnesses), all that remains is the bias of a single [female] judge. And we just learned that if the police think you're guilty, then so does the judge. Leave the chareidim out of this. There are no rudiments for a fair trial for anybody in such a system. It is an immoral system.

My impression of Harry has always of been a Jew who is very strong in the midos department but a bit misguided in the hashkafa department. That Harry is no friend of chareidi hashkafa is a known given. It is not surprising that he doesn't identify with the chareidi perception of the incident. What I find so appalling is Harry's insistence on siding with such a flawed and immoral judicial system.

רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר: על שלשה דברים העולם עומד: על הדין ועל האמת ועל השלום, שנאמר (זכריה ח, טז) "אמת ומשפט שלום שפטו בשעריכם". (Pirkei Avos 1:18)

If this judicial system is אמת ואמונה, G-d help us all.

השיבה שופטנו כבראשונה ויועצנו כבתחילה

*Forensics is better at telling us whodunit, when we know what happened, than it is at telling us what happened even if we know whodunit - as in this case.