Friday, January 30, 2009

The Weakest Link - Is This Year Really 5769??

ומושב בני ישראל אשר ישבו במצרים שלשים שנה וארבע מאות שנה

The significance of this pasuk (Shmos 12:40) cannot be overstated. It is our only true link between our past and our present. Many people do not realize this.

Let's investigate. Throughout all of sefer Breishis we are given a concrete, verified, Scripture-based, time-line spanning from Creation until the death of Yosef. When we count the generations up to the flood, we know that the flood occurred in 1656. When we count the generations from the flood to the birth of Avraham Avinu, we know that Avraham Avinu was born in 1948. Consequently, Yitzchok was born 100 years later in 2048 and Yaakov was born 60 years later in 2108. Yaakov immigrated to Egypt at the age of 130, or in 2238. This was 9 years after Yosef was freed from prison at the age of 30 - in 2229. Yosef died 80 years from then at the age of 110. So we know that he died in 2309.

So, as sefer Breishis comes to a close, we can confidently date our checks based on a Scriptural calendar verified by the Torah itself. Alas, as soon as sefer Shmos begins and "our eyes are darkened by the exile" we lose it all. We have no way of knowing the dates of the events in sefer Shmos (Note - we are not talking about details that Chazal tell us in the Midrashim; we are talking about dates that are unequivocally confirmed in the Torah itself - i.e., Scriptural proof). Certainly, the Torah tells us the ages of Kehas and Amram when they died and how old was Moshe when he approached Pharoah, but, for our purposes, these details are meaningless as there is no way to confirm from the Torah what year they were born. And so, our Scriptural time-line is severed. And we would have no idea what year this is...if not for 2 very essential pasukim in Tanach.

Let's look at the second one first. This pasuk is found in Melachim I 6:1. It establishes the date of the inauguration of the first Bais HaMikdash and it does so by linking the inauguration to the Exodos from Egypt:

ויהי בשמונים שנה וארבע מאות שנה לצאת בני ישראל מארץ מצרים בשנה הרביעית בחדש זו הוא החדש השני למלך שלמה על ישראל ויבן הבית ל-ה


Thus, the inauguration of the first Bais HaMikdash was 480 years after the Exodus. From this point onward we again lose our Scriptural proof (it is written but it is not unambiguously precise) and we rely on our mesora from Chazal and modern History. Our mesora from Chazal is that the first Bais HaMikdash stood 410 years followed by an exile of 70 years folllowed by the second Commonwealth of 420 years. As such, the destruction of the second Temple was (480 + 410 + 70 + 420 =) 1380 years after the Exodus. Thereupon, modern History takes over. Most historians maintain that the destruction occurred in 70 AD but we will pretend that it happened in 68 AD to compensate for a technical discrepancy of 2 years. It is now 1941 years since that date so we are now (1380 + 1941 =) 3321 years after the Exodus. Since we currently maintain that we are in the Hebrew year 5769 then it follows that the Exodus occurred 3321 years ago or (5769 - 3321 =) 2448.

2448!

And sure enough, this is our standard mesora as it is explicitly recorded in Talmud Bavli Avoda Zara 9a. Note that everything we have from the first Bais Hamikdash onward is all grounded at the time of the Exodus. And so, as long as the Exodus and Mattan Torah occurred in 2448 everything works out nicely. Likewise, it follows that suppose the Exodus and Mattan Torah did not occur in 2448, then, this year would not be 5769, would it?

But such a notion is ridiculous, isn't it? The gemara in Avoda Zara specifically tells us it was in 2448 and doesn't all of the Scriptural material that we discussed support it?

Well, not exactly. Let's check out the missing link and this is the pasuk at the head of this post (Shmos 12:40):

ומושב בני ישראל אשר ישבו במצרים שלשים שנה וארבע מאות שנה

At first glance, this pasuk is telling us in no uncertain terms how long the Jewish people lived in Egypt. What's more it is our only link to any point in sefer Breishis. The problem is that, as opposed to the numbers declared in all of the other pasukim that are referenced in this post, this is one number that we are not to take at face value.

Rashi tells us so himself. He writes (Shmos 12:40 s.v. Shloshim) that Kehas was from the immigrants to Egypt back in 2238. If you add his complete lifespan (137) with his son Amram (133) and Moshe's 80 years at the point of the Exodus, it does not amount to 430 not to mention all the overlapping years.

From a different frame of reference, if we must count 430 years from the immigration (2238), then the Exodus took place in 2668 and there is no way that this year can be 5769. And so, all accounts agree that this pasuk is not linking to the 2238 immigration.

Okay, we know where it doesn't link us. Now, where on the time line does it link us to?

Well, we all know Rashi. He tells us the well known opinion of Sefer Seder Olam that this pasuk is linking us back to 30 years before Yitzchak was born - to the Bris Bein HaBesarim. We now establish that the Bris Bein HaBesarim occurred when Avraham Avinu was 70 years old - in 2018. That was when the decree of the Egyptian servitude was invoked.

I heard a beautiful pshat (don't know the source) that the moment HKBH uttered כי גר יהיה זרעך בארץ לא להם immediately 600,000 malachim descended to Egypt to safeguard the 600,000 Jewish families that would not actually develop there until centuries later. When the Jews finally went out, these 600,000 malachim went out with them. This is the meaning of the pasuk that after 430 years, all of G-d's hosts (multitudes) went out of Egypt. It means even these hosts of malachim who were actually "enslaved" there for 430 years.

So now, we actually learn from this pasuk that the Bris Bein HaBesarim occurred at that time. But this opens up a whole new can of worms. The sequence of events that lead up to the Bris Bein HaBesarim clearly imply that it occurred after Avram immigrated to Kanaan when he was already 75 years old (2023). It is very awkward to say that this event took place five years earlier.

Numerous meforshim deal with this problem. This is a question for Parshat Lech Lecha and we will not elaborate on it here. But keep it in mind, we will recall it soon.

Thus, Rashi's explanation, which he attributes to Seder Olam, links the 430 years back to the year 2018 which places the Exodus at 2448 as the gemara in Avoda Zara asserts and our calendar is firmly established.

This explanation in Seder Olam is the root of our mesora. Seder Olam is no kleinikeit. It was written by the Tanna Rabi Yossi bar Chalafta, one of the 5 Raboseinu SheB'Darom who were ordained by Rabi Akiva. (He is the one who held his tongue when Rabi Shimon bar Yochai criticized the Romans and had to hide in the cave). Seder Olam carries the full authority of the Mishna. And so, it stands undisputed.

It only has one slight drawback and that is that we are now being forced to rely on Rabbinical commentary to resolve this issue. We cannot verify our time-line based exclusively on Scripture. And that makes it the weakest link in the chain. But as long as nobody challenges Seder Olam, we can sleep well at night knowing that this is indeed 5769 and our checks won't bounce (wishful thinking). And who would dare disturb our sleep?

Rabbeinu Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban), that's who.

Ramban (Shmos 12:40), like many others, sets out to solve the mystery of the "deceptive" link and he takes us on a long journey. He begins, as he usually does, by quoting Rashi and he promptly invokes the conflict of Avram's age as already being 75. With this, he calls upon Seder Olam who reconciles the problem by maintaining that the Bris Bein HaBesarim nevertheless occurred 5 years earlier and Avram must have made a previous visit to Eretz Kanaan.

Fair and nice. Yet, he's not buying this pshat and he's not selling it, either. Apparently, Ramban is extremely uncomfortable with the idea that an earlier event is recorded in the Torah sequentially after a later one. Without a word, he abandons Rashi and Seder Olam and proclaims an astoundingly brazen chiddush:

The mysterious 30 years come after the 400 year term of golus between Yitzchok's birth (2048) and 2448 - not before it. He initially suggests that G-d had the extra 30 years in mind up front but didn't want to tell Avram the precise number so He rounded it down to the nearest 100. Later (Shmos 12:42), he says that the original decree was initially for only 400 years but we got stuck for another 30 years "for the sinfulness of the generation". And even then, we were not worthy of redemption and were only redeemed because we "screamed out to G-d"!

In other words, G-d tacked on an extra 30 years onto the "sentence" for bad behavior!

According to Ramban, we left Egypt in 2478, not in 2448! And the Bris Bein HaBesarim occurred after Avram was 75 years old as the Torah clearly indicates. As for the famous gematria of the word "r'du" (רדו = 210 ) , Ramban will have to hold that this was the minimum span of time that we were required to be enslaved. After the first 210 years, we can be redeemed - if we are worthy.

This can also explain the motivation for the Bnei Ephraim who, according to Aggada (I don't have time to search for a source) left Egypt early and were decimated by the Plishtim. They went with the simple calculation of 400 years from the birth of Yitzchok and did not take any extra "penalty" time into consideration. So they tried to leave Egypt 30 years earlier than everyone else.

So Ramban is offering an alternative explanation to our "deceptive" link. The 430 years are not linking to 30 years prior to the birth of Yitzchok (2048), but rather from Yitzchok's birth itself. But, accordingly, the Exodus from Egypt would be on 2478 and not 2448 as is our mesora and is clearly stated in Avoda Zara 9a.

And if the Exodus was in 2478 and it is now 3321 years since the Exodus as detailed above then - this year is 5799 and not 5769!!!

Is such a thing possible? Does Ramban truly hold this to be the case?* (And, will Ramban's checks bounce?)

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.


*Addendum - Amazingly enough, Ramban himself writes explicitly in his sefer HaEmuna V'HaBitachon (Chapter 12) the time frame of Yetziat Mitzrayim exactly in accordance with - and in the name of - Seder Olam!!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Shidduchim IV: Realizing the Vision

The gemara says in Sanhedrin (107b):

א"ר שמעון בן אלעזר יצר תינוק ואשה תהא שמאל דוחה וימין מקרבת

Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says, "The yetzer hara, a child and a woman - these three things one must push away with his left hand while drawing them close with his right hand."

This seems to be the gemara's way of saying that there are certain things in this world that we just "can't live with them" - שמאל דוחה - and we "can't live without them" - ימין מקרב . Things of which too much interaction with them can ruin us but no interaction at all is fruitless. Thus, to the extent that is necessary, we must draw them near, but beyond what is necessary, we must distance them. (Note that this concept is very similar to the Parah Adumah concept that I discussed in an earlier post.)

In today's world, I can think of no better example of שמאל דוחה וימין מקרב than the Internet. Many of our Gedolim have maintained that it is something that we must be דוחה בשתי ידים . IMHO, I think this policy needs to be reviewed.

About 2 months ago, I submitted a post (click HERE to view) advocating the implementation of computer web cams at the initial stages of shidduch dating. All of the pros and cons (that I could think of) were enumerated in the post. My angle was that it is high time to take advantage of the power, ubiquitousness, and cost-efficiency of the Internet to "revolutionize" the dating process in frum circles. I mentioned that for such an initiative we can expect resistance from 2 entities - those being (1) the female population who carry a natural aversion to initiating a relationship on camera, and (2) the individuals within our Rabbinic leadership who unwaveringly maintain that the proper response to Internet usage is דוחה בשתי ידים as opposed שמאל דוחה וימין מקרב .

It appears that outside of my regular limited readership, my post did not draw too much attention. Nevertheless, subsequent to my post I was introduced to a very similar initiative called ShidduchVision that is currently in the developmental stage. This initiative won the favor of the Rabbanim in Baltimore and New York and of Rabbi Yonoson Rosenblum, one of the most popular and widely read journalists in the Torah world. Rabbi Rosenblum promptly wrote a glowing writeup on it which was carried by Mishpacha magazine and Cross Currents.

The ShidduchVision concept is the exact same concept as the web cam concept that I was promoting. It is meant to address the exact same issues that plague the frum dating world: distance, expense, and time constraints. Yet, opposed to an Internet-based web cam system, the proposed ShidduchVision is meant to be a direct point-to-point (PTP) non-Internet cable-based system. This is meant to circumvent the drawbacks of the Internet and to gain widespread Rabbinic endorsement.

Unfortunately, this system would entail its own set of drawbacks.

There are 2 major advantages of the current non-Internet ShidduchVision initiative:

  1. It does not carry any of the hazards of the Internet

  2. Assuming it uses high-grade professional equipment, it will deliver a clearer, more real-life image of the other party than a household web cam.
There are 4 major shortcomings with the current non-Internet ShidduchVision initiative:
  1. It is not powerful

  2. It is not ubiquitous

  3. It is not cost-efficient
  4. It is not in operation

I will be a bit more specific.

Let's talk about the ubiquitousness first. For good or for bad, most of us have access to the Internet. Web cam technology is part of it and is being perfected all the time. At the simplest level all one needs is a USB Web cam which usually costs less than $50. Today, there are computer monitors (and laptops) that have them built in. With this minimal equipment and any of scores of free or low cost service providers, any two points on Earth can be immediately on-line. Thus, a boy in Lakewood can date a girl anywhere in the world from the comfort of some local controlled facility.

The cable-based system involves a cable-enabled "studio". I do not know the cost of such a thing, I understand that it will be substantially more costly than just a computer and a web cam. Every community that wants to participate in ShidduchVision will need to have such a studio and every individual that wants to use it will have to physically get over to there and pre-schedule time slots. Herein lie the limitations.

The system will take quite a while to set up and take hold. Nobody who invests in pilot studios on the East Coast will see any money back until they exist in the Out-of -town communities. But those places won't build them until it is working in the East.

Catch-22.

And smaller communities may not find it worthwhile to build them at all. While Chicago, LA, Detroit and Toronto will most likely have a studio or two, what about South Bend, San Diego, Boca Raton, and Houston? My guess is that if the "studio" is very costly, nobody will invest in them and expect to see any money back. And even if so, it won't happen until the program is operational and has proven itself in larger communities. Consequently, the more boondoxy the town, the less likely it is to build a studio. Yet, the more boondoxy girls are the ones who will need it the most. They are meant to be the prime benficiaries of this system. Yet not only will they be left in the cold, but the system could possibly work against them ("Okay, I don't mind checking into the St. Louis girl 'cuz they have ShidduchVision there, but the one from Indianapolis... forget it!")

Incidentally, even in Chicago, LA, Philadelphia, etc., if the facility is in Fairfax or West Rogers Park or Northeast and the girl is from Ventura, Buffalo Grove, or Bala Cynwyd (this is becoming more common these days), the whole effectiveness of the system is compromised.

Even worse Catch-22.

Let's talk about scheduling. With the web cam system that I am trying to promote, the girl uses a personal web cam enabled computer that will be located in her own home or that of a neighbor (or possibly an office where she may be working). As long as she has access to her nearby computer, the ShidduchVision system would only need to worry about having a "studio" (i.e. workstation) available to the boy. With the PTP cable system, there will need to be a proctor responsible for scheduling at both ends. I do not envy such a job. For example, what if Cleveland or Chicago has only one studio and a boy wants it at 8:00 to "date" a girl in NY, but a guy in Lakewood wants to "date" a Chcago girl around the same time but cannot because the Chicago studio is booked? Then it's booked on 3 or 4 other convenient times for the Lakewood boy, who finally says, "What do I need to deal with Chicago?"

One potential advantage of video dating would be to enable boys to take advantage of bein-HaZmanim when they can date with less bittul Torah. With the PTP system, all the Chicago and Detroit and Toronto and LA (and Memphis and Houston, etc.) guys who learn in Lakewood but are now home in Chicago, Detroit...Houston, etc. would need to use the local studios thus competing with the local girls for very limited and prime time spots.

Note that with the cable system the MAXIMUM capacity is 1/2 of the amount of existing studios (if, by some crazy miracle, every single facility is being requested). With the web cam system, there can be as many "dates" going on as there are workstations.

Besides the fact that scheduling would be a total nightmare and make the system undesirable, my assumption is that in a PTP cable system in a country-wide (or world-wide) network, the traffic would need to be routed through a single hub. This means that if the hub is down for any reason, the entire network is out of service.

Don't get me wrong. I am writing all this because I really think that the ShidduchVision concept is a step in the right direction and I would like to see it come about. But it doesn't pay if it's not going to work. I am not only very pessimistic that a cable based PTP system will work - it is trying to solve today's problems with yesterday's technology - but even my optimism is shrouded in pessimism. I really think that a PTP ShidduchVision would be short-lived.

This is because the main issue holding back a system such as this is acceptance from the population as an effective and beneficial method of dating. As I have written, the female side of the equation is very camera shy to say the least. If any kind of a video dating system takes off and gains acceptance, then the masses will automatically adapt the simplest and cheapest method. This means that if an expensive cable-based PTP ShidduchVision were to be implemented and succeed to melt the ice on video dating, I have no doubt that the dating world, as frum as it is, would automatically shift to the cheaper and more efficient Internet by themselves, thus leaving the PTP ShidduchVision to pay off their mortgage with little income.

Let's cut out the middleman and go straight to where the system will work!

The idea of video dating has already received the endorsement of American Rabbanim. Rabbi Moshe Heineman has been quoted to say that "ShidduchVision will revolutionize the world of shidduchim." I don't see this happening with a PTP system at all and, at the very least, not until it is operational in at least 30-50 locations (probably more), which will not be anytime soon.

Rabbi Yonoson Rosenblum relates that:

A few weeks ago, the Novominsker Rebbe told me that he views the so-called Shidduch Crisis, as the most devastating problem facing the Orthodox community – a matter of “dinei nefashos.”

If it is truly a dinei nefashos, then we are facing a situation of לא תעמד על דם רעך and we must save neshamos with any practical means at our disposal. We cannot afford to be דוחה בשתי ידים and fight an Internet that has already beaten us. יצר תינוק ואשה תהא שמאל דוחה וימין מקרבת If the Gedolim endorse this system and are practical, they will endorse the Internet method.

If they do not, either they do not truly endorse the system or they are not truly practical.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Lighter Side of our New President

I received this cartoon in an email with a subject line that it is from Haaretz:





This just goes to show the am Haaretzus of the secular press. The Halacha is (Ramabam Hilchos Issurei Biah 12:21): זה הכלל באומות הלך אחר הזכר

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Treats for the Shabbos Table: Biblical Birthdates - Revisited

I opened this blog in July of 2008 and it just recently reached its 6-month "anniversary". Based on my Site-meter reports, I cannot say that the size of my readership is anything to brag about but it certainly has grown since the early days of its existence.

So, for those of you who have joined us more recently, it is probably safe for me to rehash one of my earliest Parsha posts from my opening salvo. Our challenge in this post was to resolve an apparent inconsistency in the Torah. I originally posted it during Parshat Maasei because one of the fuses to the "time bomb" is found in that Parsha. Also, because the other primary Parshiot - this week's Parsha, VaEira, as well as Parshas Ki Tisa - were 6-8 months away at the time.

Let's rehash the puzzle from the frame of reference of this week's Parsha.

The Torah tells us (Shmos 7:7) that Moshe was 80 years old and that Aharon was 83 years old when they "spoke to Pharaoh". The question is: When exactly did they "speak to Pharaoh"?

What difference does it make?

Here is our problem. The Exodus from Egypt occurred on 15 Nissan 2448 and the entry to Eretz Israel was on 10 Nissan 2488. Moshe died 33 days before the entry on 7 Adar 2488. He was 120 years old and Chazal tell us (see Rashi Devarim 31:2) that the date of his death was the date of his birth and that this is a general standard for tzaddikim. Thus we know that Moshe first became 80 years old 40 years earlier on 7 Adar 2448.

Now, we assume that this initial altercation with Pharaoh is referring to just before the series of the 10 plagues which we learn from Chazal lasted about 1 month each. In other words, this altercation would have taken place not later than 10 months before the Exodus or in the area of 15 Sivan 2447. Thus, if Moshe did not reach his 80th birthday until 7 Adar 2448, almost 9 months later, the Torah is not completely accurate that he is 80 years old. He is actually only 79 years old!

Of course, many readers will probably jump up and say that the Torah is not a stickler for complete years and since he was in his 80th year he can be considered to be 80 years old already. This is known as Miktzaso K'Kulo.

In truth, for the most part, we are forced to say this. It's the only approach that works. Of course, this assumes that the altercation with Pharaoh was before 1 Av 2447. If it was later than that date, we are faced with a conflict. Assuming Aharon was also born on the same date as his death, and he was 123 on 1 Av, 2487 it emerges that his 83rd birthday was 40 years earlier on 1 Av, 2447. Thus, if we say Miktzaso K'kulo, as of 2 Av 2447, he would already have to be counted as 84 years old.

This may actually be the message of the Ohr HaChaim. The Ohr HaChaim on Shmos 7:7 makes a very terse and almost cryptic remark. He writes:

Perhaps, on the first day that they spoke they were such, but not afterward. And the extent of the term "when they spoke" implies "when they initially spoke".
What is bothering the Ohr HaChaim?

It looks to me that he must have grasped that if Moshe and Aharon were not precisely 3 years apart, but rather 3 years and 7 months apart (assuming Aharon was born on 1 Av 2364 and Moshe was born on 7 Adar 2368) there will be significant time periods (about 7 months/year)where if Moshe is considered 80 years old, Aharon, by the same token, must be considered 84. As such, this 3 year discrepency did not hold true for the entire time period of the 10 months but rather only for the first month or so.

Still, the Ohr HaChaim is too concise to be conclusively understood and one would expect him to be a bit clearer if this is what he meant. Regardless, he does not seem to challenge the basis that Moshe is already considered to be 80 years old even though his real birthdate is 9 months off.

That said, it's no problem to say that the altercation was between 7 Adar 2447 and 1 Av 2447. In fact, the Midrashim support this time frame, so we are in the clear. The only problem is that when the Torah discusses ages of people in relation to the mandate for the census (Parshat Ki Tisa) or for the laws of Arachin, the Torah clearly does not approve of the Mikktzaso K'Kulo method. I explained this in detail in my original post so it can be referenced there. Click HERE to view.

As such, it appears that the Torah uses inconsistent methods to calculate ages. This was the problem that I posed. In a subsequent post, I posited that, indeed the Torah is not being consistent but I suggested a possible rationale for the inconsistency. Click HERE to view.

Aside from this suggestion, I am stumped. What stumps me more is that, to date, with the possible partial exception of the Ohr HaChaim, I have not found any authorities who give any attention to this issue.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Two Cats of Qalquilya-nny

Re: Jerusalem Post Article - 'Hamas torturing Fatah members in Gaza'

Now, I have a time-tested policy of not believing everything I read in the Jerusalem Post, especially if I do not see it corroborated anywhere else. Yet, this item is regrettably all too believable.

This item reminds me of a popular nursery rhyme that many of us heard when we were kids called There Once Were Two Cats of Kilkenny.

I am reprinting the nursery rhyme with but one oh-so-slight modification:


There Once Were Two Cats of Qalqilya-nny

There once were two cats of Qalqilya-nny,
Each thought there was one cat too many,
So they fought and they fit,
And they scratched and they bit,
Till, excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails,
Instead of two cats, there weren't any.

All too believable.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Church Bells and TYK"U!!

A renown Torah scholar was taking a stroll in town in the company of another Torah scholar. As they were walking, the top of the hour approached and the silence of the air was broken by a rendition of church bells from a nearby church.


With this, the first scholar remarks to the second, "When the goyim ring their church bells, they do nothing more than ring their church bells any way they see fit. They have no defined rules for their church bells. We, on the other hand, have no mitzva to ring "church" bells. But suppose we did. There would need to be a complete sugya in Shas and a chapter in Rambam and Shulchan Aruch that describes in detail all of the halachos of church bells. Who is qualified to ring the church bells and do we need a minyan to hear church bells? Does the one who rings the bell need to make a bracha? What can a church bell be made of and what not? Is there a minimum size? Are we yotzei if a non-Jew rings the church bell? Are we allowed to ring more than one church bell? What is the correct zman for ringing church bells? What happens if we miss the zman? Are women exempt from church bells? Etc., etc., etc...."


We are one strange people! Yet, this is indeed our lot. As I wrote in my book (page 244) our body of Halacha dictates to us "(just about) which eye to open first in the morning and which eye to close last at bedtime and everything in between."


Despite all this, not all Halachic issues are defined as clearly as they could be - or should be.


Mori V'Rabi Harav Yitzchak Mordechai HaCohen Rubin, Shlit"a is one of the foremost poskim in the Yeshivish/Chareidi community in Yerushalayim. For about 20 years he has been delivering successive series(es?) of comprehensive shiurim on a wide range of Halachic topics at Kehillat Bnei Torah. On more than one occasion - for example, as we covered the issues of insect infestation (Hilchos Tolaim) - he prefaced the series with this remark (he speaks in Hebrew):


צריך להבחין את הדברים בגלל שהרבה מהענינים אינם מבוארים די הצורך


We must scrutinize these things because many of these matters are not defined to the extent that is necessary.


We thrive over the fact that, in general, our duties and obligations are clearly defined. However, there are many facets of our lifestyle and hashkafa where we must fill in some blanks. A sterling example is the traditional 20-year immunity "policy" that I discussed in 2 recent posts (here and here). There is no "Shulchan Aruch" on it and it is not clearly defined. Even the sources that we have are very vague. My posts pointed out that when we see incidents where the policy is not being upheld, we can not ascertain whether this is because there are exceptions to the policy or we do not understand what is "covered" by the policy in the first place.


In many cases, it is these "blind spots" that is the cause of much of the discord within different factions of Orthodoxy. We can agree on what is crystal clear, but on what is loosely defined, there may be strong disagreement. This applies even to things that are discussed in Shulchan Aruch.


For example, anybody who calls himself an observant Jew does not eat chazer. It is unequivocally clear from the Torah that it is forbidden. But some kashrus issues are less clear. There is a Rabbinic prohibition against eating foods that were prepared by a non-Jew (Bishulei Nochrim). On this, we do have a chapter in Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 113). We are told that a product that is not "oleh al shulchan melachim" is exempt from the prohibition. But what exactly qualifies as "oleh al shulchan melachim?"


Let us take a popular example - baked beans. Baked beans are white beans cooked in tomato sauce. The rabbanim in Eretz Israel look at this as a perfectly respectable dish to garnish a main course on anybody's table. Vegetables of all sorts stewed in tomato sauce are regular formal cuisine and are served at the finest restaurants and banquets. So, baked beans, as much as any other cooked vegetable, are subject to the prohibition of bishulei nochrim. Any baked beans.


The American mentality is that if a particular brand of baked beans is generally only used at birthday parties and 4th of July barbeques, somehow it is called not "oleh al shulchan melachim" even though fancier baked beans - also beans cooked in tomato sauce - are served in fancy retaurants. And so the OU approves Heinz baked beans for kosher consumption. There is a run of Heinz baked beans that is sold in Eretz Israel that is marked by the OU as "Bishul Yisroel". So we use those. To the best of my knowledge, this run is not available in the US. The upshot of this is that if an American chareidi wants to keep Bishul Yisroel at Israeli standards, he must buy his American made Heinz baked beans in Eretz Yisroel.


The problem of issues that are not defined "dei hatzorech" applies to much more serious issues than baked beans. Here is a partial list of some very pivotal issues:


Mechitzas in shuls - There is no mention in Shulchan Aruch that a shul requires a mechitza. So we have no idea where, when , and what. This "omission" is monumental because the tradition of a mechitza in a shul is one of the keynote defining points of Orthodoxy. Yet we need to hunt around for it's source. Igros Moshe has to rely on the gemara in Sukka (52a) as our source. That gemara was discussing the Simchas Beis HaShoeva and was referring to a balcony. We still do not know if partitions suffice, how high they must be, and which settings require them. Well, we have a tradition to maintain them in shuls during tefilla and the gemara talks about during celebrations (Simchas Beis HaShoeva) and bereavement. How about in dining halls and on buses?
We need to know where to draw the line.


Tishbi Yetaretz Kushyos U'Sfekos (TYK"U)



Head covering - This is an undefined issue both for men and women. For men, all that Shulchan Aruch tells us is that we may not walk 4 amos bareheaded. but how should our heads be covered. With what and what size?
My brows are knitted.

TYK"U

For women, as we know, the issue is even more complex. There is no positive commandment nor positive halacha in Shulchan Aruch that mandates covering her hair. All we have is the admonition not to let her hair be seen in public (Even HaEzer 21:1 and 115:4). Again, we are in a fog. Does this mean all of her hair or most of it? Does it need to be actually covered or can it be tied or cut short? Does covering it with something that looks like hair satisfy the prohibition or not? In other words, do sheitels count? These issues are discussed by recent and contemporary poskin ad infinitum but we have no unequivocal source material. There is no "Hilchos Kisui HaRosh" in Shulchan Aruch. So, as a result, even we chareidim are embroiled in a sheitel controversy that sometimes, ר"ל , turns ugly.
Isn't it chaval that these issues aren't adequately covered?


TYK"U

Kanayim Pog'im Bo and Ifrushei M'Issura - The Halacha of הבועל ארמית קנאים פוגעים בו is recorded in Rambam and Shulchan Aruch as Halacha l'maaseh. That's fine. But...What does it mean? Does it apply to this one infraction or is this just a model for any infraction that cannot be prosecuted in a Bet Din? Don't we have a concept of Ifrushei M'Issura which means that we are enjoined to use forceful means to prevent people from sinning and, more than that, to stop them when they are in the course of sinning? When does that apply? Rambam tells us that it applies to cases of "rodef" (הרודף אחר הזכר לבועלו ) but does it apply to a case where one is not endangering another person?
Trust me, we sorely need a section in Shulchan Aruch for "Hilchos Kanaos" and "Hilchos Ifrushei M'Issura". It is something that I would kill for. But they don't exist.

TYK"U

There are other Talmudic concepts that can have far reaching ramifications that we know little about. For instance, what is this mysterious concept of "Kim li b'gavei" that is introduced in Kesubos 85a and recorded in Rambam in Hilchos Sanhedrin 24:1 that supercedes all of the rules of ne'emanus?

How about the concept (Horios 10b) of גדול עברה לשמה ממצוה שלא לשמה . When do we apply that?

If only there was a section in Shulchan Aruch about Hilchos Aveira L'Shma!

All of these issues have had, and continue to have, a tremendous impact on Orthodox society. There's been blood spilt over some of them. Yet, אין הדברים מבוארים די הצורך . We have more detailed instructions on how to light Chanuka candles than on how to cover our heads or when men and women need to be separated.

Oh, church bells!

TYK"U

Plagiarism...or a Meeting of the Minds?

I was inspired to see Rabbi Emanuel Feldman'a op-ed piece entitled Real Money that was published in the Jerusalem Post and was subsequently picked up by Cross Currents. I was a bit taken aback by the timeliness and lack of originality of his message.

The message was first broached by Carmi Wisemon in her piece entitled A Matter of Trust which ran in the Jerusalem Post on Dec. 23, more than 3 weeks ago. I picked up on Ms. Wisemon's piece to offer a more "Talmudic" perspective of the same sentiment with a post entitled The Richest Man in the Cemetery 2 days later (Dec. 25). What tickles my fancy is that I also incorporated the famous statement of Sen. Everett Dirkson of Illinois even though I didn't name him. And, just like Rabbi Feldman, I discuss that money is meant to be both an opportunity and a test.

Despite the title of this post, I do not for a minute suspect an act of plagiarism, chas v'shalom. There is no doubt in my mind that Rabbi Feldman has never seen my blog post (why should he?) and so, I am more than happy to attribute this "coincidence" to a meeting of the minds. Of course, the question stands that, as a frequent contributor to the Jerusalem Post, was he not aware of Carmi Wisemon's editorial?

As for me, to the contrary. I am rather honored that such a distinguished personality as Rabbi Feldman mirrors my viewpoint (and remembers Senator Dirkson). I am quite fond of the Feldmans and, though I am sure Rabbi Feldman doesn't know it, I am actually a second cousin to his sister-in-law (there's Jewish Geography for you).

All told, I am putting a stamp of approval on Rabbi Feldman's article. I am certainly not condemning it. The main purpose of this post is to point out that not only is his point about "Real Money" vs. a "Real Jew" a valid one...

...it's what a lot of people are thinking.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What the Earliest "Bloggers" are Saying about the Situation in Gaza

Blogging is nothing more than a new-age, high-tech method of proliferating our opinions. We can surmise that if cyberspace had existed 2500 years ago, the true prophets may have used it to spread the "Word of G-d". I have no doubt that the false prophets would have used it - they do so today!

So, perhaps, we can check out what some of the earliest "bloggers" had to say about the current political situation.


The prophet Tzefania had a relatively short blog. Only 3 posts. Yet, today, the entire Torah world is linking to what he wrote in his second post (Tzefania 4:2):

כי עזה עזובה תהיה ואשקלון לשממה אשדוד בצהרים יגרשוה ועקרון תעקר



For Gaza will be abandoned, and Ashkelon for desolation, Ashdod will be evacuated at noon, and Ekron will be uprooted.


King David had a more extensive and popular blog. You can actually see a sampling at psalms.blogspot.com/. (Somebody also seems to have reserved tehillim.blogspot.com/ but it is just an empty page.) His original blog had 150 posts. One popular way of arranging it is about 5 posts per days for a 30 day month. It came to my attention that there were some extraordinary posts (55-59) that correspond to the 10th of the month and were to be read on 10 of Teves. Here are some excerpts:


Part of Post 55 is:


מקול אויב מפני עקת רשע כי ימיטו עלי און ובאף ישטמוני: ה לבי יחיל בקרבי ואימות מות נפלו עלי: ו יראה ורעד יבא בי ותכסני פלצות: ז ואמר מי-יתן-לי אבר כיונה אעופה ואשכנה: ח הנה ארחיק נדד אלין במדבר סלה: ט אחישה מפלט לי מרוח סעה מסער: י בלע אדני פלג לשונם כי ראיתי חמס וריב בעיר: יא יומם ולילה יסובבה על חומתיה ואון ועמל בקרבה: יב הוות בקרבה ולא ימיש מרחבה תוך ומרמה: יג כי לא אויב יחרפני ואשא לא-משנאי עלי הגדיל ואסתר ממנו:



From the sound of the enemy , from the oppression of the wicked, they heap upon me travails and they harbor (undue) hatred against me. My heart petrifies within me and the fear of death falls over me. Fear and trembling overtake me and I am covered with tremors. And I say, "Who will give me the wings of a dove, so that I fly up and dwell (in refuge). Behold, I will wander away to the distance, I will rest in the wilderness." I rush to save myself from those that pursue me like the gales of a storm. May G-d consume my enemies and split their tongues, because I have seen the pillage (חמס ) and the strife in the city. By day and by night they surround it on its walls and there is coercion and wrongdoing within it. there is destruction inside and they do not remove from it hypocrisy and deceit. for a "non"-enemy (i.e., one who disguises himself as a non-enemy) disgraces me and I tolerate it and a "non"-hater denigrates me - can I hide from them?


Amazing! Look at post 56. It begins like this:

א למנצח על-יונת אלם רחקים לדוד מכתם באחז אותו פלשתים בגת: ב חנני אלהים כי-שאפני אנוש כל-היום לחם ילחצני:



To the victorious... when the Plishtim apprehended him in Gat. Favor me, o G-d, for men wish to devour me; all day long I am oppressed by war.


Note that Gat is one of the 5 Plishti provinces that run up the coast from Gaza, after Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron.
Let's move on to post 58 (3rd line):


ג אף בלב עולת תפעלון בארץ חמס ידיכם תפלסון:


There they are again.
And, now, in post 59, here is what he writes:

ב הצילני מאיבי אלהי ממתקוממי תשגבני: ג הצילני מפעלי און ומאנשי דמים הושיעני: ד כי הנה ארבו לנפשי יגורו עלי עזים לא-פשעי ולא- חטאתי יהוה: ה בלי-עון ירצון ויכוננו עורה לקראתי וראה:


Save me from my enemies, my G-d, from those who rise up against me strengthen me. Save me from those who perpetrate wrongdoings, and from bloodthirsty ones rescue me. For behold they have waited in ambush for my life, bold ones - עזים -have ganged up against me and I have not sinned or erred, Hashem. For no wrongdoing (on my part) they are running and scheming (against me); awaken toward me (my plight) and see this.


Hmmm. Who are these bold ones, these עזים ? Are not עזים also those from עזה (Gazans)?

One more thing about King David. The gemara in Brachos 8a discusses a statement from King David's blog in post 32:

על זאת יתפלל כל חסיד אליך לעת מצא רק לשטף מים רבים אליו לא יגיעו.

For this does each pious one pray to you at the time of finding - מצא - that only for the flood of many waters they shall not reach him.

Evidently, there is some major calamity that resembles a tremendous flood and the pious man prays to G-d to be spared from it.

But what is meant by "the time of finding"?

The gemara offers a number of opinions. One of the opinions in the gemara is that עת מצא - the "time of finding" - refers to the study of Torah. To qualify this, the gemara refers to a statement written by King Solomon, who had a few blogs of his own. In mishlei.blogspot.com (does not really exist - yours for the taking) in post 8, line 35 he wrote:

כי מצאי מצא חיים ויפק רצון מה

We understand from the context that this pasuk is talking about Torah. The gemara intimates that when the pious one studies Torah he can then pray for salvation from this great clamity. And, according to this opinion, what exactly is the great calamity of "a flood of many waters"?

Perhaps, it is being alluded to in the very next pasuk in Mishlei (8:36):

וחטאי חמס נפשו כל משנאי אהבו מות

But one who sins against Me is robbing - *חמס - his own life; all those who hate Me love death.

Yep, these early bloggers sure knew what was going on.

*In this pasuk, the word חמס is actually pronounced "chomais" as a verb and not "Chamas" as a noun.

Political Cartoons that Won't Make the Daily News

Currently, everybody's attention is focused on the war in southern Eretz Israel ( note: this is not a war in Gaza, it is a war in southern Israel). With G-d's help, we will win on the field of battle. On the field of baffle, however, we don't stand a chance.

The following cartoon says it all:




ומי כעמך ישראל, גוי אחד בארץ

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Please send Whitehouse an Email to Pardon Jonathan Pollard

As most of you are aware, there are slightly less than 2 weeks remaining to President George Bush's term in office. It is traditional for outgoing Presidents to grant Presidential pardons as a final and compassionate act of authority. We must take advantage of this fleeting opportunity to beseech President Bush to release Jonathan Pollard. It doesn't hurt to beseech HKBH to do likewise ( יהונתן בן מלכה ).

To follow is a sample email message to send to the Whitehouse on behalf of Jonathan Pollard (you may copy/paste).

An appropriate subject line would be:

Please Pardon Jonathan Pollard

Body of letter (of course, you can modify it to your taste):

Dear President Bush,

Throughout your Presidency you have proven yourself to be a true friend of the State of Israel and of the Jewish people as well as a man of compassion. Still, men are always remembered by what they do in their final days as people forget about earlier achievements. At this point in time, your commitment of friendship faces its final challenges. As your Presidency comes to a close, it is a time for action.

Please enshrine your commitment of friendship for all eternity and grant full clemency to Jonathan Pollard who has remained loyal to his American heritage and has been regretful of his wrongdoings.

Sincerely,

Joe and Sarah Friedman (Sample names)

Your City, Your State


Your message can be emailed to:

president@whitehouse.gov

comments@whitehouse.gov

vice_president@whitehouse.gov

Also, your message can be faxed to:

+1-202-456-2461

ה' מתיר אסורים

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Mending the Breech

It's time to look again at my earlier post about A Breech in Protocol and see if there is anything that we can fix.


Before anything else, let me extend my kudos to the commenter who rightly pointed out that there was one other Yaakov Avinu grandson - Beriah ben Asher - who managed to procreate before the clan descended to Egypt. I humbly submit to a lack of vigilance on my part.


Now, to review the main issue, virtually all chronologists agree that Ehr and Onan were relatively young at the time of their early departures from this world. It is questionable if they even reached the age of Bar -Mitzvah. As such, how do we reconcile this to an "established" protocol that asserts that people are not liable for Heavenly retribution below the age of 20?

I did mention in the post that I had an answer which I considered to be a bit "feeble". I will present that approach shortly and a second, less feeble approach, that is a variation to it, but I wish to add that over Shabbos, I was inspired to a third, more profound approach.

Approach 1

The first approach was inspired by the words of a Midrash Tanchuma in Parshat VaYigash 9 which states as follows:

אמר ליה הקדוש ברוך הוא ליהודה אין לך בנים עד עכשיו ואין אתה יודע צער בנים אתה טגנת את אביך והטעית אותו בטרף טרף יוסף חייך תשא אשה ותקבור את בניך ותדע צער בנים מה כתיב אחריו ויהי בעת ההיא וירד יהודה מאת אחיו

HKBH said to Yehuda, "You do not yet have sons and you do not know the distress of [caring for] children. You have scorched your father and deceived him to think that 'Yosef was torn to bits'. Upon your life, you will marry a woman and bury your sons and you will know the distress of children."
What does it say subsequently? And it was at that time, and Yehuda descended...


We have all seen tragic incidents of young children being taken away. When it happens, we must console ourselves (or admonish ourselves) that they did not die for their own sins but for the sins of their parents. Indeed, the gemara states (Shabbos 32b) that "for the sins of [unkept] vows, young children die." It is reasonable to assume that other sins may also carry such a heavy price. Thus, we can posit that even though the Torah blames the two boys for their unnatural ways, this by itself would not have resulted in their deaths at such an early age if not that there was a decree upon Yehuda to bury his sons.

With this approach we are saying that the sins of Ehr and Onan were merely used by the Torah as a pretense to "justify" their early deaths whereas the true cause was the callous behavior of their father, Yehuda.

Approach 2

A variation of this approach may be that they were indeed killed due to their own sins. There is another reason why "Heaven" takes small children before their times. It is because כלפי שמיא גליא - it is foreseen in Heaven - that now that they have succumbed to the temptations of sin, they will not be able to stop and rectify their errant ways and will deteriorate into even worse sins, thus losing their portion in Olam HaBa. Thus, there is a concept of ימות זכאי ואל ימות חייב - let them die innocent and not die guilty - to preserve their share in the Afterlife. This is the concept of the בן סורר ומורה . This does not negate the protocol of not being punished younger than age 20 because, in this light, the Heavenly death penalty was not meted out as a punishment. It was actually an act of mercy from HKBH.

With these 2 approaches it makes sense to say that Ehr and Onan suffered "childs' deaths" and were particularly young - 8, 9, or 10 - and not yet Bar Mitzvah as many chronologists maintain. I considered the first of these to be a bit feeble because it asserts that they were not put to death for the sins that are alluded to in the Torah and it deviates from the simple reading of the pasuk. The second approach is much more in line with the story of the Torah.

It is interesting to note that the Seder HaDoros, one of the foremost Torah and Talmud chronologists, also incorporates the Kabalistic teachings of gilgulim - reincarnations - in his work. He writes that the neshamos of Ehr and Onan were actually reincarnated as Peretz and Zerach. Ehr was supposed to be the progenitor of the House of Dovid but was not worthy because his mother was a Kanaanite and not from the House of Shem. It was this Kanaanite temperament that brought about their sinful practices. Thus, G-d, in His mercy, put them to death and "recycled" them into the righteous Peretz and Zerach to launch the Malchus Beis Dovid.

Approach 3

With the first 2 approaches, we are understanding the protocol of the 20-year immunity rule in its simple sense and are speculating that the rule does not apply in all cases. In a case where the sins of the parents are taken in to account or where the child is deemed to be in an irreversible tailspin, the rule is overridden.

A third approach - and the one I want to promote - is that perhaps, we do not fully understand what it is that we are immune from. Let us consider the well known gemara in Sanhedrin 37b that says:

Since the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash, even though judicial death was abolished, the judicial protocol for judicial death was not abolished. Hence, one who would be liable for stoning will either fall from atop a building or be trampled. One who would be liable for burning will be trapped in a fire or bitten by a serpent...

I would assume that the Heavenly forms of the judicial deaths would be enacted in the identical circumstances in which the physical judicial deaths are enacted. We know that if a 15 year old person were to commit a capital crime - e.g., murder - with full sanity and intent in the presence of kosher witnesses, he is liable for the death penalty under Halachic judicial law even though he is only 15 years old. Isn't this passage in gemara telling us that if the 15 year old commits the exact same crime with the same sanity and intent when the judiciary is no longer in effect, he can be liable for the Heavenly judicial death as he would have when the courts were active? Does it make sense to say that since he is not yet 20, he is off the hook when he wouldn't be in a human court of law?

To answer this question we say that there are two forms of judgement. There is "Human" judgement and "heavenly" judgement. This is implied when we use the term "din v'cheshbon" as in the Mishna in Pirkei Avos 3:1 and 4:22. The commentaries tell us that "din" refers to the judgement for the act that was committed - judgement netto. "Cheshbon" refers to an accounting of everything that was affected by the act - judgement bruto or, meta-judgement. A mature person is responsible both for the "din" and for the "cheshbon".

For example, if somebody sexually abuses a young person and, as a result, the young person rebels against Judaism and goes OTD and does countless transgressions. Also, he never marries and brings up a Jewish family. Also, he abuses and corrupts others and sets off a continuous chain of abuse and corruption. At the level of "din" the initial perpetrator is responsible merely for the sinful act. But at the level of "cheshbon" he may be responsible for much more. He may be responsible for all of the victim's personal transgressions. He may be responsible for the travails of the nice frum woman who was destined to be the victim's wife but now is embroiled in the "Shidduch crisis". He may be responsible for the unborn children of the marriage he should have had. He may be responsible for all of the other victims through the chain.

This is something that only HKBH can calculate. This is meta-judgement.

Likewise, if somebody bilks masses of people out of, say, 50 billion dollars. At a simple level - "din" - he is merely responsible to restore the $50B. Not a big deal. Yet, at the "cheshbon" level, he is liable for everything that that money could have accomplished if it were available. Sick people who will not get the proper medical care because the hospital lost money and suffered budget constraints or the charity that would fund his treatments folds up. People who will not be able to afford the education that could have enhanced their lives. People whose shalom bayis will be destroyed by a sudden loss of captal, etc.

I don't want to think about it.

So, perhaps we can say that this that a person is immune from "Heavenly" punishment until the age of 20 does not apply to the simple punishment of "din" for a sinful act that he does. In other words, it doesn't apply to a judgement that he would be liable for in a Halachic court here in this world. This is not "Heavenly" judgement even if it is delivered by Heaven. Here, Heaven is merely doing the work of the defunct Bais Din shel Matta. It only applies to the meta-judgement that only Heaven can do.

With this approach, we can go like the Ibn Ezra that Ehr and Onan actually reached the age of Bar Mitzvah - if just barely. The punishment of "Heavenly death" even though it is not in our hands to execute, is actually categorized as a simple "din" level judgement. This kind of judgement can be enacted from the age of Bar Mitzvah just like all Halachic penalties - even if "Shamayim" delivers it. The 20 year rule only applies to the more complex meta-judgement. But Ehr and Onan, being young, were not subjected to it. Thus they were reincarnated into Peretz and Zerach to have a clean slate.

I have not (yet) found support for this distinction in Torah writings, and, I must say that this does not seem to be indicated by the three Aggadic "sources" of the 20-year rule that I discussed in my first post (especially the one in Parshat Korach). Nevertheless, I believe this approach to be a sound one and for those of us free spirited young people - I truly recommend to "Ehr" on the side of caution.