Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rav Dushinsky Saves Jerusalem?

I was looking at a book entitled "HaTekufah ve-Bayoteha" - "The Era and its Troubles" by Rav Yosef Avraham Wolff. He became a chasid of the Chazon Ish, and was responsible for creating the Beis Yaakov educational philosophy which allowed for the the current Kollel system.

One of the important messages to teach the students is Emunat Chachamim. He explains that this means firstly that all the words of Chazal, in both halacha and aggada, are Torah mi-Sinai. Then he says that they must have faith in the current Rabbis, who are experts in every area of life. He claims that the political and financial system would be much better if only the politicians would take advice from the leading Rabbis of the day.

Wolff illustrates his point with the one time that they asked Rav Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky for advice, and he saved Jerusalem from the Arabs in 1948.

My problem is that I cannot find any reference anywhere to such a story. Has anyone heard this story before? What does it refer to? Who asked him? And what was his advice?

Here is the relevant Hebrew text (in case I misunderstood it):

ידיעת התורה שלהם מקנה להם את כל הערכים. מה מעולה היה מצבנו הכלכלי והפטליטי, לו בעלי ההגה היו מתיעצים עם חכמי ישראל! הלא ר' יוסף צבי דושינסקי זצוק"ל הציל את ירושלים מידי הערבים בשנת תש"ט, כאשר פעם אחת שאלו בעצת חכמים.

Any ideas? Anyone?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Moshe Taku

This shiur was supposed to be about Rav Moshe Taku, but is really about the Maimonidean Controversy, and the relationship between philosophy and religion. I show that there were really three different approaches to the issues (and conflicts) of philosophy and religion. Rambam tries to make Judaism fit with Aristotle (or his version of it which also incorporated some Plato/Plotinus). He reinterprets pesukim and Chazal to fit with philosophy. The French who put him in cherem (instigated by Shlomo Montpellier, who it seems turned out to be a bad egg) rejected any use of philosophy, and stuck to the Divine text of Torah and Talmud. And some of the Spanish and Provencal Rabbis had an 'in between' view, where philospohy was utilised if it fit with the mesorah and was compelling. But it was rejected if it contradicted fundamentals of Torah.

In this shiur I spend quite a bit of time looking at the exchange of letters between Rav David Kimche (Radak) and Rav Yehuda Alfakhar. Which I found very interesting.

Here is the shiur:
Here is the audio shiur (and the pdf sheets to download if you want).
Moshe Taku and Maimonidean Controversy
(Right click and then 'download as')
Moshe Taku Source Sheets

Monday, June 25, 2012

Shem Tov ibn Falaquera

This shiur is about Shem Tov ibn Falaquera (though there are many different ways of spelling his last name).

Here is what Jewish Virtual Library says about ibn Falaquera:

Shem Tov b. Joseph ibn Falaquera (c. 1225–c. 1295), translator and author of many works devoted largely to ethics and psychology, also wrote Moreh ha-Moreh, a commentary on Maimonides' Guide. In this commentary he corrects Ibn Tibbon's translation of the Guide on the basis of the Arabic original, and he cites parallel passages from the works of Islamic philosophers, particularly from Averroes. In his Iggeret ha-Vikku'aḥ, a dialogue between a philosopher and an opponent of philosophy, he justifies the study of philosophy. In his Sefer ha-Nefesh he follows Avicenna, but in his encyclopedic work De'ot ha-Pilosofim he follows Averroes. He translated and condensed Ibn Gabirol's Mekor Ḥayyim from Arabic into Hebrew.

If you want to hear what I have to say about him, click on the links.

Here is the shiur:
Here is the audio shiur (and the pdf sheets to download if you want).
Shem Tov ibn Falaquera
(Right click and then 'download as')
Shem Tov ibn Falaquera Source Sheets

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What Would Rambam Do?

What would Rambam do if Aristotle was proven to be correct regarding the eternity of the universe?

Rambam writes that Aristotle's belief in the eternity of the universe contradicts many fundamental principles of Torah. Yet Rambam rejects Aristotle for two reasons: (1) Eternity has never been demonstrated conclusively and (2) Eternity contradicts the Torah.

Here is Rambam's Guide for the Perplexed 2:25 (From Friedlander's translation)

WE do not reject the Eternity of the Universe, because certain passages in Scripture confirm the Creation; for such passages are not more numerous than those in which God is represented as a corporeal being; nor is it impossible or difficult to find for them a suitable interpretation. We might have explained them in the same manner as we did in respect to the Incorporeality of God. We should perhaps have had an easier task in showing that the Scriptural passages referred to are in harmony with the theory of the Eternity of the Universe if we accepted the latter, than we had in explaining the anthropomorphisms in the Bible when we rejected the idea that God is corporeal. For two reasons, however, we have not done so, and have not accepted the Eternity of the Universe. First, the Incorporeality of God has been demonstrated by proof: those passages in the Bible, which in their literal sense contain statements that can be refuted by proof, must and can be interpreted otherwise. But the Eternity of the Universe has not been proved; a mere argument in favour of a certain theory is not sufficient reason for rejecting the literal meaning of a Biblical text, and explaining it figuratively, when the opposite theory can be supported by an equally good argument.

Secondly, our belief in the Incorporeality of God is not contrary to any of the fundamental principles of our religion: it is not contrary to the words of any prophet. Only ignorant people believe that it is contrary to the teaching of Scripture: but we have shown that this is not the case: on the contrary, Scripture teaches the Incorporeality of God. If we were to accept the Eternity of the Universe as taught by Aristotle, that everything in the Universe is the result of fixed laws, that Nature does not change, and that there is nothing supernatural, we should necessarily be in opposition to the foundation of our religion, we should disbelieve all miracles and signs, and certainly reject all hopes and fears derived from Scripture, unless the miracles are also explained figuratively.

For several years I have been trying to understand this Rambam. At first I understood it as Natan Aviezer did (in his article in Tradition, Fall 2009 cited on Seforim Blog)

Did God create the universe? Seemingly a simple question, with the answer given in the very first verse of the Torah. Not so, writes Rambam (Guide 2:25), asserting that Torah hashkafa does not require one to believe that God created the universe. But what about the first chapter of Bereshit, which clearly states that God did create the universe? Rambam writes that one may interpret this chapter metaphorically, as an allegory that never happened, because “the paths of interpretation are not closed to us.”

However, Marc Shapiro there understands Rambam differently. He claims that Rambam holds it is IMPOSSIBLE to prove the eternity of the universe, and therefore there is no challenge to our tradition.

After years of preferring the first (Aviezer) option, but being (almost) convinced of the second (Shapiro) approach I found it very reassuring to see that one of the main critics of Rambam, Yehuda Alfakhar also understood the Rambam the first way. In a strong attack on Rambam he writes:

ועוד שיש בו לענין הקדמות שאלו נמצא עליה מופת ברור לארסטו בחוק ההגיון ומשפטו, היה יכול להוציא מקרא מעשה בראשית מידי פשוטו ופורט על פי הקדמות פרטי כאשר עשה לענין צלם ודמות מפני שמורה פשוטי הגשמות ־ וכן כל מקרא שיבוא המופת על הפכו
אין שומעין לו כדרכו

Furthermore there is the concept of eternity. If clear proofs would be found for Aristotle, using laws of logic and sense, he would be able to remove Scripture’s references to creation from its literal meaning and explain based on eternity, as he did to the concepts of ‘image and form of God’ because they imply physicality. Similarly any words of Scripture that would be contradicted by proofs would be removed from its simple meaning.

(Interestingly, Hebrew Books has three versions of this kovetz teshuvot harambam, but only one of them has the final section which is called Iggeret Kina'ot and which chronicles the Maimonidean controversy).

If his harshest critic understood Rambam like that, I feel justified in also understanding him like that (or at least I am in good company).

This issue is not simply of historical interest. The Big Bang (which is often trumpeted by those who don't know any better as a 'proof' that the Torah is true) would be, for Rambam, in the same category as Aristotle's eternity. Does this quote not apply to modern physics just as much as to Aristotle?

If we were to accept the Eternity of the Universe as taught by Aristotle, that everything in the Universe is the result of fixed laws, that Nature does not change, and that there is nothing supernatural, we should necessarily be in opposition to the foundation of our religion, we should disbelieve all miracles and signs

Therefore, how are we to respond to Wilson and Penzias' clear evidence of Cosmic Background Radiation which basically proves the Big Bang?

What would Rambam do if Aristotle were proven correct?

Invention of the Printing Press

With all the current discussion about the internet and how it should (or should not) be used for enhancing Jewish life, I thought it would be interesting to look at another invention which had perhaps an even bigger influence on Judaism, and how it was received. I refer to the printing press, which allowed exiled communities to have access to Torah even if they did not have access to a learned Rabbi. It began the proces which led to the democratisation of knowledge, and which enabled every person (who could afford a book) to become knowledgeable on a topic. It was also decried by many for spreading all sorts of ideas, images and concepts that were not appropriate.

Here is David Gans writing in Tzemach David in 1592:

1440 דפוס הספרים נמצא בעיר מענץ ע״י איש נוצרי שמו יוהניש גוטנבערג
משטראסבורג והיה זה בשנה ראשונה לקיסר החסיל קיסר פרידריך בשנת ה״א ומאתים אלף ות״מ לנוצרים ברוך החונן לאדם לעת ומלמל לאנוש בינה ברוך אשר דבר עלינו בחסדו בתחבולה רבה כזו לתועלת כל יושבי תבל אין עוד מלבדה ולא נמצא ערך לה בכל החכמית והתחבולות למן היום אשר ברא ה׳ אדם על הארץ לא לבד לחכמות תלמודיות האלהיות ולשאר שבע חכמות הלא גם לשאר חכמות זמניות אומנים פועלי יד צורפים בנאים חרשי עץ חרשי אבן וזולתם נתגלו ונתפרסמו על ידי הדפוס בכל יום ובכל עת תועלת ותחבולות רבות אשר נדפסו לכל פועלי אומנות ספרים הרבה אין קץ .

Here is a translation that i have taken from Jewish Thought and the Scientific Revolution of the Sixteenth Century: David Gans (1541-1613) and His Times (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization)
by Andre Neher.

Printing was invented in Mainz by the Christian Johannes Gutenberg of Strasbourg in the first year of the reign of the Emperor Frederick the Pious (the Jewish year 5200). Blessed be He who endows man with intelligence and teaches him knowledge. Blessed be He who in His goodness has granted us such an invention, of universal benefit and unique of its kind. No other invention, no other discover can be compared to it since God created man upon the earth. I tis not only the metaphysical sciences and the seven secular sciences which have profited from this invention, but all the applied sciences – metalworking, architecture, wood-engraving and lithography – have also benefited. Each day reveals some new aspect and innumerable books are published with benefit all professions whatever they may be.

Quite the opposite of the Citi-Field Asifa!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ehad HaAm and Rambam

I recently discovered that Echad Ha'Am wrote a very interesting booklet in memory of Maimonides' 700th yahrzeit. In it he espouses the 'rational' and claims that Rambam's faith was always guided primarily by philosophy.

He shows a greater familiarity with a wider range of Rambam texts than most yeshiva students now - in keeping with his belief that Israel should be a Jewish state and not just a state for Jews.

I'm not sure that I agree with everything that he writes here, and take it with a grain of salt (or many grains if you prefer) but it is thought provoking and rather interesting (I thought).

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

New Zealand Jewish Humour

Somehow these old Jewish jokes almost sound funny when told with a New Zealand accent

You can read more about here on Jewish Humour Central

Deena Mishaan

My sister in law has just created a website to display her artwork. She is an amazing artist, focussing on spirals and motherhood.

This is what she writes about herself and her art:

I am a mother. I am an artist.
The use of color, texture and shape expresses my bond between mother and child;
that powerful, spiritual and emotional connection unlike any other.

I paint to capture these emotions. One of my first inspirations was the look in my daughters eyes as she looked up at me while nursing; that perfect moment of calm, love, giving and taking. A moment that mothers want to hold onto, but often lose in the everyday tasks of motherhood.
I accomplished this by breaking up that moment into fragments and putting it back together through spirals.
The spiral represents the strong bond of love that grows out, becoming stronger and never-ending; like the love of a parent for a child. It represents the cycle of life, womanhood, femininity and motherhood.
It represents me.

Have a look at and let her know what you think of her art.

Torah Moves to Spain

For the last two weeks I have spoken about Kairouan and the Torah that was taught there. At some point the Mu in Tunisia became too fundamental, and Torah moved to Spain. Rav Yitzchak Alfasi moved to Spain and while there one of his pupils was Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi.

In this shiur I go off on a tangent about the so-called 'Kuzari Principle' which I think is exactly the OPPOSITE of the real Kuzari, who argues against rational proofs of G-d and Torah. (If anything 'proofs' of Torah should be associated with Avraham ibn Daud). I give my views on Kuzari and reasons for belief (and there is quite a lot of discussion as people disagree with what I say). When I was looking for information about the Kuzari Principle I found that Micha Berger had beaten me to it (again!). He writes here in a much nicer and better way than me, so make sure you have a look at it.

I look briefly at Rabbi Shlomo ibn Gabirol, and explain that he brought neo-Platonism to Christian Europe. But Avraham ibn Daud really does not rate him highly as a philosopher (though apparently he was good enough as a poet).

The person I really wanted to speak about was Rabbi Avraham ibn Daud, author of Sefer HaKaballah and Emunah Ramah (which was written as an attack on Kuzari). But I ran out of time. Suffice it to say that he was a hardcore Aristotelian who said things that Rambam did not say explicitly, and who builds his Judaism firmly on the bedrock of philosophy.

I have time for a short discussion on the idea of whether Jewish souls are intrinsically 'better' than non-Jewish souls. I think that Kuzari is the first source to say such a thing (Rashi and Tosefot do not agree to it - I don't think), but ibn Daud disagrees and claims that all human souls are on the same level.

Here is the shiur:

Here is the audio shiur (and the pdf sheets to download if you want).

ibn Gabirol, ibn Daud and Yehuda HaLevi

(Right click and then 'download as')

ibn Gabirol, ibn Daud and Yehuda HaLevi source sheet

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Kein Ayin Hora

Tim Minchin (the funniest and most intelligent atheist since Douglas Adams - with the possible exception of Terry Pratchett) spoke at the Hay Festival, and mocked superstition! He said that he hoped his daughter would die, but only to demonstrate that words have no effect on reality. He also said:
Superstition is something that one should divest oneself of. It’s not helpful, and often it’s harmful.
I always say to people when they get on a plane, ‘Don’t have a plane crash!’ There’s a sense that the odds might be higher, or if I do a joke about my baby dying the odds might be greater. But there’s no way that can be the case.
It’s incredibly empowering to get rid of superstition. It’s deep within us because we’re megalomaniacs – we think we can make a plane crash with our words.

I really hope that his daughter doesn't die, and that nobody ever dies ever again, but I think it is very dangerous for him to play with ayin hora like that. I have clear proof that words can kill. It is a very simple proof, and it goes like this:

Gregg Allman wrote and sang "Whipping Post" with the Allman Brothers Band. The chorus goes:
Sometimes I feel ... sometimes I FEEL
Like I been tied to the whipping post!
TIED to the whipping post!
TIED to the whipping post!
Good Lord, I feel like I'm dyin'...

The song was first written in 1969, and they must have performed it hundreds of times, including the classic performance at Fillmore East. And then, as a result, Gregg's older brother, Duane, died! Only 2 years later! In a motorcycle crash!
The story doesn't end there. Oh no. Almost exactly ONE year later, Berry Oakley, bass player for the Allman Brothers, died after crashing his motorcycle in almost exactly the same place as Duane had died!

And all because they sang a song about dying!

But the ayin hora didn't stop with the Allman Brothers Band. Frank Zappa recorded a version of it on 'Them or Us' (well he would do, wouldn't he - it is in 11/4 time). This was released in 1984 (and has Steve Vai on 'impossible guitar parts' in case you were wondering). And barely 9 years later Frank was dead too!

This clearly shows the power of words, and the importance of saying 'kein ayin hora' after every sentence. Tim Minchin - please be careful!

In case you are not completely convinced, at least listen to the song, for it is a fantastic song.

Monday, June 04, 2012

The End of Cherems?

Just a very quick post because I am busy with many things (BH). I have been saying for years (and so have many other people) that as soon as Rav Elyashiv's protective hand was removed the knives would be drawn and all the people who had been attacked or harmed by the 'establishment' (in this case Yated Neeman and those associated with it) would get their revenge.

For years (the Israeli version of) Yated has been the mouthpiece of the 'Gedolim' and 'Daas Torah' (by which I mean that they would write articles, editorials and bans and claim that they came from Rav Elyashiv without his knowledge). During this time they have been at the forefront of controversy and destroying the lives of those who disagree with them. They have made many powerful enemies.

Somehow I missed the news when it actually happened. I only found out today, and it happened overnight last week (like an inverse of Yosef being called to Pharaoh - in one moment the people of Yated went from the top of the heap to the bottom).

It seems that Shimon Glick bought up the body which owns the newspaper without anyone noticing. Then on Thursday morning he fired everyone associated with the paper! He did this with the backing and support of Rav Steinman (thus making him the new 'Godol HaDor' and knocking out a lot of others who were vying for the position).

You can read a Hebrew article on ynet news, and an English article on Yeshiva World News.

And the biggest irony? Apparently the former owners of Yated now want to take the new owners to court (yes, secular court - the one that is forbidden because religious Jews have to use Beit Din) to try to reverse the deal! Doesn't feel so good being stepped on by others does it?

Rav Shteinman is (ad 120) an old man (I think 98) and he won't be the Gadol HaDor forever. But some of his views have been quite controversial (in the old style Yated manner of condemning those who disagree) including his support for Nachal Hareidi (which led to protests against him and much verbal abuse). Perhaps his takeover of the paper will herald in a new era of tolerance for views of others, for discussion rather than banning, and will allow for the possibility of Hareidim going to the army and to the work force.

Rav Shach founded Yated Neeman to be the voice of Degel HaTorah. I think that Degel has run out of steam now, and its original message became lost in petty politics. Perhaps now it will become clear that Daas Torah only exists in the imagination of the media who are trying to maintain their standing.

Yehi Ratzon that Yated becomes Neeman and that Hareidim can once again become G-d fearing, instead of 'Godol-fearing'.

(And I hope that the people who were harmed financially, spiritually and physically as a result of Yated will be having a quiet celebration now).