Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rabbeinu Chananel

This shiur is really about the Rabbis of Kairouan and the codification of the Talmud. Having never heard of Kairouan at all until very recently it amazes me how many famous Rabbis lived there or learnt there.

I have also wondered for many years about what made the Talmud a binding text on all of Yisrael. We know that Ravina and Rav Ashi were the end of the Amoraim, but they were not the last Rabbis to add to the Talmud. At what stage (and why) did it switch from a fluid, oral, 'text' to a written text which was accepted by all of Yisrael?

I think the answer may be something to do with Kairouan and the story of the Four Captives (even though I recognise that the story is probably not a 'true' on - in the sense of having happened as written. But it may allude to a true principle about the Talmud).

As well as Rabbeinu Chananel this shiur mentions Rabbeinu Nissim, and their student, Rav Yitzchak Alfasi.

Also in this shiur - why learning 'Rif Yomi' is possibly more important for you than learning 'daf yomi'. (Though I also know that daf yomi has a lot of advantages that are nothing to do with the learning and the Torah).

Here is the shiur:

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

Rabbeinu Chananel

(Right click and then 'download as')

Rabbeinu Chananel source sheet

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Thoughts on the Anti-Internet Brochure part 2

Rabbi Yosef Veiner wrote the first article in the brochure. It is entitled "Family Security and Issues of Lifnei Iveir". Even though it begins as completely out of touch with reality (in my opinion) I thought he actually made a valid point (albeit one that has been known to any internet savvy people for about 20 years already).

He first tries to scare his reader into giving up the internet altogether:

Rabbeim, rabbanim and community leaders will tell you that not a week goes by without having to deal with an internet-induced shalom bayis problem, chinuch problem, or with a very fine bachur – or at least what’s left of one – who calls crying and begging to help him extricate himself from the tentacles of the internet.

Perhaps that is true in his community. Nobody in my Shul ever came to me crying about those issues, nor in the years I was teaching baalei teshuva in yeshiva or sem. Perhaps they only go to other people and not me, or perhaps this problem affects baalei teshuva less because they better know how to deal with the realities of the world, or perhaps he is exaggerating (or perhaps all three).

He continues:

Ultimately, the best response to the internet remains, and always will remain, not to have any access to it. If you don’t need it, then don’t have it. Not at home, not at the office, not on your cell phone and not anywhere else. That is the best security policy of all.

He choses rather a trite example of why someone may think they can't live without the internet:

A case in point: some claim they save $30-$40 per month shopping online rather than going to the mall. That claim is debatable. Many husbands who track their expenditures have told me that the built-in shopping mall at home actually costs a lot more than it saves, because shopping becomes so easy that it encourages over-consumption. But even if the savings were significant, it’s difficult to justify the danger of having the internet at home just for the convenience and possible savings of shopping online.

Firstly, is it so easy to tell a kollel family to spend an extra $30-$40 per month rather than have the internet? That is not an insignificant sum of money for people living off welfare and charity. Secondly, what about the amount of bitul torah it saves. The husband can learn for another 2 hours per week (at least) instead of having to go shopping. That is 2 hours x infinite reward - surely a good deal. Thirdly, if the husband goes shopping, how can he ensure that he won't see any women who are dressed inappropriately? There are no filters in supermarkets. It seems to me that shopping online has a lot of advantages apart fromo jsut the money. (Of course you could answer that only women go shopping anyway. The husband's job is just to track the expenses, but not to leave the Beis HaMidrash. A husband like this won't ever be at home to look at the internet anyway, so he doesn't need this brochure).

But more importantly, I doubt that when people say they need the internet they are referring to online shopping. There are many things that can't be done without the internet, from paying bills, to finding educational ideas for children or schools, communicating with out of town family members etc etc etc. This is why people have internet. And it is becoming more and more difficult to get along in the world without internet.

Veiner agrees that we should not waste time, but should be learning Torah, he just thinks that the internet takes away from Torah learning time, rather than adds to it (which he may be right about, or may be wrong - it depends on how the internet is used).

It should be obvious that as frum yidden we must realize that our job in life is to utilize all the precious time given to us for the avodas Hashem that we were created to do.

I agree that parents should try to supervise their chidren. It is also difficult to know where your kids are, and which friends they are spending time with, and what they are doing there. We always try to make sure there are responsible adults around at any home where our friends are visiting. But I find this paragraph very scary - Big Brother is watching. You have a requirement to snoop into everyone else's business, and if you are in doubt you must ban your children from going to their homes. I suppose 'dan le-kaf z-chut' is another casualty of the internet.

The reality today is that part of your job as a parent is to make sure you know which houses are protected from the internet and which are not. It is a very delicate issue, and it can cause bad feelings, but if you are not willing to check into what your child’s friends can expose your child to, you are not doing your job as a parent. If you are in doubt, then it’s better to err on the side of caution. When you consider the grave damage
that can be done to your child in seconds, you will probably agree that it is better to disassociate from those who are willing to take a risk, rather than have your child caught in the “Net.”

Then he accidentally makes a very important point - perhaps the most important point of the whole article. It is important for teenage boys and girls to know that it is normal for them to have hormones, and for their bodies to want to do things that their minds don't want them to do. This is an issue that is ignored by many schools and yeshivot. Kids don't know what is normal and what is abnormal. They feel alone and begin to worry about being insane. If only every Rosh Yeshiva or head of a sem would explain to the teenagers that it is normal, there are nisyonos, and sometimes people fail.

This boy explained that when he started failing in this area, he sank into a deep depression, certain that he was depraved and that no one else was struggling with this desire. Once I explained that it was normal, he felt that he could deal with it.

This next paragraph is just embarrassing. Imagine that! Non-Jews don't want their kids watching porn either! How come they never had an internet Asifa? Since non-Jews haven't banned the internet, they have tried to use it wisely. Which is what most Jews have been doing to. Yet Aguda still proclaims that Chareidi Jews should be a beacon to the world in their stance on internet.

Interestingly, many well-meaning non-Jews realize that the moral fabric of this country is decaying because of the terrible impact of the internet, and they are inventing software to combat the problem. So concerned are they about the problem that they are making their software available for free or for a nominal fee of $10 or $20 a month – a small price to pay when we realize what is at stake.

(Obviously if the non-Jews are filtering the internet for free it makes it much more difficult for Chareidim to make money off their internet filtering system. So there will have to be some invented reason why non-jewish filters are treif and you must get one approved by all the Gedolim. In fairness to Rav Veiner he provides a list of useful sites and filters at the end of his article - none of them Jewish!)

Rav Veiner speaks about the importance of filters. Then he has another suggestion. Tracking software. I have never used this, but it seems to me like a good idea. Especially as filters are not all that brilliant (though they are better than nothing). Knowing that there is someone watching (apart from G-d) is a good thing, and is the meaning of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai's blessing to his students "May your fear of Heaven be as great as your fear of other people."

Reporting software can track anything on your computer, down to each keystroke and click of the mouse if you set it up to do so. Its most important function, however, is to track website visits and searches. The software then generates a report and sends it to you and someone else via email. It is imperative that you send the report to someone who you will have difficulty facing if the report is unfavorable – a chavrusa, a Rebbi, or a rav.
I have made the following offer in public, and it stands for anyone reading this essay: if you cannot find someone with whom you are uncomfortable enough to send the reports to, I am
willing to read your reports, as long as you are willing to accept some warm divrei mussar if I find something troublesome on a report.

At first this made me laugh. After all his protesting and forbidding and banning it turns out that Rav Veiner himself uses the internet. If nothing else he checks his e-mails every morning! I thought it was assur according to him!
But then I realised that finally they are doing something right. The organisers of the Asifa asked someone to write an article who actually knows what an internet is! He is writing as someone who knows the many benefits and many difficulties that the internet brings into a home. He is not like some Rabbis who assume it must be treif and assur because Moshe Rabbeinu didn't permit it.
My only real question is - why not admit from the beginning of the article that the internet is a reality of the modern world. Just like all new technology it must be used wisely. It is a pity that Rabbis are still pretending it is automatically assur, and their students are tweeting about their p'sak.

To finish - here is the list of software that Rav Veiner mentions:

Jnet – filter for computer, Blackberry and
other mobile devices
Eblaster – very thorough reporting system:
Accountable2you (free)
WebSense – an enterprise level product if you run a medium size business or larger

For a rundown on these and other filter programs, see internet-filter-review.

Rabbi Yitzchak Yisraeli

I gave a shiur last night about Rabbi Yitzchak (ben Shlomo) Yisraeli. He is possibly the first Rishon (because he was a contemporary of Rav Saadiah Gaon, so he is really before the era of the Rishonim. He also lived to the age of 100, so he really spanned the transition from Gaonim to Rishonim (832-932).

The reason I have started giving a series on history is not because I know anything about it, but because the Talmud tells us that when we tell over the Torah of someone else their lips move in the grave. In other words, we keep the memory of someone alive through learning about them and what they said. So I have picked a dozen Rishonim that I have never heard of (a couple I hadn't heard about until a few years ago, so that also counts) - people who are never studied in Yeshivot, and have to rely on those outside the Yeshiva to keep them 'alive'.

It is also important for me to understand that Jewish 'hashkafa' has changed radically throughout the ages, based on time, place and temperament of each Rabbi. Unlike halacha, there is no 'psak' or even 'masorah' of hashkafa. Therefore we see that the Aristotelians argued with the Platonists, and they both argued with the Neoplatonists etc.

Yitzchak Yisraeli was one of the most respected philosophers and doctors in the medieval world. His books were still being used 500 years later! He is cited by many authorities, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

So, here is my attempt at casting a bit of light on this unknown (to me) historical figure, his influence and thought. As you will hear from the shiur, neither history nor philosophy are my strong points. If anyone can correct me (or better still - point me in the direction of a book which will explain neoplatonism and the differences between that and Aristoteliansim) I would very much appreciate it.

Here is the shiur:

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

Rabbi Yitzchak Yisraeli

(Right click and then 'download as')

Rabbi Yitzchak Yisraeli source sheet

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Some First Thoughts on the Anti-Internet Brochure

Failed Messiah has posted a link to the brochure that was given out at Citi-Field during the 'Asifa'. It is 100 pages, and even with the big letters I doubt I will be able to read it all at once (unlike those who attended the Asifa I don't have the luxury of 7 hours to spend thinking about this issue).

I know I have blogged a lot about the Asifa, but to me it seems a watershed moment in the modern history of Orthodox Judaism. Sunday was the day when it was made clear to everyone in the world, Jewish and not, that the Orthodox leadership (or the askanim who control them) are completely out of touch with the reality around them. After Sunday, no intelligent person will ever do something because 'the Gedolim said so'.

So, here are some first thoughts:

The introduction begins with the following words:
Welcome to what promises to be the most momentous evening of your life!

Even without the exclamation mark that would be a preposterous statement. But it makes me smile that some people can think that the highlight of their lives will be to sit in a stadium and listen to Rabbis speaking in Yiddish. ;-)

It is no coincidence that Klal Yisrael has gathered as one to unite in facing the challenges of modern technology at precisely this moment.

The theme of 'unity' and 'all of Klal Yisrael' is repeated several more times. To me this is classic 'sinat chinam'. Anyone who did not attend (because they were not allotted tickets, or because they had better things to do, or because they are a woman) is not part of Klal Yisrael. There were apparently 40,000 people at this gathering. According to wikipedia there were approximately 13.4 million Jews in the world in 2010. Even allowing for different ways of counting, that means that approximately 0.3% of the world's Jews attended the rally. Apparently for some people that is considered Klal Yisrael.

When Moshe led Klal Yisrael out of Egypt he took 20% with him. The Gedolim seem to be happy to lead 0.3% and to consider anyone else as not part of Klal Yisrael. From what I have heard this theme was also repeated by the speakers as well.

Sinat Chinam is saying that a group of Jews who are different to me are not part of Klal Yisrael. Perhaps they should have held this Asifa before Tisha B'Av instead of before Shavuot, when ALL the Jews stood at Har Sinai (even the sinners and the idolaters).

Also, this Asifa was planned (months in advance) to be on Yom Yerushalayim. I know that Yom Yerushalayim is modern 'Zionistic' festival, and therefore of no concern to us (which is the reason that was lost Yerushalayim the first time). But to ignore all those who do celebrate, and make no mention of this miracle at such a gathering is not only a chilul Hashem, but also ammunition for those who say that Jews have no rights to the city of Jerusalem and it is not important to Judaism. For 40,000 men to gather and forget to mention Jerusalem's liberation is not only a denial of miracles, and rejecting the kindness that G-d has done for us, but also can be used by our enemies to show that even 'Klal Yisrael' doesn't care about Jerusalem.

It must be made clear before we introduce the various solutions that will be offered for the internet, such as filters and blocks, that these are not true “solutions.” they do not solve the internet problem. the only real “solution” is to ban all access to the internet. And that, in fact, is what each of us who can do so must do.

This was the real message of the night. There can be no retraction of the position of the Gedolim that the internet is treif. There is no chance of seeing the benefits and opportunities it opens up both for learning and teaching Torah, and for earning parnassah. Ultimately it is treif.

The Church has a similar reaction when the printing press became widespread. Everyone had access to information, and the Church lost their monopoly on knowledge. The Dark Ages came to an end with Guttenberg, and it ultimately led to Martin Luther.

I'm not sure why the Gedolim insist that the internet is treif. Technology can be no more treif than it can be kosher. It is a tool which is used by people who have free choice. Unlike television, which provides content (and gives limited choice), with the internet each person can decide for him or herself what to use it for.

Do they not realise that at the Asifa itself a large number of people were using the internet to tweet, blog, and other things? How can the Gedolim (i.e. Askanim) continue to make decrees that the community cannot hold by?

More thoughts later. But I firmly believe that this anti-internet document will be used by future generations as the landmark when the era of Gedolim ended and a new era began (I'm not sure what that new era will be - I look forward to finding out).

Sunday, May 20, 2012

New Look

I've changed the template of my blog - mainly because blogger has been telling me to do it for a long time, and partly to avoid doing more serious work.

Please let me know if it works for you, on your computer, and most of all, whether it looks better on your smart phone now.

I don't really like the new editor at all, but I'm stuck with that now. It seems to me that google took a great format and made it worse in every way (not only with blogger, but with gmail as well).

I think that you can now choose how you view the blog by clicking the top left corner. I've tried all the options (another excuse not to do work). Please let me know if it works for you.

Apart from that - Chag Sameach for Yom Yerushalayim. (and now I'd better actually go and do some work).

Can Yerushalayim be saved again?

This is kind of a Yom Yerushalayim post, and kind of because of the chareidi nonsense going on in America today with the 'internet asifa' which highlights to me how messed up the whole system is.

The Talmud (Gitin 56a-b) speaks about the fall of Yerushalayim in the year 70, and how Rabbi Yochanan came to Vespasian and asked him to save Yavne:

Abba Sikra the head of the biryoni in Jerusalem was the son of the sister of Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai. [The latter] sent to him saying, Come to visit me privately. When he came he said to him, How long are you going to carry on in this way and kill all the people with starvation? He replied: What can I do? If I say a word to them, they will kill me. He said: Devise some plan for me to escape. Perhaps I shall be able to save a little. He said to him: Pretend to be ill, and let everyone come to inquire about you. Bring something evil smelling and put it by you so that they will say you are dead. Let then your disciples get under your bed, but no others, so that they shall not notice that you are still light, since they know that a living being is lighter than a corpse. He did so, and R. Eliezer went under the bier from one side and R. Joshua from the other. When they reached the door, some men wanted to put a lance through the bier. He said to them: Shall [the Romans] say. They have pierced their Master? They wanted to give it a push. He said to them: Shall they say that they pushed their Master? They opened a town gate for him and he got out.

When he reached the Romans he said, Peace to you, O king, peace to you, O king. He [Vespasian] said: Your life is forfeit on two counts, one because I am not a king and you call me king, and again, if I am a king, why did you not come to me before now? He replied: As for your saying that you are not a king, in truth you are a king, since if you were not a king Jerusalem would not be delivered into your hand, as it is written, And Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one. 'Mighty one' [is an epithet] applied only to a king, as it is written, And their mighty one shall be of themselves etc.; and Lebanon refers to the Sanctuary, as it says, This goodly mountain and Lebanon. As for your question, why if you are a king, I did not come to you till now, the answer is that the biryoni among us did not let me. He said to him; If there is a jar of honey round which a serpent is wound, would they not break the jar to get rid of the serpent? He could give no answer. R. Joseph, or as some say R. Akiba, applied to him the verse, [God] turneth wise men backward and maketh their knowledge foolish. He ought to have said to him: We take a pair of tongs and grip the snake and kill it, and leave the jar intact.

Even while Yerushalayim was under seige by the Romans, the kanaim were trying to destroy the city from within, rebelling against the Rabbis (while still ostensibly respecting them). In the end the greatest of the Gedolim was forced to hide in a coffin to escape from all the askanim around him!

There was a fundamental argument between Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and Rabbi Akiva (though Rabbi Akiva was two generations later and not the leader at the time of the churban). Was it possible to remove the kannaim from the city, or did the whole city including the Beit HaMikdash have to be destroyed and start again from scratch in Yavne?

Rabbi Yochanan who was there at the time was forced to concede that despite his best efforts at changing things from within, there was no hope for Jerusalem. The only way forward for Judaism was to destroy everything and start again. The only way to get rid of the snake was to destroy the jar.

Rabbi Akiva claimed it was possible to remove the evil people from the city without destroying everything. He thought that change could be effected in a way that would remove the kannaim from their positions of power, without destroying the entire fabric of Judaism.

I heard Rav Binyamin Lau speak the other night (more on that later) and he said that perhaps Rabbi Yochanan's final words on his deathbed show that he was never sure whether he acted correctly or not:

When Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai fell ill, his disciples went in to visit him. When he saw them he began to weep. His disciples said to him: Lamp of Israel, pillar of the right hand, mighty hammer! Wherefore weepest thou? He replied: If I were being taken today before a human king who is here today and tomorrow in the grave, whose anger if he is angry with me does not last for ever, who if he imprisons me does not imprison me for ever and who if he puts me to death does not put me to everlasting death, and whom I can persuade with words and bribe with money, even so I would weep. Now that I am being taken before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, who lives and endures for ever and ever, whose anger, if He is angry with me, is an everlasting anger, who if He imprisons me imprisons me for ever, who if He puts me to death puts me to death for ever, and whom I cannot persuade with words or bribe with money — nay more, when there are two ways before me, one leading to Paradise and the other to Gehinnom, and I do not know by which I shall be taken, shall I not weep?

(Berachot 28b)

Why did he not know whether he would be going to heaven or to hell? Did he not save Judaism? Rav Lau suggested that perhaps he was never sure whether he did the right thing in abandoning Jerusalem.

Today the Chareidi world is at a crossroads. The artificial system of full time learning for all which was made possible by the kindness of the Israeli government and the kindness and wealth of (primarily) American benefactors, is about to come to an end. The money is running out, and people are more careful about where their money goes. Israel has finally had enough of being abused by the Chareidi leadership, and now wants everyone to do their fair share. This is in addition to the huge number of criminal activities happening in the Chareidi world, and the number of arrests/chillul Hashem that results. Whether it is money laundering, or claiming government money for imaginary yeshiva students, whether it is child abuse, failure to report to the authorities, or just plain violence and destruction.

The 'Temple' that was the vision of the Chazon Ish for the rebuilding of Judaism after the holocaust is on the brink of destruction. The only question is: Can the snakes be removed with tongs, or must the entire jar be smashed?

I tried hard to believe like Rabbi Akiva that the system could be changed from within. I wanted to be part of that movement for change, to let Chareidi Judaism shine a beacon for all Jews, and reach out to all. Instead I have unfortunately come to the conclusion that it cannot be saved. I have escaped to my personal Yavne (aka Nof Zion) to try and rebuild my personal connection to G-d. And I hope that Rabbi Akiva will be proven correct in this case.

How I long to say the words from the end of Makkot (24b): "Akiva, you have comforted us, Akiva, you have comforted us!"

Kosher Internet - cynicism =truth

Every time I am at my most cynical about the Chareidi community I REALLY hope that I am going over the top and will be shown to be a fool. Because every time that I find myself to be correct I end up becoming more and more cynical!

Today is the 'asifa' in Citi-Field where tens of thousands of Chareidim will gather to hear chidushim that the rest of the world has already known for years (When Rabbi Yehoshua said "There is no Beit Midrash without a chidush" (Chagiga 3a) he presumably was specifically excluding events orgaised by 'askanim' in sports grounds, which clearly can be without any chidush).

Five months ago I wrote that:

My hunch is that it won't take long for the posters to go up offering exclusive 'kosher' internet access. This will obviously have some kind of label so that it is clear to everyone in the world who is using the 'approved' version and who isn't. After a few weeks Haredi magazines and newspapers will ban advertisements from anyone not using the approved 'kosher' internet. And at the end of it will be a small 'committee' - working for the good of the community, who will be making lots of money out of this.

Those of you who have been reading some of the blogs will know that the whole event is simply a money making exercise (not for an organisation, but) for a single individual called Nechemia Gottlieb. He is using the event to marry of his children.

And now, on the day of the Asifa Rav Chaim Kanievsky has written a letter, posted on Yeshiva World News:

ובעזה"י יסדרו במשך הזמן אינטרנט כשר אם ישתדלו בזה הרבה ויהיק סייעתא דשמיא, וחובה להשתמש בזה

With the help of G-d with the passage of time they will arrange for a kosher internet if they work very hard at it. May they receive help from Heaven. It is an obligation to use this!
It is almost as if he has recanted his previous position that the internet is COMPLETELY forbidden (many schools made people sign forms agreeing that they will not use internet at all before agreeing to accept their children in the school). It also seems as though he has never heard of the many internet filters already available (some 'kosher' (i.e. made for Jews specifically) and some just plain filters for use by sensible people who want to limit what they (or their children) see on the screen.

I have had the internet in the house since we moved to Edinburgh in 1996. We have had a filter on our internet since we first got it in 1996. (It was not very sophisticated, but neither was the internet back then). Everyone I know has some kind of internet filter.

The Gedolim are truly great in their Torah knowledge. They have dedicated their lives to learning and teaching Torah. Yet 'askanim', for their own purposes, make these Gedolim seem most stupid than your average 'man in the street' (not to exclude women, but I couldn't afford to build a mechitza on my blog). It truly makes me sad and upset to see such a perversion of Torah for the sake of making a few bucks.

Please make sure that your internet has a filter on it (I'm sure it does already). Please also make sure that you know that no filter is perfect (far from it). It excludes things that should be included, and includes things that must be excluded). If you don't have an internet filter, do a search and find one. There are free ones and pay ones and many other options.

Please do not cave in to Chareidi extremism and believe that only the one with the hechsher is kosher.

And to the 'askanim' - PLEASE LEAVE THE GEDOLIM ALONE! It is bad for my cynicism!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Science and Chazal - three approaches

No chidushim in this post, but just another interesting example of different approaches to aggadata.

I was learning Ein Yaakov with my daughter on Shabbat, and we came to the passage in Yoma 20b that speaks about the noise that the sun makes as it travels across the sky during the day:

ת"ר אלמלא גלגל חמה נשמע קול המונה של רומי ואלמלא קול המונה של רומי נשמע קול גלגל חמה

Our Rabbis taught: Were it not for the sound of the revolution of the sun, the sound of the tumult of Rome would be heard; and were it not for the sound of the tumult of Rome, the sound of the revolution of the sun would be heard.

The footnote in Soncino sends me to Otzar HaGeonim which understands this literally:

ת״ר שלש קולות הולכין מסוף העולם ועד סופו וכו׳ וי״א אף רידייא. בשלשה שקולן הולך וכול׳ אף רידיא. ועכשיו יש בבבל קול שנשמע מתוך אגמים וחר יצים שלמים וקול קשה הוא ואומר י ן זה קול ר י ד יא. ואף הישמעאלים כך קו ר י ן אותו ר י ד יא, ואין נשמע אלא מחדש איאר ולהלן כל ימי קציר.

‘There is a voice heard now in Babylon, sounding from pools, and connected trenches, a harsh voice, which is ascribed to Ridya. Thus also do the Ishmaelites (Muslim Arabs) call it. It sounds from the month of Iyar through the harvest’.

Clearly the Geonim thought that this sound was an actual sound and could be heard. It was not a metaphor or a simile, but a scientific, empirical fact.

On the other hand, Maharal (Be'er HaGolah p. 115) understands it metaphorically (or perhaps allegorically). I'm not going to translate all of it (because I don't have time now), but you can read the Hebrew at the end of this post. Basically he says that the 'sound' refers to the dominion of the sun in the heavens, and the 'sound' of Rome refers to their dominion on earth. He ends with the following words:

ולמי שלא ידע דברינו אלו אשר אמרגו בכאן בקול גלגל המה וקול המונה של מלכות, מסתפק בדבריהם אשר אמרגו, אבל מי שידע מוצא דברי הכמים ומקור שלהם ומאחה מקום מגה יצאו דברים אלו אין ספק אליו באמתת דברים:

Someone who does not know these words of ours that we have said regarding the sound of the revolution of the sun and the sound of the tumult of Rome will be in doubt about the things we have said. But for someone who knows the meaning of the words of the Sages and their source, and from where they derived their opinions, there is no doubt as to the truth of these words.

It seems that Maharal understood that the science of his time did not match up with the statement of Chazal. therefore he claims that anyone who does not understand it allegorically will think that Chazal erred. This is a mistake (in his opinion) because Chazal are citing from an (unnamed) source which is reliable and true.

And on the third hand (if such a thing exists) there is the opinion of Rambam (Guide for the Perplexed II:8). He accepts that Chazal meant it literally, and claims that this was the prevalent scientific theory of the time. However, because Aristotle rejects the theory of noisy spheres, Rambam rejects the statement of Chazal:

מן הדעות העתיקות הנפוצות אצל הפילוסופים וההדיוטות, שלתנועת הגלגלים קולות גדולים ומפחידים מאוד. הראיה שלהם לזאת היתה שכאשר הגופים הקטנים אשר אצלנו נעים תנועה מהירה, הם משמיעים רעש גדול וצלצול מחריד. קל וחומר גרמי השמש, הירח והכוכבים בכל גודלם ומהירותם. סיעת פיתגורס כולה מאמינה שלהם קולות מהנים הרמוניים, למרות גודלם, כשם שמנגינות המוסיקה הרמוניות. יש להם טעמים מדוע אין שומעים קולות מפחידים וגדולים אלה.
דעה זאת נפוצה בעדתנו גם כן. האינך רואה שהחכמים מתארים את עוצמת קולו של השמש בנועו כל יום בגלגל. וכן מתחייב לגבי הכול.
אך אריסטו מסרב לקבל זאת, והוא מבהיר שאין להם קול. אתה תמצא זאת בספרו "על השמים". משם תבין זאת ולא תחשוב למגונה שדעת אריסטו חולקת על דעת החכמים ז"ל בעניין זה, כי דעה זאת, כלומר שיש להם קולות, נובעת מן האמונה כי גלגל קבוע ומזלות חוזרים5. והרי יודע אתה שהם העדיפו את דעת חכמי אומות העולם על דעתם הם בעניינים אסטרונומיים אלה. זהו שאמרו במפורש: ונצחו חכמי אומות העולם. וזה נכון, כי כל מי שדן בעניינים עיוניים אלה דן בהם על-פי מה שהעיון הביא אליו, ולכן מאמין במה שהוכחתו המופתית נכונה.

(I know that the Freidlander translation is not very good. The Pines edition
is a much better English translation, but I can't be bothered typing it out, and this one is freely available on the internet.

IT is one of the ancient beliefs, both among the philosophers and other people, that the motions of the spheres produced mighty and fearful sounds. They observed how little objects produced by rapid motion a loud, shrilling, and terrifying noise, and concluded that this must to a far higher degree be the case with the bodies of the sun, the moon and the stars, considering their greatness and their velocity. The Pythagoreans believed that the sounds were pleasant, and, though loud, had the same proportions to each other as the musical notes. They also explained why these mighty and tremendous sounds are not heard by us. This belief is also widespread in our nation. Thus our Sages describe the greatness of the sound produced by the sun in the daily circuit in its orbit. The same description could be given of all heavenly bodies. Aristotle, however, rejects this, and holds that they produce no sounds. You will find his opinion in the book The Heavens and the World (De Cœlo). You must not find it strange that Aristotle differs here from the opinion of our Sages. The theory of the music of the spheres is connected with the theory of the motion of the stars in a fixed sphere, and our Sages have, in this astronomical question, abandoned their own theory in favour of the theory of others. Thus, it is distinctly stated, "The wise men of other nations have defeated the wise men of Israel." It is quite right that our Sages have abandoned their own theory: for speculative matters every one treats according to the results of his own study, and every one accepts that which appears to him established by proof.

These are three 'traditional Jewish' approaches to the conflict of Torah and science. Decide for yourself (or ask your local Godol) which is the 'correct' one for you for today.

Here is the Maharal in its entirety:

ואומדים כי דעת חכמים שהחמה קורע הרקיע שחוא גלגל חמה, והתר הרקיע לחחחבר, ולמחר חתר לגסר אותו. וגם זה כמו שאר דברים שאומרים עליה ואילו היה דעתם כך, היו אומרים החמה מנסר בגלגל. אבל כבר אמרנו לך למעלה, כי אין שם הרקיע נופל רק על התחלת העולם המבדיל בין עליונים ותחתונים. ומה שאמר כאן בי החמה מנסר ברקיע, דע כי באו להודיע בזה עניין החמה ומהותה, כי היא מיוחדת מושלת בתחתונים. ומפני זה אמרו שהחמה מנסר ברקיע, כי דבר שהוא מושל על דבר פועל בדבר ומבטל אותו כי אין להם חבור ביחד. וכבר אמרנו לך, כי הרקיע הזה הוא התחלת התחתונים ואין הרקיע הזה הוא הגלגל, ומפני כי הרקיע הזה מבדיל בין עליונים ותהתונים, ועל זה אמר כי תנועת החמה מנסר ברקיע, שכל מנסר מבטל ומסלק הדבר שחוא מנסר בו. ולכך אמר חגרא דיומא לא שמי ר״ל שמנסר החמה ופועלת ברקיע, עד שיש כאן בהינה מה ברקיע שהוא ללא לגמרי במקום שהחמה מנסר. ואין דומה לשאר מנסר אשר איש מנסר הדבר לגמרי ומבטל אותו, אבל זה מבטל אוחו לגמרי ולכך נקראו הנסורת לא. ומביא ראיה דכתיב וכל דיירי ארעא כלא השיבין, אבל הב״ף מורה שיש דבר שהוא לא, ודבר זה מה שהחמה פועלת ברקיע, דבר זח נחשב לא כמו שהתבאר. ולפי גודל הפעל שהיא פועלת בעולם ובזה אין בעולם השקט והנהה מכח חמה שהיא פועלת, ולכך בשביל זה אין קולו של אדם נשמע מפני הוזמה שמנסרת ברקיע, ר״ל גודל הפעולה שהחמה פועלת בעולם על ידי תנועת החמה. והמבין יבין, שכל הדברים הנאמרים כאן הם ברורים בכל הדברים האלו באין ספק כלל, ויורה זה המאמר שאחריו:

תנו רבנן אלמלא קול גלגל חמה היה נשמע קול המונה של מלכות רביעית ואלמלא קול של מלכות רביעית נשמע קול גלגל המה. וגם דברים אלו נראים זרים ורחוקים מאוד. ובאור עניין זה, כי החמה יש לה ממשלה ומלכיה בעולם התחתון, ותנועתה ברקיע השמים הוא יציאת כח שלה אל הפועל, והוא קול החמה כמו שהתבאר לי׳וי זה, לא קול ממש שהרי כתיב בלי נשמע קולם, רק כי הקול שנאמר בא; ר״ל כח פעל של החמה כמו שהתבאר לפני זד- ומלכות רביעית גם כן יש לה ממשלה והתגברות המלכות בעולם, וזד גם כן קול מלכות רביעית. ואומר קול המונה של מלכות רביעית, כי רבוי הממשלה שלהם זהו תוקפם וכהם ויתבאר זה אח״כ, הרי כי שניהם יש להם ענין אהד משותפים הוא הממשלה בעולם. ולפיכך אמר אילו לא היה קול תוקף מלכות רביעית, הי׳ נמצא בפעל לגמרי תוקף ההמה יותר ממה שנמצא עתה, והמונע הזה הוא כה מלכות רביעית, שכל דבר שיש לו משתתף עמו, כי החמה ג״כ יש לה כת מלכות וממשלה ותוקף בעולם וימצא משתתף עמו הוא ממשלת מלטת רביעית, ובשביל כך לא נמצא כח אחד בפעל לגמרי בשביל הדבר המשתתף עמו, כי שניהם הם מושלים בעולם ואין שגי מלכים משתמשים בכתר אחד, לכך אין אחד מהם נמצא בפעל לגמרי והשני מבטל כחו עד שאין כחו בפעל לגמרי. וזה שאמר אלמלא קול המונה של מלכות רביעית היה נשמע קול גלגל חמד- פי׳ אם לא היה כה פועל של מלכות רביעית שנתן אל מלכות רביעית כח פעל, היה נמצא בפעל כה ממשלת החמה בתהתונים. וזה נקרא קול גלגל חמד- כי הקול הוא כאשר הדבר יוצא אל הפעל כי הקול יוצא אל הפעל, ועתה שיש כאן דבר משתתף הוא מונע ומבטל כה השני שלא יצא אל הפעל כהו. לכך כה ותוקף מלכות רביעית בעולם, חוא שמונע שלא ימצא כח ותוקף החמה בפעל לגמרי. וכן אם לא היה קול גלגל חמה שיש לו כח יוצא אל הפועל, היה נשמע קול של מלכות רביעית שהיה כח ותוקף של מלכות רביעית נמצא בפעל לגמרי, עד שלא היה אפשר לבריות לקבל חכח הגדול אשר יש לוע ואתה אל תטעה לומר, מה שאמרו כאן אלמלא קול המונה של מלכות רביעית שהכוונה הוא על האומה, שא׳׳כ היה ראוי להיות נשמע קול גלגל חמה קודם שעמדה מלכות רביעית. אבל הכוונה על כח מלכות רביעית והכנה שלה שהיה מעולם, כי כח של אומה זאת כח ההכנה שלה היה מיום שנבוא העולם, וזה ממעט כח ילגל חמה. ,כן כח גלגל חמה ממעט מכח הכנה של מלבות רביעית כי שניהם יש להם כח מלכות, ומפני כי שניהם יש להם כח מלכות והם משתתפים בכח אחד ממעטים זה מזה. והרי מזה תבין כי מה שאמרו חכמים בענין הקול במקום הזה, כי אינו קול מוחש, אבל קול הזה הוא הכח שיוצא אל הפעל והוא עניץ קול הזד- ולמי שלא ידע דברינו אלו אשר אמרגו בכאן בקול גלגל המה וקול המונה של מלכות, מסתפק בדבריהם אשר אמרגו, אבל מי שידע מוצא דברי הכמים ומקור שלהם ומאחה מקום מגה יצאו דברים אלו אין ספק אליו באמתת דברים:

Friday, May 11, 2012

What have the British ever done for us?

There is a great scene in 'The Life of Brian' (don't watch the whole movie - not tzanuah in one scene) were they are discussing "What have the Romans ever done for us?"

Without wishing to minimize the comedy of that scene, or the seriousness of the gemara, I am reminded of this scene every time I learn the gemara about Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Yossi (Shabbat 33b)

Now, why is he [R. Judah son of R. Ila'i] called the first speaker on all occasions? — For R. Judah, R. Jose, and R. Simeon were sitting, and Judah, a son of proselytes, was sitting near them. R. Judah commenced [the discussion] by observing, 'How fine are the works of this people [the Romans]! They have made streets, they have built bridges, they have erected baths.' R. Jose was silent. R. Simeon b. Yohai answered and said, 'All that they made they made for themselves; they built market-places, to set harlots in them; baths, to rejuvenate themselves; bridges, to levy tolls for them.' Now, Judah the son of proselytes went and related their talk, which reached the government. They decreed: Judah, who exalted [us], shall be exalted, Jose, who was silent, shall be exiled to Sepphoris; Simeon, who censured, let him be executed.

On Lag ba-Omer I heard a certain Rav gave a short d'var Torah, in which he said (amongst other things) that in the time of the British Mandate some people wanted to show hakarat hatov to the British for everything they had done in this country - roads, cities, post offices etc.

The Rav (who will remain unnamed) claimed that when Rav Kook was asked to thank the British after the Balfour declaration he refused to show hakarat hatov, and instead blessed the British that they should merit to be partners in the true redemption. Apparently Rav Kook held that the British were only acting for their own itnerests, and therefore there was no requirement to show gratitude, because they were not doing anything for the Jewish people.

As I said (quietly) to my daughter at the time "that's not right!" I don't know what Rav Kook said, but I firmly believe that there is an obligation of hakarat hatov even if that tov is done for alterier motives. Furthermore, both the first and second Batei haMikdash (plus the attempt to build the third Beit HaMikdash in the time of Julian) were all funded by non-Jews who were probably acting mainly for their own personal interests. Yet we show gratitude to both Hiram and Koresh (Cyrus) - and presumably would have to Julian had he not died soon after the attempt failed)

Furthermore, even though the British never carried through in their promises regarding the Jewish homeland, I think it is fair to say that there would never have been a Jewish state in Israel were it not for the Balfour declaration. And there would be almost no Jews left in the world were it not for the British (and commonwealth, and later the Americans) fighting the Nazis and the axis in WWII.

I don't have time now to search for the proper source for Rav Kook, but I did a quick google search, and it seems to me that he didn't even say what he was accused of saying. It looks as though he in fact DID thank the British after the Balfour declaration:

After the Balfour Declaration was passed in 1917, the Jewish leaders held a large celebratory banquet in London, to which they invited lords, dignitaries, and members of Parliament. Speech after speech by Jewish communal and Zionist leaders thanked the British for their historic act. When Rav Kook was given the honor of speaking, he announced:

"I have come not only to thank the British nation, but even more, to congratulate it for the privilege of making this declaration. The Jewish nation is the 'scholar' among the nations, the 'people of the Book,' a nation of prophets; and it is a great honor for any nation to aid it. I bless the British nation for having extended such honorable aid to the people of the Torah, so that they may return to their land and renew their homeland."

If that is a correct quote from him, then the Rav I heard actually distorted the words of Rav Kook in order to teach the message that we should not have hakarat hatov. If someone finds the real quote from Rav Kook please let me know so that I can check what he ACTUALLY said.

I know I am biased, because I am a big fan of the British monarchy (blame my mother and grandmother for that), but I think even Israelis should have hakarat hatov for everything they have done (as well as the British governments of the past century). If nothing else, I think that British people are able to accept the concept of G-d as King much more than Americans who only have a President.

Having said that, sometimes the members of the Royal Family do not exactly act in a way that is representative of G-d or majesty. But I love them for that too.

If for nothing else, we should be grateful that the British Monarchy gave us the Prince of Wales who has a fantastic accent, and a sense of humour (he seems to have become so much more human since he married his childhood sweetheart).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Chief Rabbi Hertz on Aggadata

I found this section on Aggadata in the Introduction to Nezikin in the Soncino Talmud. It is by Chief Rabbi J. H. Hertz and is clearly written to remove any charges of anti-Christian sentiment from the Talmud (if you read the entire piece it is clear that is a major issue for him - this was the first time that the entire Talmud was translated into English).

But it is still shocking to see what he writes - I suspect that if a Chief Rabbi today would claim that Aggadata is simply "beautiful old stories" or that "certain Jewish commentators are fools" they would get in trouble.

But Chief Rabbi Hertz was the Chief Rabbi during the period from before WWI until just after WWII. Times were different. The challenges and issues facing Jewry, and the levels of anti-semitism were entirely different. And he felt that this type of approach was the most effective one.

The Talmud itself classifies its component elements either as Halachah or Haggadah. Emanuel Deutsch describes the one as emanating from the brain, the other from the heart; the one prose, the other poetry; the one carrying with it all those mental faculties that manifest themselves in arguing, investigating, comparing, developing: the other springing from the realms of fancy, of imagination, feeling, humour:

Beautiful old stories,
Tales of angels, fairy legends,
Stilly histories of martyrs,
Festal songs and words of wisdom;
Hyperboles, most quaint it may be,
Yet replete with strength and fire
And faith-how they gleam,
And glow and glitter!
as Heine has it.

Halachah, as we have seen, means ‘the trodden path’, rule of life, religious guidance. To it belong all laws and regulations that bear upon Jewish conduct. These include the ritual, the civil, criminal, and ethical laws. Everything else is embraced under the term Haggadah; literally, ‘talk’, ‘that which is narrated’, ‘delivered in a discourse’. This again can he subdivided into various groups. We have dogmatical Haggadah, treating of God’s attributes and providence, creation, revelation, Messianic times, and the Hereafter. The historical Haggadah brings traditions and legends concerning the heroes and events in national or universal history, from Adam to Alexander of Macedon, Titus and Hadrian. It is legend pure and simple. Its aim is not so much to give the facts concerning the righteous and unrighteous makers of history. as the moral that may be pointed from the tales that adorn their honour or dishonour. That some of the folklore element in the Haggadah, some of the customs depicted or obiter dicta reported. are repugnant to Western taste need not be denied. ‘The greatest fault to be found with those who wrote down such passages. says Schechter, ‘is that they did not observe the wise rule of Dr Johnson who said to Boswell on a certain occasion, “Let us get serious, for there conies a fool”. And the fools unfortunately did come, in the shape of certain Jewish commentators and Christian controversialists, who took as serious things which were only the expression of a momentary impulse. or represented the opinion of sonic isolated individual, or were meant simply as a piece of humorous by-play, calculated to enliven the interest of a languid audience.’ In spite of the fact that the Haggadah contains parables of infinite beauty and enshrines sayings of eternal worth, it must be remembered that the Haggadah consists of mere individual utterances that possess no general and binding authority.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Lag Ba-Omer

None of the reasons for celebrating Lag Ba-Omer really make any sense to me. It is not the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, nor do we normally celebrate yahrzeit's with bonfires and rejoicing (and it is not mentioned in Chazal, Shulchan Aruch or any of the commentaries).

The Talmud (Yevamot 62b) says it is because the students of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying. But if you observe mourning in the first part of the Omer, the reason that they stopped dying must be because they were all dead. Not much cause for celebration (if you observe the second part of the Omer, presumably there were more about to die, just none died on the 33rd day of the Omer - still not a compelling reason for all the celebrations).

Chasam Sofer says it is the day that the manna began to fall in the desert. But that sounds like a reason made up after the fact, and also most people say that the manna began falling on Pesach Sheni.

It may also be connected somehow to the Bar Kochba rebellion. However I have not found any real source to support this theory, and it is all based on conjecture.

Rabbi Daniel Sperber in Why Jews Do What They Do: The History of Jewish Customs Throughout the Cycle of the Jewish Year
shows how many of the mourning practices are connected to the crusades.

The Chida says that the celebration is because that is when Rabbi Akiva began teaching Torah again to the five Rabbis in the south (after the death of the 24,000). That is a good reason.

I think the Arizal says (but if not, I'll say it) that perhaps Lag ba-Omer is the day when Rabbi Akiva gave semicha to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (and Rabbi Meir). That would tie all the pieces together nicely.

Semicha began with Moshe giving Yehoshua 'of his hod' - the midah of 33 is hod she-be-hod.

The only problem (apart from no real basis for what I'm saying) is that it seems to be a matter of dispute between the Bavli and the Yerushalmi as to whether Rabbi Akiva gave semicha to Rashbi, or whether it was Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava.

In the Bavli (Avoda Zara 8b) it says:

אמר רב ברם זכור אותו האיש לטוב ורבי יהודה בן בבא שמו שאלמלא הוא נשתכחו דיני קנסות מישראל נשתכחו לגרסינהו אלא בטלו דיני קנסות מישראל שגזרה מלכות הרשעה <גזרה> {שמד} כל הסומך יהרג וכל הנסמך יהרג ועיר שסומכין בה תחרב ותחום שסומכין בו יעקר מה עשה רבי יהודה בן בבא הלך וישב בין שני הרים גדולים ובין שתי עיירות גדולות בין ב' תחומי שבת בין אושא לשפרעם וסמך שם חמשה זקנים ר"מ ור' יהודה ור' יוסי ור"ש ורבי אלעזר בן שמוע ורב אויא מוסיף אף רבי נחמיה כיון שהכירו בהם אויבים אמר להם בני רוצו אמרו לו רבי ואתה מה תהא עליך אמר להם הריני מוטל לפניהם כאבן שאין לה הופכין אמרו לא זזו משם עד שנעצו לגופו ג' מאות לולניאות של ברזל ועשאוהו לגופו ככברה

Verily that man, R. Judah b. Baba by name, be remembered for good, for were it not for him the laws of fine would have been forgotten in Israel? 'Forgotten'! Surely, they could be studied? — Nay, they would have been abolished; for the wicked Government of Rome issued a decree that he who ordains a Rabbi shall be slain, likewise he who is ordained shall be put to death, the town in which an ordination takes place shall be destroyed and the tehum in which the ordination is held shall be laid waste. What did R. Judah b. Baba do? He went and sat down between two mountains and between two large towns between two tehums, namely, between Usha and Shefar'am and there he ordained five elders: R. Meir, R. Judah [b. Il'ai]. R. Jose, R. Simeon and R. Eleazar b. Shammua (R. Awia adds also R. Nehemiah). On seeing that they were detected by the enemies, he said to them, 'Flee, my children!' but they said to him, 'And you, O Rabbi, what about you?' 'I,' he replied. 'will lie still before them, even as a stone that is not turned.' It was stated that the Romans did not move from there until they drove three hundred iron spears into his body and made his corpse like a sieve!

However, in the Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 6a-b) it says:
א"ר בא בראשונה היה כל אחד ואחד ממנה את תלמידיו כגון רבי יוחנן בן זכיי מינה את רבי ליעזר ואת רבי יהושע ורבי יהושע את רבי עקיבה ורבי עקיבה את רבי מאיר ואת ר"ש. אמר ישב רבי מאיר תחילה נתכרכמו פני ר' שמעון אמר לו רבי עקיבה דייך שאני ובוראך מכירין כוחך.

Rabbi [Ab]Ba said: Originally ever person would appoint [give semicha to] his students. For example Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai appointed Rabbi [E]Liezer and Rabbi Yehoshua. Rabbi Yehoshua to Rabbi Akiva, and Rabbi Akiva to Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Shimon. It is said that Rabbi Meir sat down first. Rabbi Shimon's face became upset. Rabbi Akiva said to him, "It is enough that I and your Creator recognise your strength."

I'm not sure how to resolve the two, but according to the Yerushalmi it makes sense that Lag ba-Omer is the celebration of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Lag Sameach.

Here are some links to previous posts related to Lag Ba-Omer:

Lag Ba-Omer and Semicha

This is a source sheet on reasons for celebrating Lag ba-Omer. I'm sure there is an audio shiur to go with it somewhere, but I can't find it. But I think it is fairly self-explanatory.

Since people seem to get excited by kabbalah on Lag Ba-Omer, here is my translation of the history of the transmission of kabbalah, which is translated from the introduction to Shomer Emunim Ha-Kadmon

Lag Ba-Omer (18th Iyar) may or may not be the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, but it IS the yahrzeit of Rabbi Moshe Isserless (Rema):

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The End of Chareidi Power

This looks to me as though it is the end for the Chareidi parties and their power in the government.

In a surprise move, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced at 2:00am that he is withdrawing the bill for early elections, and instead forming an alliance with Shaul Mofaz and his Kadima party.

This move has been branded 'cowardly', 'dirty' and 'shady' by the left and has made new opposition leader Shelly Yechimovich very angry, but to me it seems a brilliant 'win-win' situation for everyone except the Chareidim and Tommy Lapid.

Bibi wins, because he now has a way out of the dilemma posed to him by the revoking of the Tal law. Before he was unable to do away with the army exemption for Yeshiva boys because he needed the support of the Chareidi parties to keep the government. He was unable to keep the law both because of a High Court ruling, and because Avigdor Lieberman had threatened to vote against the government if they didn't do something about it.
Netanyahu is now on course to become the first Prime Minister in decades (or perhaps ever) to stay in his post for the full term, without early elections.

Shaul Mofaz wins, because if the country had gone to elections he would have been the least popular candidate, and his Kadima party would have gone from being the biggest party in the current Knesset to either third or fourth place, becoming insignificant in the process. Now he become deputy Prime Minister and Minister of something-or-other (technically Minister without portfolio - i.e. he gets the car and the staff, but without having any responsibility). The only downsides for him are that it makes him seem to be a two-faced liar (because 2 months ago he promised he would never join a unity government) and Kadima may completely disappear and be swallowed up by Likud - which is where most of the members came from in the first place.

The country wins, because we don't have to spend millions of shekels on a new election, and the country has more stability than it has had for a long time. Sure, we also lose, because we are stuck with Barak for a while longer (though he won't be able to do very much on his own) and because there is no real opposition any more (the government now consists of 96 out of 120 seats I think - leaving a random assortment of Labour and Arabs in opposition). But we haven't had a serious opposition for the past 3 years anyway. We also win big time because Tommy Lapid had timed his entry into politics perfectly, but now he'll have to wait for a year. A year is a long time in politics, and by then most people may have forgotten all about him.

The leftist parties (i.e. Tommy Lapid) and the right wing parties (National Union) lose because they don't get another chance in the polls right now. on the other hand, there was no guarantee that they would have done any better than they have at the moment, so they did not really lose anything.

BUT the chareidim are going to lose big time. I'm sure in the end some deal will be worked out that will continue to give them army exemptions. But the reality is that by the end of July Kadima and Likud have promised to work out an alternative to the Tal Law which will ensure that everyone does some kind of National Service. The Chareidi parties now have no power in the government, and if they threaten to leave the coalition they are welcome to walk out the door.

The reality is that the biggest WINNERS of all this will be the Chareidim in the long term, because once they do some kind of national service (and it won't necessarily be firing guns or driving around in tanks) they will be able to integrate into Israeli society. They will have the choice to either continue learning Torah full-time, or get a job, or go to higher academic studies, or any combination of those. They will no longer be the bogey-man to the rest of Israeli society, and they will gradually move out of the poverty zone that so many of them live in at the moment.

The rest of the Jewish world will win, because they will not have to give so much money in tzedakah to support the kollelim and chareidi life-style. Instead they will be able to use their charity money to develop Israel and make it even greater than it is already.

I know - this is all wishful thinking right? But sometimes the glass really is half full. And sometimes you just need a new glass.

Book of Vayikra is not about Mishkan

I just wanted to point out something which is very obvious, but often overlooked. The book of Vayikra has nothing to do with the Mishkan!

The Mishkan is described and built in the last 5 parshiyot of Shemot. Shemot ends with the Shechina descending on the Mishkan.

However, in the last few verses of Shemot there is already some confusion as to whether it is actually a Mishkan (Tabernacle) or an Ohel Mo'ed (Tent of Meeting):

וַיְכַס הֶעָנָן, אֶת-אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד; וּכְבוֹד יְהוָה, מָלֵא אֶת-הַמִּשְׁכָּן. וְלֹא-יָכֹל מֹשֶׁה, לָבוֹא אֶל-אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד--כִּי-שָׁכַן עָלָיו, הֶעָנָן; וּכְבוֹד ה', מָלֵא אֶת-הַמִּשְׁכָּן.
וּבְהֵעָלוֹת הֶעָנָן מֵעַל הַמִּשְׁכָּן, יִסְעוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּכֹל, מַסְעֵיהֶם.
וְאִם-לֹא יֵעָלֶה, הֶעָנָן--וְלֹא יִסְעוּ, עַד-יוֹם הֵעָלֹתוֹ. כִּי עֲנַן יְהוָה עַל-הַמִּשְׁכָּן, יוֹמָם, וְאֵשׁ, תִּהְיֶה לַיְלָה בּוֹ--לְעֵינֵי כָל-בֵּית-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּכָל-מַסְעֵיהֶם.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of G-d filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.-- And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward, throughout all their journeys. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up.

(All text and translations from Mechon-Mamre)

'Tent of Meeting' is not a very good translation, because Mo'ed does not mean 'meeting'. It is a word used to mean 'appointed time' and also 'festival'. But I don't have a better translation in this context.

The book of Vayikra is entirely about the Ohel Mo'ed and nothing to do with Mishkan. In fact, the word 'Mishkan' only appears four times in the entire book of Vayikra:

Vayikra 8:10
וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת-שֶׁמֶן הַמִּשְׁחָה, וַיִּמְשַׁח אֶת-הַמִּשְׁכָּן וְאֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ; וַיְקַדֵּשׁ, אֹתָם.

And Moses took the anointing oil, and anointed the tabernacle and all that was therein, and sanctified them.

Vayikra 15:31
וְהִזַּרְתֶּם אֶת-בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִטֻּמְאָתָם; וְלֹא יָמֻתוּ בְּטֻמְאָתָם, בְּטַמְּאָם אֶת-מִשְׁכָּנִי אֲשֶׁר בְּתוֹכָם.

Thus shall ye separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness; that they die not in their uncleanness, when they defile My tabernacle that is in the midst of them.

Vayikra 17:4
אִישׁ אִישׁ, מִבֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁחַט שׁוֹר אוֹ-כֶשֶׂב אוֹ-עֵז, בַּמַּחֲנֶה; אוֹ אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁחַט, מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה. וְאֶל-פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, לֹא הֱבִיאוֹ, לְהַקְרִיב קָרְבָּן לַה', לִפְנֵי מִשְׁכַּן ה'--דָּם יֵחָשֵׁב לָאִישׁ הַהוּא, דָּם שָׁפָךְ, וְנִכְרַת הָאִישׁ הַהוּא, מִקֶּרֶב עַמּוֹ.

What man soever there be of the house of Israel, that killeth an ox, or lamb, or goat, in the camp, or that killeth it without the camp, and hath not brought it unto the door of the tent of meeting, to present it as an offering unto G-d before the tabernacle of G-d, blood shall be imputed unto that man; he hath shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people.

Vayikra 26:11
וְנָתַתִּי מִשְׁכָּנִי, בְּתוֹכְכֶם; וְלֹא-תִגְעַל נַפְשִׁי, אֶתְכֶם.

And I will set My tabernacle among you, and My soul shall not abhor you.

Of these four, the last one (26:11) is clearly not referring to the Tabernacle that they had in the desert, but to the Beit HaMikdash which would eventually stand in Yerushalayim (as Rashi explains on the spot).

I'm not sure why the Torah uses that word the other three times - room for further research.

I'm not entirely sure what the difference is between Mishkan and Ohel Mo'ed, but it seems to me that Mishkan is more about G-d's Shechina (unilaterally), whereas Mo'ed is a meeting of humanity and G-d together. This is perhaps why in Parshat Emor the festivals are described as 'Mo'adim' rather than as Chagim (which would imply people making pilgrimage to Yerushalayim - also unilateral (though the other way), whereas Mo'ed seems to me to imply a meeting of people with G-d together.

(PS. I know that Onkelos and Targum Yonatan translate 'Ohel Mo'ed' as ''Mashkan Zimana' which seems to imply that it is the same thing (or a variation thereof) as the Mishkan. But nevertheless, I think the Torah can be studied qua Torah, and we can worry about why the targumim used the words they did in a separate discussion - any ideas anyone?)

Monday, May 07, 2012

Vilna Gaon and the Eye Doctor

There is a story about the Vilna Gaon which I have heard many times about when he met an eye doctor. I'll quote from the Artscroll book "The Vilna Gaon: The Life and Teachings of Rabbi Eliyahu the Gaon of Vilna
" (p. 155):

Another area in which the Gaon excelled was in his knowledge of anatomy. He once asked an eye doctor if he knew how many blood vessels and nerves go to the eye. The Gaon told him that one who does not konw the anatomy of the eye is unqualified to treat eye disease. Later the Gaon revealed tha thte eye has seventy blood vessles, equal to the numerical value fo the letter ayin, which means eye. [Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna, the late Rosh Yeshiva of Chevron Yeshiva, told this story to a famous professor of ophthalmology, adn the man expressed amazemnet that the Gaon could have known teh number of blood vesslels since it was only confirmed by doctors more than a century later].

This story has always bothered me, because it seems to support the myth that Rabbis know medicine better than doctors. Furthermore, I am not a doctor, but I am highly sceptical that this is even correct medically (why mention an un-named professor - simply quote the page reference in Grey's Anatomy if it is actually true). A quick search on google tells me that "Each eye has a different ammount of vessels, even to iddentical twins."

This website explains that depending on how you count there are two main sources of blood, four main blood vessels, and hundreds of capillaries in the human eye.

So it is not medically correct (nor is it particularly medically relevant). Yet this story is used to show that the Torah and Rabbis know more than science.

Yesterday, however, I found something even more interesting. I was looking at one of Rambam's letters, (p. 8 in this pdf - paragraph beginning with the words 've-hizaher she-lo te'ayen...') where he mentions al-Razi. I checked on wikipedia to find out more about him, and found this story:

During that time he was approached by a physician offering an ointment to cure his blindness. Al-Razi then asked him how many layers does the eye contain and when he was unable to answer he refused his services and the ointment stating "my eyes will not be treated by one who does not know the basics of its anatomy"

The reference here links to a book in Arabic which I cannot read. I am not convinced that it is necessarily a true story, but it makes much more sense when it is told about the foremost doctor of his age who ultimately died of eye disease!

Al-Razi really was a doctor - his books were translated into Latin and became the standard textbooks on medicine.

Al-Razi was "the first of the (physicians of medieval Islam) to treat medicine in a comprehensive and encyclopedic manner, surpassing probably in voluminousness Galen himself

This story seems to me to be too similar to the story of the Gra to be coincidental. Bear in mind that Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi lived from 865 – 925. That is almost 1000 years before the Gra. And his works were known to Rambam, as well as the rest of the medieval world. So whoever first attributed the story to the Vilna Gaon most likely knew of the story from earlier sources.

So the message of the real story of the Gain and the eye doctor is not that all medicine is contained in Torah, or that through Torah a Rabbi can know more than a doctor. Rather it is a story about al-Razi's studies and documentation of medicinal knowledge to try to further scientific understanding.

I wonder why the professor of ophthalmology didn't simply mention al-Razi to Rav Sarna!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Rambam on Omnipotence

Further to last night's shiur, here is the full quote from Rambam regarding G-d's Omnipotence. Rambam clearly writes that G-d is bound by the laws of logic, and that anyone who denies this is only doing so because of religious conviction rather than based on philosophical reasoning.
It is from Guide for the Perplexed (Moreh Nevuchim) Book III; chapter 15. I am using the Friedlander translation of 1904 (which I know is not very good, but it is available online for free - feel free to check the original Arabic if you are able, or the excellent Hebrew translation by Schwartz)

THAT which is impossible has a permanent and constant property, which is not the result of some agent, and cannot in any way change, and consequently we do not ascribe to God the power of doing what is impossible. No thinking man denies the truth of this maxim; none ignore it, but such as have no idea of Logic. There is, however, a difference of opinion among philosophers with reference to the existence of any particular thing. Some of them consider its existence to be impossible, and hold that God cannot produce the thing in question, whilst others think that it is possible, and that God can create it if He pleases to do so. E.g., all philosophers consider that it is impossible for one substratum to have at the same moment two opposite properties, or for the elementary components of a thing, substance and accident, to interchange, so that the substance becomes accident, and the accident becomes substance, or for a material substance to be without accident. Likewise it is impossible that God should produce a being like Himself, or annihilate, corporify, or change Himself. The power of God is not assumed to extend to any of these impossibilities. But the existence of accidents independent of substance is possible according to one class of philosophers, the Mutazilah, whilst according to others it is impossible; it must, however, be added that those who admit the existence of an accident independent of substance, have not arrived at this conclusion by philosophical research alone: but it was mainly by the desire to defend certain religious principles, which speculation had greatly shaken, that they had recourse to this theory. In a similar manner the creation of corporeal things, otherwise than from a substance, is possible according to our view, whilst the philosophers say that it is impossible. Again, whilst philosophers say that it is impossible to produce a square with a diagonal equal to one of the sides, or a solid angle that includes four right angles, or similar things, it is thought possible by some persons who are ignorant of mathematics, and who only know the words of these propositions, but have no idea of that which is expressed by them. I wonder whether this gate of research is open, so that all may freely enter, and whilst one imagines a thing and considers it possible, another is at liberty to assert that such a thing is impossible by its very nature; or whether the gate is closed and guarded by certain rules, so that we are able to decide with certainty whether a thing is physically impossible. I should also like to know, in the latter case, whether imagination or reason has to examine and test objects as to their being possible or not; likewise how things imagined, and things conceived intellectually, are to be distinguished from each other. For it occurs that we consider a thing as physically possible, and then some one objects, or we ourselves fear that our opinion is only the result of imagination, and not that of reason. In such a case it would be desirable to ascertain whether there exists some faculty to distinguish between imagination and intellect, [and if so,] whether this faculty is different from both, or whether it is part of the intellect itself to distinguish between intellectual and imaginary objects. All this requires investigation, but it does not belong to the theme of this chapter.

We have thus shown that according to each one of the different theories there are things which are impossible, whose existence cannot be admitted, and whose creation is excluded from the power of God, and the assumption that God does not change their nature does not imply weakness in God, or a limit to His power. Consequently things impossible remain impossible, and do not depend on the action of an agent. It is now clear that a difference of opinion exists only as to the question to which of the two classes a thing belongs; whether to the class of the impossible, or to that of the possible. Note it.

Also, here is a Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry on Omnipotence. Which is very interesting.

Cockney Cash

I'm not sure whether this was an April Fools article, or whether it is real, but it made me laugh (and has absolutely nothing to do with Judaism).

Apparently, according to the BBC, cash machines in east London now speak Cockney Rhyming Slang. So you insert you barrel of lard, and enter your Huckleberry Finn. Then you can choose whether to withdraw a Lady Godiva, a speckled hen, or even a full Pony.

If you are not familiar with the concept of rhyming slang here is the wikipedia entry on it. Probably the most famous example of rhyming slang is using the word 'bread' (bread and honey) for 'money', though raspberry (raspberry tart) is also well known as a euphemism for that noise you make when you stick out your tongue and blow.

My favourite example is "I haven't got a scooby" (scooby doo = clue).

There are many useful online dictionaries which translate to and from rhyming slang. But don't use it too much or people will think you are a little bit strange.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Acharei Mot

I kind of cheated here, because in Israel we read Acharei Mot last week, but outside of Israel it will be read this coming week, so it is still relevant (and I didn't give a shiur last week because of Yom HaAtzma'ut).

In this shiur I try to understand the position of Rabbi Abahu, who seems to hold that G-d has the ability to manifest in physical form.
He also seems to be excluding Christianity theologically from Jewish belief.
And I expain why I don't think Rambam can have a neat explanation for Rabbi Abahu (as opposed to all the other statements of Chazal and p'sukim which he can explain).

I look forward to your comments.

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

Acharei Mot

(Right click and then 'download as')

Acharei Mot

Your feedback is welcome and appreciated. If anyone is interested in sponsoring a shiur (either l'ilui nishmat someone, or just for no reason) please contact me.

Christians vs. Jews

Apparently Jesus doesn't heal cancer. At least that is the ruling of a judge in New Zealand. A church had a billboard outside stating that Jesus heals cancer, and they were asked to remove it because it caused offence.

Look at the full article here

A church billboard proclaiming that "Jesus Heals Cancer" has breached advertising standards by suggesting the church can offer something other churches cannot, the Advertising Standards Authority has ruled.

She said the billboard was dangerous and deceptive as it could potentially offer false hope and lure in the vulnerable in their time of illness and sadness.

"I would be more than happy if this billboard was to read 'Jesus Heals' and that way it could be interpreted to mean he heals spiritually/emotionally which I believe is more along the lines of what the church are trying to say."

So it is official then. Even though:
"Our belief is substantiated by the fact six people within our congregation have testified to Jesus healing them from cancer," the church said.

I find it ironic that in an ostensibly Christian country the judges rule on what it is permitted to claim that Jesus can or cannot do.

And this is the biggest difference between Christianity and (Chareidi) Judaism. For Christians G-d is a healer of cancer. According to certain Rabbis it is the internet that causes cancer.

So while the Christians are trying to cheer up their congregants and give them hope, certain Rabbis are trying to terrify and threaten their constituents with horrible diseases.

At least if someone does 'catch cancer' from the internet they will now know where to go to cure it.

Let's see if that is mentioned at the Internet Asifa.

(How sad the world is sometimes)