Thursday, December 31, 2009

Shalom Aleichem

For the foreseeable future I will not be having (or having limited) Internet Access at home. I do hope to continue posting some what regularly, well only slightly less regularly than I ever have, I am having some some hardware issues which will make any writing difficult for a while though.

Be well,


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Gezel Sheinah and the Divrei Yechezkel

"Our holy master was particular not to awaken a Jew from his sleep, even if it meant he would pass the time for prayer." (Divrei Yechezkel, Halichos v'Halachos, page 393).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Faith with astrixes

I just ran across a comment I posted at and realized that 1) I liked it and 2) it reflected some idea's which I hadn't elaborated on here but thought/assumed I had:

[The] comment has a certain persuasive appeal on it's face, but is severely undermined by logical errors.

First and foremost is the problem that the late formulation of the 13 Ikkarim in no way negates the fact that the halchic status of a heretic had already existed for a considerable length of time. Accordingly his inference that we should not be/feel compelled to affirm and particular set of beliefs from the late dating of the 13 Ikkarim is a total non-sequitur.

His statement, "I promise you that almost all the observant people you know would have difficulty if they were asked to verbalize their precise true beliefs and have them compared to the "icarim"." clearly falls into the category of an ad populum fallacy. The success or failure of people to accept something does not negate it's truth, nor does people's lack of faith negate the obligation to have faith.

The truth is that, "rationally" speaking the question isn't whether one should affirm ikkarim when one finds them, well, less than compelling. The much more significant question is why on earth would someone affirm a world view which asserts numerous points which they disagree with even if they are inclined to agree with a skeleton of "fundamental" views? The question isn't whether the ikkarim are sufficient or necessary for being Jewish, it is whether it makes any sense to affirm Judaism when one disagrees with it on any issue up to [and maybe including] the ikkarim?

It is especially perplexing when there is an alternative religion, Conservative Judaism, where such a theology is normative and one's observance is considered acceptable. Don't get wrong, I guess I'm kind of a big tent guy, but that is a matter of wanting to see people closer to the truth rather than farther. From a logical standpoint I just fail to see the appeal for people to affirm a belief system when it requires so many astrixes.

I believe [the] comment raises some significant questions on how to proceed in actualizing a modern day "Rationalist" Movement envisioned. The fact is that many of those most excited by the prospect, and active in the dialectic, are those who have a tenuous relationship to fundamental principles of Yiddishkeit. I'm not talking about those who question the Rambam's enumeration, but those who have effectively dismissed the notion of heresy. This was an issue for the Rambam's version of Rationalism as well, with people who considered themselves his successors denying that which he affirmed (such as creation Yesh M'Ayin), and attributing such beliefs to him.

Such people help with momentum but compromise the theological integrity of a neo-Rationalist movement. And while it may not be exactly a logically inevitable, it is realistically inevitable that the halachic integrity will be compromised. While one might argued that committed orthodox rationalists will conform to kabbalisticly influenced halachos in anticipation of the day when a kosher Sanhedrin returns things to their "proper" order, this strikes me as highly unlikely and unattainable once we introduce a significant number of members who do not really anticipate the coming of Moshiach or are otherwise not ideologically committed. (I do not mean to limit halachic compromise to kabbalisticly influenced psak, but it would be the first.)

I guess what I'm saying is, be careful what you wish for Rationalists.

"Teshuvas HaMinim is intended to answer the claim that Christianity, in all of its various manifestations, is a continuation and fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament”)."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Retroactive Retraction

Before my audience begins to think I'm just being argumentative for arguments sake I would like to take this opportunity to, for the time being at least (but probably indefinitely), retract the use of the term "retroactive existence". I think I understand R. Micha's criticism and accept it. "Retroactive existence" is a meaningless distinction from "past". While I still think that apparent age is an inherent aspect of the peshat (yes, that's a different discussion) and to dismiss the peshat because of it is circular, "retroactive age" implies more than I intended and I do not believe that it is accurate, nor do I think that it follows from apparent age (this R. Micha might disagree with me on based on his presentation and criticism of the apparent age approach). Rather than emphasizing that such "apparent age" can have meaning and relevance, the term converts "apparent age" into "age," obscuring the disconnect implied by the supernatural creation of the apparent age approach.

R. Micha, while this might not be as extensive of a concession as you might have hoped for, its the best I can do at the moment. :)

Kuzari and the Age of the Universe

Recently it was argued, off the cuff, that the Kuzari should be understood as referring to when Adam HaRishon received a soul and therefore does not speak to a literal understanding of the six days of creation. While this argument seems to have been an educated guess based on its authors understanding of similar texts, I would suggest that this hypothesis does not seem to hold up:

44. Al Khazari: It is strange that you should possess authentic chronology of the creation of the world.

45. The Rabbi: Surely we reckon according to it, and there is no difference between the Jews of Khazar and Ethiopia in this respect.

46. Al Khazari: What date do you consider it at present?

47. The Rabbi: Four thousand and nine hundred years. The details can be demonstrated from the lives of Adam, Seth and Enōsh to Noah; then Shem and Eber to Abraham; then Isaac and Jacob to Moses. All of them represented the essence and purity of Adam on account of their intimacy with God. Each of them had children only to be compared to them outwardly, but not really like them, and, therefore, without direct union with the divine influence. The chronology was established through the medium of those sainted persons who were only single individuals, and not a crowd, until Jacob begat the Twelve Tribes, who were all under this divine influence. Thus the divine element reached a multitude of persons who carried the records further. The chronology of those who lived before these has been handed down to us by Moses (Kuzari 1:44-47, 1905 translation by Hartwig Hirschfeld)

The discussion is about the "creation of the world" which would imply the six days of creation preceding and inclusive of the creation (or giving of a soul to) Adam HaRishon. I think this is further emphasized by "the Rabbi"'s response in 1:61 that reliable information that the world was older than 4900 years would challenge his faith, which at very least would be inconsistent with a view that tool wielding hominids roamed the world prior to one of them being given a neshamah.

Does this settle the matter, of course not. But I do think that the Kuzari can be included among those who see no reason for “אֵין מִקְרָא יוֹצֵא מִידֵי פְּשׁוּטוֹ” to inherently exclude the beginning of Bereishis.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Meiri, Chidush HaOlam, and Allegorizing B'reshis

Previously I mentioned the position of the Meiri with respect to the issue of allegorizing B'reishis:

The Meiri has three classifications of Scripture with respect to allegorical interpretation, those which must be interpreted only allegorically, those which can have an additional allegorical meaning, and those which may not be interpreted allegorically at all. The Meiri includes the creation of the world in the latter category which is forbidden to interpret allegorically.(Beis HaBechira 3:11, cited in Interpretation and Allegory, page 205)

The Challenge of Creation notes that rather than the term we (or least I) might expect, ma'aseh b'reishis, the Meiri in his commentary to Avos (which I failed to specify in my citation) uses the term chidush haOlam and argues:
Meiri's mention of chiddush ha-olam should probably be understood as referring to the fact that the creation of the universe ex nihilo rather than to the specifics of how it was created. (page 115).
In difference to the tentative, reserved tone of this argument I will offer a tentative, reserved counter-argument, with my reader's knowing full well my ability to miss the obvious. From a philosophical perspective, I'm sure the practical concern with which the Meiri had in mind was Aristotle's (and/or Plato's) theory of the eternity of the universe. It seems to me, however, that this is not directly relevant for two reasons.

First of all, the primary text which is relevant to chidush haOlam is clearly the opening passage of B'reishis (Genesis). The Meiri isn't speaking about rejecting ideas, he's speaking about how to approach the text. It seems to me that it is simply not possible to proscribe non-literal interpretation ofchidush haOlam while interpreting the text non-literally. In other words, if his concern was simply that one retains the moral of the story (creation ex nihilo) then it would be sufficient to warn against rejecting the story's message without proscribing non-literal interpretation. Indeed this was the approach of the Rambam before him. Rather, in these instances he is concerned with the moral and the story (even if his concern for the later is on behalf of the former). The story in this case is the opening chapters of Genesis. I'll leave it up to the readers to decide whether I have made an excellent point in the most inelegant way imaginable or am using unintelligible writing to conceal a lack of a coherent argument.

Secondly I do not think the Meiri is simply taking a position because of apologetic concerns. While he may be concerned about the theory of the eternity of the universe, kadmanus I believe the term is in Ashkenaz transliteration, I don't think we can accuse him of taking the position that this cannot be understood non-literally because he disagrees with it. Rather, I think unless we have evidence otherwise I think we should presume that he does not think that these things can be taken non-literally therefore he rejects the theory of the eternity of the universe.

With all of that said, whether it is of primary or incidental concern, I think that based on the limited, but seemingly explicit, teachings of the Meiri I've seen he should be included among those who reject non-literal interpretations of the beginning of Genesis to the exclusion of it's peshat.

As a postscript, I would note that the above quote from Challenge of Creation is presented as derived from the fact that while creation can be understood as a miracle, there is evidence which suggest a different series of events transpired. While the flow of the passage makes it sound as if he is arguing that the scientific evidence should influence how we understand the Meiri, Rabbi SIifkin does not strike me as someone overly prone to ascribing modern concerns to medieval authorities. As such I think that this implication was not intended and that rather than trying to explain how to understand the Meiri he is expressing how he feels we should relate to his opinion. As such he is parenthetically alluding to difficulties he feels we are presented with which the Meiri was not that would cause us to take a different approach. As such I suspect that it is better not to make to much over this phrase but rather deal with the strengths of his arguments when he actually is making them in their fullest. Since has been known to, on occasion, visit here, perhaps he would like to clarify the flow of the aforementioned line of reasoning himself.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

R. Gil recently commented:

OTOH I know an OJ Rabbi who just says "Nu, so Chazal were wrong on that point, its not the end of the world".

That's the kind of response that makes me regret that there is no RW Conservative movement for people like that to go to so we don't have Orthodox rabbis who say things like that. Maybe that's a plus of the Maharat phenomenon. There will be a new movement and Modern Orthodoxy can have the courage to be not only Modern but also Orthodox.

I'm not sure if I agree but I know how he feels.

New Criticism of Sheitel's from India


Rock discovered the hottest hair on the market is found in India, where human hair is the number two export behind software. "This is some of the worst poverty in the world," he says. "I don't think [people] know they're walking around with $1,000 on their head."

While in India, Rock witnessed a tonsuring ceremony at the Venkateswara Temple. Every year, more than 10 million people cut their hair off as an offering to the Hindu gods. "In India, hair is considered a vanity, and removing hair is considered an act of self-sacrifice," he says.

"These people have no idea where their hair is going or how much it's worth. The money made at this temple is second only to the Vatican. The hair collected here is auctioned off to exporters who distribute it around the planet."

This is in no way intended to comment upon the permissibility of Indian Hair Sheitel's

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Response to R. Micha's Questions on Retroactive Existence

R. Micha has left me a number of question to my previous post which I think deserve to be addressed, and I am exercising my discretion as the ba'al hablog to answer in the form of a post:

Explain the difference between "retroactive existence" and the normal sort.

Good question, my point is that while you have [subsequently] used the term "fake history" to describe apparent age, for us there is no nafka mina. I might compare it to the old question, "if a tree falls in the forest." Without direct experiential observation such reality isn't actualized. Nevertheless whether you take the "traditional" approach that this was experienced in time, or the approach which I have dubbed "retroactive existence", I think that their is a purpose for the period in question, but I don't think that the purpose is served any better by the former approach than the later (and in some ways I think the later is better but that is another discussion). I guess my point is that there isn't a significant difference, for the most part, between apparent age and "past".

The first formulation is simply misleading in that it implies that Hashem has a "when".

I'm still trying to absorb this objection. How would you apply this though to the machlokes about whether the world was created in Nissan or in Tishrei, or more specifically the notion of "elu v'elu" regarding the machlokes? (Recognizing that their are different approaches to "elu v'elu", but your thoughts in relation to your objection).

That said, you would be hard pressed to find a rishon who believed in a young universe.

In addition to statements of Chazal (Chagigah 12a) indicating that B'reshis one teaches us that the length of the day and night was created on the first day of creation and that “R. Yehoshua ben Levi said: All creatures of the creation were brought into being with their full stature, their full capacities, and their full beauty” (Rosh HaShanah 11a) which imply a more simple approach to B'reishis we have:
“The result of the application of such a method of interpretation would be that there would not be an item left of the entire story of the creation [of the world] that would not be divested of its literal meaning, which is the creation and origination of things.” ( Rav Sa'adia Gaon, Emunos v'Deos , Yale Translation page 425).
“The second category consists of [those texts] which should be according to their ‘apparent’ meaning…[This category also includes]the story of the Creation, and other miracles” (Meiri, Beis haBechira, Avos 3:11, cited here Bold mine)
Additionally other relevant sources, some more than others, can be found at You are more capable than I at recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of these sources cited (and how faithfully they are presented) or those cited by myself. Apparently, however Rav Sa'adia Gaon, the Kuzari, and Rav Avraham ben HaRambam give numerical figures consistent with the traditional dating. Again, you are in a better position to judge these sources than me.

When the mishnah tells us that the pereq has no peshat.

I would be very interested in your source. This seems like a very odd subject matter for the Mishnah, no? Furthermore we have already noted that Rav Sa'adia Gaon felt the need to preserve the pshat of this perek. Likewise, when the Rambam cautions that a possible non-literal reason is not sufficient reason to reject the peshat, it is with regard to inyanim relevant to this perek!

Nevertheless, I must concede that a Mishnah which makes the statement you claim it does would significantly alter the playing field, so I look forward to you elaborating on your source.

Relevant Posts:

What Problem?

Guiding Principals

Critique of Rabbi Jeremy Weider's "When the Torah doesn't mean what It Says"

Parshas B’reishis: In the Beginning, Brias HaOlam according to the Torah and the contemporary scientific understanding

Parshas Noach: Evidence for a Global Flood?

Here Gosse Nothing

Genetics and Apparent Age

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Apparent Age

In a recent post at Seforim, R. Marc B. Shapiro takes a shot at historical revisionism at the expense of the apparent age approach:

Any written record will be rejected as a YU-Haskalah forgery, or something that God miraculously created to test our faith, all in order to avoid the conclusion that an authentic Torah scholar taught at YU

Leitzanus is making light of the serious, and in my opinion attempts to understand the conflict between the scientific evidence and the Torah's narrative is a serious matter. While is is not clear to me that R. Shapiro would be so dismissive about the apparent age approach itself (since it wasn't really his topic and I don't recall him discussing it in anything I have read), by taking this approach to it's illogical conclusion one creates a false analogy between this position and the absurd example he hypothesized. Such mock-analogies silence a reasoned analysis of differences in favor a smug, hastily-generalized dismissal of such an "absurd" position. Even if it wasn't his intent, and it certainly wasn't his primary one, the damage is done.

Of course there is a major difference between arguing that the world was created with apparent age and the speculative argument that evidence was miraculously planted that a Talmid Chacham worked for an institution deemed politically incorrect. While in the later case we have no reason to assume such a belief, in the former we have God's own account that He created to world from nothing a couple of generations before Yetzias Mitzrayim. Likewise it is a necessary inference that the world would have some appearance of prior age based on the narrative itself, and indications from Chazal that at least the living creatures where created in full stature (despite the fact that such stature would indicate prior age/growth/development in any other context).

Granted, this doesn't in any way give us reason TO accept the Torah's account, it just simply illustrates that the conflict presented by the material evidence need not contradict the Torah's account.

I would add that I don't think that the apparent age needs to be understood as an attempt for God to test us per se. I am inclined to think that a materialistic explanation for the world's existence which seems plausible is necessary for free will. Nevertheless I think that it is reasonable to say that while God chose to create the world as He described, He coordinated the implicit apparent age in such a scenario with how He designed the world to operate according to teiva. Such a "past" isn't false, it is as real as the light we see every night from stars long dead, it is a retroactive existence which, it seems to me, fulfills both a scientific and theological role which complements the Torah as much as it conflicts.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Farewell to Geocities

I was reminded, just in time, that any moment now Geocities (and my small corner there) will cease to exist. I have long used writing as a way to help formulate and refine my thoughts, and have never been that shy about sharing them. My Geocities site was the result of some of my earlier attempts and a Html class which I took. I like to think it was simplistic but a little elegant in its design. While many may find fault, I think that the picture of Torah Judaism I presented was on target. I only rarely updated it once it was established (I know my readers have a hard time imagining me being tardy with posting), certainly not as much as I intended. Slowly, but surely I did receive hits. In the end there were over 26740 of them! I noticed at times my counter zeroed out, and later discovered that it would do so if a page received no visits for a certain period. It is therefor likely that the number was much higher, not bad for a few pages floating on their own in cyberspace.

Recently a non-Jewish gentlemen contacted me after reading my biography. We shared the same hometown, but in different decades. When I asked my father if he recognized the name (since my Dad lived there at the same time) he informed me he was a cousin of mine.

It was fun while it lasted....

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Machzikei Hadasim

Our readers ask... (well maybe not precisely)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

בכח ידי עשיתי and Science Daily

"ScienceDaily (2009-10-20) -- Jerusalem's geology has been crucial in molding it into one of the most religiously important cities on the planet, according to a new study....
The Assyrians laid siege to the city in 701 BCE, but failed to conquer it. It was the only city in history to successfully fend them off"

I (God) will deal with the fruits of the Assyrian king's conceit, and with the glory of his arrogant eyes. For he said , 'With the strength of my hand have I accomplished (בכח ידי עשיתי)--- It is as if a rod could shake those who lift it; as if a stick could lift one who is not wood! (Isaiah 10:12,13, 15)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Shalom Aleichem

I just wanted to touch base with everyone. Tishrei has been a busy time. In addition to so many uplifting Yomim Tovim, I've been working on a side project, and have had a number of personal issues arise. I would like to thank all of you who have continued to visit.

B'ezras Hashem, I will have some new posts soon, and have a chance to give R. Waxman's comments their due.

In the meantime, we've been at this for over a year now, so I would like to highlight Parshas B’reishis: In the Beginning, Brias HaOlam according to the Torah and the contemporary scientific understanding and Parshas Noach: Evidence for a Global Flood?


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rashi and Corporealism

FKM has a very interesting Rashi. Rather than get beat to a pulp for trying to reason at this time of night, perhaps you can give me some insight into why this hasn't received more attention?
A Tanna stated: ‘This [that one may read sitting] is not the case with the Torah’. Whence this rule? — R. Abbahu said: Because Scripture says, But as for thee, stand thou here by me. R. Abbahu also said: Were it not written in the Scripture, it would be impossible for us to say it: as it were, the Holy One, blessed be He, also was standing (Megilah 21a, Soncino Tran.)
To which Rashi comments:
כביכול נאמר בהקדוש ברוך הוא כבאדם שיכול להאמר בו כן

My Talmudic Aramaic isn't the greatest. What am I missing?

Academic Approach and Emunas Chachamim II:

As I'm sure your all aware, Rabbi SIifkin has written a challenge to my article Academic Approach and Emunas Chachamim. I have made a number of comments, some of which Rabbi SIifkin said were "well written", o.k. he said it was "long and well written" (emphasis mine). :)

One of the points which I did not address there I would like to explore further:

Yirmiahu then quotes Rambam:
The Rambam writes "whenever the words of a person can be interpreted in such a manner that they agree with fully established facts, it is the duty of every educated and honest man to do so." (Guide 3:14, Freidlander translation).

This is quite a remarkable incident of quoting something out of context. Let's look at the paragraph in its entirety:

You must, however, not expect that everything our Sages say respecting astronomical matters should agree with observation, for mathematics were not fully developed in those days: and their statements were not based on the authority of the Prophets, but on the knowledge which they either themselves possessed or derived from contemporary men of science. But I will not on that account denounce what they say correctly in accordance with real fact, as untrue or accidentally true. On the contrary, whenever the words of a person can be interpreted in such a manner that they agree with fully established facts, it is the duty of every educated and honest man to do so.

Let's see. Rambam could have claimed that Chazal were always speaking about the pnimiyus, or some other such contrivance, in order to have their words not be contradicted by science. Instead, he said that they sometimes took positions based on the faulty scientific beliefs of their era. So Rambam is doing exactly the opposite of what Yirmiahu is (selectively) quoting him for!

Citing the Rambam out of context is quite a charge. It is also a fairly easy one to make.

In order for a quote to be out of context information in the text not cited would need to change the meaning of the statement or limit it's applicability to the subject it is being used to support.

The "context" provided simply doesn't do that. My usage was in conformity to the context and meaning of the passage. The Rambam felt that when you can interpret someone's statements as correct then you should. Implicit in this admonition is that one should do so even when there is no evidence that their correct conclusion was based on sound reasoning, since to hold that their conclusion was accidentally true when there is evidence of correct reasoning is just blatantly dishonest.

In truth, Rabbi SIifkin is arguing against a strawman. He responds as though I have argued that Torah scholars cannot be mistaken, which was not the position I had argued. This is particularly true since I recognized that, in this instance, the Rambam was not making a distinction between Torah scholars and non-Torah scholars (The distinction I drew between Torah scholars and the general world was derived from our obligation to hold them in awe and the wisdom attributed to them for learning l'shma). In the context of my post, citing the whole passage could have given the mis-impression that I was using the Rambam's quote as distinctively applying to Chazal (in retrospect I don't think I made that distinction clear enough anyway).

There's more to be said, but that's a start for now.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Much Ado about Nothing: Some thoughts on "Zero-the Biography of a Dangerous Idea"

Several months ago I received a copy of "Zero-The Biography of a Dangerous Idea" by Charles Seife. It was readable and entertaining, holding my attention long enough to read cover to cover in a few days. For the most part this is a new topic for me, and some of the mathematical discussion was above me, but I found it to be quite informative.

Nevertheless, it did not take long for my critical side to suspect that the story was somewhat dramatized for effect. It seems to me that the conflict presented by zero to the predominate western philosophy would, at times, require a greater recognition of the zero as a number (rather than merely a place holder), its relationship to nothing, or its relationship to infinity than was currently recognized.

My initial skepticism was at least somewhat supported not even halfway through the work:

Maimonides argued that there were flaws in Aristotle's proof that the universe had always existed. After all, it conflicted with the Scriptures. This, of course, meant that Aristotle had to go. Maimonides stated that the act of creation came from nothing. it was creatio ex nihilo, despite the Aristotelian ban on the vacuum. With that stroke the void moved from sacrilege to holiness. (page 75)

Of course Rambam made no such argument. On the contrary, the Rambam argued that the Scriptures could be reconciled with the idea that the universe had always existed. He explained that Plato's version of the eternity of the universe could be accepted had it been compelling. It was only the ancillary aspect of Aristotle's view view which proscribe miracles that the Rambam felt could not be reconciled with Torah. Even then, as I pointed out in my "Critique of Rabbi Jeremy Weider's "When the Torah Doesn't Mean What it Says" the Rambam doesn't say that the position is wrong because it contradicts Scripture, but rather that hypothetically if Aristotle's view (which negated miracles) were correct it would falsify Scripture and "we should be forced to other opinions.” (Moreh Nevuchim 2:25)"

When all is said and done, the book was enjoyable. I think that when taken with a grain of salt, most will come away with a better understanding of how zero showed up on the mathematical map. If Seife's presentation is somewhat stereotyped I don't think it is overly malicious. I think most inaccuracies can be attributed to someone trained in mathematics writing on history and/or a storyteller getting too caught up in weaving the story. Or maybe it's just me.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Academic Approach and Emunas Chachamim

נחמיה העמסוני היה דורש כל אתים שבתורה כיון שהגיע "לאת ה' אלהיך תירא" (דברים י) פירוש אמרו לו תלמידיו רבי כל אתים שדרשת מה תהא עליהן? אמר להם, "כשם שקבלתי שכר על הדרישה, כך אני מקבל שכר על פרישה" עד שבא ר"ע ודרש את ה' אלהיך תירא" לרבות תלמידי חכמים. (פסחים כב:ב

Just as we are expected to fear God, we are expected to fear Torah Scholars, Talmidei Chachamim.

Recently at the Rationalist Judaism Blog it was written:

Academic study analyzes the words of Torah scholars over the ages with the aid of examining the context in which they were written. What societal, cultural, intellectual, political factors could have been involved, if any?...If we are talking about reaching historical truth, then I consider the academic method far superior. (
In my estimation this runs afoul of the principle of fearing Torah Sages.

The problem is not in recognizing that a Talmid Chacham holds a problematic view, it is treating our Sages in a casual manner in which they are just like anyone else. The concept that learning Torah l'shma makes a scholar "great and exalts him above all things" (Avos 6:1, from the Artscroll Siddur) is exchanged for a view in which their views and opinions can be evaluated with the same suppositions we would use for any other shmo. One may find that such suppositions are correct on occasion, but to assume that they will be as useful as they are in a general context is not "awe".

The entire endeavor to "discover" a controversial position in the teachings of a Torah scholar doesn't strike me as reflecting awe of our Sage either. The Rambam writes "whenever the words of a person can be interpreted in such a manner that they agree with fully established facts, it is the duty of every educated and honest man to do so." (Guide 3:14, Freidlander translation). While I don't suspect that the Rambam would demand that only a necessary inference should establish that an erroneous position was held, to cull dispersed writings to reveal an non-obvious error (while conceding that theoretically one's entire position could crash down like house of cards by the revelation of a single statement to the contrary) is not in anyway consistent with the Rambam's maxim.

If we are to claim that we accept Judaism, such an acceptance should impact how we evaluate questions pertaining to Judaism. Conflict is inevitable since, “the result of secular research and study will not always coincide with the truths of Judaism, for the simple reason that they do not proceed from the axiomatic premises of Jewish truth.” (Torah Im Derech Eretz, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch zt’l, page 415)." To apply the principles generally utilized in the humanities to those we view as atypical in their wisdom and piety is to commit the fallacy of Hasty Generalization (or betray that one does not view them as atypical in wisdom and piety). The fact that occasionally such hasty generalizations may turn out correct doesn't negate the fallacy of the method.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Critique of the "Conspicuous Absence" Argument

Recently Rabbi Natan SIifkin has published an article in Hakira entitled "Was Rashi a Corporealist?" in which he argues there is reason to answer the question in the affirmative. Being familiar with the assertion of the Raavad to the effect that there were those greater than Rambam the idea is intriguing, because who else, after all, could arguably be considered greater than Rambam than Rashi? Of course, the obvious problem with such a line of reasoning is that the Ravaad did not rate the Rambam as highly as we do, and all things considered I'm not really inclined to believe Rashi accepted a belief which we consider heretical.

The first of the several lines of reasoning Rabbi SIifkin used, which he called "Conspicuous Absence", has struck me from my initial review is that it is an "Argument from Silence" and further review has only made me feel that this is the case even more. Their are two criteria which need to be met for such a line of reasoning not to be fallacious, a) we must have sufficient reason to suspect that their would be evidence to the contrary and b) a thorough investigation reveals that no such evidence is to be found. The article fails to establish that there is, in fact, silence from Rashi on this matter nor does it establish that we can correctly infer from such silence that Rashi is a corporealist.

On the one hand, even if the argument could be constructed properly Rabbi SIifkin concedes that his research was not exhaustive (truthfully because of the vastness of Rashi's commentaries it would not be an easy task), "I have only studied a small portion of Rashi’s entire commentary on Tenach and Talmud, and it would have only taken a single citation to counter all the arguments that I presented. Yet none was offered" (page 26 of the PDF). The simple fact is that while it might be possible that his conclusion is correct, his concession mean that he has not established that there is silence on the issue from Rashi.

On the other hand, while he attempted to do so, he did not establish that we should expect Rashi to object to corporealistic language if in fact he was not a corporealist. Rabbi SIifkin argues that Rashi does object to anthropomorphic depictions of God, indicating that he felt it his duty to correct such false notions. When the depiction is not anthropomorphic per se, but simply corporealist (implying that God has a body) he does not similarly object. Rabbi SIifkin takes note of the distinction between anthropomorphic texts, which ascribe overtly human characteristics to God, and "Corporealistic" ones, which would seem to imply that God has a body. He nevertheless fails to recognize that if a corporealist could be provoked into commenting on an anthropomorphic text, then someone who like the Ra'avad did not subscribe to corporealism but was more tolerant/indifferent to the issue could likewise be bothered by the anthropomorphic implications of a text while being, again, indifferent to a similar text which "merely" implied corporealism. If Rashi could so comment as a corporealist then he could so comment as a Ra'avad style non-corporealist. Likewise, while R. SIifkin shows that Rashi is not afraid of repeating a point when necessary, he doesn't establish that he does so consistently or with regularity, such that we should anticipate his protest on any given relevant verse if he did in fact object. Given these considerations we do not have sufficient basis to anticipate Rashi to protest/clarify apparently corporeal wording in order to remove this line of reasoning from the Argument from Silence fallacy, even if the article had been the result of an exhaustive analysis of Rashi's writings.

Furthermore, it is not entirely clear that there is silence on the matter. Josh Waxman at ParshBlog cited Rashi on Isaiah 7:20:

The Lord shall shave with the great razor Heb. (שְּׂכִירָה) , comp. (Jer. 46:21) “Also its officers (שְׂכִירֶיהָ) in its midst,” which Jonathan renders: its great ones.
on the other side of the river Of those who dwell on the other side of the river, and of which of those dwellers? The king of Assyria, the head He will shave and the hair of the legs. Since it is in the construct state, it is voweled with a ‘pattach,’ (שַׂעַר) instead of (שֵׂעָר).
shall be entirely removed Will be destroyed. The shaving is the slaying, and the razor is the sword.
the head This symbolizes the king.
the legs [This symbolizes] his camps [from Jonathan].
the beard [This symbolizes] the governors [from Jonathan]. But our Rabbis said that this literally refers to shaving, and the removal of the beard is by singeing it with fire. “The beard” refers to the beard of Sennacherib, as is found in the Aggadah of the chapter entitled, ‘Chelek.’

It is obvious that Rashi understand the "pshat" to be allegorical in this verse:

Peshat explanations are recognized in many more instances by their appearance next to non-plain comments…The non-plain sense also appears, in the vast majority of instances, linked with its own terminology. In an aggadic context one may also find אגדה (an Aggadah or מדרש אגדה (an aggadic Midrash)…Not infrequently Rashi’s Peshat, though terminologically still undefined, contains a reference to it’s source. In the majority of such instances the source is the Aramaic version of the masoretic text, i.e. Onqelos on the Pentateuch and Jonathan on the Prophets. (Peshat and Derash in the exegesis of Rashi,By Benjamin Gelles, pages 20-23)

We must wonder, if you pardon my co-opting the term, what is bothering Rashi? Most of us would be inclined to understand this verse as allegorical as well, but we tend to think of God as non-corporeal. If Rashi was a corporealist it is not at all clear that he should present the peshat as allegorical, especially when Chazal seem to take it literally. After all Rabbi SIifkin argued regarding Gen. 11:5 which describes God as "descending" to "see" the Tower of Babel, "Rashi is citing the Midrash, which may well have understood Scripture non-literally, but Rashi does not show any concern (as does Onkelos) that one may interpret it literally." (page 96). In either instance God is, as it were, coming to Earth to perform functions which are, or in a manner which is, associated in humans. In our verse, however Rashi does not understand the more corporealist view as pshat even though there is traditional "basis" for doing so. Furthermore, even when citing the midrash found in San. 95b-96a he omits the most corporealist language. This would be entirely consistent with him holding a position similar to the Ra'avad that while he does not accept that God is corporeal, he may not be overly concerned that simple people have such a [mis]conception.

Insofar as I have not dealt with all of Rabbi SIifkin's arguments I do not presume to suggest I have refuted his position (although I'm inclined to believe the passage cited by R. Waxman seriously undermines it). What I believe I have demonstrated is that his initial line of reasoning is flawed and does not support his position. It is an argument from silence based on incomplete research. His arguments for why we should expect Rashi to comment are not conclusive enough to escape this fallacy. Even if his other lines of evidence are solid (or conclusive for that matter) this one is in no way מצטרף such that his position is stronger than the other lines of evidence are on their own.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

From the Archives: Document Hypothesis

Adapted from my notes on Wellhausen's Prolegomena:

page 9, P code tries to sound Mosaic Why wouldn’t D? (and if we were to argue that the switch from the first person account of Moses to a third person account in which Moses is speaking is the work of the redactor the problem is only greater. What motivation could those trying to present a work as Mosaic have for not only presenting the final work as uniformly un-Mosaic in POV but actually edit in such a way that the Mosaic portion is undermined?)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Recognizing those who helped save Jewish lives

"There is no evidence of any Jew being turned over to any Nazi," said Gershman, who is Jewish, from his home in Basalt, Colo. "Seventy percent of the people in Albania are Muslims"

"Baba Haxhi Dede Reshatbardhi, an Albanian Muslim who helped save Jews during the Holocaust, was photographed by Norman H. Gershman for the exhibition "Besa: A Code of Honor." (Courtesy of El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center)"

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

O.C. 231: That all a person's intents be l'shem shamayim (for the sake of Heaven)

"If it is not possible for a person to study [Torah] without an afternoon nap, he should sleep (Rama: And when he wakes up it is not necessary to say the blessing "Eloqai Neshama". And there are those who say that prior to sleeping he should recite "V'hehi noam") provided that he does not lengthen his nap since during the day it is prohibited to sleep more than a "cat nap" [literally "horse sleep" but...]...And even with this little bit his intent should not be in order to benefit his body, but rather to strengthen it for serving God, may He be blessed. And likewise with every benefit in this world he should not intend for his own pleasure but for the service of his Creator, may He be blessed, as it is written, "In all your ways know Him", and our Sages said, "All your actions should be l'shem Shamayim (for the sake of Heaven). Even permitted activities such as eating and drinking [kosher food], walking, sitting, and rising, or marital relations, or conversation, or any bodily need should only be for serving his Creator or something which results in His service.

Even if one is thirsty or hungry, if he eats or drinks to benefit himself this is not praiseworthy, rather he should have the intent that the food and drink give him nourishment in order to serve his Creator.

And likewise one who sits in the place of the upright, stands in the place of the righteous, and walks in the advice of the pure, if he does so to benefit himself and to fulfill his wants and desires, this is not praiseworthy, but rather he should do so l'shem shamayim (for the sake of heaven).

And so too with reclining, it is not necessary to say that at the time he is able to engage in learning Torah and doing mitzvos he should not indulge in sleep to enjoy himself, rather even when the time has arrived and he needs to sleep to rest from being tired, if he does so for the enjoyment of his body this is not praiseworthy, rather he should intend to give sleep to his eyes and rest to his body for the sake of his health, so that his thought will not be torn from Torah from sleep deprivation.

And likewise with marital relations, even at the times required by Torah, if he does so to fulfill his desires or to benefit his body, this is embarrassing. And even if he intends to have children who will be able to assist or to full his place, this is not praiseworthy. Rather he should intend to have children who will serve his Creator, or intend to fulfill his marital obligations like a person fulfilling an obligation.

And likewise with speech, even to speak words of wisdom, one's intend should be to serve his Creator or a matter which results in His service.

The principle of the matter, a person is obligated to place his eyes and his heart on his ways and weigh them on the scales of his intellect, and when he sees something which brings about the service of his Creator, may He be praised, he should do so, and if not he should not do so, and a person who does so serves his Creator continually.

Shulchon Oruch, Orach Chaim 231

Chasidic cop's undercover drug sting

I'm happy to report that the article we brought up recently about a Sanzer Chassid going undercover to bust drug dealers has gone back into circulations via the Daas Torah blog: Chasidic cop's undercover drug sting

and here on April 12th and here on April 13th.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Divrei Chaim has a post called Limits of freedom of thought for Agnostics which reminds me of why I've never been so big into those who assert "open-mindedness". I'll take intellectual honest over "open-mindedness" any day. Dogma Reconsidered


I just saw one of those bumperstickers which boldly asserts "Jesus is God Read the Bible" [c'v], just for the record, I have and he's not.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Article: Hasid Goes Undercover To Aid Drug Sting

It's been a little while since this story first appeared but a) it didn't get much attention and b) I think that rather than just kvetch about bad behavior we should praise good behavior and c) we could all use a little chizuk right about now.

Hasid Goes Undercover To Aid Drug Sting
By Nathan Jeffay
Published April 10, 2008,

A few months ago, Israeli police planning a sting were hard-pressed to find a convincing small-time dealer who could buy large quantities of drugs without arousing suspicion. In the end, they settled on a novel solution: a Hasidic man who would claim he was buying for students at his yeshiva.

The case ended up netting the arrests of 15 men in the Israeli town of Lod. The arrested will face trial next month on charges of possession and supply of illegal substances. The operation was given the name Ketoret Samim, a double entendre referring both to drugs in modern Hebrew and to a talmudic mixing of incense in ancient Hebrew. The operation’s success was thanks to footage recorded from cameras secreted in the long black coat of Shlomo Treitel, a 34-year-old Hasid from Netanya who is a community police officer.

“My wife didn’t know what I was doing, but when I told her, she said that she knows I’m guided by our rebbe, so I won’t come to any harm,” he told the Forward.

On some 30 occasions, and spending $14,000 altogether, Treitel went to dealers in Lod, notorious for its Arab-controlled drug trading. He bought hard and soft drugs. His story was that the students in his yeshiva were ba’alei teshuvah (secular Jews who have turned to more observant lives), and he had come to the conclusion that he could well cash in on their habits by becoming a small-scale dealer.

“We wanted somebody who would not arouse suspicion of being a police officer,” explained Chanoch Yitzhack of Ramle-Lod police, who masterminded the operation. “On occasion we have used a young woman, another time a taxi driver, and for this we knew people are unlikely to think a Hasid is a police officer.”

Treitel recalls that the dealers would say, “You’re religious, we trust you; we don’t mind giving you business.”

Yitzhack and Treitel’s other superiors deemed his dress a safety device: The theory was that religious clothing inspires a certain respect even from hardened criminals, lessening the chance that they would make physical contact and discover recording devices. The superiors also believed that his religiosity would allow him to get away with being relatively unfamiliar with drug culture; any slip-ups in underground etiquette would be considered a symptom of his devout lifestyle.

“It really proved quite easy,” Treitel said. “The dealers just want money, and they’ll take it from anyone. I just handed over the money and took the drugs.” Though Treitel was unarmed, he “wasn’t scared, because there was backup nearby.”

When intelligence chiefs first approached him to go undercover, Treitel was working as a uniformed community officer in Kiryat Sanz, a Netanya neighbourhood in which 700 families from his sect reside. (He has returned to this role since the sting.) Treitel refused to become involved in the sting until he had checked with his religious mentor, the renowned Sanzer Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech Halberstam.

The rebbe met police chiefs for an in-depth discussion about the plans, and then gave them his blessing. “He said that drugs are a problem for the whole of society, and that it was an important task to take on,” Treitel recalled.

The rebbe’s encouragement reflects a long-standing legacy in the Sanz sect of attributing religious importance to initiatives intended to improve society. The current rebbe’s father and predecessor, Rabbi Yekutiel Halberstam, founded Netanya’s Laniado Hospital in the 1970s because of the religious value he attributed to healing. It has been known that when bloodstocks were dangerously low, prayers were actually stopped until enough worshippers came forward to donate and replenish enough for immediate use.

Treitel continued his daily part-time studies in kollel throughout the operation, and kept details from his wife and five children.

He was put through a crash course to teach him about different kinds of drugs and how to talk the talk — not easy for a man who conducts most of his life in Yiddish. He was given phone numbers of dealers and told how to behave when — inevitably — he was short-changed or sold fake drugs.

His superiors held a special ceremony to honor him after the arrests. He spoke, declaring that exchanging his uniformed duties for a career — albeit a made-up one — as a drug dealer had ended up allowing him more time to spend studying Torah.

Now that his community knows of his exploits, he has become something of a celebrity. He said, “My community often feels negatively towards the police, but they know there is a war against drugs that needs to be fought and people are really happy.”

Dina D'Malchusa

דברי חכמים ח"מ פרק דשאלה: הרוצה לעלות לא"י (כדי לקיים מצות ישוב ארץ ישראל) ו יש לו חסרון פרנסה, ורק יוכל לבוא אם לא הודיע המדינה בארצות הברית על כל מה שהוא הרויח במשרה שלו, למשל, (not report income tax), וגם שהוא טוען שלמעשה הרבה עושין זה ברגילות, האם מותר לו לעשות זה או לא

תשובה: שמעתי מהגריש"א שבודאי אסור לעשות זה, (שאסור מדין דינא דמלכותא) ואסור אפי' אם לעולם לא יוכל לעלות לא"י אח"כ

Loosely Translates:

Question: Someone wishes to make aliya to Eretz Yisrael (to fulfill the mitzvah of settling the land of Israel) but has financial difficulties, and is only able to come if he does not inform the United States Government about his income, which many people do regularly, is it permitted for him to do so or not?

Response: I heard from HaGaon Y.S. Elyashiv shlita that it is certainly prohibited to do so (which prohibited because of dina d'malchusa) and it is prohibited even if he will never be able to make aliya to Eretz Yisrael afterwards.

(I've ajusted the date to bring this post back to the top)

*Rav Elyashiv shltia lives in Eretz Yisrael so his psak is clearly not out of fear of personal liability.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Laundering may kasher table-cloths but not money III

A little early for Parshas Ekev,

"The holy words of our holy teacher Rebbe Menechem Mendel from Rimnov zy'a are known and brought many times by the holy elder our Master Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech zya [of Dinov, The B'nei Yisoschar] in his holy seforim, "The honorable Admo"[r] The holy Rav Menechem Mendel said concerning the oddity which we see many times, a child, who in his youth goes to cheder and continually learns Torah, and davens with kavannah (prays with concentration) and answers "Amen, Yehei Shmei Rabba" and "Amen", and are upright in their ways. And afterward, when they grow up, they revert to degenerate middos chas v'Shalom, and cease learning Torah and davening and the like. And how can this be, the Torah which they learned in their youth is "breath in which their is no sin" (Shabbos 119:2) should be sufficient to establish them and add strenght to their neshamos, since a mitzvah leads to another mitzvah. And he replied that, 'This is because their fathers fed thme from stolen money, which they enriched themselves with through commerce which was not faithful...'".....

I have already sounded the alarm on this manner many times..why haven't we produced amongst us students of Torah, Gedolim like in the past. Do we see today Gedolei Yisroel or Talmidei Chachamim who fear Hashem like those seen in the previous generation,like the Holy Gaon, the author of the Chafetz Chaim ztvk"l or the Holy Gaon Rabbi Chaim Ozer ztvk"l, or many Admorim [Rebbes] and Tzaddikim....?"

Shefa Chaim, (Chumash Rashi Shiur parshas Ekev, 5742) page 475.

From Aspaqlaria

R. Micha has posted information about a gathering being held Tuesday night on the importance of living with integrity,

I will be unable to attend, but encourage all who can to do so.

Friday, July 24, 2009

From Just Tzedakah we read:

Far worse, however, is misrepresenting the cause being supported, in favor of a more popular one; this practice may enter the realm of theft. (35 Responsa Divrei Yatziv, Yoreh Deah 146; Responsa Yashiv Yitzchak, Yoreh Deah 28; Responsa Shevet HaLevi II, 119; Responsa Shraga HaMeir IV,20:3; Responsa Ateret Moshe, II, 188.)
In all instances, the overarching concern of the organization must be Kiddush Hashem – Sanctification of the Divine Name, and the avoidance of Chilul Hashem – Profanation of the Divine Name (It is also for this reason that when soliciting donations, particularly in matters of basic sustenance,the focus should be within the Jewish community (See Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 254:1-2 and 259:3-4 and Orach Chaim, 154:11; Responsa Da’at Cohen, 132; Responsa Teshurat Shai, I, 15 and II,51; Responsa Divrei Yatziv Yoreh Deah 142).

Divrei Yatziv is the Responsa by the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe z'ya and Yashiv Yitzchak is by the Rosh Yeshiva in Kiryat Sanz.

Laundering may kasher table-cloths but not money II

When I posted the piece last night I knew that their was a piece in the Shefa Chaim I had read more recently that dealt with this topic, I was just looking in the wrong year and a parsha too early. In the Chumash Rashi Shiur for 5743 on Parshas Devarim we read:

"A hint to this is said in Chazal (Shabbos 31a) that at the time when a person enters for [heavenly] judgment, they say to him, "Did you engage in commerce faithfully?" etc. Of all the Taryag mitzvos of the Torah, they first ask him specifically about faithful commerce, without theft or deception, since if he is not careful over this he will automatically be unable to be particular on the rest. With this we answer the difficulty presented by the Gemara (Sanhedrin 7a), "A persons judgement only starts with words of Torah" since we infer that a person's judgement doesn't begin with faithful commerce but rather words of Torah. But according to our understanding this makes sense, since as a prerequisite for asking if a person engaged in Torah, it is necessary to initionaly aske if he engaged in commerce faithfully, since if he is a robber and thief soiled(?) with money which isn't his, it is not possible that he fixed time for learning Torah. And the matter is simple and obvious, that his mind was contaminated with stolen money so his learing will not be effective." Page 452.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Laundering may kasher table-cloths but not money

"The Holy Rav, our master Menachem Mendel (of Rimnov) commented about the curious sight that we often see children who in their youth go to school and continually learn Torah, and daven with kavanah, and answer "Amen, yehei Shmei rabba" and Amen, and are upright in their ways. Afterwards, when they grow up, their behaviour reverses, chas v'Shalom, with diminished middos, neglecting Torah, Prayer, and so forth...the Torah which they learned in their youth, breath in which there is no sin (Shabbos 119b), would be suitable to establish them, and add strength to their neshamas, since a mitzvah leads to another mitzvah.

Regarding this he said, "This is because of their fathers who feed them stolen money which they enriched themselves through unfaithful commerce, and fattened themselves in violation of halachah...and in this way they descend into desire and degraded middos."

From his Holy words it is established, that also with food which is inherently kosher, except that it was acquired with money which isn't acquired in an upright manner and lacking in emunah. The power of the act enters the product, and the food goes from the side of kedushah and descends and degrades himself into desires and poor midos, rachmana litzlan. "

The Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe zy'a, Shefa Chaim, Chumash Rashi Shiur, parshas Nasso 5742, page 395.

**Brought because it's an inyana d'yoma, but not to render judgment on any particular incident.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Igros Moshe on Kollel Income

Hirhurim recently had a post which discussed the appropriateness of giving money to those unwilling to work. Inevitably, although perhaps not intentionally, this led to commenter's discussing the propriety of giving to support those learning in Kollel. I have therefore done my best to produce this humble translation, a loose and unfinished translation, of a teshuvah by Rav Moshe Feinstein zt'l on this topic:

Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 116

Regarding a Talmid Chacham who wishes to engage in learning Torah and to become wise, knowing the Torah in quantity and quality and he sustains himself by the income he receives from the Kollel. And likewise with Rabbanim who receive income for teaching students or Roshei Yeshivos who receive income to sustain them: Is it permissible to do so or is their basis to reconsider this and that it is a middas chassidus to not be supported by this, but rather by the work of one's own hand?

Certainly it is permissible to do so, and this is the ruling of the Rama in Yoreh Deah 246:21 that even a healthy person is able to receive the distributions from the givers in order that their hand be strengthened in learning Torah, since in doing so they will be able to engage in Torah study with peace of mind. And the Shach in seif katan 20 also cited the Kesef Mishnah who rules do even if we say that this is not in accordance with the opinion of the Rambam since all of the Chachmei Yisrael who preceded the time of our Master (the Rambam), as well as those which followed, were accustomed to receive payment from the congregation. And even if the ruling is in accordance to the Rambam, the Sages of the Generations relied on doing so because it was an "Eis la'asos l'Hashem... (A time to act for Hashem)" since if there wasn't support for students and teachers [of Torah] ZZZ and they would not be able to exert themselves as appropriate and the Torah would be forgotten from Israel. And with that ZZZ he will be able to increase the Torah and magnify it." This is the language of the Kesef Mishneh on Hilchos Talmud Torah 10
towards the end.

Likewise it is brought down from the Maharashal who writes: "Truthfully were it not so the Torah would already have been nullified from Israel since it is not possible for a person to engage in Torah and to become wise in it while sustaining themselves from the work of their hands. . . . since it is not possible that he will

Therefore it is a clear and obvious ruling which has been excepted in all generations, whether according to strict halachah or whether because it is an "Eis la'asos", that it is permitted to engage in learning Torah and to sustain themselves by receiving stipends, or from what he receives from teaching Torah to others or for being a Rav or Moreh Hora'ah, and there is no reason to refrain from this even as a "midas chassidus."

Furthermore it is my opinion that those "Mischassidim" from the side of the Rambam's opinion is advice from the yetzer hara in order that they interrupt their learning and engage in labor and commerce and the like until ultimately they forget even the little which they already learned and aren't relaxed enough to fix even a small amount of time for learning Torah.

Since if the Rishonim were like melachim and said that it was not possible to engage in Torah and become wise in it while engaged in labor to sustain themselves by the work of their hands, certainly in our is not possible for anyone to boast that he is able to engage in labor and become wise in Torah. Therefore do not let the thought arise in your mind that advise of the yetzer hara that with a stipend from learning in Kollel, being a Rabbi, teacher of Torah, or Rosh Yeshiva there is any sort of sin or lack of middas Chassidus, since it is only to instgate one into separating from the Torah.

And one who gives and there are found men willing to sustain many talmidei Chachamim, they are increasing b'nei Torah, Gedolei Yisroel, and experts in instruction as is the will of the Holy One blessed be He, since there is nothing for Hashem in His world except the four amos of halachah.


I would like to add a couple of observations. First of all it is very revealing that those who like to bring up the shita of the Rambam do not do so with respect to pulpit Rabbis or teachers, although his opinion would apply to them as well equally. Secondly is the implication that, despite the fact that I'm pretty sure most men in American Kollel's are hired employees, such people do not view Torah as a "real" job. Any other service isn't similarly dismissed. Entertainers are regarded as having earned their money even if we think they get paid too much. We are accept the payment of those who work full time for charities (from charitable funds no less) provided that the overhead is within reason, despite the fact that the giver receives no direct benefit from the service. Ultimately I do not see how we can help but conclude that such people do not believe that those who learn in Kollel do not produce anything of value for those who pay them, i.e. there is no value in learning Torah.

(B'ezras Hashem I will fill in the gaps in the translation. I apologize for any inaccuracies. Any comments kindly given will be graciously received. I also hope to add a few other relevant discussions soon).

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I'm still alive

Comming of age, as I did, in the "Grunge Era" there is a certain nostalgia such music brings me. although I was never a fan myself.

One particular song, it would seem to me, has a pretty deep philosophical question at it's core which I think sheds light on one of the more difficult concepts in halachah.

I have always been interested in lyrics, an interest encouraged by occasionally being caught using the wrong ones (and duly ridiculed). But lyrics do not always tell the whole story and occasionally an artist will provide a little background which illuminates the song's narrative. The popular grunge song "Alive" written and sung by Eddie Vedder is an account of a mother revealing to her son that he had a different father than he had known growing up. Although not explicit in the words, interviews indicate that the boy had been conceived in an inappropriate relationship with a relative. The song climaxes with the following exchange between mother and son:
"Is something wrong?", she said
"Well of course there is."
"You're still alive" she said
"Oh, and do I deserve to be?
Is that the question?
And if so, if so, who answers?...Who answers?"

Halachah prohibits a mamzer (someone born as a result of certain relationships of inconceivable propriety) from intermarrying with most other Jews. And any children born to a mamzer, even while married to someone he is allowed to, are likewise mamzerim and share his status.

This is a very difficult notion insofar as the individual in question committed no wrong doing but merely happened to be born as a result of serious transgression.

While it is not up to us to decide who "deserves" to be "alive" most of us recognize that certain relationships are harmful and children should not be born into such circumstances. While we may all have different definitions of inappropriate relationships most of us can agree that morally and/or genetically it is inappropriate for siblings or parents/children to procreate together.

Yet no one (who has any ounce of decency) wants to look at someone else and say, "You are a mistake" or "You should not have been born." Certainly it is difficult for a loving parent to look at their child and say (or even think) that the world would be better without them.

Yet Teshuvah, repentance, requires real regret of the past. While with other transgressions which result in offspring one can regret that they failed to take appropriate steps to permit their actions, this is not the case when the entire relationship is inconceivable. The severe status of a mamzer merely reflects the severe gravity of the relationship which produced him, and the manifestation of that severity, it seems to me, provides the real opportunity for the transgressors to have real regret for their actions.

Furthermore it safeguards society from complacency which can make the inconceivable seem acceptable. The inability to fully integrate into the community prevents the unfortunate individuals situation from gaining any perceived normalcy.

The mamzer's status is not a pleasant one, but the legal status is merely a reflection of the fact that while he has done nothing wrong, he (inherently not circumstantially) should not have been born.

Monday, June 29, 2009


At the moment there are only four explanations for this mystery. The first two give us little to work with from a scientific perspective. One is simply to argue for incredible coincidence. Another is to say, "God did it," which explains nothing even if true. (Discovery Magazine May 2009 The Biocentric Universe, Page 54)

And so what if it leaves little to work with scientifically? The materialistic assumptions of the scientific method are good tools for understanding nature, but they are assumptions and one should not reject their possible inapplicability a priori. And not every conclusion needs to initiate another inquiry.

Furthermore, just because "God did it" doesn't offer the type of "explanation" your interested doesn't mean it "explains nothing" nor does a materialist answer provide any "explanation" but rather mere descriptions. Like it or not science provides a discription of how things occur, not and explanation of why.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Intersection between Simple Faith and the Path of Reason

Recently Reb Harry at Emes v'Emunah posted on the issue of Emunah Peshuta in the face of challenges to faith. Insofar as I envisioned this blog as "An attempt at identifying the intersection between "Simple Faith" and the "Path of Reason"" I suppose I should make an attempt at explaining how I see them intersecting:

I am not inclined to accept the common dichotomy made between "emunah/faith" and knowledge. I do not believe that knowledge, even certain knowledge, of a matter renders it outside the realm of faith. Daily, towards the end of Pesukei d'Zimra, we recite the verse from Shemos that "the people had faith in Hashem and in Moses, His servant." (Exodus 14:31, Artscroll). This was, of course after the splitting of the Yam Suf and the Makkos, supernatural events meant to demonstrate that Hashem was the Master.

Indeed, I am highly skeptical about the possibility that one can "believe" in that which he simultaneously claims there is no "reason" or "evidence" to accept such a belief. I'm inclined to believe that either the faith, or more likely the aversion to supporting evidence, is feigned - consciously or otherwise. Show me any other example where a person can rightly claim to accept a position while negating any reason for doing so.

At any rate, this certainly does not seem to be the position of the philosophically inclined Rishonim. Indeed this statement of the Rambam seems to reflect the general approach: "But those who have succeeded in finding a proof for everything that can be proved, who had a true knowledge of God, so far as a true knowledge can be attained, and are near the truth, where ever an approach to the truth is possible, they have reached they goal, and are in the place in which the king lives." (M.N.3:51).

The approach of Emunah Peshuta, it seems to me, does not negate there being an underlying reason for accepting the existence of God and the Revelation of the Torah, but rather recognizes that accepting the Torah as Divine Truth means that intellectual speculation on relevant issues is superfluous at best. Emunah isn't a product of being a champion in the philosophical dialectic, it is from learning and internalizing the Torah. Free will, Providence, the nature of the soul and the afterlife, the proper conduct in life, these are not answered by philosophical speculation. Instead they follow from the axiomatic principle that the Torah is the Creator's Own explanation. It is a basic recognition that the natural world has very little too offer when it comes to evidence about the supernatural world, Revelation is the only plausible authority.

Implicit in the reluctance to answer metaphysical questions through philosophical inquiry is the recognition that not everyone is the smartest guy in the room. To accept false positions in the name of intellectual individualism is not seen as a virtue. Accepting that the Torah is truth, it is much better to submit to its instruction on the matter than to [risk] straying, and provided such an assumption is justified this is an eminently justifiable approach.

But while Emunah Peshuta would not promote participating in the Dialectic or recommend speculation as a path that will lead to Hashem, I do not believe that Emunah Peshuta precludes confronting doubts or challenges once they are confronted. What the philosophers saw as the path, emunah peshuta views as obstacles. When encountered one may need to deal with them but that doesn't mean one needs to go search them out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Stephen Tyrone Johns

His service and sacrifice is appreciated. May his friends and family find comfort.

Photo from

Columbus' Prophecy?

In the new issue of Discovery (July/August 2009) there is an article called 20 Things You Didn't Know About Eclipses by LeeAundra Temescu.

18.While stranded in Jamaica, Christopher Columbus was famously saved by the lunar eclipse of February 29, 1504, which he had read about in his almanac. After a fracas with the locals, Columbus warned that the moon would disappear if they did not start supplying his men with food.

19.When the moon vanished, the locals promptly complied, and Columbus breathed a huge sigh of relief: His almanac was calibrated for Germany, and he was not sure that he had adjusted correctly for local time (page 96).

This story illustrates why I find the view that miracles are natural events significant only because of their timing to be less than compelling.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

An Academic Look at Oral Transmission

In response to L's suggestion that I seek out the opinion of Profesor Yaakov Elman on the topic of trimming nails I decided to find out who he is. In the process I found, and read, one of his articles Orality and the Redaction of the Babylonian Talmud.

While I am not that familiar with the either the classic nor the popular understanding of the "cannonization" of the Gemara, the article argues for a much more active and late oral component than I would have assumed.

It is a descent size article (by my standards, not speaking comparitively)and the terminology was a little tough for me. For example, I think that often time redaction was used to describe an oral process while I have a hard time not thinking of a written one automaticlly. Nevertheless his arguments seemed to have merit, and he was modest enough to admit when they might not be as conclusive as it might otherwise sound.

For me, this article was actually a bit of chizuk. Oral transmission is not an issue I struggle with philosophically, but one that I can't relate to practically. Looking at it a bit more historically may carry the risk of loosing sight of concepts such as emunas chachamim and siyata d'shamaya, which I believe are fundamental to our hashkafa on Oral Torah, but personally it helped bring things down to Earth a little and make grasping those concepts a little more managable.