Volume 10 Number 77
                       Produced: Wed Dec 22 17:14:01 1993

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Berochos: Eclipse of the Moon
         [Mike Gerver]
Divine Will and the Holocaust
         [Esther R Posen]
         [Robert J. Tanenbaum]
Obligation to live in the Land of Israel
         [Bruce Krulwich]
Rav Goren's Psak on Refusing an Order
         [Yisrael Medad]
Suicide and Halacha
         [Arthur Roth]
Two days Rosh Chodesh and Rosh Hashanah
         [Brian Goldfarb]


From: <GERVER@...> (Mike Gerver)
Date: Fri, 17 Dec 1993 2:14:15 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Berochos: Eclipse of the Moon

Jack Abramoff suggests, in v10n42, that since a lunar eclipse is
considered a bad omen for the Jews, e.g. in Sukkah 29a, the proper
bracha to make is "ha-dayan ha-emet", the bracha normally made when
hearing bad news.

It seems to me that the comments in the gemara and elsewhere on lunar
eclipses cannot be meant literally, but have some mystical or
metaphorical meaning.  After all, Chazal [our sages] were well aware
that lunar eclipses were natural phenomena which occurred with
regularity and could be predicted. In fact, the great accuracy of the
fixed Hebrew calendar, in which Rosh Chodesh still falls on the new moon
even 1700 years after it was established, was only possible because of
lunar eclipses. The length of the synodic month [the month based on the
phases of the moon] used in the Hebrew calendar comes from the Greek
astronomer Hipparchus, who calculated by using observations of lunar
eclipses made over hundreds of years, going back to the Babylonians.

If an eclipse is not literally bad news, only metaphorically bad news,
then it doesn't seem appropriate to make the bracha "ha-dayan ha-emet",
but rather "aseh ma'aseh breishit", which is the bracha used for solar
eclipses, meteors, and other wonders of nature. During a lunar eclipse
that I saw around 1975 in Berkeley, the LOR said to make the bracha
"aseh ma'aseh breishit". I found this rather frustrating at the time,
since I had made this bracha during the total eclipse of the sun that I
saw on June 30, 1973 (at 6.5 minutes the longest one of the 20th
century), as well as when I saw Nova Cygni in August 1975 (which I had
the pleasure to discover independently, although not first). It seemed a
shame that these very unusual events would not have their own bracha,
but instead required the same bracha as was used for much more common

I often think of Nova Cygni when I say "or chadash al tzion ta'ir" [may
a new light shine on Zion] in the morning, asking that, just as Nova
Cygni had appeared against all expectations, after hundreds of occasions
when I had looked in the sky and failed to find a nova, and just as the
State of Israel was established in a brief time (by historical
standards) against all rational expectations, so too will the final
geulah [redemption] come about, even though it is hard to imagine it
from looking at the world today.

Mike Gerver, <gerver@...>


From: <eposen@...> (Esther R Posen)
Date: 20 Dec 93 15:34:15 GMT
Subject: Re: Divine Will and the Holocaust

I have mentioned that Rabbi Kirzner a"h has a number of tapes on the
topic of suffering and why bad things happen to good people etc.  I have
not heard them in a while so I hope I am describing his ideas acurately.

One of the first things he establishes is the difference between good
and bad and pleasant and unpleasant.  We in this world can certainly
distinguish between pleasant and unpleasant.  When it comes to "acts of
g-d", we do not have the capacity to distinguish between good and bad.
One must have a total picture of the world's present past and future to
make such a godly determination. (End Rabbi Kirzner's thoughts)

Although it is more difficult to understand the possible "good" of the
holocaust because of its mangnitude, if you have ever suffered horribly
or been close to somebody whose life is wrought with horrible suffering
the only possible consoling thought (even in a single situation of
indiscriminate suffering) is that we have no concept of the total
picture.  The idea that people suffer because g-d allowed it to happen,
but didn't cause it etc. is actually more painful to the suffering
person.  It means "sorry but you fell through the cracks".

Given the history of the jewish people, or even one day in the life of
mankind, I do not believe one can maintain their faith if they had to
understand g-d's kindness and goodness in every earthly occurence.  It
is beyond human capacity.  I believe there is a need to believe in a g-d
and an afterlife just to reconcile what goes on in this world.

Esther Posen


From: <btanenb@...> (Robert J. Tanenbaum)
Date: Tue, 14 Dec 93 11:14:26 EST
Subject: Re: Midrashim

David Sherman raised the question as to how to react to midrashim which
seem so bizarre. Does historical accuracy matter?

The MAHARAL (Z'Tz'L) states in a number of places that everything which
the sages write is SPIRITUALLY TRUE, and only a fool considers it

So when we hear a Midrash which sounds bizarre, we should not ask, "Is
this true?", but we should ask, "What spiritual truth are the rabbis
trying to teach us?"

There are many reasons why the Rabbis wanted to transmit spiritual truth
through allegory and stories rather than through theological or philosophical
1. the stories can be "loaded" with multiple meanings
2. stories are accessible to everyone, even children
3. complicated concepts are communicated simply and concisely
4. complicated spiritual ideas are accessible only to those who have the
   background to decipher them.

So when my children ask me if a story is "true". I answer that it is
absolutely true even if it did not happen. If they are old enough to
question the "truth" of a story, then they are old enough to understand
that stories can have many meanings.

Ezra Bob Tanenbaum	1016 Central Ave	Highland Park, NJ 08904
home: (908)819-7533	work: (212)450-5735
email: <btanenb@...>


From: Bruce Krulwich <krulwich@...>
Date: Wed, 15 Dec 93 11:12:02 -0500
Subject: Obligation to live in the Land of Israel

A few thoughts on recent comments made on MJ regarding the obligation to
live in Eretz Yisroel [the Land of Israel]:

First, my understanding of the comment from R' Chayim in Tosfos (based
partly on a tape I heard from R' Nachman Bulman) is that it does not
refer only to Mitzvos haAretz [Mitzvos of the Land], which as people
have noted are possible to keep nowadays, but rather to the general
level of increased strictness of mitzvos in general in the Land of
Israel.  Many Rishonim (particularly the Ramban) discuss our being held
to higher standards of Mitzva observance in the Land of Israel.  Indeed,
the Chumash itself discusses dire consequences of not keeping Mitzvos in
the Land of Israel.  My understanding is that that R' Chayim is saying
that HaShem frees us of our Torah obligation of living there if living
there would lead to our violation of this higher standard and the
subsequence Chilul HaShem [descecration of HaShem's name].

Second, it's interesting to note the large number of modern authorities,
many of them so-called "non-Zionists," who held in practice that it IS
an obligation to live in Israel now.  The list includes the Gerer Rebbe
(and the whole Gerer line), R' Dessler, the Chazon Ish, and R'
Shmulevitz, who all made it there, and also the Chasam Sofer and the
Brisker Rav (some of whose descendants made it there).

Third, note that the whole issue is based on a disagreement among
Rishonim.  The Ramban held it's a Mitzvah from the Torah and is even
counted among the 613, and is a Mitzva Chiyuvis [active obligation].
Rambam held either that it's a Rabbinic Mitzva, which includes a
prohibition of leaving once you're there, or that it's a Torah Mitzva in
the times of the Temple but only Rabbinic now.  Then there's the Tosfos
mentioned earlier, that it's a Torah Mitzva but is not an obligation due
to circumstances nowadays.

Dov (Bruce) Krulwich


From: MEDAD%<ILNCRD@...> (Yisrael Medad)
Date: Sun, 19 Dec 93 09:48:08 -0500
Subject: Rav Goren's Psak on Refusing an Order

In the latest issue of the YESHA Rabbis Journal, #14, 3 Tevet, Rav
Goren, formerly Israel's Chief Rabbi, responded to a question whether
a religious soldier could fulfill a military order to dismantle a Jewish
His response was that since this is a direct command against the Torah -
mitzvat yishuv haaretz - and because this current government (now that Shas
is no longer an official member) rules only becuase of the Arab and non-
Zionist votes (two of the Democratic Arab Party and three of the Communist
Hadash Party, 2 Arabs and one Jew), then the Torah imperative comes first
and the soldier should request of his commander to relieve him of duties
involved in dismantling communities.
This Psak, as expected, has raised a storm and will continue for a while yet.
Updates to come.
Yisrael Medad


From: <rot8@...> (Arthur Roth)
Date: Wed, 22 Dec 1993 11:02:07 -0600
Subject: Suicide and Halacha

Zev Farkas asks in Vol. 10 #68 about the halachic status of suicide,
assisted or otherwise in the case of intractable pain. I agree totally
with Lawton Cooper's comments that it would not be permissible.
Practically, drugs and other treatments are available to alleviate
suffering in the case of severe pain, and it seems to me there is full
halachic sanction for these treatments. (There may be some question if
the treatments pose a risk in and of themselves, but that is an issue I
don't want to deal with now).

As for suicide in the case of being tortured, that seems to fall under
the inyan (topic) of y'hareg v'al ya'aver (you are allowed to get killed
rather than sin). But those are highly specialized cases dealt with in
the gemorra in sanhedrin, and include: 1.Someone tells you to kill
someone or you will be killed, 2. Someone tells you to engage in avoda
zora (idol worship) or he'll kill you, 3.Someone tells you to engage in
g'ili arayos (illegal sexual relations) or he'll kill you. Zev's
analogous case I think is #2- someone is told he'll be tortured if he
does not convert (which is incidentally what happened to the Marranos in
Spain). But it seems to me, none of these would be useable as
justification for suicide in the case of intractable pain.

Lawton mentions the idea of a goses (person who will die in less than 72
hours). Many people feel it is difficult if not impossible to define a
goses today-but that is obviously controversial. In any case, only in
the case of a goses could we have justification for not touching the
patient.  However, there is still no heter (permission) to R'L actively
kill the person.

B'H we have a Torah and halacha to guide us. Kevorkian et al only have
their own deranged ideas on who controls our bodies. However, note that
legislation advocating euthanasia has been advanced in several states (I
think it nearly passed in Washington recently) and that is a frightening

Steve Roth, M.D.
Anesthesia and Critical Care - University of Chicago
312-702-4549 (office)
312-702-3535 (fax)


From: <blg@...> (Brian Goldfarb)
Date: Mon, 20 Dec 93 09:27:42 EST
Subject: Two days Rosh Chodesh and Rosh Hashanah

As we observed the start of the month of Tevet with two days of Rosh
Chodesh I was wondering about the source/reasons for observing Rosh
CHodesh for two days.  To sum up the basic concepts that many are
already familiar with: Since the lunar month has aproximately 29 days 12
hours and some fraction, when the new month was determined by the Beit
Din (High court), if witnesses sighted the new moon on the 30th day that
would become the first of the new month. Otherwise the 31 would
automatically be the first of the new month. I don't recall learning
about 2 days of Rosh Chodesh when Beit Din established the calendar.
So....whereas I do understand that the day in question is the 30th day
and therefore when there is a 2 day Rosh Chodesh it is on the 30th day
and the first of the new month, I do not know the source for our
celebrating 2 days of Rosh Chodesh - and certainly wonder why we say
Rosh Chodesh Mussaf service on the 30th day.  I would not expect that
this practice was established when the calendar was fixed because then
there was certainly no more confusion about the days.

Which brings me to my question about Rosh Hashanah... The Gemarah does
discuss that because of the problem of witnesses coming late in the day
on the 30th day of Elul and this leading to the wrong Shir Shel Yom
(Daily hymm) being sung by the Levi'im and similar problems with having
time to bring the Mussaf etc, it was decreed that Rosh Hashanah would be
observed for 2 days - presumeably on the 30th and the 31st (though which
day was considered the first day of Tishrei I'm not sure...).  My
question is why do we celebrate Rosh Hashanah on the 31st and 32nd.
Elul always has 30 days.  These 2 days never would have been celebrated
as Rosh Hashanah when the Bet Din established the calendar based on
witnesses.  One guess on my part is that we keep 2 days Rosh Hashanah to
keep the original Takkanah but since Rosh Hashanah has to be "On the
first day of the seventh month..."  it wouldn't make sense to start on
the 30th of Elul.

All ideas and sources on either topic are welcome.


End of Volume 10 Issue 77