Volume 12 Number 89
                       Produced: Thu Apr 28  7:54:26 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Caveats of Discovery Codes
         [Sam Juni]
Interpretive License
         [Yitzchok Adlerstein]
Retrospective Prayer
         [Bernard Katz]


From: Sam Juni <JUNI@...>
Date: Wed, 27 Apr 1994 19:25:27 -0400
Subject: Caveats of Discovery Codes

I wish to argue several points regarding the Codes which have been
addressed in a string of recent postings.
      Mitch Berger (4/22/94) raises an interesting parallel between the
notion proposed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe (L'Rfuah Shleimah) that G-d
created the world with post-dated fossils in various stages of agedness
and the notion that G-d may perform miracles just to test our
convictions. I admit that the parallel makes sense in general. However,
my reservations which argue against the notion of miracles is based on
the premise that when G-d tests our faith, he does so by circumstancial
evidence and social/interpersonal dynamics. I am uncomfortable with
the idea that G-d will actually interfere with nature/ physical laws
toward the end of misleading us. (let me add that my discomfort is not
based on theology, just on the notion of the relationship between G-d
and man.)
      Mike Gerver (4/25/94) in his discussion of Code predictions, takes
the line which is often repeated in this exchange -- that predictions of
events which have not yet ocurred are more validating of the system than
those of historical events. This line is erroneous. So long as we can
document that the Torah text existed before the events being considered,
the time frame of the "uncovery" of the code is irrelevant. (An
exception to this assertion is Mike's scenario where a prediction might
influence the character to act in accordance with the prediction; e.g.,
the Rabbi who will die on the day he believes he is destined to die,
presumably psychosomatically, thus creating the self-fulfilling
      Lou Steinberg (4/21/94) challenges the premise for the entire Code
Infallibility Paradox (v12n73) by positing that no single code finding
is statistically conclusive, since it can be ascribed to chance; only
multiple correlations can be taken as supporting the super-human nature
of the Torah text, and then not as specific to any one prediction. In my
view, the above challenge makes no sense statistically. First, one must
establish a statistical level of comfort; i.e., at what probability
level will you become convinced of a finding. Interestingly, Rabbi
Karlinsky (who was the catalyst for this dis- cussion in his posting of
4/5/94) seems to cite a p level of .01, a level which would not be
sufficient for some to warrant allegience to findings. Once the level is
established, all one has to do is to examine the probability of error in
the data, regardless if we are dealing with a unitary prediction or a
string of predictions. It does happen to be true that a group of
predictions with equaly probability levels will sum to a unit with a
higher probability.  But to insist on more than one correlation from a
probabilistic point of view makes no sense, per se.
      Rabbi Karlinsky (4/22/94) inquires about my source for citing the
"Rambam view of all magical and sorcery phenomena is that never are
actual events affected to occur -- all is in fact deceptive of the
audience," and correctly points out that the sentence is not intelligble
to native English speaking adults.
     What I meant to say is that the Rambam believes that magic
(Kishoof) as well as the other supernatural activities prohibited in the
Torah are actually sleight-of-hand deceptions, and that there are no
powers outside of physical law (other than Hashem's acts, of course). My
source is the Rambam Ovodas Kochavim, Chapter 11, where a discussion of
sorcery, magic, and omens is concluded as follows:
               "These are all falsities... it is inappropriate for
                Jews who are intelligent to be involved in these
                stupidities nor to consider them to be functional....
                One who believes... that these are valid and an
                actual discipline but that they were prohibited by
                Torah, is merely a fool and intellectually deficient...
                whose mind is undeveloped.
        Mae Cupla -- Rabbi Karlinsky correctly points out that my
citations ragarding false prophecies are from Chapter 9 of the Rambam's
Yesodei Hatorah, not Chapter 10 I cited. He also presents a complex
response to my position to which I am responding in a seperate posting.

 Dr. Sam Juni
 N.Y.U.    400 East
 New York, N.Y.   1003


From: Yitzchok Adlerstein <ny000594@...>
Date: Wed, 27 Apr 94 21:06:34 -0800
Subject: Interpretive License

After reading Dr. Turkel's explanation of his original intent in his
posting about interpretive license regarding the Avos, I'm not sure if
we disagree about anything at all.  Then again, I'm sure that I disagree
with SOMEONE, so it would be a real shame to allow an important topic
like this to pass without further comment.  None of this should be seen
as taking issue with Dr. Turkel, who may agree or disagree with any or

What all of us seem to agree about is that there is something we call
interpretive "license."  We are aware of the fact that some Rishonim
offered textual explanations that often were at variance with the "party
line" of earlier Chazal.  Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, Abarbanel easily come to
mind.  We also are aware that a textual iconoclast like Ibn Ezra became
the bulldog of Chazal in DEFENDING their mesorah, e.g. when he though
that a novel interpretation of "vayehi erev vayehi boker" endangered a
treasured assumption of our tradition.  In an earlier posting, I cited
the responsum of Radbaz, often claimed as the champion of people voting
their conscience in interpretation, who in fact does just the opposite.
He argues that a Rov who interprets the events of the Eigel [golden
calf] in a way that impugns the leadership ability of Moshe may
ultimately be dismissed from his position.

The trick, then, is to find the limits within which license is
appropriate.  The notion of license drags two important caveats in its
wake.  1) All licenses have their limits.  2) Not all licenses must be
put to use.  IMHO, each of these has application to the topic at hand.

1) Extending interpretive license beyond its limits allows you to
distort the Torah and have it say the opposite of what it means.  I
recall the time the curiosity of an old friend of mine inspired him to
check out the first gay synagogue in NY.  He happened to walk in on
Parshas Acharei-Mos.  Sure enough, the "rabbi" used significant
interpretive license in dealing with certain prohibitions in that
parsha.  It went something like this: "If a man lie with another the
lying of a woman, it is an abomination.  This means if two gay men have
a relationship, and feel compelled that they conform in their minds to
an unnatural male-female relationship - this is abominable.  If,
however, they have a warm, loving, accepting, gay relationship, without
any apologies or compunctions - this the Torah applauds! (G-d forbid!)

This kind of nonsense is recognized as such by everyone, and poses
little threat to us.  Other misapplications of license are more
insidious.  Unwittingly, you can "discover" all sorts of untruths.  You
can arrive at inappropriate conclusions about the kedusha of the avos
(isn't that where this whole discussion started?); about emunah,
bitachon, male-female relationships - you name it.  They say that the
Chofetz Chaim was fairly liberal in giving approbations to new halacha
seforim, but never granted them to works of derush.  He supposedly
claimed that a mistake in halacha could be bad, but one in derush can
yield out-and-out kefirah!

2) Not every license should be employed.  The Torah licenses multiple
wives.  Practically none of the Tanaim or Amoraim apparently used the
license.  What we supposedly are looking for in a verse of the Torah or
a passage of the Talmud is a bit of Hashem's insight about life - not an
opportunity to force our own opinions on the text.  Yet, when we use
this interpretive license without the guidance of gedolei Torah, we
often miss the intention of the Author.  While there may be "70 facets
to Torah," there is no promise of an infinite number of approaches.

I remember hearing from my own Rosh Yeshiva, shlit"a, the impression Rav
Yisroel Salanter gathered in his travels around Europe: "I met people
who lived the lives of tzadikim, but who had the deos [weltanschauung]
of kofrim [heretics]."  And he laid the blame at the derashos of
rabbanim, which forced the Torah and rabbinic texts into saying whatever
the speaker wanted them to say.  (Records show that preachers in the
North before the Civil War used the parsha to prove the ills of slavery;
those in the South used the same parsha to demonstrate the Torah's
tolerance of slavery.)  The profundity of Chazal was stripped of any
binding power over the people, because any reading of a line of Chazal
was only a suggestion, one that would be replaced by the next person's
antipodally differing understanding.

To argue against making new derashos would get me lynched, let alone
stifle much creativity, so I won't even mention the suggestion.
(Historically, there is some precedent for this.  In the aftermath of
the Shabbtai Tzvi debacle, some rabbanim believed that it part of the
blame had to be fixed on the ease with which unscrupulous people were
able to "prove" their positions with clever manipulations of text. Their
response was to ban the sale and publication of any new volumes of
derush!  See Schepansky,"Hatakanot BiYisrael," v.4, pg. 457, n. 76) What
I would argue for, perhaps simplistically, is the following.  Our best
guides to the methodology of the pursuit of Truth in our parshanut is
using the insight of established Torah luminaries.  My rebbi, Hagaon Rav
Henach Leibowitz shlit"a, explained his conservatism about derash many
times.  "If I offer a novel explanation, I might be right, or I might be
wrong. If I offer you what Rashi said, I'm guaranteed to be correct."
What he meant is that even if Ramban disagrees about the reading of the
pasuk, the principle and ethic that Rashi develops must have some value
for us.

Similarly, if you argue that a particular passage in Chazal should not
be taken literally, but allegorically, you might be right.  Then again,
you might be bordering on heresy.  If the Maharal argues for an
allegorical reading, following his opinion is not going to get you to
Gehinnom in a hurry.  It is more than the sharpness of his mind that
goes into a commentary of Maharal.  It is the sum total of his
collective Torah wisdom, and his familiarity with the rules and
assumptions of legitimate parshanut that he received from his rabbeim.

In summary, how we go about looking at texts should be approached the
same way we ask any Torah question: we need to look at the "Torah
sheb'al peh" of the topic, beyond the written Torah.  We will find this
tradition not in what is spelled out in books directly, but in studying
the collective wisdom of gedolim past and present.

P.S.  In one area I know I disagree with Dr. Turkel.  He argued that R'
Adin Steinsaltz offers an example of going beyond the limits of license.
I'm not so sure.  The controversy over his writing revolves around some
lectures he gave (and then made the mistake of publishing) over the
Israeli Army radio station.  The intended audience was largely
unobservant , and suspicious of certain concepts they regarded as
typical of religious extremism.  Not wanting to hold red flags in front
of bulls, R' Steinsaltz worded some of his thoughts in ways that could
mean different things to different people.  He was careful to give his
readers lots of proverbial rope, without explicitly saying anything
offensive, if my memory serves me correctly.  Now certain other
personalities in Israel may have gone significantly beyond this, and
regularly produce all sorts of material outside the pale of our


From: <bkatz@...> (Bernard Katz)
Date: Tue, 26 Apr 1994 18:15:01 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Retrospective Prayer

I have a query about a mishnah that occurs towards the end of
Berakhot that has to do with retrospective prayer--Mishnah 3 in
Chapter 9. The part of the mishnah that I am interested in begins
with the assertion that "To pray for what is past is a vain prayer."
Now on the face of it, this does not seem too controversial, for one
might well think that it would be an act of madness to pray for
something that is over and done with. If I see that the milk has
already been spilled, it might be appropriate for me to pray for
another glass of milk; but it would be completely senseless to
pray that it not have been spilled.

Nevertheless, there are situations in which retrospective prayer
seems perfectly in order--namely, where the something has already
happened but where one does not know the outcome. For example, suppose
that you have bought a lottery ticket and are about to check the
ticket against the results reported in a newspaper; it would seem
quite natural to pray that you have the winning ticket. Or imagine
that a student is about to open an envelope containing his or her
grades; again it would be quite natural for some to pray that the
grades be good.

Now the interesting thing is that mishnah actually goes on to
discuss such situations, for immediately after the comment quoted
above, it says:

     How is this? His wife was pregnant, and he said: "May it be
     Thy will that my wife bear a male child"; this is a vain
     prayer. He was coming from a journey and heard a cry of
     anguish in the city and said: "May it be Your will that these
     are not the members of my household"; this is a vain prayer.

I take it that the mishnah includes these examples because they
describe situations of the sort in which one might well find
oneself offering a retrospective prayer. 

My question is, Why exactly are these prayers vain? I want to put
to one side the question of whether these particular prayers may be
inappropriate for some other reason. I am interested in the issue of
why the mishnah takes them to be vain or pointless. 

The mishnah doesn't explain why they are pointless prayers. But a more
or less obvious answer suggests itself: namely, that one cannot change
the past; even G-d cannot change the past. Once something has happened,
there is nothing that anyone can do to bring it about that it not have
happened. And this holds true whether you know about the event or not.
So once the lottery result has been printed in the paper, it is vain to
pray that your ticket be the winning ticket, since you are praying that
G-d change the past, which even He cannot do.

I do not, however, find this reason very convincing. I agree that
it would be senseless for someone to pray that the past be different
from what it was. But I do not see that this is necessarily what one
would be doing. After all, we believe that G-d is omniscient and, so,
would anticipate your prayers. Accordingly, your prayer need not be
that G-d change the past (which I agree is senseless); rather it might
be that G-d already have brought things about in certain way. Consider
the last example cited in the mishnah: It would indeed be incoherent
(I think) for me to pray that, should a member of my family have been
harmed, it be G-d's will that he not have been harmed. But it would not
be incoherent for me to pray that it be G-d's will that no member of my
family have been harmed in the first place. Since G-d would anticipate
this prayer, it would seem that it could be as efficacious as any

     Bernard Katz


End of Volume 12 Issue 89