Volume 13 Number 8
                       Produced: Fri May 13  0:31:31 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

         [Avi Feldblum]
Dvar Torah for Shavuot
         [R. Shaya Karlinsky]
Is Academic Research Legitimate? (2)
         [Hayim Hendeles, Avi Feldblum]
Syrian Community's Policy On Converts
         [Moshe Shamah]


From: mljewish (Avi Feldblum)
Date: Thu, 12 May 1994 23:47:35 -0400
Subject: Administrivia

First, I would like to remind people that Arnie has submitted to the
archives a dvar torah on Shavuot from Rav Soloveichek. To obtain a copy,
all you need to do, is send an email message that says:

get mail-jewish rav_shavuot

to: <listserv@...>

Second, we have a posting in this issue that I expect will raise a lot
of heat. While I suspect that there are many that may feel I should not
have allowed this posting to go through as is, after discussing it with
the submitter as well as two of the Rabbis on the list, I feel it should
go out. The basic issue is one that I feel should be addressed, even if
the method used, to my mind - which I freely admit is biased on this
account- at least, is spurious at best. Further comment after the

Avi Feldblum
mail-jewish Moderator


From: R. Shaya Karlinsky <msbillk@...>
Date: Fri, 13 May 1994 00:33:15 +0300 (WET)
Subject: Dvar Torah for Shavuot

     Pirkei Avot, Chapter 6 (learned the 6th Shabbat after Pesach, which
comes out right before Shavuot) Mishna 7 lists the 48 things through which
Torah is acquired.  Nos. 9, 10 and 11 are: B'Shimush Chachaim, b'dikduk
chavierim, b'pilpul hatalmidim.  The Maharal explains how these work in the
acquisition of Torah, transcendant Divine wisdom.
     #9 is Shimush chachamim, serving (or personal involvement with)
chachamim, as opposed to simply being taught by them.  This is based on the
Gemara (Brachot 7b): "Gedolah shimusha yoter milimuda..."  Personal
closeness with the Talmid chacham enables the student to attach himself to,
connect with, the talmid chacham.  The way that the fire of a candle is
transferred only if the burning wick is brought close to what needs to be
kindled, so too the Torah is transmitted from the Rav to the talmid only if
there is a closeness between them.  This closeness cannot come simply from
studying under the Rav, but requires "shimush," close personal contact,
creating a "chibur", a close attachment.
     #10 is Dibuk chaveirim, bonding of friends, which is necessary because
the Torah cannot really be received by a person who is alone.  The Gemara
(Taanit 7a, Makot 10a) makes a drasha on the pasuk (Yirmiyahu 50:36)
"Cherev el badim v'no'alu": Cherev al tzavarei soneihem shel talmidei
chachamim sheyoshvim v'oskim b'Torah bahd b'vahd [a sword is drawn on the
necks of talmidei chachamim who sit and learn Torah singly] v'lo od eleh
shemetapshin [not only that, but they become "stupid]... v'lo od eleh
shechot'in [not only that, they commit sins (since they learn the Halacha
     The Maharal explains the necessary mechanism as follows.  Man's Divine
intellect must be elevated beyond his physical being, transcending the
physical body in which it resides.  This is done by man transmitting and
transferring Torah from himself to another.  As long as man is sitting and
studying by himself, the Torah remains within him and his material self,
not enabling him to acess the true heights of this wisdom.  The result is
an incomplete understanding of the Torah, since that understanding is
limited by its physical nature and can't go beyond what is accessible in
the purely materialistic nature of human knowledge.  So he becomes,
relatively, stupid; and he makes mistakes in the Halachca, causing sin.
This is what happens when man is learning Torah by himself.  If, however,
he must transmit it to another he can transcend himself, and access the
full dimension of the Divine wisdom embodied in Torah.
     #11 is B'pilpul hatalmidim, intellectual "give-and-take" with ones
students.  (Anyone have a better English word for "pilpul"? Discourse?  It
is more than that...)  See the continuation of the Gemara in Taanit (7a)
"Why is Torah compared to a tree (Eitz chayim he lamachazikim bah)?  Just
like a small tree (or piece of wood) ignites a large one, so too in Torah,
the smaller scholars sharpen the greater ones...As Rebbi Chanina said (I
learned) the most from my students."  The bigger the tree or piece of wood
the harder it is to catch fire (at least initially).  So too, a great
talmid chacham, whose understanding is great, doesn't begin to ask and
question, which prevents give and take (pilpul) which would lead to greater
understanding.  But a smaller scholar or student asks questions, and
through those QUESTIONS forces the greater scholar into a give and take to
develop an answer, which leads him to a deeper understanding himself.
     The Maharal summarizes these three elements of Torah acquisition in
Rebbi Chanina's total statement: "Harbei Torah lamadity meirabotay..."
Torah is trasmitted to us through our teachers, through our "shimush" of
them.  "...umeichaveiai yoter meirabotai..." since we interact with our
peers in our Torah study.  "...umitalmidai yoter mikulam" because they ask
questions which sharpens the understanding of the great Torah scholars.

     Shabbat Shalom and a Chag Matan Torateinu Sameiach.


From: Hayim Hendeles <hayim@...>
Date: Tue, 10 May 94 10:39:05 -0700
Subject: Is Academic Research Legitimate?

 There have been several posts in the recent past suggesting that
 certain accepted traditional practices be changed in view of modern
 academic research information now available to us, unknown to our

 While this is certainly a legitimate question, obviously, it is not one
 that can be practically discussed in this forum. The precedent of
 destroying accepted tradition is so dangerous (as history will verify),
 that such questions can only be dealt with by the Gedolei Yisroel
 (leading Torah scholars). 

 However, there is a prerequisite issue, which I believe may yield
 a fruitful discussion on this forum. This is a critical issue, IMHO,
 often overlooked, and must be asked before we can even ask the question
 about the impact of modern scholarship on Minhag/Halacha.

 The question is: Is modern academic scholarship legitimate in the
 eyes of Halacha?

 Let me explain. If someone were to give Moses 5 cents to testify
 in court, his testimony would not be acceptable. Although his honesty
 is unquestioned, the Torah states specifically that "a bribe will
 blind the eyes of the wise". Thus, despite his integrity, this 5 cent
 bribe renders Moses' testimony invalid.

 Now consider the current academic world. Research, is carried out
 by individuals, paid to do research, and forced to publish under
 the cardinal academic rule "Publish or Perish". Virtually all
 academians are under pressure to publish original research.

 (As an aside, perhaps one  might also argue, that academians can only
 publish works which agree with the general "accepted" school of
 thought. Oftentimes, when original research leads an academian to a
 conclusion at odds with the general community, they face ridicule,
 scorn, loss of grants,  and even possible termination. Thus, an
 academian may not even be able to give you an unbiased opinion.)

 To go one step further, perhaps it is this pressure that has led to
 numerous instances of fradulent papers/research over the past several
 years. Within the past few weeks alone, the news media has been filled
 with reports that one widely accepted study about treating breast
 cancer has been found to be based upon phony data. Last summer, Time
 magazine had an entire article devoted to the numerous instances of
 fraud uncovered in the academic world. And quite obviously, they can
 only write about the cases that have been discovered.  Who knows how
 many other instances of academic fraud are there that have not been

 Please don't get me wrong. I have no doubts that the vast majority
 of academic studies are legitimate, and the researchers do have
 integrity. But the fact is, that whether it occurs in 1 case out of a 100,
 or 1 case out of a 1,000,000, fraud does exist. And perhaps, halacha
 must concern itself with the possibility that this might be the 1 case.

 While I concede that fraud exists in the real world as well, and 
 yet halacha stipulates that any given individual has a presumption
 of being honest, *perhaps* this rule does not apply to researchers,
 because of my first point above - i.e. by the nature of the system,
 they have a vested interest in their work, and Halacha does not
 accord such testimony a presumption of being trustworthy.

 So my question is twofold:
   1) Since the researchers do have a vested interest in the
      publication of their research, perhaps this self-interest or lack
      of objectivity, might halachikally invalidate their conclusions.

   2) Even if their research could theoretically be accepted,
      does halacha say we cannot do so since there is a non-zero
      probability (albeit minute) the research is fraudulent?

 Hayim Hendeles

P.S. Our moderator raised the issue of a Rosh Yeshiva. Couldn't one
ask the same questions on a Rosh Yeshiva?

But there is a world of difference here. Although a Rosh Yeshiva may
be receiving a salary, that is merely for the purpose of teaching. 
A Rosh Yeshiva need not say anything original - it is enough for
him to teach what has already been said. Most important,
a Rosh Yeshiva does not receive a salary for resolving Halachik
issues, nor is he under any pressure whatsoever to publish anything.

Even Rabbi Soloveitchik zt"l, for example, never published anything.
Furthermore, many great Roshei Yeshiva would never/rarely even answer
Halachik questions. For example, I have heard, that Rabbi Chaim
Soloveitchik zt"l would refer halachik questions to the Rav of the city
for resolution.

In the leading universities, however, the situation is the opposite.
The bigger the professor, the less interest in their teaching or
students, and the more in their research and publishing.  It is not
in the yeshivas, but only in the academic world where the motto is
publish or perish. Thus, the intent of the salary is for them to
publish. Whether they have something to say or not, they had better
say it, lest they find themselves out of a job.  And this, is the
root of my question.

From: mljewish (Avi Feldblum)
Date: Fri, 13 May 1994 00:25:11 -0400
Subject: Is Academic Research Legitimate?

The basic question that Hayim raises, what should be the relationship of
academic research, especially in the areas of Talmud, Jewish History of
the Talmudic and Geonic period, etc to traditional methods of learning
Torah and to Halakha, is an important one in my mind, and one I would
like to see discussed here on mail-jewish.

The approach Hayim has taken, though, is in my biased opinion is lacking
in any validity. Let me first clearly state the nature of my bias. My
father is an academic, doing "academic research" in the area of Talmud.
He was the Talmud department at YU's Bernard Revel graduate school for
many years, and has been head of Bar Ilan's Talmud department for the
last several years, prior to starting partial retirement this year.

First, in a fundimental way, it is my opinion that if you wish to raise
this type of objection to academic research, the same issue can be
played against any posek who is a paid shul Rabbi, against anyone who is
payed by an institution that depends on public support for its budget,
e.g. probably all Yeshivot.

Second, I cannot imagine that trying to generate this type of baseless
accusation is consistant with Torah ideals.

Lastly, my experience with the academic world indicates to me that the
"myth" of "publish or perish" is highly overblown in the non-academic
world looking in to the academic world. I do not deny that there exists
a pressure to publish, especially if you are in a "hot" field and want
to make your way up to the top. I don't think there is quite the same
pressure in the field of Talmud. My personal knowledge is that while I
bug my father to publish more, he is happier teaching and working with
his students. There is no doubt in my mind that he has had more freedom
to explore deeply the Talmudic field as a Talmud academic, then he would
have had as a Rosh Yeshiva, which he surely could have been.

With these few words, I now await the onslaught from both sides on this

Avi Feldblum
mail-jewish Moderator


From: <MSHAMAH@...> (Moshe Shamah)
Date: Thu, 05 May 1994 21:46:24 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Syrian Community's Policy On Converts

Perusing previous m-j postings I noticed there was discussion on the
Brooklyn Syrian community's decree not to accept converts.  It appears
there was a misunderstanding which should be clarified.

The decree focuses on those who convert for the purpose of marrying a
Jew or Jewess.  A non-Jew who is clearly motivated by marriage but who
sincerely and properly converts, should normally be accepted
halakhically.  However, the Syrian rabbis realized they were being
fooled by insincere candidates, etc. and established the 1935 decree not
to accept those who were converting in conjunction with a prospective or
past marriage.  The decree was not addressed to those who converted just
for the love of Judaism.

This was vividly brought home to me about 25 years ago by Rabbi Jacob S.
Kassin, HKBH send him speedy recovery, the long-time chief rabbi of the
Brooklyn Syrian community and one of the 1935 takana signatories.  A
community member who was also a member of an Ashkenazi yeshiva married a
righteous convert.  The marriage was performed by a leading Ashkenazi
rosh hayeshiva.  The Shabbat morning after the wedding he davened in our
shul.  The mesader aliyot (gabbay) rushed to Shaare Zion where Rabbi
Kassin davened and asked him what to do.  Rabbi Kassin said he's
familiar with the case and it doesn't fall into the takana as the bride
is a righteous convert who previously converted independently of
marriage considerations and we should give the gentleman an aliya.
Although the mesader was reliable I wanted to confirm this and several
days later personally asked Rabbi Kassin.  He got a bit excited and
declared, "The takana is not for this woman - she's a refugee who came
to Judaism."


End of Volume 13 Issue 8