Volume 13 Number 46
                       Produced: Thu Jun  2  8:02:24 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Ashkenazic vs. Sephardic  (Fred Dweck)
         [Eliyahu Juni]
Codes' information content
         [Mike Gerver]


From: <ao107@...> (Eliyahu Juni)
Date: Thu, 26 May 1994 02:50:26 -0400
Subject: Re:  Ashkenazic vs. Sephardic  (Fred Dweck)

In v13n28, Fred Dweck put forth two suggestions for discussion: That
mail-jewish establish the Sephardic pronunciation as its 'standard,' and
that any halacha which is not accepted by both Sephardi and Ashkenazi
poskim be described as such, to prevent confusion and/or misinformation.

I agree that any poster quoting a halacha which is not universally
accepted should detail the limits of that halacha.  Such a halachic
boundary can be one of individual authorities, community differences
such as Sephardi/Ashkenazi/Teimani or ideological differences within the
Orthodox community, such as Chassidic vs.  non.  I also think that the
same rule should apply to any custom, opinion, guidance or
recommendation.  But in effect, this requires every poster to have an
immensely wide base in Torah, but of its practical permutations in all
the Orthodox communities in the world, to an extent that I doubt there
is anyone alive who would qualify.  Who knows *every* minhag of the all
different communities of Ashkenazim or Sephardim, let alone both?  There
are enough variations among the individual communities of Poland, Iraq,
Yemen, or any other area once inhabited by large numbers of Jews to keep
a trivia collector busy for a lifetime without trying to cover all of
Orthodox Jewry.

I think it would be far better to

a) Request that posters provide as much of this knowledge as they have,
(and possibly to add this request to the note which is sent to new list

b) Put the differences which come up most often, such as kitniyos
b'Pesach and Glatt/Chalak, in the FAQ, (or create a special FAQ for such

c) Accept that all of us are limited by the fact that we live within
communities and cannot know what the practices of all other communities
are, and therefore *not* establish any minimum knowledge requirement of
the practices of other communities.

d) Make it our collective business to fill in or correct any information
which is missing or mistaken in anything which appears in mail-jewish.

One of the many benefits of mail-jewish is that it allows us to hear
from Jews in far-flung corners of the world, with whom we would have no
contact without the Internet.  This communication can provide a lot of
information, especially in the area of halacha and minhag, of which we
would never know otherwise.  The ignorance of someone in Community A
about the practices of Community B, when it shows up on this list, can
be used as an opportunity to spread Torah, by informing that person,
and, in the process, the entire mail-jewish community.  Minimum
standards are not in agreement with this process.  Anyone with something
to say should say it, regardless of how thoroughly they know the extent
to which other communities adhere to it; if there is anything missing,
hopefully it will be pointed by other readers who know more.

Now for a much stickier issue--standard pronunciation.

Practically speaking, there may be a need for such a policy, but I find
some parts of the reasoning by which Fred proposes that we adopt the
Sephardic pronunciation to be very problematic.  To wit:

>. . . Since the State of Israel has adopted an official Hebrew
>pronunciation and almost all those who are on the list (maybe ALL)
>can speak Israeli Hebrew, maybe we can make that pronunciation the
>standard for M-J.
[. . .]
>If Israel can set a standard, why can't we??. . .

There is no denying that secular Zionism has had elements of
anti-religious-Judaism in its history.  Whether we see Zionism as the
core of Torah, a part of Torah, irrelevant to Torah, or antithetical to
Torah, whether we advocate cooperating with secular Zionists in matters
of mutual interest, ignoring them, or hampering them, we should never
help secular Zionism's efforts to stifle Judaism.

The State of Israel formalized a decision made by some Zionists (back
when the State of Israel was a goal, not a reality,) to use the
Sephardic pronunciation instead of the Ashkenazi ones with which they
grew up.  Without reopening the issue as to whether there is such a
thing as a "correct" pronunciation, (and if there is, which one it is,)
I find it problematic for mail-jewish to follow their dictum.  Its
purpose is contrary to the objective which we share.

This modification was one of those by which some Zionists (and some
Maskilim before them) tried to distance themselves from Torah.  They
wanted to show that the Judaism of Europe, of the Yeshivos, the Rebbes,
and the frumme shtetlach wasn't for them, that they were above it.
Their language would not be the language of Tanach, of the Talmudim, of
the Perushim and T'shuvos of talmidei chachamim, but a modern language
for their modern irreligious nation of Israel.

This is not the approach of Rav Kook or the Chovevei Tziyon--it is the
attitude of those who see Zionism as the delivery of the Jews from
Judaism, of those whose goal is to make out of the Jews a nation like
all others.  The institution of the Sephardic pronunciation as
'official' was part of a package--a package which included the
elimination of Shabbos and Yomim Tovim on HaShomer HaTzair kibbutzim;
the secularization, whether by force or by pressure, of Eastern
immigrants who had never seen a secular Jewish society and were not
ready to withstand it; the attempts to separate the legal structure of
the State of Israel from religion; and a long, long list of other ways
in which anti-religious Zionists have tried to put an end to Judaism, or
to relegate it to a collection of minor cultural tidbits and ceremonies.
It is part of the package which has produced the prevalent Israeli
attitude toward religion and religious Jews, an unfortunate attitude of
loathing and sometimes even hate.

(In no way is this meant to say that Sephardic pronunciation is
illegitimate or irreligious, chas v'shalom.  The intent of those who
made this decision was a deliberate move away from tradition, which for
them was Ashkenazi tradition.  Had they lived in one of the many
Sephardi religious communities, with their eminent Talmidei Chachamim
and their abundant Torah, they would have undoubtedly standardized the
Ashkenazi pronunciation, or another which they perceived to be 'modern,'
in their quest to step away from tradition and abolish the "traditional"

Part of rejecting the approach of anti-religious Zionism and trying to
mitigate and counter the effects of its agenda is to reject its attempt
to obliterate the traditional speech of European Jewry.  It is the
cultural front of an ideological conflict.  To standardize Sephardic
pronunciation because the State of Israel did is to either subscribe to
the agenda of those who want to eradicate religion, or to allow their
agenda to determine our course of action.

Besides the Israeli precedent, there may be other reasons why
non-Sephardim should use Sephardic pronunciation.  But once standardized
pronunciation has become part of the conflict between religion and those
who wish to eradicate it, some would say that we should preserve our
traditional pronunciation in the face of those reasons, to hold the fort
against those who wish to undermine it.  (This approach has been widely
adopted in the chareidi world, from which many m-j'ers hail.)  Even if
we do not subscribe to this approach, and adopt the Sephardi
pronunciation, we should not make a blanket change, in the footsteps of
an anti-religious plan; we should adopt it to the extent required by our
purpose, and in other areas, retain our traditional pronunciation.

>        . . . and almost all those who are on the list (maybe ALL)
>can speak Israeli Hebrew, maybe we can make that pronunciation the
>standard for M-J.
>Also, those of us who are Sephardic, sometimes have a heck of a
>time trying to decipher what is meant. Would it be so hard to
>write: Shabbat instead of Shabbos, mitasek instead of misasek
>(which took me at least 2 minutes to figure out, and I speak
>fluent Hebrew.) or Beit Hamikdash instead of bies?? We Sepharadim
>have almost no occasion to use Ahkenazic Hebrew pronunciation,
>while most Ashkenazim are at least familiar with the Israeli

I haven't done a survey of mail-jewish subscribers, but I know a lot of
Ashkenazim who have similar difficulty with Sephardi pronunciation.
Because of the Israeli standardization of Sephardi pronunciation, most
Ashkenazim have at least heard it here and there, but not everyone can
pick up a form of speech from infrequent clips.  Even those who know
enough of it to understand it may not know enough to convert their own
Hebrew into Sephardic pronunciation (the differences between kamatz
katan and gadol are especially confusing.)  Add to this limited
familiarity the vagaries of transliteration, even within a specific
pattern of pronunciation, and the difficulties which you describe with
Ashkenazi pronunciation appear in the reverse case too.  For example, I
am sometimes confused by some of those who use Sephardi pronunciation on
this list and transliterate both the letter heh and the letter ches
(het) as 'h;' often the context will demonstrate which is meant, but
when it doesn't, I too can find reading a post to be a laborious task.

Maybe the only solution would be to establish a standard mail-jewish
transliteration scheme which would cover all the variations in both
Ashkenazi and Sephardi pronunciation (aleph vs.  ayin, taf vs. saf,
patach vs. kamatz gadol vs. kamatz katan vs.  cholam, tzeire vs. segeil,
etc.)  (I wouldn't want to be the one who had to figure out how to do
it, or to resolve the preliminary dikduk!!!)  But I suspect it would be
so complicated that it would end up as an obstacle for anyone trying to
post here, whether their native pronunciation is Sephardi or Ashkenazi,
because they would have to figure out how each word would appear in our
official transliteration scheme.  Better to maintain our current policy
of open transliteration.

>It almost feels as if there is no recognition that there are
>Sepharadim making valuable contributions to the list and to
>Yahdut, in general. 
[. . .]
>         . . . These problems can only be ignored, by a group that
>is insensitive to the needs of their fellow group members, who
>follow other halachot.
<in reference to omission of halachic differences between different
communities in m-j posts>

This problem is not an exclusive m-j phenomenon; it extends throughout
contemporary Orthodox society.  But not everything which is not overtly
pro-Sephardi is anti-Sephardi.  I don't see the patterns of
transliteration on mail-jewish, or the recurrent omission of halachos
which are fulfilled differently by Sephardim, as an attempt to deny
Sephardi needs or contributions.  I think that the m-j community has, by
and large, deemed the recent discussions about differences in halacha
between Sephardim and Ashkenazim to be constructive opportunities to
expand our knowledge of Torah.  Demographically, there may be more
Ashkenazim than Sephardim on m-j, and that may be the root of the
patterns of pronunciation/transliteration and omission of particular
halachos.  But that would in no way mean that Sephardim are not welcome,
or that they are 2nd class m-j'ers.  When I write 'halachos' instead of
'halachot,' 'halooches,' or 'halochoth,' I am not trying to address only
those who write and speak the same way I do, I am simply following my
own accustomed style of transliteration.  If I leave out a halacha which
applies to Sephardim, or mistakenly describe an exclusively Ashkenazi
practice as universal, I do so because of my limited knowledge, not
because I think Sephardim don't belong here.  Sephardim undoubtedly do
contribute a lot to this list, and my using Ashkenazi pronunciation in
no way denies that.

<ao107@...>            Eliyahu Juni
(416) 256-2590
<ek705@...>  /  ejuni@freenet.fsu.edu


From: <GERVER@...> (Mike Gerver)
Date: Thu, 26 May 1994 3:28:51 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Codes' information content

I'd like to make several comments on the points raised by Rav Shaya
Karlinsky, Lou Steinberg, and Sam Juni. All these comments have to do
with the "information" that is conveyed by the "hidden codes" in the
Torah, assuming they turn out to be statistically significant.

First, a minor comment on Lou's posting in v12n78. Lou says that the
phenomena investigated by Witztum et al only concern correlations between
names of famous rabbis and their yahrzeit dates, each of which by itself
is not statistically significant, so that it would not be possible for
the codes to unambiguously convey a message like "Change Shabbat to
Sunday" as suggested by Rav Karlinsky hypothetically in v12n39. While it
is true that the strings examined by Witztum, 5 to 8 characters long, are
each likely by themselves to be found somewhere in Sefer Breishit (Genesis),
one could look for much longer strings, which are not likely to be found.
If one of these strings was found as an equidistant letter sequence, then
one could claim that its presence constituted some kind of message,
particularly if it referred to something that could not have been known to
people at the time when the Torah was written.

Another point raised by Lou is that, if Witztum et al are correct in their
claim that correlations between the names and yahrzeit dates are 
statistically significant, then the only explanation, other than the
Torah being the word of G-d, is that it was written by a time-travelling
supercomputer. Lou draws this conclusion from the fact that the rabbis on
Witztum's list lived and died long after the Torah was written, and that
would seem to imply that whoever wrote the Torah had to know what would
happen in the future. 

Actually this conclusion is not true, although almost everyone who reads 
Witztum's paper, including me, jumps to that conclusion at first. I 
realized that it was not true, though, when I thought about the number of 
bytes of information that could be stored in the 78K of Breishit. That is 
far more than is needed to store the information about the few dozen rabbis
on Witztum's list, but how do we know it ends there? Suppose it worked for
everyone in the world. That would take gigabytes, but there is no reason in
principle why it couldn't happen. What would it mean if it did happen? It 
could *NOT* mean that the author of Breishit was looking into the future, 
seeing when everyone is going to die, and encoding that information into 
the text. That's not logically possible, since there aren't gigabytes of 
information in the text. One possible explanation would be that G-d 
(or anyone with knowledge of the correlations in the text) was 
preferentially causing people to die on certain dates, depending on their
names. That it would make it possible for information about the death dates 
of billions of people to be compressed into less than 78 kilobytes.

Even that's not necessary, though, since the names used by Witztum are a 
small subset of all the famous rabbis, chosen because their yahrzeit dates 
were remembered. So it could be that G-d is not causing people to 
preferentially die on certain dates, but is causing certain yahrzeit dates 
to be remembered more often, depending on the names of the people who died 
on them. That in itself is not surprising at all, since Witztum's dates are
heavily weighted toward memorable dates, like Rosh Chodesh or Chol ha-Moed,
certain names are more common in certain centuries than in other centuries,
and unmemorable yahrzeit dates are much more likely to remembered from
recent centuries. What is surprising is that these correlations happen
to show up as compact equidistant letter sequences in the text. I don't
know of any "natural" explanation for that. But it would not require
time travel.

The most important point I want to comment on, though, is that raised by
Rav Karlinsky when he told (in v12n39) about the students who assumed that
facts about the world, or about halacha, were being conveyed by the
content of the statistically significant "codes". As Rav Karlinsky and
Lou Steinberg eloquently explain in v12n78, the *content* of the "codes"
has no halachic significance; the maximum conclusion that can be drawn
from the "codes" is just that their existence (if statistically significant)
is hard to explain if the Torah was not written by G-d. Of course they
can be used (together with "codes" that are not statistically significant)
as the starting point of a "drash," making some nice point about something
in the text. But that would constitute a human comment on the text, not
a statement from G-d. This should be obvious, and yet the urge to read
some significance into the contents of the codes seems hard to resist,
as seen, for example, in Sam Juni's v12n73 posting, and in Robert Klapper's
complaint (v12n90) about the "triviality of the encoded information."

In discussing how one would react in the hypothetical situation that a
statistically significant "code" was found stating "Jesus is Messiah --
move the Sabbath to Sunday," Rav Karlinsky says this is similar to a
false prophet, who correctly predicts the future or does other apparent
miracles, but urges people to worship idols. According to halacha, such
a false prophet is not to be obeyed, but should be put to death, since
he is just sent as a test by G-d. Personally, I would not accord such a
false "code" even that much significance. Nevuah (prophecy), at least,
is a halachically valid way for G-d to convey information to us, for
example to tell us to temporarily violate some law of the Torah, because
of some emergency situation. "Codes" are not one of the ways G-d conveys
information to us, according to halacha. They are not found among Rabbi
Yishmael's shalosh esreh midot (thirteen rules of inference). Rather than
comparing them to nevuah, I would compare them to a bat kol (disembodied 
voice?). We know from the gemara (where?) that if you hear a bat kol saying
"The halacha is like Rabbi Eliezer," this does *not* mean that the halacha
is like Rabbi Eliezer! The same should be true of the codes.

For this reason, I do not think that Sam Juni's argument in v12n99 precludes
the existence of a false "code" of the sort suggested by Rav Karlinsky.
Sam argues persuasively that G-d would not allow false prophets to
perform real miracles and supernatural predictions of the future, that
false prophets must be using trickery to perform apparent miracles. If
evil people, urging people to go against the Torah, could perform real
miracles, Sam says, this would weaken our reasons for believing in the
validity of Matan Torah in the first place. I think this argument does
not necessarily apply to the codes, since no one ought to think that finding
a code saying "Change the Sabbath to Sunday" means we should change the
Sabbath to Sunday. Putting such a statement in a "code" would not be a
test, in the sense that putting such a statement in the mouth of a
miracle-performing prophet would be, since we are normally supposed to
obey the commands of miracle-performing prophets if they do not involve
idol worship, or permanently changing the Torah, but we are not supposed
to ascribe any significance to the contents of a code, whether or not it 
tells us to change the Torah.

But Sam's argument does raise another point. I said the codes should be
considered like a bat kol. But why is it that we accept halacha from
Matan Torah, but not from a bat kol, or from any other minor event that
appears supernatural? What is it about Matan Torah that makes it
qualitatively different? It begs the question to say that the Torah (as
interpreted by Chazal) tells us not to draw halachic conclusions from
a bat kol. Is it just that Matan Torah came first, and on the strength
of that we disregard all similar events that come later? If, before
Matan Torah, a bat kol had told us "The halacha is not like Moshe Rabbeinu,"
would we then be justified in not following the Torah? Or is there some
difference in quality of Matan Torah, regardless of which came first, which
should make it take precedence?

Although the vast majority of readers of this list do accept Matan Torah,
but not a bat kol, as a source of halacha, I doubt if one percent of us
could give a coherent explanation of why. As Rav Karlinsky says in v12n78,
this issue requires much more in-depth study "than it is afforded...in
ANY of our educational programs or frameworks." Most of us probably have
our own idiosyncratic reasons for accepting Matan Torah, rooted in our
personal lives and family backgrounds, and are satisfied with this situation
most of the time. It becomes more difficult to be satisfied with it,
however, if you have a bright, skeptical 11-year-old child, asking you
questions, and resisting davening and other mitzvot that he doesn't see
the sense of.

Rav Karlinsky mentions "the Rambam, Ramban, and other sources" but basically
leaves us dangling with a statement, in effect, that the margins of 
mail-jewish are too narrow to go into more detail. Perhaps he (or someone
else) can give us more details of where one might start. I am particularly 
interested in sources (perhaps not primary sources) that could be understood
by a bright 11-year-old, if that is possible.

Mike Gerver, <gerver@...>


End of Volume 13 Issue 46