Volume 13 Number 63
                       Produced: Thu Jun 16  9:12:38 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Changing the past
         [Bernard Katz]
Publications re Mofsim (supernatural signs)
         [Sam Juni]
Yosef and Bitachon
         [Yitzchok Adlerstein]


From: <bkatz@...> (Bernard Katz)
Date: Sun, 5 Jun 1994 16:32:11 -0400
Subject: Changing the past

     In trying to articulate my view on retrospective prayer, I remarked
that I thought that it is logically impossible to change the past. As I
have emphasized, I think that this issue is incidental to the larger
question that I have been pressing. But since some have found my view
about changing the past obscure, I will to try to clarify it.

     Rabbi Freundel remarks that

> One miracle that comes close to changing the past is the
> midrashic sex change of Dinah (in response to Leah's prayer) from
> male to female 

The reference, I take it, is to the discussion in the Talmud which
includes the remark: "After Leah had passed judgement on herself . . .
the child was changed to a girl" (Berachot 60a). Doubtless, this change
would count as a miracle, but I don't see that it even comes close to
changing the past. We are told that after Leah's prayer, there was a
change in the sex of the fetus. But the change in the child from male to
female did not alter the fact about the past that Leah originally
conceived a male.

     Dr. Sam Juni asks why changing the past is logically impossible.
He says:

> I have no idea which law of logic such a change would be 
> violating. Do you mean, perhaps, that it is something which we do
> not experience?

The relevant law of logic is the law of non-contradiction: the
supposition that one might change the past implies that some state of
affairs both would have obtained and would not have obtained at one and
the same time, and this would be a contradiction.

Let me try to explain. Consider what would be involved in changing the
past. Last Sunday afternoon, I mowed my lawn. Thus, it is a fact about
last Sunday that at some time during the afternoon, I mowed my lawn. If
someone were now able to change the past with respect to that fact, then
that person could now bring it about that I did not mow my lawn last
Sunday afternoon. In that case, it would be a fact about last Sunday
that at no time during the afternoon did I mow my lawn. But it is a
contradiction to suppose that at one and the same time I both mowed my
lawn and did not mow my lawn. In other words, given that it is a fact
about the past that I mowed my lawn last Sunday afternoon, someone can
now bring it about that I didn't mow my lawn last Sunday afternoon only
if that person can now do something which have the result that something
both is true of last Sunday and is not true of last Sunday. (In my view,
not even G-d can do this, despite His omnipotence.)

It may be helpful to compare this with what is involved in change of the
mundane sort. Suppose that I change my shirt, replacing a white one with
a blue one. In order for this to happen, I must first be wearing a white
shirt and subsequently a blue one. In other words, if I change my shirt,
then I bring it about that certain things that were true of me at one
time (for example, that I am wearing a white shirt, that I am not
wearing a blue shirt) are no longer true of me. In general, a thing
changes only if there is a variation in that thing's properties or
characteristics with respect to time: that is, the thing acquires a
property it did not have an earlier time, or loses a property that it
did have. If this picture is right, we can see why the idea of changing
the past is logically (as opposed to merely physically) problematic:
changing the past would require that we were able to bring about a
variation in something's property with respect to the same time, it
would entail that something has incompatible properties at one and the
same time. And this is an incoherent idea.

     In my earlier posting, I imagined a situation in which a student
receives a letter containing his or her grades. Before opening the
envelope, the student prays that all of the grades be A's. Dr. Juni
asks, "Why is that considered prayer for a past event?"

     It doesn't have to be, but it could be; and given several natural
assumptions, I think that it would be. The student could be praying for
a miracle: namely, that his or her grades be changed from F's to A's.
The student could, in other words, be praying for divine grade
tampering, asking that all of the university's transcripts and records
be changed. This might be what the student is praying for, but I doubt
it. It is more likely that the student is praying that he or she
received A's from the outset. And if this is what the student is doing,
then the student's prayer is retrospective.

     Dr. Juni also raises several interesting questions about the
connection between retrospective prayer and backward causation. Dr.
Juni and I agree that retrospective prayer does not require a miracle to
be successful. Where we seem to disagree is on the question of whether
it requires backward causation. Part of our disagreement may be
connected with our views about causality and how, in general, causality
and prayer are linked. In the case of all (petionary) prayer, whether
retrospective or prospective, one does something with the hope that
one's supplication will have some bearing on G-d's determination of the
course of events. I do not claim to understand how this might happen,
but it seems to me that nothing that I do has any causal effect
whatsoever on G-d. (How could it if G-d is immutable?) But leaving aside
the question of whether this is properly construed as a causal
connection, I agree completely with Dr. Juni that retrospective prayer
would be a case of trying to affect the past in the sense that one is
doing something with the intention that something else should previously
have happened.

     Bernard Katz
     University of Toronto


From: Sam Juni <JUNI@...>
Date: Sun, 12 Jun 1994 14:35:38 -0400
Subject: Publications re Mofsim (supernatural signs)

     The Orthodox Jewish publication establishment has been flooding us
with accounts of the supernatural which have allegedly been ongoing
"right under our noses."  I find these accounts to be based on faulty
reporting and on a lack of understanding of the nature of rumors and
selective memory.  While I am aware of the Prosletysing value of such
presentations, I feel it is important to debunk them simply because
they are based on faulty assumptions.  Just as I argue against using
expedient arguments from the "Codes" if these are inaccurate, so do I
argue against the use of these nebulous magics and ESP tales even if they
achieve (allegedly) a positive end.  (Although this is NOT my motive as
such, one can support my position by appealing to the fact that efforts
founded on faulty assumptions are bound to disintegrate or even to back-

     Let me give  one example.   The story of Mrs. So-and-So in the
Nazi death camp, whose father comes to her in a dream and tells her to
get up quickly and rescue her brother who is in danger of dying from
exposure in a heap of bodies outside the barracks. She searches for the
brother, finds him, and revives him.  I am not impressed; here is why.

       1. The woman may have heard of the possibility, but ignored it
          for some reason.  In her dream, the idea resurfaced in this
          guise, and it prompted her to act.

       2. This is the clincher!  There is a story of another woman whose
          mother comes to her in a dream, telling her of her sister who
          is in dire danger in her apartment. The woman wakes up, calls
          her sister, and finds that she is fine.

          How many people will publicise the second story?  How many
          books will elaborate on the story?  How about one? And will
          the book sell?

          My point is that for every story of success which is recounted,
          there are upteem others of failures which are not.  Compute the
          statistics, and see if we are above chance levels.

          This line of reasoning is equally applicable to stories of
          revelations, predictions, and "Mofsim" (signs).  Only successes
          are retold while failures are forgotten.

       3.  When we add to these qualifications the distortions in
           accuracy due to selective attention, rumor reinforcement,
           and selective memory (let alone outright intentional dis-
           tortion) the probability value of such material drops to

    I tried this experiemnt at home.  I have asked my children's friends
who visit to think of a number, which I then proceed to guess.
Sometimes I was correct.  Surprizingly, word has gotten out about "my
powers." What has happenned is that the "victims" of my successes spread
the word, while my failures simply forgot the events and shrugged them
off (rightfully). Moreover, my children who have witnessed failures
and successes, seem to remember the latter more than the former. (I
should add that I use a statistical "trick" in my guesses, based on
tendencies of a major proportion of people to prefer specific numbers in
guessing strategies.  However, this does not change my argument. Indeed,
I'll bet many of the "miracle workers" do assemble such strategies as
well, knowingly or unwittingly.)

      I am disturbed by the regression toward rumerology implicit in
this recent publication deluge.  I fail to understand its sociological
meaning.  Perhaps, it simply is due to the easier to access to
publication technology, which brings with it a lowering of standards and
a minimization in economic risks in publishing marginall material.

     Dr. Sam Juni                  Fax (212) 995-3474
     New York University           Tel (212) 998-5548
     400 East
     New York, N.Y.  10003


From: Yitzchok Adlerstein <ny000594@...>
Date: Wed, 08 Jun 94 23:33:23 -0800
Subject: Yosef and Bitachon

Art Kamlet replied to my posting:

>Someone as Moshe Rebennu, leader of all of Israel, who spoke face
>to face with G-d, would clearly be expected to have an advanced
>level of bitachon.  But even Moses needed evidence; the burning
>bush may have been a bit dramatic, but Moses must have needed
>convincing.  The manifold ways to use the rod, that too was most
>convincing.  Look at Joseph.  Not a leader.  Thrown into a pit by
>his own brothers. Sold to be a servant to Potiphar.  Victim of
>lies which has now gotten him a long jail term.  No evidence he
>talked with G-d.  

One of the terrific advantages of not posting your own Torah ideas, but
conveying those of Torah giants, is that if you are criticized, you
don't have to absorb the punishment yourself.  Any criticism of what I
wrote about Yosef should be sent directly to the authors.  In this case,
the ultimate source is Midrash Rabbah, whose authors can be reached in
the seventh level of Gan Eden :-) The Midrash does in fact apply a
Biblical verse "Fortunate is the man who trusts in Hashem" to Yosef, and
procedes to chide him for securing the help of his cellmate.  What
followed was the explanation of the Bais HaLevi and Rav Dessler.

As far as Art's point, I was taught differently by my rabbeim.  Yosef
didn't have to reinvent the wheel; he did not discover Divine Providence
on his own.  (Neither did Moshe, for that matter.)  Yosef was the
recipient of a wonderful mesorah [tradition] from his father,
grandfather and greatgrandfather, all of whom had some pretty convincing
stories to tell about Hashem's track record of coming through for His
loved ones.  He was well acquainted with the art and science of bitachon
[trust in and reliance upon Hashem], and criticized by Chazal only
because they assumed Yosef HaTzaddik (as he is so often called in our
literature) to occupy the highest rung of bitachon achievement.

>I'm trying to understand how or where Joseph had been given any
>reason to think G-d expected him to sit back, relax, take no
>action himself, and that his reward would be that G-d would
>release him early.  

I didn't say anything like this.  I argued that Yosef was fully expected
to work vigorously to secure his freedom.  He is faulted not for his
actions, but for his elevated adrenalin level.  Knowing that "Ayn od
milvado," that nothing ultimately exists but Hashem Himself, whose Will
is responsible for all phenomena, Yosef should have realized that the
length of his incarceration was entirely in the Hands of Hashem.  He had
no way of knowing when Hashem would allow him out.  He did know that
whenever Hashem decided to let him out, He had a way to accomplish His
Will.  As Chazal say, "Harbay sheluchim L'Makom" - Hashem has many
agents.  It did not depend on the "fortuitous" presence of a cellmate.
Yosef's salvation would occur neither earlier nor later than Hashem
wished - and praying to Him was his best strategy.  On his level of
clear vision and bitachon, there was no reason to be excited when the
light at the end of the tunnel seemed to appear.  If and when the end of
the tunnel would ever be reached, Yosef knew he did not have to be able
to recognize it in advance.

Art continues:

>I do not understand why he "acts very differently."  Two years
>earlier, when he first was asked to interpret the butler's and
>baker's dreams, he says ( Gen 40:8 ) "...  interpretations belong
>to G-d " To which Hertz comments: "it may be that G-d who sent the
>dreams will give me the interpretation of them."  So why wait two
>years?  Joseph had learned that interpretation of dreams comes
>from G-d before he asked the butler to put in a good word for him.
>He does not seem to be acting very differently.  He says before
>the two years: G-d interprets dreams.  Having spent two more years
>in jail for trying to help himself, he is finally released, and he
>says: G-d interprets dreams.  How does Joseph saying It all comes
>from G-d, teach us he has learned anything?  

Please look again.  The first time, he does humbly make the disclaimer
that interpretations belong to G-d, and immediately follows it with,
"Relate it [the dream], please, to me."  The next time, he exclaims,
"Biladai!"  It is not me!  "Hashem will answer Paroh's request.  The
contrast is clear.  He does NOT follow this up with a "tell it to me
anyway."  The reason, says Rav Dessler, is that he wished to play down
in his own mind the role of his own involvement in the success of his
mission.  He did not walk away from the role, though.

>And most importantly, >how does the Torah teach us how to act if
>we were falsely accused >of a crime, and imprisoned, and saw a
>chance to get a good word >about us to the outside?  

It expects us to get the word out.  And then to understand that the
success or failure of the attempt will depend on one factor alone:
the Will of G-d.

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
Yeshiva of LA


End of Volume 13 Issue 63