Volume 13 Number 86
                       Produced: Fri Jul  1 13:57:57 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Changing the past vs. changing the future
         [Eric Safern]
Flat Earth
         [Yanke Schulman]
Rambam on the Shape of the Earth
         [Bernard Katz]
Round and Flat Earth
         [Mike Gerver]
The Chassidishe/ Yeshivishe Community in the U.S. and Chillul Hashem
         [Arnold Lustiger]


From: <esafern@...> (Eric Safern)
Date: Mon, 20 Jun 1994 16:57:06 -0400
Subject: Changing the past vs. changing the future

In reference to miraculous change of events which have already occurred,
I recently came across an interesting story in the _Shivchei haBesh"t_.
This volume is the earliest collection of legends about Yisrael Baal 
Shem Tov, the founder of the movement we know as Chasidism.

I am summarizing based on the original Ben Amos / Mintz translation, 
in which this is story #227.


The Besh"t detects a negative aura around one of his disciples, which he 
interprets as the stain of adultery.

Said disciple denies committing adultery, and in fact claims to have
maintained a celibate relationship with his wife for many years.

Upon further mystical investigation, the Besh"t determines that this man
in fact pawned his wife's jewelry to pay for a wedding.

The story then cites the Rambam as ruling that the wife of a celibate person
is "like a mother to him."  Such a person does not have rights to his wife's
personal property.  The Rambam is again cited as saying "If he sells his
wife's jewelry, it is as if he committed adultery with a married woman."

The Besh"t agrees to ascend to the heavens to remove the stain of adultery 
from this Chasid. He arrives in the proper sphere, and meets with the Rambam. 
A debate ensues between the Rambam and the Besh"t about the halacha!

Eventually the Rambam concedes the point (some say after the intervention of
the Ri"f and Ro"sh), and changes his ruling.

Since the Rambam changed his mind, the story says, the halacha has changed,
*and this is why the aforementioned halacha cannot be found in the book*
[meaning the Mishnah Torah, I assume]!!!

In this way the stain was removed from this Chasid.

As I understand the story, the Mishnah Torah at one point contained a
certain halacha.  By dint of the Besh"t's mystical efforts, the halacha
was changed, and so were all copies of Mishnah Torah!  It is therefore
as if the halacha never existed.

To me, this seems like a truly retroactive miracle.  Of course, the miracle
was performed by the Besh"t, rather than by divine intervention.  Does
this make a difference?

Can anyone explain this story to me?


From: Yanke Schulman <yanke@...>
Date: Tue, 21 Jun 1994 16:49:18 -0400
Subject: Flat Earth

In mj13 #72, Dr. Sam Juni writes:

>Throughout the Talmud, concepts still invoke "Top" AND "Bottom", still
>refer to the "Center" of the world, (i.e., Jerusalem), still refer to
>the "edge of the world

   He understands this to imply essentially an orientation of a flat
earth, hence possessing a "center" and an "edge".

   Actually, neither term implies this at all. The Talmud describes
Jerusalem as being both the center of, and the highest point of the
world.  Based on use of the term "ascent" in the Torah, as in the verse
"And you shall rise and ascend to the place" (i.e., Jerusalem), the
Talmud concludes that the land of Israel is higher than all other lands.
The question is - what about Mt. Everest?  Does this mean the Talmudic
Rabbis were deficient in their geography?!

   The answer is that our own orientation is biased by an assumption of
a secular world-view. When we look at a map, North is always on top; all
other directions are described relative to it. The Torah, though,
invariably begins with East as the point of origin.  An observer faces
east, the right (Yemin) is south, etc.

   Similarly, we look at the North Pole as the the "top" of the world.
This is obviously an arbitrary convention, since we are dealing with a
spherical planet that has no true top or bottom.

   In the Torah world-view, though, the world exists for the sake of
people, who were created last and charged with perfecting the world.  We
could therefore properly describe the center of the world as the center
of human population.  This coincides with the land of Israel.  Moreover,
if we orient ourselves relative to that spot, and view the globe
directly over Israel, we see that the three continents of the world's
major land mass - Europe, Asia, and Africa - arrange themselves around
the top of the world.

   Thus, in human/physical terms, Jerusalem is both the world's center
as well as its "top".  This is true *only* if the earth is round; on a
flat earth, the top refers to the highest mountain.

   With regard to the term "edge": It is highly reasonable to refer to
the seacoast as the edge of the land mass, with Okeanus (Oceania)
encircling the remainder of the globe. The word "kadur" in the
Yerushalmi quoted by Tosfos in Av. Zarah, and referenced in many jm
postings, unequivocally means "ball", and is used with that meaning in
Mas. Shabbos with regard to playing ball on Shabbos. The image of the
man holding a ball is thus akin to the Greek notion of Atlas holding up
the world, and is a bona fide Avoda Zarah.

Yanke Shulman      


From: <bkatz@...> (Bernard Katz)
Date: Tue, 21 Jun 1994 23:06:22 -0400
Subject: Rambam on the Shape of the Earth

It is well established that the ancient Greeks, at least from the time
of Pythagoras, held that the Earth is a sphere. Aristotle certainly held
this view about the shape of the Earth, and I believe that this was
scientific orthodoxy (at least in the West) after the time of Aristotle.
(Apparently, there was disagreement about the size of the Earth though
some of the computations were remarkably accurate.)

Accordingly, while I agree with Eric Safern that we should be cautious
about turning Chazal into 20th Century astronomers and physicists, I
don't think that the view that the Earth is a sphere is a peculiarly
modern notion. In particular, it would have been familiar to medieval
Aristotelians, such as the Rambam. Eric claims:

> As for the round Earth issue, it appears to me that at least the Rambam
> believed the Earth to be flat.  See the first chapter of his _Guide of
> the Perplexed_.  The _Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah_ in the _Mishnah Torah_
> also contains astronomical material which does not fit well with 20th
> Century knowledge.

Doubtless, many of the Rambam's views in chapters 3 and 4 of The Hilchot
Yesodei HaTorah are inconsistent with 20th Century astronomy, but one of
those views, indeed a central one, is the Aristotelian doctrine of the
spheres. For example, the Rambam says:

   All these [nine] spheres which surround the world are spherical
   like a ball, and the Earth is suspended in their midst. [3:4]

I don't see that this makes clear sense unless the Rambam thought that
the Earth itself is a sphere.

   Bernard Katz


From: <GERVER@...> (Mike Gerver)
Date: Thu, 23 Jun 1994 3:54:42 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Round and Flat Earth

In the ongoing discussion started by David Kaufman in v13n39, a number
of people have pointed out that the ancient Greeks knew the earth was
round, and that it is therefore not surprising to find references in the
Talmud to a spherical earth. But there seems to be confusion as to just
when the Greeks first knew this.

The first measurement of the earth's diameter was by Eratosthenes in the
third century (200's) BCE. He noted that the sun was directly overhead
at noon on the summer solistice in Syene (Aswan), but was 7 degrees from
the zenith at that time in Alexandria. Since he knew the distance from
Syene to Alexandria, he was able to estimate the circumference of the
Earth as 25,000 miles. Other evidence for the spherical earth noted by
the Greeks was that the earth's shadow, as seen on the moon during a
partial lunar eclipse, always has a round edge, no matter how the earth
is oriented with respect to the moon. This shows that the earth is a
sphere, but doesn't tell you its diameter. I'm not sure if this argument
was first made before or after Eratosthenes measured the diameter. I'm
also not sure whether any earlier Greek argued for a round earth on
philosophical grounds.

In any case, it seems that Ezra, who lived in the 4th century BCE,
probably would not have known that the earth was round.

Mike Gerver, <gerver@...>


From: <alustig@...> (Arnold Lustiger)
Date: Fri, 24 Jun 1994 15:28:42 -0400
Subject: The Chassidishe/ Yeshivishe Community in the U.S. and Chillul Hashem

The religious community in the U.S. has recently been racked by serious
allegations of scandal. Last year the Department of Education announced
that about 20 mostly chassidishe educational institutions were being
investigated for fraudulently applying and obtaining government money
for vocational purposes. Among the allegations was that Yeshiva
education was "avocational" and that schools were applying for grants
for nonexistent students.

A few weeks ago, there was a front page article in the Wall Street
Journal indicating that the Satmer community Kiryas Joel was being
investigated by a number of different government agencies for abuse and
fraud. Among the major allegations was that money appropriated for a
medical center was misappropriated for religious institutions. The
unfinished medical center was destroyed by fire under suspicious

Finally today (6/24) the New York Times indicated that the head of the
Zoning Board in Lakewood, NJ who is a Rabbi is being investigated for
approving the building of a cogeneration plant in return for monies to
support his failing local girls school. Interestingly, the lawyer for
the Rabbi apparently does not argue that the allegations are not true,
but rather that zoning approval under such circumstances is legal.

I would like to submit a controversial thesis. Right-wing Yeshivos are a
sociological failure. The U.S. chareidi community has not created a
self-sufficient society. The graduates of Yeshiva institutions are not
in a position to adequately support them. As a result, many must resort
to illegal means for support. The result is this massive Chillul Hashem
on an unprecedented scale.

I submit (without explicit evidence) that it would have been preferable
from a halachic standpoint for these implicated institutions to never
have been created, no matter how much Torah they have promulgated. The
Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva indicates that Chilul Hashem is the sole
transgression which requires death for full expiation. Even though these
cases are "sub judice" with just the implication of impropriety the
damage has already been done.  True B'nei Torah would have avoided any
whiff of illegality.

The paradigm for the self-sufficient Torah society is laid out in the
Chumash: the Yissachar- Zevulun relationship.  Zevulun's primary role in
his money-making capacity is to support Yissachar's study of Torah. The
preparation and study which goes into developing one's secular career
must primarily have this goal in mind.

The Roshei Yeshiva of today must face an extremely uncomfortable fact.
There is today a glut of Yissachars and a dearth of Zevuluns. Yeshivos
have concentrated their efforts exclusively on producing Yissachars,
whether or not these students ultimately have the talent or ability to
contribute to the Torah society as teachers. Those who wish to pursue a
secular career are actively discouraged and, in a very real sense, are
made to feel as failures if they enter college in this pursuit. As a
result, these people do not become Zevuluns, they become Yissachar
drop-outs. A Yissachar drop-out generally does not support Yeshivas to
nearly the extent that is necessary, and in fact may harbor resentment
to his specific Yeshiva or Yeshiva institutions in general because of
his negative experience. Certainly, they ultimately lose the close tie
that once existed between the student, Rebbeim and/ or Rosh Yeshiva. As
far as the Yeshiva world is concerned, once a person pursues a
professional career he is on his own.

Today, creation of new Yeshivas is so slow that only the very best
graduates of Yeshivos can, under the most ideal of circumstances, hope
to be Rebbeim in Modern Orthodox Yeshivas. Virtually none can be
absorbed into right wing Yeshivos since almost no such Yeshivos are
being created, and there is virtually no turnover in existing Yeshivos.
Meanwhile, the existing Yeshivos struggle to maintain themselves in what
seems to be a permanently stagnant economy.

Support of these Yeshivos have in the past come from a few individuals
who have made money primarily in real estate. Due to the slump in
commercial and residential property, Yeshivos have had to increasingly
tap into career professionals for financial support.  Interestingly,
these professionals are often Yissachar drop-outs who are successful
professionally, but harbor a grudge at the Yeshivos which have educated
them. As a result, the effort to make up the shortfall meets with very
limited success.

Roshei Yeshiva must become the architects of a self-sufficient Torah
society. This means that they must guide students to both career paths
based on the individual talents of their students. Only when there is an
appropriate balance between Yissachar and Zevulun can enough new
Yeshivos be created to absorb the output from kollel.

The alternative is more New York Times/ Wall Street Journal articles.

Arnie Lustiger

Arnie Lustiger


End of Volume 13 Issue 86