Volume 17 Number 95
                       Produced: Mon Jan 16  6:04:01 1995

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Khazars or Anyone Else
         [Nahum J. Duker]
Bar Mitzvoh Redux
         [Mechy Frankel]
Insurance Reimbursement for a Bris (2)
         [Janice Gelb, a.s.kamlet]
Mikvah use by unmarried women?
         [Freda B. Birnbaum]
Moshe and the Torah
         [Adina B. Sherer]
Walking in front of motion detectors
         [David Charlap]


From: Nahum J. Duker <GRANDUKE@...>
Date: Wed, 11 Jan 95 10:18:40 EST
Subject: Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Khazars or Anyone Else

Shalom U'bracha,

It is vital to note that any discussion of relationships among
ashkenazim, sephardim, khazars or anyone else can be measured.  The use
of polymorphisms in the study of population genetics renders the
speculations on cultural or other grounds outdated and irrelevant.  The
most recent summary of such data that I have seen is "Who are the
Jews?", by Jared Diamond, published in the Nov., 1993, issue of "Natural
History" (pp. 12-19).  An older book, "The Genetics of the Jews", by
Mourant, Kopec & Domaniewska-Sobczak, was definitive in its time (1978),
but is now outdated.  It has exhaustive data on blood group
polymorphisms, but, since the techniques were not then available, no
results of DNA polymorphism studies could be included.

I hope that this provides a useful introduction.  The issue of the
origin of the ashkenazim has emotional resonance to many and political
implications to some.  It is important - indeed, intellectual honesty
requires - that it be approached from a scientific viewpoint.
Fortunately, the study of polymorphisms renders this possible.  I doubt,
however, whether such data will convince those committed to a position
on this issue for emotional or political reasons.

I hope this can help you.

Nahum J. Duker


From: Mechy Frankel <frankel@...>
Date: Fri, 13 Jan 1995 15:13:14 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Bar Mitzvoh Redux

1. In response to an earlier posting of mine citing the gemara in
Kidushin 31 as the source (Maharshal) for the bar mitzvoh celebration,
Danny Skaist (Vol 17 #83) correctly points out that there is a more
"complete" version of the story in Bava Kama 86. He also proposes a
slightly different, and at first blush stronger - or at least more
similar to the circumstances, version of the "limud". i.e. he proposes
that R. Yosef would wish to throw a party should he hear that he has
become obligated in mitzvohs though blind (i.e. that the halacha has
been decided like R. Meier who so ruled, contrary to the accepted
position of R.Yehuda that the blind are not obligated), similar to a bar
mitvoh first becoming obligated.

2. While this does seem more directly analogous to the bar mitzvoh case
than the limud I cited from Kidushin, viz. R. Yosef's celebratory
impulse should someone inform, not that he is obligated in mitzvohs
after all, but rather "merely" at hearing that "gadol haino mitzuveh
vi'oseh", I should point out that the sources actually do seem to differ
on a major substantive point, and on the simple peshat level it is not
clear that one should be taken as simply the more "complete" version of
the same story.  In particular while Bava Kama is wrestling with the
basic question of whether the blind are obligated or not, Kidushin is
not. The assumption of the latter is that all are obligated, but the
dispute centers on which, a metzuveh vi'oseh or an aino metzuveh
vi'oseh, is the "greater" or on a higher plane of deed/reward.

3. Alas for the more intuitively relevent limud proposed by Danny, the
Maharshal (B.K. 7/37), who after all is original source for citing
R. Yosef's clebratory inclinations as the proof of the obligation for a
bar mitzvoh party, very specifically does not cite the gemara and limud
from Bava Kama, but rather the limud from Kidushin which I originally
cited. In the Maharshal's words "..af al pi shehoo kevar chayov. al
besoroh shelo hoyoh noda lo..rotzoh la'asos yom tov. kol shecain al
hago'os ha'ais vihaziman.."

4.  Note the Maharshal quoted above specifically mentions the
pre-existing obligation for the blind in this sentence, which he would
only do were he rejecting the Bava Kama version as a Bar Mitvoh
source. Indeed his rejection of the Bava Kama story as a source for bar
mitzvoh obligation is all the more striking since this Maharshal is
actually brought down in Bava Kama, not Kidushin!

5. On a closing historical note, it should not be imagined that the
Maharshal invented the bar mitzvoh party through this limud. Bar mitzvoh
parties (or more properly, "siudos") were celebrated long before even
the Maharshal's time as indicated by the Maharshal's casual description
of them as an apparently long established fixture on the ashkenazi
scene. The Maharshal's purpose in writing is simply to demonstrate that
this common tradition of the bar mitzvoh has the status of a "siudas
mitzvoh" as well.

6. Incidentally, the Maharshal's criteria for a "siudas miyzvoh", that
it be something to publicize either mitzvohs, or neesim, or has some
associated torah stuff, which he uses to demonstrate that a bar mitzvoh
is indeed also a "seudas mitzvoh" clearly applies directly to the
question whether a girl's bas mitzvoh meal also has the status of a
seudas mittvoh. R. Moshe is quite negative on that question, but would
clearly need to cholaik lehalacha with the Maharshal's reasoning (which
of course was R. Moshe's right, we should also add that the Maharshal of
course did not address the qustion of a bas mitzvoh directly). R.
Ovadia Yosef also specifically disagrees with R. Moshe on the siudas
mitzvoh status for the girl's party.

Mechy Frankel                                   H: (301) 593-3949
<frankel@...>                            W: (703) 325-1277  


From: <janiceg@...> (Janice Gelb)
Date: Fri, 13 Jan 1995 12:49:46 -0800
Subject: Insurance Reimbursement for a Bris

David Bolnick says: 
> In essence, when we do a mitzvah and claim, for monetary reward,  that 
> it is something else we are being dishonest (we may even be stealing -- 
> in a moral or halachik sense).  In many communities the rabbis used to 
> prohibit physicians from performing brit milah simply to make the point 
> that brit milah was not a medical procedure.  This is not true in 
> America since it is relatively difficult to train a mohel except in a 
> large and tightly knit Jewish community. Thus, as the rabbis feared, 
> many of us (myself included) have confused the mitzvah of brit milah 
> with the medical practice of circumcision.

I think there are two separate issues here: if a doctor does the
circumcision instead of a mohel, then the perception of the people
seeing the procedure would certainly be altered -- that it is a medical
procedure and not done as a mitzvah.

However, the fact remains that the procedure that is performed is a
circumcision, whether a doctor or a mohel performs it. The *reasons*
the procedure is performed is an issue for the people involved but not
for the insurance company. Therefore, I do not at all see it as
stealing to ask for reimbursement from an insurance company.

Also, note for this discussion that one is not *gaining* monetary 
reward for performing the mitzvah; one is merely not *spending* 
money to perform the mitzvah (or as much money, anyway, since I 
don't think any insurance company covers any procedure 100%). 

Janice Gelb                  | The only connection Sun has with this      
<janiceg@...>   | message is the return address. 

From: <ask@...> (a.s.kamlet)
Date: 13 Jan 1995  17:04 EST
Subject: Insurance Reimbursement for a Bris

David Bolnick <davebo@...> writes:
>  So why did I stop the practice? The answer is 
> simple. Brit Milah is a mitzvah (commandment) not a medical procedure. 
> Jews circumcise their sons to fulfil the mitzvah: "This is My covenant 

This logic might say: Pikuach Nefesh is a mitzvah; a Jewish doctor who
performs a heart bypass operation to save a life, therefore, might say,
A heart bypass operation is a mitzvah, not a medical procedure.

Art Kamlet   AT&T Bell Laboratories, Columbus   <a.s.kamlet@...>


From: Freda B. Birnbaum <FBBIRNBAUM@...>
Date: Sun, 15 Jan 1995 9:15:51 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Mikvah use by unmarried women?

In v17n72, Menachem & Elianah Weiner said, re the issue of bas-mitzva

>I have been following this discussion with some interest.  Apparently,
>when my mother was young, as soon as a woman was 12 and had her first
>cycle (and waited at least 12 days, I assume) she went off to the
>mikvah for the first time.  This seems to be a better time to have a
>celebration since family purity is mostly a woman's mitzvah.  It shows
>her commitment to observing the Mitzvot.  A few cycles delay could be
>done in order to plan the occassion properly.  Hmmm.  Actually, that
>wouldn't help, would it?  

I have long been under the impression that at some point it became
forbidden for unmarried women to go to the mikvah, as it was thought
that this would encourage promiscuous or licentious behavior.  (I assume
that there might have been communities where women had a custom of going
to the mikvah erev Yom Kippur for non-niddah reasons, and that this
might not have applied there.)  Are there communities in which it was
not the case that unmarried women were discouraged from using the
mikvah?  In the example above, did the girl go only this one time, or
thereafter also?  Does anyone else know of such practices?  (BTW, I
occasionally hear of people who are either living together or sleeping
together without being married, and the woman goes to the mikvah, but I
am not at all aware of any rabbinical approval or recommendation of this

>Anyway, my wife and I think that an all women "Ritual Pool Party" in
>Orthodox circles would be a better alternative to a Bat Mitzvah.  I
>know, usually women do not go to the Mikvah until just before marriage,
>but they certainly used to go from puberty on.  Any thoughts?

Well, I don't know any young girls all that well, so I can't speak for
them, but personally it just makes my skin crawl.  Ugh, why should
something that private become a matter of public knowledge?  That's one
advantage of standardizing the bat AND bar mitzvah age.  In fact, I'm
trying very hard to stifle an urge to say, "Oh, GROSS!"  (Well, I lost.)
Any of you more in touch with how girls that age feel about these

Freda Birnbaum, <fbb6@...> / fbbirnbaum@cutcv2.tc.columbia.edu
"Call on God, but row away from the rocks"


From: <adina@...> (Adina B. Sherer)
Date: Mon, 9 Jan 95 21:13:32 IST
Subject: re: Moshe and the Torah

> There are 3 objects in the process: God as author, Moshe in some role,
> and the final manuscript. If you use words like, "dictated" or "written"
> then God is not transferring information to Moshe but controlling the
> process so completely that Moshe can no longer be Moshe Rabbeinu. But
> that's clearly a wrong image. Saying that Torah is inspired by God
> allows for Moshe to be fully instructed while remaining free to be our
> teacher.

I heard a shiur about the nature of prophesy, and how every prophet is
only human and the message from G-d is given to the person who then
internalizes it and it comes out slightly 'personalized' - ie , with the
prophet's own choice of words or feelings or whatever - sort of like
something seen through a glass which is NOT quite clear, and so the
slightly cloudy glass 'personalizes' what you see.  But the prophesy of
Moshe was of a totally different nature.  Because his spirit was SO
CLOSE to G-d, he managed to take the 'ME' completely out of his nature
and think ONLY in terms of G-d's will, and so HIS prophesy was an EXACT
reflection of G-d's message, as if seen through a 100% totally pure and
clear glass with no imperfections whatsoever, allowing him to express
G-d's words exactly, down to the smallest letter and space.  There was
more, analyzing the language used to refer to Moshe as opposed to other
prophets, and so on, but I think that was the applicable part.

-- adina


From: <david@...> (David Charlap)
Date: Thu, 12 Jan 95 13:24:04 EST
Subject: Walking in front of motion detectors

While I understand the logic behind avoiding motion detectors, I find
it hard to believe that such a psak could work.

Imagine, for instance, a shul in the middle of a city block.  You have
to approach the shul from the left or the right, either on the near or
far side of the street.  Suppose neighbors in each of these four
approach paths (near-left, near-right, far-left, far-right) has a
motion detector in front of the building.  You can't get to the shul
without walking in front of one.  What should you do?  How many rabbis
would pasken "Don't go to shul on Shabbat"?

Do you have to plot the circles on the ground where the sensors react
and then be careful to avoid them?  This will probably force you to
walk in the street, where you're likely to be hit by a car.

Perhaps you have to ask these neighbors to turn off their motion
detectors on Shabbat.  But how likely is is that they'll comply?
Especially if you don't know them.  And they'd have to disconnect the
sensor, not just switch off the list - if the sensor is active, you'd
be violating the same halacha whether or not the light actually turns

And so on.  While I can understand forbidding a Jew to turn on such a
sensor on Shabbat, since he would be deriving benefit from his walking
in front of the sensor, I can't understand the extremes that Jews
would have to go through to avoid triggering motion detectors while
walking down the street.


End of Volume 17 Issue 95