Volume 20 Number 08
                       Produced: Fri Jun 16  0:07:42 1995

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Definition of shok
         [Melech Press]
Moon was a yod...; counting stars
         [Mike Gerver]
M. Gutnick's comments:
         [Zvi Weiss]
Yom Tov Sheni Shel Galuyot
         [Mike A Singer]


From: Melech Press <PRESS%<SNYBKSAC.BITNET@...>
Date: Tue, 06 Jun 95 23:23:04 EST
Subject: Definition of shok

Ms. A.E. Berger recently offered the following definition of "shok", a
term essential to understanding various halakhos of znius.

"Shok".  Although an animal's "shok" is the part between their knee and
ankle, a person's shok is taken to be between the thigh and the knee,
and between shoulder and elbow. Jewish women who cover up to their
wrists and ankles are (I believe) doing it because it's customary in
their communities, not because they have a definition of shok the same
as the animal part. (ALthough Hazon Ish Orach Chaim 16:8 suggests that
shok might mean between knee and ankle for a person as well.)

I noted that this was incorrect and that the vast majority of texts and
commentators interpret "shok" as the lower bone, i.e. that between knee and
ankle, and that women who cover  their lower legs are following the majority
view of the halakhah, not community custom.  Ms. Berger asked for citation of
sources; I hereby provide a few from early sources.  If anyone feels a need for
more extended citations I'll be happy to provide them.  I want to repeat again
that there are a few sources that interpret the term a la Ms. Berger but that
they are in the distinct minority.  I might also comment that the relevance of
the term "shok" to arm covering is different than to leg covering.

Mishna Oholos 1/8 - in counting human bones lists "shok" as between ankle and
     knee - similarly in commentators on Mishna, including Gra and Tiferes Yisr
Mishna Yevamos 101 and Gemora 103 - Khalitza is proper from the knee down and
     the Gemora states that this refers to the shok.
Rashi Menakhos 33 "the place where the shok meets the foot" and Rashi in
     Arakhin 19b "Prat l'baalei kabin".
Tosafos Menakhos 37a beginning with the word Kibbores - " Shok is the bone
     attached to the foot".
Rosh Nazir 52b "the shok is ...below the knee".
Rambam Yibum 4/15 - " or the shoe lace was tied on his shok from the knee
Meiri Yevamos loc cit

As I have noted before it is a profound responsiblity to discuss Halakhic
matters with great care and precision, especially when one is dealing with
Torah prohibitions.

Melech Press
M. Press, Ph.D.   Dept. of Psychiatry, SUNY Health Science Center
450 Clarkson Avenue, Box 32   Brooklyn, NY 11203   718-270-2409


From: <GERVER@...> (Mike Gerver)
Date: Mon, 12 Jun 1995 3:56:42 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Moon was a yod...; counting stars

I've been catching up on back issues (I'm about two and a half months
behind) and would like to comment on a couple of postings that are from
different threads, but have in common that they concern astronomy.

In v18n85, Mordechai Horowitz quotes a poem of Shmuel Hanagid, and asks
about the significance of the homoerotic imagery. I have nothing to say
about that-- what I found jarring about the poem was the astronomical
imagery: "And the moon was a yod drawn on the cover of dawn-- in gold
ink". To anyone in the northern hemisphere, a crescent moon in the dawn
sky will appear not as a yod, but as a backwards or upside down
yod. This fact may not be well known to modern poets and readers of
poetry and literary critics, most of whom, unfortunately, are far more
ignorant of astronomy than their counterparts a thousand years ago, even
as knowledge of astronomy among astronomers has dramatically
increased. But it surely would have been obvious to Shmuel Hanagid, who
would have been well aware that the direction of curvature of the
crescent moon was used as a test of witnesses who claimed to have seen
the new moon, at the time when Rosh Chodesh was determined by sightings
of the new moon rather than by the fixed calendar used later. It's hard
to believe that he didn't purposely get it backwards in this poem. But
why? What was he trying to convey?

Another astronomical theme is raised by Yochanan (Jan David) Meisler, in
v18n90, when he says:

> With regards to counting people, I thought the reason we don't went
> back to Avraham, when Hashem said to him that He would make his children
> as many as the stars in the sky, and the sands on the sea. Just as we
> can't count those, we shouldn't count Jews."

But a gemara (Brachot 32b) _does_ count the number of stars in the sky,
or at least calculates the number, and comes up with
12*(30^5)*364*(10^7) = 1.0512 * 10^18. On a logarithmic scale, this is
surprisingly close to the best modern astronomical estimate, which is
about 10^21. It is hard to think of an observation which would have
allowed anyone at the time of the gemara to make such a good
guess. There are only about 6000 stars visible to the naked eye. If you
correctly guess that the Milky Way is made up a bunch of stars too faint
to distinguish, and assume that they are uniformly distributed in space
out to some finite distance, which may estimated by measuring the
surface brightness of the Milky Way, then you can correctly guess that
there are about 10^11 stars in the Milky Way, which is much less than
1.0512 * 10^18.

But, if you then go on to guess that the Andromeda nebula M31 (the only
external galaxy visible to the naked eye from the northern hemisphere)
is a collection of stars similar to the Milky Way (a fact not known to
astronomers until 1920), and assume that such galaxies are uniformly
distributed in space out to the edge of the universe, and that they form
a background whose surface brightness is at least 100 times fainter than
the Milky Way (since it cannot be seen by the naked eye), then you will
find that there cannot be more than 10^21 stars in the universe, so
10^18 is a reasonable guess. (In fact, the surface brightness from
external galaxies is much fainter than this, but the distribution of
galaxies is far from uniform, and the two errors cancel out.) I am not
seriously suggesting, of course, that anyone at the time of the gemara
made such clever guesses and sophisticated calculations and measurments
of brightness, but in principle someone might have!

Even more remarkable, the number of grains of sand on the all the
beaches of the world is very close to the number of stars in the
universe. My best guess for the number of grains of sand is 10^20, but
this could easily off by a factor of 10. This is of course far more than
the number of people who could live naturally on the surface of the
earth, but about the number who could comfortably live on all the
habitable planets of the galaxy. Science fiction fans can take pleasure
in noting that the coincidence in the number of stars and the number of
grains of sand gives credence to the idea that Hashem meant the numbers
literally in his promise to Avraham, rather than just intending them as
metaphors for uncountably large numbers.

Mike Gerver, <gerver@...>


From: Zvi Weiss <weissz@...>
Date: Thu, 15 Jun 1995 11:28:46 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re M. Gutnick's comments:

1. Regardless of our ability to enaact Takkanot (which is NOT the issue
that I was addressing), it is not at all obvious that the power to
uproot Kiddushin -- even if it can be done -- resides with those who do
not have "true Semicha" -- The Rambam's comments about the ability of
Beth Din to reinterpret Torah Law also appear to apply to Semukhim and I
would like to know of definitive p'sak that states that *non-semukhim*
have such a power.  We *know* that non-semukhim are limited in several
other ways -- for example, non-semukhim cannot administer Torah-level
Malkot (and, this is one of the factors what there was an attempt to
reinstate the Semikha -- i.e., to enable the administration of Malkot).

2. There was no attempt to address the fact that the halacha appears to
follow the approach of Rabbeinu Tam vis-a-vis Kiddushin and the
dissolution of such.  While there was a citation from the decisions of a
current Beit Din, it is not clear that these are accepted by the Poskim
in terms of the normal capability to uproot kiddushin.  As long as
Poskim continue to follow Rabbeinu Tam, I do not see the rapid adoption
of such enactments -- even if they are "halachically possible".

3. The statement about "Rabbinic Will..." was made by (where I saw it)
Blu Greenberg.  She was attacked in very strong terms for using it
BECAUSE it delivered the point that Gutnick is trying to make -- that
somehow the Rabbis can "always" come up with a solution -- if they would
but put their minds to it...  The point is that it is not always
possible to do so.

3. As he admits, one cannot cite conversation as a basis for an actual
p'sak.  The gemara (in Gittin, I believe) has a statement that "just
because we are discussing something does not mean that we will actually
pasken that way"...

4. If it is so clear that Chachamim have the power to "revoke"
marriages, why do NONE of the Poskim cite that when faced with major
problems?  With all due respect to Rabbi Dr. Berkowitz A'H, who was a
wonderful scholar and philosopher, he was not considered a posek and his
books were not considered sources of p'sak.  While I also think that he
was VERY UNFAIRLY castigated by elements of the right-wing community, I
personally do NOT think that he deserved any of that castigation... His
philosophy was (is) brilliant and worthy (in my opinion) of study.
However, he is NOT a source of p'sak.



From: <m-singer@...> (Mike A Singer)
Date: Sun, 11 Jun 1995 21:33:52 -0500
Subject: Yom Tov Sheni Shel Galuyot

I was recently involved in a discussion with someone who contends that
Yom Tov Sheni Shel Galuyot [the second day of holidays, celebrated in
the Diaspora but not in Israel] no longer need be observed.  I will
present first my understanding as to the origin of Yom Tov Sheni Shel
Galuyot, then his argument and my questions.

Rosh Chodesh [the first day of the month] was proclaimed by the
Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, based on the testimony of two witnesses who
reported that they had sighted the new moon.  Since months in the Jewish
calendar have either twenty-nine or thirty days, the new Rosh Chodesh
could either be on the thirtieth or thirty-first day after the previous
Rosh Chodesh.

The proclamation of Rosh Chodesh was then transmitted by messengers to
Jewish communities outside Israel.  If a holiday fell in that month
these communities could then determine, based on the information of the
messengers, on what day the holiday should be celebrated.  The
messengers, however, were not always able to arrive before the holiday.
Without knowing which day was Rosh Chodesh, the communities would be
uncertain as to which of the two possible days was the first day of the
holiday.  To ensure that the proper day was observed, Yom Tov Sheni was
added; that is, _both_ of the two possible days were observed as the

In the fourth century CE, Hillel II established a fixed Jewish calendar.
As a result, the uncertainty regarding the day on which Rosh Chodesh
fell, and thus the day on which holidays fell, was eliminated.
Nevertheless, Yom Tov Sheni Shel Galuyot was maintained.

My friend asserts that the rationale for maintaining Yom Tov Sheni Shel
Galuyot was that when the Temple is rebuilt, Rosh Chodesh will again be
set according to the testimony of witnesses.  Therefore, there will
again be uncertainty regarding the proper day on which the holidays
begin.  He claims that individuals who argued for dispensing with Yom
Tov Sheni Shel Galuyot were considered to be denying that the Temple
would be rebuilt.  He stated that his textual reference for these points
was the Mishna in Moed.  (I apologize for not being able to provide the
exact reference.)

Modern communication technology, however, allows the nearly instant
transmission of information across great distances.  My friend asserts
that when the Temple is rebuilt, there will be no uncertainty because
the date of Rosh Chodesh can be communicated without delay to
communities all over the world.  To _maintain_ Yom Tov Sheni Shel
Galuyot now, he claims, in effect denys that the Temple will be rebuilt.

I would appreciate any corrections to my understanding of the situation
and its history.  My questions are: (1) Has this issue been discussed by
any poskim since the development of modern communication technology (the
telegraph, for example), and what were their conclusions and reasoning?
I assume that the question has arisen before; moreover, since Yom Tov
Sheni Shel Galuyot is, as far as I know, a universal practice of
Orthodox communities in Galut, I assume further the decision was that it
should continue to be observed. (2) If my assumptions are correct, but
my friend were to decide, based on his reasoning, _not_ to observe Yom
Tov Sheni Shel Galuyot, what halachot would he be violating?

It would be very helpful to me if respondents could include sources.
Thanks very much!

Mike A. Singer


End of Volume 20 Issue 8