Volume 20 Number 46
                       Produced: Thu Jul 13 23:51:05 1995

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

/Avot/Talmud/science/revisionism/Daas Torah
         [Eli Turkel]
         [Burton Joshua]
Mezuzah placement (was: Handicapper {sic})
         [Hannah Gershon]


From: Eli Turkel <turkel@...>
Date: Fri, 7 Jul 1995 15:10:18 -0400
Subject: /Avot/Talmud/science/revisionism/Daas Torah

     There has been much discussion lately about our attitudes towards
figures in the Bible, towards the Rabbis in the Talmud and several notes
about censorship or misstatements in recent books. I believe all these
topics are connected and are connected with Daas Torah.
    If one believes that modern day Rabbis essentially cannot make
mistakes then one is required to believe that the Rabbis of the Talmud
were never wrong even in scientific & historical areas. This implies
that Torah figures never sinned at least on a level that applies to
present day people.  Furthermore if recent events demonstrate that some
rabbis erred or else disagreed with the politically correct attitude the
one is required to "alter" the record to prevent any such event from
having occurred.

    In terms of the Bible I can only strongly agree with Aryeh Frimer
that differences in attitudes have existed since the Talmud and onwards.
We sometimes think of Chazal as one group but in reality there were many
different people with disagreements in halakhah and in philosophy.  An
additional example is provided by the famous "story" quoted by the
Tiffereth Israel on Moshe and the magic mirror. The moral of the story
is that Moshe was born with many bad qualities and worked hard to reach
his level of perfection. Other's disagreed and claimed that Moshe was
born "perfect". There is the midrash that when Moshe was born the whole
room lit up etc. i.e. he was predestined for greatness.

    As far as the Talmudical rabbis are concerned Goldstein's argument
of "AYIN PANIM LATORAH, the torah has seventy facets" is over-stated as
are similar statements based on "Elu v-elu divrei Elokim Chaim" - both
(Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai) are the words of G-d. Rav Moshe Feinstein
in the introduction to the Iggerot Moshe and The Ketzot in his
introduction state explicitly that, in general, one opinion in the
Talmud is correct and the others are wrong. Those that are wrong still
receive a reward since that is based on one's doing the best one can and
not on reaching the heavenly truth.  Only in special cases are both
sides right. Chatam Sofer states that we can assume that the Great
Sanhedrin in the Temple made errors since they relied on their native
intelligence and not on prophecy - lo bashamayim hi.  In particular
chazal did not rely on kabbalah to reach halakhic decisions.  Goldstein

>> We have a Klall, general rule, that any Tanna or Ammorah mentioned by
>> name in Shas had the ability to be mechaye MAYSIM, resurrect the dead So
>> Rava was not any better than anyone else!

I would like to know the source of this "rule". We know the Gemara that
4 rabbis entered "Pardes" and only Rabbi Akiva exited in peace. The
Gemara explicitly limits the teaching of mysticism to one or two top
students. I find it very hard to believe that every one mentioned in the
Talmud was an expert in Kabbalah.  Mordechai Perlman states

>>  The Gra wrote that there is never any conflict between the Kaballah
>> and Halacha.  If a contradiction presents itself it is because the
>> person misunderstands the meaning of one or both of the subjects involved

    This is hard to believe since in general we do not pasken like Rabbi
Shimon Bar Yochai against Rabbi Yose or Rabbi Yehuda. So why should the
Zohar agree with the Shulchan Arukh. Furthermore Magen Avrohom and most
other commentaries do assume conflicts and discuss what we should do in
those circumstances. In fact the approach of ashkenazim and sephardim is
very different with regards to such conflicts.

  Furthermore the Gemara states in various places that certain
statements are wrong "badusa hi" etc. When I mentioned arguments about
physical facts Goldstein answered that in theory both could be right
however only one occurs in the physical world. I find it very difficult
to believe that Chazal were arguing how a woman could theoretically have
been created.  Many of these discussions have halakhic implications and
depend on the real world not a hypothetical world. It is also
interesting to note that when talking about non-halakhic matters Abaye
frequently quotes his early childhood nurse. Thus, many of his
statements are not based on any tradition but on common folklore.

In fact with regard to "pi" the Talmud uses the figure pi=3 for various
calculations of the perimeter and area of a circle and comparisons with
that of a square. I am presently in galut in Newport News Virginia and
don't have access to my library. However, I recall a Gemara where the
Talmud struggles to understand a Taanaitic statement comparing squares
and circles. If one uses the "correct" numbers for the various
mathematical constants then the whole problem disappears. In fact I
strongly suspect that the Tanna in fact used better approximations to pi
and squareroot(2) and so the statements were straightfoward. However,
the Amoraim who used pi=3 could not figure it out. In a number of places
Tosafot mention that the Talmud's math is not accurate.

   Aaaron Greenberg points out that modern science is based on the fact
that the rules have not changed, at least in the "recent" past.
Furthermore, the Geonim in Babylonia do not know of any such change in
nature.  Deutsch disagrees with this and points out that Tosafot claim
in several places that nature has changed. At this point nothing either
side will say will change the opinions of others. Let me just point out
that modern science is based on the principle of Galileo that
observation and not church doctrine determines the truth. To throw out
the entire basis of modern science based on a statement of Tosafot is
difficult especially since such greats as Rav Saaduah Gaon, Rav Sherira
Gaon, Rambam, Rav Abraham the son of Rambam and many others disagree
with it. Thus, for example, some historians have calculated when
eclipses etc. appeared in ancient times and compared this with ancient
records. According to tosafot this approach is false since nature has
changed between Talmudic and Geonic times (I don't know if this is only
in the middle east or the whole world).  This reliance on authority is a
problem not only in science but also in history. As one example, Raavad
I (lived earlier than the Raavad who disagreed with Rambam) in his sefer
hakaballah recounts a story of 4 rabbis from babylonia who were captured
by pirates and redeemed in various cities in the west. This established
the rabbinic communities in Cairo, Spain and North Africa. Geniza
documents clearly refute at least some major portions of this
legend. Nevertheless, Artscroll amomg others continue to bring the
story. The rationale seems to be that we believe a rishon (Raavad I)
over Genizah documents discovered by non-religious historians. Again,
authority rather than facts.

   Finally with regard to modern revisionism let me mention the famous
the story of the Belzer rebbe leaving the holocaust and the differences
between the historical records and the "authorized" biography. Shmuel
Himelstein has mentioned many other examples. This lack of ability to
imagine that earlier gedolim either erred or else had ideas that
disagree with the politically correct ideas led Rav Feinstein to assume
that statements of the Ramban were made by an errant student as
mentioned by Dratch. Furthermore, there is the "psak" of Rav Moshe
Feinstein. that a commentary on the Torah could not have been authored
by Rav Yehuda ha-Chassid because of some statements that appear
there. This despite much evidence that the commentary is indeed that of
Rav yehudah ha-chassid.


From: Burton Joshua <ftburton@...>
Date: Sat, 8 Jul 1995 21:27:04 +0300 (IDT)
Subject: Handicapped?

David Griboff writes, with laudable intent:

> However, on a much more serious note, it should be said that those who are
> bound to wheelchairs would be highly insulted by the term 'handicapped'.
> Many of those confined to wheelchairs lead highly productive lives and do
> not consider themselves as 'handicapped' - I believe they prefer the term,
> 'physically challenged'.
> We, as Jews, are always very sensitive to the types of phrases used to
> describe us.  The least we can do is be sensitive to others who may also
> find certain names and phrases offensive.

I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, while reflecting with some
frustration that it's a moving target.  The term 'physically
challenged' (or 'differently abled', which we preferred in Berkeley)
is successor to 'disabled', 'handicapped', 'crippled', and finally
'halt', which brings us back at last to a solid Anglo-Saxon
monosyllable.  By the same process, to choose a less
politically-charged example, what we call a 'recession' was once a
'depression', and before that a 'panic', and before that a 'glut'.
The thing in my house that I flush so often, and the little room it
lives in, have _no_ proper names in English (the one you're thinking
of is a euphemism, too---check it out).  And now we learn that the
gays are 'queers' again, and that 'Black' and 'Amerind', both fought
for right through the '60s and '70s, are out again.  What's a
well-meaning but stodgy writer to do?

Our closest wheelchair-bound friend likes to tell people that she has
a 'CP accent' instead of a 'speech impediment', and uses 'differently
abled' to describe herself and 'wheelchair-deprived' to describe me,
but I think you would have to go back at least as far as 'crippled' to
actually insult her.  As for 'we, as Jews', I think we all draw the line
at 'kike' and 'sheeny', but I personally have no problem with people
who call the thing on my head a 'beanie'.  It's the intent that
counts, and the people with the worst intent are often the ones most
careful to _avoid_ the worst language.

By the way, our recycling bins in the Berkeley physics department used
to read 'White Paper' and 'Paper of Color'.  Nowadays, they probably
say something else, but I haven't kept track....

Some say the glass is half empty.    +----------------------------------------+
Others say the glass is half full.   |   Joshua W. Burton     (972-8)343313   |
I say the glass is TOO LARGE.        |          <burton@...>          |
               -- George Carlin      +----------------------------------------+


From: <GERSHON@...> (Hannah Gershon)
Date: Sun, 09 Jul 1995 17:51:05 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: Mezuzah placement (was: Handicapper {sic})

    I would like to respond to the recent series of postings regarding
the accessible placement of mezuzos for children, short people, and
people who use wheelchairs.  Let me begin by acknowledging that I am a
complete and utter am ha-aretz (uneducated person) in regards to
halacha.  I am, however, disabled myself (deaf), and I am active in the
disability rights movement.  I speak from this perspective.
    I see two seperate issues within the question of accessibly placed
mezuzos.  The first issue raised in the postings to Mail Jewish concerns
the chinuch (education) of children.  The second issue concerns the
social inclusion of people who use wheelchairs and people who are
especially short statured, be they dwarfs or midgets or individuals who
are merely outside of the statistical mean.  Since the matter of chinuch
is actually more halachically complex, I will leave that alone and
concentrate on the second matter of social inclusion.
    I would like to make two points about the issue of the social
inclusion of people who are physically deviant and/or disabled.  My
first point is specifically about language.  As another poster to Mail
Jewish points out, the term "handicapper" is indeed an offensive term.
I would add that the phrase "physically challanged" is considered a
laughable apologetic euphemism within the disability rights movement.
In addition, phrases such as, "wheelchair bound," and "confined to a
wheelchair" conjure images of balls and chains more appropriate for
describing the condition of a prisoner in a medieval dungeon than for
describing the mobility, freedom, and independence which wheelchairs
actually represent to the people who use them.  We are people with
disabilities; some of us use wheelchairs.
    My second point is a general comment about the broad issue of the
social inclusion of Jews with disabilities within the frum (orthodox)
world.  I am framing this issue as social rather than as halachic in
order to foreground the degree to which halacha both structures and
dominates social interaction in the frum world.  A Jew who uses a
wheelchair is certainly not violating any halachic obligation by not
kissing a mezuzah which she or he cannot reach.  I *think* kissing
mezuzos is a respectful minhag rather than a halachic obligation, but
even if it is (or were) a halachic obligation, there would still be no
violation because people with disabilities are *in general* halachically
exempt from mitzvos which they cannot physically perform.  On the other
hand, it is a social mark of a frum Jew to kiss the mezuzah as she or he
passes through a door.  It is this social mark that wheelchair users
loose by not being able to reach the mezuzah due to its halachic
    In another posting, someone mentioned that he saw one shul that had
found a way to restore this social mark to Jews who use wheelchairs by
elongating the bayit (covering) of the mezuzah while afixing the klaf
(parchement) in its proper halachic position.  Although I have no idea
if such an arrangemnet is in fact halachically valid, I am impressed by
the intentention represented by such an effort.  For too long the
orthodox community has avoided seeking creative yet halachic
accomodations for people with disabilities by dismissing them as simply
not obligated in certain mitzvos without seemingly realizing the social
and psychological damage done by such exclusion.  The fact that there is
any discourse at all over a relatively "minor" act as kissing a mezuzah
is very encouraging for it indicates that enough shuls have begun to
install ramps so that Jews who use wheelchairs can enter through the
doors in the first place.  (Now, if only we had a sufficient number of
rabbis and educators who know sign language!)

Hannah Gershon,


End of Volume 20 Issue 46