Volume 24 Number 85
                       Produced: Sat Sep  7 23:02:03 1996

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

         [Avi Feldblum]
Free Will--WHY do Knowers of God, nevertheless sin
         [Russell Hendel]
Jerrold Landau
         [Asher Breatross]
Math Teaching Rebbeim
         [Adam Schwartz]
Science and Halachah
         [Micha Berger]
Science and the Sages
         [Jeremy Nussbaum]


From: Avi Feldblum <feldblum@...>
Date: Sat, 7 Sep 1996 21:37:49 -0400
Subject: Administrivia

Hello All,

As many of you have probably gathered, I've been off line for most of
the last week. A lot has happened, and I'm working now on trying to
catch up on things. Shamash has moved from Nysernet to Utopia. Most of
the problems showed up last week, I'll get to try and deal with them
this week.

For those of you yet to go to Slichot, my wishes for a meaningful night.

Avi Feldblum


From: <rhendel@...> (Russell Hendel)
Date: Tue, 27 Aug 1996 10:12:54 -0400
Subject: Free Will--WHY do Knowers of God, nevertheless sin

Yosey Goldstein [V24 # 82] gives an excellent defense that knowledge of
God and the capacity to sin are independent--i.e. people who know God
can still sin.

I would like to supplement his ideas by providing a *psychological
model* for *how* a person can know God yet sin.  My ideas come from a
terrific article I once read in the Proceedings of Organization of
Orthodox Jewish Scientists discussing the real meaning of the Yeser Ra
(Unfortunately I forget the authors and volume numbers..  if any MJers
out there have old copies and could supply me that information I would
be greatful)

According to this article yeser ra does not refer to physical or sexual
desire or indulgence since these can be good. Rather yeser ra refers to
"impetuousness" which is *always* intrinsically bad.

Some simple examples might be the following: 1) Adam was allowed to eat
from the Tree when Shabbath came..his sin was eating immediately
(impetuously). 2) David was suppose to eventually marry Bath Sheva; his
sin was taking her prematurely.  3) "Modern examples of sin"---doing
something on Shabbath, Niddah, eating at a non kosher restaurant and not
waiting to go home to eat...all point to the same thing: Doing something
which will eventually become permissable but which is prohibited
*now*. The reasons for calling "impetuousness" evil are clear since the
impetuous person is acting more or less spontaneously without any
control over his actions (The above article gives further details and
more analysis).

Returning to free will we now have a very simple distinction: Awareness
of God is an intellectual emotional capacity to recognize God as the
runner of the Universe, our lives and morality.  Sin on the other hand
is simply an impetuous state where we momentarily act impetuously and
consequently override our intellectual and higher emotional states.

This explains how the two...Awareness of God and sin...aren't
necessarily contradictory.  (Hopefully I might add in passing that
awareness of God and Torah enables us to avoid situations where we might
become impetuous).

Russell Jay Hendel,Ph.d ASA rhendel @ mcs . drexel . edu


From: <ash@...> (Asher Breatross)
Date: Tue, 27 Aug 1996 08:00:41 -0500
Subject: Jerrold Landau

One of the participants in Mail Jewish is a friend of mine named Jerrold
Landau.  I was saddened to learn that his father was niftar on Shabbes.
The levayah was on Sunday in Ottawa.  (I learnt this news from my parents.
My father used to work for Jerrold's father.)

We should only know of Simchas.


From: Adam Schwartz <adams@...>
Date: Mon, 26 Aug 1996 11:41:52 +0300
Subject: Math Teaching Rebbeim

<rhendel@...> (Russell Hendel) wrote:
> 1) As a mathematics professor I have seen first hand the so called
> Calculus "reform" movement that has been sweeping the country the past
> 10 years. One of the main points of emphasis in calculus reform is
> providing fresh, new exciting examples of calculus that are
> relevant. For example, the old calculus texts only had physics examples
> since the main creator of calculus, Newton, was interested in
> Physics. Current books, however, have examples from medicine, sociology,
> learning theory, chemistry, psychology etc.
> The idea immediately suggests itself that Rebeeim could contribute to
> calculus teaching by bringing in(& creating!) examples relevant to
> Judaism. For those skeptical whether calculus can be used in halachah I
> refer to a recent beautiful short article in BOR HATORAH in which
> calculus is used to justify some rather difficult concepts in the
> Talmudic explanation of "majority" (Rov).

didn't read your article but i remeber a magid shiur, R. Ginsburg, in
Yeshiva Unversity, using examples from the the halachot of mikvaot in
his course in differential equations.  i didn't take it but others told
me it was great.

there were problems like "if a mikvah is leaking at a rate of 2.5 "sa'a"
an hour but is being fed at a lower rate, then at what time is the
mikvah pasul.  that is when does it dip below 40 saa.  also, is the
mikvah pasul lemafrei-a (retroactive) or not? " etc..

he would also show how arguments in poskim were really in correct vs
faulty understanding of the math involved in these cases.



From: <micha@...> (Micha Berger)
Date: Tue, 6 Aug 1996 16:19:30 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Science and Halachah

Before entering the discussion of how changes in scientific knowledge
impact halacha, I'd want an answer to a more fundamental question:
	Does halacha operate on an objective reality (ignoring
	Berkley et al for a moment, let's assume one exists) or on
	a subjective, or maybe communal-subjective one?

For example, on the subject of spontaneous generation. I've quoted
my Rebbe, R Dovid Lifshitz zt"l, on this subject a number of times.
My Rebbe taught that maggot eggs, being too small to see, have no
mamoshus (existence? substance?) as far as halacha is concerned.
He made the comparison to bugs on vegetables that were too small
to see, which are universally considered kosher. (The whole
bugs-on-vegetables thing was going on at the time.) Rav Dovid
offered a similar observation about screen refresh and any impact
it might have on the laws of sheimos (proper disposal of sacred
texts, lit. names [of G-d]). Since we don't see the letters disappear
and reappear, R. Dovid felt there was no significance to the fact.

To get back to the maggot eggs. Two things are necessary to make
visible sized maggots: eggs, and food. Since the eggs lack mamoshus,
the only cause we have left to consider is the meat.

Compare this to another pet topic of mine we've discussed here
before, safek (doubt). How does parish (something that separated
from a collection, even if the collection is theoretical, such as
"the set of all cows") differs from kavuah (doubt in something that
arose /after/ it became a known entity). In the case of a normal
safek, "azlinan basar rubah" one follows majority. However, in the
case of kavuah, "kimechtza al mecthza dami" it is treated as though
it is 50-50 -- probability has nothing to do with it.

R. Akiva Eiger (Sh'eilos Utshuvos Ch. 136) distinguishes between
rules for determining what actually happened from rules that
determine how to act when we can't resolve what happened. By kavuah,
the problem is that a given halacha exists, we just don't know
what it is. By parish, we are trying to assign halacha in the
absence of facts about reality. It is only for this that we are
expected to play the odds.

Again we find that halacha is based on what was known, not on an
objective truth. This is somewhat different than the first case,
where we looked at what was knowable, even if it weren't actually

In the published notes on Mes. Chullin, R. Dovid suggests that kavuah
would not include things that were known by non-Jews, except for
prohibitions that would include them. (Such as, if a non-Jew had
a piece of meat torn from a living animal, and lost it in a huge
pile of meat.)

All of this may indicate that the purpose of halacha is to make
changes on the self. Perhaps this is the (or at least "an") underlying
difference that separates Talmudic halacha from that of the Zohar.
For in Kabbalah, we also consider the effects on the surrounding
metaphysics -- raising nitzotzos, removing klipos, perfecting sfiros
(the Hebrew words aren't translatable). As well as internal
metaphysics, which need not be related to internal knowledge.

(Even further, I'd be tempted to speculate that this attitude might
be an echo of the Cartesian idea that the mind is the soul.)

If we could resolve what kind of subjective or potentially subjective
stance halacha takes, perhaps we can also resolve the science
issue in general. Based on R. Dovid's resolution of the maggot
issue, it would appear that how the world appears to operate is
more important than a scientific truth.

Micha Berger 201 916-0287        Help free Ron Arad, held by Syria 3512 days!
<micha@...>                         (16-Oct-86 -  9-Jul-96)
<a href=news:alt.religion.aishdas>Orthodox Judaism: Torah, Avodah, Chessed</a>
<a href=http://aishdas.org>AishDas Society's Home Page</a>


From: <jeremy@...> (Jeremy Nussbaum)
Date: Mon, 22 Jul 96 11:33:49 EDT
Subject: Science and the Sages

> From: Steve Gross <sg@...>
>   I've been in a regular shiur studying Maimonides' Mishneh Torah.
> Currently, we are covering the laws of kashrut.  An issue has arisen
> (not for the first time) that prompts me to ask a question.
>   The sages are discussing whether creeping things are kosher. From the
> text, it is apparent that they consider things like maggots to have
> spontaneously been generated from their source (i.e., decomposing food)
> and this fact in turn prompts their ruling. I asked our shiur leader
> what is the current ruling, given that we now know that living matter
> does not arise spontaneously out of dead matter.
>   To my surprise, he said that if the Rabbis held it to be so, then it
> must be true and we can't say that they are wrong.
> ...
>   I want to make three points here: first, this is not bad science for
> 1100.  Maimonides is using the best science of his time to see how
> nature works. Second, the Mishneh Torah begins with Maimonides basically
> restating his understanding of current science. Finally, he does this
> because the way nature works may play a part in determining halacha.

While I realize that I am probably being the fool while the wise
marshall their sources...

>   Thus, my questions:
>    1) Do we recognize that the sages may have had a faulty understanding
>       or lack of knowledge of science?

The geocentric vs heliocentric models of the solar system are another
classic example of this issue.  There it is even worse in some sense,
because there was actually was contemporary opinion that is in accord
with what was to later become the accepted understanding.  It is clear
to me that the chachamim applied the best of their understanding to the
problems at hand and did not rule in accord with developments,
scientific and otherwise, that were to occur in the future.

>    2) Are we bound by the sages' faulty understanding?

R. Sternberg at Harvard has taught chulin a number of times, in which he
looked at the issues that come out of rulings based on a faulty
understanding of the circulatory system.  I believe at least some of
that has been previously discussed.

>    3) If we agree that we may have new knowledge not possessed by the
>       sages, can we or should we alter halacha accordingly?

That is a different question.  All judicial systems use convention and
approximation to derive a final result, and it may not be worth the
dislocation and confusion to change those results, even if they are
based on a faulty premise.  E.g. apple juice varies in the percentage of
solids and liquids, yet we do not dismiss out of hand the opinion that
fruit juice + water causes something to become chametz immediately, even
though the mixture may actually be indistinguishable from a different
batch of juice.

>    4) My understanding is that the medical recipes of the sages are not
>       followed today. If this is the case, does it add fuel to the
>       argument that things can change?

Which brings us back to olives and eggs (and meat and fish).

>    5) If Maimonides were alive and writing the Mishneh Torah today,
>       do you think he would have started it off by describing quantum
>       physics and black holes?

[This is why I responded. :-)] Imho, the rambam would be an
existentialist today rather than a rationalist, and would not care
overly much about physics.  Metaphysics is not generally considered tied
to physics these days.  We have a reasonably self consistent set of
physical laws that do not need the constant intervention of an outside
force to keep the basics of the universe moving.  (f=ma, not f=mv.  In
e.g. the time of the Rambam, it was considered necessary to have some
outside force constantly intervening to keep the spheres of the heavens
moving.  In current theory no outside force is necessary to keep them
moving, only to change their acceleration.)  I sometimes wonder if the
Rambam would be a mystic today.

On a marginally related note, I also suspect that a major reason that
Moses Mendelssohn has been a marginal figure both in Jewish and general
philosophy is that he flourished at the very end of the time that
rationalism was considered state of the art philosophy, and that with
Kant's critique of rationalism most of Mendelssohn's hard work became
irrelevant.  Thus he had a very short period of time in which he was a
respected figure in philosophy and his reconcilliation of Judaism and
philosophy was relevant.

I still wonder about the current state of Jewish philosophy, both
popular and "cutting edge," in that much of it seems to be based on a
rationalist foundation that cannot be rigorously defended.  It seems to
me that such a basis is clung to because it gives the right answer,
while e.g. existentialism does not lend itself to "one right answer."
With full and proper respect (since who am I to say that I admire and
respect this gadol or that gadol) I particularly admire the Rav's use of
existentialism in his philosophical expositions.  While it opens up the
use of existentialism to justify other approaches, both to Judaism and
life in general, it also opens up a very meaningful and personal
approach to Jewish religious life and observance.

Jeremy Nussbaum (<jeremy@...>)


End of Volume 24 Issue 85