Volume 33 Number 26
                 Produced: Sun Aug 27 12:17:52 US/Eastern 2000

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Are Ketubahs meaningless today
Gematriahs (2)
         [Hillel (Sabba) Markowitz, Stan Tenen]
Shabbath 55a: Talmud-Mesorah Disagreements
         [Ben Katz]
A Summary of the Slavery Postings
         [Russell Hendel]


From: Anonymous
Date: Wed, 16 Aug 2000 20:22:50 +0300
Subject: Re: Are Ketubahs meaningless today

It's not the court that tells the women to forget about her ketuba; it's
her rabbi, lawyer, etc.  It's pretty standard and from the cases I've
heard of, almost unheard of for the woman to get the ketuba with the
gett.  Granted most women are so desperate to "get free" that they are
encouraged to make any deal, even if it leaves her homeless and
poverty-stricken.  In most communities the local rabbi is not willing to
put pressure on the husband to give ketuba to the wife, but the wife
pressured to accept a gett without ketuba.  The court tries to mediate
and goes with the side with the better case.  Unfortunately, women who
initiate divorce and move out are at a halachik disadvantage.


From: Hillel (Sabba) Markowitz <sabbahillel@...>
Date: Thu, 17 Aug 2000 23:47:32 -0400
Subject: Re: Gematriahs

Russell Hendel <rhendel@...> writes:
[cut to save bandwidth]
> Based on the above I reopen my question whether we should explain a law
> in the SA whose source is non talmudic on the basis of a a Gematria (the
> reference is to eating nuts on Rosh Hashana--in previous threads we
> tried to argue that the reasons were because of digestive discomfort)

Some time ago I was told an interesting idea about gematria.  That it is
not used to derive the halacha (or point) but that given that the
halacha (or point) is already know, it is used as both a memory aid and
a way of emphasizing the point more strongly.  Thus, one can only use
gematria to "prove" those things that are already known.

Said the fox to the fish, "Join me ashore" | Hillel (Sabba) Markowitz
 Jews are the fish, Torah is our water | Zovchai Adam, agalim yishakun

From: Stan Tenen <meru1@...>
Date: Thu, 17 Aug 2000 12:27:53 -0400
Subject: Re: Gematriahs

Russell Hendel wrote:
>   Consequently Gematria is not a logical method.
>Thus in summary my point is the following: (a) Gematria is TOO FLEXIBLE
>to be a logical method of derivation--you can derive anything with
>it(b)there are very few gematrias in the Talmud (c) furthermore there is
>reason to suspect (a la Malbim) whether gematria was EVER used.
>Based on the above I reopen my question whether we should explain a law
>in the SA whose source is non talmudic on the basis of a a Gematria (the
>reference is to eating nuts on Rosh Hashana--in previous threads we
>tried to argue that the reasons were because of digestive discomfort)

As many here know, my full-time work involves analysis of the Hebrew
letters and their meaning and related matters.  So, I'm familiar with a
wide range of teachings on gematria, both from kosher sources and from
general sources.

Based on my own research, I've come to the conclusion that by and large,
Russell Hendel is correct.  It seems to me that it's only appropriate to
make use of established gematria, such as that mentioned in traditional
sources, and to not go beyond that.  Not only that, but since "gematria
is not a logical method," it shouldn't be thought of as independent
information, but rather as something more like an aid to memory, or an
aid in making associations that our sages want to help us to remember
and think about.  A memory aid only needs to be something easily
remembered; it doesn't need to have any logical support.

All this having been said, I think there is a more important issue with
regard to "gematria".  In our day, gematria is basically understood to
be "numerology" in that it is considered to be a kind of arithmetic of
letters and words.  (Perhaps "numerology" is too broad.)  It's my
understanding that gematria did not originally signify arithmetic only,
but rather involved its cognate word in English, "geometry."

The geometry of numbers is not generally appreciated.  The geometric
interpretation of numbers is now mostly associated with the Pythagorean
teachings, and while it's mentioned by scholars, it's rarely understood.
(It takes the rare scholar with a solid knowledge of geometry and math
in general, in order to really appreciate what's possible here.  Poets
and wordsmiths, no matter how brilliant, can't do this.)

The examination of the _geometry_ of a Hebrew word turns out to be of
extraordinary significance.  My work for Meru Foundation demonstrates
that each of the fluid rabbinic Rashi-Nachmanides Meruba Ashuris
letter-forms is the 2-dimensional outline of a single 3-dimensional form,
a model human hand, worn on the hand, like a tefillin strap.  Each
different letter appears when a person wearing this special "tefillin
strap" makes a gesture with the same meaning as the name of the letter.
For example, to see a Peh, make the familiar "megaphone, shouting"
gesture -- thumbs in, fingers flared around the mouth.  Peh, of course,
means "mouth," and it refers to speech.

When Hebrew root words are examined for the geometry that is outlined by
the sequence of gestures that spells the root, the meaning of the root
is often immediately apparent, even to a naive viewer who has never
heard of Hebrew.

For example, if we wanted a person that didn't speak our language to get
us something round, most people would outline with their hands the shape
of a globe, a sphere, a basketball, or a melon.  If this person were
wearing the special hand-shaped "tefillin strap" (which, by the way, is
literally drawn by pairing off the letters at the beginning of B'reshit,
and described algebraically in the Sh'ma), a person watching them would
see in sequence the letters Gimel and Lamed, which spell the Hebrew root
that means "round".  (Not all words are this simple or obvious. And
there's more to this theory than I'm including here.)

Much of what I've written here is expanded on in various essays and
graphics on the Meru Foundation website at <http://www.meru.org>, and
some of my work on this has been peer-reviewed and published.  Also,
recently, the scholarly communities have come to the conclusion that 1)
anthropologically speaking, gesture language preceded spoken language in
humans; 2) infants can learn to meaningfully "gesture-speak" to their
parents and make explicit requests and comments well before they can
speak phonetically, and that a child's development of phonetic language
appears to follow naturally from gesture-speech (also, the same parts of
the brain are involved).  And 3) blind persons (who have never seen
gestures), gesture when speaking to other blind persons (who can't see
their gestures), and the gestures they make are essentially the same as
those of sighted persons (and in some cases, they match the gestures for
the Hebrew letters in work I published earlier).

So, the allusion to gematria in the Torah tradition may actually be an
allusion to the universal language lost in the story of the Tower of
Babel.  It's always been presumed that this was phonetic language, and
thus the Torah teachings have been rejected and ridiculed by the
scholars because they could not comprehend -- nor historically justify
 -- the possibility of a universal spoken language.  But "thinking
outside of the box" (the presumption of a phonetic language) leads to
the possibility of a natural universal gesture language, and if this
theory is correct, makes the Torah's narrative on Babel a matter of
respect rather than ridicule, and also redeems the meaning of gematria
from its flat and illogical arithmetic pigeonhole.

If anyone reading mail-jewish would like to know who "holds by this,"
and/or learn more about these theories, please respond via email.  I'd
like to make as much of this work available to the Torah community as
possible, because while it can be generally appreciated, it's of no
long-term value if it's not criticized and vetted by the Torah
community, and to the extent that it's correct, used to enhance our
appreciation of mitzvot and halacha, and to bring a deeper understanding
of Kabbalistic teachings to a wider Torah audience than is currently the

Meru Foundation   http://www.meru.org   <meru1@...>


From: Ben Katz <bkatz@...>
Date: Wed, 16 Aug 2000 13:21:59 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: Re: Shabbath 55a: Talmud-Mesorah Disagreements

Russell Hendel <rhendel@...> writes:
>Ben Katz in Volume 32 Number 61 states that
>However, the issue becomes more complex when we consider that
>there is ample evidence that the Talmud on occassion had a different text of
>the Bible than we do.  (See gilyon ha-shas and Tosefot on Shabbat 55b; R.
>Akiva Eger quotes about 20 such examples [there are more] and Tosefot says
>words to the effect "hagemara cholek al haseforim shelanu".)  This is
>especially problemmatic when the gemara uses a letter not in our sifray
>Torah to derive (at least in an asmachta sense) a halacha.  Many medieval
>This is not a problem since ample commentary exists to show that
>it is a misinterpretation of the Talmud to think it EVER disagreed
>with our Mesorah. Let me give two simple examples
>1) The Talmud at times **seems** to derive laws from the **number** of full
>and deficient spellings of words. These numbers usually differ from
>the actual text. However a brilliant analysis by Rabbi Hirsch shows
>that the analysis is not based on numbers.  It is rather based on
>a grammatical rule that a collective noun spelled fully refers to the
>FULL object with all its parts while a defectively spelled noun refers
>EVEN to an object missing parts. (A simple example might be the word
>TABLE. TABLE refers to a table with 4 legs but TABL (Spelled without
>the "e") refers to any table even if it was missing a leg or two)
>(See Rav Hirsch on Emor by the word SCOTH for a reference)
>On my Rashi website I give about half a dozen examples where this
>rule is used (See http://www.RashiYomi.Com/fd-12.htm which summarizes
>Rashis in Dt06-09a, Dt09-10a, Ex31-05e, Lv23-40c, Gn01-21a, Gn09-12a,
>Gn01-28a). Thus there is no contradiction to the mesorah
> [Snip]
>This is a broad topic and I have only scratched the surface. The Shabbath
>55a Gmarrah came up in the BaisTefillah group (now Avodah) several years
>ago. I offered to explain each of the 2 dozen examples brought by the
>Gilyon Hashas AND to give long lists of examples to back me up.
>The offer is still valid (provided there is serious interest in it)

       The major problem with Dr. Hendel's clever arguments is that they
violate a fundamental law of logic known as Occam's razor or the law of
parsimony.  When confronted with TWO DOZEN examples of a phenomenon it
is logically much more desireable to assume they all have a single
explanation rather than to explain each one away in a different manner.
This would be analogous to a physician confronting a patient with a
fever and a headache to treat each symptom separately and not assume
that they were part of the same disease process.  The only reason not to
follow this approach is if the unifying hypothesis is shown to be
incorrect, which can happen.  I submit that in instances such as this
the unifying hypothesis is theologically problemmatic to current
thinking and is therefore rejected a priori.

        The other issue is that we have to rely on the written words of
previous generations because we have no other way of communicating with
them.  If we know what they are saying (or would have said) no matter
what the words actually say and mean, we are not listening to them and
not learning from them.

Ben Z. Katz, M.D.
Children's Memorial Hospital, Division of Infectious Diseases
2300 Children's Plaza, Box # 20, Chicago, IL 60614
Ph. 773-880-4187, Fax 773-880-8226


From: Russell Hendel <rhendel@...>
Date: Sun, 13 Aug 2000 18:00:47 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: A Summary of the Slavery Postings

I just finished reading the half dozen or so postings in V33N4 about
female slavery. While some statements shocked me, nevertheless I think 
that some excellent points have been made which I would like to tersely
summarize with additional sources. In defending the laws allowing Fathers
to sell their daughters we should remember that

1)(Perets Mett) A Jew can NEVER sells himself into slavery; rather he
sells himself(or daughter) as an indentured servant. This is a real
work contract as can be proven from the fact that the sale itself
must intrinsically allow for breaking the contract by reimbursement
of funds (Rambam Slaves 4:3)

2) (Russell Hendel) The rights of a female minor slave and a child minor
are about the same. So nothing is really being lost by selling her.

3) (Russell Hendel) I suggested that female minor slavery is allowed to
prevent expected prostitution which happens in very poor families. I
neglected to cite the explicit source (Slaves 4:2) "A father may not
sell his daughter unless he is so poor that he has neither movables
real estate or even clothing. And EVEN THEN the fathers first obligation
upon obtaining funds is to buy back his daughter." (So the only way she
could remain a slave was if the father is perpetually poor)

4) (Perets Mett) All fathers can initiate a marriage of their minor daughters
(I should add that no female minor slave could be married without her consent
(Slaves 4:8). Furthermore (Rabbi Berkowitz rephrased) a female minor slavery
which could not end in marriage is not valid (Slaves 4:11)

One final point: I think the statements about infant genocide and the idea
that "The modern environment, in which women are able to easily earn
an independant living without engaging in prostitution, is very new" are
extreme statements. The above defense of slavery focuses on female
vulnerability; it does not focus on an assumption of widespread infantacide
and female job prostitution as a rule.Furthermore while I certainly hope
that tractors replace animals in the messianic world there are strong
opinions that poverty (and hence slavery) will still exist (Dt15-11).

Russell Jay Hendel; Phd ASA Dept of Math <RHEndel@...>
Moderator Rashi is Simple


End of Volume 33 Issue 26