Volume 37 Number 22
                 Produced: Tue Oct  1  5:40:02 US/Eastern 2002

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

The proper place of mxica in Jewish theology
         [Jay F Shachter]
         [Bernard Raab]
Torah as Historical Record
         [Ben Katz]
"writing style" of chumash
         [Seth Lebowitz]


From: Jay F Shachter <jay@...>
Date: Mon, 23 Sep 2002 11:28:51 -0600 (CDT)
Subject: The proper place of mxica in Jewish theology

A statement in v37n15 of mail.jewish made clear the extent to which we
all are influenced by the thinking of the non-Jews among whom we live.

Let us consider the legal device known as Prozbol.  There is a micva in
the Torah (expressed in Deuteronomy 15:2) which requires us to void all
debts every seven years.  I will call this micva "A".  There is another
micva in the Torah (expressed in Deuteronomy 15:9 and 15:10) which
forbids us to deny our fellow Jew a loan solely because we are afraid
that he will take advantage of micva "A" and skip out on the debt.  I
will call this prohibition against denying our fellow Jew a loan micva

Hillel saw that businessmen were widely violating micva "B" -- that they
were, contrary to the law of the Torah, denying loans to their fellow
Jews as the year of debt release ("shmitta") approached -- and that this
practice was exacerbating poverty and impairing productivity.
Consequently, Hillel "invented" the Prozbol.  Now, what do we mean when
we say this?  First of all, Hillel taught that, according to Torah law,
although a debt to an individual is voided by the shmitta year, a debt
to the court is not voided by the shmitta year.  This teaching is not at
all obvious from the plain text of the Torah.  Second of all, Hillel
instructed courts to allow individual creditors to "transfer" their
debts to them, if the deadbeat doesn't pay up by the time the shmitta
year approaches.  Even if the Torah excludes debts to the court from the
septannual cancellation of debts, there is nothing in the Torah that
requires the court to accept a debt "transfered" to it from an
individual, but Hillel instructed the courts to accept such debts.

Nowadays, when we realize a few days before Rosh HaShana on a shmitta
year that the deadbeats who owe us money aren't likely to pay up in the
next few days, we gather together three strangers in synagog, and form
them into a "court".  This is a "court" that never sat in the past, and
will almost certainly never sit again in the future, but for the thirty
seconds it takes us to recite the Prozbol formula, we transfer our debts
to this "court", who then authorizes us to collect those debts on its

No one on this mailing list will deny that the Prozbol is anything other
than a legal fiction, and no will deny, moreover, that the Prozbol goes
completely against the spirit of micva "A".  We freely admit this.  We
admit that the Torah prescribes a society in which no Prozbol is ever
made; but we say that our ancestors were violating the Torah (i.e.,
micva "B"), that this violation was harming our society, and that Hillel
therefore invented this legal fiction to repair the harm we had brought
on ourselves by violating the perfect law of God.  If we had not sinned,
the Prozbol would not have been necessary; but we did sin, and the
Prozbol was a corrective measure taken in recognition of our sinful

Rabbinic measures taken in recognition of our sinful practices must not
be confused with certain commandments in the Torah itself which are
believed to be "concessions to human nature".  The most famous example
is Deuteronomy 21:11 through Deuteronomy 21:14, which prescribes the
treatment of a female prisoner of war whom a soldier has taken for
himself.  In the history of Jewish jurisprudence, no one has ever
suggested that this is commendable conduct.  The Jewish understanding of
this passage has always been that it is a concession to human nature.
Certain things happen in wartime, and if they were forbidden, they would
happen anyway.  Some soldiers of the victorious army are going to mate
with the conquered women.  If this conduct is proscribed, they will do
it anyway, but then they will leave the women behind when they return
home, like the American soldier who left behind my pregnant
mother-in-law in 1945.  Deuteronomy 21:11 through Deuteronomy 21:14
provides a mechanism for the female prisoner of war to become the
legitimate wife of the soldier who took her.  Without saying, "it is
acceptable for you to do this" it says, "if you are going to do this,
then this is the way to do it".

Such laws, forming part of God's unchangeable Torah, are fundamentally
different from Rabbinic devices like the Prozbol.  We believe that it is
preferable for there to be no need for a Prozbol.  We believe that after
we reconstitute the Sanhedrin, the Sanhedrin will monitor the state of
public morality, and that if public morality sufficiently improves, the
Sanhedrin will abolish the Prozbol.

We do not believe that any Sanhedrin will ever abolish Deuteronomy 21:11
through 21:14, no matter how much public morality may improve, because
we believe that Deuteronomy 21:11 through 21:14 are necessitated by
human nature itself.  We believe that any world in which male soldiers
do not occasionally mate with female prisoners of war would be a world
in which human nature is different from what it is, and sufficiently
different so as to be incompatible with the Divine plan.

Now, nothing that I have said so far is, I believe, controversial in any
way, and I do not expect that anyone on this mailing list will disagree
with any of it.  I propose, however, that the only reason we are so
straightforward about Prozbol is that we live among non-Jews who do not
have strong opinions about it.

In contrast, the non-Jews among whom we live do have strong opinions
about equal rights for women, and equal participation of women in
society.  This influences our thinking.  We react by saying things like
the following:

> I am not apologetic or
> ashamed of the fact that our holy Torah and halacha separate the sexes.

The above sentiment was expressed in mail.jewish v37n15.  It is typical
of much supposedly "Torah-true" writing.  The non-Jews are wrong, we
say: they are naive about human nature, for all their obsession with sex
they paradoxically minimize the awesome power of human sexuality, et
cetera et cetera.  We Jews have got it right, we are attuned to human
nature, because we live by God's unchanging Torah, the blueprint of

What we fail to admit, what we fail in many cases even to realize, is
that our holy Torah does not separate the sexes, not even in the Beyt
HaMiqdash.  The separation of the sexes is a Rabbinic measure much like
the Prozbol, necessitated not by human nature, but by a decline in
public morality which might very well be reversed in some future
generation.  If the androgens and estrogens in our bloodstream rendered
Jewish men and women incapable of conducting themselves with proper
decorum in the Beyt HaMiqdash, there would be a micva in the Torah
mandating separation of the sexes -- at least in the Beyt HaMiqdash, if
not on other occasions as well.

No such micva exists.  On the contrary, the only micva in the Torah of a
public Torah assembly explicitly provides, in Deuteronomy 31:12, that
men are women are to participate equally.  Separate seating for men and
women in synagog, and the mxica which is the mandatory visible reminder
of such separate seating, are imitations of similar practices in the
Beyt HaMiqdash.  We know that for hundreds of years, men and women were
not separated in the Beyt HaMiqdash; we know that the Sanhedrin
instituted separate men's and women's sections only when the Sanhedrin
began to see a decline in public morality and an increase in frivolity
unsuitable to the Beyt HaMiqdash, and which had not existed in
generations past.  Far from looking at the mxica as a symbol of the
Jewish nation's heightened spirituality, we should look at it as a
shameful reminder of our failure to reach the level of spirituality that
is expected of us by the Torah and which our grandfathers and
grandmothers regularly achieved; and we should look forward to the day
when a reconstituted Sanhedrin will abolish it together with the

			Jay F. ("Yaakov") Shachter
			6424 N Whipple St, Chicago IL  60645-4111
				<jay@...>, http://m5.chi.il.us


From: Bernard Raab <beraab@...>
Date: Wed, 25 Sep 2002 01:36:00 -0400
Subject: Re: Thunderstorm

Stan Tenen writes:
>At one point yesterday (Yom Kippur) I went into my room, and discovered
>that because there had been a series of thunder and lightning storms
>here in Sharon, the television had turned itself on, and was happily
>broadcasting -- of all things -- a picture of the late actor, Jack Lord.

>Eventually I just flopped an old newspaper over the TV, and that
>completely covered it.  (The sound wasn't on because it works through
>the hi-fi, and the thunderstorm didn't turn that on.)

>Here's my question.  Since "Jack Lord" turned on the TV, should I have
>watched it?

I think you've missed a deeper message here: Jack the
LORD...resurrection of the dead...Yom Kippur...

>Okay, here's my real question.  I could have knocked the antenna wire
>off its clip-lead.  There's no spark, and neither any measurable voltage
>nor current that's switched if I were to do this.  (That is, not
>measurable by ordinary measuring equipment like a volt meter.
>Obviously, the TV receiver measures something, or there wouldn't be a
>picture. But that's comparably even more "microscopic" than microscopic
>bugs that are acceptable on lettuce, and more microscopic than visible
>accidental discharges of static electricity from walking on a plastic
>carpet on a dry day.)

You are right to assume that the voltage involved is very low
(microvolts) but wrong to assume that it is hard to measure (with the
right instrument).  BTW, the voltages involved in carpet sparks can be
VERY high (hundreds-to-thousands).

>Is it halachically acceptable to open or close a switch when there is no
>spark, and no measurable current passes, and what's gained is a return
>to a quiet sabbath or yom tov?
>I'm guessing that this would be okay.

Electronic switches, which control almost all modern electronic
appliances like TV's, computers, door locks, etc. do not create sparks,
so I'm guessing that the spark is not the controlling factor here.

>If so, which is the best choice?  Covering the TV?  Knocking off the
>antenna (when that's trivially easy)?  Or is this a case where I have to
>leave the room until after yom tov?

Since knocking off the antenna would only result in a messy snowy
picture, I think your best choice would have been to stare at Jack Lord
until you could "divine" the message he was sent to convey...G'mar Tov!


From: Ben Katz <bkatz@...>
Date: Wed, 25 Sep 2002 12:36:03 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: Re: Torah as Historical Record

>From: Binyomin Segal <bsegal@...>
> Stan Tenen asks:
>> But statistical tests and
>> other tests based on our knowledge of grammar, style, spelling, and the
>> like, can tell us -- sometimes -- if two works are by the same author or
>> not.  (Of course, I'm not suggesting aiding or abetting the anti-Torah
>> documentary hypothesis of the academic scholars.  I'm only suggesting
>> that if there is a serious question in our tradition, then we might make
>> use of statistical techniques in this limited case, because it could be
>> halachically appropriate when done properly.)
>Actually, I don't think the test is appropriate here. The tradition does
>not ascribe real authorship, in the way we think of it, to either Moshe
>or Yehoshua. They were "merely" the scribe. The author of the Chumash
>was entirely Hashem - it was His writing style throughout. As a result
>we already know that there is a single author. We do not know if there
>was a single scribe.

    I am not sure the statement "it was His writing style throughout" is
correct.  Devarim is clearly in a different style than Shemot thru
Bamidbar.  Human feelings such as "love" occur throughout.  Moshe seems
to retell stories from a different perspective after 40 years.  Many of
Moshe's speeches and Zot Haberacha seem to be Moshe's words. Finally,
there are very few "vayedabar hashem el Moshe lamor" type pesukim.  I
have always felt that Moshe authored large parts of Devarim (with Divine
inspiration; but this is different from being dictated to) which Hashem
then told him to include in the Mishna Torah.  (This is certainly no
worse than Paroah speaking and Moshe being told to include it in the

        Moadim lesimchah
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, Voicemail and Pager: 3034
e-mail: <bkatz@...>


From: Seth Lebowitz <SLebowitz@...>
Date: Wed, 25 Sep 2002 11:35:03 -0500
Subject: "writing style" of chumash

Binyomin Segal wrote:

"The author of the Chumash was entirely Hashem - it was His writing
style throughout."

I think it is actually an interesting question whether the Torah is in
God's writing style "throughout." (To avoid confusion, I would like to
state explicitly that I am NOT asking whether the author of the entire
Chumash was God.) Certain parts of the Torah appear to be quotations.
So it is reasonable to say that, for example, things said by Avimelech
or Paroh are not in God's "writing style", but rather in the style of
the people who said them.  The fact that God in His infinite wisdom  put
them in the Torah must mean that they have the same eternal significance
and status as the rest of the Torah.  However, the words chosen and
their order would have been chosen by the human speaker.  This issue
becomes most interesting in sefer Devarim, most of the content of which
is Moshe Rabbenu speaking. 

There are of course other ways to look at the issue (the quotations are
God's paraphrase of what the people said, everything the person said was
"dictated" by God, etc.).  But it is a question that obviously needs to
be asked and I believe it potentially has profound implications for how
we understand and relate to sefer Devarim at the minimum. 



End of Volume 37 Issue 22