Volume 39 Number 96
                 Produced: Mon Jun 30  6:41:31 US/Eastern 2003

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Abra cadabra
         [Yeshaya Halevi]
A Big Mitzvah
         [Bernard Raab]
"Big" mitzvahs
         [Michael Feldstein]
Fringe Medicine and Halacha
         [Barak Greenfield]
Simcha Guidelines
         [Sharon Shapiro]
Where do words come from (4)
         [Ben Katz, Mike Gerver, Bill Bernstein, Irwin Weiss]


From: Yeshaya Halevi <halevi@...>
Date: Fri, 27 Jun 2003 09:58:41 -0500
Subject: Abra cadabra

Shalom, All:

	Has anybody pointed out the possibly Hebrew origin of the English phrase
"abra cadabra?"
	Those who say the phrase is Hebrew in origin say it stems from a kabalistic
term, meaning "I have created as I have spoken."

Yeshaya (Charles Chi) Halevi


From: Bernard Raab <beraab@...>
Date: Sun, 29 Jun 2003 22:44:45 -0400
Subject: A Big Mitzvah

From: Irwin Weiss <irwin@...>

>I have a friend who frequently says, "It's a big Mitzvah" to do such and
>such.  My initial reaction (which is frequently wrong) is to think, "All
>Mitzvot are equal--or at least, how can we tell which Mitzvot are "big"
>and which are not?"
>But, maybe I am wrong.  Are some Mitzvot bigger or more important than
>others, and what is the test for "big"?

Well, in Chapter 2 of Pirkei Avot, Rabi says: "Be as careful in
performing a 'mitzvah kalla' as a 'chamura'..., because you do not know
the reward for mitzvos." Some translate "kalla" and "chamura" as minor
and major, but I think that closer to pshat would be easy and difficult
(to perform).  I have often wondered how this statement could be
reconciled with the fact that the Torah does note a specific reward for
two mitzvos; a reward of long life. This odd pair of mitzvos is well
known: honor of father and mother, and shooing away of the mother
bird. I have heard a shiur in which the rav suggested that this pair is
the prototype for "major" and "minor", and are thus intended to
represent all mitzvos.

I think he was onto something in his suggestion, but I think this pair
is a better fit to the idea of "easy and hard" than to "major and
minor", and here is where I depart from the usual explanation: I suggest
that honor of father and mother is "easy" in the sense that it is
natural and universal, whereas the concept of shooing away a mother bird
in order to take the eggs or chicks is most unnatural and unique. It may
seem "easy" but have you done it yet? I strongly suspect that many
tzadikim live their entire lives without ever performing this mitzvah.

Which would you say is the "bigger" mitzvah; the easy or the hard?


From: <MIKE38CT@...> (Michael Feldstein)
Date: Sun, 29 Jun 2003 00:49:41 EDT
Subject: "Big" mitzvahs

The question was recently asked about "big" mitzvahs, and whether a
hierarchy exists among the 613 mitzvot.

I think it boils down to how you define "big" and how you are measuring
mitzvot...by the reward given for doing it, by the internal satisfaction
it gives the person who performs the mitzvah, by the number of times the
mitzvah can be accomplished by an individual, by the requirement to
perform (or not perform) a mitzvah when faced with a conflict of only
performing one of two mitzvot, or by some other criteria.

Certainly the oft-quoted phrase, "Talmud torah k'neged kulah," seems to
suggest that this mitzvah carries extra weight.  The mitzvah of kibbud
av v'aim is given great importance by our sages in terms of the reward
for performing it.  And there are discussions in the Talmud about
whether or not one is allowed to interrupt the mitzvah of tefilla for
doing another mitzva--which certainly could be interpreted as a judgment
as to which of two mitzvot is more important.

With that said, I still think it's problematic for someone to
arbitrarily rank all 613 mitzvot in terms of which ones are "bigger" or
more important, and that generally speaking we are better off when we
assign equal weight to all 613 mitzvot, even if logic and common sense
might dictate otherwise.

Michael Feldstein
Stamford, Ct


From: Barak Greenfield <DocBJG@...>
Date: Sun, 29 Jun 2003 18:23:43 -0400
Subject: RE: Fringe Medicine and Halacha

Michael Kahn <mi_kahn@...> wrote:

> If a person is willing to buck the trend regarding hallacha but not
> health I think it shows that they care more about their health than
> their hallacha.  (I'm not accusing you of this. I know you were just
> making a point. I'm making a general comment which raises the issue of
> whether or not one can follow fringe hallacha akin to your discussing
> fringe medicine.)

Your caveat is certainly well taken. However, the comparison is limited
by the distinction between scientific truth and halachic truth. When it
comes to issues of health and safety, there is an objective reality--for
example, the risk from a vaccine vs the risk of not being vaccinated,
the risk to the community, etc. Though the numbers may not be known with
absolute certainty (on either side), we go by the best information we
have, and so it is either safer to be vaccinated or it is not. In
halacha, however, it is a matter of opinion and reasoning, coupled with
the concept of elu ve'elu divre elohim chayim, so there can be more than
one correct course of action. If it is objectively safer and more
efficacious to take Medicine A rather than Herbal Remedy B, then clearly
one ought be taking A. But it is impossible to say that Rav A is "right"
and Rav B is "wrong", though one may accept the psak of the former over
the latter.

Further, the studies on which orthodox medicine is based are open for
all to see, and when new information is available, clinical
recommendations are revised. In modern halachic decision making,
however, there appears to be a reluctance to make any bold moves, as has
been discussed recently on this list. So the "fringe halacha", while you
are correct that we need to be wary of it, may actually be better
reasoned out and have a stronger foundation, and may be on the fringe
merely because of its novelty and for no other reason.



From: Sharon Shapiro <shamshap@...>
Date: Sun, 29 Jun 2003 13:13:29 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Simcha Guidelines

I recently ran across an article entitled "Simcha Guidelines," which I
believe was originally published in the September 2002 issue of the
Jewish Observer.  The guidelines were meant for those residing in the
New York/New Jersey metro area, although they were meant to pave the way
for jewish communities across the country.  I was just curious to know
if there have been any noticeable changes in the grand scale of simchas
since these guidelines have been published.  Any opinions?

The pdf link to the guidelines is:

Sharon Shapiro


From: Ben Katz <bkatz@...>
Date: Fri, 27 Jun 2003 12:54:53 -0500
Subject: Re: Where do words come from

 a few comments re Stan Tenen's submission below

> >"The logic was consistent with Bible criticism. If the Babylonians and
> >other peoples (including American Indians) all have a flood myth, then the
> >Biblical flood must also be a myth borrowed from an older source (or a
> >coincidental contrivance invented to explain a natural phenomenon.) [. . .]

         I would like to know the source that American Indians have a flood 
myth similar to the Babylonian.

>(Mozeson's complete Introduction to "The WORD" can be read at
>So, whether or not ordinary linguistic theories apply to ordinary
>languages, they don't apply to Hebrew. Even more problematic is the fact
>that these ordinary linguistic theories are the main foundation of the
>anti-Torah Documentary Hypothesis, and School of Higher Criticism,
>neither of which would make sense if Hebrew were not an ordinary

         This is not true.  The Documentary Hypothesis is essentially a 
literary analysis based on style (hence the term "criticism" as in literary 

>For example, "Pil" for "elephant" literally means "Mouth-Hand-Learning"
>(Pe-Yud-Lamed). And, of course, elephants use their mouth-hands (that
>is, their trunks) to work and learn, just as we use our mouths and hands

         How exactly do elephants learn?

>The same is true for all Torah Hebrew roots. Also, unlike modern
>languages which are noun-based, Hebrew is a "rheomode language," which
>means it's verb-based. Hebrew is not concerned with "things" primarily
>("things" can always become idols), but rather, with processes, and in
>particular, processes of self-organization, growth, and decay --

         I would like to know what this is based on.  Since Hebrew
sentences can be missing verbs entirely (eg Kar li = I am cold) I am not
clear how one can say that it is verb based.

>As I've pointed out, "segulah", as in "Am Segulah," ordinarily
>translated "chosen [people]", is a source of braggadocio on the part of
>some Jews, and a source of jealousy towards Jews on the part of
>others. But "segulah" only means "chosen" in a very particular way. It's
>not the noun-state of permanently being "chosen", but rather, the
>process of learning to choose well, which is open to all.
>Gimel=action or relationship
>Lamed=learning and studying

         How does gimel = action or relationship?  Gimel = camel.

>None of this is clever craft or coincidence. Torah Hebrew was given to
>us this way. Torah Hebrew is not related to Canaanite vernacular, though
>the vernacular may have derived from it (as may have many other related
>Semitic and Greek language groups).

         I am not sure what this means either.  Canaanite and Hebrew are 
mutually understandable languages.

From: <MJGerver@...> (Mike Gerver)
Date: Fri, 27 Jun 2003 10:20:52 EDT
Subject: Where do words come from

Shimon Lebowitz writes, in v39n91:

      examples of pairs of words that are NOT etymologically related
      even though most people would assume they are: isle and island;
      gold and
      This sounds amazing. I don't know if we want the list 'cluttered'
      with a lot of learned etymological studies, but do you think you
      could post a simple little table of the examples you just gave?

I've cluttered this list enough with questionably relevant postings over
the past 11 years, so I guess a little more cluttering won't hurt. I've
already prepared such a table for Ben Katz, who made the same request
offline, so here it is.

Isle is from Latin insula, from in+sola, "in the sea."  Island, spelled
iland before the spelling was affected by "isle," comes from Anglo-Saxon
iegland or ealand, where the second syllable means "land," and "ieg"
means "island" and "ea" means water (same root as Latin aqua).

Gold comes from an Indo-European root meaning "shiny" or "yellow," the
same root that "yellow" comes from.
Gelt comes from an Indo-European root meaning "pay," the same root that
"yield" comes from.

The noun gore, and the adjective gory, come from Anglo-Saxon gor, meaning
dung or filth, which comes from an Indo-European root meaning "warm,"
which is also the source of "warm."
The verb "to gore" comes from Anglo-Saxon gar, meaning spear, which comes
from an Indo-European root meaning stake or javelin.

Afraid was originally the past participle of affray, which comes from
medieval Latin exfridare, where ex means "out from," and fridare comes
from Germanic frith, meaning "peace." Related to German and Yiddish
"freude," meaning "joy," and the Yiddish name Frayda.
Fright is related to similar words in other Germanic languages, meaning
about the same as in English, and according to one dictionary I have,
comes from an Indo-European root perg, meaning "fear."
Fear seems to be unrelated to either fright or afraid. It comes from an
Indo-European root per, meaning "try" or "risk," and is related to peril.

Coward comes from Latin cauda, meaning "tail."
The verb "to cow" comes from Old Norse kuga, meaning "subdue," but its
meaning was probably influenced by "coward."

Hawaiian "kahuna" comes by regular sound-shifts from proto-Polynesian
"tafuna," so there is no reason to think it is related to Hebrew "kohen"
or "kahuna."

Hebrew shmad, "destroy," is of uncertain origin, according to Ernest
Klein's Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for English
Speakers, but may be related to words with similar meaing in other
Semitic languages in which the order of the letters is changed, perhaps
because people thought it was bad luck to say the original word. I have
heard that George Orwell used the title "1984" because it corresponded to
the Hebrew year taf-shin-mem-daled, but I don't know if that's true.
Hebrew shmad, "convert to Christianity" comes from Aramaic, and is,
according to Klein, probably a shaph`el form of the Aramaic verb
ayin-mem-daled, meaning "to dive," "to dip in water," hence "to baptize."
He quotes R. Moshe Ibn-Ezra, quoting Rav Hai Gaon, to show that the word
meshumad originally had an ayin in it.

Mike Gerver
Raanana, Israel

From: Bill Bernstein <bbernst@...>
Date: Fri, 27 Jun 2003 09:29:04 -0500
Subject: Re: Where do words come from

First, I fail to see where historical linguistics is contrary to
halakha.  If someone can enlighten me on this point I would appreciate

Second, the main claim seems to be that Higher Biblical Criticism used
historical linguistics in its arguments.  HBC is antithetical to the
Torah point of view.  Ergo historical linguisitics is antithetical to
the Torah POV.  I think the fallacy here is so obvious it needs no

Third, the points about Hebrew words reflecting some reality about
things make for nice droshos and may even be so in some cases but I
doubt it can be applied across the board.  Just a couple of examples:
DoV is a bear.  Reading the letters is dalet (door) beis (house).  I am
sure someone can be clever enough to connect the two but not I.  A rat
is an achbar: ayin (eye) chaf (spoon or hand) beis (house) reish
(perhaps "head").  Thus it is an animal that uses its eye as a spoon in
the attic (top) of a house.  This would make a great car game for the

I suppose the greater point here is what do we do when confronted with
secular studies that appear to contradict Torah teachings in the matter.
My own belief is that where both are understood properly then there is
no contradiction, but I would welcome other POVs on it.  

Bill Bernstein
Nashville TN

From: Irwin Weiss <irwin@...>
Date: Fri, 27 Jun 2003 08:22:02 -0400
Subject: Where do words come from

I have always wondered if the English term "riff - raff" comes from the
term "Airev Rav", the "mixed multitudes" of persons who came out from
Egypt with us at the time of Yeztiat Mitzrayim.  (V'Ha-Airev Rav Alah
Itam).  The Oxford English Dictionary has a different source.

Irwin E. Weiss, Esq.
Baltimore, Maryland, USA


End of Volume 39 Issue 96