Volume 41 Number 41
                 Produced: Tue Dec 16  5:25:29 US/Eastern 2003

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

         [Gil Student]
Tal U'Matar
         [Jay F Shachter]


From: Gil Student <gil_student@...>
Date: Thu, 11 Dec 2003 18:12:26 -0500
Subject: Re: Shaatnez

There is no question that sha'atnez is sometimes found in clothing.  And
there is no question that in many types of rov situations we are
obligated to check if possible and not rely on the rov.  However, there
are varying levels of rov.  If something happens in 99.99% of the cases
then there is certainly no obligation to verify the facts in every case.
We may confidently rely on rov.  But if something only happens in 55% of
the cases then we would certainly be hesitant to rely on rov if we can
verify the facts.

So where do we draw the line?

R' Ya'akov of Karlin and R' Ephraim Zalman Margoliyos of Brodt debated
this issue in the early 19th century.  There was a new defect that was
found in many animals but could only be detected if the scalp was peeled
back and the skull was checked.  R' EZ Margoliyos argued that this is
merely a mi'ut ha-matzu'iy (an infrequent case) and therefore there is
no obligation to check for this defect, particularly when this could
cause a substantial monetary loss. RY of Karlin (Mishkenos Ya'akov, YD
16-17) argued that in a case of mi'ut ha-matzu'iy there is a rabbinic
obligation to verify the facts if possible.  In a mi'ut she-eino
matzu'iy (rare case), however, there is not necessarily an obligation to
check.  There are cases where the custom is to check, if this is not
overly burdensome.  But in cases where it is overly burdensome there
does not seem to be an obligation to check.  According to REZ
Margoliyos, there is certainly no obligation to check in a rare case.

Significantly, RY of Karlin proved that the definition of a rare case is
when it happens less than 10% of the time. Thus, if, for example, a
certain style of suit coming from a certain manufacturer or country has
consistently yielded sha'atnez in less than 10% of the cases then this
is considered a rare case (mi'ut she-eino matzu'iy).  In such cases
there might be a custom to check if it is not overly burdensome.  But it
is difficult to say that, in a case of mi'ut she-eino matzu'iy, one is
obligated to check.  Certainly according to REZ Margoliyos one is not
obligated to check.

Significantly, I saw that R' Hershel Schachter, in an Or HaMizrach
article about tuna fish, wrote that there is no obligation to check in a
rare case.

Will the sha'atnez checkers on the list let us know which types of
clothing have an incidence rate of sha'atnez of 10% or greater?

[Note: Don't rely on any of this for practical halachah.  Ask your

Gil Student


From: Jay F Shachter <jay@...>
Date: Thu, 4 Dec 2003 09:37:19 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Re: Tal U'Matar

If the day were always the same length, then whenever sunrise is getting
later, sunset would be getting earlier by the same amount, and Xatzot
Hayyom would still remain at pretty much the same time all year long.
When sunrise is getting later but sunset is also getting later, such as
will be happening in a few days, it means that Hatzot Hayyom will be
later tomorrow than it was today -- i.e., the day is slightly longer
than twenty-four hours.  Which it is, at times.  Just as at other times
of the year a day is slightly shorter than twenty-four hours.

This has nothing to do with the tilt of the earth.

It is the tilt of the earth which causes the apportionment of the
24-hour day into sunlight hours and nighttime hours to differ at
different times of the year, but one would expect the change in
sunrise to mirror the change in sunset -- when sunrise gets later,
sunset gets earlier; when sunrise gets earlier, sunset gets later.
But as was pointed out above, sometimes they are both getting later,
and sometimes they are both getting earlier.  This phenomenon has
nothing to do with the tilt of the earth, though; it has to do with
its noncircular orbit around the sun.

The 24-hour period that we call a "day" is not the period of the earth's
rotation.  It is longer than the period of the earth's rotation.  The
length of a "day" is measured by the relative position of the sun.
After the earth makes a complete rotation about its axis, the sun is no
longer in the same position relative to us as before, because the
movement of the earth around the sun has changed its position.  After
the earth rotates once, is has to rotate a little more, to make up for
the change in the sun's position that has happened in the meantime due
to the earth's movement around the sun.

The path of the earth's orbit is not a perfect circle.  During
wintertime in the northern hemisphere the earth is closer to the sun
than it is during the northern hemisphere's summertime.  When it is
closer to the sun it travels faster.  Even if it were not traveling
faster, even if it were traveling at a constant speed all year long, it
would still, in a given time period, subtend a greater angle of the
orbital path when it is closer than when it is further.  These two
effects, shorter distances and higher speed, are additive, and what it
adds up to is that after making a complete rotation the earth has to
compensate more for its orbit in December than in June.  So the extra
compensatory time that is added to the orbital period to make it a "day"
is greater in December than in June.  The time period from Xatzot Hayyom
to Xatzot Hayyom is greater in December than in June, which is what
makes it possible in December for both sunrise and sunset to be getting
later at the same time.

If sunset begins getting later around the same time that the Babylonian
Jews start praying for rain, that is a completely meaningless
coincidence, because in ten thousand years they will be starting their
prayers for rain in February, not December.  Moreover, the person to
whose article I am responding is seeing patterns that don't exist,
because the moment of earliest sunset is closer to December 8 than
December 4, and it also depends somewhat on your distance from the
equator, the moment occurring later when you are further from the
equator than when you are closer.

The prayer for rain beginning December 4 does not, in fact, depend on a
real astronomical event at all, but on a bogus astronomical event,
involving both a bogus sunset, and a bogus equinox.  I wrote a short
mini-article about this many years ago, which began as a letter to my
respected friend David Sherman in response to an article he posted on
net.jewish (sic.; it was a long time ago), and which was then posted to
that newsgroup at his request.  I shall trot it out again for
mail.jewish, with only minor modifications:

`Vten tal umatar' is a request for rain.  It is not primarily a praise
of God, Who is so mighty that among other things he causes the rain to
fall -- we do that elsewhere -- it is a request for rain.  As you
probably know, prayer, as defined by the Tora, consists of three
components: praise, request, and thanks, and they must be recited in
that order.  When the Sages implemented the `Amida prayer, in the time
of Ezra, they conceived of the first three benedictions as praise, the
last three benedictions as thanks, and the middle benedictions as
requests.  The distinction may not be obvious to you, but that is how we
should conceive the prayer (e.g., the final benediction is not primarily
a request for peace; it is primarily an expression of gratitude to God
for bringing and continuing to bring peace).

Well, when do you ask for rain?  Obviously, when you need it.  Asking
for something when you need it is, after all, a Scriptural precept,
whereas reciting the `Amida is only a Rabbinic precept.  Asking for
something when you don't need it is meaningless hypocrisy.  When do you
need rain?  If you are a farmer, you need rain during the growing
season.  Even if you are not a farmer, you need rain during the growing
season, because your food depends on farmers' growing their crops.

Seasons are not lunar events.  They occur on the solar calendar.  The
question is not why Jews within the Exile begin asking for rain on a day
determined (approximately) by the solar calendar.  The question is --
Why do Jews in Israel begin praying for rain on a day determined by the
lunar/solar calendar?  Well, part of the reason is that Shmini `Atseret
is determined by the lunar/solar calendar, and people may want to be in
Jerusalem for Shmini `Atseret (although they don't have to be), and then
they may need as much as two weeks to get home.  We don't want to ask
for rain in Israel while pilgrims are still on the road.  The other part
of the reason is that, the closer you get to the Equator, the less
pronounced are the seasons.  At the Equator there are no seasons at all
(no one can detect the difference in solar radiation between the Earth
at aphelion and the Earth at perihelion).  Although Israel is not a
tropical country, the seasons are sufficiently mild that it's okay to be
a few days off, solarly speaking, when you start to ask for rain (please
forgive the neologism).  If the seasons were more pronounced, then the
day would have to be precisely calculated in the solar calendar,
regardless of whether that meant praying for muddy roads for the
returning pilgrims.

Babylon is a bit further north than Israel (although not quite so far
north as people think, because to travel from Babylon to Israel you
first have to go northwest and then southwest to avoid the desert,
giving people the impression that caravans from Babylon are coming from
the north).  In Babylon the seasons are more pronounced than they are in
Israel.  Also, you don't have to worry about pilgrims on the roads when
Shmini `Atseret comes late in the year.  Therefore the Jews in Babylon
did the logical thing, and decided that in their country they would
begin asking for rain on a day determined by the solar calendar.

Now we get to the part about which many people are confused.  I found
much ignorance of this topic, even among yeshiva educated people, even,
in fact, among rabbis.  The law, as it was enacted in Babylon, is that
one begins to pray for rain sixty days after the autumnal equinox.  Now,
the first thing that anyone will notice who has a calendar, the ability
to count, and curiosity, is that December 4 is not 60 days after the
autumnal equinox.  In other words, December 4 is the wrong date -- in
fact it is wrong by quite a bit.  Well, you see, we don't use the real
autumnal equinox.  We use a `statutory' autumnal equinox.  The
`statutory' equinox is based on the assumption that a solar year is
exactly 365 1/4 days long.  To calculate this year's statutory equinox,
you just add 365 days and 6 hours to last year's statutory equinox.  As
you probably know, however, the solar year is really (approximately) 365
days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds.  So the Julian approximation
of 365 days 6 hours will gain approximately 1 day every 128 years (and
you can therefore calculate from this year's statutory equinox just how
many years we have been using this approximation).

The Sages knew that 365 1/4 days was just an approximation, and they
knew that it would gain a day every hundred or so years.  They could
have been more accurate had they wanted to be.  They deliberately chose
the simplest reasonable approximation so that people could easily
calculate the statutory equinox (remember, this was before the
Hindu-Arabic number system).  They did not want to make the law so
hermetic that certain communities would not observe it correctly.
Another thing they did, to simplify calculation, is to implement the
concept of the `statutory sunset' which always occurs at 18:00.  Thus,
whenever the statutory equinox falls at 21:00 it is considered to have
fallen after sunset, and whenever it falls at 15:00 it is considered to
have fallen before sunset, regardless of when the sun actually sets in
your location. You will notice that eventually the statutory equinox
will fall so late in the year that we will have to start asking for rain
after Passover -- i.e., we will have to start asking after the time when
we have to stop asking.  Our Sages expected that the Messiah would come
long before that happened.  After the Messiah comes no Jew will reside
in Exile, so the problem will disappear.

Now you know all about Babylon.  What about Toronto?  What about
Chicago?  What am I doing asking for rain in Chicago in the dead of
winter, when nothing grows?  The answer is that, theoretically, I
shouldn't be doing so.  The custom has arisen, among Jews all over the
world, to ask for rain at the same time that the Jews in Babylon ask for
rain.  There is no basis in law for this custom.  I will repeat that
sentence, so you will know that I did not mistakenly say something I did
not mean: There is no basis in law for this custom.  A community should
pray for rain when it needs rain.  Several outstanding rabbis attempted
during the Middle Ages to correct this erroneous custom, but none
succeeded.  No such attempts have been made in the past couple of
hundred years, because if the earlier rabbis who commanded the loyalty
and respect of their communities failed to change their custom, then the
custom is surely too ingrained to be changed by today's leaders.  This
is unfortunate, but when this state of affairs improves it will lead to
the coming of the Messiah, after which (as stated earlier) the problem
will disappear.

What do we do in the meantime?  How can we pray for rain if we don't
need it?  How can we pray for rain if we not only do not need it, but
also if rain would be absolutely harmful to the local agriculture?
Well, you will notice that the times of the year when Jews in Exile pray
for rain is a proper subset of the times of the year when Jews in Israel
pray for rain.  Whenever we are praying for rain in Toronto, they are
also praying for rain in Israel.  So, if you cannot sincerely ask for
rain where you live, because it might cause harm to the crops, then
think about Israel, not your own area, when you say `vten tal umatar'.

	Jay F. ("Yaakov") Shachter
	6424 N Whipple St, Chicago IL  60645-4111
	<jay@...>, http://m5.chi.il.us:8080


End of Volume 41 Issue 41