Volume 43 Number 91
                    Produced: Thu Aug  5  8:39:15 EDT 2004

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Cryptic Nature Of The Torah
         [Jay F Shachter]
         [Perets Mett]
Sleeve Length
         [Chana Luntz]
Women in pants
         [Carl Singer]


From: Jay F Shachter <jay@...>
Date: Tue, 3 Aug 2004 20:17:50 -0600 (CDT)
Subject: Cryptic Nature Of The Torah

In v43n48, Immanuel Burton inquires about the cryptic nature of the
Torah, using as example Leviticus 22:28 (which prohibits slaughtering a
bull and its young on the same day, but which our tradition tells us
[also] prohibits slaughtering a cow and its young on the same day).

Mr Burton's question -- "Why is our Torah so cryptic?" -- like "Have you
stopped beating your wife?" assumes facts not in evidence, to wit, that
our Torah is cryptic.  In fact, our Torah is not cryptic.  Our Torah, in
fact, is considerably more perspicuous than any comparable
three-thousand-five-hundred-year-old book in existence.

It is time to release the rhetorical questions.  You think the Torah is
cryptic?  Compared to what?  Compared to today's newspaper?  How
intelligible do you think today's newspaper will be in three thousand
five hundred years?  Compared to the immortal works of Shakespear?
Shakespear wrote four hundred years ago and already his immortal
soliloquies are more cryptic than the Torah.  Just what is a "bare
bodkin", anyway?  And what the heck are "fardels"?  Maybe the real
reason no one wants to bear any "fardels" is that no one has any clue
what "fardels" are (e.g., "Do you want to bear some fardels?"  "That
depends -- what are fardels?"  "I refuse to tell you."  "Well, in that
case, no").  Compared to the immortal poetry of Homer?  I am unable to
understand Homer in the original Greek, but I am close to certain that
the reason Homer seems even minimally clear to us is that we read, not
Homer, but the work of a translator who has fashioned an artificial
clarity by repeatedly selecting -- sometimes with great effort,
sometimes with little confidence, and sometimes even arbitrarily -- one
meaning, from among the many pointed to by the original Greek.  And even
in the work of the translator we catch a glimpse of the obscurity of the
original.  I mean, I get it with the rosy-fingered dawn, but what's with
the wine-red sea?  Since when is the sea red?  I won't be at all
surprised if, in the afterlife, when we get to ask about such things, we
find out that the word in Homer that people think means "red" actually
means some completely different color.

The fact is that no human being has ever written anything more complex
than a laundry list that remained intelligible after three thousand five
hundred years, unless said human being had plenty of help from posterity
(and that is why, in a bid for immortality, I intend soon to publish my
laundry lists).  It is true that God, Who can do all things, could have
written the Torah in 58th-century Hebrew.  But then the Torah would
never have survived its first 50 years.  The Torah had to be
sufficiently intelligible to the first generation that they would want
to pass it on to the second generation, and that meant that the Torah
had to be written in the language of the time.

As for the Leviticus 22:28 problem, perhaps the following extended
example may put the question to rest.  Imagine an English speaker who
wishes to utter some proposition regarding the members of certain genera
in the family Anatidae -- e.g., "A duck weighs less than water, and
therefore floats".  The alert listener might inquire, "Why a duck?  Why
no a drake?".  To that question, the thoughtful speaker could reply that
the English word "duck" has two meanings, a specific and a general.
When used in the specific sense, it denotes the adult female; when used
in the general sense, it denotes all ages and sexes; and the specific
sense is only intended when the word appears in close proximity to the
word "drake".  Unless it is contrasted to the word "drake", the word
"duck", in contemporary English, never denotes just the female.

In fact, it would not be a stretch to imagine an English speaker
employing the word "duck" to utter a proposition that applies
exclusively to the male -- e.g., "a duck will fertilize an egg any day
of the week", or "a wild duck will sometimes dive down to the bottom of
a lake, where it will drown" (which, as is well known, only the male of
the species does).

Now imagine that the English language changes over time, as languages
do, such that, in some future generation, the word "duck" loses its
general meaning and retains only its specific meaning -- or, not even
necessarily that, but only that the specific meaning rises in prominence
compared to the general meaning, such that when people hear the word
"duck", they now think primarily of an adult female, and only
secondarily of the class as a whole.  Sentences of the sort presented in
the previous paragraph now sound strange, leading students of such
sentences to ask the immortal question, "why a duck?".

If you can appreciate all of this, you can appreciate why Leviticus
22:28 may have been transparently clear at the time it was written, and
it is only because of the passing of time that we need our oral
tradition today to tell us that the commandment applies to cows as well
as bulls.  It does not mean that the Torah is cryptic.  Far from it.  If
I ever write a book that, in three thousand five hundred years will be
as clear as the Torah is now, I will be immensely pleased with myself.

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


From: Perets Mett <p.mett@...>
Subject: Shtramlekh

There seems to be some assumption that only Rebbes wore shtramlekh and
no-one else

Certainly in Galicia the shtraml was the normal shabbos headgear - and
not only for chasidim.

While non-chasidim were in the minority in Galicia after the 1850s,
wearing a hat on Shabbos instead of a shtraml was considered the first
sign of assimilation - even up to the Second World War.

In Congress Poland, however, the situation was different. the
traditional Jewish mode of dress had been banned by the Russians after
the 1831 uprising, and non-chasidim started to wear a more 'western
style' mode of dress. Chasidim adopted a Russianized from of Jewish
apparel. Most were not permitted to wear a shtraml in the street.
eventually it became the norm for chasidim to carry the shtraml to the
shtibl and don it there, but not wear it in the street,. Many chasidim
in Polish shtetlekh did not even wear their shtraml in the town
beismedresh, where most of the mispalelim were non shtraml wearers

Perets Mett


From: Chana Luntz <Chana@...>
Date: Wed, 4 Aug 2004 13:14:33 +0100
Subject: Sleeve Length

 David Oratz writes: 
>It is my understanding that there are two totally different 
>but loosely related laws involved. 

I would agree with that.  Of course the question is to what extent they
are/should be related.

>The first is the ruling of Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 75) that a
>TEFACH of a normally covered part of a woman's body is "ERVAH" (loosely
>translated as nakedness).  Now the obvious implication is that less
>than a TEFACH is not ERVAH.But this ruling is found in the Laws of
>reading SHMA. All that it states is that one is permitted to recite
>SHMA in the presence of a woman revealing less than a TEFACH of a
>normally covered part of her body, but not in the presence of a TEFACH
>or more. Nothing whatsoever is said regarding what a woman is permitted
>to reveal.


>The second is a ruling of Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 115:4) which is
>based on a Gemara in Ketubot 72a-b which I will summarize for the sake
>of clarity. The Mishnah there (72A) discusses those women who through
>their actions pull themselves away from the right to be protected by a
>Ketubah marriage contract. Among them are women who go against DAT
>YEHUDIT, which Rashi explains are the customs which Jewish women took
>upon themselves from time immemorial (Meiri adds: For extra TZNIUT
>-modesty). One of the examples the Mishnah gives for this is a woman
>who "weaves in the marketplace." The Gemara (72b) explains that this
>refers to a woman who reveals her ZROA to men. (The minimum definition
>of ZROA is the part of the arm above the elbow).  This explanation is
>cited as authoritative in the above cited Shulchan Aruch. Now it is my
>understanding that if this is a definition of "weaving in the
>marketplace" it even refers to one who wears sleeves to her elbow that
>in the process of weaving publicly ride up and reveal part of the area

Yes.  But there are (at least) three possible interpretations of what
the mishna/gemora (and hence the Shulchan Aruch is talking about).

a) revealing any amount (a mashahu) of the zroa (your 
b) revealing an amount sufficient for it to be considered  to 
define it as "zroa" (eg a tefach); or
c) revealing the entire area of the zroa (or, if we say rubo 
k'kulo (the majority is like the whole thing) the majority of 
the zroa).

Now despite your assumption, I would say it is most likely that what the
mishna/gemora is talking about in this case is in fact (c).  Why do I
say this? - do a scientific experiment.  Put on something with loose
sleeves, and make weaving motions (very long stretches sideways and up
and sidesways and down in a continuous shuttling motion) in front of a
mirror (or have your wife do it in the privacy of your bedroom).  Bottom
line, you see a lot of arm (often including the armpit).  Try something
with sleeves a bit tighter down to the elbow - the sleeves come too and
you don't see any arm.  It is not that easy to get much of a half way

Of course this doesn't necessarily help you that much, because after
all, this (as codified in the Shulchan Aruch) only tells you what
breaches of modesty are so significant that a woman can be divorced
without her ketuba (note that it is also seems likely from this
mishna/gemora that women *were* doing this in the marketplace, just not
tzniusdik women, so in fact a lot of arm was being shown in the

>Even without that explanation, there is a clear source that prohibits a
>woman to reveal her upper arm to men, a source that considers this a
>basic requirement of Jewish female modesty, and a source that is
>codified in Shulchan Aruch.  The sources that I have seen do not seem
>to allow any loosening in the basic DAT YEHUDIT requirement of Chazal

But all this is assuming your interpretation, which is that what is
being talked about in this passage is any part of the woman's upper arm
- whereas, as I have suggested above, the more likely interpretation of
this source would only tell you that it is prohibited to reveal the vast
majority of a woman's upper arm, something everybody accepts.

>and if they did, why stop at a TEFACH above the elbow? In the middle of
>last century, many Jewish women wore even shorter sleeves.

If you hold that all you can learn from this mishna/gemorra/shulchan
aruch is that there is a violation of Daas Yehudit if the majority of
the arm is revealed, then you might say that so long as the sleeves only
came slightly more than half way down the arm, there is no violation of
das yehudis and maybe that should be OK (assuming there is no reason in
the prevailing culture to have stricter modesty standards, it has been
generally accepted that part of daas yehudis requires one to dress at
least at the prevailing standards of the general culture.  However, in
the current world, we do not have any such standards, so that provides
no help).

But then there is the issue of erva and the saying of the Shma.  If a
person cannot say the Shma in front of a person showing a tefach, then
it does not seem right that one can generally go out showing that much
(after all, who knows who might be saying the Shma out there in the
marketplace).  But if it is good enough for matters of kedusha
l'chatchila, for which we generally have higher standards, the logic
goes, surely it ought to be good enough for ordinarly basar v'dam [human
beings]. Especially as it is one step above the basic parameter set by
the mishna/gemora/shulchan aruch which will bring to divorce.

This is not to say that it might not be praiseworthy to take on higher
standards of modesty (whether covering the whole upper arm, or the whole
arm - as maybe zroa can mean the arm, the whole leg etc).  And if one
lives in a community where frum Jewish women cover to a certain place,
it would seem clear that Das Yehudis would require that kind of

But I don't think it is clear from the sources you bring that Chazal
were in fact discussing uncovering a mashehu and that therefore what you
are describing is necessarily base halacha.  And it just as much
requires you to bring sources to show that in fact a mashehu is what is
being discussed (which there is no question you can do, from more
charedi modern day poskim).  But there is also scope within the sources
to differ, which is why other modern day poskim feel able to give a
different form of psak.



From: Carl Singer <casinger@...>
Date: Wed, 04 Aug 2004 08:22:42 -0400
Subject: Women in pants

> As far as I can see, there can't be much objection to "pants" with long
> tunics like the shawal kamiz, the national dress in Pakistan, even if
> the tunic is only mid-thigh length since the pants are very loose. I
> seem to remember that there was a hetter from, I think, the Seridei Eish
> on these lines about dressing for skiing but cannot recall the
> details. Can anyone supply further information?

I was in Deal NJ a few Sunday's ago for a JWV meeting at their
magnificent JCC.

Many women were entering in "designer" athletic costumes that look like
normal "warm-up" suits with the addition of a long (matching, of course)
skirt.  Essentially, a 3-piece outfit: Jacket, Pants, Skirt.

When my wife and I go to "Golden Acres" a farm / resort in the
Catskills, many women wear jeans under a skirt or dress while horseback
riding.  This isn't a coordinated outfit as above, but serves a similar

Carl A. Singer


End of Volume 43 Issue 91