Volume 46 Number 93
                    Produced: Fri Feb 11  5:51:51 EST 2005

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Calendar question
         [Mike Gerver]
         [Shimon Harary]
Metzitzah- how prevalent is it? (3)
         [Eitan Fiorino, Leah S. Gordon, Mike Gerver]
RYB Soloveitchik and mixed seating
         [Akiva Miller]
Water Fountains on Shabbos - Warning!
         [Akiva Miller]


From: <MJGerver@...> (Mike Gerver)
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2005 14:46:30 EST
Subject: Calendar question

Ira Jacobson writes, in v46n91, in response to my earlier posting
claiming that the physical time of the molad has no significance,

      I've said this before and I'll state it again.  Halakhically, the
      time of the molad has significance, in that we calculate the
      period during which we may recite qiddush levana with respect to
      the average molad, and not with respect to the actual molad or any
      other astronomical phenomenon.

Ira is right, of course. He said this quite recently, as a matter of
fact, and I really should have remembered it.

The question then arises as to the best way to convey the required
information when announcing the molad in shul. I think that simply
converting the molad to the actual clock time that it occurs, and
announcing it that way without explanation, would confuse people. Maybe
the best thing to do is to first announce that the molad occurs at so
many hours, minutes and chalakim after the beginning of such and such a
day (rather than expressing it as "a.m." or "p.m."), and then announcing
"The latest time for kiddush levana is..." and giving the correct clock
time for that time zone, maybe rounded off or rounded down to the
nearest minute.

It would be straighforward to write a program to calculate the lastest
clock time for kiddush levana, knowing the time of sunrise and sunset in
Jerusalem, the formal time of the molad (i.e. in hours, minutes and
chalakim after the beginning of the day), and the difference in time
zone between your location and Jerusalem. But if someone does this and
makes if available online, they should discourage people from announcing
the time of the molad in that way, and urge them only to announce "the
latest time for kiddush levana."

Mike Gerver
Raanana, Israel


From: Shimon Harary <Shimon.Harary@...>
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2005 16:06:46 -0500
Subject: Re: Cherem

Now that someone brought up the subject of the cherem on Rav Slifkin, I
am wondering if anyone can tell me about the exact nature of a 'cherem'.
Namely, is a cherem an intrinsic kind of gzeira a bet-din places on a
person, which can not be broken for any extenuating reason unless the
same bet din releases him ? [kind of like requiring a bet-din gadol
bechochmah uveminyan] 

Example - does the cherem on readiing Spinoza's works still apply these
hundreds of years later? What if I already know his basic ideas from
philosophy classes I took in college? Does the cherem of reading his
specific works still apply, or was it only in effect if I had no inkling
of his ideas and in essence, the cherem accomplished nothing? 

Additionaly, can a community, seperated by time, location, or ideology
from another community, reject a cherem placed by another qualified
bet-din ? In other words, is a cherem necessarily automatically a
national cherem or is it considered like a minhag hamakom. 

Thank you.


From: Eitan Fiorino <Fiorino@...>
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2005 11:31:20 -0500
Subject: Re: Metzitzah- how prevalent is it?

> From: Ira L. Jacobson <laser@...>
>       See the most comprehensive report to date in Pediatrics (URL:
>       http://www.pediatrics.org/cgi/content/full/114/2/e259) where all
>       tested mohalim (4/8; the others did not consent to be 
>       tested) were positive and 7/8 tested mothers were negative
> I am not taking a stand on the issue.  My reaction is shock 
> that a medical journal of any sort would report on "research" 
> with such a tiny sample size and assign any degree of 
> reliability to such a study.

As someone immersed in the medical literature as a profession, I profess
no "shock" whatsoever at the contents of this paper, which I have just
finished reading.  It does not claim to be a randomized, controlled
clinical trial - rather, it is essentially a case series.  Case reports
and case series are very commonly reported in the medical literature.

A case series provides a fairly low level of statistical support for a
hypothesis (compared with randomized controlled trials).  However, often
case series (and more robust observational studies) are sometimes the
only means of obtaining information about a medical condition or a toxic
side effect.  I can give dozens of examples, for instance, of drugs that
appeared clean in clinical trials involving thousands of patients but
rare severe toxicities appeared when tens of thousands of patients took
the drug - and only when "shocking research" of case reports and case
series began appearing in the medical literature.

In general, regulators (like the FDA) and hopefully most doctors require
a fairly high level of evidence before being convinced of efficacy, but
a lower level of evidence before becoming concerned about toxicity.
Thus a few cases reported in the medical literature of a beneficial
reponse to a drug might be interesting but is completely unconvincing,
whereas case reports of a severe toxicity would be taken very seriously
and could even result in a drug being removed from the market. I recall
one drug, Duract, being withdrawn after only a handful of cases of
severe liver toxicity.  These decisions are made on the basis of the
severity of the disease being treated, and the availability of other
treatment options.

So let's analyze metzitza from this perspective - it is clearly an
intervention done for the health of the child.  How it is supposed to
imporve the health of the child is unspecified, but I think it is safe
to assume that it is a prophylactic measure to prevent wound infection.
So on the one hand we have a prophylactic measure of perhaps modest
efficacy (I wouldn't ridicule the idea that saliva can act as an
anti-microbial; there are studies suggesting it does) but with the risk
of transmitting devastating and lethal diseases to BOTH the patient AND
the caregiver! Versus a technique (pre-procedure iodine and a glass tube
and maybe a dab of post-brit bacitracin) that probably offers better
prophylaxis against infection and virtually no risk of transmission.
OK, so who is willing to enroll their 8 day old sons in the randomized
trial comparing those two interventions??  Frankly, from this
perspective it should probably be considered a failure of the rabbinate
that oral metzitza has not been banned as an issue of sakana for the
children and for the mohel.  [As an aside, it is cases like this in
which I am saddened by the image of the so-called "modern Orthodox"
rabbinate sitting on their hands instead of issuing piskei halacha.
This is exactly the kind of issue on which we (including myself in that
camp clearly) should feel confident to issue psak halacha even if it is
completely at odds with the view of the charedi world.  Where is the OU
and the RCA?  Too busy looking over their shoulders?  We are talking
about dead babies - eit laasot hashem, heifeiru toratecha, with the
emphasis on heifeiru toratecha with regard to the defenders of

As one more aside, I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the statistical
significance of even this tiny sample.  In this report there were 8
babies with herpes, it appears 8 mothers (all of whom did not have
clincial herpes, though 1 had very low titers), 6 mohels, only 3 of
which consented to serologic testing, and 3 of the 3 were positive.  If
one compares 0/8 negative mothers to 3/3 positive mohels, that is
p=0.006 by Fisher's exact test (2-tailed comparison) - statistically
significant by anyone's definition.  That may not be the best way to
compare these groups (I'm no biostatistician), but I think that makes
the point.

Eitan Fiorino, MD, PhD

From: Leah S. Gordon <leah@...>
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2005 14:16:03 -0800
Subject: Re: Metzitzah- how prevalent is it?

While your shock is understandable by this fellow scientist, surely you
know that in medical journals, small sample sizes are more the rule than
the exception.  It is really hard to get human data, and although the
best studies have as much data as possible, the sample sizes are
notorious for being smaller than would be required in other
peer-reviewed scientific journals.

--Leah S. R. Gordon

From: <MJGerver@...> (Mike Gerver)
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2005 15:03:23 EST
Subject: Metzitzah- how prevalent is it?

The sample may be small, but if it was properly selected, it is large
enough to eliminate, with a high degree of confidence, the hypothesis
that herpes infections are hardly ever caused by the mohel. Eliminating
that hypothesis, in turn, may be sufficient to make some poskim rule
that direct metzitzah is not required, or is not permitted. Given that
lives are at stake, and that it may be difficult or impossible to obtain
results from a bigger sample, I think it would be irresponsible of the
journal not to publish the results of the study.

Mike Gerver


From: <kennethgmiller@...> (Akiva Miller)
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2005 15:23:43 -0500
Subject: Re: RYB Soloveitchik and mixed seating

Gil Student wrote <<< I understood it as did Prof. Frimer. To phrase it
halachically - prayer in a mixed setting is an aveirah and, therefore,
the prayer is a mitzvah ha-ba'ah ba-aveirah and invalid. >>>

I had not thought of it this way, but now that several posters have
suggested it, I find myself agreeing. Thank you.

But let's examine it a bit deeper. Exactly which aveirah is being done

If one considers Rav Soloveitchik's ban (that we are forbidden to grant
legitimacy to such an institution even by entering to hear the shofar)
to be an example of a pre-existing Torah Law or Rabbinic Law, then I can
see how Mitzva Habaah B'aveira (the principle that a mitzva is voided if
performed in a sinful way) would apply.

But, in our case, which aveirah would that be? I think it difficult to
imagine that such a minor, passive role would constitute "inciting
others to sin"; he is just present in the shul, not running a membership

Maybe mar'is ayin - appearance of impropriety? Okay, but is that strong
enough to invalidate the prayers? I don't think so. Suppose someone was
in a place where sins were so common that entering would constitute
mar'is ayin (*some* might hold casinos or theaters to be in this
category) - Would anyone say that prayers said there are in vain?

Ah, but here, the prayer *is* the sin. One can't pray in a mixed-gender

Is that so? Let's not forget Rav Soloveitchik's example: shofar. We do
*not* require separate seating for Shofar. I'll bet that more than a few
of us have heard the shofar in a mixed group at one time or another --
in a hospital, or at home, or maybe even in the men's section of the
shul when most others are on their way home. What sin is he doing that
would invalidate his hearing of the shofar?

These thoughts are part of why I continue to think that when these
things are done in a mixed-seating shul, they *are* valid mitzvos, but
that Rav Soloveitchik nevertheless recommended to forego those mitzvos,
because he felt that the loss of those mitzvos to be minor as compared
to the damage caused by granting legitimacy to the place.

Akiva Miller


From: <kennethgmiller@...> (Akiva Miller)
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2005 13:59:37 -0500
Subject: Water Fountains on Shabbos - Warning!

My understanding has always been that there's little or no problem using
the water fountains on Shabbos, such as those commonly found in many
public buildings, because the button is merely a valve which allows the
water to exit, pushed by the pressure in the pipes. (The cooling element
in those fountains works the same way as the cooling of a refrigerator,
and so those who are careful to avoid opening a refrigerator in a way
which might affect the thermostat would have similar problems with such

However, the above logic would only apply to fountains made in the
manner described. It turns out that in this age of electronic hotel keys
and infrared toilet flushers, we now have electric pumps on water
fountains as well.

A few days ago, I saw the following sign posted near one of the water
fountains in our yeshiva:

"Not For Shabbas Use
"The water does not come out due to water pressure. There is a pump that
turns on when the button is pushed. The water does not come out if the
fountain is unplugged."

(I even tested the claim. I pulled out the plug below the fountain, and
it failed to operate.)

I don't know how long it's been since this particular fountain was
installed. Months? Years? I don't know. I myself may have used it on
Shabbos a few times. I would advise everyone (those in a position to do
so, at least) to check out the fountains in their shuls and schools and
make sure of their workings.

Akiva Miller


End of Volume 46 Issue 93