Volume 53 Number 73
                    Produced: Thu Jan 11  6:07:10 EST 2007

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Card swipe Keys in Residential Facilities
         [Avi Feldblum]
Explaining catastrophies (4)
         [Eitan Fiorino, Joel Rich, SBA, Alex Heppenheimer]
Kavod Harav
         [Eitan Fiorino]


From: Avi Feldblum <feldblum@...>
Date: Thu, 11 Jan 2007 05:51:04 -0500
Subject: Card swipe Keys in Residential Facilities

I received the following query from someone responsible for Student
Affairs at a major US campus. I think this question is one that is going
to become more of an issue as the security concerns move more
institutions to implementing policies along these lines. Here first is
the query:

    An Orthodox student is living in a university residential hall that
    has just moved to an ID card swipe as the only way to enter the
    buildings (it used to be on a key) in order to ensure the security
    of the building.  The doors are on a back-up key system for
    emergencies, but the university would really like to avoid giving
    out a key.  Are there any other solutions to consider that could
    enable the student to get into the residential hall on Shabbos?  Is
    swiping an ID card (the swipe clicks opens the door) really not
    allowed on Shabbos?

 In response to my query for some additional information about the
system, I recieved the following information:

    This card swipe is one with electronic control.  You swipe your
    card, and that signals the system to electronically disable the
    magnet or open the latch.  As one solution, Housing is willing to
    give the student the key on Fridays to return following the weekend.
    This means, of course, that the student would have to ask for the
    key each Friday, which is less than optimal, but at least is one
    solution that we can implement starting this week.  I'll be
    interested in hearing what else you find out.  Thanks again.

My question for this group is as follows:

1) Is anyone aware of existing piskei halacha on the issue and can send
me the references to such. If they could summarize for the group, that
would be appreciated.

2) Does anyone know who among major Poskim today would be appropriate to
approach about this question. If you have contact information for these
individuals, I would appreciate it.

I suspect that this is already an issue in a number of places, but is
likely to grow in coming years. If swiping the access card is strictly
forbidden, then I would not be surprised if on-campus residential
systems will start being unavailable to the Orthodox student, and may
start being an issue with upper income apartment buildings in places
like Manhattan etc.

Thanks in advance,

Avi Feldblum


From: Eitan Fiorino <AFiorino@...>
Date: Wed, 10 Jan 2007 09:55:22 -0500
Subject: RE: Explaining catastrophies

> From: Leah Aharoni <leah25@...>
> Carl Singer wrote:
> The "Buses were blown up because" is as stupid as the 
> "Holocaust occurred because" claims alleged to be have been 
> made by certain Rabbiem.
> While I understand Carl's position, I think there is a lot of 
> validity in our tradition to finding spiritual reasons for 
> catastrophes.  For example, for chazal, the second churban 
> was equivalent in scope to our perception of the shoah 
> (besides the loss of the temple and the exile, there were 
> actually millions of casualties.) Still, chazal had no qualms 
> with finding spiritual reasons for the churban (lack of 
> blessing on Torah study, judging according to the letter of 
> the law, senseless hatred, etc).
> I can't think of a specific example right now, but I think 
> that the rishonim had the same attitude and assigned various 
> tragedies to specific sins.
> So why are we aghast at people blaming our tragedies on sin today?  

I have posted on the approach to suffering taken by Chazal numerous
times in the past.  The gemara discusses the issue of suffering, and
clearly states that the INDIVIDUAL ought to respond to HIS/HER OWN
SUFFERING with a cheshbon hanefesh, and should try to find areas of
deficiency upon which to improve.  If one finds no areas, then one
concludes the circumstances are yissurin shel ahava.

This says nothing at all about pontificating about why OTHERS have
suffered, and making ridiculous (and frankly, offensive and hurtful)
speculations about what deficiencies in their behaviors led to hakadosh
baruch hu punishing them, and in the case of a bus attack for instance,
it is not only those who die who suffer but all of their family and
friends and indeed one could argue that virtually anyone living in
Israel suffers when there is such an attack.

Indeed, why isn't it the case that one is required halachically to be
dan lekaf zechut and assume, a priori, that all of the victims of such
an attack were indeed suffering "yissurin shel ahavah?"  How do those
rabbis who make statements about why such and such
attack/disaster/Holocaust happened to certain people explain their
violation of this principle?  What about the additional pain such
irresponsible statements inflict upon, for example, the friends and
family members of those who died in a bus attack?  Someone is burying
their father/mother/son/daughter/brother/sister and has to hear some
idiot say the person died because God punished those who ride on
mixed-seating buses?  How come riding on a mixed-seating bus is worthy
of Divine murder but adding to the suffering of aveilim is not?

This is not about being "aghast at people blaming our tragedies on sin
today" - this is about moral revulsion at people falsely claiming to
know God's will in order to increase suffering in klal yisrael.  For the
record, I'm not being hyperbolic for rhetorical reasons. This is how I
see things.


From: Joel Rich <JRich@...>
Date: Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:25:25 -0500
Subject: Explaining catastrophies

1. There's a cognitive dissonance when the same people say we're 1000
levels below the earlier generations yet claim powers in this area
equivalent to the earlier generation

2. The claims rarely if ever seem to be it's "our" fault, rather it's
"their" fault.  IIRC the gemara tells us to start looking at ourselves
first and if we're perfectly righteous we can then look outside.

3. No one doubts that almost all tragedies are due to "sin" (except
perhaps what's even worse - hester panim -HKB"H hides his face from us.
There's a beautiful insight from R'YBS on why if only a little rain
falls and then none we go right to defcon-5 in fasting rather than the
gradual increase that would have occurred if there was no rain at all.
Random rain means HKB"H is saying your on your own - the most horrifying
thing we can hear (think of a parent child relationship), it's just the
certainty that someone knows whose and what that leaves me aghast.

Joel Rich (praying that HKB"H continues his hashgacha and that we soon
merit kibbutz galiyot w/mashiach)

From: SBA <sba@...>
Date: Thu, 11 Jan 2007 03:07:19 +1100
Subject: Explaining catastrophies

Very well said.

Here's a snippet from a piece by RA Shafran after the tsuname:

But there is something more in the Jewish sources, something that might
urprise many contemporary Jews: the idea that catastrophes, even when
they do not affect Jews, are nevertheless messages for them, wake-up
calls to repentance. Insurers call such occurrences "Act of G-d"; for
Jews, that description is precise indeed, and demands a response.

It is, to be sure, a very particularist idea, placing Jews in a central
place within humankind. But, while Judaism considers all of humanity to
possess potential holiness and while its prophetic tradition foretells
the eventual movement of all of humanity to service of G-d, Judaism does
in fact cast the Jews as a chosen people. That election includes the
responsibility to perceive Divine messages in the trials of humankind.

And so that is an additional layer to the Chofetz Chaim's reaction, the
conviction that the distinctive nature of the Jew demanded a meaningful
Jewish response to the catastrophe that had occurred....<<<


From: Alex Heppenheimer <aheppenh@...>
Date: Wed, 10 Jan 2007 09:00:08 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Re: Explaining catastrophies

Three possible reasons:

1. The greatness of those earlier authorities. There's a well-known
   tradition (I've seen it attributed to the Baal Shem Tov, to the Baal
   HaTanya, and perhaps others) that all of the halachic authorities
   down to, and including, the Taz and the Shach (mid-17th century)
   wrote their works with Divine inspiration; afterwards that was no
   longer necessarily the case. So it's much more logical to assume that
   in earlier times our Sages had specific knowledge tying a particular
   tragedy to a particular sin.

2. The greatness of the contemporary Jewish population. Already in the
   era of the Tannaim there's mention of people's lowered receptiveness
   to reproof, as well as people's lessened ability to reprove
   effectively (Erachin 16b). Nevertheless, it's far more likely that in
   those days, telling people that tragedy X was due to behavior Y would
   indeed be effective at getting people to abandon behavior Y, whereas
   nowadays such a statement is far more likely to result in the
   listeners altogether rejecting the speaker and the Torah that he or
   she represents.

3. The behavior being condemned. The three examples you cited concerning
   the churban are all behaviors that are objectively incorrect
   according to Torah standards; the same is true of, for example,
   talking in shul (which the Tosefos Yom Tov, d. 1654, gave as a reason
   for the Chmielnitski massacres of 1648-49; in proportion to the
   number of Jews in the world at the time, the loss of Jewish
   population may well have equaled or even exceeded the Holocaust). On
   the other hand, as other posters have pointed out, it's far from
   clear that mixed seating on buses really is a violation of halachah.

Kol tuv,


From: Eitan Fiorino <AFiorino@...>
Date: Wed, 10 Jan 2007 10:23:10 -0500
Subject: Kavod Harav

I am wondering about the parameters and applications of the principle of
kavod harav, which tends to get tossed about quite a bit, typically as
an attack on people expressing displeasure with authority figures in the
observant community over some act/statement/psak/or lack thereof.  I
find myself wondering if at times in my intolerance for what I perceive
to be fundamentally incorrect or illogical positions, I do not cross the
line into transgression of this principle. The general framework under
which I operate is (1) kavod harav derives from kavod hatorah and is
thus not a function of a semicha certificate hanging on a wall but
rather upon possession of Torah knowledge (and thus a demonstration of
patently faulty Torah knowledge is sufficient from removing the
protective halo of kavod harav ); and (2) kavod harav must clearly be
balanced against other halachic principles and communal needs (e.g., it
appears that most if not all contemporary poskim would agree that kavod
harav takes a back seat to more pressing principles in cases of, for
instance, child abuse).

Beyond these rudimentary thoughts, I have not undertaken, nor have I
seen, any study of the principle and its halachic application. I wonder
if there have been any historical shifts in its application over the
centuries.  I wonder if modern-day semicha even grants the status of
"rav" as far as this principle goes - would it apply equally to a rabbi
and to a talmid chacham who was never ordained?  What about a woman?
Does it work in a "lo plug" way - anyone who has suffiecient knowledge
in one single area is granted the status of "rav" for kavod purposes
even if he has demonstrated himself to be a complete moron in multiple
other areas of halacha and machshava?  Indeed, what does one say about
the "idiot savant" rabbi who is clearly gifted with respect to command
over huge swaths of gemara, rishonim and acharonim and who can
regurgitate them with ease and yet who seems incapable of putting
together even a single logical, coherent thought?  Is a good memory and
the good fortune to have spent a lot of years in yeshiva enough to get
"kavod harav?"  One can go on almost endlessly with various derivitives
of these kinds of questions.  But these are actually important issues,
even if, as I suspect, in the end it boils down to a very subjective way
in which one will have to define Torah knowledge and so, as with beauty
(or lack thereof), the amount and type of Torah knowledge needed to
invoke the immunity of kavod harav will probably turn out to be in the
eyes of the beholder.

I would note that kavod harav is an extremely self-serving concept -
essentially, rabbis have set forth a principle that can be invoked to
shield rabbis against almost any criticism whatsoever.  Though I would
not therefore assume that this fact undermines the weightiness or the
application of the principle, it does make me suspicious that there has
not been a truly objective analysis and appraisal of the principle
undertaken.  After all, what rabbi would seek to dismantle even
partially or place any restrictions on this concept that can offer very
powerful protection against criticism?  And what layperson would want to
be viewed as being "anti-rabbinic" by publishing an article that sets
forth limitations on the principle in, for example, the RJJ Journal or
Tradition or the Jewish Observer?  With all that has gone on in the past
few years with regard to allegations and proven instances of abuse, it
would seem likely that someone has performed and published a comprensive
analysis of the principle . . . if anyone has some references I'd be
much indebted.



End of Volume 53 Issue 73