Volume 54 Number 36
                    Produced: Tue Mar 20  5:40:00 EDT 2007

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Am I growing shorter? (2)
         [Irwin Weiss, Carl Singer]
Conservative Responsa (2)
         [Perry Dane, Janice Gelb]
Finishing the last letterts of a sefer torah
Jewish Law And Torture
         [Joshua W. Burton]
         [Mechy Frankel]


From: Irwin Weiss <irwin@...>
Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2007 22:02:42 -0400
Subject: Am I growing shorter?

Assuming you are getting shorter, I would not say you are growing
shorter.  I would say that you have stopped growing, and, perhaps
started shrinking.

Irwin Weiss
Baltimore, MD

From: Carl Singer <casinger@...>
Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2007 23:05:26 -0400
Subject: Am I growing shorter?

To my friend, Menachem -- I don't disagree with what you say, indeed my
sons grow taller (it seems in leaps and bounds) and I gradually grow a
bit shorter.

 -- but this amazing change in my apparent height took place overnight!
One day, my tallis was fine, the next day after a delicate string
replacement surgery (thanks to my youngest and tallest son, Chaim
Yaakov) I found myself with dreaded dragging fringes. The new fringer
are several inches longer than the old.

So with all (un)due seriousness -- are ordinary fringes getting longer?
I always thought the shiur for fringes was minimal (b'de eved even an
inch long fringe is kosher) but have "tastes" changed?

Carl Singer


From: <Menachem_Petrushka@...> (Menachem Petrushka)
Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2007 12:11:07 -0400
Subject: RE: Am I growing shorter?

Carl Singer wonders if he is growing shorter because he replaced his
tstitis on his tallis and noticed they were dragging on the floor.

The truth is that Carl is growing shorter. Studies have shown that men
shrink an average of 3/8 of an inch every five years after 30. Some men
in their nineties still are wearing the tsitsis that they had since
their marriage.  A man at approximately 44 would be an inch shorter than
at 30, at 57 he would be 2 inches shorter, etc, Therefore a shift to the
right might not be the explanation for Carl Singer's dragging fringes.

Whether studies on people in general are applicable to Jews is a
halachic topic that I will not get into.

Menachem Petrushka


From: Perry Dane <dane@...>
Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2007 21:35:20 -0400
Subject: Re: Conservative Responsa

         Yehonatan Chipman's post on Conservative Judaism was wonderful
and incisive, even if one might disagree (from the right or the left)
with some of his characterizations.

         I only wanted to add something to the following observation in
the post:

>Here we come to the crux of the matter: the real problem of the C
>moment is that they don't have a mass of committed laity, but a small
>elite of rabbis and other professional Jews many of whom do take
>halakhah seriously, plus a small smattering of observant laymen.  The
>great masses of Conservative Jews couldn't care less -- as their leaders
>will readily admit, at least off the record.

         Yes, the Conservative movement in the United States has become
the most comfortable home for a lot of Jews who want to maintain a link
to "tradition" but have no interest in personal observance.  And this is
a source of great frustration for those of us Conservative
synagogue-goers who are personally observant and committed to halakhah,
and would love it if our synagogues were filled with people just like

         On the other hand, it's better for those "traditional" but
non-observant folks to be going somewhere than nowhere at all, and manyh
of them are wonderful, wonderful, people as committed (or more
committed) to synagogue life and Jewish causes than those of us who are

         More important, the fact that this sociological niche (as the
home for "traditional" but non-observant Jews) is filled by the
Conservative movement in the United States is a pure historical
contingency.  In many, many, other countries, that exact same niche is
filled by _Orthodox_ synagogues.  For example, in the UK, the bulk of
the folks who attend many United Synagogue (Orthodox) synagogues are no
more personally observant (and often less personally observant) than
many of the folks who go to Conservative shuls in the United States.

         In fact, I would speculate (though I'm not really sure) that,
in the UK, the typical member of many Masorti (Conservative) shuls is
likely to be more observant than the typical member of many Orthodox
shuls, if only because it takes some effort and religious seriousness to
search out a Masorti shul and join it.

Perry Dane
Professor of Law
Rutgers University, School of Law  -- Camden

From: Janice Gelb <j_gelb@...>
Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2007 18:40:23 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: Conservative Responsa

Many thanks to Yehonatan Chipman <yonarand@...> 
for his respectful response regarding Conservative Judaism. 
Just one small quibble:

> Similarly, the liberal opinion in the recent controversy over
> homosexuality started by saying that they permitted same-sex marriages
> only with the explicit understanding [snip] >

In fact, the teshuva in question does *not* permit same-sex
marriages. The text specifically says "This responsum does not provide
kiddushin for same-sex couples."

-- Janice


From: <chips@...>
Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2007 18:51:03 -0700
Subject: Re: Finishing the last letterts of a sefer torah

>I recently was at a tekes of the completion of the last letters of
>writing a sefer torah.  One of the attendees, a woman, asked to also
>fill in one of the letters, she was denied. What are the halachic issues

     when I was a child I was not allowed to do any filling in at
all. So I would think it relates to whose writing would be considered a
kosher Sefer Torah.  Come to think, I don't recall seeing any of my
relatives who were not Shomer Shabos doing an filling in.


From: Joshua W. Burton <jwb@...>
Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2007 16:30:37 -0500
Subject: Re: Jewish Law And Torture

> Jewish Law And Torture
> Michael J. Broyde
> ...
> So too, consider the problem in the Vietnam War of convincing captured
> North Vietnamese officers to share information with American
> intelligence. This was a difficult task, but American officers found
> that the single most effective way to get such captives to surrender
> information was to take five prisoners up in a helicopter and ask one
> of them a question. If he refused to answer, he was summarily pushed
> out of the helicopter and the next prisoner was questioned. This
> method, however brutal it seems to us civilians, produced the needed
> results.

This may be a distortion of a single incident, reported in the NY Herald
Tribune on April 25, 1965 and referenced by Saul Gottlieb, "American
Atrocities in Vietnam."  There were two prisoners, and the interrogation
took place on an airplane at 3000 feet.  It is essential to the story to
point out that the interrogators pushed the _second_ prisoner out of the
plane after he complied fully and answered all their questions.

The "kill the first one" interrogation legend is as old as war, of
course; it is famously told of Orde Wingate and Moshe Dayan, in a
counterraid against a Galilee village in 1938.  (Recounted in "Gideon
Goes To War", probably many other places as well.)

VVAW uncovered a lot of verifiable stories about US soldiers throwing
blindfolded Viet Cong out of _grounded_ helicopters, while making bets
about how far they would land and whether they would soil themselves in
terror and so on.  But the "tried to escape over the Mekong Delta" tale,
and its interrogation variant, seem to be urban legend and slander as
regards the US in Vietnam.  We do know that Saddam's forces did this
repeatedly in Kurdistan, however.

I don't think it's appropriate to re-post stories of this sort, which
have the effect of libeling many American veterans, without specific
attribution and supporting evidence.  (I invite correction, if such
evidence exists.)

> Even water torture in the hands of a team of skilled professionals who
> believe that this process will extract information of value and save
> the lives of others would seem permissible in a time of war.

This is the "ticking bomb" argument so often cited by torturers and
their apologists, and it seems to me that there is a conceptual
confusion when it is used to defend the _legality_, as opposed to the
moral defensibility, of torture.

Stipulate for the sake of argument that an illegal act of torture will
somehow produce reliable time-critical lifesaving information (even
though there will be no time to check that information for reliability
before acting on it).  Stipulate that an officer on the scene honestly
believes that there is no better way to get that information.  Under
Jewish law and commonsense morality, I take it as obvious that his duty
then is to perform the illegal act.

But if circumstances had required him to jump on a grenade to protect a
dozen civilians, he would still die.  Going to prison for the rest of
his life is a much smaller sacrifice than death, and kal v'chomer a
soldier (before haShem we are all soldiers) must do his duty.  Certainly
if the matter is serious enough to be worth torturing a prisoner over,
it's serious enough to be worth convicting a righteous man of war crimes
over.  So there is _no_ circumstance of expediency in which the law must
wink at war crimes, *even if* good individuals sometimes should.

In fact, harsh inflexible anti-torture laws have the desirable property
that they raise a differential barrier against the sadists and cowards,
while men of conscience do what they must.  It would be a lot easier for
a jury to balk and acquit the hypothetical torturer-in-good-faith, if he
didn't have so many unsavory comrades acting badly under color of law.

> Neither Hezbollah nor Hamas nor al Qaeda are signatories to the Geneva
> Convention and do not conduct themselves in accordance with its
> provisions. They certainly do not treat prisoners they capture in
> accordance with its requirements (as shown by the recent murder of two
> captured American soldiers in Iraq). Thus we are not required as a
> matter of international law to treat their prisoners in accordance
> with the convention on the treatment of prisoners.

The UN Convention Against Torture, to which both the US and Israel are
signatory, is unconditional: it doesn't derive authority from any
reciprocal treaty obligation, but from "the inherent dignity of the
human person" (preamble, http://www.hrweb.org/legal/cat.html).

In the end, it's not about who "they" are (however, see Rashi on Devarim
21:23); we choose torture, or despise it, because of who _we_ are.



From: Mechy Frankel <michaeljfrankel@...>
Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2007 00:28:31 -0400
Subject: Re: Zeikher/Zekher

<From: Mark Symons <msymons@...>, Subject: Zeicher/Zecher
>>Orrin Tilevitz <tilevitzo@...> wrote> What authority do you have for 
>>the proposition that those who pronounce > Hebrew in separadit--as opposed 
>>to Israeli street Hebrew--do not
>>differentiate between a tzeyrey (as in Fay Wray) and a segol?
>AFAIK, the Edot Hamizrach, who pronounce Hebrew in various variants of 
>Sefaradit, do distinguish between tseirei and segol, but not as in the 
>example you give - which I think is the way Americans speak in sefaradit - 
>and which is no different to the tzeirei pronounced in Ashkenozis (at least 
>by Eastern Europeans and Anglosaxons), which pronounces it as if there is a 
>yud. In the Edot Hamizrach pronunciation, which I'm led to believe is the 
>more authentic way (including because it doesn't insert a yud), the 
>distinction between segol and tseirei is like that between the first vowels 
>in FERRY vs FAIRY, or VERY vs VARY, or the third vowel in YOGI BERRA vs YOGI 
>BEAR - which is really quite a clear distinction. Mark Symons>

I wouldn't know about Israeli street Hebrew but medieval manuscripts are
often beset with segol-tzeireh substitutions and confusion. (see. e.g
the parma edition of mishnoh).  And while not an original source, see
the encyclopedia judaica on hebrew pronunciation which matter of factly
asserts the same segol-tzeireh confusion in traditional s'fardic. See
also yalon's intro to his "movoh l'niqqud hammishnoh".

I am not as sanguine about the supposed greater authenticity of edot
hamizrach (I defer to conventional transliterations with popular words),
perhaps they've been arabized as Ashkenazim are thought to have been
yiddishized.  Nor do the edot themselves form one undifferentiated
linguistic continuum.  Thus, e.g. the Yemenites do distinguish between
tzeireh and segol - but they pronounce their segol like a patach, is
that more authentic?  there were differences in hebrew pronunciation
going back to ancient times, between bovel and eretz yisroel, different
pronunciation traditions within bovel itself, and also between northern
and southern eretz yisroel.  Whereas early Ashkenazim unquestionably
pronounced their qomotz in the s'faradi way, later ashkenazim apparently
pronounce their qomotz like the tiberians.  does that make them more
authentic conveyors of the tiberian linguistic masorah, or did they just
get lucky on that one through a process of vowel shift/yiddishization?
And for that matter did the tiberians preserve a reliable ancient
tradition or develop an academic reconstruction that really never
existed in reality (kahle) - whatever did happen to the second tiberian
and bavli "reish"?.  And of course there's the debating sore point (for
s'faradim) that later Ashkenazim have as many sounds as there are
tiberian signs, while s'faradim are missing two sounds.  And of course
Babylonian pointing only has six vowels, while the "other" Palestinian
pointing has five.  (and I haven't even mentioned the ephramites of
nakh). So, to assume first of all there is any single Ur-accent by the
time of chazal or later is quite problematic.

There is some information about ancient phonologies to be gleaned from
greek and later latin tanach translations which contain many
transliterated words as well as efforts by church fathers to describe
the locution of Hebrew (see e.g. John Barr - on "St Jerome's
Pronunciation of Hebrew" , or something like that; some old UK
journal. possibly journal of semitic studies) but these sometimes yield
conflicting information - or indicate that more than one pronunciation
coexisted during amoraic times.  So who or what is more "authentic"?
Beats me, but I wouldn't necessarily lay my chips on any current single
member of edot hamizrach.  But perhaps you should direct this question
to a real linguist, like Mark Steiner's little brother.

Mechy Frankel


End of Volume 54 Issue 36