Volume 55 Number 55
                    Produced: Wed Aug 29  5:33:25 EDT 2007

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

"Bad Monkeys"
Brochas from Rebbes
Can moral debt trump other things?
         [Sammy Finkelman]
Limudei Kodesh B'Ivrit
         [Daniel Geretz]
List of Jewish and Israeli Groups on Facebook
         [Jacob Richman]
Wake-Up Calls and Brachahs (3)
         [Dr. Ben Katz, Hillel (Sabba) Markowitz, Daniel Geretz]


From: chi <c.halevi@...>
Date: Sun, 26 Aug 2007 22:12:53 -0500
Subject: "Bad Monkeys"

Shalom, All:

Author Paul Di Filippo, reviewing (in the Washington Post) Matt Ruff's
book "Bad Monkeys," quotes a very interesting set of circumstances. Di
Filippo writes:

>Ethicist and philosopher Peter Singer has an interesting thought
>experiment involving a runaway train. You, the volitional observer,
>note that a hurtling locomotive seems destined to wipe out five people
>on the tracks. But with the flick of a switch, you could send the
>wheeled missile down another track where it would kill only one
>unsuspecting victim. Do you do it? Does virtue compel you to sacrifice
>one unendangered person to save the lives of five in peril?.

>Now, leaving Singer behind, let's alter the experiment a little and
>assume that all the potential victims are "irredeemably evil." Suddenly
>the equation changes. Wiping out five baddies is the higher good,

>Finally, suppose that you didn't have to wait for a runaway train to
>take out the evildoers. Suppose that some actions on your part --
>committing a simple undetectable little murder here and there -- would
>make the world a better place. Are you onboard with this program?

There are interesting Jewish takes on this, I'm sure. IMHO this is not
"yeharog vi al ya'avor" (you should let yourself be killed and not
transgress the prohibition of murder when someone tells you, "Kill this
other person or else I'll kill you.").

Perhaps it's _somewhat_ akin to the situation where city elders are told
by an invading army, "Surrender Mr. Ploni or we'll kill everyone in the
city." Or perhaps not.

Anyone care to comment?
Kol tuv,
Charles Chi (Yeshaya) Halevi


From: Carl <casinger@...>
Date: Tue, 28 Aug 2007 06:39:39 -0400
Subject: Brochas from Rebbes

> The other issue has to do with the power of berachos. There are many
> people who go to great lengths and expense to obtain a berachah, but
> do they truly work? A friend says he knows many instances where it
> works only if the person receiving it believes it. More important, do
> the berachos actually work? It would seem that if they are not
> fulfilled 100% of the time, the laws of probability would dictate that
> some times they will work and sometimes they won't. And if we depend
> on these berachos, what about our direct line to Hashem? Does Judaism
> believe in the interceding nature of rebbes?

Define "works" -- if someone believes in the "power" of such a brocha
that they will go to great effort and expense to get one -- then (let
the mental health professionals on this list weigh in) it might improve
their mental state and thus "work."

As to probability -- I don't think anyone is going to construct a double
blind test to see if such brochas work -- however (at the risk of
offending) tests re: the curative effect of placebos have been

I don't think that people depend on such berachos in lieu of prayer (a
"direct line" to HaShem) -- but perhaps as a "booster shot."



From: Sammy Finkelman <finkelmanm@...>
Date: Mon, 27 Aug 2007 11:01:10 -0400
Subject: Can moral debt trump other things?

From: <meirman@...> (Meir)
>A person A has his life or his child's life in severe danger and a
>stranger S saves it.  This is undisputed.
>Then A learns that S has been found guilty of murder by a USA criminal
>court, or a by a Halachic court in a Halachic Israel, and is supposed to
>be in jail, or maybe executed.  S says that he is innocent, or doesn't
>say that.
>Does A owe S a debt such that A should (or may) help S escape recapture
>and imprisonment and maybe execution?

I don't think moral debt (which could be included in the concept of
"Hakoros Hatov") can trump any obligation. The only thing it could trump
is something which you are actually not *obligated* to do, and there^s
plenty.. (But could you justly even hide money for him to avoid paying a
debt he really owes?)

About murderers, several things come to mind. First, we have "Mos Yumos
HaRotzeach" - (die he should die the murderer) There is natural tendency
to make friends with a murderer, because he is alive, and to put aside
who he killed. We can't do that.  The situation where there is no way
out for him to redeem himself, is limited - even someone who has an ox,
and the ox as gored three times, so he really should know it can kill
someone, can redeem himself, and so in all other cases of injury and an
unintentional homicide has a place to escape.

A second thought, however, in Mishpatim, is "V'naki Otzaddik al taharog"
(I should look in a Chumash and make sure I have that right) This is
explained as follows - that Naki means someone whoihas been cleared by a
Beis din even thouyh he is really guilty, and Tzaddik is someone who is
really innocent even though he has been found guilty. This commandment
is addressed to a beis din (because who else could kill someone?) but it
has obvious corollaries. So if you actually know the person is innocent,
no you shouldn't help. And where and how you can judge for yourself, and
how much of a benefit of a doubt you can give to him is another

I also remember a story from the Gemorah. I think it might not have
concerned murderers but am not sure. There were people being pursued by
the government. they told - I think Rav - to hide them. I think they
might have been some kind of robber. There was no moral obligation or
connection we are told that he had to them (beyond "al Telech al Dam
Re'ocha) and perhaps also they threatened him and that detail was
understood at the tiem of the telling. He told them he won^t hide them
but they should to go hide themselves. There was also the fact he would
be in danger form hiding them.  I assume there must be commentaries on
this Gemorah so anything that has references to this would be a place to

There is actually in fact a great prejudice - if that's the right word -
against informing in General, and a lot depends on the justice of the
laws and the impartiality of the court system and I think there are no
hard and fixed rules that anybody can compile here. There may be
situations where you could go either way.  And there are other
situations where you really have an oblifgation to stop someone. For
surely the 7th Bnai Noach law applies to us - even if not exactly in the
same form - and certainly it is amitzhvah to to help other carry out
*their* obligations.


From: Daniel Geretz <danny@...>
Date: Tue, 28 Aug 2007 10:46:55 -0400
Subject: Limudei Kodesh B'Ivrit

Ira Bauman relates that...
> On my occasional visits to Erets Yisroel, I muddle through any
> necessary conversations.

A relative who had a similar education to Ira tells a story about his
first visit to Eretz Yisrael.  Fresh off the plane, he gets into a taxi
and tells the driver "Ani Roytzeh Laleches el HaKosel" (I want to go to
the kotel - In Ashkenazic nusach).  The taxi driver refused to speak to
him in Hebrew and insisted on speaking in English...


From: Jacob Richman <jrichman@...>
Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2007 09:58:44 +0300
Subject: List of Jewish and Israeli Groups on Facebook

Hi Everyone!

In the beginning of July, I joined the Facebook social network.  Over
the past two months I have been using it to make both social and
business contacts. Registration is free and you can setup your profile
and information to various levels of privacy.

One of the nice things about Facebook is that there are thousands of
groups that you can join and participate in.  There are also hundreds of
Jewish and Israeli groups to review and join.

The problem is that you can search on "Jewish" or "Israel" using the
search box but the results will include very small groups (2-3 people)
and many groups that may not be useful.

I decided to create my own list of Jewish and Israeli Facebook
groups. This list has over 100 groups and I welcome suggestions of
groups to add.

The address of the list is:


Feedback is welcome!

Have a good day,


From: Dr. Ben Katz <bkatz@...>
Date: Tue, 28 Aug 2007 15:17:50 -0500
Subject: Re: Wake-Up Calls and Brachahs

>From: <Smwise3@...> (S. Wise)
>The other issue has to do with the power of berachos. There are many
>people who go to great lengths and expense to obtain a berachah, but do
>they truly work? A friend says he knows many instances where it works
>only if the person receiving it believes it. More important, do the
>berachos actually work? It would seem that if they are not fulfilled
>100% of the time, the laws of probability would dictate that some times
>they will work and sometimes they won't. And if we depend on these
>berachos, what about our direct line to Hashem? Does Judaism believe in
>the interceding nature of rebbes?

         Certainly a Maimonideanwould answer that Judaism proper should
believe in no intermediaries, despite barchuni leshalom and the selicha
"machnesay rachamim" (which many people don't say).  In addition, if God
is perfect, He should not be able to "change His mind" no matter how
much I pray.  As I understand Rambam, prayer is more internal (causing
me to focus on what is really important and to get ME to change, not the
ribono shel olam).

From: Hillel (Sabba) Markowitz <sabba.hillel@...>
Date: Tue, 28 Aug 2007 05:27:40 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: Wake-Up Calls and Brachahs

There is a common story about a chasid that goes to a rebbe for
help/bracha and the rebbe turns him down.  He turns away totally
devastated and is either called back or arrives home to find that the
rebbe has sent the money or a message with the bracha or has called him
back.  The rebbe then explains that as long as he was expecting the
rebbe to help, he did not rely properly on Hashem.  A person must keep
in mind that it is Hashem who helps and one only goes to a tzadik or a
rebbe in order to have someone who is able to daven with the proper
kavana "deliver" the prayer. There are also a number of stories with the
idea that a prayer or a bracha is *always* answered.  Sometimes however,
the answer is "no".  When we daven for something the phrase "if this is
proper for me to receive" must always be implicit.  Consider the (true)
stories of people who win the lottery only to have their lives ruined by
the money.  They would have been better off never having their "prayer"

Consider the story of the rabbi who davened for money and received a
gold table leg.  That night he dreamed that everyone in olam haba was
eating at a golden table but he had one that was missing a leg.  He then
davened for the leg to be returned to heaven.  When a bracha appears not
to have come about, that is because we do not *know* all of the
circumstances and implications.

BTW the idea of the "wakeup call" is not that the occurrence happened in
order to be a particular wake up call, but that we should regard it as a
wake up call in our particular circumstance.  Thus, the story of the 4
year old drowning would mean different things to different people.  Each
person should regard it as a wake up call to change in whatever way *he*
(or she) requires.

Hillel (Sabba) Markowitz | Said the fox to the fish, "Join me ashore"
<Sabba.Hillel@...> | The fish are the Jews, Torah is our water

From: Daniel Geretz <danny@...>
Date: Tue, 28 Aug 2007 11:12:26 -0400
Subject: Wake-Up Calls and Brachahs

I don't necessarily see that the idea of teshuva and the idea of being
more vigilant are in conflict.

Accepting the premise that the process of teshuva dictates a need for us
to recognize our humanity (imperfections,) being "more vigilant" also
implies that we need to recognize our humanity and our ability to mess

Stated another way, sins arise as a result of our refusal to admit that
we are human and can make mistakes.  Not taking into account our
propensity to make these mistakes, we are operating at a severe handicap
and are constantly surprised as we make mistakes.

I think this is the same thing that happens with an accidental
near-drowning.  These things happen, yet we seem to be constantly
surprised when they do.  Not taking "these things happen" into account
makes us powerless to anticipate them and plan accordingly.

As an aside, I fault a number of organizations over the years with a
failure to recognize that people are people and that "these things
happen" - things such as sexual abuse, miscarriages of justice within
batei din, tax fraud, etc.  When organizations engage in denial because
"Jews don't whatever" and fail to recognize that Jews are humans like
all other people, they operate at a huge handicap.

What makes us as Jews exemplary is not that we have some natural
affinity for being "better people" - it's that we have a halachic
framework for being able to recognize and acknowledge our faults. In
taking our very human propensity to "mess up" into account, we increase
the odds greatly that we can "work around" those obstacles and
ultimately triumph over adversity.


End of Volume 55 Issue 55