Volume 56 Number 87 
      Produced: Sat, 04 Jul 2009 22:08:54 EDT

Subjects Discussed In This Issue:

Distancing The World, Part 2 of 2 
    [Yaakov Shachter]
Ground rules for studying Torah (2)
    [Ken Bloom  Alex Heppenheimer]
Limitations on God 
    [Russell J Hendel]
    [Robert Schoenfeld]


From: Yaakov Shachter <jay@...>
Date: Wed, Jul 1,2009 at 07:01 PM
Subject: Distancing The World, Part 2 of 2

Now I shall pass from one theme to another until I return to my
original theme.  One day last year, I was going about my business in
the world, passing back and forth along Devon Avenue, and traveling to
and fro upon it.  I met an acquaintance standing idly in front of
Ted's Fruit Market.

"Ni?" I said, with my unerring talent for producing le mot juste.

"I'm trying to get people to put on tefillin," my acquaintance
replied, answering my question.  "That's why I'm standing here."

"Ni?" I said.

"That's because it's very hot today," he answered.  "There's almost no
one walking the streets.  I think everyone has gone to the beach."

"Ni?" I said.

"Oh, no," he said.  "I'm not going down to the beach.  Do you know
what kind of things you see there, these days?"

When you go out into the world, the world does not leave you
untouched.  You see things and you hear things that you would not see
and hear if you had stayed home, and when you return home, you bring
those things back with you, and they stay with you, for the day, or a
certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of
years.  If I had continued to say "Ni" to that man, I might well have
dislodged him from his post, and then, when he returned later that
evening, there is no knowing what he would have brought back.  Maybe a
shrubbery.  He would certainly have been affected in some way.
However, he might also have done some good for some fellow Jews --
certainly more good than he was doing on Devon Avenue, where he was
doing no good at all.  But there are women on the beach who wear
two-piece bathing suits, so he stayed where he was.

The invention of the two-piece bathing suit predated my birth,
although it may have contributed to it, therefore I do not know
exactly when it occurred, but I deduce from linguistic evidence that
it roughly coincided with the invention of the hydrogen bomb.  This
was approximately 50 years ago, as of this writing.

Although the two facts are not visibly related in any way to one
another, 50 years ago -- i.e., the period of time surrounding the
invention of the two-piece bathing suit -- was also probably the low
point of Jewish religious observance in this country, and possibly in
the world.  A common opinion of the time was that Orthodox Judaism --
as it was called -- had no future, that we lived in modern times, and
that no person of sense and sensibility would practice, e.g., the laws
of nidda.  Coincidentally, or seemingly so, prior to that period of
time, women's bathing costumes were more modestly designed than they
later became, and were likely to cover more than 50% of a woman's

The Mishna in Avoth 4:3 has words which speak to us, in connection
with these observations, and the complex ironies which they imply.
Please forgive me for quoting it first in Hebrew; it sounds so much
better in the original: 'Al t-hi vaz lkhol 'adam, v'al t-hi maflig
lkhol davar, she'eyn lkha 'adam she'eyn lo sha`a, v'eyn lkha davar
she'eyn lo maqom.  "Do not despise any man, and do not distance any
thing, for you have no man who has not his hour, and you have no thing
that has not its place."

Six times during Creation, God looked upon His partly-formed world,
and declared that it was good.  When the world was complete, He looked
upon the world, and declared that it was very good.  This deliberate
change in language is not to be ignored.  When all things are
considered together, the world, and everything in it, are very good,
and there is nothing in it that we may distance, nor any man in it
whom we may despise, not even two-piece bathing suits, or the people
who wear them.

		Jay F. ("Yaakov") Shachter
		6424 N Whipple St
		Chicago IL  60645-4111
			(1-773)7613784 	<jay@...>


From: Ken Bloom <kbloom@...>
Date: Fri, Jun 26,2009 at 01:01 AM
Subject: Ground rules for studying Torah

<Smwise3@...> wrote:
> I don't want to sound like an apikorus [deliberate rebel against the
> Jewish way of life --Mod.], but I am increasingly frustrated by the
> "ground rules" for studying gemara [the Talmud --Mod.].
> Things don't make sense to me, and often when attending a shiur [lecture on
> Jewish learning --Mod.], the person giving it will gloss over oddities,
> whether it involves switching the names of the tanaim [Sages who lived before
> and during the time of the writing of the Mishna --Mod.], offering the
> opinion to make it fit, or, as it occurs more often, dealing with 
> institutions that were made because of hard-to-imagine scenarios whereby
> outsiders would suspect a non-Torahdik behavior. For example, in Bava Metzia,
> in discussion of ribis, charging interest, there are contracts that are
> considered violative of Rabbinic law because of their appearance. But
> how often are outsiders privy to the terms of a private contract that
> such bans on certain transactions are deemed valid.
[More questions snipped]

I'm not really sure what the ground rules you're talking about are, but
here's my take on what I think you're asking. You seem to be saying that
you run into a lot of oddities that you can't seem to answer in gemara
shiurim, and you see blind acceptance of these things as "rules" for
learning -- that if you accept these things, then you can get into
discussing their consequences.

The way I see it is a bit different. The gemara is a topic that can
engage people at many different levels, from the fast paced Daf Yomi [daily page
of Talmud --MOD] "I'll get whatever I can from this firehose" approach, to the
greatest geniuses in the Jewish world trying to answer questions that you can't
even identify in the gemara yet. The first thing you need to do is
understand and accept the level at which you can understand the gemara.
It sounds like your level may be above the level of the shiur.

Beyond that, there are different goals when learning gemara. The two
simplest goals of a shiur are to learn bekiyut, versus to learn b'iyun.
Bekiyut is fast-paced learning, trying to cover ground and build a broad
(but not so deep) knowledge base about gemara. You generally don't ask
the hard questions, rather you put them aside and have faith that the
answers are out there for one day when you have more time. B'iyun
learning is detailed learning. You can either plan to attack specific
issues and learn the approaches of many rishonim [lit., "first ones," the 
leading legal decisors/Rabbinic scholars between approximately the 11th-16th 
centuries CE --Mod.] and acharonim [lit., "last ones," scholars from the 16th 
c. CE through the present day --Mod.] on those issues, or you can work 
basically on the gemara and stop to pursue issues that jump out at you (and 
many will, becuase the gemara is not an easy subject). Both of these approaches 
are generally done in tandem -- a yeshiva will have a morning seder [set time 
for learning --Mod.] in b'iyun, and will have bekiyut somewhere in the 
afternoon seder.

Both of these issues translate into finding the right shiur for you.
What are your goals, and what's your level? Can you find a teacher who
can speak to those and work with you on that level?

If you're interested in pursuing the questions that you're raising, then
there are only a few rules:

Learn Hebrew and Aramaic if you haven't already. Most of the interesting
stuff hasn't been translated, and probably never will be translated. You
can learn them on the job to an extent, with a good teacher, and a good
dictionary. (I don't know you, so I hope that I'm not insulting you by
underestimating your knowledge base. Please forgive me if I am.)

Learn Rishonim and Acharonim. They ask many of the different questions
that you can think up if the gemara doesn't ask them itself. The books
Kovetz Meforshim and Otzar Meforshei HaTalmud are both useful here. The
Kovetz Meforshim will cover a tractate or a portion of the tractate and
print portions from the meforshim [commentaries --Mod.] that relate to that 
section of the tractate. It's like taking the slices out of a large library 
that are relevant to your masechta [tractate of Talmud --Mod.], and they have, 
for example 50 pages of Ritva, 50 pages of Rashba [both RYTVA and RaSHBA are 
acronyms representing specific Rishonim --Mod.], 50 pages of the Shita 
Mekubetzet [a commentary by a Rishon --Mod.], 50 pages of Rabbi Akiva Eiger [an 
Acharon --Mod.], etc... all unabridged, and none reorganized in any way.
Otzar Meforshei HaTalmud takes a different approach, following the
order of the masechta you're learning, and asking lots of questions,
then mentioning the approaches of various rishonim and acharonim on the
questions. And there are many other sources in a good beit midrash [study hall -
-Mod.] library to pursue, these two are just to get you started.

Try to look for points that different meforshim (and the gemara) are
making even if they're not making them directly. 

Try to come up with answers for yourself to these questions. Never feel
afraid to take a guess and try to make peace with the answer yourself.
If you learn enough, and know enough, and your answers are good enough,
then maybe your answers will be worth it for other people to learn.

The actual halacha [legal ruling and/or practice --Mod.] may not be as 
innovative as whatever satisfyingly logical answer you can come up with. While 
there's lots of rishonim out there, when I read what the Rif, Rosh, and Rambam 
[three more acronyms for different Rishonim --Mod.] have to say, I
generally say to myself "so that's what the Shulchan Aruch should say,
and there's your ball game." (I'm sepharadi, so the Rema and the
rishonim he pulls from are less relevant for me halachically.) [The "Shulchan 
Aruch," a codification of Halacha by R'Yosef Caro in the 16th c. CE, has been 
published for some time with the notes of R'Moshe Isserles,
acronym ReMA. --Mod.]  So that eliminates a lot of other approaches by other 
rishonim. So for the kinds of questions you've asked here, teshuva 
[lit. "response," written answers by a particular scholar to questions directed 
his way] literature may be the place to look, or maybe asking Rabbis whether 
they've seen cases that justify these halachot.


From: Alex Heppenheimer <aheppenh@...>
Date: Fri, Jun 26,2009 at 09:01 PM
Subject: Ground rules for studying Torah

In MJ 56:83, <Smwise3@...> wrote:
> I am increasingly frustrated by the "ground rules" for
> studying gemara [the Talmud --Mod.] ...

These oddities do tend, after a while, to seem like "standard operating
procedure" to Gemara students, and very likely the person giving the shiur
barely notices the strangeness of them any more.  But of course they deserve
explanation to someone who's unfamiliar with the Gemara process, and G-d forbid
that anyone should condemn a person who genuinely desires to understand!

I would highly recommend to you a book titled "The Dynamics of Dispute: The
Making of Machlokess in Talmudic Times," by Zvi Lampel (Brooklyn: Judaica Press,
1992). As the title indicates, the author's central focus is to explain how and
why it came about that the various Talmudic sages disagreed on points of Jewish
law (and its history, philosophy, etc.).  He strikes up an analogy to
reassembling a jigsaw puzzle where some of the pieces are missing, and the
remaining ones can be put together in several different ways that form a
coherent image; in somewhat the same way, our sages were missing certain key
pieces of data (the Talmud itself - Temurah 15b ff - mentions laws that were
forgotten already after Moshe's passing), and there could be various methods,
all equally logically and halachically coherent, of reconstructing them based on
the information that was retained. (This summary hardly does the book justice;
it really ought to be part of the basic preparatory curriculum, at least for
adults approaching Talmud study for the first time.)

So the situation where the Gemara will switch around the names of the tannaim is
an example of this. Given that we know (from a mishnah, or some other
authoritative source) that Rabbi A said "X" and Rabbi B said "Y," then if we
find another report that attributes to each of them the opposite position (or
from which we can infer that this is the case), then one logical solution to
reassemble the "jigsaw puzzle" is for us to say that the details gotconfused in
the retelling, and that the respective disputants' opinions are indeed the same
as in the first text cited. On the other hand, an equally valid solution might
be to show that the two texts are really discussing subtly different cases. Very
often, indeed, you'll find in the Gemara that when such a contradiction is
posed, one scholar (such as Abbaye) will argue that the names have to be
switched around in the second source, while another (such as Rava) will point
out an alternative resolution that allows both texts to stand as-is. But both
Abbaye and Rava are, in the final analysis, attempting to do the same thing with
the tools at their disposal: to reconstruct the opinions of the earlier sages,
and in turn to use this information to understand the lawin a way that most
closely approximates the form in which G-d gave it to Moshe.

> in Bava Metzia, in  discussion of ribis, charging interest, there are
> contracts that are considered violative of Rabbinic law because of their
> appearance. But how often are outsiders privy to the terms of a private
> contract that such bans on certain transactions are deemed valid.

I think that many of these cases don't necessarily involve written contracts;
they can be oral, and in that case both the initial loan and the repayment might
be done in the marketplace or some other public venue. (And even if they're done
privately and/or with a written contract, witnesses are needed, and they needn't
be the same ones for both halves of the transaction; the witnesses themselves
can be the ones who are misled.)

There are other possibilities as well. Sometimes such contracts can become a
matter of public record -for example, if they involve liens on real property
that the borrower later sells (and which the lender can then seize in case of
default).  Or it may simply be that in small towns everyone thinks they know
everyone else's business, but in fact they are missing certain key details (for
example, in the case in Bava Metzia 60b/62b, whether the borrower has wine
available with which to repay the loan) that make the difference between
violation of halachah and permissible behavior.

> in Meseches Megillah, we learn that the days on which the megillah [the
> Scroll of Esther --Mod.] can be read change according to where one lives. At
> one point, it appears that institutions were made because if it is read too
> late people may eat chametz on Pesach. Why? Because people know that Pesach
> is 30 days after Purim, but how many people actually lived in such isolation
> that they would not be aware of the fact that no one else around them is
> preparing for Yom Tov.

Not so surprising, really. Even as late as 18th-century Russia we hear of
individual Jewish families living in isolated villages, who at best might get to
the nearest town once a year for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. (And during the
nineteenth century, you could find Jews insimilar situations in small towns in
the New World, Australia, and other frontiers of European colonization.)

But actually, I think it's the other way around. The original rule was that the
Megillah could be read as early as the 11th of Adar, three days before Purim;
but the latest deadlineswere always the 14th and 15th (for unwalled and walled
cities, respectively). But then the concern arose that if someone hears the
Megillah reading on the 11th, then they'll think that Pesach begins a month
later on 12 Nissan, and so they'll end the holiday on the 19th and eat chametz
on the _last_ days of the holiday.  So perhaps indeed they'll notice the
neighbors' preparations for Pesach; but those neighbors will know that, say,
they've got three days until the holiday, while the ones who overlooked the
difference between the "day of hearing the Megillah" and "Purim day" will think
that Pesach begins (and ends) sooner.

On top of all of that, Pesach preparations weren't necessarily as intense then
as now. People lived in smaller houses andhad fewer possessions than nowadays,
and they didn't have as many products that contained chametz. (The mishnah in
Pesachim 42a lists a grand total of three foodstuffs, one medicinal drink, and
threeitems used by tradespeople, that had to be disposed of before Pesach!)
Indeed, for some people at least, the "search for chametz" the night before
Pesach, plus kashering whatever dishes possible and replacing the others, may
have been the sum total of their Pesach cleaning.

> I hesitate to challenge things because it seems there are certain ground
> rules one must abide by when studying gemara, but I do find it frustrating 
> when the only answer is that one has to be at a certain level to understand 
> it.

Whereas by rights it should be the other way around: an advanced scholar who
should know better but who continues to doubt the absoluteness of halachic rules
may find himself expelled from the study hall (like Rabbi Yirmiyah - Bava Basra
23b), but a person below that level (and aren't we all?) deserves all
possible assistance to familiarize them with Torah metholodogy.

Kol tuv,


From: Russell J Hendel <rjhendel@...>
Date: Tue, Jun 16,2009 at 08:01 PM
Subject: Limitations on God

> From: Ari Trachtenberg<trachten@...>
> I'd appreciate any suggestions for how to present halachically-valid
> answers to kids about this.

Here is an appropriate hypothetical dialog between parents and children
(A philosophical analysis for the adults follows afterward)

PARENT: You know son, on mail jewish this week some people think that God
cant make 1+6=7. Do you know an example where God did that
CHILD: Sure. Except it was 1+7=1. That happened on Chaunkah. The 1 bottle
of oil lasted for the 1day and and extra 7.
PARENT: Very Good. How about the older children. Do you know of examples
in the Bible
OLDER CHILD: Sure. The famous example in II King 4 where Elishah saved
the woman who lost her assets to a credit collector. The one bottle of
shemen filled many. So 1 = Many
PARENT: Very good
CHILD: Why haven't the adults on mail Jewish thought of these examples.
PARENT: I don't know. Maybe they are confusing God's physical, biological,
social, and psychological omnipotence with the lack of his logical

Now for some philosophy. The sole purpose of attributing anything to God
is to strengthen our faith (not to engage in philosophy). One must
carefully examine where the doctrine of omnipotence occurs. It occurs in
five areas

1) PHYSICAL: God has unlimited physical power. For example: The
destruction of the flood, of Sedom and Egypt.
2) BIOLOGICAL: God has unlimited biological power. For example, the death
of the Assyrian army (Several 100,000) in one night or the resurrection
of the dead (Elijah and Elishah)
3) SOCIAL: God has unlimited social power.  For example making Ester win
the beauty contest over those who spent all their time perfuming
4) PSYCHOLOGICAL: God can stop a person's free will, for example,
preventing Pharoh from repenting.

There is however no (Biblical) source to suggest that God can [overturn]
definitions.  It should not upset us that he can't.  Rather, our knowledge
of God's power in the above 4 realms is needed to strengthen us in times
(all times:)) when we are outnumbered and helpless.

In other words there is neither a need, a justification, nor a source of
dismay if we say that God can't perform logical miracles. 

Here is a punchy bottom line: God can't make 1+7=8 but he can make 1
flask of oil = 1 flask +  7 flasks.

Russell Jay Hendel; Phd. ASA http://www.Rashiyomi.com/


From: Robert Schoenfeld <frank_james@...>
Date: Thu, Jun 25,2009 at 10:01 PM
Subject: Streits

Some Vaad ha Kosherus' wouldn't allow Streits to be sold in their 
supervised store because it didn't have a national kosher Hechsher. 
Streits lost over $200,000 because of this this Pasech.  They now have 
made an arrangement with the Kof-K for their heshshcher which will 
appear in addition to the Soleveichik hechsher.



End of Volume 56 Issue 87