Volume 64 Number 51 
      Produced: Wed, 26 Feb 20 03:59:45 -0500

Subjects Discussed In This Issue:

AI/ML as a psak generator?  
    [Ari Trachtenberg]
Alternatives to traditional hagbaha (3)
    [Robert Israel Sammy Finkelman  Susan Buxfield]
Money from the wall 
    [Menashe Elyashiv]
Times Change, Circumstances Change, Halachah Changes (3)
    [Orrin Tilevitz  Yisrael Medad   Sammy Finkelman]
Woman host 
    [Menashe Elyashiv]


From: Ari Trachtenberg <trachten@...>
Date: Wed, Feb 19,2020 at 10:01 AM
Subject: AI/ML as a psak generator? 

Joel Rich wrote (MJ 64#50):

> Some thoughts on AI/ML (Artificial intelligence / Machine learning) vis a vis a
> psak generator:
> Since lots of psak (if not all) has many unarticulated premises, it will be
> interesting to see what ML might extrapolate. In the outside world the man
> machine partnership is one model (others say machine only!) IMHO it will 
> happen sooner or later. Any thoughts on how this might play out?

First of all, let me say at the outset that, in my opinion, permitting an 
Artificial "Intelligence" to give p'sak [Jewish legal decision] would be equivalent
to writing down the mishna - something that would cause grave harm to the
Jewish people and should only be done if, Chas V'shalom, there are no longer
any intelligent rabbis around for the purpose.

With respect to how this could play out, the most obvious approach, which is
within reach today, is to use an AI to find relevant p'sak to a given problem
from the literature.  People already do this with a regular expression search
(say with the Bar Ilan "CD"), and it is natural to extend this to more
sophisticated text search. Beyond that, the problem is that there is no coherent
truth data in halacha - almost every single opinion has alternate positions,
which are relied upon in some circumstances. It is not all clear what it would
mean to "train" an AI to do this.

Just my $0.01,


From: Robert Israel<israel@...>
Date: Wed, Feb 19,2020 at 12:01 PM
Subject: Alternatives to traditional hagbaha

Perry Zamek asked (MJ 64#49):

> I want to ask a question along different lines: How important is lifting the
> Sefer Torah for the congregation to see? Are there alternatives to the
> traditional mode of lifting? (For example, in the Italian synagogue I saw
> that a decorative frame was placed over the atzei hayyim, and then two
> people, one on each side, would pick up the Torah.) What is done in
> synagogues where all or most of those present are elderly?

I think this is a matter of simple prudence rather than halachah: if you're not
absolutely certain about the magbia's abilities, have two "spotters" on either
side of him who can assist in case any problems arise.  

Robert Israel
Department of Mathematics
University of British Columbia

From: Sammy Finkelman <sammy.finkelman@...>
Date: Wed, Feb 19,2020 at 03:01 PM
Subject: Alternatives to traditional hagbaha

Yisrael Medad wrote (MJ 64#50):

> Tractate Sofrim 14 notes that the Torah scroll must be raised and shown to
> all the congregants. Interestingly enough, it reads there:
> "He shows the writing to all the people to his right and to his left and
> then turns it back to in front of him and in back of him as it is a mitzva
> that all the men and the women see the writing" indicating that women are
> expected to be in synagogue and able to see the scroll.

I think all this means is that people were sitting on all sides of the bimah
(right, left, front, back).

From: Susan Buxfield <susan.buxfeld@...>
Date: Thu, Feb 20,2020 at 08:01 AM
Subject: Alternatives to traditional hagbaha

In response to Yisrael Medad (MJ 64#50):

The quote from Tractate Sofrim 14 is missing the first few words: "Immediately
he rolls the sefer torah UNTIL 3 pages". 

The Magen Avraham holds not to spread more than 3 amudim whilst the Mishnah
Berurah holds there is no limit.

If the magbia [lifter] would only unroll 3 amudim, the chance of falling would be
greatly reduced, the middle amudim would not fall below the lower level of the
sefer torah causing the gabbai to have to lift the parchment with a tallit, and
the gelilah would be that much faster and more orderly.

To show the writing to all the people on his right, before showing to the people
on his left, the magbia has to first turn to the left since Askenazim lift with
the writing facing the shaliach zibbur. The concept being that first to the
right and then to the left of the people is more important then the turning
direction of the individual lifting the sefer torah.

The Mishnah Berurah holds that one should make a complete circle turning to the
right while the Chazon Ish holds that one should add to the complete circle and
then return to face the east.

Kabbalah holds that women should not look at the letters if they are niddah
[only during their actual menstrual flow which excludes, for example, unmarried
girls who do immerse in a mikvah and therefore remain in their niddah status
indefinitely - MOD] 


From: Menashe Elyashiv <menely2@...>
Date: Thu, Feb 20,2020 at 05:01 PM
Subject: Money from the wall

I was at automatic cash machine. I tried to use it but the screen showed "take
the bills". After waiting, 500 shekel came out. Nobody waiting there could
remember who was the guy before me who had apparently thought that machine was
not working and left without taking his money.

I did not make a regular hashevat aveyda, hanging up notes. I entered the bank
and told the cashier what happened and when, and left the money with her.

Assuming that this is the best way, as she will try to find the loser, was that
correct to do?

If nobody comes to retrieve it, who receives the money?


From: Orrin Tilevitz <tilevitzo@...>
Date: Wed, Feb 19,2020 at 09:01 AM
Subject: Times Change, Circumstances Change, Halachah Changes

In MJ 64#50, William Gewirtz gives, as an example of a halacha that has changed
for non-scientific reasons, sitting in the sukkah on Shemini Attzeret (outside
of Israel). In prior discussions of this topic, I have given the same example,
and been corrected: the halacha has not changed, and to the extent that practice
has changed, it has the status of minhag lo kehalacha, even if it can be
justified (as per the Arukh Hashulchan). And then there are people like the
rabbi of my shul who insist, on the strength of some midrash somewhere, that the
halacha has always been that we do NOT sit in the sukkah on Shemini Atzeret, the
gemara (and all the poskim) to the contrary notwithstanding.

From: Yisrael Medad  <yisrael.medad@...>
Date: Wed, Feb 19,2020 at 10:01 AM
Subject: Times Change, Circumstances Change, Halachah Changes

Thanks to all who responded (MJ 64#50) to my post (MJ 64#49) on "Times Change,
Circumstances Change, Halachah Changes".

Reflecting, I suggest that whereas we have a very/fairly clear knowledge of
how Halachic decisions are made/arrived at, how learning processes are
conducted to affect those changes and how those two are combined, we do not,
to the best of my knowledge, have a clear idea of how the changes enumerated in
all the fields mentioned by them are occasioned. When they are, we think we need
to make those changes especially based on social pressures, we have a clear path.

Yisrael Medad

From: Sammy Finkelman <sammy.finkelman@...>
Date: Wed, Feb 19,2020 at 03:01 PM
Subject: Times Change, Circumstances Change, Halachah Changes

Yisrael Medad wrote (MJ 64#50):

> The Rambam in Hilchot Shabbat 25:6, discussing the issue of muktzah, 
> determines that "an infant born in the eighth month, [although] he is alive,  
> is considered as a stone and it is forbidden to move him" The footnote at the 
> Chabad site reads:
> "Tosafot, Shabbat 135a, states that this ruling is no longer followed ...
> Furthermore, the advances in medical technology have enabled us to save the
> lives of many babies who would surely not have survived in previous 
> generations. At present, it is a mitzvah to attempt to save the lives of all 
> premature babies, even if doing so involves performing a forbidden labor on
> the Sabbath"

The Tosafot lived less than 100 years after the Rambam. His ruling wasn't
followed but he put it into his Mishnah Torah because that's what the Mishnah
said. The Rambam also has something that contradicts then (and now) current
practice with regard to not adding an extra Adar in a Shemittah year. (see
Hilchos Kiddush HaChodesh - Chapter Four  halachah 15.


That's not the current practice and wasn't in the Rambam's time either except
that they had gotten to the point of ignoring shemittah I think, and didn't even
know what year it was supposed to be. But anyway there the Rambam says
that he thinks that restriction applies only when the reason for adding an
extra Adar would be something other thsn making sure Pesach does not come
out too early. The Gemorah apparently isn't clear there also. (Sanhedrin
26?) Note the Rambam is reporting what the halachah was before the fixed
calendar came into effect.

We misunderstand the Rambam if we think he's reporting halachah Lema'aseh.

As for what's going on there with the unviable 8-month babies, I think there
may have been some disease present in Talmudic times that tended to result
in slightly premature stillborn babies. And somehow it became a medical dictum
that 8-month babies all died. It's simply wrong but maybe circumstancesonce
made that conclusion more understandable.

The halachah simply would be that a baby expected to die almost immediately
(= 8 month baby) should not be moved. And that would be the halachah anyway
because he was a goses.

Another placed the Rambam relied on then current medical theory is that he
appears to believe in spontaneous generation - which the Talmud actually
did not - with regard to lice. The Talmud assumed they reproduced by
> So, times change, circumstances change and subsequently, the halachah changes.
> The question is: does this occur only because of scientific advances? Or can
> other factors - social, behavioral, etc. - affect the outcome?

Mostly scientific advance I would think. We put out fires nowadays - I think the
reason for the earlier halachah was that it simply was not possible to reliably
put out fires. But I have an easy example of a social change: Cholev Yisroel.


From: Menashe Elyashiv <menely2@...>
Date: Thu, Feb 20,2020 at 04:01 PM
Subject: Woman host

We were invited to a shabbat meal by a divorced woman. When I got to the bircat
ha'oreyah in bircat hamazon I realized that it is in masculine language and not
appropriate in this situation. Is there a source for changing the language for a
female host?


End of Volume 64 Issue 51