Volume 64 Number 52 
      Produced: Mon, 02 Mar 20 16:06:03 -0500

Subjects Discussed In This Issue:

AI/ML as a psak generator? (2)
    [Abraham Lebowitz  Art Sapper]
Alternatives to traditional hagbaha 
    [Yisrael Medad]
Money from the wall 
    [Sammy Finkelman]
Times Change, Circumstances Change, Halachah Changes 
    [Ben Katz, M.D.]
Woman host (2)
    [Michael Mirsky  Sammy Finkelman]


From: Abraham Lebowitz <asaac76@...>
Date: Wed, Feb 26,2020 at 10:01 AM
Subject: AI/ML as a psak generator?

In about 1963 I was working in the Library of Congress and having my hair cut in
the Supreme Court's barbershop. A condition of the barbershop was that if a
Justice came in you had to stop your haircut, no matter at what stage you were
at, and wait until the Justice was finished when you could resume where you left

During one of my visits to the barber, retired Justice Frankfurter came in a
wheelchair with a caregiver, and I had to relinquish my place to him. He asked
me what I did and I said I worked in the Library in studying how computers could
be used to further library operations. I added that we were cooperating with IBM
and other organizations which were trying to develop methods for computerized
retrieval of legal precedents, work that ultimately resulted in LexisNexis.
Justice Frankfurter reacted very strongly to the idea, saying vehemently, and I
am understating his reaction, that computers are machines and that they will
never replace the human brain, that we were wasting our time and the taxpayers'

Abe Lebowitz

From: Art Sapper  <asherben@...>
Date: Wed, Feb 26,2020 at 12:01 PM
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?

It could be argued that AI/ML could never permissibly be relied upon, for
according to Devarim 17:8-12 (below), we must inquire of the judge in our
day -- unless a computer could be a judge, which the phrase in 17:12 "that
standeth" would seem to rule out.

Art Sapper

8. If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, ... even matters of
controversy within thy gates; then shalt thou arise, and get thee up unto the
place which the LORD thy God shall choose.

9 And thou shall come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that
shall be in those days; and thou shalt inquire; and they shall declare unto thee
the sentence of judgment.

10 And thou shalt do according to the tenor of the sentence, which they shall
declare unto thee from that place which the LORD shall choose; and thou shalt
observe to do according to all that they shall teach thee.

11 According to the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the
judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do; thou shalt not turn aside
from the sentence which they shall declare unto thee, to the right hand, nor to
the left.

12 And the man that doeth presumptuously, in not hearkening unto the priest that
standeth to minister there before the LORD thy God, or unto the judge, even that
man shall die; and thou shalt exterminate the evil from Israel.


From: Yisrael Medad  <yisrael.medad@...>
Date: Wed, Feb 26,2020 at 01:01 PM
Subject: Alternatives to traditional hagbaha

Sammy Finkelstein (MJ 64#51), commenting on my words (MJ 64#50) on Tractate
Sofrim that the practice of hagba'a as there described (showing it all around
and making sure that women see the scroll's writing), writes:

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

No. That's is not "all". Of course the synagogue architecture and interior
design facilitated that seating arrangement but the uniqueness is that women
were mentioned as expected to be in synagogue and special attention was required
so they see it.

As for the seating all around on three sides (and have we all seen the pictures
of these synagogues?), I would have expected a comment like "was there a
mechitzah at all there?"

Susan Buxfield (MJ 64#51) is correct that

> 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. 

but perhaps the term "dapim" is equivalent to our term of "amudim"?

Yisrael Medad


From: Sammy Finkelman <sammy.finkelman@...>
Date: Wed, Feb 26,2020 at 04:01 PM
Subject: Money from the wall

Menashe Elyashiv wrote (MJ 64#51):
> 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?

Well, you could have made sure that at least two employees of the bank knew
about it.

The money is not lost, although it depends on what the bank would do. It should
be possible to determine, based on the amount and the approximate time of the
withdrawal, from what account the money was taken. The simplest thing for the
bank to do would be to redeposit the money.

If you are not sure if the bank will take the trouble to find (and maybe
contact) who left the money you could have insisted that the teller note the
time and source (which ATM) of the money. Or just take it to a higher officer of
the bank and have them assure you they will find the person.


From: Ben Katz, M.D.<BKatz@...>
Date: Wed, Feb 26,2020 at 12:01 PM
Subject: Times Change, Circumstances Change, Halachah Changes

Sammy Finkelman wrote (MJ 64#51):

> 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.
> https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/947921/jewish/Kiddush-HaChodesh
> -Chapter-Four.htm
> 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
> budding.
>> 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.

There are 2 issues that need addressing:

1. The Talmud is not the only ancient source  that assumed 8 month fetuses are
nonviable.  It is common folklore found in many societies.  As has been pointed
out, this is an incorrect assumption.  The longer the baby stays in, the better
the chances of survival.  As a pediatrician, I have asked many smart mentors why
this mistaken belief is so common and the best answer I have ever received is
as follows:  No one in the ancient world kept track of data in the same way we
do (see for example The Invention of Science, by Wootten).  8 month babies look
like babies, just smaller.  Unfortunately many develop respiratory distrress
syndrome and die (remember Jackie Kennedy delivered a 30 week gestation baby
while JFK was president and the baby died.  It wasn't till respirators for
infants were developed in the early 70's that these babies tended to survive
intact.   However, every once in a while, a 7 month baby (which does not really
look like a  baby, I am sorry to say) would survive, (probably due to a burst of
steroids from the mom from stress).  This must have made a big impression on the
ancients, and led to the mistaken belief in 7 and 9 month gestations.   

2. The Talmud definitely believed in spontaneous generation, as did Aristotle
and almost everyone else till modern times, which is why one call kill sweat
lice on Shabbat according to the Talmud.  I wrote a short piece on this recently


From: Michael Mirsky <mirskym@...>
Date: Wed, Feb 26,2020 at 07:01 AM
Subject: Woman host

Menashe Elyashiv asked (MJ 64#51) if there is a version of the blessing in the
Bircat Hamazon for a female host. Changing the gender is straightforward. Here
are the required changes:

- Yeecalaim to Teecalaim

- "Baal Habayit Hazeh" to "Baalat Habayit Hazeh"

- Veyatzliach to Vetatzliach

- Nechasav to Nechaseha

- Yadav to Yadeha

- Lefanav to Lefaneha

Michael Mirsky

From: Sammy Finkelman <sammy.finkelman@...>
Date: Wed, Feb 26,2020 at 04:01 PM
Subject: Woman host

In response to Menashe Elyashiv (MJ 64#51):

The text of the berachah is not really absolutely fixed.


End of Volume 64 Issue 52