Volume 8 Number 27

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Ancient Script (2)
         [Shaul Wallach, Art Kamlet]
Calendar Algorithms
         [Jonathan Goldstein]
Corrections to "Calendar Algorithms"
         [Mike Gerver]
Do Berakhot Matter?
         [Lawrence J. Teitelman ]
More on Learning Without a Bracha
         [Arthur Roth]


From: Shaul Wallach <f66204@...>
Date: Fri, 9 Jul 93 12:36:38 -0400
Subject: Re: Ancient Script

      Mike Gerver writes as follows on the ancient Hebrew script (ketav
`Ivri) versus the square script (ketav Ashuri):

>Archeologists generally assume that ktav ashuri evolved relatively late
>from ktav ivri, since the artifacts found from the First Temple period,
>mostly pottery, as well as the silver amulet with birkat kohanim on
>display at the Israel Museum, etc., have inscriptions in ktav ivri.
>(Ktav ashuri is the modern Hebrew alphabet, while ktav ivri is the
>alphabet used also by the Phoenicians, from which the Greek and later
>the Roman alphabets developed.) It occurred to us that perhaps ktav ivri
>was used for secular writing and ktav ashuri for seforim, or perhaps
>ktav ashuri was used for pen and ink writing, while ktav ivri was used
>for things like pottery, amulets, and coins. Since, as far as I know,
>there are no seforim surviving from the First Temple period,
>archeologists would not have found any samples of ktav ashuri. In the
>late Second Temple period, and a little later, ktav ashuri was used for
>writing in ink, e.g. the Bar Kochba letters, while ktav ivri was used on

     The view of Rabbi Yose (Sanhedrin 21b) is that the Torah was given
to Moshe on Sinai in the old Hebrew script, whereas Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi
and Rabbi Shim`on ben El`azar held that it was originally given in the
square script. Archeological evidence so far agrees with R. Yose (for a
discussion see, for example, R. Menahem Mendel Kasher's Torah Shelema,
Vol. 29). However, the old Hebrew script was never completely discarded
with the adoption of the square script in the days of Ezra. It was left
to the "hedyotot" - literally, "plain people" - which the Talmud (op.
cit.) explains as Samaritans. But as Mike points out, Jews themselves
likewise continued to use it for secular purposes. Some of the Dead Sea
Scrolls were also written in the old alphabet, and in others only the
Tetragrammaton was, possibly in order to use the scroll for more secular
purposes since it was thereby disqualified for use as a Torah scroll
with all its sanctity.


Shaul Wallach

From: <ask@...> (Art Kamlet)
Date: Sat, 10 Jul 93 12:42:24 -0400
Subject: Ancient Script

   From <GERVER@...> (Mike Gerver)
   Michael Shimshoni asks, in v7n85, why a sefer Torah must be written in
   ktav ashuri, since he thought that ktav ivri was the more ancient

When Pirke Avot lists the letters of the alphabet as one of the
things G-d made on the eve of the first Shabbat, which letters are


From: <goldstej@...> (Jonathan Goldstein)
Date: Thu, 8 Jul 93 22:11:27 -0400
Subject: Re: Calendar Algorithms

In v8 #23 Mike Gerver (<GERVER@...>) writes:
> Warren Burstein, in v7n75, asks someone to submit the algorithms for
> conversion between the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars, and for finding

Yesterday I received a printed sheet giving instructions on how to find the 
Gregorian date for any Hebrew date.

Contact Samuel Davis, who very kindly posted the sheet to me, at 
<davis@...>, or via snail-mail:

	Samuel Davis
	16 Sixth St
	Saint John, NB

I think he may also have implemented the algorithm.

Kabbalah Software markets several cheap and, from what the catalog has
to say, useful utilities.

		Kabbalah Software
		8 Price Drive
		Edison NJ 08817

		Usenet: <kabbalah@...>
		Phone:  +1 908 572 0891
		FAX:    +1 908 572 0869

They mailed their latest catalog to me (in Oz).

Jonathan Goldstein       <goldstej@...>       +61 2 339 3683


From: <GERVER@...> (Mike Gerver)
Date: Sun, 11 Jul 1993 3:19:24 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Corrections to "Calendar Algorithms"

Michael Shimshoni was kind enough to call my attention to the following
two typos which appeared in my posting on "Calendar algorithms" in v8n23.
Although I make plenty of typos in my postings and don't normally send in
corrections, I feel that I should submit corrections in this case, since
someone following my original posting could come up with an incorrect
calendar program.

*non-leap years, plus 13 times the number of leap years (when Adar Sheni
*is added). Leap years occur on the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 14th, and
(Should be "17th")

*The same procedure should be used to find the day of Rosh Hashanah on the
*following year. If the two dates differ by 354 days (383 days for a leap
*year), then the year is kesedra, if they differ by one day less then the

(Should be "384")

Mike Gerver, <gerver@...>


From: Lawrence J. Teitelman  <csljt@...>
Date: Sat, 10 Jul 93 22:44:33 EDT
Subject: Do Berakhot Matter?

In some recent MJ postings, the issue of birkhot ha-mitzvah has been
raised, and in particular, the question as to whether they are required
for a mitzva to be valid has been discussed. While we do generally
follow the rule "berakhot einan meakvot" (berakhot are not necessary for
the fulfillment of a mitzva), there are exceptions to this rule -- at
least on a theoretical level (i.e. they are not necessarily accepted

One interesting example: the Ra'avya (Masekhet Pesahim Siman 526) says
that if one neglected to say the berakha prior to Counting of the Omer,
he must go back, say the berakha, and count again. "Ve-kevan de-sefira
de-orayta hi, azlinan le-humra ve-tzarikh lispor ve-lahazor u-levarekh.
Ve-af al gav de-berakha lav de-orayta hi, de-keivan de-sefira de-orayta
hi ve-tzarikh lispor, lav milta hi lispor be-lo berakha, ve-ein kan
mi-shum berakha le-vatala." (Brief translation: since Sefira is from the
Torah, it is meaningless to count without a berakha and thus the berakha
and the counting must be repeated.) An essay on these comments of the
Ra'avya appears in an article by Rabbi Avraham Yosef Weiss in "Yevul
Ha-Yovelot" (A collection of Torah articles printed in honor of the one
hundredth birthday of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzhak Elhanan -- Yeshiva
University), pp. 393-408.

Larry (<teitelman@...>)


From: <rotha@...> (Arthur Roth)
Date: Fri, 9 Jul 93 14:26:40 -0500
Subject: More on Learning Without a Bracha

Larry Teitelman sent me a private E-mail about my posting on learning
without a bracha in the context of a women's prayer group.  Larry's
comments made me realize that perhaps I didn't make myself clear enough
in the original posting.  Below are both Larry's E-mail to me and my
response to him, which might make things clearer for everyone.

From:	(Larry Teitelman)

I have not read all of the MJ mail since your posting, so in case the
following comments have already been made, I am not posting them for the 
public; if you have seen them already from someone else, kindly disregard
this message.

You quoted the Rav zt"l as saying that birkhot ha-torah are part and parcel
of the mitzvah of learning. Shortly thereafter you make the claim that
learning without the appropriate berakhot (or for that matter, doing any
mitzvah without its berakhot) is at worst just a wasted activity. Three
comments are in order:

(1) The Rav himself has on many occasions explained the Rambam in Hilkhot
Berakhot Ch. 1 #3 "u-ke-shem she-mevarkhin al ha-hanayah, kakh mevarkhin
al kol mitzvah u-mitzvah ve-ahar kakh yaaseh otah" (just as one must 
recite a blessing prior to deriving any pleasure (e.g. eating), so too one
must recite a blessing prior to performing any mitzvah" in the following
manner. It is a sin (Gemara refers to it as stealing from HKBH) to
derive benefit from this world prior to receiving permission (i.e. by
saying a blessing). Similary, explains the Rav, one is not allowed to
do a mitzvah without first getting "permission" from HKBH. He refers to
a birkat ha-mitzvah as a "matir" -- a permit to do the mitzvah. (The Rav
was quite fond of the need to request permission from HKBH even to do 
commandments and uses this to explain various aspects of pesukei dezimrah.)

(2) The source which your friend cited but could not pinpoint -- that
learning without a berakhah is a "sin" -- is presumably the Gemara in Nedarim
81a which offers various reasons for the Destruction/Galut, among which is
"she-ein mevarchin ba-Torah tehillah" (they fail to recite the blessing
prior to learning). 

(3) It is by no means obvious that a person can simply decide to do a mitzvah
in an incorrect fashion (and just chalk it up to a wasteful activity). There
are Biblical prohibitions of Bal Tosif and Bal Tigra (adding to or detracting
from a mitzvah). The exact parameters of these laws are rather complicated, 
but in light of your example of a lulav and two other species, I refer you
to Rashi, Devarim 4:2.

Feel free to post any part of these either by quoting me or anonymously if
you feel that it is appropriate.

Larry (<teitelman@...>)


From:	(Arthur Roth)
    Thanks for writing.  I particularly enjoyed the concept that a bracha is
done to receive "permission" for doing the mitzvah attached to it.  I always
thought that the bracha was just a separate mitzvah added mid'rabanan.
    Let me respond to the three points you have raised.
  1. I was not claiming that it was OK to do an arbitrary mitzvah
without a bracha and chalk it up to a wasted activity.  If you were to
blow shofar without a bracha, you would already be "yotzei" shofar at
that point, so you would no longer be entitled to do it again and make a
bracha; if you did, it would be a bracha l'vatala.  So the blowing
itself was NOT a wasted activity.  The crucial point here is that the
mitzvah and the bracha are SEPARATE from each other --- one is a kiyum
d'oraita and the other is an "add on" d'rabanan.  Whether the "add on"
is (as you have stated) to ask permission to do the mitzvah or whether
(as I previously thought) it is simply a separate mitzvah altogether,
nobody disputes the fact that you are still "yotzei" the mitzvah if it
is done without a bracha.  An example is the custom not to say a bracha
on tefillin (for those who use them) on Chol Hamoed because of "safek
berachot l'kula"; you are still yotzei tefillin (an obligation according
to this custom because of safek d'oraita) even without the bracha.  Yet
another example is the fact that we say "al n'tilat lulav" with the
pitom down because we are afraid that with the pitom up we might already
be yotzei the mitzvah and therefore have lost the privilege of saying
the bracha.  Thus, doing a mitzvah without a bracha generally is
unacceptable because you have still done the mitzvah, so you CANNOT
chalk it up to wasted activity, and you have therefore ignored a
rabbinic requirement to have made the bracha first.  The main thrust of
my MJ posting is that learning is fundamentally different because the
bracha is part of the mitzvah d'oraita rather than a rabbinic "add on".
Therefore, one who learns without a bracha is not yotzei any mitzvah at
all and therefore CAN be regarded as having merely wasted his time.  Of
course, for reasons I mentioned in my posting and others, it is not a
good thing to do this; in fact, I suggested that decisions be made in
advance in order to avoid this for as many people as possible.  However,
it is sort of ironic that you might be able to "get away" with something
regarding this particular bracha precisely because it is more stringent
in origin (d'oraita) than any of the other brachot except Birkat
  2. The Gemara in Nedarim that you referred to was previously brought
to my attention by Yosef Bechhofer, who also sent it to MJ (where it not
yet been posted) [The information was posted in an submission of Eitan's
- Mod.] .  This Gemara states that the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed
because people learned without a bracha.  By the logic that I've been
following all along, this can be explained by saying that they didn't
make a bracha AT ALL, and therefore they were NEVER yotzei on learning.
If they had instead learned for part of the morning without a bracha and
then said the bracha and continued learning, it is quite possible that
the there would not have been such severe consequences.  Let me again
emphasize that I am not claiming that such an activity is desirable; it
should be avoided, but one might be able to "get away" with it.
  3. I agree that some mitzvot when done incorrectly can be violations
of Bal Tosif or Bal Tigra, and if the lulav example is one of them, then
I have chosen a bad exmaple.  (I have not yet read the Rashi you
referred me to.)  However, the PRINCIPLE is still correct; in most
cases, a person could in theory do a mitzvah incorrectly (without a
bracha, of course) and then subsequently do it correctly without having
violated anything at all.  The incorrect action merely reduces to wasted

Thanks again for writing.                       --- Arthur Roth


End of Volume 8 Issue 27