Volume 9 Number 67
                       Produced: Sat Oct 23 21:38:22 1993

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

         [Steve Wildstrom]
Center of the Universe
         [Joshua W. Burton]
         [Aaron Naiman]
De-Sanctifying Holy Sites
         [Benjamin Svetitsky]
Earth as Center of Universe
         [Leah S. Reingold]
Pronunciation - Havara (3)
         [Steven Friedell, Michael Kramer, Aryeh Weiss]
Three questions
         [Robert A. Book]


From: Steve Wildstrom <wild@...>
Date: Thu, 21 Oct 93 12:17:11 -0400
Subject: Re: Ancestors

Simple arithmetic won't suffice to say that "everyone is descended from
Rashi" (or whomever) because the actual situation is far more
complicated.  In theory, everyone has two parentds, four grandparents,
eight great-grandparents, the number rising by a power of of two in each
genera- tion. Now if you think about it, the number of "unrelated"
people alive today would require an impossibly large number of
ancestors. The solution to this paradox is that people have far fewer
ancestors than they think because relatives marry each other.

Consider two first cousins marrying (though often prohibitted by civil
or religious law, it happens). Their children would have only six
great-grand- parents instead of the regulation eight. In the much more
common case of second cousins marrying, you lose a set of
great-great-grandparents--two pairs if they are double second-cousins.
In the isolated shtetlachs and ghettoes of Europe, marriages among
distant cousins were probably the norm, so the number of your ancestors
turns out to be much smaller than a simple geometric progression would

Steve Wildstrom   Business Week Washington Bureau  <wild@...> 
    "These opinions aren't necessarily mine or anyone else's."


From: <burton@...> (Joshua W. Burton)
Date: Tue, 19 Oct 93 16:54:54 EDT
Subject: Center of the Universe

The size of the _whole_ universe is probably not a completely
meaningless notion, but it is certainly meaningless to human beings.
This is because the universe is `only' 14-17 billion years old (using
the brand-new Hubble-constant numbers, which finally make sense: in the
last few years the universe was showing signs of being only 12 billion
years old, while some globular clusters are known to be older than that,
but now it looks like everything is consistent again!).  Since no
message can travel faster than the speed of light, things further away
than 15 billion ly or so _do not exist_, from our fixed point of view.
I mean this in a very strong sense: relativity guarantees that I can
pick a frame of reference, just as valid as the one we use every day, in
which the Creation *has not yet occurred* out there.  Beyond what we
call `the horizon' is serious tohu vavohu, at least from the point of
view of any fixed observer sitting within the manifold of spacetime.

So the only question we are really entitled to ask is whether we are in
the center of the _observable_ universe, the part within the `horizon'.
A bit of reflection will make it clear that we have to be:  the horizon
is defined by our own location, just as the visible horizon on the
surface of the earth is.  Wherever you are, the oldest light you can see
in any (unobstructed) direction has been travelling since the Beginning,
and so it's come the same distance.  (Everyone saw the press hysteria
about three years ago about the _nonuniformity_ of this `first light',
and a few colleagues are about to remind me that the `last scattering
surface'---the place where we are seeing far enough back in time that
there is nothing more to see except luminous fog---need not be a uniform
distance away.  In my horizon analogy, there are some waves and ripples
on the ocean's surface, and so the actual distance to the visible
horizon may vary by a few thousandths of a percent.  But the principle
is unchanged---we are in the middle of the theoretical horizon, whatever
the physical ripples, or primordial afterglow, are doing to the visibility
out near the edge.)

So yes, not only is the Solar System in the precise center of the
Universe; so is the Earth, Eretz Yisrael, Yerushalayim, and even any
particular spot on the Har ha-Bayit about which you care to ask the
question.  After five centuries of discovery, we have come back to the 
view of a desert wanderer, moving always in the center of a wide circle 
of sky.

I am a part of all that I have met;                +--------------------------+
    Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'       |   Joshua W. Burton       |
Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades  |   (401)435-6370          |
    For ever and for ever when I move.             |   <burton@...>   |
                      -- Tennyson, `Ulysses'       +--------------------------+


From: <naiman@...> (Aaron Naiman)
Date: Thu, 21 Oct 93 14:06:02 -0400
Subject: Re: Cosmology

Hi!  Just a thought:  Often, in order to reconcile creation and
evolution, people make claims and assertions that _perhaps_ the
physics was different once upon a time, and therefore, e.g., things
aged differently--a claim I happen to agree with (IMHO).  Well, I was
reminded of the keshet (rainbow) in this last week's parasha, and that
the Mishna in Avot 5:8 tells us that the keshet was one of the things
created during the ben hashmashot (twilight) between Friday and
Shabbat.  In that case, electromagnetics was still changing *after*
the creation of the earth, animals, humans and everything else (aside
from all of the other E&M changes on the first few days).

Aaron Naiman | IDA/SRC          | University of Maryland, Dept. of Mathematics
             | <naiman@...> | naiman@math.umd.edu


From: Benjamin Svetitsky <bqs@...>
Date: Thu, 21 Oct 93 19:52:44 -0400
Subject: De-Sanctifying Holy Sites

David Ben-Chaim asks the poor Jews of galut to tell him the halachot
concerning abandoning holy places (synagogues, etc.) to goyim when a new
decree of wandering is issued.  Maybe in galut the laws are complex, but
in Israel the law is simple: "Lo t'chonem."  There is no justification
for letting non-Jews establish themselves in Israel in places that have
already been redeemed.  What details of observance can soften this

Ben Svetitsky        <bqs@...>    (temporarily in galut)


From: <leah@...> (Leah S. Reingold)
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 93 11:30:36 -0400
Subject: Earth as Center of Universe

Shaya Karlinsky writes:

>     Is the statement "The earth is the center of the universe" True?
>False? Indeterminate? Meaningless?

It all depends on how one defines the "universe."  If the "universe" is
everything out there, then we cannot really comprehend its size or
scope, let alone any concept of the universe's center.

If one considers our own solar system, however, then it is very clear
that the sun is the center of that system, around which revolve all of
the planets, including earth.

If one considers the geo-lunar system, then we may consider the earth to
be the center, because it revolves around its own axis, and the moon
revolves around it.

In any event, it seems a strange question; I am curious to know what the
religious implications are (if any) of a geocentric view of the

-Leah S. Reingold


From: Steven Friedell <friedell@...>
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 93 15:46:55 -0400
Subject: Pronunciation - Havara

Rick Turkel suggested that since Hebrew originated in Eretz Yisrael
there was only one original pronunciation.  The story of the "shibolet"
-"sibolet" in Judges 12:6 lets us see pretty clearly that this wasn't
so.  There were dialects in early Hebrew, some of the prophets, Hosea,
for example, use a northern dialect.  Other evidence I think comes from
the Hebrew alphabet itself.  The "shin" is one letter used for two
sounds.  Doesn't that suggest that those who originally used the
alphabet had only one sound for the letter?  Compare the Arabic
alphabet, which is based on the old Syriac.  Syriac, a western dialect
of Aramaic, does not distinguish between a Sadi and Dad, or between a
Het and a Khet, but Arabic does and it so it added dots over or under
these letters to show that a different letter was intended.  It seems
that the same occured with our Shin/Sin.

Language grows and changes; it is inevitable.  What is different about
using "sefaradit" by Americans who have spent some time in Israel and
then return to America is that this is a conscious, intentional change
in the pronunciation, and this is what some may find objectionable.

Steven Friedell

From: <mpkramer@...> (Michael Kramer)
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1993 13:29:37 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Pronunciation - Havara

IMHO, Yosef Bechhofer's distinction in MJ (not MLJ) 9:63 between accent
and pronunciation is somewhat specious.  Is the difference between "ah"
and "aw" (i.e. the distinction between the Sepharadit kamatz gadol and
the Ashkenazit kamatz) more significant than that between "oh" and "oy"
(two Ashkenazic kholamim) or between "oo" and "ee" (two ashkenazic

The argument would probably be more substantive if the distinction were
made between consonants and vowels--though I'm not sure the distinction
would be more valid.

Michael Kramer
UC Davis

From: aryeh@optics (Aryeh Weiss)
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 93 03:09:01 -0400
Subject: Re: Pronunciation - Havara

> From: Michael Shimshoni <MASH@...>
> >Yemenite pronounciation preserves certain differences between hard and
> >soft consonants. It is not clear that it is "most accurate", though it
> >is certainly interesting. Most people dont understand Yemenite
> >pronounciation -- a fact that makes its use in ritual questionable.
> I do not follow that.  What has the "understanding" got to do with it.
> Unfortunately  many people  do not  understand  all the  words of  the
> prayers irrespective of  pronunciation.  Is that a  reason to consider
> the prayers of  these people as "questionable"? I seem  to have missed
> what Aryeh Weiss had meant.

I refer not to understanding in the sense of being able to translate the
prayers into one's mother tongue (although that is certainly important).
I refer to the fact that most people who speak Hebrew and understand the
prayers as written have difficulty following the Hebrew of a Yemenite
unless they are also following in a text.

Aryeh Frimer made an interesting point concerning the requirement to
extend the Dalet (thalet?) at the end of Ehad in shema. I wonder if the
dalet is ever transliterated as "th"? I ask this because old conventions
for transliteration shed light on the original pronounciation of a
letter.  A fine (and very entertaining) reference for this is Edward
Horowitz's book "How the Hebrew Language Grew", where he shows that
certain letters (such as Ayin) had multiple pronounciations. After
reading that book, I find it hard to talk about a unique or
"historically correct" pronounciation.

  Aryeh Weiss
  Jerusalem College of Technology


From: <rbook@...> (Robert A. Book)
Date: Thu, 21 Oct 93 13:32:42 -0400
Subject: Three questions

Morris Podolak <morris@...> writes:

> 1. The standard answer is that Shabbat is holier than Yom Kippur.  The
> argument is that on Yom Kippur you only call up six people to the torah
> reading, while on Shabbat you call up seven.  In addition, the
> punishment for working on Shabbat is more severe as well.

Isn't this backwards?  That is, don't we call seven people on Shabbat
and six on Yom Kippur *because* Shabbat is holier, rather than saying
Shabbat is holier because we call more people?

> recommend.  On the other hand, Rav Hirsch's commentary to the Torah
> presents a pretty convincing argument that there is alot going on behind
> the stories and the "thou shalt"s.  Any open minded, intelligent person
> could benefit greatly from reading it (it is available in English
> Hebrew, and I suspect German).

Rav Hirsch's commentary was written in German, and translated into
English and Hebrew.  If you use the Hirsch Chumash, be cautioned that
the English translation of the text of the Torah was made not from the
Hebrew, but from Hirsch's German translation of the Hebrew, so it is
one step more removed than a translation made directly from the

--Robert Book


End of Volume 9 Issue 67