Monday, March 30, 2009

Can Someone Please Explain This Ruling? is reporting on a p'sak (halachic decision) by R. Eliyashiv regarding making a mezuman by the seder. He says that normally three people who eat together are required to make a zimun. However, he says, there are two cases on the night of the seder when three people eating together do not make a zimun. I'm going to present the second one that reports first.

1. People who eat together on Pesach but are makpid (particular) not to eat food that is prepared by others on Pesach. Since they cannot share each other's food, they are not counted for a zimun.

OK, that sounds logical to me. They may be eating in the same location, but they're not really eating "together." The other case is as follows:

2. A group of people where some only eat hand matzah and some only eat machine matzah. "Even though this is only a chumra," reports Matzav and in reality, they *are* allowed to eat each other's matzah, they cannot join for a zimun.

The second ruling truly surprises me. Here you have people who, by choice, are not eating each other's food, and they are not able to join for a zimun.

How is this really any different than if my two friends and I go to a fast food place and they order a burger with tomatoes (I hate tomatoes!)? I, by choice, am not eating their food -- and perhaps they don't like my choice of food. Does that mean that we cannot join for a zimun?

The Wolf

(Please, no snark. Serious discussion only)

Just Too Funny To Pass Up...

Check out this post of Rafi's over at DovBear about chumros on Pesach. And make sure you read the comments!!

The Wolf

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Question For The Fundamentalists...

When I said that I didn't believe that the world was created in six 24-hour periods, you asked me about the prayers that we say on Rosh HaShannah.

"Don't you say 'Hayom Haras Olam' (today is the birthday of the world) in the davening?" you asked me. "What are you saying there if you don't believe the world was created on Rosh HaShannah? If you don't believe it, you must be lying in your davening?"

Then when I stated that I don't believe that the world was created in six 24-hour periods, you asked me about the upcoming Bircas HaChammah (the blessing on the sun) which is supposed to mark the return of the sun to the spot in the heavens where it was created 5769 years ago.

"Aren't you going to say Bircas HaChammah?" you asked me. "If you don't believe that HaShem hung the sun there 5769 years ago at this time, then what are you making a bracha for?"

What I would like to ask the fundamentalist:

"OK, so which time are you wrong? Are you wrong when you say Hayom Haras Olam on Rosh HaShannah, stating that the world was created in Tishrei, or are you wrong now when you say Bircas HaChammah where you, in essence, state that the sun (and, by extension the rest of the world) was created in Nissan?

The Wolf

Friday, March 27, 2009

Sunset Over The Hudson

Here's a shot that I took last week. I'd really like your opinion on it on what works and what doesn't.

Canon XSi, 18-55mm lens at 55mm
f/5.6, 1/500 second
Taken in Hudson River Park, close to Pier 40

As an aside, if you want to meet me, a half-decent way to do so during the spring/summer months is to hang around Hudson River Park by Pier 40, where this shot was taken between noon and 3pm. I'll usually spend one lunch period a week (the day will vary depending on my schedule) there shooting plants, animals, insects, people or the river. If you see a guy with a yarmulke walking around with a Canon camera taking bunches of pictures, it's probably me.

As always, comments, criticisms and critiques are welcome and encouraged.

The Wolf

Previous Photos:
First Day of Spring
Duck Again!
Llama -- an Unorthodox Picture
Yellow Flower
Panorama: Empire State
Borei M'Orei HaAish
Floral Macro: How Close Can You Get?
Shutter Speed & Light Trails on the Brooklyn Bridge
On The Wings of Gerber Daisies
Sometimes, an Out-of-Focus Shot Works Well Too
The Ghosts Of Grand Central
Third Night
Shooting From A Different Angle
Sunflower Arrangement (discussion of lens apertures and depth of field)
Empire (basic discussion of lenses)
Hovering Bee
Sunflower Macro
Statue of Liberty
Trinity Church, September 11, 2008
Manhattan Tulips

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Are You Even Allowed To Question?

Back in my post where I severely disagreed with Rabbi Mizrachi's "proofs," an anonymous* commentator made the following comment:


I've been reading your post and gave it quite a bit of thought. My conclusion is that your arguments don't truly hold up and that challenging such a torah scholar (who has done an immense amount of good) is actually a chillul hashem (given that non-jews read your blog). A chillul hashem is actually the worst thing that a jew can do but i'm sure you knew that..

The commentator makes two statements here about me:

1. My arguments against Rabbi Mizrachi's "proofs" don't hold water.
2. My challenging his "proofs" is a Chillul Hashem, since non-Jews read my blog.

Implicit in his second statement is that one is not even allowed to question the "proofs" Rabbi Mizrachi (or anyone else, I guess) presents. After all, we all know that it is forbidden to make a Chillul HaShem** -- indeed, my anonymous commentator points out (correctly) that making a Chillul HaShem is one of the worst things*** a Jew can do. If pointing out flaws in the proofs is a Chillul HaShem, then it should be fairly simple to logically conclude that one is not allowed to question Rabbi Mizrachi's "proofs."

Of course, as I'm sure you've guessed, I don't agree with that position. I do not think that pointing out bad logic and flawed science is a Chillul HaShem. If someone were to say that Judaism is the "one true religion" because 2+2=5, then how is it a Chillul HaShem to point out that 2 plus 2 does not, in fact, equal five? Likewise, if someone tries to show that the Zohar is divine based on "scientific information" contained therein and the information is, in fact wrong****, then how is it a Chillul HaShem to point it out? On the contrary, I think that it's far closer to a Chillul HaShem to assert that Judaism is true because 2+2=5 when it is clearly demonstrable that it is not so.

We are described in Parshas V'EsChannan as an Am Chacham V'Navon... a wise and knowlegable nation. It makes us look extremely foolish to bring a proof that our religion is divine based on facts that any high-school student knows are false. On that basis, I feel that not only is one allowed to question a bad "proof," but one is *required* to point out its flaws.

The Wolf

* The commentator may or may not be "Champ."

** I'll ignore the fact that the commentator is wrong about the nature of Chillul HaShem in that it primarily applies to a desecration of God's name that is made in the eyes of other Jews, and only secondarily (if at all) in the eyes of non-Jews.

*** I don't know if it is the "worst" thing, but that's another argument for another day.

**** Such as Rabbi Mizrachi's claim that the Zohar states that the North Pole is always bathed in sunlight except for one hour in the day.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Do You Really Require Proof?

Back in November, I posted about some Torah proofs that were in a lecture given by Rabbi Yossi Mizrachi. In my post, I presented the "proofs" offered by Rabbi Mizrachi and why I felt the "proofs" were flawed.

A commentator on the post, going by the moniker "Champ" posted some interesting questions and comments on my original post. I'm going to address one of his questions here, and then probably follow up with some of his other questions/comments later this week.

One of the questions that Champ asked of me is as follows:


I'd like to know why you "believe" in Judaism and not some other religion? Also, what proofs do you go by that convince you that the torah is divine? ...or do you just believe it is???

When it comes to religion and living a religious lifestyle for a purpose - believing is just not good enough...and for me, i need to KNOW...not just believe....



Later on, Champ follows up with another similar statement:

if i didn't get solid proof that Judiasm was true, i'd have an incredibly hard time living such a restrictive lifestyle - i can't live on what ppl think, theories, and maybes... i need solid

So, Champ, here's my response to you:

On the surface, Champ, I suppose it's a good question. Why do I believe? What proofs do I have that Judaism is the "one true religion?" How do I know that the Torah is divine?

As I've stated on this blog often enough, I have no proof -- or, at least nothing that I would consider an iron-clad proof. Heck, I don't even think that the existence of God Himself is scientifically or logically provable*. If it were provable, I don't think you'd have so many atheists today. If there were logical proof that Judaism is the "one true religion," I don't think that over 75% of the world would be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. I certainly could be wrong -- maybe there is a proof out there that God exists and that Judaism is the one true religion -- but so far I've been able to poke a hole in every argument I've heard.

In addition, Champ, I think you're being somewhat naive about the need for absolute proof. After all, what proof do you have that you're not going to get hit by a car the next time you cross the street (God forbid)? None. And yet, I'll venture that you're going to do so at some point in the near future. You'll probably sit under a tree someday even though it might get struck by lightning or fall over and you'll probably swim at some point in your life even though there is a risk of drowning. You're going to get into a car even though thousands of people die every year in car crashes in the United States. If you're a woman, you'll probably give birth someday, an activity which carries a risk of death even today (although thankfully at a much lower rate than in years past). You have no proof that any of these activities are safe and yet you engage in some (and possibly all) of them on a regular basis.

The answer is that, whether or you admit to it or not, you (and I) live life playing the odds. You know that 99.999999% of street crossings end with no one being hurt, so you figure it's safe. You know that the vast majority of swimmers leave the water in safety, so you jump in the pool without a second thought. If you truly lived your life by an "absolute proof" standard, Champ, you'd never get anything done. You'd sit in your house, paralyzed by fear, refusing to go anywhere or do anything.

The answer, Champ, in every activity you perform, whether you realize it or not, you assess the chances of success and then make a decision based on those chances. Can I cross the street even though there is a car coming two blocks away? You quickly make a reckoning and then go or don't go. Are the rapids too strong to swim in? Again, you make a quick "back of the envelope" calculation in your brain (should it be called a "back of the medula" calculation?) and then decide whether or not to go.

In other words, you don't really live your life on an absolute proof basis. Virtually no one outside of a sanitarium does.

The same applies to my belief in Judaism and God. I don't have any absolute proof, and, truth be told, I don't need any. Just by looking at the wonderfulness of nature, from the macroscopic to the microscopic, I am convinced that God exists. When I look at the universe and consider the possibilities that it either sprung into existence by itself or had help, I take "had help." Yes, it's only a gut feeling and yes, it falls far short of proof, but that's all I need to live my life. But I'm also honest about it. I know that it's not proof, and I state the same up front to anyone who asks. I don't require "solid proof" for my beliefs -- and, if you seriously consider what I said, neither do you.

The Wolf

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Just What We Need -- Milk With Four Hechsherim...

Matzav is reporting that a new brand of milk and yogurt, named Machmirim, will be hitting the markets shortly. The dairy products from this brand (cholov yisrael, naturally) will have not one, not two but *four* hechsherim.

I've got to admit, to me, this sounds like a parody. But then again, who knows? The (frum) world is crazy enough that it just might be true.

Nonetheless, I think we have to ask ourselves -- of what extra value is it to the consumer to have four hechsherim on milk? I seem to recall, deep in the recesses of my memory a rule called "eid echad ne'eman b'issurim (a single witness is believed regarding [ordinary] prohibitions)"? In other words -- suppose I come home in the evening and my wife has a delicious pile of chicken cutlets waiting for me (hint hint Eeees!). How do I know that they are kosher? I didn't see her buy a package of kosher cutlets? I wasn't watching to make sure that she didn't throw milk in the pan while cooking them? How can I eat her delicious chicken cutlets?

The answer is the rule I quoted above. If she tells me that they are kosher, then she is to be believed. It's really that simple. If she tells me that she picked them up from a reliable butcher and followed the rules of kashrus in the food preperations, then that's all I need. I don't need to anything further to ensure that the food is kosher.

That being said, can anyone explain to me why milk needs four hechsherim? Even if you're going to argue that two are necessary (as many companies -- for reasons [aside from marketing] that baffle me -- have two hechsherim on products) then of what value is the third and the fourth?

Or is it all simply marketing? Is it simply a company deciding to position itself as a holier-than-thou dairy company (hence the name "Machmirim") and preying on the cluelessness of the general public regarding kashrus?

As a final point, the slogan of the new company is "Anachnu Machmirim b'nei Machmirim" (we are the more stringent, the sons of the more stringent). Perhaps the best commentary on this was said by a Matzav commentator who used the (ill-advised) name "Avi Kolko:"

A sign of the times.
Machmirim bnei machmirim has replaced
Ma’aminim bnei ma’aminim.

The Wolf

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Time Has Come To Speak Up

Rabbi Horowitz has written a column about the recent conviction of Elhanan Buzaglo. Buzaglo, who was working one of the "modesty patrols" in Israel, was paid $2,000 to beat up a 31-year old divorcee who, it was felt by some members of the community, did not live up to their ideals of tznius. After agreeing to a plea bargain, Buzaglo will be in jail for four years.

In his column, Rabbi Horowitz suggests that we have reached the point where we can no longer be silent. If we are going to address the problem of abuse and violence in our community, we have to first confront it, stand up in public and denounce it, and demand of our leaders (both religious and secular) that it has to end.

As he writes:

The time has come for us to speak out, telling our children and students in unequivocal terms, “These people are criminals and sinners – and do not represent us!” Our publications should begin reporting these incidents in the news sections of our papers, condemn them in our editorials, and call upon the police to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law.

We should stop using politically correct terms like “misguided youths” to describe cowards who beat women for sitting in the “wrong” sections of buses and physically assault peaceful citizens who do not dress according to their standards – observant or otherwise. “Misguided youth” implies that they engaged in a prank, like a water fight, or that they went overboard in pursuit on a noble goal. There is nothing noble about these acts – or the terrorist mentality that glorifies them.


We must clearly and unequivocally condemn the violence each time it happens in the strongest language. Halachic (Judaic law) rulings ought to be issued, that those who commit violence against innocent people are rodfim (individuals who present a real and present danger to others) and one is obligated by our Torah to defend the victim and report the criminals to the police.

I am posting this column on my website ( ) and I respectfully call upon charedim worldwide to post a comment at the bottom of the column with your name and email address and the city where you live supporting the sentiments expressed here.

I *strongly* urge you to go to Rabbi Horowitz's site and sign - preferably with your real name and city, but if not, at least go and lend your support in the thread. As Rabbi Horowitz concluded:

If enough Torah-observant individuals stand up, distance ourselves from these criminals, and demand action from our elected officials, we might affect changes which will restore honor to G-d’s name and end these acts of terror that plague us.

Amen, V'Ken Y'hi Ratzon...

The Wolf

Monday, March 16, 2009

Why Are You Even Bothering With Med School Then?

From Chabadtalk:

I'm engaged in the study of medicine and in modern medical textbooks there is very little (if any) restraint in what pictures they post of people and body parts. Ranging from very explicit diagrams, to real-life pictures of private organs, both living and otherwise, to pictures of cadavers etc...

I know the Rebbe opposed using cadavers for medical study but beyond that I'm not sure

My feeling is these pictures are not appropriate, but firstly it's very hard to avoid when studying the reproductive system etc.

OK, let's get one thing straight... I'm not a doctor (Psychotoddler, are you out there?), but I would be *highly* surprised to find that there exists any medical school in the United States that does not require a basic anatomy course which involves studying all parts of the human anatomy -- male and female. Furthermore, I would think that anyone who is intelligent enough to qualify for medical school would have known this going in.

If this is really a problem for you, then you shouldn't be studying medicine.

(Can you imagine what the state of medicine would be like if doctors could only study anatomy from pictures of *clothed* subjects? Can you imagine a gynecologist whose first look at a woman's vagina comes from his/her first patient?)

The Wolf

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Women! Stop Crying! We Can't Hear the Eulogies! (and other burial offenses)

An interesting story appeared in the Jerusalem Post yesterday, penned by a woman using the pseudonym "Oranit." In the article, she describes her experiences at the funeral for her cousin in Yavne last month.

Among the items she describes:

Then the body of the deceased was carried out to the men's section. Many women, myself included, broke down and cried, but Rabbi M., who led the ceremony, raised his microphone and called out, "Women, stop crying! Calm down! No shouting. Control yourselves. We can't hear the eulogies with you going on like this." I was stunned, hurt and humiliated. I am pretty sure that people are still allowed to cry during funerals. Yet I was too confused and shocked to respond.

and when it came time for the actual burial, the women were not allowed to go to the gravesite. Why?

But the woman who worked at the cemetery said something completely different: that due to a high rate of deaths of young people in Yavne, "we have vowed that women will not approach the grave during the burial - and that would be the tikkun [healing] of Yavne." She said that we women are impure "because we menstruate and according to Jewish religion we are prohibited from walking among the graves."

And after the burial (insertion mine):

As they [the men who attended the burial] passed near us, they said we could now approach the grave since the burial had been completed. Yet the cemetery woman still refused and said, "It is not good for the departed. Don't you understand? You are sinning against the dead. You are harming his soul."

I'd like to address these three aspects of the story one at a time. Let's start with the rabbi telling the women to be quiet.

Earlier this month, The Rebbetzin's Husband had a post about being right and yet being wrong at the same time. In it, he describes four cases where rabbis were technically "in the right" and yet, they were very wrong. The same thing applies here.

I suppose, when listening to any public speaker, one has the right to ask the fellow next to him who is making noise to be quiet. After all, he has just as much of a right to hear the speaker as anyone else. And yet, of all times to exercise that right, at a funeral is precisely the wrong time to do so. How can any rabbi (or any human being for that matter) tell a person mourning a loved one at a funeral to stop crying? How can anyone possibly be so heartless and unfeeling? Did the rabbi have absolutely no room in his heart to understand the pain that these women were going through? Or was he simply being selfish in deciding that his need to hear the eulogy was greater than the need of the deceased's mother, wife, sisters and daughters to express their anguish? The mind simply boggles...

As to the second issue -- women not attending during a burial: I am aware that there are many in the Jewish community who do not attend a burial while pregnant. Eeees did not attend the burial of either of my grandfathers because she was pregnant both times. Each time, however, it was *her* choice. No one stopped her from attending -- she chose not to go. The article does not make it clear if any of the women were pregnant, but I think it's a pretty safe bet to say that there were some (the mother?) who were not pregnant. But that's not really the issue here anyway. The issue here is that the community decided that due to a large number of deaths of young people, women aren't going to be allowed to attend a burial at all.

Once again, the mind boggles at how the two are possibly connected. How do they know that the high rate of young deaths has anything to do with women attending a burial? And how does preventing women from attending a burial stop the deaths of young people in Yavne? I firmly believe that before you take actions that are going to hurt other people (and preventing relatives from attending a burial qualifies as hurt in my book), you'd better have a darn good reason. If it could reasonably be shown that women attending burials causes the deaths of young people in Yavne, then that qualifies as a good reason -- a young person's right to life outweighs the rights of a mourner to attend a burial (or even of the dead to have a burial at all). But you'd better have a real solid case to do so.

To add insult to injury, the cemetary lady also decreed that even after the burial women could not visit the grave. Somehow, according to this woman, having a female body at a gravesite is a sin against the deceased. I suppose she would never dare to visit the grave of a loved one herself. (As an aside, one is left to wonder why she works at a cemetary at all. I suppose it's possible that she works in the office and not by the graves, but even so...) To this, I simply have two points to make:

1. Women have been praying at the graves of the deceased for millenia. Women are not barred from going to the Kever Rochel or the Cave of the Patriarchs. When Eeees and I were in Israel, we visited several graves/tombs and no one said a word about her being there.

2. I don't know about them, but I personally don't believe that God harms people in the afterlife for things that are beyond their control. I don't believe that God would boot a soul out of heaven because his wife or mother dares to visit to his grave. I have a very hard time imagining God summoning a person before His Throne a few weeks after death and saying "Sorry, Avrumi, I've got to send you to Hell. Your daughter went to pray to Me by your grave." The very idea is simply repugnant to me and, I suspect, to a large number of Jews worldwide.

The Wolf

Hat tip: Failed Messiah.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Llama -- an Unorthodox Picture

There is a general rule of thumb when it comes to photographing animals -- focus on the eyes. The eyes are usually the first part of your subject that a viewer will look at, and having the eyes in focus makes it a much better picture.

This was something I did not know when I took my picture of Gargantua last year. In that picture, the nose is in focus, but the eyes aren't. Had I put the eyes in focus (something I didn't know how to do then), it would have been a much nicer photo.

However, like all rules, sometimes it pays to break them. In this photo, the eyes are also out of focus. I'd like to say that I did it purposely, but I didn't -- it was an accident that the picture came out as it did.

Canon XSi, 75-300mm lens at 155mm
f/5, 1/500 second

Personally, I like this photo in that the teeth are in focus but the eyes are not. It gives you a different view of the llama than what you are used to seeing.

But that's just my opinion. What do you think?

As always, comments, criticisms and critiques are welcome and appreciated.

The Wolf

Previous Photos:

Previous Photos:
Yellow Flower
Panorama: Empire State
Borei M'Orei HaAish
Floral Macro: How Close Can You Get?
Shutter Speed & Light Trails on the Brooklyn Bridge
On The Wings of Gerber Daisies
Sometimes, an Out-of-Focus Shot Works Well Too
The Ghosts Of Grand Central
Third Night
Shooting From A Different Angle
Sunflower Arrangement (discussion of lens apertures and depth of field)
Empire (basic discussion of lenses)
Hovering Bee
Sunflower Macro
Statue of Liberty
Trinity Church, September 11, 2008
Manhattan Tulips

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Accuracy (or lack thereof) of the Jewish Calendar

Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, in his weekly My Machberes column in the Jewish Press talks about the Jewish calendar. As a part of this column, he makes the following observation:

In 4104 (344 CE), Hillel wrote his formulas predicting the Hebrew calendar until the Hebrew year 6000 (2240 CE). In 1949, the National Institute of Time and Technology established the Atomic Clock to standardize times throughout the world. Since its establishment, the Atomic Clock has been readjusted several times. Hillel's calendar has never been readjusted and remains supremely accurate. The precision of the Molad announced in every shul during Rosh Chodesh Bentching, indicating the exact time of the new moon in Jerusalem, continues to be breathtaking.

Now, as my mother told me when I was young, it's okay to toot your own horn, but don't do it by putting down others - and especially when don't toot your own horn and put others down when you're wrong.

The Hebrew calendar is pretty accurate, no question about it - but compared to the Atomic clock, it just falls flat.

First, a little background. The Jewish calendar, unlike most calendars, is a luni-solar calendar. While the months are reckoned according to the phases of the moon, it is occassionally reconciled to the solar calendar. Because the solar calendar is longer than the lunar calendar by 11 days (approximately), an extra month is inserted into the calendar 7 out of 19 years. As a result, there are 235 month (12 x 19 + 7 extra months) in the Jewish calendar every 19 years. These 235 lunar months come out to the same length as 228 solar months.

But not exactly.

As it turns out, 235 lunar months does not exactly equal 228 solar months. In fact, the 235 lunar months come out (on average) to about two hours longer than the 228 solar months. Now, two hours over a 19 year span may not sound like much, but over the course of the centuries, they add up. In about 216 years, you have a one-day difference. Since we're 1,665 years away from when the calendar was first set up by Hillel, the differences between the solar and lunar calendar have built up to about eight days. That means that we celebrate our holidays about eight days later in the year than Hillel did. Carried far enough (assuming Moshiach doesn't come by then), we could, in theory, begin celebrating Pesach in the summer! The Hebrew calendar may have been pretty accurate considering the technology of the time that it was established, but to say that it remains "supremely accurate" is just plain bunk.

As for the atomic clock, it's probably unfair to compare it to the Hebrew calendar. Part of the reason for that is that the atomic clock does not reckon time by the motions of heavenly bodies but by the occelations of a cesium atom. A second is no longer 1/31557600 of a year, but is now defined as follows:

The second is the duration of 9,192,631,770* periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom.

In other words, instead of reckoning time by the sun, they now use cesium atoms (hence the name "atomic clock"). As such, comparing it to the Hebrew calendar would be like comparing apples and oranges... they judge time by two completely different standards.

However, we can look at the Gregorian calendar, which has been in use for over four hundred years. The average Gregorian year differs from the astrnomical year by about 26 seconds per year. As a result, the Gregorian calendar gains a day every 3300 years. That being said, let's see which calendar is more accurate:

Gregorian: gains 1 day in 3300 years
Hebrew: gains about 15 days in 3300 years (1 day every 216 years or so).

Clear winner: Gregorian.

Of course, Pope Gregory had a twelve hundred year head start on Hillel, so it's understandable that his calendar might be more accurate. But to state that the Jewish calendar is "supremely accurate" while descibing the secular calendar as less accurate is just plain wrong.

While we're at it, we should also take a look at this statement of Rabbi Tannenbaum's:

The precision of the Molad announced in every shul during Rosh Chodesh Bentching, indicating the exact time of the new moon in Jerusalem, continues to be breathtaking.

It may be breathtaking, but it's also wrong.

The molad is based on an average period between new moons of 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3 1/3 seconds. However, that period is actually wrong. The true period for the molad is about 3/5 of a second longer than that. Again, 3/5 of a second per month may not sound like a lot, but over the course of the centuries, they add up. Currently, the true molad is about two and a third hours later than the molad according to the Jewish calendar. Therefore, the molad that is announced in shul is no longer the exact time the new moon is visible over Jerusalem, but the time the new moon is visible over Afghanistan.

The Wolf

* I wonder if people in Chabad would find some significance in that number.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Bishul Akum and the Causes of Intermarriage

There are a number of decrees that were established by Chazal in order to prevent (or reduce) assimilation and intermarriage. One of those decrees is the rule against bishul akum (food cooked by a non-Jew). There are various rules and regulations surrounding the decree as to when and how it's applied and how much involvement a Jew must have in the meal preparation.

Since this is a rabbinic decree and not a commandment from the Torah, it makes sense to take a look at it. My understanding of it (and *please*, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) is that thousands of years ago, when the decree was enacted, eating with non-Jews could lead to assimilation and intermarriage. I would imagine a hired cook in the home or an innkeeper would probably have been the primary cases where eating such foods could lead to intermarriage and assimilation.

Of course, the world today is a different place. Unlike inns in the past, you're not likely to run across the cook in a modern hotel of any decent size. You're also unlikely to meet the chef in a restaurant or nursing home. That's not to say that the halachos surrounding bishul akum should be tossed out -- much like the laws surrounding the 2nd day of Yom Tov outside of Israel, they're here to stay. But nonetheless, in many cases, the consequences of assimilation and/or intermarriage is not present. Indeed, you'd probably have a much higher probability of intermarriage with the waitstaff at a restaurant or the person who brings around the trays at a nursing home rather than with the cook.

Yudel Shain mentions a conversation he had with R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l. As he puts it:

Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach, OB"M told me that the reason of the high rate of assimilation is because as of the kulos & heterim of de americaner Rabonim in "bihul-akum und Yayin-nesech" halachos- I asked perhaps the Heteirim are acceptable? Reb Shlomo Zalman, responded it can't be-As CHAZAL said........otherwise we wouldn't have the high rate of assimilation.
He said "if we eliminate a bishul akum in New York, it will eliminate an intermarriage in Pariz.

To me, this sounded very strange and quite unbelieveable. We all know that the intermarriage rate among Jews is very high -- in some places in the neighborhood of 50%. I'm sure that the causes of intermarriage are fairly complex and numerous, but I can probably think of half a dozen things that would influence the rate of intermarriage more than kulos (lieniences) in the halachos of bishul akum. Even if you want to limit the study to Orthodox Jews alone (who have a much lower rate - but not zero - of intermarriage), there are probably still quite a few factors that would come into play in determining the causes of intermarriage before kulos in bishul akum. I could even accept that a violation of the bishul akum laws in New York may lead to intermarriages in New York, but how would they lead to intermarriages in Paris or anywhere else on a regular enough basis to merit mention by R. Auerbach?

Since the statement was troubling to me, and since I don't think R. Auerbach was a fool, I asked for some background and an explaination. When I pressed Yudel Shain for an explaination, I was told that in manufacturing plants and mosdos (institutions) bishul akum is the norm. I don't know whether that's true or not, but for the my reply, it didn't matter. My response to that was:

But even in those cases, how often does the consumer come into contact with the cook? In how many nursing homes do the residents get to meet the cook (and in how many of those cases does it lead to marriage between a resident and the cook?!)

The same thing applies all the more so in a manufacturing plant. I have no idea who is cooking the food - and I will certainly never meet them in the context of being the cook of my food.

If the point of bishul akum is to prevent intermarriage (something I agree with), then please tell me how it applies in these situations.

Or, to put it a different way -- I think there are other causes for intermarriage and assimilation that rank MUCH higher than bishul akum does in today's society.

His response:

If you are lenient in Bishul-Akum in New Jersey, that will cause intermarriage in Paris.. FAR'SHTEIST????

Later on in the thread, it was stated that R. Avigdor Miller would state that people who ask such questions are Apikorsim (heretics). Fine, whatever... so I'm an apikores for asking, but I still would like an explaination. Or do you think R. Auerbach was simply engaging in a bit of hyperbole?

The Wolf