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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Shabbos’

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Eighteen: Peace in the Middle East

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

The emergency bell clanged throughout the valley of the Shoshana kibbutz. Workers who were building the first stone edifice on the settlement put down their chisels and masonry tools. Field hands set aside their scythes and their sickles and started back toward the compound of mud and wood dwellings. Within minutes, all of the settlers sat crowded together on the benches in the dining hall. With great indignation, Ben Zion related how the Arabs had ambushed them at the well and stolen his horse and two rifles. He demanded that a small force be organized immediately and set off in retaliation.

“Why didn’t you shoot?” someone asked.

“We were outnumbered, and I did not want to endanger the girl,” he answered, leaving out the embarrassing details of how the Arabs had snuck up and surprised them.

“You know the rule that a shomer is forbidden to go out on guard duty alone. Why did you break it?”

“I was teaching the girl how to shoot.”

“I wish he would teach me how to shoot,” a plain-looking girl quipped loudly enough for her neighbors to hear. Other girls giggled. Ben Zion’s friends broke out in laughter. Since it was Gordon’s turn to preside at the general meeting, the gavel was in his hand. He gave it a bang on the table, and the ruckus subsided. Sonia, standing in a corner of the hall, flashed a look of accusation at the faithless Don Juan. Ben Zion smiled. Rogue that he was, he cherished all of the attention.

“No one wants a war,” Perchik said. “Let the Arabs have the well. We can always dig another.”

Immediately, another clamor broke out in the crowd. Shouts of protest or agreement came from all corners of the hall. Once again, the fierce-looking Gordon wielded his gavel.

“Water can’t be found everywhere,” a kibbutznik asserted. “Without our wells, what will we do in the event of a drought?”

“What about the stolen horse and the rifles?” another man asked. “Do we give them away too?”

The uproar resumed. This time it took a full minute of gavel banging to restore a semblance of order.

“I volunteer to lead a contingent from the kibbutz to enter into negotiation with the Arabs,” Perchik announced. “If nothing can be accomplished in a peaceful manner, then we can think about fighting.”

“If we don’t respond with a show of force, they will only take advantage of us in the future,” Ben Zion warned.

Once again, a vote was taken. This time, Ben Zion’s followers were one vote shy of a deadlock. Peter had gone to Tiberias to have a doctor examine an infection in his wounded shoulder.

“That’s not fair,” Ben Zion protested. “Peter is not here to vote.”

“You know the rules of the voting,” Gordon responded. “A voter has to be present.”

Ben Zion cast a frustrated look over the crowd.

“One minute,” a voice called from the doorway. “You didn’t count me. I vote with Ben Zion.”

It was Bat Sheva.

“She doesn’t belong to the kibbutz,” Sonia called.

“I want to join,” Bat Sheva responded.

Tevye stood up from his seat on a bench in the back of the room and glared at his daughter. She stared defiantly back at him. Ben Zion’s frown immediately turned to a grin.

“The vote is even,” he said.

“No it isn’t!” Tevye bellowed. “I too want to join the kibbutz. And I vote with Perchik!”

It was no easy decision for Perchik. On the one hand, Tevye’s vote assured a majority for his non-violent faction, averting the danger of military encounter. On the other hand, if Tevye were actually to reside in Shoshana, that would be the end of Perchik’s happy home life with Hodel. But, then again, if Ben Zion’s forces won out, Perchik’s influence on the kibbutz would be seriously weakened. For Tevye also, siding with his socialist son-in-law was no easy matter, but he was willing to do it to bring about Ben Zion’s defeat.

“We have the majority,” Perchik claimed, accepting Tevye’s vote.

“The decision is final,” Gordon announced. “We negotiate with our neighbors.”

Another commotion erupted. Everyone had something to say, either about the Arabs, or about the way the kibbutz had accepted new members without a community vote. Bat Sheva glared at her father and strode out of the hall. Tevye started after her, but Perchik walked over and gave him a congratulatory pat on the back.

My Machberes

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Satmar Shidduch

In the midst of preparations for the grand Satmar chassunah held on Wednesday, October 17, another grandchild of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe, became engaged. On October 15, Zvi Hersh Meisels was engaged to the daughter of Rabbi Naftali Meir Babad, Tarnopol Rav in Kensington and Tartikov Rosh Beis Din; son of Rabbi Asher Aleksander Babad, zt”l (1910-1985), Tartikover Rav, and son-in-law of Rabbi Kalman Pinter, zt”l (d. 2009), Sulzberger Rav.

The chassan is the son of Rabbi Shimon Zev Meisels, Rav of the Beirach Moshe district of Kiryas Yoel and author of Sefer Binyan Shimon. The chassan is the grandson of Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Meisels, Seagate Rav, as well as of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe. The engagement was formalized in the home of the kallah’s father in Boro Park. In Kiryas Yoel, long lines led to the home of the Satmar Rebbe where well-wishers gave their joyous mazel tovs.

Women And Hatzolah

Rachel Freier, an attorney representing women in the greater Boro Park community, had long felt there was a need for emergency services for women in labor to conform to our community’s level of modesty. The idea “has nothing to do with feminism, it has to do with the dignity of women and their modesty,” said Mrs. Freier.

Though turned down by Hatzolah, she was careful to avoid framing the proposal as a critique of the widely praised organization, whose work she respects greatly. Instead, she said it was a matter of reclaiming a “job that has been the role of women for thousands of years [that of a midwife].” We are proud of Hatzolah,” she said, adding, “Hatzolah leaders do not fully understand what a woman feels like when she is in labor.”

Ezras Nashim, Hebrew for “women’s section,” the name of the new organization, is modeled after a program created two years ago in New Square. Hatzolah’s four-member rabbinical board released a memo for members saying they would not engage in discussions on the matter. A similar proposal had been rejected some 25 years ago.

Mrs. Freier had attempted to reach Hatzolah’s leaders to arrange a meeting. “The initial plan was for me to meet with Hatzolah and explain the need for women to join,” she said. “However, I was told that the policy of women not joining Hatzolah was set years ago…. We’re just trying to make a great organization even better. We’re not filing a complaint. We’re coming with a suggestion.”

On February 26 of this year, Mrs. Freier opened a recruitment drive for Ezras Nashim and a number of women indicated strong interest in joining. In total, Ezras Nashim had at its outset more than 200 women with various levels of medical training in its ranks. Mrs. Freier continued discussions on the matter with rabbinical leaders in the community. The new organization has the blessing of several rabbis.

Women And Burkas

In Israel, small groups of women living in some observant neighborhoods have chosen to wear burkas (a loose garment covering the entire body worn by Muslim women) in order to achieve maximum tznius. Not one recognized rabbi has endorsed burkas for Jewish women. On the contrary, several leading rabbis have strongly expressed their opposition to the strange behavior.

On Sunday, October 14, one of the “shawl women” was in the throes of childbirth and refused to be taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital for fear of chillul Shabbos.

The story began when a man rushed into the shul on Avraham Ben-David Street early Shabbos morning calling for assistance for his pregnant wife. A member of Ichud Hatzalah of Bnei Brak went with the man. As they were running to the apartment, an ambulance was summoned.

The husband, however, told the Hatzolah member to cancel the call, explaining that his wife would refuse an ambulance since it was Shabbos.

The husband and the Hatzolah member were met by a second the Hatzolah member when they reached the apartment. They tried persuading the mother to travel to the hospital by ambulance, but she refused.

The first Hatzolah member called his mother, a midwife, and the delivery took place at the apartment. After the delivery they again attempted to persuade the new mother to be taken by ambulance but she remained obstinate.

The Highchair

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Yael was tired of sticking the highchair together with glue or Sellotape. It had lasted through five children, a miracle in itself, but now it seemed to have given up all hope – and decided to self-destruct.

Every time she tried to clean it, more parts seemed to come loose. Yael was scared that it wasn’t safe enough to put her little Shloimy in it any longer.

But money was very tight and it was nearing Yom Tov. Shloimy only used the highchair on Shabbos; the rest of the time he sat in his stroller or on a booster chair at the family table.

But on Shabbos, especially if extra guests were present, it was best for him to be in a high chair in order for him to have the freedom to eat as he wished without Yael having to worry about him getting the food on everyone else. And of course it freed up more space at the table. But could she justify spending the money on a chair for one day a week?

Yael went to a store to see just how much a chair would cost. There were an amazing variety of high chairs from which to choose. Who’d have thought the manufacturers could think of so many different possibilities. It had been a long time since Yael had looked for a new one; thus the choice was baffling. Prices varied from the simplest to the 5-star models, with more bells and whistles than she’d have ever dreamt possible. But even the simplest one wasn’t very cheap.

She went home and decided that they’d have to manage a bit longer.

Another few weeks went by with Shloimy at the table during the week and in his highchair, under the watchful eye of his mother, on Shabbos. Yael tried to ensure that his excited movements didn’t unhinge any part of the chair. But eventually her managing the situation turned into surviving it – and the chair just became useless.

Yael went back to the store, hoping that there would be a special offer on highchairs. But the prices remained unchanged.

But then she remembered something she’d been taught in school. She had learned that Hashem returns to you the money you spend on purchases for Shabbos. We’re not always aware of when and how He does this, but if you designate (verbally, if possible) that what you are buying is l’kavod Shabbos kodesh, then what you buy for Shabbos is not an extra burden on the household finances. This is because, it was taught, that if it wouldn’t have been spent for Shabbos items, that money wouldn’t have been in your wallet.

With this in mind Yael chose an economical but sturdy highchair, and as she paid for it she said out loud, “This high chair is l’kavod Shabbos kodesh, because Shabbos was the only day when Shloimy used it. Buying in a Jerusalem store, her loud declaration barely raised an eyebrow, although she received a few smiles from those who heard her.

She went home satisfied that she had done the right thing, confident that her family’s already very tight budget wouldn’t suffer because of her purchase.

She arrived home, paid the babysitter, prepared supper, and bathed her six young children. After supper the older ones waited in their pajamas for their abba to come home from kollel so they could kiss him goodnight.

As he walked through the door, he had a big smile on his face. “Yael,” he said, “You can go and buy the highchair now.”

She turned around from washing the dishes. “Why?” she asked.

“You’ll never believe this but as I got off the bus I saw something on the sidewalk. I thought it must have been something that I had dropped, so I picked it up. It was a 200-shekel note. I was the only one who got off the bus and there was no one else around to ask if it was their money. So according to halacha, it’s ours. That should cover the cost of a highchair, no?”

Yael could barely see through the tears that blurred her eyes.

“Yes. Baruch Hashem, that exactly covers the cost of the highchair and the delivery cost. And it should be here in a few minutes.”

Two Men, Two Prayers, Two Miracles

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

My column on prayer last week touched sensitive chords in many hearts. It is apparent that in our troubled times people are struggling with the entire concept of prayer. Does it really work? Is there Someone listening, or is it a waste of time?

I will share two stories that shed some illumination on the subject. To protect the privacy of all involved, I have used pseudonyms.

Man #1

Arthur lived in the community where my husband, Rabbi Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, was the rabbi. He was a member of a Reform temple and we had never met him until the day he came knocking at our door.

“Rabbi,” he said, his voice filled with emotion, “my wife has been diagnosed with cancer. It’s very serious and she is scheduled for surgery. I am coming to you because you are a man of G-d and I need a miracle.”

My husband, in his usual caring, loving way, invited him in and put his arm around him, indicating he was there for him. “Miracles,” he explained in his gentle voice, “are all around us – the entire world is one big miracle. So now we have to appeal to G-d for yet another miracle – the miracle of refuah sheleimah – the blessing of healing.”

“That’s it, Rabbi! That’s exactly what we need. How do we make it happen? I’m ready to do whatever it takes.”

“Let’s start with your own and your wife’s Jewish names.”

Arthur searched his mind and finally said “I am Avraham and my wife, Lisa, is Leah.”

My husband proceeded to explain to him the significance and power in our Jewish names. Arthur was overwhelmed and repeated, “So let’s make it happen, Rabbi. Tell me what I have to do.”

“We have a threefold formula that gives us access to G-d’s direct line and puts us through to His inner chamber,” said my husband. “It’s as simple as that.”

Arthur was listening with rapt attention and my husband explained that this formula is public knowledge. “It’s announced for all to hear during the High Holiday services: “Teshuvah (repentance) tefillah (prayer) and tzedakah (charity)… have the power to annul all evil decrees, and that, Avraham, is our direct line to G-d.”

Arthur’s face registered disappointment. He had thought there was some magic potion that would do the trick and cure Lisa. Nevertheless, to his credit he once again said, “I’m ready to do whatever it takes.”

“Easy,” my husband said gently, “I will explain it all. Teshuvah means rediscovering our roots, reconnecting to our heritage, coming home to our G-d. So let’s start with just a few steps in that direction: Welcome Shabbos into your home; the Rebbetzin will teach Leah the blessings over the Shabbos lights and how to make a festive Shabbos table. It will illuminate your home with serenity and joy. And on Shabbos morning you will join us in shul.”

Arthur looked upset.

“Don’t worry, I will show you the way,” my husband assured him. “In no time at all, you will pick it all up. It’s part of your genes, your DNA, from the genesis of time.”

“Now wait a minute, Rabbi,” he said. “This won’t work for us! Saturday is always the day I golf and Lisa goes to the beauty parlor and does her shopping. We both work the rest of the week. So this just doesn’t fit into our schedule.”

“I understand,” my husband assured him. “It will most certainly require a change in your lifestyle, but your Jewish name, Avraham, will stand you in good stead. He was our Patriarch who taught mankind the meaning of G-d. He was a trailblazer. Unafraid, he went against all odds and moved mountains and hills for the sake of our Creator. No matter what sacrifices were demanded of him, he remained undaunted and fulfilled his mission.

“It all may sound overwhelming, but your Jewish name will energize you. You will see, this will be a piece of cake – a piece of cake that once you taste you will come to love. It’s there, on your table; you need only try it.”

Avraham and Leah embarked on their new journey with the basics of Shabbos, but it didn’t stop there. Soon my husband kashered their home and I took Leah to the mikveh for the first time in her life.

How To Have Guests And Still Enjoy Your Meal

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

I feel that I am a good authority to write on this topic, because although I love having guests, it completely stresses me out. Something happens to me when we have guests over; I feel this urge to have the table perfect, the food innovative, delicious and abundant and my children buffed and shiny. When things don’t turn out well, it’s not exactly pretty. As my husband says, I don’t mind if we have guests, just don’t take it out on me. I can’t say I’ve always been successful at that. I tend to become singlemindly focused on my specific goals: having a meticulously clean, perfectly presented showcase of my home, while sorta, kinda forgetting what the whole point is. A low point was at a tehillim gathering last year before Rosh Hashana. I broke down in tears when asked what I was making for the meals because the stuffed artichokes heart I had made looked nothing like the picture in the cookbook.

This year, I resolved not to make the same mistakes. Firstly, when I host guests, I resist the urge to pile on the invites. In the past, once I was inviting one family over, I rationalized that I might as well invite a couple of more. After all, what are four more people when you’re already having six? I’ll tell you, it’s a lot more. I’ve noticed that for each additional person at the table, I tend to make at least three more portions of food. That’s a lot of stress on the cook! Also, it causes the meal to resemble a party, with either everyone talking at once, or worse, only some people talking and others being ignored. When there are only a few select guests, I can give each individual the attention warranted, which is the reason the invitation was offered in the first place.

The second thing I decided to limit was experimenting with new recipes on my guests. My husband and little children are notoriously picky. I’m a much more adventuress eater, but it’s quite difficult to eat an entire pumpkin peanut butter soup by myself (http://www.levanacooks.com/quick-pumpkin-peanut-butter-soup-recipe/). In the past, I would use the opportunity to leaf through my collection of cookbooks to find interesting recipes and create a menu from them. All too often, the food would flop, causing tremendous anxiety on my part feeling that there would be nothing edible to eat. So now, I prepare one unique dish and keep the rest of the meal to old favorites.

Then there’s the issue of too much food. Between the four types of kugels, two chickens, a meat option, and the strings beans I feel I must make or my guests will think there’s no food, there is often not enough room to even put the dishes down. I’m not sure why, but for some reason, it’s very easy to over-estimate the quantity of food people consume.

Here’s what I’ve decided: it’s far better to serve superior quality and limit the quantity. This saves time and money. For each menu, I choose one protein, one carbohydrate and one vegetable. I tend to serve either fish or soup, not both, because it fills everyone up, leaving no room for the main. Fish, with small roasted potatoes and veggies works beautifully as a main as well. In terms of quantity, I allocated one portion per person. Although there is always the fear that someone would want seconds and there won’t be enough, that has actually never happened. It’s rare for people to eat the full portion of anything when there are other choices. Regardless, even if one is circumspect with the quantity, leftovers always remain. Because it’s hard for my family to eat leftovers continuously, I divide the recipes into smaller tins and then freeze if I see they won’t be needed. This limits how much the food is being reheated. For dessert, I stock up on chocolate and nuts when they are on sale and serve it along with fresh fruit. A homemade cake is always nice, and for Yom Tov, my favorite dessert is to serve fresh hot cake that was baked during the main course along with some pareve ice cream.

In terms of the house, I’ve slowly learned to let go a little, though honestly, it’s always been a struggle. I just try to remember that when I’m in other people’s homes, I’m not judging them when I see dishes still in the sink, and I just hope they aren’t judging me. In terms of decoration, there is nothing like a bouquet of fresh flowers to make a table beautiful, but if that can’t be arranged, I do without and nobody dies. Although I enjoy using my good Shabbos dishes, when I have more then eight people at the table, I use disposable. Even with a dishwasher, the dishes can pile up fast, and I hate being busy at the sink rinsing when I should be hosting.

I Am Proud

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

As I approached the home of Irving and Miriam Borenstein in the Mill Basin section of Brooklyn, two things became clear: the pride they feel at being Jewish and their joy at living in America. On their front lawn are large American and Israeli flags with a plaque in front which reads:

Irving and Miriam

Never forget the six million murdered in the Holocaust and the three thousand murdered on 9/11.

May G-d remember them for the good with the other righteous of the world.

Inside their home the theme continues; their walls are covered with pictures, souvenirs and memorabilia related to Israel.

Where did this sense of pride come from? Join me as we learn a little bit about Miriam and Irving’s backgrounds and hear their incredible stories.

Irving: I was born in America in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. It was like the “Yerushalyim of New York.” I went to yeshiva there and then to Harron High school. My father owned a shomer Shabbos grocery store. When I was 16 he passed away; my mother continued to run the store and at some point I began to take responsibility for it, but ultimately it wasn’t for me. I studied and excelled in electrical engineering, which helped me when I was in the military.

Miriam: I was born in Czechoslovakia in the Carpathian mountain region. I have been living in the states for 67 years. Carpathia became a hostile region to live in once the Hungarians took over. First, they put all the Jews in a ghetto. I was in a ghetto called Izah for 6 weeks before they transported us to Auschwitz.

The Borensteins in Germany after the war.

Mr. Borenstein, when did you join the service?

I was drafted into the army when I was 18, like so many others. I could have easily gotten a 4-D (a deferment) since I was a rabbinical student in yeshiva at the time but I didn’t feel that was right.

Were you scared to join the army?

No. I was happy to go. I had no fear. My mother wasn’t too happy about it but I was a strong-minded kid and running the family grocery store was not for me.

What are your thoughts about those who avoided service due to religious observance?

I am a Zionist. I told people you cannot hide behind the Torah. In fact, the Torah demands that we go and help our fellow brethren.

What was your position in the military?

Luckily, I was not in man-to-man combat. I was involved in the anti-aircraft artillery outfit. Basically, I was a utility repair soldier.

Were you ever injured?

I was hurt badly when a car near me blew up; I was unconscious for a while. I was hospitalized for 5 months in London with a fractured skull and malfunctioning kidneys. Eventually I healed, and those of us who were feeling better were given office jobs, so the office clerks could go fight.

Did you experience any anti-Semitism in the military?

Not really. I am as strong as an ox and growing up in Brownsville you knew how to defend yourself. I recall one incident where a non-Jewish man and I were reaching for the same butter during mealtime and I got it first. He said, “Just like a (expletive) Jew!” I flipped over the table and that was the end of that.

In the DP camp in 1945. Irving and Miriam are on the far right.

Were you able to be observant in the army?

Not really. It was hard. I did manage to daven with tefillin every day. One day my captain was inspecting the barracks and I was standing in the corner engrossed in my davening. He asked a fellow soldier what I was doing and when they told him I was praying he said, “If anybody bothers him they are going to have to deal with me!”

What about keeping kosher and Shabbos?

Impossible. The only thing I could do was stay away from meats. As for Shabbos, that was out of the question. The first time I drove a car on Shabbos, I thought it was going to blow up. They did let me go home for the holidays when I was in basic training.

Were there other Jews stationed in your outfit?

It was a 25% Jewish outfit with mostly New Yorkers. This is maybe why anti-Semitism wasn’t so prevalent. I did have to tell one Southerner that Jews don’t have horns though!

Daf Yomi

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Crystal Clear As The Waters
Speak In The Manner Of One’s Teacher
(Shabbos 15a)

A mikveh must have, minimally, forty se’ah of water that has gathered in it by natural means. This precludes the use of mayim she’uvin – water that was drawn in a vessel to fill the mikveh. If a significant amount of mayim she’uvin fell into a mikveh before it contained the minimum forty se’ah of naturally-gathered water, all the water in the mikveh is disqualified. The question is: What constitutes a significant amount?

A Dispute Even In Expression

The Gemara cites a mishnah in Eduyos (1:3). Hillel says a hin of drawn water (three kabim) renders the mikveh unfit. Shammai maintains the measure is nine kabim. The Gemara notes Hillel’s unusual usage of the hin measure as opposed to the kab measure (which, the Ravad explains, is the term usually used in mishnayos) and explains that a person is required to speak in the manner of his teachers. Since Hillel was a student of Shemayah and Avtalyon who used the hin measure as opposed to the kab measure, he too used that measure.

Mispronouncing Hebrew

The Rambam (Pirush Hamishnayos, Eduyos, at the beginning, cited by Rabbenu Ovadiyah Mi’Bartenura) offers a unique explanation of the Gemara. He says that Shemayah and Avtalyon were converts who came from a nation where people were unable to properly pronounce the letter “heh.” They would pronounce it as an aleph. Thus, they would pronounce “hin” as “in.” In deference to his teachers, Hillel too would pronounce “hin” as “in.”

No Reason To Copy Mispronunciations

The Vilna Gaon (novella to Shabbos ad loc.) explains the mishnah in a similar fashion but rejects the notion that one is obligated to mimic one’s teacher’s mispronunciation of words. He explains that when the Gemara states that Hillel copied his teachers’ pronunciation, what it means is the following: Shemayah and Avtalyon used to preface the word “hin” with “maleh.” In other words, they used to say “maleh hin” even though saying “maleh” is redundant since, by definition, a hin is always maleh (just like a kab is always maleh which is why Shammai in the Gemara just says “kabim” and not “maleh kabim”).

Concern For A Halachic Misunderstanding

Why, indeed, did Shemayah and Avtalyon say “maleh hin”? Because they were concerned that people might misunderstand them. Since they couldn’t pronounce a “heh” properly, people might think they were saying “ein” – which means “no” – instead of “hin.” People would thus conclude that drawn water does not disqualify a mikveh. By adding the word “maleh,” Shemayah and Avtalyon made clear that they meant to say the word “hin,” not “ein.”

Even though, Hillel, whose pronunciation was fine, had no reason to add the word “maleh,” he did so nevertheless so as not to deviate from his teachers’ manner of speech.

This week’s Daf Yomi Highlights is based upon Al Hadaf, published by Cong. Al Hadaf, 17N Rigaud Rd., Spring Valley, NY 10977-2533. Al Hadaf, published semi-monthly, is available by subscription: U.S. – $40 per year; Canada – $54 per year; overseas – $65 per year. For dedication information contact Rabbi Zev Dickstein, editor, at 845-356-9114 or visit Alhadafyomi.org.

Rav Elyashiv, Torah and Science

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

One of the biggest issues that has arisen as a result of the Slifkin controversy is the question of whether Chazal, the sages of the Talmud knew the actuality of nature. There are those who say that they did. They say that every statement recorded in the Gemarah with respect to science is an accurate reflection of nature itself. The science redacted in the Talmud is as valid as the Halacha – both being Mesorah.

There are others who say that Chazal did not know the actuality of nature but knew it only via the best science of their era. Among them are Rishonim like R’ Avraham ben HaRambam.

For many of us who have studied both the Talmud and nature via science at even a minor level the second opinion seems a lot more plausible. There are too many scientifically based statements on nature in the Gemarah that are clearly not accurate.

One of the more famous ones is the idea that lice do not sexually reproduce. This fact impacts on Halacha. One of the 39 forbidden Melachos on Shabbos is Netilas Neshama – killing an animal. The Gemarah explains that it is only forbidden to kill an animal that reproduces sexually. One is however permitted to kill an animal that reproduces asexually . This is the opinion of the Rabbanim (as apposed to R’ Elazar) and this is the Halacha today.

Lice, says the Gemarah, do not reproduce sexually and therefore one is permitted to kill them.

Rav Yitzchok Lamproti (Pachad Yitzchok) was around during the time the microscope was invented. He said that now that we know that lice do sexually reproduce, it is therefore forbidden to kill them on Shabbos. All Achronim argue with him and say that since the Gemarah says it is permitted, it stays permitted in spite of our new knowledge.

What is left unsaid in all of that discussion is the apparent assumption Chazal were mistaken about the actual science. The only question is whether this new information is relevant.

Now it should be said that there are still ways to allow for Chazal to not be mistaken about this. One way is to say that the lice that the Gemarah refers to is not the lice we know of today and that in fact it is that lice which is permitted to kill. The lice that we know of that does sexually reproduce is forbidden to kill.

Another way to look at it is that only lice that one can see with the naked eye sexually reproducing is forbidden. If one needs a microscope to see it, then for Halachic purposes it is still considered asexual reproduction.

But it seems to me that the most logical explanation is to say that they did not know then what we know today simply because they did not have the means to know it. Microscopes had not been invented yet.

There was a relatively recent Halacha Sefer published called Orchos Shabbos that discusses this Halacha (14:30) and mentions the position of Rav Elyashiv (note 47). Rav Elyashiv says that one should be Machmir and not kill lice on Shabbos as a general rule. But he also says that according to the strict letter of the law, one may kill lice on Shabbos.

Why be Machmir? It’s possible that the lice of the Gemarah are not our lice and therefore killing our lice may actually be forbidden. But the fact that he says that according to the strict letter of the law one may indeed kill lice on Shabbos, that means that he believes the lice of the Gemarah are indeed our lice. And yet we now know that they sexually reproduce.

Why then did Chazal say that they don’t? I think there is really only one way to interpret it. Chazal simply didn’t know that because they had no way of knowing it in their day. Rav Elyashiv may feels as Rav Eliyahu Dessler did – that even though Chazal were wrong in their explanation, the Halacha was indeed transmitted masoretically and remains in effect.

We may kill lice but for reasons other than those stated in the Gemarah. The point for our purposes being that since Chazal did not have the means to know they made a mistake about the reality of nature in this case. One can conclude that even R’ Elyashiv concedes that microscopes have increased our knowledge of nature beyond that of Chazal. Is there any other way to interpret that? Even if we say that Halacha follows only what we can see with the naked eye, the fact is that what they saw with the naked eye did not reflect reality.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/rav-elyashiv-torah-and-science/2012/10/16/

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