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September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘the Talmud’

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.

Remembering Shabbos

Friday, August 17th, 2012

How the Sages of the Talmud used to honor Shabbos! Each day of the week was only an introduction to the coming Shabbos and everything was done with an eye towards Shabbos.

The great sage Shammai would buy a particular choice animal during the week and his family would say, “Come, let us slaughter the animal so that we may have the good meat for our meal today.”

But Shammai would answer, “No, I will not slaughter this today. I will rather wait till Friday and slaughter it for Shabbos. In this way we can honor the Shabbos day properly.”

The next day, if he found an even choicer animal, he would again reject the request of his family to slaughter the animal.

“No,” he would say, “This is even a choicer animal than the first. Therefore, let us save this one for Shabbos and now slaughter the first one.”

In this way Shammai shopped and ate in honor of Shabbos.

Hillel Different

The other great sage, Hillel, was different. When he saw that the members of his household were doing as Shammai did, he said:

“It appears to me that it is not correct to save all the good food for Shabbos and make the rest of the week’s food drab and tasteless. Let us rather eat the choice food when we get it and have trust in the Almighty that He will give us out food daily in mercy.

“Let us eat now and trust that G-d will send us choice good for Shabbos, too.”

The great Hillel did not content himself with only being good personally but he also desired to teach and guide others along the proper path. He would do so, however, not with anger and admonition, but through kindness and soft words.

Thus, one day, as he was walking alone the road he met several people who were carrying wheat with them to sell in the marketplace in Jerusalem.

“Peace, my brothers,” said Hillel. “Tell me, what is the price of a measure?”

“Two dinarim,” he was told.

A Higher Price

Walking further Hillel came across another group of farmers bringing their wheat to market. Once again, he hailed them and asked how much a measure of wheat was.

“Three dinarim,” they replied.

Hillel was greatly disturbed. He saw that these men wanted to raise the price of wheat and that the poor people would be the ones most hurt.

“That is odd,” he said. “I met some farmers before who told me that the price of a measure was only two dinarim. Why are yours higher?”

The Men Grow Angry

When the men heard Hillel’s words they reacted angrily and said: “You foolish Babylonian, don’t you realize the those people live near the city and it takes only a few hours to reach Yerushalayim? We, however, live far from the city and we have carried the wheat on our shoulders all night. We are entitled to ask more money because of the burden.”

Hillel listened calmly to the angry and insulting words and replied: “Why do you grow so angry, my brothers? I did not insult you. I simply wanted to know the price of wheat.”

Hillel’s simple words calmed the men and made them realize that their own guilty conscience had made them lash out at him in an attempt to rationalize.

They realized that they were really at fault for raising the price and they were ashamed. Hillel noticed this and he began walking with them. He taught them how important it is to do good and justice and to have pity on the poor.

They Repent

The men heard the words and took them to heart.

“Blessed are you, Hillel,” they said, “for you have returned us to the path of goodness. From now on we will never close our hearts to the plight of our fellowman. We will not raise the price of wheat, but we will have trust in the Almighty from Whom comes all bread and sustenance.”

Greater Than All Else

The Honor of Torah takes precedence over all else and even the simple person who comes with Torah in his hands is one to whom we defer.

Non-Orthodox Reaction To The Siyum HaShas

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

The massive turnouts around the world celebrating the completion of the twelfth cycle of the Daf Yomi should finally put to rest any remaining claims by leaders of non-Orthodox movements that they represent the wave of the Jewish future.

Can any among them assert with a straight face that they could attract anything remotely approaching the more than ninety-thousand Jews who flocked to MetLife Stadium or even the tens of thousands of others who gathered at other venues across the U.S. and around the world?

Can they identify anything their movements urge on their members that rivals the proven lure of the timeless exposition of the Oral Law by the sages and scholars of the past two millennia?

In fact, the critique of the Siyum HaShas offered up by some of those leaders highlight just how far they’ve strayed from the Judaism of the Ages. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Uriel Heilman, this is what the senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism told him concerning the Reform movement’s view of the Talmud and the Siyum HaShas:

Text study is very important to us, but we focus on the Ur-text, on Torah in particular. That’s an interesting contrast between Reform and Orthodox. Talmud, Oral Law, is not our core text….We’re aggressively pushing Torah and Tanakh study; we’re not aggressive at a North American level of pushing Talmud study. Talmud study remains important, but it’s not as central, certainly doesn’t rise anywhere to the level of a daily study encouragement for us.

[It’s part of] how Reform Judaism looks at rabbinic law…. We see ourselves as successors reclaiming the core Torah text.

The rabbis of today and of yesteryear are of equal authority. The amoraim [rabbinic sages quoted in the Talmud] do not get special consideration. Contemporary commentary is equally as interesting and holy, if you will….

We’re creating new sacred texts. Only time determines what Jews will value for the long term…We’re not assigning Divine weight [to Talmudic rulings]. They don’t carry more weight than contemporary Jewish philosophy…. Oral Law we do not find to be binding.

It is clear that in the Reform mindset there is nothing special about any of the Tanaim and Amoraim of the Talmud who expounded on the Torah, or later commentators like Rashi, Tosafos, and the Rambam. Indeed, as the Reform spokesman made clear, their “contemporary” sages are the equal of the aforementioned giants and quite capable, thank you, of creating “sacred texts.”

The chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, which trains clergy, educators and professional and lay leaders for the Conservative movement, made a similar point in an article on the Siyum HaShas in the Wall Street Journal. While he freely acknowledged that studying the Talmud has been key to the growth of Orthodoxy, he went on to ask,

But what about the rest of the Jewish population? How can they be offered a sense of community and meaning? What learning could galvanize non-Orthodox minds, stir our hearts, nourish our souls?…I propose a different page for Jewish learning, one that is open to the larger world and bears the impact of modern thinking. It would cleave faithfully to texts, rituals, history and faith while being informed by art, music, drama, poetry, politics and law.

Imagine if every Jew who wished to do so could awake to a platform of daily Jewish text not limited to the Talmud – and to Jewish media not limited to text. Daily reading of Torah or psalms would be juxtaposed with their echoes in the headlines of the day; a passage from Job would be accompanied by clips from the Coen brothers’ film “A Serious Man”; the poetry of Isaiah could be explored side by side with that of the late Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.

So he doesn’t get it either. Contemporary philosophers – even highly regarded filmmakers – don’t bring the same things to the Jewish table as a Rabbi Tarphon or a Rabbi Akiva, a Rashi or a Chofetz Chaim, a Rav Moshe Feinstein or a Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv. The Daf Hayomi siyumim made it clear that the traditional study of classic Jewish texts is fundamental to the survival of the Jewish people and that those seeking to deny the authoritativeness of those texts are in denial about what is plainly before their eyes. And that may well be the enduring contribution of the Siyum HaShas.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz and his Steinsaltz Talmud

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

(((CLICK BELOW TO HEAR AUDIO)))

Yishai is joined by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz to talk about his newly published Koren Steinsaltz Talmud, which is the most widely-accessible to date by being made available on a wide variety of mediums. Steinsaltz talks about his background and inspiration behind this work, which has been several years in the making. Do not miss this interview with an iconic scholar!

Yishai Fleisher on Twitter: @YishaiFleisher
Yishai on Facebook

90,000-plus Crowd in NJ Cheers Siyum HaShas

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Some 90,000 people packed MetLife Stadium to celebrate the completion of the page-a-day Talmud cycle in the largest-ever Siyum HaShas.

The gathering Wednesday evening, which was simulcast to some 60 U.S. cities and more than 20 countries, marked the completion of the 7 1/2-year cycle it takes to complete the Talmud (known collectively as Shas) at the rate of a folio — two sides of a page — per day. The program, known as Daf Yomi, was begun by the late Rabbi Meir Shapiro in 1923, and the first siyum, or completion, was celebrated in Lublin, Poland, in 1930. This year’s siyum — the cycle technically ends Thursday — celebrated the completion of the 12th cycle since that time.

“Fortunate is the person who sees, who experiences, this great gathering,” said Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz, the emcee of the event. “Try to visualize the singing and dancing that’s going on right now in shamayim [heaven] watching tens of thousands celebrating the masechtos [tractates] they worked on so diligently!”

The stadium event consisted mostly of speeches in English and Yiddish and short video tributes, including to the late Jerome Schottenstein, to whom the event was dedicated and whose family sponsored the ArtScroll English translation of the Talmud. No women appeared onstage or on the videos, but several thousand women were seated in an upper tier of the stadium outfitted with curtains that were pulled closed during the prayer services that opened the event.

Rabbi Malkiel Kotler of the Beth Medrash Govoha, a yeshiva in Lakewood, N.J., taught the final section of the Talmud to the crowd. Once the ceremony was complete, the crowd erupted in thunderous singing and dancing.

The new Daf Yomi Talmud cycle begins Friday with page 2 (all Talmudic tractates begin on page 2) of Tractate Brachot.

Siyum HaShas: Klal Yisrael Celebrates The Torah

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Click here to view Dirshu’s special supplement of the Siyum HaShas.

 

The Jewish Press joins in saluting the thousands of lomdei Torah around the world who together, in countless specially designated study groups, have completed the entire Shas over the past seven and a half years in the Daf HaYomi cycle.

A number of celebrations in several countries have been scheduled this week to mark this monumental achievement, the thirteenth time it has been accomplished since the onset of the community-wide daily daf study concept in 1923.

Aptly sponsored by the global Dirshu organization, the initial event began on Monday in Tel Aviv’s Yad Eliyahu stadium and drew more than 11,000 participants and continued through Tuesday at two other venues. Dirshu has emerged as a major force in Torah study around the world and energized post-yeshiva and post-kollel learning. Unique among Daf Yomi initiatives, Dirshu awards cash stipends to Daf Yomi participants who pass examinations it administers following the completion of each tractate of the Talmud. This feature, promoting serious scholarship and constant review, has led to significant progress for thousands in retaining their Torah knowledge and promoting development of their learning skills.

Along with Rabbi Dovid Hofstadter, founder of Dirshu, some of the most senior gedolim of the haredi world were in attendance. Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman made the actual siyum, reciting aloud the concluding section of the Talmud. Rav Chaim Kanievsky intoned the Kaddish recited at the completion of Torah study and Rav Shmuel Wosner officially marked the start of the new cycle of Daf Yomi study.

Let us pray that the Dirshu event and the others will encourage ever greater numbers of Jews to participate in the new Daf HaYomi cycle and identify with the centrality of Torah learning to the Jewish people.

90,000 to Gather in N.J. Metlife Stadium for the Completion of the Talmud

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Ninety-thousand Jews will gather in Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., to celebrate Siyum HaShas, the completion of a Talmud study program that occurs once every seven-and-a-half years.

The attendants will be finishing a study program called Daf Yomi, “page of the day,” a daily regimen of learning the 2,711 pages of the Babylonian Talmud in sequence. Under this regimen, the entire Talmud is completed, one day at a time, in a cycle of seven and a half years.

Tens of thousands of Jews worldwide study in the Daf Yomi program, and more than 300,000 participate in the Siyum HaShas. The Daf Yomi program has been credited with making Talmud study accessible to Jews who are not Torah scholars, contributing to Jewish continuity after the Holocaust, and turning Talmud study into a unifying force among Jews, as everyone participating learns the same page on the same day.

According to Business Wire, attendees at the stadium will have come from as far away as Australia. The ceremony will be simulcast to 80 other cities, spanning 15 countries.

JTA contributed to this report.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/90000-to-gather-in-n-j-metlife-stadium-for-the-completion-of-the-talmud/2012/08/01/

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