Monday, February 28, 2005

Da'as Torah and the first person pronoun

I have been reading some articles on Da'at Torah(cant type Da'as more than once a day). Obviously there are many interpretations of what exactly it means, when it applies, etc. However, I was looking the position that da'at Torah implies that the Gadol in question is endowed with something akin to ruach HaKodesh and is therefore better equiped to answer the questions of the day. I was struck that this ability is usually ascribed to others, and that few claim it for themselves. If I am wrong in this conclusion, please let me know(and provide sources if you can.) But if I am right, this means one of a few things: Those that have this ability are too humble to claim it for themselves, The ability is being claimed erroneously for them, or, it is a bit of the emperor's clothes phenomenon. No one really has it, no one wants to be the first to admit not having it, but no one wants to lie and say they have it.

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Monday, February 21, 2005

Time for more sects?

We have had "sects" in Judaism: Karaites, Sadduccees, Essenes, Dead Sea Sectarians and more. Even now we have divisions into Orthodox Conservative, Reform, etc. Orthodoxy in particular has tried to define itself in relation to the left, thus lack of adherence to the strict tenets of Halacha as defined generally by the Shulchan Aruch, and/or lack of believe in the commanding power of mitzvot/Torah seperates the Conservative from the Orthodox. Can there be a line to the right of the orthodox? Where those to the right are not considered by the orthodox to be the true carriers of the Mesorah? How would we view the Essenes if they were still among us? Would we accept everything they advocated? would we adopt their views, practices and philosophy?

Imagine a sect that denies the validity of opinions of a respected group of our sages. Imagine this sect also has claimed that each and every word of a particular book, not the Bible, is the sacrsanct word of G-d, unchanging and unchangable. What if this sect had codified its views vis a vis women and society in the 16th century, and this view continued to this day. Let us grant that this group insists that its way is the true and right way, and that those who deviate are heretics. Also, they study Shas and Poskim with an intensity that is admired, and held in awe. However, they seem to violate values of Judaism, insisting that risk to human life is not as important as obeying each and every dictum of a group of sages who lived 150 years ago.

Who carries the true mesorah? What is the true and authentic Judaism? Is there an area to the right of orthodoxy, where the beliefs and practices are not true to the Judaism that we(or I) believe in? A line similar the one that divides Orthodoxy from Conservative, a line that means that those on the other side are not considered sages and saints, but misguided individuals who have distorted our sacred Torah and Mesorah into something that it isn't and shouldn't be?

Comments-[ comments.]

Monday, February 14, 2005

What do you know? Not the quiz show

When I go to professional meetings or teach courses, people usually listen to what I say because I actually do know what I am talking about. And, I am confident in what I know. Not arrogant or overweening, and certainly respectful, but I have spent a lot of time and effort to be good at what I do. I would love to have the same confidence when talking about Torah stuff, but I don't. Unfortunately, I have not spent the equivalent amount of time and effort in Torah study, and therefore not only are there gaps in my knowledge, but unless I have researched something exhaustively, I am not as confident as I want to be in my pronouncements. I always have a worry that somewhere there is a rashi, or a tosfos, or some rishon known to all but me that blows my position out of the water. The answer, of course, is to study more, and I that I have been doing, but it is slow going, and my brain doesn't seem to accept more stuff the way it used to. Also, when one is on the MO side of things, as opposed to chareidi, or even the right wing of the MO, usually the first question in response is to question how much I know, not the rightness of my arguments. And I realize that this is what I do when confronted with some responsa from the conservative or reform, my reflex is.."Well, what do they know?" sometimes it is not so much, sometimes it is a whole lot more than I do. Obviously arguments need to be made on the merits of the arguments, not on the merits of the arguer. Sometimes it is hard to make that distinction.

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Saturday, February 12, 2005

Do you really fear God?

R. Yehuda Henkin, in his comments on parshat Yitro(yes, I am behind in my reading), looks at the concept of fear of God. He asks why there had to be loud noises, lightning, and a whole production associated with the giving of the Torah? In answer, it says there that because of the noise etc, the nation feared haShem. He also looks at the midrash where haShem holds the mountain over the nation and threatens them. Wasn't it enough that they already had said "na'aseh v'nishma?" they has already accepted the Torah, why did He have to threaten them with burying them? The answer, according to R. Henkin, is that fear of God is a neccesary element of our religion. While loving God is a higher form of closeness, it can not be counted on as a consistant impetus for behavior. In Devarim we are also told, in response to the question, what does haShem want from you? - to fear haShem, and to love Him. It seems that fear is neccessary and love is optimal.(another interpretation is that you start with fear and wind up with love, following the order given in the text)

R. Henkin closes his essay by noting that those who say they love God, but do not fear Him, sometimes actually do not believe in Him.(by the way, as usual, his writing is much more eloquent than my paraphrasing)

It occured to me that I dont walk around all the time fearing God. I fulfill my commandments sometimes out of a sense of duty, sometimes out of what I think is genuine love of haShem, and happiness to serve Him, lots of time(unfortunately) out of rote. But rarely(except for around the three weeks or elul) do i think a lot of fearing God. I guess it is that when I daven, , thanking Him for what I have, asking Him for things, the feeling I have is not knee-trembling fear. Even on Yom Kippur I mostly feel insignificant, or fearful for the future of loved ones or(on a lesser scale) for my future. As I write this, I realize that because I have a deep belief that haShem is all-Merciful, and truly cares about His creatures, it is hard for me to truly fear Him, and my greatest fear is that I have let Him down. I think that is the fear I should carry with me at all times.

Comments-[ comments.]

Friday, February 11, 2005

I cant understand why everyone cant see that I am right

I have been having protracted discussions/arguements with a number of people via email and comment sections on a variety of topics. Some of the arguements are mind-numbing. There is an endless back and forth and they still dont understand why they are so very wrong. I have been blessed(or cursed, depending ) in that I usually understand the opposing point of view and where they are coming from, even though I vehemently disagree. Unfortunately, that ability doesn't seem to be universal. I read Toby Katz on Cross currents discussing da'at Torah, and started a comment to show how and why she is mistaken, but I just didnt have the energy. And, it wouldn't have made a difference. So I am cutting back on the arguements. Not giving in, just walking away, taking R. Jeffrey Woolf's advice(excellent blog, btw, My Obiter Dicta). But just so that I have the last word, at least on my blog, let me say:

1. The risk of transmitting Herpes to babies outweighs any halachic arguement in favor of metziza bepeh

2. science is an avenue to truth, and there is truth in science

3. Da'at Torah in the way it is usually understood is a modern concept, not one that goes way way back.

I wish thatI was a drinker and a member of a kiddush club, because then I would feel that I was supporting the OU when I dont go to kiddush club this Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom to everyone

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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

classical music- get it in before sefirah

I went back to listening to music in my car. For a while there I was using the time for thinking about stuff, but that got old. I borrowed a bunch of cd's from the library(I actually own them and have them at home somewhere, but this was far more convenient.) I have been listening to the classics: Mendelsohn's violin concerto, the sweetest most beautiful piece of music I have ever heard, Mozart's piano concerto #21, especially the middle slow movement, just flows beautifully, in and out of major and minor, Rachmaninoff's piano concerto #2, in my humble opinion the most masterful piece of music ever, each movement packed with memorable melody along with piano pyrotechnics. I am always amazed not only at the ability of composers, but the awesome talent and dexterity needed to play them, and make them sound so good. If you haven't heard these, check them out, and there is so much more awesome music out there. If you know them well, but haven't heard them in a while, go back and reacquaint yourself with some old friends. You will be glad you did. Coming up: Grieg piano concerto, Tchaikovsky violin concerto, and some Prokofiev(not sure which number piano concerto is the really good one, have to check). By the way, to my way of thinking, classical music ended around the 1930-40's. most everything afterwards does not make harmonic or melodic sense to me. I know that some of it isn't supposed to, but that doesn't make me appreciate it more.

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Articles in medical journals regarding herpes and circumcision

I have posted these in comments elsewhere, but here are the articles I could find with a quick search that address the risk of Herpes transmission with meetziza b'peh.

article online: pediatrics

abstracts available on line: here

and here

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Monday, February 07, 2005

Science in the Gemara and Brit Mila

My wife saw it on the CNN ticker, and lots of people have been talking about the mohel in New York who was ordered to stop doing metziza bepeh(sucking blood with the mouth after completion of a circumcision) but did not. There is a question if he transmitted herpes to babies. R. Gil as usual has good sources at Hirhurim. Besides discussing the purely Halachic issues, this is a great example of what I think is wrong with segments of the Jewish spectrum.

To begin, the Gemara is pretty clear(Shabbat 133) that metziza is of medical benefit. Therefore, since it is clear nowadays that metziza has no known medical value(and some risk), it should be easy to say that nowadays we dont have to do it, and in fact, it is assur, because of the additional risk. I looked at Otzar Habris, a book by R. Yosef Dovid Reisberg(with haskama's from R. Feinstein and R.Elyashiv, among others, I refrain from making additional comments on haskama), where he states that metziza should be done by mouth, but it is ok to use a pipette if there is risk. He also has a chapter on metziza in the index, where it is clear that when the risk of metziza was raised(1800's) many poskim said it should not be done, or done with modifications. Only after the reform agreed that it should not be done, did poskim go back and say it should be done. In fact, the Maharam Shick, in his teshuva, says metziza should be done, that there is no risk, and the doctors who say there is risk are lying. It is quite clear that the motive behind his pesak is against the reform. Those who refuse to take the historical and sociological surroundings into account when looking at a pesak obviously miss this fact. Those who cite the Zohar as added evidence for metziza should keep in mind that at most it is a da'at yachid against the rest of the gemara.

So, if you are a thinking Jew, who accepts the validity of science, who is not wedded to the notion that every single bit of science in the Gemara is halacha l'Moshe m'sinai, and is willing to look at the context of pesak, there is no way in the world that you would advocate metziza b'peh in this day and age, knowing what you do.

It is interesting to note that a number of gedolim of the mid 1800's said that metziza bepeh is not neccesary given the risk. This would mean that THEY accepted the science that was being told to them.

Another interesting issue is that of neonatal jaundice. (the halachic specifics were related to me by a friend who is a mohel and a pediatrician, I have not seen the teshuvot myself). The liver produces factors that help the blood clot, and if the liver is not working well, not only will the blood not clot, but chemicals(bilirubin) circulate in the blood that make you look yellow, or jaundiced. This connection between looking yellow and poor clotting was noticed, and blood tests were found to measure the blood level of bilirubin. Early on, poskim accepted certain levels of bilirubin as signs of poor clotting, and brises were postponed until the levels went down. More recently, better testing and specific clotting tests are available, and so those original levels actually are too stringent, and it is safe to do a bris when the bilirubin levels are elevated somewhat. However, some poskim still hold by those originally set levels, because they dont want to go against the poskim of the previous generation. So, you have a situation where earlier poskim listened to science, and now that the science is better, the present poskim wont listen to the new information. You also wind up with people who insist on exposing the baby to the risk of metziza bepeh, but also insist on unnecessarily postponing a bris because of a bilirubin level that we now know is ok, but 75 years ago was felt to be dangerous.

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Friday, February 04, 2005

Daas Torah???? how about Daas Rofeh?

Marvin Shick over at Cross Currents and others have been discussion Da'as Torah a bit. I hold by what I blogged here. R. Gil recently discussed if one needs to respect crazy parents. I started to wonder if there is a point where those that believe in the strict definition of da'as Torah have a point where they dont have to listen? what happens if the gadol is demented? how would you know? What if, chas v'shalom, at the meeting of the council of Torah Sages all the rabbonim eat a cow that has bovine spongiform encephalopathy and all of them develop dementia(the initials for Jakob-Creutzfeld disease, ironically is JC)? Are there criteria for demoting a gadol? How do you know if/when they are making mistakes?
R. Dessler and others, in response to the question about why the Gedolim of the past generation did not tell their flock to get out of Europe before the holocaust, have said that sometimes Hashem clouds the vision of the gedolim, so that their "mistakes" are actually the will of God. The other time I have seen that concept is in a discussion of the problem of involuntary manslaughter in our time. The question is if the perpetrator has to go into exile. For most of you, this is a theoretical point, as not many are liable to kill someone by accident. However, some of us see death on a regular basis. If a patient dies because of a doctor's mistake, does the doctor have to put himself in exile? Obviously, doctors of a skill level of the psychotodler would never have this problem, but others are not so lucky(no, I dont think any of my patients have died because of a mistake on my part, in case you are wondering). The Tashbetz's view on this is "shegigat ha rofeh, ratzon haBoreh." the mistake of the doctor is actually the will of Hashem. I certainly hope I am fulfilling the will of Hashem even when I am not making mistakes (I wonder if there is a kal vachomer in there somewhere).

My ratzon is for everyone one to have a Shabbat Shalom, a Gut Shabbas, and may the superbowl outcome be a quantum mechanics marvel, where victory for both sides exists simultaneously, only to be brought to reality by observation(if you really feel the need to look it up, see here).

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Thursday, February 03, 2005

Good Bye Mr. Bond

I think that I am done blogging about Rabbi Mordecai Plaut, editor of Yated in English. I spent a lot of time, effort, thought, and blog space on his articles, which, by the way, he suggested we read. I found that they were well written, superficially coherent, but on close analysis, full of unfounded assumptions and poor logic. Despite many invitations he has not pointed out any specific disagreements he has with any of my critiques. He also has never specifically explained his view on the age of the universe.

I have had a bit of an email exchange with R. Plaut, and he strikes me as a nice person, although I would have prefered to demonize him for publishing what he did regarding R. Slifkin.

Since he is a fellow Jew, and seems to be a decent fellow, I wish him bracha. I wish him some hatzlacha, but not total hatzlacha, because hatzlacha for him would mean eliminating Yiddishkeit the way I believe and practice it. Usually we have a live and let live attitude towards others in our religion. Although we believe "kol Yisrael areivim ze la'ze", in reality, if someone doesn't want to change, we dont force them, or try to. We leave our reform, reconstructionist, and conservative brethren alone, not trying hard to change them, unless they show(on a personal level) an interest in changing. Since I hold similar views as R. Slifkin, in R. Plaut's eyes(if he believes in what he publishes), I am a kofer. In fact, it seems to me that denying the Mesorah that allows one to believe these things would make the banners kofrim, but that is another debate. The bottom line is that although R. Plaut and I both identify as orthodox Jews, learn the same Talmud, put on the same tefillin(mine is only Rashi, I dont know his minhag), daven reasonably the same thing three times a day, keep reasonably the same laws of Kashrut(I dont hold Cholov Yisrael, unless it is more tasty than the alternative), we are incompatible in our religious outlook. And, with so few orthodox Jews in the world, it is a very sad realization.

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