Friday, February 24, 2006

Haftorah Mishpatim

[This will hopefully be the first in a series of posts on the weekly Haftorah - why? Because NaKh doesn't get enough love. It totally slipped my mind that this week was Parshat Shekalim and I wrote this post regarding the normal Haftorah.]

This week's parsha is Mishpatim a parsha that begins V'ale Mishpatim to which Rashi comments is a list of mitzvot that God gives to B'nai Yisrael at Har Sinai. The first four commandments in the parsha (according to Rambam and Sefer HaChinuch) deal with the laws of the Eved HaIvri the Hebrew Slave.

This weeks Haftorah comes from Yirmiyahu and out of the 53
mitzvot in the Parsha the Haftorah only deals with Eved HaIvri. Why? It may be that it just happens to be the first laws in Mishpatim and and effort to connect the Parsha and the Haftorah.

Or, the Haftorah is trying to tell us the importance of these laws. As a friend of mine told me "There's nothing more important than how your treat your brother". I think she's right. It occurs to me that the legalization of slavery for Torah is a big deal, it can only be allowed in certain circumstances and under certain conditions. [Not like the slavery practiced in the United States until 1865 (when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified) - though some Southern slave owners used the slavery from the Torah to justify their own slave owning].

Rav Hirsch writes:
He [God] decreed that the people were to rectify the slavery which they themselves had illegally imposed on their unhappy brothers and sisters.

There is nothing more important that how you treat your bother. The afflictions that are written about in Yirmiyahu are imposed because they were Ovarim et Briti ignored the covenant that they had just made with God.

There is nothing more important that how you treat your bother. That is the message of this weeks Haftorah. Good Shabbos.

TaNaKh and Our World

Chana at CuriousJew has a new post entitled Judaism, the Bible and our World: Part II which is rather interesting. Its a long post about the influence the TaNaKh has on our cultural lives, movies, books, etc. It'd be a decent seminar for a High School.

I particularly like the reference to
Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas and how it relates to 2 Samuel Chapter 11. That parallel is something that I brought up to my 7th grade class while teaching Shmuel Bet to them. It worked well for 7th grade girls - it works well for us older folks.

I am constantly amazed how much people know about stories in TaNaKh but don't actually know that they know them. In my teaching experience I've come across "Wow, that story (referring to David and Batsheva) comes from the Bible?" or other similar quotes dealing with David and Goliath (take your pick, there are lots of great stories there, NaKh especially).

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Morality of Science

Modern science has allowed us to be come idle useless people. Our modern technology comes from our vices not our virtues.

Rav Matisyahu Solomon on Science:
Astronomy was born of superstition, eloquence of ambition, hatred, falsehood, and flattery; geometry of avarice; physics of an idle curiosity; all, even moral philosophy, of human pride. Thus the arts and sciences owe their birth to our vices; we should be less doubtful of their advantages, if they had spurn from our virtues...What would become of the arts, were they not nourished by luxury? If men were not unjust, of what use were jurisprudence? What would become of history, if there were no tyrants, wars, or conspiracies?...

...The question is no longer whether a man is honest, but whether he is clever. We do not ask whether a book is useful, but whether it is well written. Rewards are lavished on wit and ingenuity, while virtue is left unhonoured. There are a thousand prizes for fine discourses, and none for good actions.
These quotes, however, did not come from Rav Solomon* they come from Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences. Rousseau is widely thought to be the quintessential Enlightenment thinker, the pinnacle of the Enlightenment, but he also is the antithesis to the Enlightenment. A strange position to be sure.

*- This was not a jab at Rav Solomon but rather because they would have been at home in a rant from any of the RW Gedolim on the evils of the "modern" world. Rav Solomon just happened to be chosen because I am listening to Matisyahu.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Seforim Sale

I went to the YU Seforim Sale last night. I'm a book nerd, I love them, I spend too much money on them; if it weren't for some friends that wanted to leave (it was their 2nd trip this year) I would have spent all night browsing.

This is what I picked up:
  • Netivot Shalom al ha-Torah
  • Gray Matter by R' Chaim Jachter (published by Yashar books - looks really good)
  • Minchat Chinuch
  • Rav Hirsch Chumash (I love Rav Hirsch and this is the cheapest place to get him)
  • Two Gemaras - Sukkah and Sanhedrin (of couse I already own a copy of each but I purchased the Oz V'Hadar printing which is beautiful)
  • The Katz Hagadah - The beautiful one that could have been published by Disney. I've been meaning to pick this up for a while.
  • Biglal Avos by Shlomo and Eitan Katz CD - this one is excellent, I highly recommend it (besides the fact that I went to Yeshiva with Shlomo, he's got a new one coming out soon).
I also picked up a lot of stuff for some friends
  • Nechama Leibowitz on Torah
  • Midrash Rabbah
  • Chanukat HaTorah by Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel (A.J. Heschel's namesake)
  • A bunch of english Halacha books
I'm curious what the cashier thought when I came to check out with all these goodies. It was nothing compared to last year when a group of us spent over $3000 there.

PS: I saw a different printing of the Iggoros Moshe than I'm used to. I couldn't tell if it was the new printing that I've heard about so I didn't get it. Not that I had room in the car.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Difference Between Amona and Gush Katif

The recent events in Amona leave me very conflicted. Well, I'm very conflicted when it comes to Israeli politics in general, but Amona and the Disengagement particularly. I expect many people feel this way. I supported the Hitnatkut rather grudgingly and felt that all the disengagement would be along a similar vein. The disengagement was tough it wasn't a peaceful protest, but it wasn't a violent one either.

Amona was different, maybe its because Sharon is in the hospital and Olmert is trying to make a name for himself; maybe because the Yesha leaders were screaming for blood. The pictures and accounts of the Police brutality are clear violations of their mandate. Each side has literal blood on their hands. What I'm trying to understand is why Amona was different.
HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein writes about the difference:
The difference would seem to arise from the fact that this time both parties believed that what was in jeopardy now was much more significant than what had been at stake in the summer. Even those members of the government who believed that the evacuation of Gush Katif was necessary and called-for, understood that the inhabitants of those settlements went there with the purest of motives and intentions, with governmental guidance and support, and were now paying a heavy price because the circumstances had changed - and the attitude towards them accordingly. The inhabitants of Amona, in contrast, are viewed by the government as violators of the law, engaged in patently illegal behavior, and the concern that this would not be a one-time event but rather a phenomenon spreading over a whole chain of hills triggered its action. On the other hand, the public that opposed with force the demolition of the houses in Amona did not act in the same way in the summer because Gush Katif was considered relatively peripheral, both geographically and existentially, while now we are confronting the evacuation of outposts located in the heart of the Shomron.

Hence, at Amona both sides displayed determination, but abandoned sensitivity in order to gain the upper hand. While the question of which side was in fact victorious is an important one, it seems clear which side lost: the State of Israel and its population as a whole. Thus, the question that arises in light of what we saw is "God in heaven, what are they waiting for? For deaths?" Those who dispatch youths and fire them up to the point where they endanger the lives of soldiers and police by throwing cinderblocks at them what are they waiting for? And those who send mounted police to suppress those same youth what are they waiting for? This problem is a national one; even somone who is altogether cut off from one of the camps emotionally, politically, ideologically must regard the actions of both sides with concern...

...Along with the insight and restraint that are required, we need to understand not only our own needs and our own wounds, but also those of the other side. Along with our questioning of the measure of force and power mobilized against youngsters - and these are undoubtedly serious questions. We must ask ourselves what thoughts and feelings motivated the people who dispatched those youths, those who stoked the flames of violence against the police and the state. These, too, are serious questions. The same passion can be destructive, God forbid, or it may be constructive and valuable.
(The full shiur can be found here) I'm not sure if Rav Lichtenstein gives a real answer, but the point is that we can return to what made the disengagement of Gush Katif peaceful, understanding.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Halachic Experience

Gadol HaDor wrote an amazing post that is a must read. It's on the experience of Judaism.

A few selected quotes:
The basis of Orthodox Judaism is EXPERIENCE.

What do I mean? I mean the experience of keeping Halachah. The experience of keeping Shabbat. The experience of keeping Kashrut. The experience of learning Torah. The experience of God. We all do these things. We all feel it. We know it to be true on the basis of our experience. We see it works. We see the results. We see how a dedication to these ideals produces upstanding communities, families and individuals.
We know Torah is true because we experience it. And we know our fathers experienced it and we know their fathers experienced it too, all the way back to an event we call Sinai.

And of course, experience is the foundation for Western Philosophy too. ‘I think therefore I am’. And how do we know we think? Because we experience it!
It's almost to obvious to really commment on, go read the post. It is rather long, but it's a quick read.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Netivot Shalom in English

I just came across this website that is a translation of the first few sections of the Netivot Shalom (The Slonimer Rebbe). It is not the al ha-Torah seforim, which I happen to love, but a resource that more should know about.
Rambam, our teacher, opens his great work with Laws of Torah'’s Foundations. These include faith in Hashem, love of Hashem, awe of Hashem, sanctifying His name, and heeding the prophet'’s voice. Rambam calls these commandments "“foundations of Torah"” for they are the very basis for Torah as a whole. The commentary states: "He terms these laws '“foundations of Torah' because these commandments constitute the main part of Torah and its foundations".” They may be likened to the foundations of a building. The height and weight of the building are determined by the foundations that one has laid. If one'’s foundations are poor, the entire structure is in danger of collapse. This is the significance of these commandments of the holy Torah and a Jew'’s service of the Holy One: they are not like other commandments for they are the very base and foundation of the whole structure.
I'm going to ignore my comment on the "faith" that he talks about (Rambam speak of one's knowledge of God - opposed to faith). Nonetheless the Netivot Shalom is an important work, go read it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Morality and Trolleys

In a recent discussion with a philosophy Professor who is teaching a course on "God and Morality" posed the following scenario to me.
A trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are 5 people who have been tied to the track by a mad philosopher. Fortunately, you can flip a switch which will lead the trolley down a different track. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch?
This is not a recent problem though it is still currently studied, though it occurs to me that the answer is obvious. However, this Professor explains that there is a good amount of discussion on what the moral view is. Most people say that it is permissible to flip the switch and therefore the better option (opposed to letting it happen).

The Professor relates a related scenario
A trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by dropping a heavy weight in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man next to you - your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. Should you proceed?
The more P.C. scenario involves a man with a backpack. According to the Professor most people make a moral distinction between actively causing the death of the fat man and flipping the switch in the first scenario. Some even say that it is required that one flip the switch and only permissible to use the fat man to save those five people.

A former classmate of this Professor is studying the brain waves of people when these scenarios are posed to them. Apparently the brain wave scan (A CAT scan?)shows that the emotions are aroused and therefore, this doctor concludes morality is lead by emotions.

This situation is qualitatively different than the idea found in
Bava Metzia 62a and Sanhedrin 74a where there is a discussion of מאי חזית which prevents one from murdering himself to save the life of one's friend. Rashi does bring up an idea that may shed some light on our situation; in Sanhedrin 74a he states that one does not know the importance of another's life and is therefore unable to 'play God' and decide.
מי יודע שיהא דמך חביב ונאה ליוצרך יותר מדם חבירך
Halachically, in our case, it is a clear Shev v'al Tashev that one cannot cause the death of another to prevent the death of another. In both of these scenarios one must turn away and let God's plan take course.