Monday, May 23, 2005

Tanach Linkify

I have created a Firefox extension called Tanach Linkify 1.5. (It is compiled from a Greasemonkey script)
Features:
  • It looks for references to psukim (Biblical verses) on web pages and replaces them with links to that pasuk (verse) at mechon mamre, a site that has Tanach (Bible) in Hebrew and English, side by side.
  • It replaces references to pages of gemara with the relevant page at e-daf, which gives an image of the page.

Note: This will only work in the Firefox Browser. It will not work in Internet Explorer.

Installation Instructions: (see upgrade instructions at the bottom)
  1. Click on the following link to Tanach Linkify 1.5. Then click on Install Now.

  2. Close and restart Firefox.
  3. Reload this page and see if the following plaintext has turned to mechon mamre/e-daf links.

    The first interesting pasuk is Bereishit 4:10.
    Do not forget Job 6:5 or Song of Songs 1:10.
    In terms of Talmud, how about Ketubot 13a, Horayos 2b, or Bava Kama daf 5b?

  4. Follow a link or two to ensure that it has worked.

This was compiled via a Greasemonkey compiler. The greasemonkey code is here: Tanach Linkify 1.3.

If you have any problems with this, drop me a comment here on this post, or else send me an email. For example, text variants of seforim that I have missed, of cases where the code fails.

History:

version 1.4
* made compatible with Firefox 1.5
version 1.3
* Sped up execution time by splitting up regular expressions
* Added support for still more alternate spellings, such as Ksubot 3a and Breishis 4:5
* Fixed off by one amud error for Ketubot.

version 1.2 (archive)
*
Added feature: Names of pages of gemara now become links to the page at e-daf.
*Compiled the code into a Firefox extension so as to ease installation.

version 1.1 (archive
)
* Fixed bug that name attribute of the script was blank. Changed it to Tanach Linkify 1.1
* Expanded recognizable sefer name variants by using regular expressions throughout.
* Began work on recognizing references to Talmud, but did not yet enable this feature.Blockquote

version 1.0 (archive)
* Link to Tanach at Mechon Mamre, with basic spellings of seforim and some variant spellings.
To work on:
* Expand this to provide links to snunit's Bavli and Yerushalmi

Upgrade Instructions:
Make sure to first uninstall your previous version. For the Greasemonkey script, this means choosing Tools/Manage User Scripts, Selecting Tanach Linkify (or perhaps an empty line in the list, and Clicking Uninstall. For the Firefox extension, choose Tools/Extensions, Select the Tanach Linkify extension, and Click Uninstall. Then, follow the directions in the Installation Instructions above.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The RSS feed for parshablog has changed

It is now http://parsha.blogspot.com/atom.xml

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Va'era: Ganymedes Copies Military Tactic From Hashem

(Yes, I know it is actually parshat Behar. )

I've been reading through The Memoirs of Cleopatra: A Novel, by Margaret George, which is historical fiction, and I just came to the bit (page 114 - I borrow liberally from her language) where Arsinoe's general Ganymedes tries to drive Cleopatra, Caesar, and his men out of the palace by thirst. Alexandria's water supply comes from underground tunnels that channel Nile water through the city, and Ganymedes had divided the water supply, protecting his own, and constructing giant waterwheels to draw seawater up to higher ground so as to pump it into the palace's water supply.

Caesar responds by having his men dig for a few hours in the beaches so as to tap into the veins of fresh water there, thus thwarting Ganymedes tactic.

Or, if you wish to see it inside:



This was done long before Caesar. As I discussed in an earlier post on parshat Va'era, in Shemot 7, we have the plague of blood, in which God turned the waters of Egypt to blood, and the fish died and fouled the water. This seems to have been done to all the water of Egypt, including pools, ponds and streams. Hashem thus cuts off their water supply.

In response to this, as verse 24 notes,

כד וַיַּחְפְּרוּ כָל-מִצְרַיִם סְבִיבֹת הַיְאֹר, מַיִם לִשְׁתּוֹת: כִּי לֹא יָכְלוּ לִשְׁתֹּת, מִמֵּימֵי הַיְאֹר. 24 And all the Egyptians digged round about the river for water to drink; for they could not drink of the water of the river.

That is, they have Caesar's response to the cutting off of their water supply.

Now, as I noted in that earlier post, there are two possible ways of reading the psukim in this perek. One is that the Egyptians were successful, and they other is that they were not successful, since those waters too were blood.

At any rate, it is clear that Hashem was waging war on the Egyptians, using a military tactic, and the Egyptians at the least attempted to respond in kind. In light of this, Ganymedes tactic, while smart, is someone derivative, while Caesar's response was logical and known already to at least some Egyptians. (This all happened about 48 BCE; comparatively, some date the Exodus from Egypt to 1280 BCE, and Ezra and Nechemia are 458-420 BCE.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

How to Pronounce "Keli Keli Lama Azavtani"

Fivetownsradio was playing in the background at work today, and I couldn't help but notice the gross mispronunciation of this partial pasuk in a kumzitzy-style song. This is often the case when people appropriate psukim for songs - they mangle the pronunciation, or the proper parsing, in the interests of it sounding good.

In this case, they sang אֵלִי אֵלִי לָמָה עֲזַבְתָּנִי, with the bolded red indicating the stressed syllable. Now, I would have naturally have pronounced עֲזַבְתָּנִי with the stress on the second to last syllable (mile'el) and it feels like a conscious decision to pronounce it otherwise, either to sound more Israeli/Sefardi, because milera (stress on the last syllable) is reckoned to be always correct, or perhaps because it worked out better with the tune.

In fact, עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִי has the trup on the second to last syllable, so it should be pronounced mile'el.

The full trup on this pasuk is אֵלִ֣י אֵ֭לִי לָמָ֣ה עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִי רָח֥וֹק מִֽ֝ישׁוּעָתִ֗י דִּבְרֵ֥י שַֽׁאֲגָתִֽי.

I would normally not nitpick, but once they got me started, I would point out they got the stress on lama wrong as well.

There are two ways to pronounce lama. One is lama, and the other is lamma. The duplication of m in the second word is deliberate. lama/lamma means le + ma, or "for what," and thus "why?" Similarly, porqué in Spanish.

Long unstressed vowels in Hebrew must be in unclosed syllables, while long stressed vowels are in closed syllables. The kametz is a long syllable (as opposed to the short patach). There are two versions of the word. One is mile'el. Since there are only two syllables in lama, the stress would have to be on the first syllable. Since the syllable has a long vowel and is stressed, we can exprect the syllable to be closed. We close the syllable by placing a strong dagesh in the mem, effectively doubling it. Thus, the mem ends the first syllable and begins the second syllable. This is lamma. The other lama is stressed milera', on the last syllable. As such, the first syllable has a long unstressed vowel, so the syllable should be open. Thus, it is lama.

For the song, they choose lamma, even though, looking at the pasuk, there is no dagesh in the mem, and the trup, and thus stress, is clearly on the second syllable. Normally I would not object since this is the natural way of pronouncing it, but once they are being medakdek incorrectly, it is further bothersome that they mess up the previous word's stress as well.

The song ended before I was able to note how they pronounced the first two words. However, I may as well treat how they should be pronounced. אֵלִ֣י אֵ֭לִי. The first אֵלִ֣י has a munach on the second syllable, showing how it should be pronounced. The second אֵ֭לִי is misleading. The trup seems to be on the first syllable, but then should we not expect a dagesh? In fact, the trup in this case is the dechi, also known as yetiv or yemanit, and it always appears to the right of the word, in the postpositive position. This position does not indicate stress, and the stress, I would venture, would also be milera'.

Vote Early...

I got in early in the latest Jewish Week poll. The results, after having cast my vote:

Do you believe the recent republican led attack on judges is justified?
1 people said No
1 people said Yes

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

posts for Emor

Year 2
  • An "Eye" for an Eye: The Concept of Proportional Punishment
    • A discussion of "an eye for an eye" as it appears in parshat Emor. Chazal say it means monetary payment. I agree as a matter of peshat, not just derash. I examine the psukim in context, which is a contrast between the death penalty for one who murders a man, as opposed to monetary payment when one kills an animal. This contrast is repeated, framing the verses stating "an eye for an eye." One does not pay wergild for deliberately murdering a man, nor does one lose his life for killing an animal. We do see such payment in parshat Mishpatim if one's animal kills a man, and we see in the same chapter that there is monetary payment for injuring one's fellow (as opposed to being injured oneself). I made another analysis, coming to the same conclusion, for the "eye for an eye" mentioned in parshat Mishpatim.
  • The Blasphemer
    • A contrast between the Midrash which states that the Egyptian killed by Moshe in Egypt for striking the Hebrew was the father of the blasphemer, and that he had just slept with Shlomit, and the Midrash which states that when Moshe looked to and fro and saw there was no man, he saw into the future that there would be no descendant who would be part of the Jewish people. An obvious harmonization is that the reason Moshe looked for descendants was not that the merit of such descendants would save the Egyptian, who deserved what he got, but that by killing the Egyptian, he would be preventing said descendants from coming into being. This parallels the bloodguilt Kayin had not only for Hevel but for all of Hevel's descendants. Even had the blasphemer been an upright guy, he had already been conceived. I consider this idea and others in more detail on a post on parshat Shemot.
  • Is Blasphemy A Crime Even In America?
    • I note the case of a Hindu man suing a company for blaspheming Ganesh.

Emor: An "Eye" for an Eye

Towards to end of parshat Emor, we have a section that deals with the idea of "an eye for an eye." Chazal to not understand this to mean literally an eye, but rather, monetary payment. I think this is true on the level of pshat, and have written about this before, on parshat Mishpatim, in some detail, in terms of the "eye for an eye" as it applies to the woman who miscarries. But the segment occurs here as well, and an analysis here should also prove useful. The segment, in Vayikra 24:17-21:

יז וְאִישׁ, כִּי יַכֶּה כָּל-נֶפֶשׁ אָדָם--מוֹת, יוּמָת. 17 And he that smiteth any man mortally shall surely be put to death.
יח וּמַכֵּה נֶפֶשׁ-בְּהֵמָה, יְשַׁלְּמֶנָּה--נֶפֶשׁ, תַּחַת נָפֶשׁ. 18 And he that smiteth a beast mortally shall make it good: life for life.
יט וְאִישׁ, כִּי-יִתֵּן מוּם בַּעֲמִיתוֹ--כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה, כֵּן יֵעָשֶׂה לּוֹ. 19 And if a man maim his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him:
כ שֶׁבֶר, תַּחַת שֶׁבֶר, עַיִן תַּחַת עַיִן, שֵׁן תַּחַת שֵׁן--כַּאֲשֶׁר יִתֵּן מוּם בָּאָדָם, כֵּן יִנָּתֶן בּוֹ. 20 breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he hath maimed a man, so shall it be rendered unto him.
כא וּמַכֵּה בְהֵמָה, יְשַׁלְּמֶנָּה; וּמַכֵּה אָדָם, יוּמָת. 21 And he that killeth a beast shall make it good; and he that killeth a man shall be put to death.

Look first at the verses marked in red. I believe they are quite telling. Specifically, verse 21 repeats the message of verses 17 and 18. Why should they repeat?

Verse 21 does not so much repeat as bracket the two verses (19 and 20) in the center. One might argue that it is the phrase נֶפֶשׁ תַּחַת נָפֶשׁ - "life for life" - that sparked the digression, but I think it is in fact more than that.

First, note here that even נֶפֶשׁ תַּחַת נָפֶשׁ does not seem to mean an actual life in this instance. The word preceding the phrase is יְשַׁלְּמֶנָּה, "he shall pay." This does not mean forfeiture of the killer of the animal's life, for we see again in verse 21- וּמַכֵּה בְהֵמָה, יְשַׁלְּמֶנָּה; וּמַכֵּה אָדָם, יוּמָת - he that killeth a beast shall pay for it; and he that killeth a man shall be put to death. So we have here a very strange, at first glance, use of the phrase "life for life." Here, it seems to mean monetary payment. Unless one claims that the "life for a life" is only going on the preceding verse, about one who kills a man, which is certainly plausible.

Second, note the contrast of killing a man vs. killing an animal. It is a contrast made twice in this segment - first in verses 17 and 18, and then in verse 21. What is the purpose of the contrast?

In other law codes (for example, in Anglo-Saxon or Germanic law), one might in fact see monetary payment made for killing a human. That is, if you killed someone, his family might come to avenge his blood. To prevent a blood-feud, with each family killing the other in turn, they had the institution of wergild, literally meaning "man payment."

There were similar laws in the Ancient Near East as well.

In the Torah as well, we see the idea of kofer, in which the owner of an animal who kills a human must pay money instead of (theoretical) forfeiture of his own life. See Shemot 21:29-30, and the context in the surrounding psukim:

כט וְאִם שׁוֹר נַגָּח הוּא מִתְּמֹל שִׁלְשֹׁם, וְהוּעַד בִּבְעָלָיו וְלֹא יִשְׁמְרֶנּוּ, וְהֵמִית אִישׁ, אוֹ אִשָּׁה--הַשּׁוֹר, יִסָּקֵל, וְגַם-בְּעָלָיו, יוּמָת. 29 But if the ox was wont to gore in time past, and warning hath been given to its owner, and he hath not kept it in, but it hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death.
ל אִם-כֹּפֶר, יוּשַׁת עָלָיו--וְנָתַן פִּדְיֹן נַפְשׁוֹ, כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר-יוּשַׁת עָלָיו. 30 If there be laid on him a ransom, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatsoever is laid upon him.

Here, in Vayikra, we are seeing the rejection of this idea of paying kofer - a ransom - for a deliberate murder. If you kill a cow, you pay money. If you deliberately kill a man, you pay with your life.

One could imagine the restriction is going the other way as well. Say someone kills an animal belonging to an important person. One might imagine the punishment would be death. Indeed, in Robin Hood, killing one of the king's deer was a crime punishable by death. Here we see that the punishment for killing a man is death, and the punishment for killing an animal is monetary payment to compensate the owner for his loss.

That is, the punishment should fit the crime. For more serious crimes, one gets death. For less serious crimes, one gets less of a punishment, possibly a fine or a requirement to repay the person you have damaged.

The reason verses 17, 18, and 21 bracket the middle section is that the middle section is commenting on verses 17, 18 and 21. The middle verses tell the motivation behind verses 17, 18, and 21. The whole point of 17 vs. 18 is proportional punishment. The middle verses cite as a metaphor parallel Ancient Near East law.

In ANE law, one could expect to lose an eye for an eye. If a person punched a woman and caused her to miscarry, we would expect that his wife would be caused to miscarry (as opposed to monetary payment set by the husband, as we see is the case in Mishpatim - again, follow the link to my post above). If a builder built a shoddy house and the house-owner died, the builder would be put to death. If the shoddy house caused the death of the owner's son, the owner's son would be put to death.

This is not what is happening here. Rather, the Torah is telling that punishment is proportional with the severity of the injury - an "eye" for an eye, but not a life for an eye. A life for a life, but not an "eye" for a life. Since killing an animal is less severe, the payment is money, rather than loss of life. Under strict "eye for an eye" we would expect the killer of the cow's own cow to be killed. Instead he pays money.

In all the cases listed, Chazal understand that is means "the monetary value of an eye" for an eye, etc. I would claim these cases are not even being discussed here, but the principle is being cited in order to explain the difference between the law of the killer of the human and the cow. In fact, if one wanted to know what the punishment would be in these cases, since they do not involve actual loss of human life, it is entirely possible that a monetary payment would be appropriate.

Indeed, looking again to parshat Mishpatim, in the psukim in the area of that "eye for an eye" statement, we have the following law (Shemot 21:18-19):

יח וְכִי-יְרִיבֻן אֲנָשִׁים--וְהִכָּה-אִישׁ אֶת-רֵעֵהוּ, בְּאֶבֶן אוֹ בְאֶגְרֹף; וְלֹא יָמוּת, וְנָפַל לְמִשְׁכָּב. 18 And if men contend, and one smite the other with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keep his bed;
יט אִם-יָקוּם וְהִתְהַלֵּךְ בַּחוּץ, עַל-מִשְׁעַנְתּוֹ--וְנִקָּה הַמַּכֶּה: רַק שִׁבְתּוֹ יִתֵּן, וְרַפֹּא יְרַפֵּא.
19 if he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be quit; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed.
That is, we do not beat up the injurer so that he also has a loss of time and must be healed, but we cause him to pay for the person's loss of income, and have him pay for the doctor so that the person is healed. This in the context of an eye for an eye!

The reason, once again, is that he did not actually kill someone, and so death is not appropriate. A lesser punishment is appropriate, and this is to make good the other person's loss via a monetary payment. This sense of proportion can be called "an eye for an eye" rather than "a life for an eye."

Now, it is further possible to understand the statement in verse 19 that "as he hath maimed [given an injury] a man, so shall it be rendered unto him" in other ways such as "so shall he [the injurer] give to him [the injuree]," or "so shall be given to him" in a metaphorical way, that is, the punishment shall be rendered in accordance with the severity of the crime. However, I would say the whole section is metaphorical, and is given definition to the contrast between killing a man and killing an animal, the laws which frame it on both ends.

I would also suggest that the reason this section is embedded in the law of the blasphemer is that, as we read earlier in the perek, Moshe was not sure what a fitting punishment was for this crime. Hashem responds by stating the appropriate punishment, and that blaspheming God is one of the more serious crimes, akin to killing a human, and not akin to, say, killing an animal. As a result, the fitting punishment for such a heinous crime is death by stoning, again, under the concept of "a life for a life and an eye for an eye" - punishment should match the severity of the crime.

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Monday, May 16, 2005

Posts so far for parshat Behar

Year 1
  • BeHar-BeChukotai, Shavuot, and Shevuot
    • Shamor VeZachor BeDibbur Echad, as well as a number of other apparently conflicting statements which were said BeDibbur Echad, in Yerushalmi Nedarim 9b and Bavli Shevuot 20b. A false vs. unnecessary oath, Shabbat rest vs. Shabbat sacrifices, a the prohibition of a brother's wife vs. levirate marriage, daughters inheriting vs. keeping ancestral land within the tribe, shaatnez vs. tzitzit, Shamor vs. Zachor.

      "God hath spoken once, twice have I heard this: that strength belongeth unto God;"
      "Is not My word like as fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?"

      In other words, do not see contradictions so much as elaborations, or focus in certain sections on particular elements of mitzvot, and by looking at different sections with different focuses, you can reconstruct the full, complex idea.

      Acharei Mot: A ban on private altars - all must be brought to tent of meeting, vs. in Devarim: when far away, can eat meat as non-sacrificial offering.

      Behar: At Yovel, all returns to natural state, and so slaves go free.
      Mishpatim: And he serves forever.
      That is, until Yovel.

      In other words, he is a perpetual servant. There happens to be another law, in another location, of the Doron, where debts are forgiven and property and people revert to their original state, which happens to overlap somewhat with this law and impact it. We do not have to focus on every possible detail when we fist discuss the law, particularly when it is a different law which sometimes colors the current one.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Daf Yomi Shabbat 12b: Inspecting Tableware



From the Rif on Shabbat, daf 5b (corresponding to Shabbat 12b)
One brayta said: An attendant may examine glasses and plates by the light of a lamp. And another brayta said: He must not examine [them].

This is not a difficulty.
One refers to a permanent attendant, the other to one who is not permanent.
And if you want I will say: both refer to a non-permanent attendant {our gemara: permanant} yet there is no difficulty: one refers to [a lamp fed with] oil, the other to naphtha {which emits an unpleasant odor, and produces a lot of light, and so he won't come to tilt it}.

It was a question to them: What of a permanent attendant {our gemara: non-permanent} and a [lamp fed with] oil?
Rav Huna {our gemara: Rav} said: It is the halacha and we do not teach so {to others}.
Rabbi Yirmiya bar Abba said: It is the halacha and we do teach so.

{The Rif concludes:} We learn now that whether with a permanent or a non-permanent attendant, he may inspect dishes and cups by the light of the lamp, and specifically using naphta, which is disgusting, and produces a lot of light, and he won't need to tilt it. But with oil, a non-permanent attendant for certain is forbidden, and regarding a permanent attendant they argue, and the halacha is that he may inspect, and we do not teach so.
As noted in the curly brackets {}, there are several differences between our version of the Gemara and that of the Rif. One fairly important one is the permanent/temporary attendant switchoff. Whereas the gemara as we read it has it that the permanent attendant as the one who we regard more stringently, the Rif has it that we deal more strictly with the temporary attendant.

We could come up with reasons why we should be more strict with regard to the temporary or permanent attendant. For the permanent one, we have Rashi's explanation that he fears his master and will therefore look more closely to ensure that there is no dirt on the tableware. For the temporary one, perhaps one can say that a permanent attendant knows his craft of cleaning/inspecting the tableware better, and would not need as much light, and will know not to, or will not come to tilt the lamp.

Which is the better reading? Well, the Rif's version solves a difficulty in the continuation of the gemara:
Rabbi Yirmiya bar Abba visited Rav Assi. Now, his attendant arose and examined [the glasses] by candlelight. Thereupon his [Rav Assi's] wife said to him [Rav Assi], 'But you do not act thus!' 'Let him be,' he answered her, 'he holds with his master {Rabbi Yirmiya bar Abba}.'
Now it truly seems from the story that this is Rabbi Yirmiya bar Abba's usual, and thus permanent, attendant. Yet according to our Gemara, Rabbi Yirmiya's statement was restricted to a temporary attendant, {even} using an oil lamp. So if Rabbi Yirmiyah's statement will apply {and it does, as we know from Rav Assi's response to his wife}, it must deal with a temporary attendant.

Rashi gives the somewhat forced answer that since this is in someone else's home, he has the status of a temporary attendant, even though he is Rabbi Yirmiyah's usual attendant.

However, if you switch permanent with temporary {"not-permanent"} throughout the gemara's give and take {as in the Rif's version}, then Rabbi Yirmiyah's statement is on a permanent attendant, who is allowed to do this even with an oil lamp, and we teach so, and so we would expect his permanent attendant to conduct himself exactly as his attendant does in the story.A temporary attendant would not be allowed to do so.

On the other hand, perhaps one could argue that our version is better. Consider the two braytas:
One brayta said: An attendant may examine glasses and plates by the light of a lamp.
And another brayta said: He must not examine [them].
We might perhaps expect that a resolution would list the lenient case first and the strict case second, paralleling the order of the two braytas. We do not have this consistently.

Here is what we have, in both our gemara and the citation of the Rif:

There is no difficulty: one refers to a permanent attendant, the other to a temporary one.

According to our gemara, the strict is mentioned first, and the lenient mentioned second. According to Rif, the lenient is mentioned first, and the strict mentioned second. Consider the continuation, though:
And if you want I will say: both refer to an X {the stricter one} yet there is no difficulty: one refers to [a lamp fed with] oil, the other to naphtha.
Here, the first case is the strict, and the second case is the lenient. It makes more sense for the strict/lenient order of the two suggestions to be consistent with each other, which is true for our girsa and not that of the Rif. On the other hand, I should look at Dikdukei Sofrim to see what other girsaot there are, and further, I should really compare other sugyot and see if the suggestions are listed there in consistent order, such that this is a legitimate expectation.

If the order of strict/lenient is expected to be consistent across suggestion, then it represents a useful checksum to deduce the correct girsa. One would not expect {incorrect} "correction" of a girsa to fix this non-obvious demand for consistency, but one would more likely expect a "correction" of a text to harmonize R Yirmiya's position with the one evident in the story {that is, if one does not know of Rashi's forced explanation}. Thus, via lectio difficilior, one could argue that our girsa is the original.

Still, we would have two slight difficulties with our sugya. The first, as mentioned above, is that Rabbi Yirmiya's statement is about a temporary attendant and in the story it seems to be a personal attendant. The second is that the attendant is not examining the tableware with an oil lamp, as in Rabbi Yirmiya's statement, but rather via a shraga, an unspecified lamp. One can easily argue that this case was about an oil lamp, or about a lamp not of naphta which in theory should then have the same law, as opposed to naphta, which produces a lot more light and is unpleasant, in that one is more likely, therefore, to tip both an oil lamp or a candle, but still, the case does not exactly match his statement. We should expect the story to say that he was inspecting it via a lamp of mishcha, oil. {Note: the preceding paragraph was updated to note that shraga is an unspecified lamp.}

Approaching the sugya from an academic perspective, I would suggest the following answer. From "It is no difficulty" until "It was a question to them: What of a non-permanent attendant and a [lamp fed with] oil?" is all clearly the stama digemara. This layer is possibly savoraic, and is post-Amoraic. We can identify it as such because it is in Aramaic, is anonymous, tries to harmonize various sources, and uses the form "And if you want I will say." Thus, I would suggest, it is a later interpolation into the gemara. If we obscure this segment of gemara for a moment, we can reconstruct the original form of the sugya:
One brayta said: An attendant may examine glasses and plates by the light of a lamp. And another brayta said: He must not examine [them].

Rav Huna {our gemara: Rav} said: It is the halacha and we do not teach so {to others}.
Rabbi Yirmiya bar Abba said: It is the halacha and we do teach so.

Rabbi Yirmiya bar Abba visited Rav Assi. Now, his attendant arose and examined [the glasses] by a lamp {shraga}. Thereupon his [Rav Assi's] wife said to him [Rav Assi], 'But you do not act thus!' 'Let him be,' he answered her, 'he holds with his master {Rabbi Yirmiya bar Abba}.'
That is, Rav {or Rav Huna} and Rabbi Yirmiya bar Abba are dealing with the contradiction of the two braytas. Rabbi Yirmiya bar Abba rules conclusively like the first brayta, and says that is the halacha, and we teach so, that an attendant may inspect tableware by the lamp. Rav says that since it is a matter of Tannaitic dispute, even though the halacha is like the first brayta, we do not teach so. Alternatively, he understands that the second brayta agrees with the first one that in terms of halacha one may, but still we do not teach so.

In general we would rule like Rav, and his harmonization of the two braytas. However, Rabbi Yirmiya is entitled to his own opinion, and his attendant may follow that opinion. Meanwhile, no distinction whatsoever is made between a temporary or permanent attendant, or between a lamp of oil or naphta.

After this, the stama digemara comes and tries to harmonize the two braytas such that they do not argue at all, and are just discussion different cases. The stama gives one suggestion (type of attendant), and then gives a second suggestion (type of lamp) which works within one of the possibilities of the first (that is, type X attendant).

Then, some sense of and transition to the dispute of Rabbi Yirmiya bar Abba and Rav needs be made, so the dispute between the two is attributed to the case not discussed explicitly - type Y of attendant and the more stringent type of lamp.

This would account for the mismatch of the story to Rabbi Yirmiya bar Abba's statement - Rabbi Yirmiya bar Abba's statement originally was about all types of attendants and all types of lamp1.

If we would hold like Rav {or Rav Huna}, as we seem to, based on the story, such that it is the halacha but we do not teach so, this statement would so no matter what the attendant or type of lamp.



1) Alternatively, in the second suggestion, the
stama initially discards the first suggestion, such that the the temporary or permanent nature of the attendant does not matter at all, and so says that both are attendant type X (but just as well could have been attendant type Y) but it is a difference in the type of lamp (oil vs. naphta). Afterwards, some sense of and transition to the dispute of Rabbi Yirmiya bar Abba and Rav needs be made, so the dispute between the two is attributed to the case not discussed explicitly - type Y of attendant and the more stringent type of lamp.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Emor: Is Blasphemy a Crime Even in America?

Blasphemy is a sin in Judaism, as we see in this week's parsha1 (and specifically in Vayikra 24), and this is appropriate for a religion. It is not appropriate, though, for American law:
A California man has sued the Lost Coast Brewery in Humboldt, claiming that a label on its Indica India Pale Ale offends him and Hindus worldwide.

...

The Costra Costa Times quoted Brij Dhir as saying the label on Indica India Pale Ale depicting a Hindu god holding a beer intimidates Hindus from practicing their religion. "How can you show a god in such a way?" he told the paper. The label shows elephant-headed Ganesh, god of wisdom and remover of obstacles, holding a beer in one of his four hands, and another in his trunk.

"I don't want to offend any Hindu people," said co-owner Barbara Groom, adding that her Hindu friends don't mind the label. "They think it's really cool."

...

Dhir seeks at least $25,000 and his lawsuit mentions that $1 billion would be appropriate to compensate Hindus around the world. He alleges that the brewery has defamed Hindus and caused emotional distress. Even though Lost Coast is willing to change the label, Dhir said he wants a jury to rule that the owners should pay damages for the two years of using the image.

..

Also named as defendants are Safeway, which carries the product, the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the state Attorney General's Office. Dhir alleges it has failed to respond to his requests for action against the brewery.

"It's a hate crime," Dhir told the newspaper.

I hope this case is dismissed, and I am glad that the State Dept. of Fair Employment and Housing and the State Attny General's office did not take action.

Read it all here.
(Via Overlawyered.com)


1) Though the blasphemy of the Torah is incredibly specific and would not encompass the case I am about to mention.

Update: Via the website My Life Is Beer, check out the bottle. (The website, or clicking on the image, will give a larger image.) Check out the discussions on that webpage while you are at it, from insulted Hindus.



Related: Check out this article about a man trying to change his name to that of a certain purported deity of Jewish descent.
...

So Jesus went to a district court in Washington, where he currently lives and where he has now been fighting a two-year battle to use his Biblical name.

"The judge wrote a lengthy opinion citing scriptures, the Bible and so on, to show that taking the name of Jesus Christ is blasphemy and therefore by extrapolation will cause violent reaction," Jesus Christ's attorney, Afshin Pishewar, said on Tuesday.

...

I don't think that is what is commonly meant by taking God's name in vain. :)

Offense-Worthy?: Channel 4's Force-O-Meter

Channel 4 has a Flash Force-O-Meter test to determine if you gravitate to the light or dark side of the force.

One of the questions (click on the picture below to see) is "Which words do you use to describe small talking teddy bears?" And the choices are: Terrorists, or Freedom Fighters.



The reference is to the Ewoks on Endor, and to the quote "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." This idea drives Reuter's avoidance of the use terrorist. ("We all know that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter and that Reuters upholds the principle that we do not use the word terrorist.")

The answer to place you on the light side of the force is that they are freedom fighters. But I have to wonder about the politics of the author of this poll, and what he thinks, for example, about the Palestinians.

Daf Yomi Shabbat 11a: Trusting the Government

On Shabbat 11a, there is a statement that resonated for me:
ואמר רבא בר מחסיא אמר רב חמא בר גוריא אמר רב
אם יהיו כל הימים דיו ואגמים קולמוסים ושמים יריעות וכל בני אדם לבלרין
אין מספיקים לכתוב חללה של רשות
מאי קראה?
אמר רב משרשיא (משלי כה)
שמים לרום וארץ לעומק ולב מלכים אין חקר
Rava bar Mechasia also said in the name of Rav Chama bar Goria in the name of Rav: If all seas were ink, reeds pens, the heavens parchment, and all men scribes, they would not suffice to write down the intricacies of government. Said
Rav Mesharshia said: What verse [teaches this]?
{Mishlei 25:3}

ג שָׁמַיִם לָרוּם, וָאָרֶץ לָעֹמֶק; וְלֵב מְלָכִים, אֵין חֵקֶר. 3 The heaven for height, and the earth for depth, and the heart of kings is unsearchable.

One can read this as discussing the crazy bureaucracy common in modern government. However, the Meiri takes it as follows (citing from my trusty Artscroll):
The gemara is teaching in poetic style that one should always pray for the well-being of the government and should not suspect it of wrongdoing. The workings of a government are so complex that its intent behind any particular operation cannot immediately be discerned. Therefore, if one sees the government engaged in something that seems improper, he should give it the benefit of the doubt.
The focus on praying for the government besides not suspecting it of wrongdoing calls to my mind the question of how much the Meiri is cognizant that his words will eventually be seen by the government, and that he wants to maintain a good relationship between the Jewish people and the government.

However, the message resonates. Politics is often a complicated mess, and there is plenty of room for nuance in analyzing why the President, or specific senators, do what they do. In the past election, and before and after, there has been demonization of President Bush. "He is the next Hitler. He is bent on world domination. He is an idiot chimp who cleverly, and deliberately misled this nation into war. Republicans are evil." As a nice example of this, check out the song "I Hate Republicans." I am frequently annoyed at certain other bloggers who automatically attribute to malice or mal-intent anything Republicans do. The same goes in the other direction as well, in terms of misreading intent of Democrats. In fact, there is room for nuance. While we might not agree with the politics (and positions) of the other side, the issues are truly complex, and often they have valid reasons and considerations for voting or taking action the way they do.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Maggots on the Brain

Gittin 56b tells of Titus' punishment, in which Hashem sent a gnat (יתוש) which entered his nostril and eventually pierced his brain.

I've always considered this story somewhat fantastic, but apparently it is possible. There was a recent case in Thailand: Maggots Chew Toward Woman's Brain:
DOCTORS in northern Thailand have removed almost three dozen fly maggots from a woman's nose, where they were eating their way towards her brain, a report said.

The 38-year-old pig farmer from the northwestern city of Chiang Mai is believed to be the first reported case in Thailand of maggots nesting in a human's nose, Tawee Thanuparprangsan of Nakhon Ping hospital told The Nation newspaper.

...

"Probably while she was sleeping, a fly went up her nose and laid its eggs, which then hatched into larvae," Tawee said.

If the infected area had spread to her brain, she could have died, Tawee added.

Last week, the paper reported that an 84-year-old man on the southern resort isle of Phuket had 50 maggots removed from his ear, after he went to a hospital complaining of an itch.

He had scratched his ears so hard that they started bleeding, and doctors said that flies apparently had gotten inside and laid eggs.
Read it all.

Emor: The Blasphemer

Towards the end of parshat Emor, we hear the case of the blasphemer.

Vayikra 24:
י וַיֵּצֵא, בֶּן-אִשָּׁה יִשְׂרְאֵלִית, וְהוּא בֶּן-אִישׁ מִצְרִי, בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיִּנָּצוּ, בַּמַּחֲנֶה, בֶּן הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִית, וְאִישׁ הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִי. 10 And the son of an Israelitish woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel; and the son of the Israelitish woman and a man of Israel strove together in the camp.
יא וַיִּקֹּב בֶּן-הָאִשָּׁה הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִית אֶת-הַשֵּׁם, וַיְקַלֵּל, וַיָּבִיאוּ אֹתוֹ, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וְשֵׁם אִמּוֹ שְׁלֹמִית בַּת-דִּבְרִי, לְמַטֵּה-דָן. 11 And the son of the Israelitish woman blasphemed the Name, and cursed; and they brought him unto Moses. And his mother's name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan.
The Midrash identifies Shlomit bat Divri as the wife of the Hebrew slave being beated by a taskmaster. In Shemot 2:
יא וַיְהִי בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם, וַיִּגְדַּל מֹשֶׁה וַיֵּצֵא אֶל-אֶחָיו, וַיַּרְא, בְּסִבְלֹתָם; וַיַּרְא אִישׁ מִצְרִי, מַכֶּה אִישׁ-עִבְרִי מֵאֶחָיו. 11 And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown up, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren.
יב וַיִּפֶן כֹּה וָכֹה, וַיַּרְא כִּי אֵין אִישׁ; וַיַּךְ, אֶת-הַמִּצְרִי, וַיִּטְמְנֵהוּ, בַּחוֹל. 12 And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he smote the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.
The Egyptian taskmaster had slept with the wife of the Hebrew (pretending to be her husband), and the Israelite suspected. This, says the Midrash, is why the Egyptian was beating the Hebrew. The blasphemer was the son of the Egyptian and the Hebrew slave's wife.

The midrash also states that וַיִּפֶן כֹּה וָכֹה, וַיַּרְא כִּי אֵין אִישׁ - "And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man" - means that Moshe looked with ruach haKodesh and saw that there would be no progeny from this man who would have converted to Judaism.

These two midrashim seems contradictory, since here we have Hebrew progeny of the Egyptian. I addressed this question in the past, in more detail, in a post on parshat Shemot. It is possible they are contradictory midrashim.

However, the most likely answer can be seen from an analysis of Bereishit 4:9-10:
ט וַיֹּאמֶר ה אֶל-קַיִן, אֵי הֶבֶל אָחִיךָ; וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא יָדַעְתִּי, הֲשֹׁמֵר אָחִי אָנֹכִי. 9 And the LORD said unto Cain: 'Where is Abel thy brother?' And he said: 'I know not; am I my brother's keeper?'
י וַיֹּאמֶר, מֶה עָשִׂיתָ; קוֹל דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ, צֹעֲקִים אֵלַי מִן-הָאֲדָמָה. 10 And He said: 'What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto Me from the ground.
Demai, blood, is plural, and the Midrash takes off on this to say that he killed not only his brother but every descendant that his brother was to have, who was no prevented from being born. From here we learn that anyone who kills an individual is as if he destroyed the entire world (for descendants of such an early person would have been many) and anyone who saves the life of an individual is as if he saved the entire world.

This seems the motivation behind the Midrash on וַיִּפֶן כֹּה וָכֹה, וַיַּרְא כִּי אֵין אִישׁ, which focuses on worthy descendants to come. It is not the merit of those descendants (of which the blasphemer perhaps anyway does not possess much) but rather the preventing of their being born. Since this event with Moshe happened after the Egyptian slept with the Hebrew's wife, she was already pregnant or on her way to becoming so. The killing of the Egyptian taskmaster would have no effect on eventual progeny, and this was what Moshe was looking for.

Kedoshim: Anachronism In Midrash

A section of Midrash Rabba on Kedoshim duscusses Orlah, the fruits of the first three years, as well as brit milah.

Now, Avraham was commanded to circumcise himself and the male members of his household. Bereishit 17:

י זֹאת בְּרִיתִי אֲשֶׁר תִּשְׁמְרוּ, בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם, וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ, אַחֲרֶיךָ: הִמּוֹל לָכֶם, כָּל-זָכָר. 10 This is My covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised.
יא וּנְמַלְתֶּם, אֵת בְּשַׂר עָרְלַתְכֶם; וְהָיָה לְאוֹת בְּרִית, בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם. 11 And ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of a covenant betwixt Me and you.
While he is told to circumcise the flesh of his orlah, he is not told what the orlah {uncircumcised flesh} is. Indeed, we see other orlah referred to throughout Tanach. We have uncircumcised lips, uncircumcised hearts, and uncircumcised ears, besides that of "foreskin." (In fact, one might easily read these others as metaphorical - in that they are not heeding the word of God or are not good speakers. However, from a perspective of analyzing the text without knowing a prior definitions of orlah, we need some way of narrowing the field.)

Various suggestions are given, but one interesting one follows (from parasha 11:6)
רב הונא בר קפרא אמר ישב אברהם אבינו ודרש
נאמר ערלה באילן ונאמר ערלה באדם
מה ערלה שנא' באילן מקום שהוא עושה פירות
אף ערלה שנאמר באדם מקום שהוא עושה פירות
Rav Huna bar Kappara said: Our forefather Avraham sat an darshened
It states {the word} orlah by trees, and it states orlah by man.
Just as orlah stated by trees refers to the place where it produces fruit
So too the orlah stated by man refers to the place where it produces fruit {=offspring}
Rabbi Chanin bar Pazi jumps to attack this:
א"ר חנין בן פזי
וכי כבר היה אברהם אבינו יודע קלין וחמורין וגזירות שוות
אלא רמז רמזה לו (בראשית יז) ואתנה בריתי ביני וביניך וגו'
מקום שהוא פרה ורבה
Rabbi Chanin bar Pazi said:
And did our forefather Avraham already know kal vaChomer {deduction a minori} and gzerot shavot {deduction via parallel words)?!
Rather a hint was hinted to him: {Bereishit 17}

ב וְאֶתְּנָה בְרִיתִי, בֵּינִי וּבֵינֶךָ; וְאַרְבֶּה אוֹתְךָ, בִּמְאֹד מְאֹד. 2 And I will make My covenant between Me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.'

The place from which he is fruitful and multiplies.
Thus, Rabbi Chanin bar Pazi felt that it was anachronistic to assume that Avraham Avinu knew, and used, the hermeneutical principles to derive new laws.

Elsewhere we see claims that Avraham kept all the laws of the Torah, as well as Rabbinic ordinances, though it is seems from one such source that Avraham did not see these sources inside but rather intuited naturally how to conduct himself. This also might be called anachronistic, but it is a well established midrashic perspective, whereas the assumption that he knew kal vaChomer and gzera shava may not be. Also to consider: if we say he intuits it, why would he need a source here (unless perhaps if you say direct commands are different - and he did not keep brit milah before this)?

Vayakam Melech Chadash Al Mitzrayim

Using CT scans of his mummy, three separate teams of scientists have created computerized facial reconstructions of King Tut. The reconstructions are similar to each other, and to a golden mask he wore into the crypt, as well as other ancient portraits.

Check out the Wired article here.

Also, others have said this before, but check out his eyes:


This is likely the pshat in Shir HaShirim 1:15:

טו הִנָּךְ יָפָה רַעְיָתִי, הִנָּךְ יָפָה עֵינַיִךְ יוֹנִים. 15 Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thine eyes are as doves.
That is, each eye is painted to look like a dove.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Acharei Mot #3: Speak, Speak

At the very beginning of parashat Acharei Mot, Vayikra 16:1-2:

א וַיְדַבֵּר ה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, אַחֲרֵי מוֹת, שְׁנֵי בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן--בְּקָרְבָתָם לִפְנֵי-ה, וַיָּמֻתוּ. 1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses, after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the LORD, and died;
ב וַיֹּאמֶר ה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, דַּבֵּר אֶל-אַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ, וְאַל-יָבֹא בְכָל-עֵת אֶל-הַקֹּדֶשׁ, מִבֵּית לַפָּרֹכֶת--אֶל-פְּנֵי הַכַּפֹּרֶת אֲשֶׁר עַל-הָאָרֹן, וְלֹא יָמוּת, כִּי בֶּעָנָן, אֵרָאֶה עַל-הַכַּפֹּרֶת. 2 and the LORD said unto Moses: 'Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil, before the ark-cover which is upon the ark; that he die not; for I appear in the cloud upon the ark-cover.
In the first pasuk Hashem speaks to Moshe. In the second pasuk Hashem speaks to Moshe. The difference in translation (spoke/said) is regular - dbr is consistently rendered "spoke," while `mr is consistently rendered said.

The problem is that we have the first pasuk saying that Hashem spoke to Moshe, but we are not told what He said. The second verse says that Hashem spoke to Moshe and states the contents of Hashem's speech.

This is the type of extremely close reading of the text that typifies Midrash, and indeed, it is how the Sifra leads off the parsha.

Two answers are offered. The first is that the remainder of the first pasuk actually formed the content of Hashem's speech. That is, Hashem said: after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the LORD, and died. The parable is made to two doctors. One gives his sick patient medical advice (don't drink cold drinks or sleep in a damp place), and the second gives the same advice but adds "so that you do not die as person X did, who in your condition drank cold drinks and slept in a damp place." To which of the two doctors is the patient more likely to listen? That is why the first pasuk gave instructions to mention the deaths of Aaron's two sons.

This actually surfaces in Rashi on the verse, but people do not realize that it is the repetition of "speaking" that is partially prompting the Midrash.

The second answer takes the approach of deriving the closed from the open {haSatum min haMeforash}. The second pasuk leads into a discussion of how and when the priest can enter the kodesh, and so the first pasuk refers to a speech, written elsewhere, which is also about how one can enter the kodesh. The actual speech occurs in Vayikra 10:8 and on:

ח וַיְדַבֵּר ה, אֶל-אַהֲרֹן לֵאמֹר. 8 And the LORD spoke unto Aaron, saying:
ט יַיִן וְשֵׁכָר אַל-תֵּשְׁתְּ אַתָּה וּבָנֶיךָ אִתָּךְ, בְּבֹאֲכֶם אֶל-אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד--וְלֹא תָמֻתוּ: חֻקַּת עוֹלָם, לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם. 9 'Drink no wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tent of meeting, that ye die not; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.
An interesting thing to note is that both answers assume that reference is made to something else that was said (by reading the statement that "Hashem spoke to Moshe" in the verse verse, with no actual speech given, hyper-literally), and also take a closed-canon approach. That is, they assume that we can discover what the contents of this speech was, and that it exists somewhere in the canon {of Torah, or Tanach}. The first answer finds the contents in the very same pasuk, while the second finds it in another, earlier perek of Vayikra, though with some help from the immediate context of the content of the second instruction to narrow down the content of the first speech. An open-canon approach, in contrast, could say that there was in fact another speech that was omitted here, but we will not find that speech in Scriptures, the canon. It might be present outside of Scriptures or might be lost.

From a peshat perspective, one need not find any difficulty in these psukim. That is, the first one informs us that there was a speech, and informs us when this speech occurred chronologically relative to events that happened in the midbar {wilderness}. The second pasuk then introduces the actual speech, and repeats the statement that Hashem spoke to Moshe to create an immediately juxtoposed introduction, since that is the general style.

We can look also at it as a false start - Hashem spoke to Moshe - Oh, I should mention when, because it is relevant to the content. Then, Hashem spoke to Moshe, and here is what he said...

Alternatively, we might suggest that the original text, written by Moshe in separate megillot (scrolls) throughout the 40 year trip through the wilderness, only contained Hashem's instructions, together with the introduction. (Thus, from pasuk 2 and on.) At the end of the 40 years, when he assembled it all into a single Book, Moshe added parenthetical editorial comments, specifying when this particular prophecy was given. He left the original text from the scroll intact so as to not spoil its integrity, and thus did not remove the second (which was originally the first) description of Hashem speaking.

A Vain Prayer

The Raving Atheist points out a vain prayer (tefilat shav) in the recent runaway bride case:
"Sure, we were all disappointed, maybe a little embarrassed, but you know what, if you remember all the interviews yesterday we were praying, 'At this point let her be a runaway bride,'" said the Rev. Alan Jones, who was to perform the wedding. "So God was faithful. Jennifer's alive and we're all thankful for that."
The Raving Atheist writes:
Wilbanks was raped and bludgeoned to death by kidnappers two weeks ago and discarded in a Dunkin’ Donuts dumpster. Anticipating the entreaties of her congregation, however, God simultaneously helped her fake the abduction. “I wasn’t sure which outcome I liked more, so I decided to leave it up to a prayer-vote,” God said. “Nearly 60% favored the runaway bride option over the rape/murder, so I led hundreds of law enforcement personnel and volunteers on a wild goose chase.”
In fact, you need not be an atheist to take this approach - the Mishna at the end of Brachot {Brachot 54a} also considers this a vain prayer:
BUT TO CRY {=request} OVER THE PAST IS TO UTTER A VAIN PRAYER.

IF A MAN'S WIFE IS PREGNANT AND HE SAYS, [GOD] GRANT THAT MY WIFE BEAR A MALE CHILD, THIS A VAIN PRAYER.
IF HE IS COMING HOME FROM A JOURNEY AND HE HEARS CRIES OF DISTRESS IN THE TOWN AND SAYS, [GOD] GRANT THAT THIS IS NOT IN MY HOUSE, THIS IS A VAIN PRAYER.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

An anti-cell phone letter

in this week's Jewish Press:
Cell Phones In Shuls

People are using cell phones in all places and at all times. A member of my shul has been using a cell phone even in middle of chazoras hashatz. I am constantly being disturbed by people talking on cell phones while I am trying to learn in my beis medrash. Is this the respect that Hashem deserves? Where is the awe of a mokom kadosh, a mikdosh me`at?

I would like to suggest that every shul and beis medrash, in order to prevent cellular communication, install a jammer device to block all cell phone frequencies. Of course, in certain locations these devices may be illegal. Outside of those jurisdictions, however, this may well be a workable solution.

Shimon Adelstein
I would suggest that the awe one must have in a shul, and how one must conduct himself, is the same as one would conduct himself in someone's home. My basis for this, the statement of Rava in the gemara at the end of Brachot, as cited lehalacha by the Rif. As I wrote on my rif blog:
Rabba said: And spitting inside the shul is permitted.
What is the reason?
We learn from wearing a shoe. Just as wearing shoes is permitted, so too is spitting permitted.

{Brachot 63a}
Rava said: Like his house.
Just as in his house, taking a shortcut, people object, but wearing shoes and spitting they do not object, so too in a shul, taking a shortcut {when not going in to pray in the meantime} is forbidden, and wearing shoes and spitting is permitted.
It would seem that just as people would not object to your leaving on a cell phone (or even answering it) in their homes, so too, from the perspective of attitude and awe for a shul, it would be permitted to leave on a cell phone in shul, just as expectorating or wearing shoes is permitted in a shul, the mikdash me'at, even though it (e.g. spitting) is definitively NOT allowed on the Temple Mount, the makom haMikdash itself (see the gemara or the Rif, immediately preceding).

Of course, there are restrictions some bring down about sicha betaila in the shul, but if we are concerned with this, we would also be concerned with it in terms of the fellow standing right next to you. The same in terms of speaking during chazarat haShatz. The sole issue would seem to be turning off cell phones in awe for the shul, and that does not seem to be the level required, at least in terms of awe for the place. Of course, there might be other issues, such as taking these measures to prevent talking in general, or the ringing disturbing others' prayers ... (Perhaps set on vibrate?)

Anyway, this is just my idle ramblings, and reaction to the statement that it shows lack of respect for the mikdash me'at. Not to be relied upon halacha limaaseh, obviously.

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