Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Chiyyuv, or Issur, of Getting Drunk on Purim

The gemara relates an obligation of getting drunk on Purim, seemingly to excess. Yet throughout generations, some Rishonim, Acharonim, and modern day rabbis understand the gemara in a way such that the level of drunkenness is much less. For example, see Rambam, Rav Yosef Karo (in Beis Yosef), Mishnah Berurah, and Aruch HaShulchan. In terms of contemporary rabbis, see for example Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky, Rabbi Avraham Twersky, and Rabbi Yakov Horowitz. As background to this post, please read the linked-to Aruch Hashulchan, which gives a rather good survey of the sources and positions. This post will not be compregensive in that way.

All these rabbonim stand on their own, and don't need my haskamos. But I do have some of my own insights to add on the topic. Independently of what they write, I believe that halachically, most people should not get totally soused on Purim, and that this comes from a careful (though different) reading of sources.

1) The gemara (Megillah 7b) relates:
אמר רבא מיחייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי
רבה ורבי זירא עבדו סעודת פורים בהדי הדדי
איבסום קם רבה שחטיה לרבי זירא למחר בעי רחמי ואחייה
לשנה אמר ליה ניתי מר ונעביד סעודת פורים בהדי הדדי
אמר ליה לא בכל שעתא ושעתא מתרחיש ניסא
"Rava said: A person is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim until he does not know the difference between 'Cursed Be Haman' and 'Blessed Be Mordechai.'
Rabba and Rabbi Zera made their Purim feast with one another. They became drunk; Rabba arose and slaughtered Rabbi Zera. The next day, he asked for mercy for him, and caused him to live. The next year, he {=Rabba} said to him, 'Let Master come and we shall make a Purim feast with one another.' He {=Rabbi Zera} said to him: Not at every hour does a miracle come.'"

This story might well give us an indication of just how drunk one may, or must, become on Purim. And Rabbi Kaminetsky's interpretation of livsumei as to take a mere "sniff" is not in line with the meaning of the term as used by Chazal. It is a clever reinterpretation, in order to achieve a specific end, but I don't believe for a moment that that is the meaning of the gemara itself. Perhaps a more credible reinterpretation would be to point out that in the immediately preceding context of the gemara, אי נמי רווחא לבסימא שכיח, the word does not refer to becoming intoxicated but to spiced sweet food. But I will leave that reinterpretation, and how it might work, to the side for now.

2) Rif simply cites the gemara lehalacha, without elaboration. However, Rambam, hilchot Megillah,second perek, writes:

טז  [טו] כֵּיצַד חוֹבַת סְעוֹדָה זוֹ--שֶׁיֹּאכַל בָּשָׂר וִיתַקַּן סְעוֹדָה נָאָה, כְּפִי אֲשֶׁר תִּמְצָא יָדוֹ; וְשׁוֹתֶה יַיִן, עַד שֶׁיִּשְׁתַּכַּר וְיֵרָדֵם בְּשִׁכְרוּת.

Drinking as de-lo yada suddenly became drinking until he becomes intoxicated and dozes off in his drunkenness. Why the apparent shift? Aruch Hashulchan asks this.

My father, Rabbi Dr. Z. Waxman, explains that this is no shift at all. Rambam is interpreting the gemara in Megillah, as a pun! In Aramaic, פוריא means both "bed" and "Purim." Thus, Rava is saying to drink until one falls asleep.

The standard explanation (mentioned by Aruch hashulchun) is that since he is asleep, he does not really know the difference between Arur Haman and Baruch Mordechai. (And this is like the Rama.) And this works out, but how does Rambam really know that this is the meaning? And as Aruch Hashulchan asks:
But this is not entirely understandable. According to this, why did the Shas use this unique language "until he does not..."? Let it say "he must drink until he dozes off?"
Therefore, Aruch Hashulchan suggests that Rambam actually rejects the position of Rava lehalacha, and that Rambam maintains the gemara rejects it because of the incident with Rabba and Rabbi Zera. Just as Ran cites Rabbenu Ephraim, maintaining this position.

I don't find this very convincing. Rather, I would answer Aruch Hashulchan's question by noting that Rava's statement is idiomatic, colorful, makes playful use of Purim themes, and sounds like leshon guzma, exaggerated speech. And as various poskim note, to make it literal would mean drunkenness up to that of Lot, and he would be degraded to a disgusting state of vomit and excrement, which is difficult to believe is the recommended shiur. I believe Rambam understood the gemara to be a colorful guzma, and since, obviously, one would not really drink ad delo yada, he substituted an actual measurement of becoming rather drunk. Furthermore, I think that Rambam's reading of the gemara is extremely plausible.

3) But I have an even better reason for people not to become exceedingly drunk on Purim, and perhaps to refrain from drinking at all. Ran cites Rabbenu Ephraim that that because of the incident of Rabba and Rabbi Zera, Rava's statement of the shiur for drinking is not established lehalacha. (And Aruch Hashulchan suggested that this was Rambam's position as well.) While I see the potential of interpreting the flow of the gemara in this manner -- the first year, they conducted themselves in this way stated (later) by Rava; because of the death and miraculous resurrection, they decided not to do so the second year -- I am not persuaded that this is the gemara's intent. This could be merely interesting aggadeta, of historical interest; and could be the actions Rabba was prone to take, not the actions the general populace would be likely to take. And Rava

However, these particular Amoraim did act, in each case, in accordance with halacha. Rava's shiur is indeed established lehalacha. And they drank up to, or perhaps exceeding, that measure. However, this rabbinic law (perhaps as an aspect of the type of mishteh one is to have on Purim) comes into conflict with sakanas nefashos. And protecting your life and health is a Biblical command! And we know וחי בהם. So while in general, one should drink to that level, Rabba and Rabbi Zera decided that they should not have their meal together that year. Perhaps they even became drunk to that level, but by themselves.

Both Rava's shiur, and this idea of not killing yourself to fulfill it, are halacha. And so if reality changes such that drinking on Purim leads to risk to life or health, one should not do it! (Update: Looking now at Rabbi Jachter's article, he seems to hint at a similar idea, towards the end.)

And indeed, reality changed. People drive on Purim; and people stumble into streets, where there are cars. That represents danger to your own life and to the lives of others. People either have weaker constitutions than they did in days of old, or don't drink as much and so cannot tolerate it, or the wine is different, or people are idiots and drink too much, or people are idiots and drink vodka and whiskey. The end result is that often enough people end up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning, or worse.

Now, in theory, this shouldn't effect me. I know how to drink to moderation, and I would make myself tipsy by drinking three quarters of a bottle of white Zinfandel. Only those who take it to the extreme should be told that it is forbidden for them to drink to excess, or because they do not know how to set limits, be told not to drink at all. But on the other hand, perhaps one cannot make exceptions. Every person, even the idiots, will say "Surely I am not intended." And then would drink, and put themselves or others at harm. Thus, perhaps a blanket statement of prohibition should be issued nowadays.

4) There is another point, and that is nishtaneh hateva. We find this, on occasion, used to explain why we do not conduct ourselves in accordance with halacha established in the gemara. Perhaps nowadays, our constitution is so degraded (because of yeridas hadoros) that we cannot handle it. Or we don't drink enough in general, to build up tolerance. For Chazal, wine and not water accompanied each meal.

Or else the nature of wine changed. This is something Balashon writes, summarizing research as to the nature of Chazal's wine.
We've skipped over an important question: Why was there a need to mix their wine at all? We see from Talmudic sources that wine was mixed with water, generally three parts water to one part wine (see Shabbat 77a, Niddah 19a). Since today we never mix wine with water, a common explanation is that the wine of that time was much stronger than the wine today.

However, as a doctor friend of mine pointed out to me, there's a problem with that explanation. Before the discovery and spread of distillation, no wine could ever reach a higher alcohol content than 14%. (In research for this post, I learned that brandy is wine that has been distilled, and can reach 36-60% alcohol content, and port is wine that has been fortified by adding brandy - and has approximately 20% alcohol.) Diluting such a wine by 75% leaves a very low alcohol content. It's not likely that they were so sensitive to alcohol that they need such a weak wine. So what's the answer?
I would ask: With an alcohol content of 14%, divided by 1/4, is it really likely that they could become so drunk as to not distinguish between Arur Haman and Baruch Mordechai? He continues:
The book The Road to Eleusis also discusses the issue of the Greeks diluting their wine, and comes up with the same question about the alcohol content. And the authors find something fascinating:

This custom of diluting wine deserves our attention since the Greeks did not know the art of distillation and hence the alcoholic content of their wines could not have exceeded about fourteen percent, at which concentration the alcohol from natural fermentation becomes fatal to the fungus that produced it, thereby terminating the process. Simple evaporation without distillation could not increase the alcoholic content since alcohol, which has a lower boiling point than water, will merely escape to the air, leaving the final product weaker instead of more concentrated. Alcohol in fact was never isolated as the toxin in wine and there is no word for it in ancient Greek. Hence the dilution of wine, usually with at least three parts of water, could be expected to produce a drink of slight inebriating properties.

That, however, was not the case. The word for drunkenness in Greek designates a state of raving madness. We hear of some wines so strong that they could be diluted with twenty parts of water and that required at least eight parts water to be drunk safely, for, according to report, the drinking of certain wines straight actually caused permanent brain damage and in some cases even death. Just three small cups of diluted wine were enough in fact to bring the drinker to the threshold of madness. Obviously the alcohol could not have been the cause of these extreme reactions. We can also document the fact that different wines were capable of inducing different physical symptoms, ranging from slumber to insomnia and hallucinations.

The solution to this apparent contradiction is simply that ancient wine, like the wine of most early peoples, did not contain alcohol as its sole inebriant but was ordinarily a variable infusion of herbal toxins in a vinous liquid. Unguents, spices, and herbs, all with recognized psychotropic properties, could be added to the wine at the ceremony of its dilution with water. A description of such a ceremony occurs in Homer’s Odyssey, where Helen prepares a special wine by adding the euphoric nepenthes to the wine that she serves her husband and his guest. The fact is that the Greeks had devised a spectrum of ingredients for their drinks, each with its own properties.
(One of the authors, Carl A. P. Ruck, discusses the issue in more detail in this book - pages 92-97).

So it wasn't the alcohol that made the wine strong - it was the spices! And in fact, we see that "spices" were added to wine in a number of Hebrew sources. We see that almost all the mentions of mesek can be explained to be adding spices or other drugs to the wine (see for example Daat Mikra on Yishayahu 19:14, and Shadal on Yishayahu 5:22, who writes, "they would add spices סמים to wine in order to make it more intoxicating"). In Maccabees III 5:45it says that the elephants were driven to madness before battle by giving them "wine mixed with frankincense". Kaddari mentions Mark 15:23 , where we see that myrrh was added to the wine as an anaesthetic (we've previously discussed how in Jewish sources wine was provided before an execution.) And there are similar sources in the Talmud as well (Maaser Sheni 2:1). Note that the Aramaic word for intoxication was besumei בסומי- from besamim בשמים, "spices"!
If so, we indeed see that nishtaneh hateva! Chazal's wine is not our wine. With our wine, we rely solely on alcohol as the intoxicant. And so, if we take ad delo yada absolutely literally, we would drink ourselves sick. We could get alcohol poisoning! Meanwhile, Chazal could drink until ad delo yada without consuming nearly so much alcohol, and so did not risk alcohol poisoning. (Rishonim and Acharonim grappling with this disconnect would then suggest all sorts of reinterpretations, such as gematria associations and the like, but could not comprehend how one could drink to such an extent without vomiting.) Since we do not have Chazal's wine, we should not attempt to drink ad delo yada. It is dangerous.

Perhaps we should try to recreate Chazal's wine, and add other intoxicants and hallucinogens. Alas, besides not knowing which specific ones they were, we would likely ran afoul of American narcotic law.

PS: Balashon mentioned Shadal on Yeshaya 5:22, so I'd like to provide that commentary as well. The pasuk:

כב  הוֹי, גִּבּוֹרִים לִשְׁתּוֹת יָיִן; וְאַנְשֵׁי-חַיִל, לִמְסֹךְ שֵׁכָר.22 Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink;

See Shadal here.

Note: Consult your local Orthodox rabbi for a definitive pesak. This was only intended as an exploration of the issues, and a consideration of the gemara and realia.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Eruv warning notice for Kew Gardens Hills

Received via email:
Rabbi Bergman just advised me that Rabbi Steinberg told him that the KGH Eruv will not be able to be checked today. Because of the storm there is a distinct possibility that the Eruv might be down. 

People should take this into account before carrying anything outdoors this Shabbos.

What was bothering Ibn Caspi?

Summary: Continuing the conversation on a post in Mishpatim. How Rashbam differing from Chazal is not the same as Rashi differing from Chazal. And considering how Ibn Caspi on egrof would potentially argue with the conclusions of Chazal.

Post: On Terumah and Tetzaveh, Ibn Caspi makes one short comment:

לא אחדש דבר באלו
שתי הפרשיות ואין ענינם הכרחי, ודי במה שקדמוני רש־י וא״ע:

That is, "no comment". I am not sure that his reason for lack of commenting here is precisely the same as in Mishpatim, but it seems possible. I would, however, like to consider what was bothering Ibn Caspi on some of those "no comment" statements in Mishpatim.

First, though, I'd like to take note of one or two comments on the previous post about this. I noted how Rashbam was willing to argue, on a peshat level, with midreshei aggadah, while Ibn Ezra's general approach was to explain how to arrive at Chazal's position via a peshat approach. And where Ibn Ezra differed, it did not practically contradict Chazal. One could still maintain the halacha, treating it as a rabbinic institution of expansion. עיין שם. Ibn Caspi, meanwhile, tells us to check out Ibn Ezra, Rashi, and the Gemara, but that he is afraid to comment, because his linguistically grounded peshat approach would cause the invention of new halacha, chas veshalom.

In a comment on that post, Jeremy noted a useful paradigm from Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Cohen:
Rabbi M. Cohen, one of the great Tanach teachers in YU, always explained the difference between Ibn Ezra (Spanish)'s pshat and Rashbam (France)'s pshat as having this Nafka Mina.

For Rashbam, who understands that there is a Rashi, who gives the midrashic interpretation, he can feel free to give his pshat-based commentary, and even contradict the halakhic drashot of chazal, because he knows that there are two levels. He's talking about pshat in the pasuk, while the halakhot are derived from the drash.

But for Ibn Ezra, there's only one level on meaning in the text, and that's the pshat (midrashim may stem from the text, but cannot be seen as a true interpretation of it). Therefore, if this pshat would contradict an explanation we know to be true (namely, the halakhic interpretations of Chazal), he sees that as problematic.
Lurker wonders about the following:
Why look to Rashbam for an example of a medieval parshan who offers pshat interpretations as alternatives to midrashei halakha of Haza"l? (Or at least, why look to him as a prime example?) After all, Rashi himself does exactly that, and in this very parsha:

On Shemot 23:2, Rashi cites the drash-based interpretations of Haza"l from TB Sanhedrin, and openly faults those interpretations as being inconsistent with the actual intent of the text:

יש במקרא זה מדרשי חכמי ישראל, אבל אין לשון המקרא מיושב בהן על אופניו.

After detailing Haza"l's opinion (which he has already criticized as being irreconcilable with the words of the verse), Rashi goes on to say that in his own opinion, the verse should instead be interpreted in a manner consistent with its intent, according to the verse's plain meaning:

ואני אומר ליישבו על אופניו כפשוטו.

Whereupon Rashi then proceeds to offer his own, alternative, pshat-based interpretation.

This raises an interesting question about Ibn Caspi's approach: Obviously, Ibn Caspi knew this Rashi, so I cannot help but wonder why he was so reticent about offering pshat-based interpretations of halakhot. After all, Ibn Caspi openly endorses Rashi explanations of the halakhot in Mishpatim (in the passage that you cited). So if Rashi was unafraid to give pshat-oriented explanations of halakhot -- even when those explantions were different from the drash-based interpretations of Haza"l -- then why should Ibn Caspi have been unwilling to do the same?
I don't think I agree with that assessment of Rashi. The pasuk, and Rashi, are:

2. You shall not follow the majority for evil, and you shall not respond concerning a lawsuit to follow many to pervert [justice].ב. לֹא תִהְיֶה אַחֲרֵי רַבִּים לְרָעֹת וְלֹא תַעֲנֶה עַל רִב לִנְטֹת אַחֲרֵי רַבִּים לְהַטֹּת:
You shall not follow the majority for evil: There are [halachic] interpretations for this verse given by the Sages of Israel, but the language of the verse does not fit its context according to them. From here they [the Sages] expounded that we may not decide unfavorably [for the defendant] by a majority created by one judge. They interpreted the end of the verse: אַחִרֵי רַבִּים לְהַטֹת, “after the majority to decide,” [to mean] that if those [judges] voting [that the defendant is] guilty outnumber those voting [that the defendant is] innocent by two, the verdict is to be decided unfavorably according to their [the majority’s] opinion. The text speaks of capital cases [i.e., in regard to the death penalty] (Sanh. 2a). [Note that in monetary cases, the court requires a majority of only one judge in order to convict someone.] The middle of the verse וְלֹא-תַעִנֶה עַל-רִב, they [the Rabbis] interpreted like וְלֹא-תַעִנֶה עַל-רַב [and you shall not speak up against a master], meaning that we may not differ with the greatest of the court. Therefore, in capital cases they [the judges] commence [the roll call] from the side, meaning that they first ask the smallest [least esteemed] of them to express his opinion (Sanh. 32a). According to the words of our Sages, this is the interpretation of the verse:לא תהיה אחרי רבים לרעת: יש במקרא זה מדרשי חכמי ישראל, אבל אין לשון המקרא מיושב בהן על אופניו. מכאן דרשו שאין מטין לחובה בהכרעת דיין אחד, וסוף המקרא דרשו אחרי רבים להטות, שאם יש שנים במחייבין יותר על המזכין, הטה הדין על פיהם לחובה ובדיני נפשות הכתוב מדבר, ואמצע המקרא דרשו ולא תענה על ריב, על רב, שאין חולקין על מופלא שבבית דין, לפיכך מתחילין בדיני נפשות מן הצד, לקטנים שבהן שואלין תחלה, שיאמרו את דעתם. לפי דברי רבותינו כך פתרון המקרא לא תהיה אחרי רבים לרעות לחייב מיתה בשביל דיין אחד, שירבו המחייבין על המזכין ולא תענה על הרב לנטות מדבריו, ולפי שהוא חסר יו"ד דרשו בו כן. אחרי רבים להטת ויש רבים שאתה נוטה אחריהם, ואימתי, בזמן שהן שנים המכריעין במחייבין יותר מן המזכין, וממשמע שנאמר לא תהיה אחרי רבים לרעות שומע אני אבל היה עמהם לטובה, מכאן אמרו דיני נפשות מטין על פי אחד לזכות ועל פי שנים לחובה. ואונקלוס תרגם לא תתמנע מלאלפא מה דבעינך על דינא, ולשון העברי, לפי התרגום, כך הוא נדרש לא תענה על ריב לנטת אם ישאלך דבר למשפט, לא תענה לנטות לצד אחד ולסלק עצמך מן הריב, אלא הוי דן אותו לאמיתו. ואני אומר ליישבו על אופניו כפשוטו, כך פתרונו:
You shall not follow the majority for evil: to condemn [a person] to death because of one judge, by whom those who declare [the defendant] guilty outnumber those who declare [him] innocent.לא תהיה אחרי רבים לרעת: אם ראית רשעים מטין משפט, לא תאמר הואיל ורבים הם, הנני נוטה אחריהם:
And you shall not speak up against a master: to deviate from his words. Because the “yud” [of רִיב, meaning quarrel] is missing, they interpreted it (רִב) in this manner [i.e., like (רַב)].ולא תענה על ריב לנטת וגו': ואם ישאל הנדון על אותו המשפט אל תעננו על הריב דבר הנוטה אחרי אותן רבים להטות את המשפט מאמתו אלא אמור את המשפט כאשר הוא, וקולר יהא תלוי בצואר הרבים:
After the majority to decide: [signifies that] there is, however, a majority after whom you do decide [the verdict]. When? If those [judges] who declare [the defendant] guilty outnumber by two those who declare him innocent. And since it says: “You shall not follow the majority for evil,” I deduce that you shall follow them [the majority] for good. From here they [the Rabbis] deduced that in capital cases, we decide through [a majority of] one for an acquittal and through [a majority of] two for a conviction. Onkelos renders [this verse]: Do not refrain from teaching what appears to you concerning a judgment. The Hebrew wording according to the Targum is interpreted as follows: And you shall not respond concerning a quarrel by turning away. If someone asks you something concerning the law, do not answer by turning aside and distancing yourself from the quarrel, but judge it honestly. I, however, say, [differing from the Rabbis and Onkelos] that it [the verse] should be according to its context. This is its interpretation::
You shall not follow the majority for evil: If you see wicked people perverting justice, do not say, “Since they are many, I will follow them.”:
and you shall not respond concerning a lawsuit to follow, etc.: And if the litigant asks you about that [corrupted] judgment, do not answer him concerning the lawsuit with an answer that follows those many to pervert the judgment from its true ruling But tell the judgment as it is, and let the neck iron hang on the neck of the many. [I.e., let the many bear the punishment for their perversion of justice.]:

Rashi's interpretation is another level of interpretation; but nothing in his interpretation contradicts the derasha. Indeed, though he does say ואני אומר ליישבו על אופניו כפשוטו, this reflects his general purpose in his commentary, namely ואני לא באתי אלא לפשוטו של מקרא ולאגדה המישבת דברי המקרא דבר דבור על אפניו. That is not to discard those midrashim which are not מישבת דברי המקרא דבר דבור על אפניו. But his focus is not on that, and so he does not pay them as much attention. In this instance, Rashi does not reject the midrash as untrue. Rather, he gives an interpretation which works on the peshat level.

Contrast that with the commentary of Rashbam on Mishpatim, discussed in this other post. The Rashbam writes, regarding bringing to the deles or the mezuzah,
הדלת או אל המזוזה - לעין כל רוצע אזנו לסימן עבדות. ומזוזה אפילו בבית אבנים של עץ הם, ויכול לרצוע באזנו ובדלת

This is against the midrash halacha, which makes it only the door, and not the doorpost. The midrash and Rashbam's peshat cannot simultaneously be true. And that is why we must look to Rashbam, and not to Rashi.

In Terumah and Tetzaveh, we cannot really know what was bothering Ibn Caspi, because he simply says that he will not comment. Only when he makes note, on a particular verse, that he is not commenting, can we start to guess just what he is tempted to comment, based on his regular peshat methodology.

Thus, for example:

And when a man sells his daughter -- 

If I had to guess, he is tempted to say -- like the Gra later said -- that this is a sale not of a maidservant, but of a sort of pilegesh -- a servant wife. Think along the lines of Hagar. And we see this idea in certain ancient Mesopotamian documents.

Another example. On:

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;

Ibn Caspi writes:

באגרף . הוא היד הכפופה, ולא אוכל לפרש עוד בזה
להיותי נוגע במצות

There are two possibilities here. The first is that he is conveying doubt as to whether egrof really means a fist. As Baal Haturim points out, some point to Yoel 1:

יז  עָבְשׁוּ פְרֻדוֹת, תַּחַת מֶגְרְפֹתֵיהֶם--נָשַׁמּוּ אֹצָרוֹת, נֶהֶרְסוּ מַמְּגֻרוֹת:  כִּי הֹבִישׁ, דָּגָן.17 The grains shrivel under their hoes; the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered.

and conclude that egrof means a clod of earth, which is similar to a rock; or, we may otherwise say, a tool of some sort. And if so, the pasuk is restricting this penalty for damage, or perhaps manslaughter on lack of recovery, to vicious malicious intent where the attack was performed with a tool. But a mere fist would not be included. If so, this would go against the midrashic understanding.

Another possibility is that Ibn Caspi's concern is אִם-יָקוּם וְהִתְהַלֵּךְ בַּחוּץ, עַל-מִשְׁעַנְתּוֹ. See some of the complexity involved with this phrase in this post.

Perhaps more at a later date.

What makes a gadol?

What makes a gadol? According to recent post on Emes veEmunah, it is the following traits:
I’ve written in the past about what I think the qualifications should be for that. They include but are not limited to encyclopedic knowledge of Shas, Rishonim, and Halacha and at least a working knowledge of Mada. They must also have a high level of Yiras Shamayim, a refined character, and highly developed degree of personal ethics.

Additionally they should have leadership capabilities, a certain type of wisdom that usually comes with age, and the willingness to unselfishly serve Klal Yisroel with great humility. Perhaps the most important characteristic of all is acceptance by their peers and their people - Klal Yisorel.

Occasionally one can become a Gadol without some of these traits - or at least greater strength in one area over another. But in the vast majority of cases all of the above traits are found in Gedolim at some level - perhaps excelling in one or two of them.
This reminds me of a midrash (? in Yitro ?) contrasting the lists of traits for a judge with what Moshe eventually took. Yachdus takes exception to the requirement to be an expert in madda, writing:
Yet, when making his own list from the past,

Rav Moshe Feinstein (pictured), Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Rav Ahron Soloveichik, Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, Rav Avroham Pam, Rav Yitzchak Hutner, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, and Rav Menachem Mendel Schneersohn.
he seems to be omitting something. Yes, some of these very Gedolim had little working knowledge of Mada. The Satmar rebbe and Rav Aharon Kotler both come to mind.
I don't see this as a contradiction. After all, Rabbi Maryles did write that "Occasionally one can become a Gadol without some of these traits" -- and presumably, they could consult with an expert, when it came to madda. So perhaps one could say that the Gadlus of the Satmar Rebbe and Rav Aharon Kotler were lacking because of their unfamiliarity with madda. 

I kid, I kid! Seriously, why is he so certain that the Satmar Rebbe was unfamiliar with madda? Sure, he did not have a formal science education, but the gemara tells us "Sod Hashem Liyre'av"! Indeed, that is why, while other people (such as Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky) were fooled by the hoax that was the moon landing, the Satmar Rebbe saw right through it, since it went against the beliefs of the Jewish religion (either something about the fiery nature of space, or else what we say in kiddush levana, ve'eini yachol lingoa bach). And apparently many of his followers believe him, and likewise know this truth.

{Update: According to Anonymous, in a comment below: nowhere does the satmat rav write that and he neve said that-rmmk was reffering to a different rebbe }
{Further update: In the comment section, Yosef Greenberg/Yachdus provides possible confirmation that it was the Satmar Rebbe: 
IIRC, it was the Satmar Rebbe who believed so but withheld comment after R' Yonason Shteiff who discouraged him from doing so. Depending on your belief, either because he would make a fool of himself, or he actually convinced him that it did happen.
But then, see Anonymous' response. Anonymous commenters, please at the least choose a pseudonym. Even better if you keep that pseudonym consistently. It makes it easier to track different people in a discussion, and lends further credence to your words as you build a reputation.

And Rav Aharon Kotler was able to solve a complex mathematical problem which the head of the Kovna Gymnasia was unable to solve. Certainly, he could have rivaled the Chazon Ish in skills at neurosurgery, despite how the latter read medical journals.

Really seriously, now, it depends what the role of the Gadol is, in his particular community. Certainly for pesak halacha, knowledge of metzius seems to me to be rather critical (though knowing how to competently consult and understand an expert is the real skill); but for other roles, and particularly for a community that has chosen to shut out the outside world, it might well not be critical.

And as Yachdus writes:
Who recognized your list as Gedolim, R' Harry? Is it possible that the conferral of the title happened simply by acceptance?

I think that the title of Gadol is limited only to people who are wholly accepted by a large segment of klal Yisrael. Regardless of the specifics noted above.
Yes, indeed, one definition of Gadol is someone accepted by the community as a Gadol. Probably the truest definition for this concept. But there might be different definitions of a Gadol, one being a leader who is truly worthy of being a leader in klal Yisrael.

I saw an interesting thing in Shiluv HaMasorot, by Rabbi Yekusiel Aryeh Kamalhar (b. 1871, d. 1937) -- a devar Torah touching on masorah, Tetzaveh, megillat Esther, and the question of why our modern day religious leaders cannot have this broad secular knowledge, like the luminaries of the past possessed, while still being religious leaders.

ונשמע ג׳ במסורה:
ונשמע קולו בבואו אל הקדש (שמות כח — לה)ש
ונשמע פתגם המלך (מגילת אסתר א — כ.)ש
נעשה ונשמע (שמות כד — ז.)ש
רבים שואלים, על מה לפנים היו רבנים גאונים, וחכמים בכל חכמה וקרובים
למלכות ויחד עם זאת היו צדיקים גמורים, כמו האברבנאל, ר״ש וורטהיימר• ור״ש
אפנהיימר וכו׳ ובזמן הזה, מי שאך טועם מעץ הדעת! נעשו חכמים להרע ורחוקים
מהצדקה ומצדקות ה'. ועוד שאלה בפיהם: מפני מה בעבר לא רחוק לפני ששים
שנה עוד היו בישראל צדיקים, פועלי ישועות בקרב הארץ והי׳ בבחינת ״צדיק
גוזר והקב״ה מקיים״ והיום פסו אמונים וגמר חסיד. על שתי השאלות הללו יש
חירוץ פשוט לשתיהן: כל שמעשיו מרובין מחכמתו, למה הוא דומה לאילן ששרשיו
מרובין וענפיו מעטין, שאפילו כל הרוחות שבעולם אין יכולים להזיזו ממקומו וכל
שחכמתו מרובה ממעשיו וכו׳ (פרקי אבות), כן הדבר גם בצדיקים ופועלי ישועות,
שהראשונים היו מוסרים את נפשם בעבדות ה׳ (ברכות כ:) ועל ידי המעשים
הכבירים שעשו למעלה מכח אנוש במסירות נפש, זכו לעשות נפלאות ודבריהם
נשמעו בשמים.
ובכן באה המסורה ושואלת: לפנים היה מרדכי בלשן ויודע שבעים לשונות
והיה ראש הסנהדרין ועם זאת היה יושב בשער המלך והיה קרוב למלכות ״ונשמע
פתגם המלך אשר יעשה״ והיום אין למצא איש כזה? לפנים היו צדיקים שקולו של
כל אחד ואחד היה נשמע בשמים ״ ונשמע קולו בבואו אל הקודש״ להתפלל• 
על ישראל והיום שומע אין להם התשובה היא, כי צריכים להקדים ״ נעשה״
כלומר ״עשיה לשמועה״ — להיות המעשים מרובים מהחכמה ומעשים ממש
כבירים, במסירות נפש כנ״ל.
The masorah notes that the word venishma (with a sheva under the yud) only appears three times in Tanach (though once with a kametz and twice with a patach under the mem). Shiluv HaMasoret makes this into a derasha, or drush. The three pesukim are as follows. Once in Tetzaveh:

לה  וְהָיָה עַל-אַהֲרֹן, לְשָׁרֵת; וְנִשְׁמַע קוֹלוֹ בְּבֹאוֹ אֶל-הַקֹּדֶשׁ לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, וּבְצֵאתוֹ--וְלֹא יָמוּת.  {ס}35 And it shall be upon Aaron to minister; and the sound thereof shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before the LORD, and when he cometh out, that he die not. {S}

Once in Mishpatim:

ז  וַיִּקַּח סֵפֶר הַבְּרִית, וַיִּקְרָא בְּאָזְנֵי הָעָם; וַיֹּאמְרוּ, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר יְהוָה נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע.7 And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the hearing of the people; and they said: 'All that the LORD hath spoken will we do, and obey.'

And once in megillas Esther:

כ  וְנִשְׁמַע פִּתְגָם הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר-יַעֲשֶׂה בְּכָל-מַלְכוּתוֹ, כִּי רַבָּה הִיא; וְכָל-הַנָּשִׁים, יִתְּנוּ יְקָר לְבַעְלֵיהֶן--לְמִגָּדוֹל, וְעַד-קָטָן.20 And when the king's decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his kingdom, great though it be, all the wives will give to their husbands honour, both to great and small.'

He notes: "Many ask why in earlier times there were rabbanim who were geniuses, who were scholars in every discipline and who were close to the government, and together with this were complete tzadikim, such as Abarbanel, Rabbi Shamshon Wertheimer,  Rabbi Shmuel Oppenheimer {thanks again to Yosef Greenberg for providing these identities, of his ancestors}, etc., yet in these days, anyone who merely tastes of the tree of knowledge becomes a scholar for bad and are distanced from righteousness and from the righteousness of Hashem? And another question in their mouths: Why, no more than 60 years ago, there were in Israel tzaddikim who performed wondrous yeshuot within the land and were in the category of "The tzaddik decrees and Hakadosh Baruch Hu fulfills", yet today the godly man ceases and the pious is finished? {See Tehillim 12:1.} Upon these two questions, there is a single simple answer: Anyone whose deeds are greater than his wisdom, to what is he compared? To a tree whose roots are many and its branches are few, where even if all the winds in the world blew they would not be able to move it from its place. And anyone whose wisdom is greater than his actions, etc. (See Pirkei Avot). So is the case by tzaddikim and those who perform wondrous salvations. For the early ones would be moser nefesh in serving Hashem (Berachot daf 20, the case of R' Ada bar Ahava ripping the red clothing off the woman). And based on the great actions that they did, greater than human capacity, in mesirus nefesh, they merited to perform wonders and their words were heard in Heaven. 

And therefore the masorah comes and asks: In past times, Mordechai was Bilshan {בלשן}, and he knew the 70 languages, and was head of the Sanhedrin. And with all this, he sat in the gate of the king and was close to the government -- "and he heard the kings decree which shall be done." And today, there is no man like this? In past times, there were tzadikim whose voice, each and every one was head in heaven -- "and his voice was heard when he entered the Holy place" to pray for Israel -- and today, no one hears for them? The answer is that they need to put first the naaseh, that is to say, the action, to the hearing, such that the actions will be greater than the wisdom, and the actions truly great, like the aforementioned ones with mesirus nefesh."

A nice derush. But I wonder how much is nostalgia, and also believing the many made-up miracle stories of years past. Also, perhaps the nature of the broad knowledge changed. For Abarbabel at least, one could be expert in the various sciences and disciplines and still maintain one's faith. And one could be a man of faith and reason. With the rise of haskalah, and the rise of certain modern sciences, perhaps knowledge of these other disciplines led, in many cases, to a dismissal of religious beliefs. Or perhaps this was just a social trend, part of the zeitgeist. Or perhaps society changed, such that one who possessed this sort of broad knowledge was not considered a Gadol, or religious leader. And so those who gained this broad knowledge would not be considered religious, and those who started out with a religious upbringing would avoid the broad knowledge (such that certain yeshivot banned the study of Tanach with Malbim). Of course, I don't know enough about the author's time period to make such speculation. But I am thinking aloud in terms of our own. (Except of course that I do know of some who developed this sort of broad knowledge. They are not chareidi Gedolim, though.)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Interesting Posts and Articles #261

  1. As an update to my discussion of breaking the glass under the chuppah, it appears that this condemnation of the degradation of the minhag into a contest of strength, in which wedding participants exclaim 'Mazal Tov',

    המנהג נהפך למין התהדרות גבורה, שהחתן דורך בכח על הכוס ומשברו לרסיסים וכל הקרואים (מוזמנים) ממלאים פיהם שחוק ואומרים 'סימן טוב' והוא ההיפך מכוונת התקנה
     is not original to Rav Ovadiah Yosef. From a book:

    How unfortunate it is, therefore, that the phrase of Jerusalem’s destruction is rarely recited and, instead, a chorus of mazal tov’s greets the breaking of the glass. If the reason for the glass breaking is to temper joy, this is surely inappropriate; if the reason is to recall a national tragedy, it is vulgar. Often not only is a joyous mazal tov sounded, but a licentious sneer that it is a "good sign" if the glass is smashed at the first try. This elicits gross comments regarding the groom’s prowess. The late Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Ben Zion Ouziel, wished that he could have abolished the custom for this very reason. In fairness, however, it should be noted that the mazal tov is not so much in response to the breaking of the glass, as it is to the end of the ceremony. In any case, it would be less than responsible to eliminate a millennial tradition because of some people’s untutored reaction to it. Perhaps we should reinstitute the reference to Jerusalem and move the glass breaking back to the middle of the wedding ceremony.
  2. Matzav rants about Vos Iz Neias getting an exclusive interview with the meshuggena who runs a Baal Teshuva yeshiva and who smashes computers. Is it sour grapes, about not getting the interview? Is it part of general attacks between competitors? Or is it genuine belief that one should not have given this crazy a forum for his views? From my perspective, sunlight is the best disinfectant.
  3. Revach promotes other segulos from Rabbi Menachem Mendel MiRimanov.

    But here is a lesser know segula for parnasa by the same Tzaddik.  He says to say V'Yiten Licha together with another person on Motza'ei Shabbos.

    The Minhag Yisroel Torah (295:1) brings from the Igra D'Tzvi a reason for this.  He says that it is brought down that when the Ba'al Korei reads the curses of the Tochacha no one should stand near him, since we don't want the curses to go on anyone.  Since "Middah Tova Miruba", good things have a far more powerful reach and effect than bad things, standing near someone saying the Brachos of V'Yiten Licha  will surely bestow blessing upon you.
    We have enough segulos, thank you very much. And minhagim used to grow organically, and were specific to their groups. Nowadays they spread via email forwards, like chain mail. I don't think this is a good thing.
  4. Wolfish Musings with a tznius lunacy roundup.
  5. Regarding drinking on Purim, we have Rabbi Yakov Horowitz posting at Beyond BT, on parenting and drinking responsibly. Emes veEmunah with Drunk as a Skunk. And the Rebbetzin's Husband reposts about drinking on Purim.

  6. Lion of Zion on how to write the ten sons of Haman.
  7. What makes a godol? Not Brisker Yeshivish. Emes veEmunah. Yachdus. And see this parshablog post on the making of a gadol.
  8. The latest ban appears to be Rabbi Karp trying to ban all sorts of fish, just for the halibut. With a quote from Rabbi Sholom Fishbane. Also, Rav Kanievsky on whether you can use Coca Cola instead of wine for Shalach Manos.
    Poe's Law: "Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won't mistake for the real thing."
    I myself am not so certain about some of these, whether they are Purim humor or for real. They both smell like spoofs. But that may well be because the reality is already just so ridiculous.
  9. At My Ober Dicta, this photo, along with the question, "Did Someone Say Idolizing Rabbis?"

While it is true that it is quite reminiscent of the idea of Jesus suffering and dying for the sins of present and future Christians, it does have precedent in Jewish belief.

Yeranen Yaakov with the original story -- an excerpt:
"I asked him, 'Maybe all this suffering is because of me, maybe because of the children or the grandchildren or daughters-in-law - one of us did something [wrong]?! Master of the universe!' He said, 'No, no, because of Kelal Yisrael'. I asked him, 'At least you could tell me what this process will bring?' He wrote, 'Mashiah'.
and in a separate post, ample justification and demonstration that the belief has Jewish origins. For example:
Bava Metzia 84b-85a: Ribbi Elazar BeRibbi Shimon had terrible suffering. Kohelet Rabba 11:7 quotes his wife, who quotes him as saying "All the suffering of Israel should come upon me," and it did. (והוה אמר דכל יסוריהון דישראל ייתון עלי והיינון אתיין) 

Still, Chazal maintained many beliefs, some of which are arcane (and which have fallen out of favor), and some not. It is what Christianity did with it, what prominence was granted to this belief, and how it fit in with the rest of the belief system. And it is perhaps for us to be cognizant of how we might be straying in the same direction. Rabbi Eliyahu must be extremely knowledgeable, or confident, in his tzidkus and importance in the greater scheme of things. And given other prominent beliefs idolizing rabbis, dead and alive, and given the messianic tie-in (that his suffering is to bring mashiach), it still gives me pause.

When the fast of Esther (Taanis Ester) ends, in KGH, in 2010

NOTE: This was for 2010. For 2011, see here.

Of course, check your own local times at the sites given. What is given here is for Zip code 11367, in New York.

The Etz Chaim bulletin gives an end time of  6:24 PM

According to Chabad,

According to

Fast Ends

R' Tukaccinsky

  • The fast ends no later than the
    emergence of ג' כוכבים בינונים at -

  • 6:12 PM
    R' Moshe Feinstein

  • One who finds fasting difficult may eat at -

    6:16 PM

  • One who does not find fasting difficult
    should wait until the time for מוצאי שבת at -

    6:23 PM

    ?מהיכא תיתי

    Posts so far for parshat Tetzaveh


    1. Tetzaveh sources -- revamped, with over 100 meforshim on the parsha and haftara.

    • Tetzaveh sources -- links by aliyah and perek to an online Mikraos Gedolos, and links to many meforshim on the parsha and haftara.
    • Remove me Na -- also for Ki Tisa. How Moshe was removed from a sefer.
    • A Populist Midrash
      • Different approaches to atonement, progressing from the elite, to the common people, to the poor, to the poor unlearned. Interestingly, Torah learning is given as an option before prayer.
    • The Purpose of the Tzitz
      • is "bearing the iniquity of the holy things." What does this mean? What iniquity? Three traditional answers: Rashi, that iniquity which belongs to the korbanot (e.g. tamei) but not which belongs to the owners (taking it out of designated areas); Tg. Yonatan, the iniquity of promising to bring a korban but not following up; Rashbam, recalling the korbanot so that the Jews' sins will be forgiven for them. Then, my suggestion: the "iniquity" of a mere mortal intruding in this holy place, such that he must be announced by the tinkling of bells and designated at "Holy to Hashem" to justify his presence.
    To be continued...

    Niskatnu Hadoros

    In response to a blogging meme going around recently:
    Two yeshiva guys, Chaim and Shmuel, were traveling upstate, by car. Suddenly, Chaim says urgently to Shmuel, "I need to use the bathroom." Well, there is no bathroom around for miles, so they pull over to the side of the road, and the fellow heads off into the woods to answer the call of nature. Shmuel wants to know how long he is going to have to wait, and if he should shut off the engine, etc., so he asks, "gedolim or ketanim?" Chaim says, "gedolim." But then, he returns back to the car after only about two minutes!
    "I thought you said gedolim?"
    "I did. But niskatnu hadoros. Our gedolim are like their ketanim."


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