Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Interesting Posts and Articles #364

1) "Biff Spackle" makes funny observations, with fake footage to make the point. For example, this:
Biff Spackle located this up-to-date hurricane map

and this, as another example.

These are jokes, people, not something to be taken seriously. However, a recent post with a "discovery" from Biff Spackle was unfortunately taken quite seriously: Obama Truth Team Unveils Spiffy New Logo
President Obama is trying to recruit a 2 million member-strong "Truth Team" to ensure that those speaking out against his administration are appropriately dealt with. I'm not kidding.

The Obama campaign is today beginning a new effort to enlist and educate at least 2 million supporters for a “grassroots communications team” they’re calling the Truth Team... “The goal is to ensure that when Republicans attack President Obama’s record, grassroots supporters can take ownership of the campaign and share the facts with the undecided voters in their lives,” the campaign said in a statement.

The teams will be first launched in 13 “swing states,” including Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia.

Cub Reporter Biff Spackle, in another world exclusive, nabbed photos of the Truth Team's new logo:

The one on the right is for their arm-bands.

In all seriousness, have you ever heard of such a thing? And can there be any doubt as to what Obama meant when he twice mentioned -- in very visible public settings -- the need for "a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded" as our military?

If we don't vote this man out in November, this country is finished.
There are various clues that this was intended humorously. You need to be a careful reader though. One hint would be the phrase "in all seriousness" following the joke.

What happened was that the author of this blogpost thought that Obama's Truth Team was Nazi-like, and so opened up a painting program and produced the above graphics. There are T T's arranged in a circle, with black on a red background, in order to be reminiscent of the Nazi swastika.

But this was not real. And no cub reporter is going to have the worldwide exclusive. It would have been launched on Obama's website.

But one or two Jewish blogs took it seriously. The blogposts are down, now that they realized their mistake.

Now, I think that it is somewhat silly for a person in power of the entire country to try to organize a Truth Team. And calling it a Truth Team sounds downright Orwellian, and it communicates the idea of Propaganda Squad.

On the other hand, this ironically demonstrates the need for an Obama Truth Team.

2) At Matzav, Rav Wosner and Rav Karelitz say that it is a mitzvah to report Purim fireworks sales.

3) Life In Israel has a book review of Strictly Kosher Reading.

4) Emunah Therapy on aliyah and personal growth.

5) Help! A Wolf!

Tomer Devorah informs us that: Gog u'Magog Beginning on Purim 5772?

30 Shevat 5772
Rosh Chodesh Adar

This new blog claims that HaRav HaMekubal Tidhar Elon, Rosh Yeshiva ofYeshivat Shemen v'Sassonin Eretz Yisrael said this in a recent shiur.

And at Shirat Devorah:
That rumor from last week, about Gog and Magog beginning on Purim has apparently been clarified by Rav Fish, but as I have not personally seen it, I can only blog this as a rumor. Hopefully someone will be able to confirm whether or not Rav Fish did send this out [please leave a comment if you know]

''And I also heard from Rav Tidhar Eilon Azulai Shlit"a that already in the upcoming month of Nissan, the great revolutions of the Redemption will commence.''

HaRav HaMekubal Tidhar Elyon Azulai Shlita from the Yeshiva Shemen Sasson, allegedly said to two people who came to him for advice, that it will be the last time they would be able to do a certain kind of teshuva, and that the Gog and Magog war will begin Purim 5772, and continue for two weeks leading up to Rosh Chodesh Nissan 5772......
They link to this post:
 וכן שמעתי בשם הרה"ג המקובל ר' תדהר אילון אזולאי שליט"א שכבר בחודש ניסןהקרוב יתחילו המהפיכות הגדולות של הגאולה   .
 Translation::And I also heard from Rav Tidhar Eilon Azulai Shlit"a that already in the upcoming month of Nissan, the great revolutions of the Redemption will commence.

story update from Rav Fish::

 הרב המקובל תדהר אילון שליט"א Kochav Yaakov from yeshiva Shemen Sasson said to 2 people who came to him for advise about רע חטא.He said to them its last time you could do Gilly Shelli. meaning some type of  Teshuva and Gog Magog will start on התשע"ב פורים .. and continue for 2 week leading up to Rosh Chodesh Nisan 5772 it could start with Syria or Iran there will be some type of  Revelation of moshiach by then.UPDATE FROM Rav Fish

ירמיהו הנביא ניבא על מה שקורה היום בסוריא
And in other news, the psychic tractor driver Nir Ben Artzi agrees to this assessment:
All the disturbances experienced by Am Yisrael – the pressures, the concerns, the worries: “what will the day bring?” “what will be?” “where will we go?” – the Holy One has gathered together and on the great day of Purim, all will be transformed for the good! Am Yisrael will see great miracles! All things that were thought of as impossible – things that a person cannot believe will happen – the Holy One will transform all of it into happiness and great joy for Am Yisrael this coming Purim!
I can only reply to the navi sheker as Yirmeyahu replied to the navi sheker of his day:

  וַיֹּאמֶר, יִרְמְיָה הַנָּבִיא, אָמֵן, כֵּן יַעֲשֶׂה יְהוָה; יָקֵם ה, אֶת-דְּבָרֶיךָ, אֲשֶׁר נִבֵּאתָ לְהָשִׁיב כְּלֵי בֵית-ה וְכָל-הַגּוֹלָה, מִבָּבֶל אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה.6 even the prophet Jeremiah said: 'Amen! the LORD do so! the LORD perform thy words which thou hast prophesied, to bring back the vessels of the LORD'S house, and all them that are carried away captive, from Babylon unto this place!

6) And see at Shirat Devorah and Tomer Devorah the following from Rabbi Amnon Yitzchak, who already has a false ketz prediction under his belt:
“The People of Israel are called to prepare the refrigerators and to buy a stock of canned goods and dried food products. We are located at the entrance on the way to a mess. I know things that you don’t know and it’s forbidden to me to reveal. I can only hint that you need to prepare the refrigerators. Iran is at the doorway!” so said Rabbi Amnon Yitzchak shlita this evening.

"…We are before the destruction. How can we sit complacently and do nothing, going to work as usual and continuing the routine? …I’m not mistaken. We’re positioned a month before war. It’s really close...."
I don't know why anyone would pay him the slightest bit of attention at this point. Well, we'll see what will be.

7) At Bat Aliyah, a guest post by Rabbi Nachman Kahana (who also has his own blog): The Courage to Tell the Truth.

In the comment section to my recent post on reasons why American Jews don't make aliyah, someone pointed out a troubling assertion though, from this guest post:
Indeed, we must pray to HaShem. But can any thinking, learned Jew take seriously the idea that the tefilos coming out of 13th Avenue in Boro Park, or President Street in Crown Heights or even Forest Ave. in Lakewood N.J. have an iota of influence in the Shamayim on the fate of the holy Jews in Yerushalayim and Eretz Yisrael?
He is arguing here with a speech by Rabbi Moshe Wolfson, where Rabbi Wolfson had said:

"Why are we quiet? Where is the awakening? Why is everyone so apathetic?... Everyone is busy with narishkeiten, we don't hear the alarm? We don't know that we have to pierce the heavens for rachamim from the Ribbono Shel Olam?"

"Everyone knows that there is currently a growing danger from Iran - and it is a great error for whoever does not know this. "Why should a Yid not know what is happening to [other] Yidden? Everyone must know what is happening in regard to other Yidden. Everyone must know what is happening in Eretz Yisrael."

Surely Rabbi Kahana is not suggesting that Rabbi Wolfson is not a thinking, learned Jew? Here is a bio of Rabbi Wolfson:

Harav Moshe Wolfson
Rabbi Noah WeinbergHarav Moshe Wolfson learned from the undisputed Torah giants of the previous generation. As a talmid in Torah Vodaath, he was infused with Torah from Rabbi Gedalia Schorr ztl, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz ztl and Rabbi Avraham Pam ztl. In time, the brilliant student joined the staff of Torah Vodaath, and he is known today by thousands simply as, hamashgiach (the mashgiach, or spiritual advisor). Over two decades ago, Rabbi Wolfson expanded his community and Torah influence by establishing the community of Emunas Yisroel in Boro Park.Rabbi Wolfson authored the seforim Emunas Itecha, a collection of discourses known for their deep and inspiring messages, originally delivered on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Rabbi Wolfson normally delivers his divrei torah in Yiddish, though on recent appearances at the yeshiva he has shared his elucidated Torah wisdom in English.

More than that. In many shuls across America, we say a tefillah lishlom haMedina, a prayer for the peace of the State of Israel.
אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם, צוּר יִשְׂרָאֵל וְגוֹאֲלוֹ, בָּרֵךְ אֶת-מְדִינַת-יִשְׂרָאֵל, רֵאשִׁית צְמִיחַת גְּאֻלָּתֵנוּ. הָגֵן עָלֶיהָ בְּאֶבְרַת חַסְדֶּךָ וּפְרֹשׂ עָלֶיהָ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ וּשְׁלַח אוֹרְךָ וַאֲמִתְּךָ לְרָאשֶׁיהָ, שָׂרֶיהָ וְיוֹעֲצֶיהָ...
Is Rabbi Nachman Kahana saying that this was a waste of time, and that the rabbis of these many shuls are not thinking, learned Jews?

I wish someone had told me earlier. I could have skipped out on it to check out the kiddush club. Or told the rabbi, so that we could get to the chulent sooner!

Seriously, though, I think that this holier-than-thou attitude is misguided, and Rabbi Kahana is not the one to judge to whom Hashem will listen. Indeed, the assertion is a bit obnoxious.

8) Here at parshablog, On Rabbenu Ephraim and Werewolves.

The zarka and segolta on מַעֲשֵׂה חָרַשׁ אֶבֶן

Summary: Shadal writes that one would expect it to be different, based on Rashi. One should put חָרַשׁ אֶבֶן together as a single phrase.

Post: Consider the following pasuk and Rashi towards the start of parashat Tetzaveh:

11. [Similar to] the work of an engraver of gems, [similar to] the engravings of a seal, you shall engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel; you shall make them enclosed in gold settings.יא. מַעֲשֵׂה חָרַשׁ אֶבֶן פִּתּוּחֵי חֹתָם תְּפַתַּח אֶת שְׁתֵּי הָאֲבָנִים עַל שְׁמֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֻסַבֹּת מִשְׁבְּצוֹת זָהָב תַּעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם:
[Similar to] the work of an engraver of gems: Heb. אֶבֶן מַעִשֵׂה חָרַשׁ. The work of a craftsman of precious stones. This [word] חָרַשׁ is connected to the following word. Therefore, it is vowelized with a “pattach” at the end, and likewise, “The carpenter (חָרַשׁ עֵצִים) stretched out a line” (Isa. 44:13). [This is like] חָרָשׁ שֶׁל עֵצִים. Likewise, “The iron smith (חָרַשׁ בַּרְזֶל)” (Isa. 44:12). All these are connected and are [therefore] vowelized with “pattach” s.מעשה חרש אבן: מעשה אומן של אבנים. חרש זה דבוק הוא לתיבה שלאחריו, ולפיכך הוא נקוד פתח בסופו, וכן (ישעיה מד יג) חרש עצים נטה קו, חרש של עצים. וכן (ישעיה מד יב) חרש ברזל מעצד, כל אלה דבוקים ופתוחים:
[similar to] the engravings of a seal: Heb. פִּךְתּוּחֵי חֹתָם, as the Targum [Onkelos] renders: כְּתַב מְפָרָשׁ כִּגְלָף דְּעִיזְקָא [a clear script like the engraving of a signet]. The letters are engraved inwardly, as they engrave the seals of signets, which are [used] to seal letters, [in] a clear and explanatory script.פתוחי חותם: כתרגומו כתב מפרש כגלף דעזקא, חרוצות האותיות בתוכן, כמו שחורצין חותמי טבעות שהם לחתום אגרות, כתב ניכר ומפורש:

The trup on the pasuk is:

which means that maaseh charash is placed together, and separated from the word even. This is strange, because according to Rashi's parse, the charash even should stand together, and it is the maaseh | of the charash even.

The alternative parse would seem to be that it would be the maaseh of a charash, upon even. Would be expect that nikkud, though?

Anyway, this is just what Shadal observes. He writes

That is, the zarka is disjunctive trup dividing a clause which ends with the segolta. So we should have expected the zarka dividing mark on the word maaseh, to keep charash even together. Perhaps the alternative parse is: engraver's work, upon gems.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Interesting Posts and Articles #363

1) Frum Satire wonders whether inverting your yarmulke can help relieve headaches, as suggested by someone at the Yeshiva World coffee room. I don't find it so implausible, nor would I automatically chalk it up to a simple placebo effect. If you don't shower enough, your hair gets oily. And that oil might soak into the kippah. And reversing it could let the drier side face your hair. Or the kippah might sit heavily on your head, and reversing it causes it to sit differently. It is not impossible. I recall an article in the secular papers a few years back about a doctor treating particularly Jewish ailments, such as (now I am making up examples) rashes from wearing tefillin. Still, I would not label this reversal a 'segulah'.

2) This is not so new, but I see Daat Torah carried it: Placebo works as well as anti-depressants for mild depression.

That does not mean that all mild anti-depressant medication is valueless, and a waste of money. Consider the following points.

(a) It worked as well means that for equal-sized subsets of the overall population, placebos worked as well as the medication. However, that does not mean that the subsets are the same people. Out of 100 people, perhaps only the medications would work for 30% (since it is treating some chemical imbalance the particular medication targets), only the placebo would work for a different 30% (since they don't have that particular chemical imbalance but are susceptible to the effects of placebos), and for an additional 10%, both the placebo or the medication would work (because of the power of the placebo effect, which is equal to changing actual chemical imbalances, or because the placebo effect is what is working in both the official 'placebo' and the medication.

To then not prescribe the medication because it is 'ineffective' would be wrong.

(b) Psychiatrists do not always prescribe the same mild, or even strong, medication. From what I hear, he might try one medication, and if it does not work, prescribe a different one, which works in a different way. Seldom does a psychiatrist know precisely what is wrong internally with the patient. Rather, it is guesswork. And once they arrive at the correct medication, it takes some trial and error to arrive at the correct level of medication. Not too much and not to little. If one considers an entire population, comparing a single placebo against a single mild anti-depressant, without followup and adjusting, it is not surprising that it would only work as well as the placebo.

(c) We cannot just eliminate all the 'real' medications and only give placebos. Because many people are educated and well-informed. And if they knew that all mild anti-depressants were placebos, then there would be not placebo effect.

(d) Similarly, if it is true that most mild anti-depressants work in whole or in part through the placebo effect, then publicizing this does harm to depressed people, who might not benefit from the placebo effect any more.

3) At Matzav, an Op-Ed: We must stop the Meshugaim. Basically, an anti-anti-vaccination piece.
The one idea I have thought of is to proclaim that we will absolutely not do shidduchim with people who do not vaccinate. If the normal people of Klal Yisroel join together and announce that we will not consider a shidduch with the queer people who are against immunizations and think they know better than everyone else, we might be able to stop this very dangerous campaign in its tracks.
Again with the threat of not being able to marry off your kids to influence behavior in the frum community. This one garnered a whole bunch of comments, including by people who are anti-vaccinations.

4) Russian scientists revive a flower from the Ice Age.

5) The latest from Marc Shapiro, at the Seforim blog. It starts with answers to quiz questions, but goes on to discuss kol isha and Artscroll "know[ing] what it is writing is incorrect, but writ[ing] so anyway." For example:
In explaining Tikun Soferim, Artscroll’s note states that this “cannot, Heaven forbid” be taken literally. Yet the editors of Artscroll, who are learned men, know perfectly well that there are traditional sources that state precisely this (See Limits, pp. 98ff). There is no question that the intent of the words “Heaven forbid” is to make the reader think that Artscroll’s perspective is unanimously held.

6) At Daat Torah, Rav Ovadia Yosef & changes to greater stringency in tznius.

7) The most recent Haveil Havolim.

8) Yeranen Yaakov finds geulah meaning in the (generally fake) ubiquitous footage of strange sounds across the globe. Next up, how Bigfoot sightings are meaningful in the greater war of Gog and Magog.

9) At Hirhurim, Mishna Berura vs. Aruch HaShulchan. Aruch HaShulchan, I say.

10) Here on parshablog, you can participate in the Oh Nuts! Purim competition. Also at DovBear, for another chance at entering.

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The trup on וְעָשִׂיתָ מִכְסֶה לָאֹהֶל

Summary: Shadal generates the alternate cantillation, based on Rabbi Yehuda's position, mentioned in Rashi.

Post: Consider the following pasuk, and Rashi, from parashat Terumah:

14. "And you shall make a covering for the tent of ram skins dyed red and a covering of tachash skins above.יד. וְעָשִׂיתָ מִכְסֶה לָאֹהֶל עֹרֹת אֵילִם מְאָדָּמִים וּמִכְסֵה עֹרֹת תְּחָשִׁים מִלְמָעְלָה:
a covering for the tent: For the roof of goat hair curtains, make an additional covering of ram skins dyed red. Additionally, above it [place] a covering of tachash skins. These [two] coverings covered only the roof, their length being thirty [cubits] and their width ten. These are Rabbi Nehemiah’s words, but according to Rabbi Judah, there was [only] one cover, half of [it made from] ram skins dyed red and half of [it made from] tachash skins. -[from Shab. 28a]מכסה לאהל: לאותו גג של יריעות עזים עשה עוד מכסה אחד של עורות אילים מאדמים, ועוד למעלה ממנו מכסה עורות תחשים, ואותן מכסאות לא היו מכסין אלא את הגג, ארכן שלשים ורחבן עשר, אלו דברי רבי נחמיה, ולדברי רבי יהודה מכסה אחד היה, חציו של עורות אילים מאדמים, וחציו של עורות תחשים:

There are two ways of parsing this pasuk. In the first way, namely according to Rabbi Nechemiah, this pasuk speaks about two coverings. Therefore, it is appropriate to place the etnachta on the word מְאָדָּמִים, for it is the end of the description of this first covering, and the word מִלְמָעְלָה refers to the second covering, namely that of the עֹרֹת תְּחָשִׁים, above it:

The second way, according to Rabbi Yehuda, has only a single cover. Presumably, the word מִלְמָעְלָה then refers to both parts of the single covering. Shadal writes that the trup would then be as follows:

If I am reading this correctly, this is what Shadal means. There is a silluq on the last word, of course, מִלְמָעְלָה. What divides a clause ending in silluq? Usually an etnachta, but in close proximity to the silluq, it can be a tipcha. And so, by putting the tipcha on techashim, he separates off מִלְמָעְלָה first, such that it applies to the entirety of the pasuk. All the rest of the trup divides and further subdivides a clause ending in tipcha. That is why you don't see any zakefs in his recantillation of the verse. The break of the clause ending in tipcha is made by the tevir on the word מְאָדָּמִים. And earlier trup in the pasuk subdivides the clause ending in tevir.

Assuming we agree with Shadal as to what the cantillation should be, then how could there have been a machlokes? Was Rabbi Yehuda not aware of the trup on the pasuk? Did he regard trup as not dispositive? Or shall we say that there were two earlier conflicting traditions as to the trup, just enunciated by the two Tannaim, who just so happen to argue in many many other places? Or perhaps they did not even have this level of trup in their days? Or perhaps they did have trup, but regarded it not as halacha leMoshe miSinai but as fluid and subject to however one would understand the pasuk, such that the trup should be changed to reflect their interpretation.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Purim Contest from Oh Nuts!

Three ways to enter and perhaps win:

1. Go to the Oh Nuts Purim Basket Gift page. Choose your favorite Purim Gift and leave a comment on this blogpost with the name and url of the gift you like best.

I will pick a random winner who will receive a $30 gift Oh Nuts! certificate.

2. Go to the Oh Nuts facebook page, become a fan and post the url and name of your favorite Purim Gift Basket .

You must also write "I am here via Parshalog:

Oh Nuts will pick the winner

3. Follow @ohnuts on Twitter and Tweet:

"Win a Purim Basket from Follow @ohnuts and RT to Enter Daily "

Oh Nuts will pick the winner.

On Rabbenu Ephraim and Werewolves

A little while back, someone in the know told me an interesting story about one of the rabbis (Rabbi X) who was quite vocal in opposing Rabbi Natan Slifkin's books. I won't name names, though.

Apparently, in the yeshiva was found the sefer of Rabbenu Ephraim, and one of the bachurim picked up the sefer and was flipping through it, and he discovered the passage about werewolves, that Binyamin was a werewolf:
Another explanation: Benjamin was a “predatory wolf,” sometimes preying upon people. When it was time for him to change into a wolf, as it says, “Benjamin is a predatory wolf,” as long as he was with his father, he could rely upon a physician, and in that merit he did not change into a wolf. For thus it says, “And he shall leave his father and die” (Gen. 44:22)—namely, that when he separates from his father, and turns into a wolf with travelers, whoever finds him will kill him. (Rabbeinu Ephraim, commentary to Genesis 44:29)
The bachur showed it around, and eventually showed it to Rabbi X, who read it in disbelief, and then instructed the bachur to show it to Rabbi Y, and then to take it out of the beis medrash. The explanation by a talmid is that Rabbi X has no patience for things which he feels are not Torah. And clearly, it is ridiculous to say that Binyamin was a werewolf, and this is not Torah but nonsense. As such, it has no place in the beis medrash.

Thus, before he tossed Rabbi Slifkin's books out of the beis medrash, he tossed Rabbenu Ephraim out of the beis medrash. There is a consistency there.

My reaction to this was that this is a literal interpretation of the expression "he is not from our beis medrash." Said e.g. about the Abarbanel, of about any Rishon who holds a hashkafic position not currently in vogue. Rabbenu Ephraim was one of the Baalei haTosafos, but once he said something that a present-day rosh yeshiva thought was (foolishly) incorrect, he no longer had a physical place in the beis midrash.

Another example of such kicking out of the beis medrash is this, that I saw online, and so am not able to authenticate:
I recently learned that NIRC does not have any Abudrahams because the Abudraham says that Yesahaya/Yechezkel/Yirmiyahu (one of those) made a mistake.
Apparently that was too much for NIRC, 
If Rabbenu Ephraim and the Avudraham don't stand a chance, then certainly Rabbi Slifkin didn't stand a chance, even though he was presenting Rishonim and Acharonim.

Now, I think it is most probable that Rabbenu Ephraim meant this bit about werewolves literally, because they believed in the actual literal existence of werewolves in his days. Werewolves were not ridiculous fantasy, and so it made perfect sense to explain a pasuk based on this. And so it was not making Torah into a mockery. And if done carefully and properly, it is not mocking one of the baalei haTosafot to note that Rabbenu Ephraim said this, but that we disagree with him. It is also possible that he made the statement metaphorically, though we should conclude this from text-internal evidence rather than a conviction that there must be a deeper meaning because otherwise Rabbenu Ephraim would be ridiculous.

Apparently, Rabbenu Ephraim and werewolves are being discussed again. In the most recent Seforim blog post by Marc Shapiro, he writes:
I had been planning to offer one further example, but I was shown to be wrong. Let me explain: A little while ago R. Natan Slifkin had a post on werewolves, citing R. Efraim ben Shimshon’s strange comments in this regard. See here.

Slifkin earlier had written about this in his Sacred Monsters. None of this was a revelation to me since I had earlier seen the material from R. Efraim in R. Yosef Aryeh Lorincz’ Pelaot Edotekha, vol. 2, pp. 136-137. Not surprisingly, Lorincz takes this all very seriously. Readers might recall that I mentioned Lorincz’ book hereI called attention to his discussion of whether it is permitted to eat the flesh and drink the blood of demons. After this post I had a correspondence with someone who wanted to know what I thought about what Lorincz had written. I told him although I don’t know what the halakhah is in this matter, I nevertheless promise to eat the first demon that Lorincz is able to capture. I further told him that I would even volunteer to shecht it. My correspondent wasn’t seeing the comedy in this, as he thought that this was a very serious issue, that someone whom we are told to respect for his Torah knowledge could actually, in the twenty-first century, be discussing such a matter as a real halakhic problem. He was also adamant that if such a book was published by someone who taught at a Modern Orthodox school, the principal should immediately fire the author. Further correspondence revealed that he also didn’t think that anyone who believed in demons should be allowed to teach at Modern Orthodox schools.

My response to him was that I don’t think we need to get all out of shape about demons. To begin with, and readers can correct me if I am wrong, I don’t think that most people in the American haredi world really believe in demons. Yes, I know they study the talmudic passages that refer to demons, and will mention them as the reason for washing one’s hand three times in the morning, but based on conversations I have had with people in the haredi world (admittedly, most of them from the intellectual elite), I don’t think that they take it seriously. (When I say they don't "believe" in demons, I mean real belief in the role of demons and how they affect humanity, as expressed in the Talmud and elsewhere.) It is almost like the emperor has no clothes, in that they don’t believe it but continue acting as if they do, afraid of what will happen if they are “outed”. (I have found a similar phenomenon with regard to Daas Torah. I have discussed this issue with many people in the haredi world, and have yet to find even one who accepts the version of Daas Torah advocated by so-called Haredi spokesmen and Yated Neeman.) But even if I am wrong in this, there are lots more important things to keep out of Modern Orthodox schools than an occasional reference to demons. How about the negative comments about non-Jews and even racist statements (sometimes under the guise of Torah) that children are exposed to in Modern Orthodox schools? How about rebbes telling the students that there is such a thing as spontaneous generation, which is akin to telling the students to sign up with Flat Earth society?

Getting back to werewolves, there is someone much better known than R. Efraim who refers to them, namely, Rashi. In his commentary to Job 5:23, Rashi explains that חית השדה means werewolf. (He offers the Old French, for which see Moshe Catane, Otzar ha-Loazim, no. 4208, and Joseph Greenberg, Otzar Loazei Rashi be-Tanakh, p. 211) He further adds that this is also the meaning of אדני השדה (See Kilayim 8:5). I have to admit that I was all set in this post to mention that Artscroll, which always cites Rashi’s interpretation, in this example chose to omit it. Without even examining the commentary, I was sure that Artscroll would choose to avoid mentioning anything about werewolves. Yet when I actually opened up the commentary, prepared by R. Moshe Eisemann, I was pleasantly surprised to see that he indeed tells the truth, and the whole truth, i.e.,, that Rashi was referring to a werewolf. I found something else in this volume that I didn’t expect. In an appendix he discusses whether the commentary attributed to Rashi was actually written by him. Unfortunately, Eisemann did not feel that he should inform the reader which academic sources he used in preparing this appendix.
And in a post titled Werewolf Redux, Rabbi Slifkin writes:
I received an e-mail recently from an educator who was extremely bothered by the fact that Rishonim believed in werewolves, asking this can be reconciled with our respecting them as authorities in halachah and theology. The answer is that it depends on how one is viewing them. It is true that learning of their beliefs in werewolves is incompatible with the non-rationalist view of their being superhuman characters with divinely-based knowledge. However, it is not at all incompatible with the rationalist view of their being great Torah scholars who lived at a pivotal time in history from the point of view of Judaism but were limited by the scientific knowledge of their era. I don't think that anyone loses respect for Thomas Jefferson's greatness as one of America's founding fathers, upon discovering that he believed that no species ever becomes extinct and therefore sent Lewis and Clark to find mammoths. As with his discussion of mermaids, Rashi's statement about werewolves reflects perfectly normative belief in medieval France. 
So people from all over the spectrum think that 'silly' beliefs by Rishonim would / should / could lead us to lose respect for them as authorities of halacha and theology. I disagree, and rationalists in general disagree. We can keep Rabbenu Ephraim in our beis medrash, even as we disagree with him. And we don't have to fire a rebbe, just because he is so chareidi that he believes in demons and wonders whether it is permitted to eat the flesh of / drink the blood of demons.

At the same time, this sort of belief, when found in modern poskim, might indicate something about the way that they view the world. As I wrote in a post a while back:
But psak arises not just from a great depth and breadth of Torah knowledge, but from a knowledge of the metzius as well. If a Torah great can be this misguided about the facts on the ground (and also be misguided as to believe that the geocentric model of the universe is correct), then are they the best to pasken on issues relating to Torah and science?

There are some who are dedicated to Torah UMaddah, and their intersection. But what of those who consider Torah UMaddah to be an incorrect path, and as a result are woefully ignorant of maddah? As Chaim B. wrote in a comment about weighing the merit of different interpretations,

Agree with you 100% that the issue should be judged on its merits - but the judge should be gedolei yisrael who are experts in the field. Would you be the judge of the best method of performing brain surgery because you took a science class? Would you risk your life by saying that the conclusions of the majority of brain surgeons who lived in the past 200 years is wrong because they are all biased by modern science and you are in a better position to draw an "objective" conclusion?
But how can they really judge this, when they likely would not recognize all the places that Chazal's statements diverge from science, and quite possibly are not familiar with all the relevant sources, not really caring that much about the intersection until it becomes a hot-button issue? And should someone who does care about the issue, and has studied the various shittos deeply, and does have a better sense of just where Chazal seem to contradict science, be mevatel his daas to those who don't consider science important and therefore are not necessarily in a better position to draw an objective conclusion?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oros Techashim as humorous words

Summary: An interesting thought by Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev.

In Kedushas Levi, Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev writes:

"For sometimes, a person says something humorous, yet the innards are fear of Heaven. And so too techashim, the outside were not good, but the insides were good. And that which he says the fear {of Heaven} with humorous words, this is so that the person should hear from him because of the humor. And this is what Onkelos translated on orot techashim, as sasgevana. That is to say that it causes his friend to rejoice. And based on this, his friend accepts from it the inner message. And shesh mashzar is what a person speaks, good words, and the words are good and the inner message is also good. And the curtains of goat is what a person speaks of his own necessity."

Tetzaveh sources -- 2012 edition

by aliyah
rishon (Shemot 27:20)
sheni (28:13)
shelishi (28:31)
revii (29:1)
chamishi (29:19)
shishi (29:28)
shevii (30:1)
maftir (30:8)
haftara (Yechezkel 43:10), with Malbim and Tosafot Yom Tov

by perek
perek 28 ; perek 29 ; perek 30

Judaica Press Rashi in English and Hebrew (France, 1040 - 1105) -- ואני לא באתי אלא לפשוטו של מקרא ולאגדה המיישבת דברי המקרא, דבר דבור על אופניו
Chizkuni (13th century, commentary written about 1240)-- see Jewish Encyclopedia entry.  
Shadal (1800-1865) -- see Wikipedia entry:
  1. In plain text here , though not encoding some of the trup and nikkud, and omitting certain references to non-Jewish scholars.
  2. In Google book form  here , but with all that was omitted above. Also, with Shadal's Italian translation of the Chumash text.
  3. Mishtadel, an earlier and shorter commentary
  4. In determining the correct girsa of Targum Onkelos, Ohev Ger

Daat -- with Rashi, Ramban, Seforno, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, Rabbenu Bachya, Midrash Rabba, Tanchuma+, Mechilta, Gilyonot.
Gilyonot Nechama Leibovitz (Hebrew  -- see Wikipedia entry
Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz (1690-1764) -- see Wikipedia entry:
  1. Tiferes Yehonasan
  2. Chasdei Yehonasan -- not until Ki Tisa   -- chiddushim and pilpulim on midrashim, Toras Kohanim, Sifrei, and Rashi al haTorah. With supercommentary of R' Yaakov Goldshlag.
  3. Toldos Yitzchak Acharon, repeated from Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz
  4. Divrei Yehonasan -- not until Ki Tisa -- discussing halacha and aggada together, interpreting difficult midrashim
  5. Nefesh Yehonasan -- commentary on midrashim and pilpulim + Tanchuma, and suygot in Shas connected to each parsha.
  6. Midrash Yehonasan -- on difficult midrashim
Even Shleimah -- from Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Ehrenreich

Friday, February 24, 2012

Annual Tanach Yom Iyun at Yeshiva University this Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tanach Yom Iyun 2012 v2

The Abraham Arbesfeld Kollel Yom Rishon & The Millie Arbesfeld Midreshet Yom Rishon Programs Present the 2012 Yeshiva University Tanach Yom Iyun

Love & Hate in Tanach

Generously sponsored by Robyn and Shukie Grossman and family

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Registration opens at 9:00 AM • Sessions begin at 9:15 AM

Yeshiva University Shenk Shul
Schottenstein Center 560 W. 185th Street New York, NY 10033
Open to Men & Women • Refreshments will be served
Seforim Sale will be open all day in Belfer Hall after the program
Keynote Speaker: Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik - "The Virtue of Hate"
Session 1: 10:30am-11:30am
Rabbi Hayyim Angel (Faculty, Yeshiva College): 
Love and Politics in Sefer Shemuel

Rabbi Ephraim Kanarfogel (Faculty, Stern College for Women: 
Family Dynamics and Relationships as Reflected in Comments on the Torah by the Ba’alei ha-Tosafot

Professor Smadar Rosensweig (Faculty, Stern College for Women:
What is the meaning of Love in Tanakh?
Session 2: 11:30am-12:30pm
Rabbi Kenneth Brander (David Mitzner Dean, CJF)
Is all Fair in Love and War? Just War through the Prism of secular and Jewish Thought
Rabbi Ezra Frazer (Faculty, Yeshiva College)
Father Knows Best? Towards Understanding Yitzchak’s Love of Esav
Dr. Shira Weiss (Faculty, Stern College for Women)
Can We Truly Love God?: An Analysis of the Trials of Abraham and Job
$10 Admission • Free for current YU students

Register online now

A project of Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future


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