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Showing posts from May, 2016

Thought for the Day: A Lot of Bugs Are Actually Kosher

Many companies like to use "buying lunch" as a reward for "job well done".  I have therefore had several requests to explain kosher.  Eventually I just wrote down a synopsis.  One of the items on my list of not kosher was, of course, "insects".  I got several responses; they were spit between enjoying my sense of humor and incredulity that I would add something like that to a serious explanation.  I explained to both that I certainly was serious and any of them who at broccoli were most certainly eating bugs.  This did not win friends for me nor influence people to do much more than give me a wide berth.  None the less, I felt that it was important to include that fact in the spirit of open and honest full disclosure.  I also wanted them to understand why I couldn't order even a salad from a non-kosher restaurant.

As it turns out (I discovered quite recently), I was wrong.  No, I don't mean just that there is some locusts that are kosher but we do…

Thought for the Day: Understanding Shulchan Aruch -- I Say and Some Say vs Some Say and Some Say

I am going to apologize right up front about this one.  I know that normal human beings won't find this fascinating, but what can I do?  I am fascinated by the precision of the Talmud and Shulchan Aruch; to the point that the way even apparent non-conclusions are expressed really reveal the information needed to come to a psak halacha.

Siman תרכ''ו discusses the details of building a sukkah under a tree.  As we all know; don't do that.  Of course, the Shulchan Aruch wants to cover all bases and presents its conclusion in "יש אומרים/יש אומרים"/"some say... some say" format.  The Biur Halach (d.h יש אומרים :) ) states that according to the well know rule, that means the p'sak halacha is like the second יש אומרים.  I have heard that rule before, but hadn't "seen it inside" till now.  The other format the Shulchan Aruch uses for יש אומרים is where he states a halacha סתם followed by "ויש אומרים", he then means the p'sak h…

Thought for the Day: Hot Smoked Fish Vs. Hot (and) Smoked Fish/Edible Raw -- Preparations Before Cooking

I know I said that the "edible raw" requirement for בישול עכו''םis boring.  I didn't lie, I was just ignorant; which is better, because I can fix ignorance by learning more, whereas fixing lying requires doing t'shuva...

Any who... it turns out that נאכל חי, which is usually translated as "edible raw", should really be translated as "edible before being cooked".  "What's the difference?", you might ask.  I am glad you asked: some foods are processed after they are harvested (plants) or killed (animals) but before they are cooked.  That processing can render edible food inedible and edible food inedible.  For example, the dry beans you buy for cholent are completely inedible (try it; I triple dog dare you if you don't believe me).  That could actually be an issue for בישול עכו''ם, except that beans are not the kind of things you find at a state dinner; whew!

The other way, though has very practical implications.  I…

Thought for the Day: Improving Quantity and Quality of Life in This World, Three Simple Practices

Chazal (Brachos 54b) tell us that by extending our time in prayer, at the table, and in the bathroom we will extend our days and years.  My first thought at seeing this list was a paraphrase of a favorite Sesame Street vignette, "All three of these things are not like the others, all three of them just don't belong."  Perhaps, though, we will see why they are like the others by the time I finish my TftD.

Rashi doesn't even bother to give an explanation for prayer, but he does give help us out with the table and bathroom.  By extending our meal, poor people are likely to come by and therefore we'll have an opportunity to give tzedaka.  (Hang on... you mean to say that I shouldn't be aggravated when that m'shulach knocks at my door davka at dinner time?  You mean to say, that he is coming to give me extended days and years?  Uh-oh....)  Not rushing in and out of the bathroom, taking care of your needs appropriately, Rashi says, is curative.  Apparently he t…

Thought for the Day: Characterizing Food That Falls Under the Rubik בישול עכו''ם

I never really understood all the gun control brouhaha opposing registration of hand guns until I heard an NRA representative say, "The Second Amendment is not about deer hunting."  Ah... they understand that there is a constitutional right to keep a secret stash of guns in case government goes bad and they need to stage a revolution.  I didn't and don't agree with that stance, but I at least I can now understand why they claim registration is unconstitutional.  (I really, really don't want to get into a discussion of gun control; just noting a place where knowing the background really helped me.)

One of the decrees from Chazal is בישול עכו''ם/food cooked by a non-Jew.  It's not about kashrus.  Proof: if that were the problem, we wouldn't need a decree; we are already not allowed to eat non-kosher food.  The decree of בישול עכו''ם is a barrier to intermarriage, plain and simple.  To that end, Chazal only included certain kinds of foods und…

Thought for the Day: When Halachic Obligations Collide

A close friend of mine died many years ago and I took it pretty hard.  One of the reasons his death was particularly difficult for me was that we had become closer after we were each diagnosed with cancer.  Different cancers, but cancer none-the-less.  He died; I didn't.  I wanted to do something!  So I decided that I would be stringent on myself to each only eat חלב ישראל.  Baruch HaShem, I told my rav my decision.  Of course, it would have been better to have actually discussed the idea with him, but at least I asked.  His response was very cool (one might say even icey).  "Your family doesn't keep חלב ישראל, they are not ready to keep חלב ישראל, and I am not sure they every should keep חלב ישראל.", he told me.  No problem, I responded; I'll keep it as a personal stringency... if we are having dairy for dinner, I'll just make myself something else.  What could be wrong with that?

At that point I believe my rav realized just how bottomless my clueless meter …

Thought for the Day: When ספק דרבנן לקולא Doesn't Work

ספק דרבנן לקולא does not mean, G-d Forbid, that we take Rabbinic decrees lightly, nor does it mean that ignorance can be covered up by saying, "oh well... I guess I am in doubt and ספק דרבנן לקולא, so let's go for it!"  However, when you have investigated the situation and are left with a real ספק on a דרבנן it is really, really the halacha that you go to the lenient side.  Moreover, regarding עירובים, in any machlokes in the gemara the halacha accord to the side being lenient.  I found it interesting and surprising, therefore, that there is a case with עירובי תחומין that leads to needing to be stringent on all sides.

I have already mentioned the following problem:
Here's a really cool problem:  Suppose someone mistakenly thought he could establish one תחום for Friday night and another for Shabbos day (he wants to hear two different shiurim on different sides of his תחום).  This is a mistake, so (at least) one of the עירובים is not effective; but which one?  ... Ther…

Thought for the Day: עירובי תחומין -- Which Side Is the Leniency?

I know what you are thinking... good grief, more philosophy?  Enough already; let's zip over to the laws of עירובי תחומין.  In broad strokes, a person's תחום is 2,000 cubits in each direction from wherever he makes his residence on Shabbos.  Pretty much your residence is where you live.  However, suppose you want to spend most of Shabbos at home, but you want to go to hear a particular rav speak on Shabbos afternoon, and he will be speaking 4,000 cubits due west of your house.  That's where עירוב תחומין comes in.  [NB: עירובי תחומין are only allowed for either a mitzvah or other pressing need.]  Basically, again in broad strokes, Chazal allowed you to establish an effective residence and then use that location as the center of your תחום.  Thus, if you establish your residence 2,000 cubits due west of your house, then you can eat and sleep at your house before walking 4,000 cubits (2,000 to your effective residence plus 2,000 more to its west) due west to hear the rav.

Now …

Thought for the Day: Shabbos Mussaf... We Are Davening For What!?

I had a disturbing Shabbos morning.  Still riding the high of having inaugurated Shabbos with my brand new becher (did I mention that I actually made it?), I hit a bump in the road during the silent sh'mone esrei of mussaf.  I was davening along as usual, when I got into the paragraph asking that it should be HaShem's Will to bring us to our land where we can again fulfill our obligations and אֶת־מוּסַף יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת הַזֶּה/ the additional offering of this Shabbos day...

Wait... wait.. the additional offerings for this Shabbos day!?  First of all, I thought, I am way, way outside תחום שבת (Shabbos domain).  No matter what opinion you hold for size of cubit and whether the תחום is 2000 or 12,000 of 'em, 6,182 miles (the distance from Chicago to Yerushalyim) is way too far.  I mentioned that to a fellow davenaer (after davening was over, silly) and he looked at me quizzically (a facial expression I see not infrequently).  "You are worried about תחום שבת?  How about th…

Thought for the Day: שהחיינו On First Use of a New Becher (Kiddush Cup)

My becher -- the one that I made (and therefore does not require a ritual immersion since it was never owned by a goy; woo-hoo) -- arrived yesterday, so I am am looking forward to Shabbos even more than usual.  I am particularly looking forward to making kiddush with my new becher.  (Did I mention that I actually made it?)  Ok, ok... you really want to see it?  Here:
As I realized how much joy I was going to get using my new becher (that I made) for kiddush, I thought, "Hey!  I bet I should make a שהחיינו!"  After all, this certainly is a new vessel whose first use will bring me a lot of שמחה and it is not something I acquire frequently (this is the first and very likely only time I will do this).  Seems to fit the criteria.  Yes, yes, I know that we usually translate כלי as "garment" vis a vis שהחיינו, but frankly, I usually do not make a שהחיינו on a new suit.  A suit is just clothes and I really couldn't care less whether it is new or not.  True enough that …

Thought for the Day: Fear That Separates/Fear From Love

As I mentioned, my two eldest grandchildren asked two very fundamental questions at our seder this year: (1) Why do we need both the מכות and קריעת ים סוף; shouldn't one be enough to prove that HaShem runs the world?  (2) Why did HaShem give them the idea of עבודה זרה in the first place?  I gave them an answer, but then I saw the first question discussed at length in the hagada arranged by R' Matisyahu Salomon, shlita.  As it turns out, Kayin and Hevel also had this question; Kayin's conclusion led him to bring the worst of his crop as an offering to HaShem; Hevel saw something deeper and brought the best of his flock as an offering to HaShem.  I believe that this difference also brought Kayin to murder and עבודה זרה, so it is all really one thing.

By way of introduction: we took the kids to a mall that specialized in unique and hand made crafts.  One store was a glass blowing shop, where they also offered an opportunity to make your own glass.  I am fascinated by glass bl…

Thought for the Day: Tiny Details Add Up -- Both in Damages and Avodas HaShem

While it is always a z'chus and point of pride to make a siyum, I made a siyum last week on Bava Kamma that was a particular point of pride for me.  For one thing, this siyum was on my most recent "when my chavrusa doesn't show up or is late" masechta.  This is the fourth such masechta I have finished.  That's not the particular point of pride, however.  Another thing that made this special was being able to provide a siyum so first born Jews wouldn't have to fast erev Pesach.  Still, as cool as that was, there was something even more thrilling about this siyum.
Aside: Why do the first born fast on erev Pesach?  There are several explanations, one of which is that they were fasting to have the merit to live through מכת בכורות, which was scheduled for that night.  One of the heintige poskim (ooohh... so religious!) says that it seems logical that first born resident aliens (aka, גרי צדק) would have also fasted that day; which I only learned this year.  No one s…

Thought for the Day: Seder Lesson: HaShem and Only HaShem Is In Charge

The basic mitzvah of the seder night is to inspire the children to ask questions about the whole process and meaning of יציאת מצרים/the Exodus from Egypt and how it is relevant.  That's a mitzvah from the Torah folks.  As if that isn't enough, you are then supposed to answer their questions.  I actually find it difficult to do that, because my children -- and now grandchildren -- go to a Jewish day school.  They come to the seder armed with incredible hand crafted hagados, songs, and divrei Torah.  I am not complaining, mind you; just whining that my job is much harder.  They are so stuffed with knowledge -- ברוך השם -- that it makes my job that much harder.

Being American, I know that no problem is so hard that throwing money at it won't help.  So I told my grandchildren that they get one real dollar coin per year they are old for asking a question they never asked before and/or noticing something at they seder they never noticed before.  They can earn up to two dollars p…