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Showing posts from June, 2016

Thought for the Day: So *That's* What's Going On With היתר מכירה

Keeping שמיטה is difficult.  Those farmers in Israel who observe shmita are certainly to be praised.  One of the basic approaches is known as היתר מכירה, literally "permission via sale".  The idea is that only land own by Jews in Eretz Yisrael is subject to the restrictions of the שמיטה year (at least at the Torah level).  The היתר מכירה is executed by selling the farmland to non-Jews for the year (or two, because an early disagreement about to calculate the שמיטה year).  Then it is -- for all practical purposes -- business as usual.  There are a myriad of details regarding the details of farming and distribution needed to properly observe שמיטה even with the היתר מכירה, but that's not the focus of those TftD © (as if anyone cares...).  It is interesting to explore exactly how the היתר מכירה is executed from a halachic perspective.

R' Cohen from the CRC has an excellent explanation that breaks the issue down into four simpler issues; those being:

Assigning a שליח/agen…

Thought for the Day: When a Woman Bentches Gomel

All us male Jews are accustomed to seeing returnees/travelers from Eretz Yisrael lining up after the Torah reading on Mondays and Thursdays to "bentch gomel".  Why on Mondays and Thursdays?  Why isn't there a corresponding line of women on the other side of the m'chitza?  Should women bentch gomel, and if so, when and how?  Enquiring minds want to know, inquiring minds will actually put some effort into discovering the answer.  First, of course, we need some background (the enquirers will likely check out now).

The Shulchan Aruch (O.Ch. 219) mandates that who emerges alive from four dangerous situations -- חבוש/imprisonment for a death/life sentence, יסורים/life-threatening illness, ים/crossing the ocean/sea, מדבר/crossing a dangerous wilderness -- is obligated to formally thank HaShem for his miraculous salvation.  (Flying over water falls into the perilous journey category.)  You can remember them by the acronym חיים/life, of course.  The bracha follows the usual t…

Thought for the Day: Preparing for Second Day of Yom Tov on First Day/Lifetime of Learning

I just listened to the third of R' Fuerst's shiurim on preparing from one day of Yom Tov to the next (or from Shabbos to Yom Tov or vice versa... all the same question).  The basics are are well known: it is forbidden to prepare from one day of Yom Tov to the next.  But why?

To get to why, let's start with an interesting חידוש of the Chayei Adam: one is permitted to take food out of the freezer on the first day for the second day, but only as long as the food is taken out early in the the day, but not close to sundown.  Hang on there, quicks draw.  If that's called preparing (and there is not apparent reason to think it isn't), then why is it permitted at all?  On the other hand, if that is not called preparing (we'll need to understand why not), then what difference does it make whether it is early in the day or close to sundown?

First let me forestall answering: "Heck!  It's not no work at all and barely takes a few seconds."  That doesn't h…

Thought for the Day: The Torah Wasn't Given to Angels VS HaShem Doesn't Punish for Unavoidable Sins

"It's not fair!"  If you have ever been around two year olds, you've heard that more times than you can count.  If you've ever been two years old, you've said it more often than you can remember.  If you have the emotional maturity of a two year old, you've thought (and sometimes even said) that embarrassingly often in the last hour.  (Guilty, I am afraid...)

But just between you and me, we really do expect that the Creator of the World will treat us fairly; right?  I mean, He surely owes me that!  (Grumble, grumble, ok... fine... He doesn't really owe me anything, but, ya know... really He should...)  In point of fact, the Torah does treat us fairly.  The Torah never demands the impossible from us.  Chazal actually have two ways to express this idea.

On the one hand, אנוס רחמנא פטריה/the Torah absolves you of punishment for any unavoidable wrongdoing.  For example, Yehuda is having stomach issues and so can't put on תפילין one day; אנוס רחמנא פטר…

Thought for the Day: Reward for Labor in This World

When still in the infant stages of becoming frum (I am now my early 20s; old enough to finally know that I don't know that much), we would occasionally take the children to Chuck E. Cheese.  They didn't eat the pizza (eventually...), but their were loads of games for them to play.  To play the games required token (I may still have some around the house) and some even paid out in tickets.  Those tickets were fungible -- inside the Chuck E. Cheese store, any way; the kids could buy key chains, jacks, stuffed animals, etc.

I like that idea as a parable for this world.  Every morning upon leaving beis medrash, there is highly recommended custom to remind ourselves of what we are doing in this world.  Part of that reminder is: We work hard and they (the goyim) work hard.  We get paid and they don't.  The Chafeitz Chaim asks: What do you mean?  They also get paid!  He asks and he answers: True, they get paid for what they produce, but not for their hard work.  The boss couldn&#…

Thought for the Day: Critters That the Torah Considers As Not Coming from Parents

Subtitle: The role of observational science in halacha.

The task to prove that all odd numbers are prime is given to a group of scientists.  The mathematician says, "3 is prime, 5 is prime; by induction all odd numbers are prime."  The physicist says, "1, 3, 5, 7 are prime.  9 is not prime... hmm... 11, 13 are prime.  Seems that 9 is an outlier/experimental error."  The chemist says, "1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11... all prime, so I guess all odd numbers are prime."  The biologist says, "1 is prime, 2 is prime, 3 is prime, 4 is prime.  What's the question?"

I bring this up for a few reasons.  First, a physicist always looks for opportunities to show disdain for the fact that people include biology as science; we look at them as observers and classifiers.  Important, but hardly science.  (I know I'm going to get in trouble for this...)  Secondly, though, look at the way the task was framed: prove all odd numbers are prime.  The task should have been:…

Thought for the Day: When Is It Permitted to Actively Nullify a Forbidden Substance?

According to the Torah, forbidden foods are usually nullified in a majority.  If one pound of Oscar Meyer wiener goo gets mixed with one pound, one ounce of /cRc/בד''ץ all beef hot dog goo, then the whole mess is 100% kosher; דאורייתא, that is.  (Ever looked into how hot dogs are made?  Calling it "goo" is bending over backwards being nice.)  Of course, דרבנן you will need more like 60 times as much kosher as non-kosher.  דרבנן you also can't nullify something that will be kosher soon (such as new wheat in old wheat), nor a piece of something that you would serve to an honored guest (such as a rib steak).  In all those cases Chazal added stringencies to keep us distant from making mistakes.

In that vein, they gave us another rule: אין מבטל איסור לכתחילה/do not set out to nullify a forbidden substance.  If it happens, it happens and בטל is בטל; just don't plan ahead to be sloppy with the idea that "oh well, it will be בטל anyway by the time I am finished.…

Thought for the Day: Just When Did Ruth Convert (and When Did Orpah Not)?

My grandson (a recent nursery school graduate with the certificate signed by more people than signed my Ph.D) gleefully told me that once someone becomes a Jew he can never go back to being a goy.  He had been learning, of course, about Ruth before Shavuos.  (Sorry about using her goyish name, but I can't figure out a good transliteration of רות -- Rus/Ruhs/Rüs/Rʌs/...)  Since he is not quite five, we haven't taken that deep dive into his ייחוס (or lack thereof; we sometimes refer to it is our yechuss).  I just said, "Yes, honey, I know."

One of the problems of the whole story, though, is precisely when did Ruth convert?  It seems hard to imagine that Elimelech or (maybe "all the more so") his wife Naomi would allow their boys to marry non-Jewish girls.  Yet, if Ruth and Orpah did convert before marrying, then how does Naomi have the right to even attempt to send these two Jewish girls back to their family homes and religion of idolatry?  And if they only p…

Thought for the Day: The Function of a לימד זכות

My granddaughter started to open an umbrella one Shabbos.  I told her we don't do that on Shabbos and she replied, "It's ok, Zeidy; I use the eiruv."  Very cute; adorable, even... coming from a five year old.  On the other hand, I once saw someone carrying and umbrella outside on Shabbos.  When he saw the look of surprise on my face, he gave me the same response (sans the "Zeidy" approbation), "It's ok; I use the eiruv."

I didn't find it cute nor adorable, but perhaps there is a לימד זכות?  Which brings us to the topic du jour.

There is a mitzvah, many hold that mitzvah is from the Torah, to judge every Jew favorably, aka: דן לכף זכות.  On the other hand, it is said in the name of R' Yisrael Salant that the first mitzvah is to not be stupid.  When is one obligated to find a לימד זכות and when is one obligated to not be stupid?  And what difference does it make?

I started thinking about this after hearing a shiur from R' Dovid Cohen…

Thought for the Day: Role of חזקה in Checking for Bugs in Fruits and Vegetables

I saw the first Star Wars movie with me friends from the dorm.  That was, apparently, before I was married.  I say "apparently" because I don't really have any memory of not being married; but I must not have been since I was living in the dorm.  Here's another "apparently": apparently that first Star Wars movie ever made was actually number four in the Star Wars saga.  I suspect that if it had not been such a financial and cult success that it would have remained the first (and only) in the so-called saga.  In any case, the fourth movie, which is the actual first in the saga also popularized the word and concept of "prequel".  Today's TftD is the prequel to my last TftD on checking for bugs, which left many scratching their heads (not because of bugs) wondering what I was talking about.

At issue is the p'sak of the Rema (Shulchan Aruch 84:8) that whenever a vegetable or fruit requires checking, each and every fruit/vegetable must be check…

Thought for the Day: Checking for Bugs in Fruits and Vegetables -- How Thoroughly?

My first job after graduate school was as a physicist in a radiation oncology department.  My job was mostly to check the charts to ensure that that the the techs had given each patient the correct dose -- as measured by time under treatment -- to each patient.  (Dose was measured by time because all patients were set up with the machine 80cm from their skin, so opening the shutter/turning on the machine for a certain time gives a certain dose.)  Not exciting.  One day, though, the physician came running (that's my memory) to me with a problem.  "Because of the size of the patient and tumor I need to move the machine back to 100cm, but I can't remember 's formula for how to adjust the time!"  I had, of course, never heard of  's formula -- and there was no Google in those days -- so I just worked out the time from my knowledge of (freshman) physics.  I showed him my calculation and he gasped, "That's 's formula!"  Not knowing 's formula,…

Thought for the Day: Bugs In Flour -- Why A Problem

Recall that the rules by which one determines if bugs may be eaten depends on where their where they grew and where they are now.  We had one example: bugs that were born and developed in ponds and cisterns of water are completely permissible for consumption as long as they have never left their habitat.  That is 84:1.  Bugs climbing on the inside of their home sweet home cistern are still considered to be in their habitat.  I suppose you could lick them off the walls if you so desired.  On the other hand, 84:3 tells us that simply running the liquid (such as beer, apparently) through a sieve renders the bugs as having left home and therefore forbidden.  That is because the bugs could have landed on the sieve when you started pouring but then dragged back in by the undertow (technically "toptow", I suppose).  So once bugs left, they become and remain forbidden even though they return to their original habitat.

Let's add another bug/habitat to our repertoire: bugs that gr…

Thought for the Day: Checking for Bugs On Shabbos -- בורר, מוקצה, Murder

I really want to talk about why bugs in flour is a problem (and I really hope/plan to someday soon), but I heard a shiur just now about the bug issue on Shabbos in which I heard a very interesting correction to my understanding of dealing with בורר in general on Shabbos.  Also, it's way more practical.  Also, it's still about bugs.  Finally, I don't recall sharing thoughts on murder before.  It's all good.

Assuming we are talking about bugs that a Jew is forbidden to consume, the first order of business is to remove the bugs from the food.  During the week that is no problem whatsoever, either pick it off or wash it off.  What about on Shabbos?  First off: all critters (except small children; go figure) are מוקצה.  Second problem: The whole problem is that you want to eat something that is currently mixed up with something you are not allowed to eat -- you are not going to find a better example of פסולת מן האוכל/"removing the bad from the good" than this one.…