Thoughts on Judaism

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Chumash question

An excellent question put to me.

The parsha says that the mitzrim and K'na'anim ran out of money. Then it says that the Mitzrim sold themselves to Paroah, the only supplier with any food to sell. How did the K'naanim weather the famine? They survived as we see them later. They were out of money to buy food and they had the famine. If they sold themselves, why does the parsha leave them out?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Beit Shemesh

Whether or not this town figured in the Chanukah time battles, it has become the epicenter of a new push by various members of the Haredi community to grab power for themselves. They are often described in the press as "Ultra-Orthodox", but this is a misnomer in my opinion. They feel no kinship with other Orthodox Jews, nor do they adhere to standards based on standard Jewish law. They have their own government, their own tribunals, their own ideas about religion which deviate from Orthodoxy widely. They use standards formed inside the group only. They are more correctly called "minim", sectarians.

There are many in the Haredi community who are Orthodox, and they are just as baffled as the rest of us about what the political forces in their communities are after, and they are just as embarrassed if not far more so, by behavior that is so foreign to what they are taught and what they live.

One such min law is the at the center of the Beit Shemesh battle. According to the Jews, there are standards of modesty in behavior and in dress. For women, this includes covering ones legs to the knee, ones arms to the elbow, and not dressing in an overly alluring fashion. This custom of modesty, though not strictly legal, is universally accepted throughout the Jewish world to differing degrees. In the late 1950's, Orthodox Jewish women shunned wearing pants and traditionally male clothing, since it was associated with the beginning feminist movement. Many Orthodox still adhere to this custom today, as an established norm. Also, one is expected to avoid contact with women in a flirtatious or alluring manner. All contact between men and women that might be construed as flirtatious or alluring is forbidden. For instance, most men do not shake hands with women, even in a social or business setting, as this has become the custom.

However, in the min religion of Haredi, many consider the customs of modesty to be laws of the strictest importance. While Jewish law proscribes, for instance, that a man should not walk behind a woman going upstairs (or as a stringency, even on an equal surface), min law says that it is forbidden in Jewish law to sit on a bus behind a woman, to display a photo with a woman in it, even a child, or to allow a woman into a public job of any kind. This min law caused the fist storms of the fight, attracting even the attention of world leaders, like US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton.

Now, one might rightly argue that she criticizes the Haredim, while passing on the Egyptian, Saudi, Afghan, Iraqi etc customs, where women are not only shunned, but do not even have a legal structure to protect them. In Israel, women have equal rights under the law, and the law enforcement must protect those rights, even within the insular communities.

However, it is common that self appointed enforcers ride buses through various Haredi neighborhoods, and force woman to comply with min law, such as not riding in front of a man. Now, granted, if they want to create a private bus line that adheres to Haredi law, and practice their religion freely, I have no objection. Women and men may choose their business, and the business may choose their clientele. However, when the bus line is public, there can be no justification. The Rosenblit case was handled correctly. She was asked by police if she volunteered to comply with the min rule, she did not care to, and the police then enforced the law allowing her to ride as she chose, and protecting her from other threats.

Another case was that of the Orit school, which teaches girls to practice Orthodox Judaism. The Haredi enforcers intimidated the staff and even the students on the basis that they did not adhere to min laws created by the Haredim. There is no reason that a Jewish school should not be allowed to practice Judaism rather than min law, so they haven't a basis to object to the school.

However, this is just the political process in Israel. That is until your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. The Haredim did not respect that limit, even intimidating and harassing small children. Until now, I was not aware that min law allowed this, but apparently they have established this challenge to Judaism in Beit Shemesh. We join the Jews who stand together to defend freedom of religion, the freedom to practice Judaism rather than min law, the very right on which Israel was founded.

More cases:
An Israeli soldier was intimidated and forced to the back of the bus. There is evidence that this case was an organized provocation. I hope that Doron Matalon and anyone behind her understand that actions of this type do not help the cause. They only serve to drive more Orthodox to the Haredi side, and cause them to discount other cases of abuse.

An MK Tzipi Hotovely rode the front of a mehadrin bus and was insulted by an enforcer. She correctly remained in place without provoking or grandstanding. The difference in her case is that she is Orthodox and she did not seek to provoke an attack on herself that she could "cry" about.

In Beit Shemesh, it was reported that Haredi children harassed disabled Orthodox children in wheelchairs and one family claimed that they had been told to move out by "the rabbis of the community" because of "your daughter's dressing habits". The origin and veracity of the story, whether the letter actually came from Haredim in the community, or whether the harassment took place is not clear. I hope it has not descended to this, but the rabbis need to exert LEADERSHIP, if for no other reason, than to stop the PR disaster that is hangs like a fog over religious Jews everywhere. You are supposed to be extraordinary leaders, guardians of Torah, people who just KNOW deep things that we peons cannot understand with mere intellect. When will you start LEADING!!!!!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

More Chumash issues

Last week, we discussed Dishon and Dishan. We could also have discussed another Rashi comment of "I do not know what it teaches us". When G-d finished speaking, it says, "and Jacob built an altar, in the place that G-d had spoken to him." This latter verbiage is the same as the previous pasuk and is not present when Avraham met the same situation. For Rashi to say that he doesn;t know, it must be that there is an obvious interpretation, but that it does not agree with Rashi's p'shat in other respects. I did not yet find a good resolution for this one.

This week, there is another editorial mishap. To whom did the brothers sell Yosef? They sold him to the Yishmaelim for 20 silver coins. However, the people who pulled him from the pit were Midyanim, socharim (meaning, Midianite middlemen). Rashi implies that socharim means many different middelmen, separate from the Midianites. So it is clear that the Yishmaelites sold him to the Midianites, who then took him to market in Egypt for sale. However, later the pasuk says that he was sold to the Medanim, whose name is spelled similarly to the Midianites, but Medan and Midian were two separate descendents of Avraham in parshat Chayai Sarah. So the Midyanim sold him to the Medanim as implied by Rashi's comment "he was sold many times". However, the Gutnick Chumash among others, and the Medrash list only the Yishmaelim, the Midianim, the unspecified socharim and Potiphar. From where did the Medanim come? Of course, we can escape by saying that they are the among the socharim. However, why mention them by name? Did the Mesoretic scribes simply leave out a yud, at which point the pasukim would flow perfectly?

Medrash is bothered by the question, and answers that the Medanim merged with the Midianim at some point in history and they were the same tribe. OK, that is better than rocks for breakfast. It is even supported by the fact Chayai Sarah mentions the sons of Midian, but not the sons of Medan. Perhaps they merged.

As a side point, there seem to have been many people in the early Torah named Utz. I am not sure I have ever met anyone with that name, at least outside the potato chip industry. But it is a dare to anyone having a bris soon who is a rebellious teenager.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Thought on Gezaila

ט. כל החומד עבדו או אמתו או ביתו וכליו של חבירו או דבר שאפשר לו שיקנהו ממנו והכביר עליו ברעים והפציר בו עד שלקחו ממנו אף על פי שנתן לו דמים רבים הרי זה עובר [ה] בלא תעשה שנאמר לא תחמוד. ואין לוקין על לאו זה מפני שאין בו מעשה. ואינו עובר בלאו זה עד שיקח החפץ שחמד. כענין שנאמר לא תחמוד כסף וזהב עליהם ולקחת לך חימוד שיש בו מעשה:
י. כל המתאוה ביתו או אשתו וכליו של חבירו וכן כל כיוצא בהן משאר דברים שאפשר לו לקנותן ממנו. כיון שחשב בלבו היאך יקנה דבר זה ונפתה בלבו בדבר עבר בלא תעשה שנאמר לא תתאוה ואין תאוה אלא בלב בלבד:
יא. א התאוה מביאה לידי חימוד והחימוד מביא לידי גזל. שאם לא רצו הבעלים למכור אע"פ שהרבה להם בדמים והפציר ברעים יבא לידי גזל שנאמר וחמדו בתים וגזלו. ואם עמדו הבעלים בפניו להציל ממונם או מנעוהו מלגזול יבא לידי שפיכות דמים. צא ולמד ממעשה אחאב ונבות:
יב. הא למדת שהמתאוה עובר בלאו אחד והקונה דבר שהתאוה בהפצר שהפציר בבעלים או בבקשה מהן עובר בשני [ו] לאוין לכך נאמר לא תחמוד ולא תתאוה. ואם גזל עבר בשלשה לאוין:
He defines titaveh as desiring something that belongs to someone else. Tachmod means that he takes action and acquires it and forces the victim to sell it to him. Gezaila means that, since he won't sell it, he takes it from the victim. Then, he says that one is not guilty of bal tachmod unless he actually acquires the object through forcing the sale. Otherwise it is merely, bal titaveh. Then, he explains that if he desires the object, he is guilty for one issur. If he acquires it, he is guilty for two. If he commits gezel, he is guilty for three

Here is my problem. If he already acquired it through bal tachmod, and this is required to be guilty, then how did he then acquire it through gezaila? He already has it.

Here is my proposed answer. If he desires the object, he is guilty for one, titaveh. If he desires and acquires it, he is guilty for tachmod as well, thus two. If he desires it, and attempts to acquire it through tachmod, but he is unsuccessful, he is still only guilty for one, titaveh. However, when he then takes action to strong-arm the object away from the owner, he becomes guilty for tachmod, since he acquired the object through his action.  IOW the other person agreed to allow him to buy the object and perhaps put a down payment on  it and then he decides to take it without paying.  
thus he is guity for gezaila, since he actually committed gezaila. Thus, there are possible cases for one, two and three issurim

This also resolves another issue in Halacha 9. There the Rambam says that he does not get lashes, because there is no action. But he is not guilty unless he takes action. I believe that he means only that he ultimately acquires the object by forcing its sale. Even if it is the direct result of tachmod, and he is guilty for two, nonetheless, he is does not get lashes, because the victim gave it to him. If he takes action, then the he is guilty for three, and there are no lashes for the reason he describes earlier, that it is lav sh'netek l'aseh