Monday, August 15, 2005


Today is Disengagement Day. Why doesn't it feel more cataclysmic to me?

A Tish'a B'Av thought

The practices of Tish'a B'Av reflect a coincidence of three distinct themes on one day:

1) Day of mourning, akin to shiv'a. For example, not extending greetings (or responding to greetings before midday), not sitting on a chair before midday, not learning Torah, not wearing tallis or tefillin before midday. For that matter, one could also refer to the prohibitions against washing, anointing, the wearing of leather shoes, and engaging in marital relations. What is interesting about the first group of prohibitions listed is how it contains all of the prohibitions that are loosened at midday. If I recall, the prohibition of responding to greetings during shiv'a ends after three days. The prohibition of wearing tallis and tefillin probably has to be loosened at some point because we don't want the rabbinic law of Tish'a B'Av to prevent us from observing the Torah-mandated law of wearing tallis and tefillin. But why is there a difference between sitting on a chair and learning Torah? One of the baalei bayis in the shul at which I spent the fast asked me this question, and the best answer that I could venture was that not sitting on a chair is a more extreme form of mourning (which he interpreted as meaning that it was more difficult to keep while in the concluding hours of a fast), but this answer (nor his answer) sound so satisfying to me.

Tangent 1: Why is it problematic to wear a tallis on Tish'a B'Av? Presumably, the same law applies to someone during shiv'a. Regarding wearing tefillin, we derive the issur from Yechezkel, who is told that his wife will die but that he should still wear his tefillin ("Pe'eircha chavosh alecha"), but I don't recall why the tallis cannot be worn.

Subtangent 1: We also learn out the prohibition for a mourner to wear shoes from that parsha in Yechezkel, although the exact wording escapes me. But what is the source of the prohibitions of washing, anointing, and marital relations? See tangent 1 of part 2...

Tangent 2: If we're so concerned with a rabbinic law not preventing the observance of a Torah law (and note that invoking the Torah-mandated law of following rabbinic injuctions or the concept that the rabbis made their takanos with the strength of Torah-mandated laws do not answer this problem), what of not wearing tefillin on yom tov sheini shel galiyos? Even though originally it really was impossible to determine which day was Torah-mandated and which rabbinic, what of now, when we only keep a second day of yom tov because of the concept of "hizaharu b'minhag avoseichem b'yadeicheim", that we should continue to follow the diasporic practice of keeping two days of yom tov? It would not surprise me if yom tov sheini shel galiyos had some strength beyond that of a regular rabbinic law, but I can't figure out how this would work.

2) Day of not engaging in physical pleasure. Expressed by the five innuyim of Yom Kippur: Eating, washing, anointing, leather shoes, and marital relations. All of these are kept the entire day. Just like we do not want our physical needs to drag us down from our spiritual aspirations on Yom Kippur, nor do we want our physical needs to drag us away from our mourning on Tish'a B'Av.

Tangent 1: Maybe not engaging in physical pleasure is a law of mourning, as all of the innuyim of Yom Kippur also apply to a mourner. The exception is eating and drinking, but perhaps one can say that this would be too difficult to keep for a full week. The counter to this latter argument would be that at the very least one should keep it during the first day of mourning, which is Torah-mandated, if it is not possible to keep it during the rabbinically-mandated week.

Subtangent 1: If we say this, then it must also be true that sitting on a chair, learning Torah, extending greetings, and wearing a tallis do not constitute physical pleasure - and this likely is true (even sitting on a chair).

3) A festival. Expressed by not saying Tachanun. The source for this is the verse in Eicha "Kara alai mo'eid lishbor bachurai" - "He has declared a mo'eid against me to break my choice youths". Mo'eid usually literally means set time, but it is expounded here to mean a festival. Is it possible that we are celebrating the destruction of the Temple because of its preferability over the other option of the mass-extermination of the Jewish people due to our sins, much as Assaf initiated his chapter of Tehillim about the churban (79) with the introduction "Mizmor", which the gemara explains in the same manner which we have put forth here?

Tangent 1: Is it possible to explain other instances of the word mo'eid as referring to a festival, to lend additional strength to this d'rash? The first place that occurs to me is in the message regarding Yitzchak's birth in B'reishis 18, which fits because we say that he was born on Pesach.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

An addendum on indecisiveness

In a previous post, I argued in support of indecisiveness in issues in which one will not take any action in either direction. A counterargument could be that, even though that a person himself may not be able to take action, voicing a decisive opinion can strengthen the courage of others who agree with this opinion and have the ability to undertake concrete action to further a goal. Of course, in every scenario one must decide whether this is the case, and to say what will have the most positive results. A decisive statement may prevent careful examination of the issue(unless one is talking with someone who is willing to make decisive statements in the other direction and both parties are willing to listen to the other) and a cautious, nuanced statement tends to result in no practical action.

Eiruvin, chapter 1, part 2

In my last post about Eiruvin, I mentioned some of the technical details of the use of a "lechi", "korah" or "tzuras ha-pesach" to encompass an area. Any of these - a wall fragment, a firm crossbar, or a doorway - can halachically have the same status as a wall, as long as certain requirements are met. Once an area is surrounded by 4 "walls" of height 10 tefachim - around 2.5 feet - (as per the chachamim who added one to the original Torah law of 3), it has the status of a private domain, a "reshus ha-yachid", in which ha'avara, intradomain transportation, is not restricted (If the area enclosed by the walls is less than 4 tefachim by 4 tefachim, or approximately 1 square foot, the area is considered a "m'kom p'tur", an area of exemption, in which even the laws of "hotza'a", interdomain transportation, do not apply. On another note, if the walls are less than 10 tefachim, the area has a status of a "karmelis", a neutral area, which is subject to Rabbinical restrictions similar to those mandated by the Torah for a public domain, a "reshus ha-rabbim". If the walls are less than 3 tefachim, approximately 10 inches, they are not considered walls at all, but rather the enclosed area is considered to be part of its surrounding domain).

Eiruvin 1:7 is an extremely interesting Mishnah that begins by discussing the use of a living animal as a "lechi" - for example, fastening a live cow to a pre-existing 3-wall structure to use as a 4th wall fragment. According to the accepted majority opinion in the Mishnah, it constitutes a valid eruv! The mishnah also quotes majority opinions that hold that a live animal can be used as writing material for divorce get and, most interestingly, that a live animal used for a "golel" (it's a machlokes whether it's a grave covering or a coffin covering) becomes tamei and can be m'tamei people and utensils, even when it is no longer being used as such. Being the fan of wacky trivia that I am, this greatly fascinated me, as, to my limited knowledge, it is the only way that a living animal can become tamei - dead animals can become tamei either as food or because of their own status as a n'veila, an animal that died on its own, whichever is applicable.

Monday, August 08, 2005

It begins... again, part 2

In my first post, I proposed a triumvirate question that should be asked by anyone who chooses to write. The premise of this query is the oft-quoted, rarely-cited dictum that "Not everything that is thought should be said; not everything that is said should be written; not everything that is written should be published". As I digressed from this original topic over the course of my first post, I would like to address it directly at this time.

My primary purpose in expressing my thoughts is to better enunciate them to myself. By writing them down, I am forced to polish, explain, and, if need be, mentally defend them as I give them a tangible form. Although these tasks can as easily be accomplished in my head, allowing them a physical manifestation gives them greater permanence, so that these thoughts will be more readily available to me for future use, at some time that I may choose to ponder or discuss these thoughts in the future.

Do I desire to share these thoughts with other people? A facet of human nature is the desire to have some impact on one's environment, rather than being a closed system unto oneself. If I post a statement on this blog, it means that I would like others either to be somehow changed by it or to correct me, to revert any negative changes that having such a viewpoint may have caused me. The public nature of the internet precludes me from posting anything that I would not want to be ultimately revealed, but on the other hand, I do not expect others to view my blog as something worth reading moreso than the million other blogs floating in cyberspace, so will focus on my individual impetus for blogging, as stated in the previous paragraph.

Why do I want to influence people? From an altruistic standpoint, because, like everyone else, I feel that my ideas and opinions have positive results that others should benefit from. From a practical standpoint, others have an effect on me, so by having a positive effect on them, I make it more likely that their effect on me will similarly be positive. This concept can be expressed as creating a community for oneself.

This post probably seems a bit puffed-up in certain places, but it only expresses what I perceive to be truisms inherent in human nature, and not facets that are unique to myself.

Another quick thought - about the Disengagement

The Disengagement seems to be the major issue on Jewish minds (and blogs) nowadays. To write my views on this issue would take up more time than I'm looking to spend right now, but suffice it to say that I'm conflicted about it. I view the expulsion of Jews from a portion of Israel and the excision of this portion from our borders to be a painful one, but also countenance the view that it might be a necessary evil. Then again, it might be an unnecessary evil.

Am I being wishy-washy? I don't believe so.

The Talmud states that one could not become a member of the High Court in Jerusalem unless one had the intellectual capability to "be m'taheir a sheretz" - i.e., to provide a logical basis using the tools of d'rash for proving something that was clearly incorrect based on the text of the Torah. Although this seems to be a meaningless intellectual exercise, I think there can be a deeper meaning to this concept. If a person immediately comes to a knee-jerk conclusion that a given option is wrong, he is likely to miss certain fine nuances in the idea. An intelligent person must be able to see arguments in favor of all types of options, and only then can he choose the best one. The Talmud writes elsewhere that, although capital cases were decided by a majority, if the court unanimously decided to convict, the defendant would go free, because we are concerned that if no one in the court could find a reason to acquit, the case was not properly thought through.

When it is time for action, of course, one must be direct and decisive. However, as there is little practical application to my ultimate decision on the Disengagement (except for my single conclusion that joining the American branch of the Orange Shirts would not result in any positive result), I am able without regret to reside in the comfortable middle ground of thought-out uncertainty, rather than needlessly limiting myself to one side of the issue.

A quick thought

One who travels through life with his eyes open sees many potential problems, which he is thereby able to attempt to avoid or repair, but also wastes energy on problems that are not true threats.

One who travels through life with his eyes closed is only affected by problems that are true threats, but is always significantly harmed by these problems, due to his inability to mitigate them.

The best path to follow in life would therefore seem to be a combination of the reaction of the former to the true problems and the reaction of the latter to the illusory.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Eiruvin, chapter 1, part 1

Between yesterday and today, I utilized my time on lab supervisory duty to review Mishnayos Eiruvin. BEH, I plan to make a siyum on Seder Mo'eid on Yom Kippur, and have felt guilty that I haven't had a chance to do any chazara on the material that I've covered over the last few months (with the exception of a small chunk of Shabbos), so I'm glad that I at least saw the hardest maseches of the seder a second time. IYH, next week I'll try to do the same for Pesachim and Shekalim (which, of course, will entail finishing Shekalim the first time over Shabbos).

In the interest of doing another chazara on Mishanyos Eiruvin, I have decided to embark on a summary of the maseches:

Chapter 1 (Mavoi) discusses the halachic entity that is most often incorrectly referred to as an eiruv (this latter is not discussed until later in the maseches). The case that the mishnah uses is one of a mavoi, an area of a street that contains walls on two (or more) sides of it. In order to permit carrying within this area mid'rabbanan, the missing wall(s) have to be filled in. This can be accomplished without impeding the passage of traffic by use of a "korah", a "lechi", or a "tzuras ha-pethach". A korah is a crossbar of a given width and structural soundness that spans between the ends of two walls. A lechi is a fragment of a wall (10 tefachim high) that juts out of one of the walls' ends. My recollection is that we have some objection to using a lechi for our community 'eiruvin', but I don't recall what it is. In practice, the majority of community 'eiruvin' utilize the third non-invasive method of encompassing, a tzurath ha-pethach, or a "form of an entrance", which consists of any connection (even a wire or rope) between two poles, which is the analog to a lintel connecting two doorposts. The basis for this leniency is that any structure that has four walls will (usually) also have a door to allow entrance. This door does not preclude the structure from being considered a private domain, even when it is open, and thereby not completing the circuit of the walls; hence, even if the door were removed, it would be acceptable. A tzurath ha-pethach is considered the equivalent of a doorframe that has no door.

Now that we have established that a tzurath ha-pethach is equivalent to a solid wall, we can envision a circuit consisting entirely of tzuroth ha-pethach - hence, the traditional community "eiruv" consisting mostly of phone or electric wires, with koroth added as needed.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

It begins... again

The first question that must be answered by any blogger (or indeed, any author or speaker) is why. What is the purpose of my taking the time to write my thoughts? Does this purpose involve a desire for me to share my thoughts to other people? If so, what is the desired purpose that I hope to achieve by sharing my thoughts with other people?

This is my third attempt at blogging. My first was an online notebook that I used to give mussar to myself for any of my failures during the day (in addition to making note of any successes as a means of positive reinforcement). My second was an online notebook that I used to record Torah-related thoughts so that I would more easily remember them. As for this one... I'm not sure yet, but allow me to explain what spurred me to create this blog.

The name of this, my newest foray into the blogosphere, is HaProzdor, a Hebrew word defined as any of lobby, antechamber, or hallway. After graduating college a year ago, I began doing research at a lab in a university. One of the characteristics of research (especially the "wet" type) is that it often involves a lot of waiting - waiting for solutions to heat up, waiting for reactions to run, and so forth. In the ideal situation, it is possible to overlay periods of inactivity in one area with periods of activity in another; sometimes it is not. Over the course of the year, therefore, I have had time to think about the value of time and the methods of converting this potential value to actual value. Certain activities have a positive value, in that they result in some sort of tangible benefit. Others may have a lesser positive value, or a nil value, or even a negative value.

In Pirkei Avos, two words are used to describe the final judgement to which all human beings are subjected: "din" and "cheshbon". The first, literally meaning "judgement", is explained to be a simply tally of one's credits and demerits. Expressed simply, if one does a mitzvah, he or she receives a plus; if one does a sin, he or she receives a minus. The latter term, meaning "accounting" is a more complex calculation. One's score in the cheshbon is not only a function of what one does or does not do, but also of what one could have done. If one learns for an hour and spends an hour doing an arbitrary activity of nil value, he receives reward for that hour, but if he had the opportunity and ability to learn for the two full hours, he loses credit in his cheshbon. If one, for whatever reason, could not have been expected to learn for any more than one-and-a-half of those two hours, he is penalized less than the first person would be. Granted, this is a vast oversimplification of the concepts, but with that in mind, it expresses my point clearly.

One of the primary reasons why I created my first two blogs was actually with this in mind. The first time, I created a blog to improve my cheshbon indirectly, by being more aware of it. The second time, I created a blog to affect my cheshbon. Even when I could not move myself to engage in some worthwhile activity, if I could at least write about engaging in worthwhile activities, I could perhaps glean value in that manner. This blog is somewhat similar to the second, although perhaps a bit broader in scope, and therefore also vaguely analogous to the first. Rather than just thinking thoughts that I hope are of value, perhaps by writing them down I can better integrate them into my life.

Welcome to the antechamber. I can't guarantee that anything interesting will be going on here, but if you'd like to sit and wait, also, you're welcome to.