Aspaqlaria Blog

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Causality in Halakhah

A major factor in the Terri Schiavo case is that a feeding tube was defined to be heroic medical intervention, rather than a parallel to the charity we would give anyone who can’t obtain food themselves.In halakhah, what’s the line? I would like to suggest that it is defined based on another halachic distinction.How can someone free a slave? The...

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Life and Consciousness

The differences between the treatment of the Terry Shiavo in American law and halakhah do not rest in scientific knowledge, but in definitions. To be precise two particular definitions: First, determining the line between beneficence and artificially prolonging life. Second, defining which medical states qualify as “human life”. In this entry, I’m just looking at the second one.R’ JB Soloveitchik...

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Purpose of Qorbanos

When reviewing what I wrote on this subject for the Mesukim on Vayiqra, I noticed some more points. First to summarize:Rambam (naively reading the Moreh Nevuchim): Hashem gave us qorbanos, a normal idolatrous practice, to wean us from avodah zarah.Ramban: How is this possible? Noach offered a qorban and there were no idolators or peer pressure. Rather qorbanos are to...

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Eilu vaEilu – part I

Before giving my own thoughts, I would like to discuss two recent articles on Eilu va’eilu: Moshe Halbertal on “The History of Halakhah, Views from Within: Three Medieval Approaches to Tradition and Controversy“ R’ Michael Rosensweig’s article “Elu Va-Elu Divre Elokim Hayyim: Halakhic Pluralism And Theories Of Controversy“ As background: The gemara (Eiruvin 13b) speaks of a protracted debate between...

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Trends in Resolving Torah and Science

This is the nearest I plan to get to discussing L’affaire Slifkin on this blog. I’m not going to discuss issues dealt with by R’ Gil Student in his Hirhurim blog, or in any of the other Jewish blogs. My opinion is already better represented on line already than what I could produce. When I read R’ Shternbuch’s article I...

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Brisk and Telzh

At some point during my time in YU I chose not to follow the more popular “track”, leading to Rav Herschel Schachter shlit”a’s and lbchl”ch R’ YB Soloveitchik zt”l’s shiurim. Instead, I chose Rav Dovid Lifshitz zt”l’s shiur. A key element of that decision was my sense that something inherent in Brisker Derekh did not speak to me; Rav Dovid’s...

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Saying Shema Together

When I was in High School, we would all say Shema together, with trop. Since then, I’ve only seen this practice a few times; amongst a minyan of descendents of students of the Gra in Yerushalayim, at R’ Feldman’s shul in Atlanta, and a couple of other places. When learning Alei Shur this morning, I found this beautiful description of...

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Tefillin Mirrors

When I started wearing tefillin, few people used a small hand mirror to see whether or not it was properly centered. I recall men using the shiny metal area indicating where to push on a door, the window in a door to a darkened stairwell, and other awkward solutions. Compared to that, the current ubiquity of mirrors, whether in the...

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Hispa’alus, or: Yismach Moshe

One of the critical tools of Tenu’as haMussar is hispa’alus, “learning ‘with lips aflame.’” Literally, the word is the reflexive of “to work”, in other words “to work on oneself.” Hispa’alus is such a useful practice it even became part of their davening, tefillah behispa’alus.What is hispa’alus? The Alter of Kelm describes a four-step process: Intense and single-minded concentration on...

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The Kuzari Proof, part III

A recent email from Yeshivat Har Etzion of a shiur by Rav Chaim Navon included the following quotes from R’ JB Soloveitchik’s essay “Uvikashtem MiSham“. Notice the poetic treatment of the idea that knowledge through proof is indirect, yet one’s belief in and relationship with the Creator should be first-hand. While the philosophy of the Middle Ages and also that...

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Some thoughts about Parashas Yisro

I There is a difference in how Moshe Rabbeinu’s sons are named. Shemos 18:3-4: And her two sons; that the name of one was “Geirshom” because he said “I was a geir (foreigner) in a strange land.” And the name of one was “Eliezer” because E-lokei Avi (the G-d of my father) was be’ezri (at my aid), and He saved...

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Free Will and Environment

I noticed a result of combining two previous divrei Torah. Before reading the following, see Bemachashavah Techilah for parshiyos Bo and Beshalach. In the first, I explore the question of Hashem making it impossible for Par’oh to change his mind. Isn’t that a violation of Par’oh’s free will? I elaborate on the Sefornu’s answer that in truth, Par’oh’s witnessing miracles...

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Rav Dessler’s Approach to Creation

(You might want to see also Different Approaches to Creation, a survey that just touches on a variety of opinions, as well as Divine Timelessness.) I think that in order to understand Rav Dessler’s position about the nature of time during ma’aseh bereishis one needs to start with MmE vol II pp 150-154, aptly titled “Yemei Bereishis veYemai Olam“. Comments...

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The Fire Within the Bush

“Dirshu Hashem behimatz’o — seek G-d when He can be found, qara’uhu bihyoso qarov — call Him when He is near.””Shuvu eilai, veashuva aleikhem — Return to Me and I will return to you.”Contrasting images. The first is one of G-d initiating the repentance process, and man responding after Hashem has first made Himself available. The second is G-d’s cry...

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Divine Timelessness

Bereishis Rabbah( 5:5): G-d made the creation of water conditional on its splitting before the Jews when they left Egypt….It was not just with the sea that He made a stipulation but with everything that He created during the six days of creation…. G-d commanded the sea to divide, the heavens and earth to be silent before Moshe…the sun and...

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The Legislative Authority of a Bas Qol

A brief summary of the Encyclopedia Talmudit entry on “Bas Qol”, the paragraph about its impact on halachah:An Achna’i-style oven was made from pieces of pottery that were not cemented together. So, the question arose: Can it, like any other oven, become tamei? Or, is it like shards of pottery which can not? Rabbi Yehoshua and the other sages ruled...

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Politeness and Taharah

The word “polite” comes from the Latin “politus” via the Old English “polit”, to polish. Polish is itself of the same derivation.I think this is a very telling statement about Western Culture. Politeness is about perfecting the surface. It doesn’t demand a change of the self, but putting up the appropriate front for others. This is the key to a...

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Theodicy

Here is a domain in which the split between philosophy and relationship that we’ve been exploring for the past few posts comes to the fore.I developed a philosophy about theodicy, tzadiq vera lo, why tragedy visits people who live far more righteously than others who seem to be free of it. I explored four different reactions to tragedy, comparing them...

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Argument by Design ver. 4.0

Ver 1.0:Medrash Temurah: “G-d created” (Gen. 1:1): A hereic came to Rabbi Aqiva and asked, “Who made the universe?”. Rabbi Aqiva answered, “Haqadosh barukh Hu“. The heretic said, “Prove it to me.” Rabbi Aqiva said, “Come to me tomorrow”. When the heretic returned, Rabbi Aqiva asked, “What is that you are wearing?” “A garment”, the unbeliever replied. “Who made it?”...

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The Kuzari Proof, part II

All proofs require first principles. A proof starts with givens, postulates, and derives a conclusion from them. Regardless of how sound the proof, the conclusion could never be more solid than those givens. In other words, if I want someone to accept my rigorous proof of G-d’s existance, they must first accept all my givens, as well as the validity...

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The Kuzari Proof, part I

[I later found I had a more formal presentation of this idea in Mesukim MiDevash for Yisro. This post was updated Apr 18, 2007, with a quote of Luis Ginsberg taken from Hirhurim.] Rav Yehudah Halevi makes a statement in The Kuzari which is usually taught as follows: No one could invent a story that alleges all of the target’s...

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Psychology and Mussar

The story so far from the previous two entries: Contemporary western society puts its trust in science to the extent that things outside its domain are assumed to have a lesser reality. The current stance toward morality is therefore one of uncertainty, which is paraded as the virtues of tolerance and relativism. It also means that instead of lauding free...

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The Troubles of Relativism

Science has proven a fundamental boon in comtemporary culture. To the extent that the word “fact” has taken on two meanings: a single true idea, and something which can be verified experimentally. Thus blurring the reality, the truth, of the non-empirical. What can’t be proven to others is presumed to be less true, or “true for him” — the one...

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Love, part II

If we look at the portrayal of the avos, both in their relationships with Hashem and with their families, I believe you find three distinct models for loving relationships. Avraham is noted by Chazal for being a baal chessed, for being generous, giving. As we saw in part I, this is in imitation of G-d. The purpose of creation (to...

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Love, part I

Rav SR Hirsch relates the word ahavah (love) /ahb/ to the roots /hbh/ meaning “offer” and /hbb/, “bring forth”. To love is to give.In his Kunterus haChesed, Rav Dessler writes a truth fundamental to Mussar. We think of giving as an expression of love, but moreso giving is the cause of love. There’s a famous story of Rav Yisrael Salanter...