Avodah Mailing List

Volume 14 : Number 013

Tuesday, October 19 2004

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Subjects Discussed In This Issue:
Date: Sun, 17 Oct 2004 15:25:18 -0400
From: "OOOOO" <leonmanel@hotmail.com>

There is a shiur on the NYC water problem at this site

R Willig mentions that there is a handwritten teshuva from R Schachter
hanging on the wall in YU. Can someone in YU please post the text of
this teshuva

Thank You

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Date: Sun, 17 Oct 2004 16:48:39 EDT
From: T613K@aol.com
Re: R. Chaim Kanevsky [fingernails and toenails]

In  Avodah V14 #12 dated 10/17/2004 Eli Turkel  <turkel@post.tau.ac.il>
> A pregnant woman should [not] step on  finger/toe nails

I believe you meant to say "a pregnant woman should NOT step on [cut-off]
fingernails and toenails."

I was taught that stepping on fingernails can cause a miscarriage, and
that's why we have to be fanatically careful to collect all fingernail
clippings, even tiny slivers that fly off and disappear in a corner
somewhere--lest a pregnant woman step on them. Although my mind says
this cannot be taken seriously, my childhood training makes it impossible
for me to be cavalier about fingernail parings.

I suppose there may be some hidden kabbalistic meaning behind this
rule, some mystical explanation. It's obvious that the cutting off
of some part of the body that is still alive and growing evokes a
fear of death, but why don't we have the same hakpada about cut hair?
It's also possible that cut-off nails are tamei or would be if we had
the Bais Hamikdash, but I'm only guessing.
 You of the learned Avoda chevra will know better than me.

I was also taught that after death you have to go all over the world
and find all your lost fingernail parings, if you were not careful about
them in your lifetime. You can't get into Olam Haba until you do this.
Why carelessness with fingernails should be such a major sin was never
made clear to me and I regret that I never asked my father about this
in adulthood. If it's a chok, well, it's not a d'Oraisah--or is it?

Oh, and we were taught to flush the tissue with the parings down the
toilet, never to throw them into the garbage, but now that we have a
septic tank that can't tolerate tissues, I have modified that rule and
do throw them in the garbage. I suspect the toilet rule was itself
a modification of an earlier rule that prescribed burning for nail

If anyone knows more about this, I would be interested in hearing
about it.

--Toby  Katz

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Date: Sun, 17 Oct 2004 22:30:28 +0200
From: eli turkel <turkel@post.tau.ac.il>
R. Chaim Kanevsky

> A pregnant woman should step on finger/toe nails>

My apologies as pointed out this is a typo and it should read
"A pregnant woman should NOT on finger/toe nails"

BTW the author (Rothschikd from Kiryat Sefer) states that RCK went over
parts of the sefer and approved its publication on condition that it
state that it should not be used for paskening.

BTW it is well known that RCK will give a beracha to a pregnant woman
only on condition that she agrees not to use ultrasound.

I heard from R. Zilberstein (his brother-in-law both married daughters of
R. Elyashiv) that the problem is that beracha and prayer only work for
something hidden from the eye. So the use of ultrasound prevents prayer
from helping as it would require a complete miracle to change known facts.

kol tuv,
Eli Turkel

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Date: Sun, 17 Oct 2004 17:21:43 EDT
From: T613K@aol.com
Re: "Lekaleis" - shevach or genai?

In Avodah V14 #12 dated 10/17/2004 "SBA" _sba@sba2.com_ (mailto:sba@sba2.com) 
> ...while the word 'kaleis' in Aramaic [and loshon Chazal] indeed means
> a type of praise, in LHK it always means the opposite - eg 'lelaag
> ulekeles'.

I once made a list of words in Hebrew that mean something and also mean
its opposite, or if not opposite, then something very different.

Unfortunately I've lost the list and also big chunks of my mind, so
don't remember the words on it. But the word "lekales"--to praise,
and also to dispraise--was definitely on it.

Other words that come to mind:

kadesh [kuf-daled-shin] which means holiness but also prostitute
or prostitution. Of course a kedaisha may mean a particular type of
prostitute--one who has been "sanctified" as part of the worship of a
particular avodah zarah. Such "holy prostitutes" were part of many
religions and so this may not be a good example of one word meaning
two opposite things.

chessed--meaning kindness and incest. Interestingly, the word "kind"
has a similar set of meanings in English, meaning "nice and helpful"
and also meaning "kin, relatives."

akar [ayin-kuf-resh] meaning infertile and also the mainstay of the
house. "Akeres habayis" can refer to a woman with no children, or a
woman with many children. Also, this same shoresh has a meaning of
"uprooting" and also a meaning [quoting Alkalay] of "root, essence,
basis, foundation etc."

Shin-chaf-ches means "to forget" but the word "shachiach" with the
same shoresh means {Alkalay]: "ready to hand, common, frequent, usual"
which is almost the opposite of "forgotten."

"Achal" [aleph-chaf-lamed] means to eat and also to consume and to
destroy. Well, in this case how one meaning comes from another is
fairly obvious.

Shin-nun-hei means to do something a second time, and can therefore
mean either "repeat it exactly" OR "change it completely."

A shoresh with two seemingly unrelated meanings is "lechem" which means
bread and also fight. I've seen a suggestion that the meanings are
related because of the necessity to fight for parnassah but this seems
strained to me.

Another shoresh with seemingly unrelated meanings is ayin-gimel-lamed,
meaning both "round" and "a calf." If you have an idea how these may
be related, let me know. I assume that an "agala [wagon]" is called
that because of its wheels, which of course are round.

There are many examples in English of words which mean something and also
the opposite, but I regret to say that I can't think of even one example
right now. I'm sure the same phenomenon can be found in other languages.

Also, sometimes a word means one thing, and with a slight change in the
shoresh, it means the opposite. For example, sin-chaf-lamed means wisdom
while chaf-samech-lamed means foolishness. There are many examples
of this, as well, in Hebrew and English.

--Toby  Katz

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Date: Sun, 17 Oct 2004 19:59:38 -0400
From: "Herb Basser" <basserh@post.queensu.ca>
Re: "Lekaleis" - shevach or genai?

Please note: this word means "praise" because it is a Greek loan word put
into a Hebrew piel form-- . The hebrew word with the same phonemes means
the exact opposite. Sometimes midrash plays off Hebrew sounds which they
take in the Greek meaning. The best known is hydor -- darshaning eitz
pri hadar-- but there are loads of others that not all recognize now. I
have often wondered if kala naah vehasuda is not such a play-- it is 100%
true if one realizes that kala in greek means naah vehasuda. So maybe beis
hillel is saying something slightly more sophisticated than our usual
take-- but maybe not. The most interesting case (hope I remember right)
is where rambam says the priest of war has to address his troops in Hebrew
but he then goes on to quote what he should say (taken from Hazal) using
Greek loan words to describe the terrifying sounds of galloping horses.
Arabic loan constructions also abound in medieval Hebrew and we shouldnt
be medayek in them. Rambam, again, tells us that the basic principal of
judaism is that yesh sham-- there is one God.-- sham?-- where...but yesh
sham is just the arabic speaker's linguistic pattern-- and it works in
english-- the sham is precisely our idea of "there" is. Il y a -- the
French "y" means there-- but it's just the common lingusitic pattern of
Jews like Rambam and has no spatial referent. One has to be careful in
jumping to conclusions--

Zvi Basser

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Date: Sun, 17 Oct 2004 20:48:32 -0400
From: Kenneth G Miller <kennethgmiller@juno.com>
Re: Less than a kezayis of bread

I wrote <<< You need at least a kezayis of pas haba bkisnin, or else
you haven't *eaten* a shiur of it, and can't even say Al Hamichya >>>

R' Rich Wolpoe asked <<< If your thesis is true, why can't a
less-than-kzais mezonos roll work for plain flights etc.? >>>

It *does* work. Presuming that those rolls are larger than a kezayis,
all you need to do on a flight is this:

1) Do not wash except for cleanliness.

2) Say mezonos on the roll.

3) Say other brachos on the rest of the meal.

4) Eat the other food normally, but be careful to nibble on the roll
(and any other pas habaa b'kisnin which you might have, such as desert
cake) in such a manner that you never eat a full kezayis of pas habaa
b'kisnin in any timespan of keday achilas pras.

5) If there's any other mezonos in the meal (such as pasta) you can eat
it at any speed you want.

6) At the end of the meal, decide whether or not there was a keday achilas
pras during which you ate a kezayis of any kind of mezonos. In other
words, pas habaa b'kisnin and pasta are mitztaref for this step. If so,
say Al Hamichya.

7) Say Boray Nefashos on the rest (presuming that you ate a kezayis in
keday achilas pras, of course).

Personally, I find it very difficult to eat the roll slow enough that I
have no sfeikos. Therefore, as a *practical* matter, I usually save the
roll and eat it separately as a snack, with Mezonos and Al Hamichya.
Eating it as dessert would NOT help, and would render it Hamotzi,
according to the Igros Moshe 4:41, last paragraph.

BTW, if anyone cares, I use this same procedure at a large kiddush
at shul: I have a kezayis of pasta and/or noodle kugel for "kiddush
b'makom seudah", and then there's no shailos of benching, even if I eat
meal-type foods like gefilte fish or chulent. I even allow myself one
smaller-than-kezayis piece of cake each ten minutes (if they look yummy
enough, which usually they don't).

<<< Lich'ora a kevius with less-than-a-kzais pas haba bkinsnin still
requires washing etc. -why? >>>

Nope. "Kevius" and "less than a kezayis" are mutually exclusive concepts,
at least according to the Igros Moshe.

Akiva Miller

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Date: Mon, 18 Oct 2004 12:32:37 +0100
From: Chana Luntz <chana@kolsassoon.org.uk>
Re: Less than a kezayis of bread

RAM writes:
>Sure, but you can't do that with just one cracker. You need 
>at least a kezayis of pas haba bkisnin, or else you haven't 
>*eaten* a shiur of it, and can't even say Al Hamichya (as 
>I'll explain below), let alone Birkas Hamazon.

I can however see a reason why one might be more justified in saying
birchas hamazon than al hamichya in the case of eating less than
a kezayis.

After all, at least the Chatam Sofer holds (sorry I am at work, I can find
the source once at home if you want, it is in the midst of his discussion
about kezayas in kodshim) that in fact the mitzvah d'orisa is to say
birchas hamazon on less than a kezayis of bread, but that d'rabbanan
they were machmir (ie this is the meaning of kezayis d'rabbanan).

Whereas, as far as I am aware, it is basically the Tur who holds that
al hamichya is d'orisa, and we generally hold it is d'rabbanan.

In such a case, no obligation to say al hamichya arises unless and until
one fulfils the rabbinic obligation to say it, and that includes being
strict regarding the rabbinic amount needed to say it, ie a kezayis
otherwise you end up in brocha l'vatala territory.

On the other hand, in the case of the birchas hamazon, if in fact one
is obligated d'orisa to say birchas hamazon on less than a kezayis,
but d'rabbanan they prohibited, you could understand the logic in being
makil in what is regarded as a kazayis, especially if one has really
eaten a lot of other foods and is genuinely soveya.

[I haven't seen this anywhere, it is just me off the top of my head]


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Date: Mon, 18 Oct 2004 13:54:18 +1000
From: "SBA" <sba@sba2.com>
Re: "Chazeres

From: Minden <phminden@arcor.de>
> There is no difference between chazeres and morer. The "category" is
> morer, and the implementation traditionally chazeres (Y: lattich, IL:
> chasa kazoti muzeret maniyodea, E: prickly lettuce), alternatively leaves
> of tamcho (WY: merettich, EY: krein, IL: chazeret, E: horseradish). You're
> probably referring to diagrammes in hagodes who follow the Lurianic
> reforms....

 From a friendly lurker:
> From: Chaim  
> I don't understand the whole discussion about what chazeres is?! See SA
> OH 475 for the 5 types of Morer - Chazeres is NOT horseraddish.

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Date: Sun, 17 Oct 2004 20:12:53 -0400
From: Kenneth G Miller <kennethgmiller@juno.com>
Re: linguistic norm

R' Rich Wolpoe wrote <<< ... there is certainly room for improvement
WITHIN these systems for more attention to mil'eil and mil'ra etc. EG
Even, a Litvak COULD be trained to say tayRO instead of TAYro! >>>

R' Phillip Minden disagreed: <<< When he laining same, yes. In tefilles
and when learning, no - this is an anachronistic hypercorrection. Would
you propose introducing spoken Old French, or even Modern French, in
British schools for the same purpose? >>>

Was the word "British" supposed to be "French"? If you really did mean
"British", then I'm missing something critical, and please ignore te
rest of this post.

Otherwise, if I am understanding RPM correctly, he feels that it is
important to use a particular dialect/version/whatever of Lashon HaKodesh
for laining, but it is not so important to use it for davening. Could
someone explain the difference? I can understand an insistence on both, or
not caring about either, but why would a distinction be made between them?

Akiva Miller

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Date: Mon, 18 Oct 2004 13:31:34 +1000
From: "SBA" <sba@sba2.com>
R. Chaim Kanevsky

From: Eli Turkel <>
> I saw a recently published sefer with piskei halachot from R. Chaim
> Kanevsky, "She-elat Rav". About 400 pages long it consists of short
> questions and answers usually 1-3 words long. So the reasons are not
> always clear.

I purchased the sefer today [after reading on Hydepark
that it was being recalled in EY!!]

> Some samples:
> A pregnant woman should step on finger/toe nails

I presume you wanted to write 'should not.
And isn't that actually a Chazal?


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Date: Sun, 17 Oct 2004 23:50:44 -0400
From: "" <hlampel@thejnet.com>
Re: Ayzehu M'komon and Machlokess

In a message dated 9/21/2004 9:54:34pm EDT, Meir.Shinnar@rwjuh.edu writes: 
> ...it has been posited that Mishnah Perek Ezehu Mekoman 
> {Zvachim ch. 5} must be very old because there is no machlokes. 

This can be found in the Mishnah Berurah, Biur Haytave, Biur HaGra and 
Beis Yosef on Orach Chaim (50), citing the Ra'ah, that this perek was 
chosen in the morning prayers as representative of mishnayos because 
"sheh-perek zeh ayn bo machlokess, v'hi mishnah berurah l'Mosheh 
mi'Sinai,"--"this perek is not disputed against (or, "there is no dispute 
recorded in it"), and it is a clear mishnah [given] to Mosheh mi-Sinai." 

He doesn't quite say that the way we know it's a "mishnah berurah 
l'Mosheh mi'Sinai" is through the fact that it contains no machlokess, 
although the inference is reasonable.

Zvi Lampel 


An additional, perturbing fact about "Ayzehu M'Komon" and machlokess:
Apparently, the fact is that two of the halachos in this fifth perek of
Zevachim ARE disputed!

The halachah in the first mishnah that "Shiyyarei ha-dam hayah shofeich al
y'sod ma'aravi shel mizbay'ach ha-chitzon; [v']im lo nosson, lo eekeiv"
is disputed (see Rashi for verification) at the end of the Gemora in
Zevachim 111a. It's identified as the shitta of Rebbi Necemia, and is
disputed by Rabbi Akiva.

And Rabbi Akiva again, at the end of the Gemora in Zevachim 57b, disputes
the halachah in that perek's last mishnah (mishnah 8) (that the Pesach
Offering is may only be eaten at night and only until chatzos). The Gemora
identifies that as the opinion of Rebbi Elazar ben Azaria, and cites Rabbi
Akiva's opposing p'sak that it may be eaten throughout the entire night.

These facts were called to my attention over a decade ago by a brilliant
yungerman who at the time was in the Yeshiva of Staten Island--one
of those geniuses whom you could ask, "where does the Gemora say
such-and-such," and he would think for a moment and give you the precise
daf! I just called him up tonight for clarification on this, and he did
it again!(--okay, he pulled out the Gemora first and then found it).

Going out on a very precarious limb, I very timidly suggest that the
Ra'ah et al meant that this perek was chosen as a representative one
in mishnayos because it is (the only? a rare example of? Can anyone
help? Maybe I should call my friend again!) entire perek in which there
is no machlokess CITED, and therefore is LIKE ( i.e., resembles, although
it isn't actually a collection of some of) those halachos given to Moshe
mi-Sinai in their pristine, un-machlokess-tainted form.

Zvi Lampel

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Date: Mon, 18 Oct 2004 16:35:28 +0200
From: eli turkel <turkel@post.tau.ac.il>
Re: R. Chaim Kanevsky [fingernails and toenails]

> Oh, and we were taught to flush the tissue with theparings down the
> toilet never to throw them into the garbage, but now that wehave a septic
> tank that can't tolerate tissues, I have modified that rule and dothrow
> them in the garbage.I suspect the toilet rule was itself a modification
> of an earlier rule that prescribed burning for nailclippings. If anyone
> knows more about this, I would be interestedin hearing about it.

Thre reason as Toby hints is based on kabbalah. The main idea is
to destroy the finger/toe nails (like burying in recent daf yomi).
They claim that CI saved them all year and burnt them with the chametz.

BTW another psak from RCK was that it is better not to use the Hebrew
word Chashmal (electricity) since it is an angel in sefer Yechezkel.

kol tuv,
Eli Turkel

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Date: Mon, 18 Oct 2004 10:07:02 -0400
From: Mlevinmd@aol.com
Words and their opposites

> I once made a list of words in Hebrew that mean something and also mean
> its opposite, or if not opposite, then something very different.

The problem of words that have the same shoresh but different meanings
is a broader one - it includes the many examples of words that sound
the same but mean different things. An example would be Ram to raise and
ram to throw, shv to sit and shv to capture. This is the bigest problem
with three letter root theory. It forces proponents of this theory into
the complications of nachei L"H, Chasrei P"N etc. Your example of Eigel
adn agalah is a good example why the three letter root theory is not
sufficient. There are many otehr such words.

Current academic theory treats Hebrew as any other language and claims
that through a process of development it came to have meanings that got
transfered from one word to another or took on double meanings. This
is hard to defend from the traditional standpoint that it is a planned,
Divinely given language.

We desperately need a better explanation. Of course, we can always return
to the two-root theroy of Menachem. It does not suffer from this problem.

M. Levin

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Date: Mon, 18 Oct 2004 14:30:09 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Micha Berger" <micha@aishdas.org>
Re: linguistic norm

RabbiRichWolpoe@aol.com replied to my post:
>> Hmmm... Sepharadi pronounciation fitting the Israeli shitah, and Rashi
>> fitting the Babylonian... Wonder what Agus does with that!
> What is generally true is that Ashekenazim usually follow Israeli
> masorah and Sephardim usually follow Bablyonian Masorah but all of the
> above usually THINK that they are following the Bavli. Go figure <smile>

However, he is establishing a theory based on tendencies in pesaq. Havarah
is more fundamental. The evolution of pronounciation is rarely conscious,
it flows as the people do. Therefore, this one data point is arguably
of greater significance than any general rules about pesaq.


Micha Berger                 Time flies...
micha@aishdas.org                    ... but you're the pilot.
http://www.aishdas.org                       - R' Zelig Pliskin
Fax: (270) 514-1507

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Date: Mon, 18 Oct 2004 14:30:53 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Micha Berger" <micha@aishdas.org>
Re: Fwd: Noach/Giving/MLLN-IndianSheitlachPart1

Yosef Gavriel & Shoshanah M. Bechhofer forwarded from R' Reuven Ungar
<reuvenu@hotmail.com> part of a shi'ur from Rav Yechezkel Yakobson, Rosh
Yeshivat Sha'alvim, which contained:
> Rashi explains that an individual who fulfills a mitzvah is essentially
> a servant ministering to his master. The individual does not receive
> benefit from such an act. The Rosh and the Ran (in Masechet Nedarim)
> both comment that the mitzvah act itself does not generate benefit.

How does Rashi's explanation of MLLN fit either side of the hashkafic
fork? Both the quest for sheleimus and the quest for deveiqus are about
impacting the self, either internally, or in one's relationship to the
Borei, and therefore not simply "ministering to his Master". Yes, that
impact is not necessarily hana'ah, but once you rely on that, Rashi's
words didn't add anything to the explanation.


Micha Berger                 Time flies...
micha@aishdas.org                    ... but you're the pilot.
http://www.aishdas.org                       - R' Zelig Pliskin
Fax: (270) 514-1507

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Date: Mon, 18 Oct 2004 15:03:57 -0400
From: Micha Berger <micha@aishdas.org>
Re: Balancing Machshavah Amuqah and Emunah Peshutah

On Fri, Oct 01, 2004 at 12:24:08PM +0200, Daniel Eidensohn wrote:
: >This is his argument against the notion of ikkarei emunah. I don't catch
: >why it is relevent.

: The Rishonim acknowledged that Chazal did not express a systematic
: theology. A consequence is that there is no indication of what principles
: of faith - if any - are more fundamental than others.

I think that limiting the study of hashkafah to systematic study, and
even moreso associating that with developing ikkarim, is inadvertatnly
creating a strawman. The yeshiva movement's avoidance of aggadita goest
well beyond that. Not only didn't Rav Chaim advocate studying the Moreh,
Brisker derekh has nothing to do with learning the Maharsha, Maharal or
Gra on aggaditos.

One's weltenschaung and middos don't need to be addressed directly,
according to this mehalekh as documented in Nefesh haChaim cheleq 4,
because it will flow of its own from studying din.

As you might recall from the Yefes vs Sheim perspective discussion,
I'm convinced that Chazal did not believe the world yeilds itself to
systemization. When it was necessary to do so, such as when Rebbe
saw a need to construct the mishnah, he throws in a clue about the
interconnectedness and lack of clear hierarchy from first to latter
principles in the very first mishnah.

The dialogue style of the talmuds certainly lends itself to a topic that
is more interconnected than classifiable.


Micha Berger             Until he extends the circle of his compassion
micha@aishdas.org        to all living things,
http://www.aishdas.org   man will not himself find peace.
Fax: (270) 514-1507                        - Albert Schweitzer

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Date: Mon, 18 Oct 2004 21:50:34 +0200
From: Saul Mashbaum <smash52@netvision.net.il>
Less than a k'zayis of bread

RM Levin  Mlevinmd@aol.com wrote
>The chakira of ikkar and tocfel is whether the ikkar paturs tofel because
>the tofel is batul to the ikkar or whether it is because the tofel now
>becomes a part of the ikkar. The obvious nafka mina is whether the tofel
>is mitstaref to the shiur of the ikkar in as far as brocha achrona. Is
>it different for pas and pas habbo b'kisnin?

A very similar chakira to RML's is as follows:
When one makes a bracha on the ikkar, do we say that the bracha applies
to the tafel as well, or that the tafel does not require a bracha at all?
If the former, since the birkat hamotzi applies to the other food as well,
there is room to say that a sufficient amount of food has been eaten to
warrant birkat hamazon. If birkat mamotzi applies to the bread alone,
of which less than a k'zayit has been consumed, then there should be no
chiyyuv birkat hamazon.

The chakira as I formulated it (without the application to the RAM's
question) appears in the shiurim of R. Leib Chasman. I do not have the
sefer in which it appears at my disposal. I am looking for the sefer in
order to give a more precise citation. Perhaps a list member can help.

A sefer I do have which discusses this chakira is Am Mordechai, shiurim
on inyanei brachot by R. Mordechai Willig. Siman 25 of this sefer
was written by R. David Willig, brother of the principal author. RDW
discusses passages in the gdolei achronim (R. Akiva Eiger, the CI,
the Aruch Ha Shulchan) in light of this chakira. RDW mentions tzeruf,
but does not relate the chakira to our question as I have done.

(As an aside, I wish to point out that the Willig brothers are mourning
the recent passing of their father, my former neighbor and family friend
R. Jerome Willig, z"l. May they be comforted among the mourners of Zion
and Yerushalayim).

In light of the question RAM brought up, it is proper and preferable
for the one who makes hamotzi on Shabbat to give each of the people at
the table a k'zayit of challah, and that each of the assembled eat the
k'zayit given him within kday achilat pras (4 minutes). I am well aware
that wihen there are many people at the meal, cutting a kzayit for each
one may be a time-consuming and tedious task, but the microscopic pieces
sometimes passed out create serious halachic questions.

Saul Mashbaum

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Date: Mon, 18 Oct 2004 12:59:41 -0700 (PDT)
From: Mike Singer <mike_a_singer@yahoo.com>
Adam's Sin and "ve-ochel"

The week before last (Parashat Bereishit), a friend mentioned an
interesting interpretation of the episode where Hashem confronts Adam
after Adam ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Adam's reply
concludes "ve-ochel," which according to this interpretation suggests
that if the circumstances of the sin were to occur again, Adam would
again eat from the fruit. That is, there is a message about human nature
in the reply -- perhaps an innate urge to test boundaries or try new
things, even knowing the consequences.

Can anyone provide the source of this interpretation, and information
regarding the grammatical construction of the verb that would prompt
that interpretation? (My uneducated impression was that it simply is a
past tense verb form, as in "vaydaber Moshe...")


Amirom Singer msinger@alumni.uchicago.edu

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Date: Tue, 19 Oct 2004 12:54:22 -0400
From: "Berger, Mitchel" <mitchel.berger@bofasecurities.com>
RE: Balancing Machshavah Amuqah and Emunah Peshutah

On the subject of the depracation of the study of aggadita in contemporary
learning, here's the introductory email to Rav Yitzchak Blau's shi'ur
on YHE titled "Understanding Aggada" <yhe-aggada@etzion.org.il>


By Rav Yitzchak Blau
Shiur #1: Introduction

If you want to recognize the One who spoke and the world came into being,
learn aggada. (Sifrei, Devarim 49)

Despite the above rabbinic endorsement of learning the aggada, the
non-legal sections of the Talmud, these parts of the Talmud have not
received their due in our educational structures. Due to the centrality
of the norm in Judaism, most of our best energy was historically channeled
towards elucidating the halakhic parts of the Talmud. Many great medieval
commentaries, such as Ramban, Ba'al Ha-ma'or and Tosafot Rid, almost
never comment on aggadic sections. The contemporary world of yeshivot
gevohot tends to focus gemara shiurim almost exclusively on conceptual
analysis of the legal principles, leaving little to no room for aggadic
analysis. Even on a high school level, it is not uncommon for a rebbe
to avoid the aggada.

I believe that this situation is problematic, and that we have much to
gain from broadening the focus of our talmudic study to include the
entirety of talmudic texts. This may have particular significance in
Israel, where there is currently widespread concern about students not
enjoying their gemara study.

Although there can be no denying the paramount significance of Halakha,
Judaism also incorporates ideals and values that complement the specific
legal norms. As the Ramban pointed out in response to the first Rashi on
the Torah, the Torah could not skip Sefer Bereishit and begin with the
mitzvot because it is precisely the stories of Bereishit that teach us the
fundamental beliefs and moral values that necessarily stand alongside
the codes of Jewish law. Our sages of the Talmud clearly deemed it
worthwhile to interweave legal discussions with aggadic material to
create this balance, and we would be wise to follow their example.

Educationally, we would then teach our students that Chazal engaged
in more than debates about the finer points of halakhic minutiae,
however crucial these may be. While I think this an important message
irrespective of the current educational situation, it takes on added
significance in light of the difficulties faced by gemara teachers in
our classrooms. Study of aggada may enable those students struggling to
find existential meaning in talmudic texts to view the gemara in a far
more positive light. (For a more extensive discussion of these ideas, see
my article, "Redeeming the Aggadah in Jewish Education," in Wisdom From
All My Teachers, ed. Jeffrey Saks and Susan Handelman, Jerusalem 2003.)

These shiurim will try to show how such analysis might be accomplished.
Two principles will guide us in this endeavor. First, we will show that
Jewish tradition has many more resources for explaining the aggada than
is normally assumed, if we only expand our range of reading. Traditional
commentaries on the aggada, such as Maharsha, Maharal, the commentaries
found in the Ein Yaakov and Rav Kook's Ein Ayah, all contain valuable
material. Although the rishonim often skip aggadot, many acharonim
contributed significantly to the study of agadda. Among these more
recent rabbinic greats, we shall utilize commentaries of Arukh Le-Ner,
Sefat Emet, and Keren Ora, among others. Perhaps the main reason that
students don't find helpful commentary on aggada is that much good
material is not found in commentaries on the talmudic page but rather
in commentaries on Chumash (Netziv and Meshekh Chokhma come to mind),
Chassidic works (R. Tzadok Hakohen's Divrei Soferim is a shining example),
and works of Jewish thought (such as the essays of Rav Hutner and Rav
Soloveitchik). In addition to all of the above, we shall try to show how
background in the literature and philosophy of the Western world helps
equip one to read aggadot well. The more insights one gleans from the
humanities, the more one can understand the profundity of the aggada.

Our second guiding principle is the assumption that the text has
religious/ethical import, and it behooves us to look for those
messages. At the same time, our search for meaning will not lead us
to abandon the simple meaning of the words. Thus, we shall eschew the
types of talmudic readings featured in R. Nachman's Likkutei Moharan,
in which every word in a talmudic story is interpreted in a metaphorical
fashion until the interpretation bears no relationship to the words
on the page. Yet sticking to the plain sense of the words should not
prevent us from searching for the moral of the talmudic stories. Chazal
included these stories and maxims in the Talmud precisely to teach us
religious messages; a search for those messages, when done properly,
should lead to a more accurate reading of the texts. As James Kugel
pointed out in another context, it was Malbim's assumption that every
phrase in the Torah should have significance that led him to a more
correct understanding of one aspect of Biblical poetry than the approach
of those who thought that Biblical parallelism is mere repetition. In
the same way, looking for the import of a talmudic story will enhance
our ability to read those stories well.

Let us move away from a discussion of methodology and begin with some real
Torah. We described aggada as the non-legal sections of the Talmud; this
includes stories, ethical maxims, psychological insights, medical advice,
and much more. We shall now examine two different types of aggadot,
and come to appreciate the help offered by traditional commentaries.

"The Rabbis taught: Once a Sadducee poured the water of the libation
offering on his feet (instead of on the altar) and the people stoned him
with their etrogim. That day, the corner of the altar was damaged and they
sealed it up with a fistful of salt, not because this renders it fit for
service but so that people will not see the altar damaged." (Sukka 48b)

Our story takes place on the festival of Sukkot, on which a Sinaitic
tradition records that we shall enact a libation offering involving
water. The Sadducees, who rejected the oral traditions of the Rabbis,
wanted to sabotage this ritual. A parallel account in Josephus informs
us that the Sadducee in question was Alexander Yannai, one of the later
Hasmoneans. Yet our concern here is more with the religious meaning of
the story than with the historical details of the event. While the image
of pelting someone with etrogim is somewhat amusing, the reader would
be justified in looking for some deeper significance to this story. In
addition, Rashi assumes that the people must have thrown stones, as
etrogim would not have dented the altar. If so, the question of why the
text mentions the throwing of etrogim becomes even stronger.

R. Yaakov ibn Habib, in his Ein Yaakov, suggests a clever answer. He
points out that the Torah identifies the etrog with the somewhat
ambiguous phrase "peri etz hadar." Our ability to identify the correct
fruit comes from the help offered by the oral tradition. This alludes
to one of the classic arguments made by Rabbis for the Oral Law. The
written Torah itself assumes an accompanying oral tradition, as it does
not independently furnish all the information necessary to be put into
practice (see Ibn Ezra's introduction to his commentary on Chumash for
one version of the argument). Furthermore, eschewing a tradition that
helps guide our interpretation of Torah leads to a state of religious
anarchy. Indeed, despite the fact that Anan, the founder of the Kaarites,
preached that each follower should interpret the Torah for himself and
not rely on Anan's opinion, traditional communal interpretations became
the norm among Karaites as well. If so, the people pelted the Sadducee
with a metaphorical etrog. Namely, they argued that the Sadducee rejection
of Torah she-be-al peh does not work and is ultimately incompatible with
the written Torah itself.

Having seen a commentary on a short talmudic story, we turn to a different
type of aggada, in which a short maxim requires analysis.

"R. Yochanan said in the nof R. Eliezer bar Shimon: 'The Holy one,
Blessed be He, said to : 'My sons, borrow money upon My credit in
order to sanctify the festival day and have faith in Me and I will
pay.'' (Beitza 15b)

"R. Akiva said: 'Make your Shabbat like a weekday and do not become
dependent on others.'" (Shabbat 118b)

As Tosafot and others note, these two statements seem to contradict each
other. The latter citation directs us to simplify our Shabbat meals in
order not to rely upon financial aid, while the former quote tells us to
procure funds from others, and that God will take care of our debts. One
approach toward reconciling these passages might differentiate between
Shabbat and holidays. Tosafot do not accept that distinction, and they
explain that the gemara in Beitza refers to someone who has the means
to pay back, as he owns possessions that he could sell. The gemara in
Shabbat, on the other hand, refers to someone with no foreseeable means
of paying back a debt.

R. Yehuda Arye Leib of Ger adds a powerful comment in his Sefat Emet (on
Beiza). He writes, "Even though one has a Divine promise for the mitzva
of sanctifying the day, when it comes to one's friends' money, one can
not rely upon this to borrow." Based on this gemara, the Gerrer rebbe
lays down an important principle. Faith and trust in God are wonderful
traits, but not when they come at the expense of others. All good traits
can be taken too far, including emuna and bitachon. Authentic faith
demands sacrifice on the part of the individual in question, and not
the sacrifices of others.

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