Avodah Mailing List

Volume 15 : Number 035

Wednesday, June 22 2005

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Subjects Discussed In This Issue:
Date: Sun, 19 Jun 2005 20:37:44 EDT
From: T613K@aol.com
Re: Where were all the firstborn?

In Avodah V15 #34 dated 6/19/2005 there was a discussion about the fact
that firstborn sons seemed to make up a very small percentage of the
total population, about one percent. (I'm taking the word for it of
someone who wrote that it was one percent.)

Rashi somewhere says the women had six babies at a time in Egypt, and
even if we say that's an exaggeration and means "a lot of children," they
did have a very high birthrate in Egypt. I don't know how to do the math,
but maybe someone who is more mathematically inclined can tell me this:
if an average woman had how many children in her life, would firstborn
males make up one percent of the total? Fifty children? Hm, I guess even
in a miraculous age that would be an awful lot of children.

But it's not the case that half of all first borns will be bechorim,
due to the fact that some pregnancies (about twenty percent I think)
end in miscarriage.

And then there's also the fact that many boys were killed by Par'oh, no?
But would more first-born boys than later-born boys have been killed?
Have to admit, this IS a mystery.

But wait, wouldn't there have been more women than men since so many
boys were killed, and wouldn't there have been more polygamy as a result?
One man, several wives? From when did they start counting first born as
"first-born to his mother"? If they counted them as "first born to the
father" (which MUST be the case at least in Shevet Levy), would that
help solve the mystery?

All the above is only thinking aloud, not to be taken as an actual
contribution to the subject at hand.

 -Toby  Katz

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Date: Sun, 19 Jun 2005 17:55:27 -0400
From: Micha Berger <micha@aishdas.org>
Re: hashkafa and psak

On Tue, Jun 14, 2005 at 11:58:33PM -0400, S & R Coffer wrote:
:> Isn't that circular? You're saying there's a lema'aseh based on its being
:> labeled kefirah and the label is meaningful because it's lema'ash.

: No, not circular. I'm not saying "there's a lema'aseh based on its being
: labeled kefirah". I'm saying that it's l'maaseh because it is. RYSE
: banned the book and therefore the course of action mandated by him is
: to not read the book.

This is halakhah. Terms have real meaning. Kefirah, apiqursus and meenus
mean something in particular, and have chalos in various mitzvos (often
in combination with other factors, such as how the person came to be
a kofeir).

The term kefirah therefore really is about being able to use my wine,
or accept a geir who accepts my philosophy. Those are the classical
nafqa minos to getting the chalos sheim "kefirah".

Either those pesaqim apply, or the word "kefirah" is inappropriate. It's
really that simple.

You can't ban a book as being kefirah because the only lemaaseh is
the book banning itself. That really is circular. And an abuse of a
halachic term.

: As far as what motivated his pesak, perhaps he was moved to action due
: to his estimation of the contents of RNS's book being kefira, perhaps it
: was due to the contents being considered a zilzul of divrei chachamim...

Then say "zilzul divrei chakhamim". Which, BTW, can mean that the book
is ill advised from a mussar perspective, but would still be mutar.

: Remember, our original dispute was regarding whether agadita is binding;
: you maintain that it is not...

Not what I said. I said that agadita needs to have a nafqa minah
lemaaseh in order to be binding. The ikkarim are binding, because we
pasqen according to them lehalakhah when evaluating geirim and wineries.
Nothing more, and (contra R' Marc Shapiro), nothing less. That's what's
IKKAR about them!

: I have alluded to this CS no less than four times in this thread. I
: began by expressing my unmitigated lack of reservation regarding wine
: consumption from one maintaining your position and then repeated, at
: least three times...

Not relevent. We're discussing R' Elyashiv's position, not yours. Is
he assuring my wine, or not? You're answering the question of whether
you're obligated to follow his pesaq, not what his pesaq is.

: a common consensus amongst all of the gedoley yisrael regarding this
: issue, one maintaining your shita would not be deemed an apikorus...

If it's not kefirah, then it's not kefirah, and there is no issur about
which one can apply to the book. The statement would therefore be intended
lifnim mishuras hadin and even R' Elyashiv's students are not mechuyavim
me'ikkar hadin to avoid the book.

AND, as an eitzah tovah, the halachic process wouldn't apply -- which
means that there never can be a means of reaching consensus. Even if no
one alive argued with R' Elyashiv (and see the recent post of a URL to R'
Gifter's letter) people can choose to follow RSRH or the Tif'eres Yisrael.

Unlike R' Hilel who did reject an ikkar.

:>> Until now, I have been addressing your issues from the standpoint of
:>> aggadita which I feel (in some cases incl. our present topic) is
:>> binding.

:> And I've been questioning the grounds of your feeling. The Rambam
:> explicitly says it is not

: No such Rambam...

I yet again point you to RGStudent's LONG essay on the subject.

Since you repeatedly reach conclusions from the sources (and support
them at great length) that are unique compared to the rest of our
understandings (and those of the meivi la'or, the author's talmid muvhaq,
known authorities on the subject...) as I see them, I'll just save some
bandwidth and skip replying to this point. We'll just end up agreeing
to disagree about the meaning of the maqor anyway.

: Second, I can bring you many sources. Here are several to start.
: 1) R' Hilel and the chachamim are arguing about a) a mili d'aggadita
: that b) has no halachic ramifications...

Yes it does! The 12th ikkar is part of the definition of geirus, stam
yeinam, [lo] ma'alim velo moridin, etc....

Belief in when Beri'ah occured does not. Belief in whether chazal's
science was infallible also does not. The only lema'aseh behind the
banning is the ban itself.

:> And you still can't drink his wine. Otherwise there would be no problem
:> with the wine of a tinoq shenishba.

: Not true. You are a full maamin who believes in all of the ikray haemuna
: however when you approached the study of one of them in order to gain
: clarity in its details, you were (IMO) toeh bieeyunchah. That does not
: count as apikorsus chs'v.
: On the other hand, a tinok shenishba (TS), although he was "nebach"
: taught not to believe in one or more of the ikrim or is "nebach" unaware
: of one or more of the ikrim and thus may not be culpable for his position,
: but as R' Chaim was reported to have said, "nebach en apikorus iz fort
: en apikorus".

The culpability of the person has nothing to do with stam yeinam. In
that way, they're both alike.


Micha Berger             Take time,
micha@aishdas.org        be exact,
http://www.aishdas.org   unclutter the mind.
Fax: (270) 514-1507            - Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, Alter of Kelm

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Date: Mon, 20 Jun 2005 12:08:35 +0300
From: Eli Turkel <eliturkel@gmail.com>
tinok shenishba

> The concept of tinok shenishba is quite narrow (she'eino yodea mitorat
> yisrael KLAL) [caps mine].

I listened today to the radio program of R. Avraham Yosef (RAY). He
paskened that for a minyan one needs 10 people who are shomer mitzvot. He
said that chilonim would count for a minyan only on Rosh Hashana and
Yom Kippur because we assume today that most of them are tinot nenishbu.

He then continued that even many people who wear kipot cannot be included
because they keep mitzvot only out of habit and have ideas that are
apikorsus (he did not give more details - the program is only a few
minutes long).

If one combines this psak with that of RYSE the many people in this list
(myself included) are pasul for a minyan,

kol tuv,
Eli Turkel

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Date: Mon, 20 Jun 2005 03:44:07 EDT
From: T613K@aol.com
Re: beli reishis beli sachlis

> .....There was a time when  many people thought that their contemporaries
> could not picture a G-d who  did not have a body. If such a person exists
> after we accepted the Rambam's  ikkarim, would you condone his taking
> the anthropomorphications in Tanakh  literally?

> The idea isn't different in principle. Whether one pictures  HQBH as
> being a huge human being or an infinitely large and infinitely old  being,
> one is giving Him a form. An infinitely large being doesn't  necessarily
> have human shape, but even "infinite in all directions" is a  shape,
> of sorts. The difference is one of degree, not kind.

> I  therefore think there is a chiyuv not to place HQBH within space  or
> time.... 

Cf A'anim Zemiros: "zikna beyom din uvacharus beyom kerav"

 -Toby  Katz

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Date: Mon, 20 Jun 2005 11:45:40 -0400
From: Micha Berger <micha@aishdas.org>
Re: beli reishis beli sachlis

On Mon, Jun 20, 2005 at 03:44:07AM -0400, T613K@aol.com wrote:
: Cf A'anim Zemiros: "zikna beyom din uvacharus beyom kerav"

Shir haKavod is replete with anthropomorphications. Would you take those
literally too? (For that matter, are you literally weaving zemiros?)

Second, as the name implies, it's about the Kavod Nivra, not HQBH.

Last, although this is just a rephrase of the previous sentence: we go
through time, and therefore we experience HQBH at different times. We
experience His Ziqna on Yom Din.


Micha Berger             "The worst thing that can happen to a
micha@aishdas.org        person is to remain asleep and untamed."
http://www.aishdas.org          - Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, Alter of Kelm
Fax: (270) 514-1507      

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Date: Mon, 20 Jun 2005 11:58:35 +0300
From: Eli Turkel <eliturkel@gmail.com>
gadol ha-dor

> Not so; there's a Tosefos about Shmuel Hanavi being moreh halacha lifnei
> rabbo that says that although Shmuel hadn't (yet) learned anything from
> Eli, Eli's status as gadol hador made him ipso facto Shmuel's rebbi.

> There are mefarshim that are medayek in Tosefos that this only applies
> when the person is coming to learn with the gadol, not just by dint of
> gadol status, but here we fade to Avodah....

Even if one accepts this thesis it would only apply in the days when there
was a direct link of mesorah from Moshe through the shoftim and neviim.

Certainly today there is no such thing as gadol hador - or maybe to be
more precise there are loads of them. Each community has its own. As
Maharatz Chayot points out today there is no concept of rov for psak. We
have no way of judging between rabbis.

I am not sure what the Chunuch means. If one paskens like a Rambam when
it is clearly a minority view does a person become a Zaken Mamre?
Eli Turkel

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Date: Mon, 20 Jun 2005 12:41:08 GMT
From: "kennethgmiller@juno.com" <kennethgmiller@juno.com>
re: Where were all the firstborn?

R' Russell Levy wrote <<< 603,550 between 20-60... Each family has 6
guys... So, we have 100,592 families, 50,296 bechorim. >>>

Sorry, but this is the fallacy that I referred to in the final paragraph
of my original post.

RRL is taking the 603,550 men who were counted in the census, grouping
them together by family, and estimating that 1/12 of the men counted
should have been bechorim. That's fine, but it refers only to bechorim
between the ages of twenty and sixty, and ignores the bechorim younger
or older than that. The census of bechorim was from 30 days and up,
and should have been a number *much* higher than 50,296.

I thank everyone who has posted on this, especially those who were
able to find that this very question has been discussed here before! In
particular, I think R' Danny Schoemann's second and third suggestions
(at http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/vol09/v09n029.shtml#15) might be
particularly promising.

It is both encouraging to find that this question has bothered so many
of us, and frustrating that it doesn't seem to have bothered any of the
meforshim. At least none that we can find.

OTOH, R' Gershon Dubin wrote (at
http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/vol09/v09n029.shtml#21) that <<< Rav Schwab
in his sefer on Chumash (Maayan haSho'eva) addresses this as well as
why the proportion of males 30-50 was such a HIGH percentage of the
total Levi population. >>> Does anyone have this sefer? Might someone
summarize it for us?

Akiva Miller

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Date: Mon, 20 Jun 2005 09:48:23 -0400
From: "Yosef Gavriel & Shoshanah M. Bechhofer" <ygb@aishdas.org>

I do not recall the source, but it is asked how the Jews could possibly
complain about the Mon considering that it would taste like anything they
desired. And it is answered that the Mon only tasted like specific foods
when the intent that it taste as such was held in one's mind. Therefore,
the Jews complained: "Isn't it enough that we must have kavannah when
we daven? Now we must have kavannah when eating as well?!"

This is medukdak in the lashon of nafsheinu. The nefesh is the seat
of emotion. The eating of the Mon was an essentially intellectual
activity. [Chabad-style Deveykus?] The Jews objected to having eating,
an essentially sensual and emotional activity, transformed into an
essentially intellectually and mind-focusing activity.

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Date: Mon, 20 Jun 2005 10:06:52 -0400
From: "Samuel Svarc" <ssvarc@yeshivanet.com>
Re: 13 Middos she'ha'torah nidreshes ba'hem

From: "Micha Berger" <micha@aishdas.org>
|> And Rashi quotes a medrash found in Rus Rabba that "Moavi velo Moavis" was
|> not darshened until Boaz.

|Looking at a Mikra'os Gedolos over Shavu'os, I didn't see it in Rashi.  It
|/is/ in the Malbim, though. And in any case, the original source is
|a chazal.

I don't have a nach with meforshim at home (having recently moved),
but when I looked it up at Shul, the Malbim on the Posuk " Pen ashchis
es nachlosi" does /not/ say that. Were you referring to another place in
Rus? I would appreciate a maareh makom. I don't even own a Rus Rabba,and
IMHO a rayah from a midrash is not the same as from a gemarah (unless a
medrash is brought down by Rishonim and Achronim). A Medrash by definition
almost always needs interpatation, is it to be learned on a P'shat level,
D'rush? There are Medrashim that conflict (was Eisiv born circumcised
or not).

As for all the people who asked about the article in the JO. (See thread
"RE: The Ban on Steinsaltz's works" in Areivim.) When I read the article
I didn't put any special effort into remembering it, not realizing
that within a week it would become a point of discussion on Areivim and
Avodah. I can tell you that as I recall he focused basically on all the
points that were raised (including the proof from Maccabees 2:41), and
gave what seem to me at the time satisfactory answers and explanations.
I don't own that issue (I read it Monsey when I went there for Shabbos),
but I think it was in the year 1989. If someone gets ahold of it before
I do let him post what R' Elias wrote.


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Date: Mon, 20 Jun 2005 13:12:33 -0400
From: Russell Levy <russlevy@gmail.com>
Re: Where were all the firstborn?

kennethgmiller@juno.com wrote:
> RRL is taking the 603,550 men who were counted in the census, grouping
> them together by family, and estimating that 1/12 of the men counted
> should have been bechorim. That's fine, but it refers only to bechorim
> between the ages of twenty and sixty, and ignores the bechorim younger
> or older than that. The census of bechorim was from 30 days and up,
> and should have been a number *much* higher than 50,296.

You're right, but I argue with the *much* part. Assuming even
distribution, the number of bechorim between 20-60 would be around 15000
(around 2/3 of 22273, and how many people lived passed 60 -- v'im bigvurot
shmonim shanah). So, my 50,296 would be off by a factor of 3 instead of 2.

I also want to point out that though my numbers were faulty, the other
theories need the same math done.

For my original numbers,
(2 sets of 6-tuplets): 581277 = 15000*6*2/x - 15000/x, so x = 28%, so 
72% of bechorim would have to die
(1 set of 6-tuplets) 581277 = 15000*3*2/x - 15000/x, so x = 13%, or 87% 
of bechorim would have to die
(two kids per family) 581277 = 15000*2/x - 15000/x, so x = 2.5%, or 
97.5% of bechorim would have to die.

Two points on what RDS wrote back in 2002. I don't think the second option
can really work, since the only ones counted are at least 20 years old. I
would assume from the mishnah in Avot that all those counted would be
old enough to do what they thought is right and would get punished for
doing the wrong thing. So there shouldn't, therefore, be less bechorim
in the 20-60 age. I would also argue with the last option, that first
borns were killed more by Pharaoh. If I remember the midrashim correctly,
that gezerah was abolished very soon after the birth of Moshe (and if
it wasn't, how are there 600,000 males between the ages of 20-60!!!),
and therefore you should have the right proportion of bechorim between
the ages of 20-60. Another suggestion made earlier was that the bechorim
died in a larger percentage during cheit ha'egel. IIRC only 3000 people
died at that time, which doesn't help too much.


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Date: Mon, 20 Jun 2005 15:51:33 -0400
From: "David Riceman" <driceman@worldnet.att.net>
Re: Where were all the firstborn?

From: <kennethgmiller@juno.com>
> Thus,
> the census should have found around 300,000 firstborn males, at least.

I've always assumed it's differential mortality. Since pre-matan Torah
the bechorim were priests they were the ones most likely to engage in
idolatry and thus receive all sorts of capital punishemnt (from hamushim
alu bnei yisrael and onward).

David Riceman 

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Date: Mon, 20 Jun 2005 16:47:58 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Micha Berger" <micha@aishdas.org>
Re: Where were all the firstborn?

RAMiller <kennethgmiller@juno.com> wrote:
> Given all that, I think it is reasonable to suppose that there were at
> least 600,000 men who had at least one child. It is also likely that about
> half of those men had a girl first, and about half had a boy first....
>... Thus,
> the census should have found around 300,000 firstborn males, at least.

> But pasuk 3:43 says that there were only 22,273 firstborn males aged 30
> days and up in all shevatim together.

> Where are the other 280,000?

Not that this is relevent to answering the question, but we need to know how
many women had boys who were not nefilim first. Think of the laws of piyon

I do not think this answers the question, as I doubt polygamy and infant
mortality rates explain a factor of 12

> The census of the Leviim has a similar problem:
> (BTW, several of the people I've posed this to have responded by referring
> to the multiple births which were common in Mitzrayim....)

Not amongst Levi, anyway.


Micha Berger                 Life is complex.
micha@aishdas.org                Decisions are complex.
http://www.aishdas.org               The Torah is complex.
Fax: (270) 514-1507                                - R' Binyamin Hecht

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Date: Tue, 21 Jun 2005 04:21:26 -0400
From: <gil@aishdas.org>
[Hirhurim] Da'as Torah III

Before commenting, please read this excerpt carefully and keep in mind
that the author is a brilliant Talmudic scholar, a successful rosh yeshiva
and a profound thinker. In a short phrase, his answer is "Yes, but..."

Previous posts on this topic can be found [at

R. Aharon Lichtenstein, "Legitimization of Modernity: Classical and
Contemporary" in Leaves of Faith (Ktav: 2004), vol. 2 pp. 294-298:

    [T]here are many apologists who contend that the primary issues are
    matters of haskafah [Jewish thought rather than practice], to which
    authority per se is far less relevant, and with respect to which
    classical sources are arguably self-sufficient. This brings us to
    the familiar shibboleth of da'at Torah. This concept is generally
    in disrepute among votaries of modern Orthodoxy, who have sought to
    challenge both its historical progeny and its philosophic validity. I
    must confess that I find myself, in principle, more favorably
    disposed to the idea. I readily concede that the concept, in its
    more overarching permutatioins, is of relatively recent vintage...

    Moreover, I freely concede that one's faith in the concept is
    periodically put to a severe test. As but one instance, the doyen of
    [then-]current rashei yeshiva, R. [Elazar Mann] Schach, proves the
    value of Torah as the self-sufficient repository of all knowledge
    by asking, rhetorically: "Whence did Hazal know that the earth
    was forty-two times larger than the moon, and that the sun was
    approximately one-hundred-and-seventy times larger than the earth
    (as explained in the Rambam, Hilkhot Yesodei Hatorah 3:8), if not
    from the power of the Torah?"[24] In raising this question, he is
    wholly oblivious not only to the rudiments of astronomy but also of
    the fact that the selfsame Rambam explicitly states, with respect to
    these very issues, that they are beyond the pale of Hazal's authority:
	Do not ask of me to show that everything they have said concerning
	astronomical matters conforms to the way things really are. For at
	that time mathematics were imperfect. They did not speak about this
	as transmitters of dicta of the prophets, but rather because in
	those times they were men of knowledge in these fields or because
	they had heard these dicta from the men of knowledge who lived in
	those times.[25]To my mind, the strain is palpable.

    Nevertheless, I find the alternative view, that gedolei Torah are
    professional experts whose authority and wisdom can ordinarily be
    regarded as confined to the area of their technical proficiency,
    simply inconceivable. Our abiding historical faith in the efficacy
    of Torah as a pervasive, ennobling, informing, and enriching force
    dictates adoption of the concept of da'at Torah in some form or
    measure. Still, contrary to the historical course of the idea,
    I find it less applicable today than heretofore. At a time when
    many gedolim do not spring organically from the dominant Jewish
    community to whose apex they rise, and instead distance themselves
    from it; and when the ability to understand and communicate in a
    shared cultural or even verbal language is, by design, limited,
    the capacity of even a gadol to intuit the sociohistorical dynamics
    of his ambient setting is almost inevitably affected. And while the
    quasi-mystical element of Sod Hashem Li-Yrei'av U-Veriso Le-Hodi'am
    [the secrets of the Lord are for His fearers, and His covenant to
    inform them] always remains applicable, that, too, presumably is
    not wholly independent of circumstances...

    These considerations aside, however, even if it were wholly licit
    to sever all links with contemporary gedolim... such a course would
    be grossly mistaken... A person, and not only the ordinary layman,
    needs a gavra rabba [great person], to serve in part as a role-model
    if possible, and in part as a realization of what Whitehead called
    "the vision of greatness"; to lift one's sights and aspirations --
    extending the bounds of what he strives to achieve, and suffusing
    him with appreciation and admiration for what he senses he cannot
    achieve; to guide, on the one hand, and inhibit, on the other. This
    is not a matter of popular hagiolatry or Carlylean hero-worship. It
    is a spiritual necessity, all the more so within our tradition, for
    which an adam gadol [great man] is the embodiment of the mesorah
    [tradition], and of Torah she-b'al-peh [the Oral Law].
    [24]Rav E.M. Schach, quoted in Toda'ah 48:2 (Nissan 5752).
    [25] Guide of the Perplexed, trans. S. Pines, III:14; p. 459. The
    question raised by the passage is self-evident; but the Rambam's
    position, in any event, is clear.
(6/20/2005 5:35:02 AM)

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Date: Tue, 21 Jun 2005 06:53:26 -0400
From: <gil@aishdas.org>
[Hirhurim] Pseudo-Science

I finally received the newest issue of Jewish Action
<http://www.ou.org/publications/ja/>. Don't they know that bloggers
should be at the top of their mailing list, not the bottom? R. Yitzchok
Adlerstein (a contributing editor to JA, by the way) seems to have
beaten me to the punch <http://tinyurl.com/9lbpz> on an interesting
exchange in the magazine which, oddly enough, has not been uploaded to
the magazine's website.

A letter-writer, Howard Shapiro in the name of R. Chaim Eisen, makes
some strong points against Dr. Nathan Aviezer's approach of reconciling
Torah and science:

    Since we can only observe "customary conjunction" (i.e., correlation)
    but can never definitively establish causality, the ultimate causes of
    natural phenomena must remain scientifically unknowable. Historically,
    this conclusion had been manifest repeatedly, as one hypothesis
    supersedes a hitherto universally accepted, successful one,
    only to give way in turn to another, in the relentless and endless
    evolution of modern science. As Thomas S. Kuhn (and many others) amply
    demonstrated, the historical development of scientific understanding
    is predominantly through such destructive succession rather than mere
    accumulation of knowledge and theories... Every scientific paradigm
    is provisional by definition.

Dr. Aviezer replies:

    Every competent scientist can distinguish between the more
    speculative theories and those that are firmly anchored by a vast
    array of scientific evidence. The latter have an excellent record for
    longevity. For example, since their inception nearly a century ago,
    the theory of relativity and quantum theory have enjoyed unqualified
    success in explaining hundreds of diverse phenomena.

    The excellent track record of well-established scientific theories
    was emphasized by Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg (Dreams of a Final
    Theory [New York, 1993], 102):

    One can imagine a category of experiments that refute well-accepted
    scientific theories that have become part of the standard consensus
    of physicists. Under this category, there are no examples whatsoever
    in the past hundred years.

    Since not a single well-established scientific theory has been refuted
    within the past hundred years, we can feel confident about the future.

I don't know nothing about this stuff, but
Dr. Aviezer seems to be echoing what I wrote in this post
about distinguishing between science and pseudo-science.

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Date: Tue, 21 Jun 2005 15:54:26 -0400
From: <gil@aishdas.org>
[Hirhurim] Slabodka and Secular Studies

In the current issue of Jewish Action
<http://www.ou.org/publications/ja/>, R. Pinchas Stolper
<http://www.ou.org/publications/ja/5765/5765summer/Book.pdf> reviews
David Kranzler's biography of R. Solomon Schonfeld titled "Holocaust
Hero." I flipped through my in-laws' copy of the book soon after it was
published and found the following surprising fact:

On page 30, Dr. Kranzler writes that in 1932 or 1933, R. Schonfeld was
studying for semikhah in a yeshiva in Slabodka (I think Knesses Yisrael)
and, simultaneously, studying for a doctorate in a nearby university.

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Date: Tue, 21 Jun 2005 19:55:59 -0700 (PDT)
From: micha <micha@aishdas.org>
[Aspaqlaria] Charitzus - Decisiveness

The Cheshbon haNefesh opens his discussion of charitzus (decisiveness)
by contrasting the human condition to that of a bird. If a bird is
caught in a trap once or twice, it will reflexively avoid things that
look like traps. The key term is "reflexively". There is no conscious
decision process. Everything very Pavlovian. A dog, he continues,
operates similarly. A dog is capable of more complicated deductive
thought. However, it's still driven by stimulus-response, with no free
will between them.

Human beings are unique in that we have the ability to rise above
the Pavlovian level. An experimenter can evoke a Pavlovian response
from a human subject. We may have animal natures, since we live within
primate bodies, but we are not limited to that. We can make purposive
decisions. We're free willed, in the image of G-d.

The key to being fully human, then, is to be able to concentrate on that
decision-making ability, to focus on what we're doing to the world rather
than what the world is doing to us.

Charitzus: To make decisions rapidly enough to be of use yet not simply
respond without thought -- and then to stick to the decision to see
it through to the end. The art of utilizing one's Image of G-d to be a
creative being.

In a lunchtime va'ad that I participate in (in Midtown Manhattan;
[1]contact me for more details), we identified four key areas that
interfere with our ability to be decisive.

1- Not Having Clear Priorities
Most decisions are difficult because they involve conflicting goals.
Different choices would implement differing things, each of which
are desirable. We're forced to rank our outcomes to know which we
actually prefer. But that's only possible if we have a clear sense of
our priorities.

This in turn has two parts:

A- Internalizing the right values: We can learn what are priorities
are supposed to be by learning Torah. But to really internalize them,
one needs to learn [2]mussar behispa'alus, passionately.

B- Knowing one's own role: As we saw in "[3]Different Parts of the Same
Body", the Jewish people have one set of values, but each person brings
different skills and personality to those values and therefore has a
unique role to play that he alone can fill.

Mussar and self-help overlap in addressing this issue. In "[4]Psyschology
and Mussar" I suggest the following distinction. "One presumes that the
person is his own best moral guidepost, and therefore the unwanted in
one's life is certainly appropriate to eliminate. The other is based
on the idea that the Torah describes for us an absolute objective
morality. It's our job to study that terrain and live by ever-improving
maps of it as we learn more over time." I therefore think it's appropriate
to suggest an exercise offered by Stephen Covey in "[5]Seven Habits of
Highly Effective People." Covey (pp 97-97) points out that we choose
actions based on their goals. Therefore we should "Begin with the End
in Mind".

  In your mind's eye, see yourself going to the funeral of a loved
  one. Picture yourself driving to the funeral parlor or chapel, parking
  the car, and getting out. As you walk inside the building, you notice
  the flowers, the soft organ music. You see the faces of friends and
  family you pass along the way. You feel the shared sorrow of losing, the
  joy of having known, that radiates from the hearts of the people there.

  As you walk down to the front of the room and look inside the casket,
  you suddenly come face to face with yourself. This is your funeral,
  three years from today. All these people have come to honor you,
  to express feelings of love and appreciation for your life.

  As you take a seat and wait for the services to begin, you look at
  the program in your hand. There are to be four speakers. The first is
  from your family, immediate and also extended - children, brothers,
  sisters, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents
  who have come from all over the country to attend. The second speaker
  is one of your friends, someone who can give a sense of what you were
  as a person. The third speaker is from your work or profession. And
  the fourth is from your church or some community organization where
  you've been involved in service.

  Now think deeply. What would you like each of these speakers to say
  about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, father, or mother
  would you like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter
  or cousin? What kind of friend? What kind of working associate?

  What character would you like them to have seen in you? What
  contributions, what achievements would you want them to remember?
  Look carefully at the people around you. What difference would you
  like to have made in their lives?

This exercise in what you want to accomplish will clarify your
priorities. Everything you do should be measured in terms of what role
in plays in at least one of those goals.

But again, in order to be mussar, one needs to work within that greater
structure of Torah. Knowing what you want to accomplish, what role you
see yourself filling, within the Torah's more general mission.

2- Uncertainty of One's Motivations
Everything we do, we do for a mixture of motives. So, we never really know
if we're really acting for proper motives, or because our assessment of
what it right is colored by ulterior ones (negi'os). This why keeping
a cheshbon hanefesh is critical. With it, we get practice in watching
ourselves and learn to see patterns in our behavior.

3- Doubt About Proper Tactic
This is a real problem. We can know what we want and ought to happen,
but not know which choice is most likely to make it come about. The
only productive response is to rely on bitachon, trusting G-d. Life is
like a game of backgammon more than a game of Chess. Even with perfect
knowledge and strategy, we can only maximize our odds of success, not
guarantee it. Sometimes "mentch tracht und G-tt lacht -- man tries, and
G-d laughs." (Or: Man proposes, G-d disposes. Or: "The best laid plans of
mice and men....") Whatever we do, even with no real decisions to be made,
we can only try our best and rely on Hashem for success. Fortunately,
we are only judged on how hard we try.

4- "Getting Distracted by Shiny Objects"
The Cheshbon haNefesh offers an interesting insight about our habit to
change our minds. Here we have a constructive use for stubbornness! By
doggedly sticking with a plan, we can raise the threshhold necessary
to cause us to abandon it. We need to be stubborn enough to bring the
process of second-guessing a decision close the bekhirah point, the
point Rav Dessler describes as the battlefront where conscious decisions
are made. Then we know we changed our minds for solid rational reasons,
rather than as a response to a new stimulus.

So, how does one fulfill their potential, to fully be free-willed,
creative beings? In short: Know your priorities, know yourself, have
the confidence in the Creator and oneself to proceed with whatever is
the most likely to work, and do not be distracted.

Perhaps this is the meaning of the famous quote:
  Rav Yehudah ben Teima said, "Be as bold as a tiger, and light as an
  eagle, run like a dear and mighty like a lion, to do the Will of your
  Father in heaven." (Avos 5:4)
This mishnah is so central to our service that it's quoted as the first
halakhah in the Shulchan Arukh!

The boldness of the tiger is necessary to overcome our doubts about

The eagle sees its destination well in advance. It knows its goal,
and rapidly proceeds to them.

"As a hart longs for streams of water, so does my soul longs for You,
G-d." (Tehillim 42:2) Unlike the swiftness of the eagle, which can see
where it's going and passes through empty skies, the dear stays the
course because nothing it passes can distract it from its longing.

Last, the lion is mighty, a gibor. But "Who is a gibor? One who conquers
his inclination." (Ben Zoma, Avos 4:1) From the lion one learns to master
misdirection from their ulterior motives.

Where then is the humanity? In the need for us to choose and learn these
natures. In the animal kingdom, the animal is simply the way G-d made
them. We can learn from their example and make ourselves.

Posted by micha to [6]Aspaqlaria at 6/21/2005 10:54:00 PM

1. mailto:micha@aishdas.org?Subject=Lunch
2. http://www.aishdas.org/asp/2005/02/hispaalus-or-yismach-moshe.shtml
3. http://www.aishdas.org/asp/2005/06/different-parts-of-same-body.shtml
4. http://www.aishdas.org/asp/2004/12/psychology-and-mussar.shtml
5. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0743269519/aishdas
6. http://www.aishdas.org/asp/2005/06/charitzus-decisiveness.shtml

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