Avodah Mailing List

Volume 03 : Number 174

Thursday, August 19 1999

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Subjects Discussed In This Issue:
Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 00:24:27 EDT
From: Yzkd@aol.com
Re: eclipse - NO bracha

In a message dated 8/18/99 2:17:50 AM Eastern Daylight Time, 
kennethgmiller@juno.com writes:

> According to my notes, when I was learning at Ohr Somayach in
>  Yerushalayim (circa 1978-80), I asked Rav Mordechai Shakovitzky z"l, and
>  he said that Oseh Maaseh B'reishis is NOT said on an eclipse, neither of
>  the sun nor of the moon, because it is a "siman ra".
>  Thus far, I have not seen any seforim explicitly mention eclipses in this
>  context, neither for saying the bracha, nor for not saying it.

In a letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe Ztz"l dated 5 Tamuz 5717 (printed in 
Shaarei Halacha Uminhag Vol. 1 page 223) he writes in regard of making Bracha 
on Likuie Chamah Ulvanah (Halachik term for solar or lunar eclipse) that 
(free translation) "there is an established Kllal that we are not Mchadeish a 
Bracha that is not mentioned in Shaas (Beis Yosef O"C 46).  The reason for 
lack of Bracha can be given since this is sign of IMPENDING punishment 
(Sukkah 29A).  And on the contrary it requires prayer to be M'vateil it and 
crying out, and not Bracha.

Kol Tuv, KVCT

Yitzchok Zirkind

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Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 07:46:13 +0300
From: "Carl and Adina Sherer" <sherer@actcom.co.il>
Lashon Hara on the Dead (was: Criticizing Gedolim (2))

Moshe Feldman writes:

> - --- Carl and Adina Sherer <sherer@actcom.co.il> wrote:
> > Lashon Hara does apply to the dead. See Chafetz Chaim Hilchos 
> > Lashon Hara Clal 8, S'if 9 [translation mine]: "And know also that 
> > even to disparage and curse the dead is also forbidden (citing 
> > Mordechai in Bava Kamma Letter 82), and the poskim have written 
> > that there is a regulation and cherem of earlier generations not to
> > speak ill of and besmirch the dead. 
> Am I correct, though, in assuming that the issur in the case of the
> dead is not nearly as grievous as speaking lashon hara with regard to
> one who is alive (where there clearly are issurei d'oraita involved)?
>  For example, does "lo telech rachil b'amecha" apply to a dead
> person?

It SEEMS to be a "takonas kadmonim" and not an issur d'Oraysa. 
OTOH, personally I prefer not to play with things that say "cherem" 
on them. Yoreh Deah 243:7 describes the same punishment (nidui) 
for one who is mevazeh talmid chacham after the talmid chacham's 
death as for one who is mevazeh talmid chacham during the talmid 
chacham's lifetime. And the Mordechai I cited above brings the 
Gemara in Yoma about taking a minyan and going to the talmid 
chacham's kever to ask mechilla. But you are probably correct that 
it is not an issur d'oraysa.

> Assuming that it's not as grievous, my argument still stands: a gadol
> may be more willing to speak negatively about someone after his death
> than prior to his death (presuming that there are good reasons to
> make such comments).

But see the Beer Mayim Chaim in Hilchos Lashon Hara Clal 8, S'K 
23 (where he argues that all of the seeming criticism between 
Gdolim of previous generations was l'shem shamayim but that they 
did not intend to mock each other) and the Tshuvas Chavos Yair 
152 that is brought down at the end of most versions of the Chafetz 
Chaim (where he goes through the Gemaras where one Amora 
seems to insult another and shows how that was not what was 
intended). So what we see as one gadol criticizing another 
personally may be subject to different interpretations.

I'm not speaking l'maaseh to the issue of whether one gadol may 
be more willing to criticize another after the other's death - that 
may well be the case.

-- Carl

Please daven and learn for a Refuah Shleima for our son,
Baruch Yosef ben Adina Batya among the sick of Israel.  
Thank you very much.

Carl and Adina Sherer

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Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 12:02:36 +0300
From: "Carl M. Sherer" <csherer@netvision.net.il>
Being Machmir on Couple who Violate the 7 Nekiyim

Russell Hendel writes:

> I agree with Carl and have strong Biblical support

Russell, I'm afraid you're too used to agreeing with me. I think this 
time we may disagree....

> For we find that Chava sinned because she thought it was forbidden 
> to touch the tree (she was only forbidden to eat). So the Snake pushed her
> and made her touch the tree and said "see you are not dying" and hence she
> came to sin (Because she thought that what she had been told was false).

I think there is a BIG difference between the snake whose goal and 
mannerisms were such as to want to cause Chava to sin (as is 
related in many medrashim) and a posek who actually wants to 
help you to grow spiritually. To some extent it's in the presentation, 
but I think it's a lot more than that....

> I should also bring the following story which I heard from Rabbi
> Friedman.
> He was once lecturing and noticed a woman crying when he explained about
> the laws of marital separation.
> He inquired and found out that they were crying because they had asked
> their (orthodox) Rabbi for "everything that is necessary" in their recent
> marriage and the Rabbi had not told them about marital separation.
> Shocked,Rabbi Friedman asked the Rabbi why he omitted it to which he
> responded "I didn't think they were the type!"

Clearly, the Rabbi who didn't tell them made a serious mistake. 

What I have heard poskim tell people to do when dealing with a 
couple that is just becoming fruhm is to ask someone bigger than 
you, and what that someone bigger than you may tell you is to 
only tell the couple the things that are the most basic, and tell 
them that there are other things for another time. That way you 
have given them the minimum, but you have also let them know 
that there is more out there.

-- Carl

Carl M. Sherer, Adv.
Silber, Schottenfels, Gerber & Sherer
Telephone 972-2-625-7751
Fax 972-2-625-0461

Please daven and learn for a Refuah Shleima for my son,
Baruch Yosef ben Adina Batya among the sick of Israel.
Thank you very much.

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Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 12:02:36 +0300
From: "Carl M. Sherer" <csherer@netvision.net.il>
Erroneous Psak

Chana Luntz writes:

> In message , Carl M. Sherer <csherer@netvision.net.il> writes
> >Not too long ago, I heard a Hilchos Nida Shiur from a posek who 
> >essentially said that if a "fruhm" couple (meaning one that is not a
> >couple of recent baalei tshuva) has relations during the shiva n'kiyim,
> >that a posek should "throw the book at them" to make sure that it doesn't
> >happen again. Meaning, he should "give them every chumra in the book."
> >(Lest anyone think otherwise, he said worse things about a couple that
> >has relations when the wife is menstruating).
> I find this bizzare - lets analyse the situation logically as to the
> possibilities:
> a) the woman is going to mikvah after the 7 clean days, but they are
> having relations before then;


> d) they had relations during the sheva nekiim in the past, but they now
> wish/have done, teshuva.

It was one of these two that he was discussing. My understanding 
was that what he had in mind was a fruhm couple that had 
succumbed to temptation and had relations during the shiva n'kiyim.

> So how is "throwing the book" at them going to help.

Because what he meant generally by throwing the book at them 
was giving them as many harchokos as possible. Harchokos in 
Hilchos Nida are an area where the line between ikar hadin and 
chumra tends to be quite fuzzy with very few exceptions (e.g. wife 
pouring glass of wine for husband, wife washing husband's hands, 
face and feet, wife preparing husband's bed). If you survey different 
poskim as to whether different harchokos are ikar hadin or chumra, 
I suspect that just about every posek will give you a different 
answer. I think what he was saying was that in a case where there 
is a fruhm couple that has succumbed to temptation, we have to 
give them as many harchokos as possible to ensure that it does 
not happen again.

I think he also may have meant to include that in this particular 
instance (i.e. in the month in which it happens, when they go to a 
posek for guidance in how to count the seven clean days), the 
posek should consider how long to require them to wait before 
allowing her to start counting the shiva n'kiyim again. I'm not a 
posek by any stretch, and I'm a little fuzzy on this part, but as I 
understood it, there is some flexibility where the posek could tell 
them that they only have to wait one day to start counting again, or 
they could have to wait three days (six onos).

> In the case of a)  and c) clearly the couple don't care about being over
> an issur d'orisa chayav kares (until she goes to mikvah, she is assur
> d'orisa), so why is a chumra going to change matters.  

I deleted (c), because that's not the case I was talking about. As to 
(a), it's unfair to say that any couple that has relations under the 
circumstances described in (a) doesn't care. They do. The fact that 
what they have done violates an issur d'oraysa doesn't mean they 
don't care. They succumbed to temptation - they didn't set out to 
violate Hilchos Nida.

At most it will
> delay her going to mikvah meaning there will be even more occasions on
> which they breach the issur (ie being machmir means that the Rav is
> increasing the incidents of issurei d'orisa chayav kares!)

In the case posited - where they really do care, but have 
succumbed to temptation, I don't see that this is necessarily the 
case. By adding extra reminders to make sure that the couple 
stays apart, I think you are decreasing the possibility that they will 
be tempted again. If you're talking about a couple that doesn't care, 
you're right, they'll just breach the issur more, but how likely is a 
couple like that to go ask a posek in the first place?

> So I can only see the posek having any effect at all in case d).  So
> what you are telling me is that - we have in front of us a couple who had
> relations during the 7 clean days, but now want to do teshuva.  That is,
> they managed to withstand temptation for the duration of the period of
> bleeding, but could not manage the extra 7 days.  They now are determined
> to try and make it for the rest of the time.  So what does the Rav do. He
> makes it as difficult as possible for them by making the temptation even
> greater than that borne by the average person (eg making them wait 15, 16,
> 21 days) by the application of chumras. 

I don't think you understood what I meant by chumros - see above. 
With the exception of the month in which it happened (in which 
case there would most likely be much less than 15 consecutive 
days on which they could not have relations from the time they 
violated the shiva n'kiyim), the measures I was thinking of were not 
measures that would extend the amount of time that the woman is 
considered forbidden to her husband.

-- Carl

Carl M. Sherer, Adv.
Silber, Schottenfels, Gerber & Sherer
Telephone 972-2-625-7751
Fax 972-2-625-0461

Please daven and learn for a Refuah Shleima for my son,
Baruch Yosef ben Adina Batya among the sick of Israel.
Thank you very much.

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Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 08:16:27 EDT
From: Kenneth G Miller <kennethgmiller@juno.com>
Re: Proofs of G-d

Our esteemed listowner raises an objection to what is popularly
considered "the Kuzari's argument":

<<< There happens to be a flaw in it, as an argument. First, there are
cultures that have legends of miraculous origins of their peoples.
Second, a legend can /gradually/ be accepted as history -- it need not
happen as normally described. >>>

Did those cultures start with small groups of individuals, or large
groups? My understanding is that "the Kuzari argument" admits to the
possibility of a small group of people starting a story and getting away
with it. Its strength is that *our* story makes the claim to have started
with a *large* group, and there is no way for that to occur without some
(or most) people realizing that it was made up.

As my evidence, I cite Sefer Devarim: "Since the day that G-d created man
on the earth, from one end of the universe to the other, has such a thing
ever happened, OR HAS IT EVEN BEEN RUMORED? Has an ENTIRE PEOPLE people
ever heard the voice of G-d speaking from a fire as you heard on Mount
Sinai - and lived? Has G-d ever attempted to take a NATION for Himself
out from the middle of another nation, with miracles, signs and wonders,
with a war, a strong hand, an outstretched arm, and with such great
awesomeness as G-d your Master did for you in Egypt before your very

The implication is that, no, no other nation can even make this claim. If
there are any nations who have made comparable claims, I'd like to hear
about it.

Akiva Miller

Get the Internet just the way you want it.
Free software, free e-mail, and free Internet access for a month!
Try Juno Web: http://dl.www.juno.com/dynoget/tagj.

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Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 08:55:24 -0400
From: "Rayman, Mark" <mrayman@lehman.com>
Dam/Dom, Mateh acher vs. Matay acher

Along the same lines as dam and dom, at the end of parshas mas'ay
we have :
	vlo sisov nachala mimateh (with a segol) el [mateh/matey] acher.

The various chumashim vocalize the second mateh differently, some have mateh
with a segol
and some have matay with a tzeire.  Mateh acher means another tribe, matay
acher means the tribe of another.

I checked various "reliable" sources (Minhas Shai, Rav Breuer, BHS) and I do
not recall off hand how they ruled on this one.


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Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 09:38:29 -0400
From: richard_wolpoe@ibi.com

Date: Tue, 17 Aug 1999 15:20:52 EDT
From: Yzkd@aol.com
Subject: Re: Chazal and Advanced Technology


As to the Nvi'im there is no reason to deny that it was a miracle, (see Reish 
Taanis Mafteiach Shel Tchiyas Hameisim) Umfurosh in Rambam Yesodei Hatorah 
10:1, as to Rabboh and R' Zeira on Purim, the Gemarah says that "he prayed" 
Vsu Loi, OTOH there is the Gemara that Simtre helps (see B"M 74 and Yevomos 
Reish Perek 15)...

Yitzchok Zirkind<<

Nu, so who's denying they are miracles?  OTOH there is no indication re: the 3 
cases of the Nevi'im that they were miracles.  

Perhaps included in what Hashem communicates to Nevi'im are advanced healing 
tecniques; perhaps the metaphysical is simpl the highly sophisticated 
"physical", Perhaps at some endpoint in the development of sceence and 
technology we will also be able to understand and to explain inuition ESP, 
spirituality, etc. in terms of scientific/technological phenomena.

When I was a youngster, the LOR described Nevi'us as analgous to picking up 
radio signals.  I.E. Hashem is ALWAYS broacasting messages, but it takes a tuner
to receive those messages.  In that sense, Moshe Rabbeinu was the most 
fine-tuned of tuner; and while Nev'iim in genral could receive those messages,  
others are totally oblivious to of them - just like most humans were unaware of 
the existence of radio waves for thousands or years even though they wer always 

BTW, this braocasting model also explains how all nevi'im are simlutaenously 
aware of Hashem sending a message - even when it is directed to a different 
novi. And remember this is a MODEL to better understand how it works, I am NOT 
saying that Hashem is actually using radio waves, just something analogous to 
radio waves...

Rich Wolpoe

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Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 08:58:29 -0500 (CDT)
From: "Shoshanah M. & Yosef G. Bechhofer" <sbechhof@casbah.acns.nwu.edu>
Re: What is a "Changed content" with regard to laining

The Yerushalmi at the end of Megilla says a Ba'al Koreh only need return
if he changed a letter - not a vowelization.


Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer
Cong. Bais Tefila, 3555 W. Peterson Ave., Chicago, IL, 60659
ygb@aishdas.org, http://www.aishdas.org/baistefila

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Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 09:07:41 -0500 (CDT)
From: "Shoshanah M. & Yosef G. Bechhofer" <sbechhof@casbah.acns.nwu.edu>
Re: Proofs of G-d, Warning!

On Wed, 18 Aug 1999, Micha Berger wrote:

> There happens to be a flaw in it, as an argument. First, there are
> cultures that have legends of miraculous origins of their peoples.
> Second, a legend can /gradually/ be accepted as history -- it need not
> happen as normally described. 

If this conversation is to be productive - and I am not so sure that it
can be, given some of our discussions in the past - then it is very, very
important that none of us criticize "proofs" that others hold to be valid.
That is a direct path to rifyon emuna. If this is to be a discussion that
is a chiizuk emuna, then we must limit ourselves to remarks like "this
works for me, it may work for you". Chachomim, he'zaharu b'divreichem!


Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer
Cong. Bais Tefila, 3555 W. Peterson Ave., Chicago, IL, 60659
ygb@aishdas.org, http://www.aishdas.org/baistefila

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Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 10:07:38 -0400
From: richard_wolpoe@ibi.com
Criticizing Gedolim

My late rebbe R. Yeruchim Gorelick was often VERY critical about certain things.
He often made very thinly veiled criticisms about certain graduate schooll 
professors etc.  I once confronted him one-on-one after shiru and said "well 
what about so-and-so?" R. Yeruchim replied his a shomer shabbo yid, he puts on 
Tefillin etc.

The upshot of this, and how I make sense of this apparent vasciallation between 
his criticising and his not criticizing goes soemthing like this:

1) You - my talmidim - should know better than to engage in activities such as 
those professor X teaches.  My harsh criticims are to instill a "guilt" feeling 
lest you be led astray from the emes.

2) As far as the professor himself goes, he's a good yid, and officially no 
comment about his profession (maybe out of respect for Professor X's need for 
parnosso or whatever)

As mentioned by others, you can criticze a statement but not the gadol himself. 
There is a similar philosophy (articulated by Brurio esihes R. Meir) that 
essentially mirrors the saying: Hate the sin and no the sinner...

So re: Professor Carmy's quote and the Rav about Gedolim and Zioinism, one might
say the following:  A pro-Zionist stand would be beneficial if for no other 
reason than to simply save Jewish lives.  OTOH it would be wrong to condemn 
Gedolim simply because they saw their own stand in a different light - even if 
that stand is incorrect - it does not prove a fatal character flaw.  So you cna 
accept the Gedolim as Gedolim, yet still disregard their anti-Zionist rhetoric.

Lemoshol it is fair to say, I think the late Satmar Rav's anti-Zionist stand did
a termednous disservice to saving Jewish lives, and he missed the boat regarding
what a Tova hashem did for us etc.

But it would not be fair to say the Satmar Rav was a terrrible person because of
factor x or y or z.  In that sense , only BD shel maalo can make a judgement.

I think this is congruent with the concept of kibdu ze es zeh (IOW the opposite 
of the unforunate talmidim of R. Akivo).  We can be machabed a Godol with 
deference, and yet vocally disagree with given statements or hashkofos - as long
as we continue the darchei noam approach.

It is also true that just as R. Yeruchim didn't name names, other Gedolim were 
often careful not to attack indiviuals.  I heared that R. Schwab made a 
particular criticism and when asked if he was referring to any one individual 
was reputed to have remarked, "if the shoe fits let him wear it."  IOW, he 
hesitated naming names because it was not a PERSONAL attack, it was an a attack 
on a particular behavior or hashkofo.

Rich Wolpoe  

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Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 10:11:25 -0400
From: richard_wolpoe@ibi.com
Proofs of G-d

Frankly I find this exercize futile

Can you PROVE:
A Human Soul?
A human thought?

G-d is to be experienced not to be proved.  And indeed, any genuine spritual 
seeker will tell you they have experienced G-d, and proof is therefore 
irrelevant.  You don't prove music, you listen to it and experience it.   

My 2 cents
Rich Wolpoe

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Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 10:24:20 -0400
From: richard_wolpoe@ibi.com
Re: Proofs of G-d


G-d is to be experienced not to be proved.  
My 2 cents
Rich Wolpoe<<


It says Taamu u'Ru Ki To Hashem  

Go Taste and See (also Feel and Hear) that Hashem is Good, proofs are merely a 
game, a diversion from the experience...  

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Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 10:22:37 -0400
From: "Feldman, Mark" <MFeldman@CM-P.COM>
Lashon Hara about the dead; accurate histories of gedolim

Carl Sherer wrote:
Lashon Hara does apply to the dead. See Chafetz Chaim Hilchos 
Lashon Hara Clal 8, S'if 9 [translation mine]: "And know also that 
even to disparage and curse the dead is also forbidden (citing 
Mordechai in Bava Kamma Letter 82), and the poskim have written 
that there is a regulation and cherem of earlier generations not to 
speak ill of and besmirch the dead. And this even if the subject is a 
boor, all the more so if he is a Talmid Chacham, certainly one who 
disparages him commits a crime and should be excommunicated 
for this as is paskened in Yoreh Deah 243:7. And the issur of 
disparaging a Talmid Chacham applies even if he is disparaging 
him personally, and certainly if he is disparaging his Torah.>>

In contrast, R. Eidensohn wrote:
<<The gemora Berachos 19a: Rabbi Yitzchok said, Who ever speaks
disparingly about someone after his death is as if he spoke
about a stone. Some say because the deceased is not aware of
the comment while others explain it is because the deceased is
aware of the negative comments but doesn't care.>>

I looked up these sources last night.  It seems to me that the Chofetz Chaim
did not prohibit speaking lashon hara about the dead.  Rather, he prohibited
(a) disparaging & cursing and (b) being motzi shem ra (which is what the
Mordechai says).  Lashon hara, in contrast, is speaking the truth, and not
necessarily in a disparaging way.

With regarding to m'vazeh talmid chacham: it makes sense that this should be
forbidden after death, as it is a din in kavod hatorah.

Is there any room for accurate histories of gedolim which recount certain
negative facts (provided that there is no bizayon)?  R. Eidensohn asserts
that there isn't.  He writes:

<<From the point of view of a secular historian it would indeed
be a great loss not to have a record of all the conflicts and
the various analyses of who insulted whom and the revisionist
permutations of the above. From the Torah point of view - I
don't see what the problem is. Is there a Mitzva anywhere to
preserve records of conflicts for posterity? >>

I am not quite so sure.  First, there is benefit in our realizing that no
one is perfect; otherwise we may not aspire to emulate the gedolim because
we may feel that they are otherworldly.  Second, overly rosy histories tend
to perpetuate the notion of daas torah in areas where it may not be
warranted.  Third, we can learn from their mistakes--after all, Tanach
recounts certain failings of our Avot and other figures for precisely that
reason.  Fourth, "binu sh'not dor vador"--those who ignore history are bound
to repeat it; on a communal and leadership level, it is important for us to
understand exactly what decisions leaders of prior generations made and what
were the results.  While "who insulted whom" may seem petty, it may have had
an impact on the cohesiveness of the Jewish community; those gedolim who
today are inclined to put Rabbi Riskin (for example) in cherem may learn
something from the miscalculations of past gedolim.  In fact, they may even
disassociate themselves from the statement of R. Eisenmann quoted
approvingly by R. Eidensohn in Avodah 3:135: "There are no small matters.
They are worth fighting over. Moreover, they make talkof "major halakhic and
religious issues which unite the Orthodox community"meaningless."

Kol tuv,

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Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 10:49:06 -0400 (EDT)
From: micha@aishdas.org (Micha Berger)
Re: Shmiros

(BTW, typing "Shmiros" and not "Sh'miros" in the subject line hurt. However,
I want to keep this discussion to a few subject lines as possible. It will
be easier to find in the archive that way.)

David Nadoff <david.nadoff@bfkpn.com> writes:
: In addition, we are all aware from the 1st page of Shulchan Oruch
: of the spiritual benefits of visualizing or gazing at shem Hashem.

According to R' Aryeh Kaplan, he means meditatively visualizing, or
meditating by staring at sheim Hashem.

Much like RYGB's interpretation:
: Perhaps this is by saying them with kavvana, or even written b'kavvana -
: but the mopdern shemiros are photo-offsets,

Except that to RAK, the ideal kavanah is meditation.

In either case, I'd understand the sh'mirah to be in the thoughts and therefore
the spiritual state of the individual, not in the text itself. Minimally,
we can say that the act itself shows bitachon, which in turn can earn one
sh'mirah. (IOW, trying to get sh'mirah from HKBH is itself a zechus which might
be rewarded with such sh'mirah.)

The s'farim store near my office sells Seifer Raziel Hamal'ach in microfiche.
The film is framed in printed cardboard, and is the size of a credit card.

I find it hard to believe that something made by machine that no human being
will ever read has protective power on its own. That's not to say I deny the
idea outright, just that I find it difficult.

: It would, of course, be interesting to run an empirical study on this.
: But, if the Kedushas Levi or Chitas is a shemira, why not a volume of
: Shas, or a Chumash without the Ta"s?

I can picture it now <grin>. 500 homes are each given brown wrapped books
to place by the entrance. 10% of them are Tanachs, 10% are K"L, 10% chitas,
10% S Raziel haMal'ach, ... and 10% are English dictionaries.


Micha Berger (973) 916-0287          MMG"H for 19-Aug-99: Chamishi, Seitzei
micha@aishdas.org                                         A"H O"Ch 358:17-23
http://www.aishdas.org                                    Pisachim 25a
For a mitzvah is a lamp, and the Torah its light.         Nefesh Hachaim I 9

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Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 12:06:54 -0400 (EDT)
From: micha@aishdas.org (Micha Berger)
Re: proofs of G-d

1- On the subject of "the Ramchal's proof", my point was that the Ramchal's
position was much closer to Rich Wolpoe's "G-d is to be experienced not to be
proved" than what 20th century popularizations did to make it a proof.

Therefore, things like finding a hole or two in it isn't the issue. Any
more than doubting that the sun came up this morning because you might be
operating under a delusion when you think you saw natural daylight.
Philsophically, this may influence our ability to be certain about anything
-- but we're talking about experience, not philosophy.

2- Eli Turkel writes:
: 1. Anthropic principle.
:    It is well known that life exists only because many physical parameters
: are within a small range that allow the universe, earth and life to exist.
: The probabilty of this being coincidental is extremely small. This indicates
: that there is a guiding force in the universe.

One that caught my attention recently is the oddity of solar eclipses. They
are fascinating because the moon's smaller size is offset by the fact that
it's closer so that the moon is the same size as the sun -- allowing the
corona to peak around the moon, but nothing else.

A third value that's incredibly improbable is the entropy at the begining of
time. Entropy had to be low at the begining of time otherwise nothing of
interest would have ever happened. Entropy increases with each event. However,
since entropy is, by definition, the probability of a given macroscopic
state, low entropy is inherently unlikely.

How unlikely? Roger Penrose takes the assumption that there are 10^60th
("^" being an exponentiation symbol, superscripting would be too difficult
for me to lay out) neutrons and protons in the universe to compute that the
probability of leaving a singularity (yeish mei'ayin) with low entropy is 1
in 10^(10^123).

: There are 2 counterarguments to this proof.
: (a) there exists an infinite number of parallel independent universes.

What is more amazing than the fact that the universe has rules at all. The
probability then becomes similar to that of randomly picking an integer (or a
rational number) out of a continuum (e.g. exactly getting one inch away from
the end of a line, to infinite precision) -- literally infintesimal. Even
with an infinite number of universes the number is still countably infinite
(i.e. aleph-sub-zero) and we're talking about identifying rational numbers in
a continuum (in the technical Cantorian sense, a richer kind of infinity than
the number of integers or rationals).

3- Avram Sacks writes about the marvels of biology. What really made a big
impression on me was a robotics course I took in grad school. The arm we
had to work with only had three fingers and a thumb. Because man (as of yet)
lacks the technology to machine a hand with five fingers in a way that the
cords being used as tendons don't rub against eachother in normal use. IOW,
carpal tunnel syndrome is nothing compared to the best mankind can do so far.

Then, my paper for the course was on four legged walking. We take things like
balance FAR too much for granted. We don't have techniques nearly as
accurate as HKB"H's for staying upright. There's a reason why legged robots
today typically have 6 or more legs.

4- Around 10 years ago I tried a new approach to quantifying the argument by
design, here's an excerpt. Sorry for the pedantic tone, what can I say --
I was younger then.

This is what philosophers call the "Argument by Design". The usual response to
it is that "design" is an intuitive notion, not a real quantity. If we have
no way to measure design, we can't talk in any meaningful way about whether
the shuttle is more or less designed than a human being. Since this is an
old argument, many attempts have been made to identify design with some
more rigorous notion. The Rambam talked about the fact that objects have
useful forms ("form" in the Aristotelean sense), yet left to themselves,
matter divests itself of such forms. More recently, it became common to
identify "design" as the opposite of entropy. Life, being very organized and
low-entropy, must have been designed. How else could natural processes break
the laws of thermodynamics, to make a low entropy system? (The flaw here is
that total entropy must always decrease. Entropy in one given area, such as
this planet, can decrease if a greater increase is caused somewhere else.)

Fortunately, with the dawn of the computer age and information theory,
people explored what we mean by information and how to measure information.
In particular, John von Neumann gave a series of lectures exploring machines
that can build other machines, the informational content of machines, and
how this quantity effects machine behavior. He proposed that we imagine a
"universal building machine" - a machine that given a set of parts can
assemble them into whatever you request. This request is in the form of
a program on a tape. A machine could be said to have the same amount of
information as the smallest program required to build it. This shifted the
problem to measuring the information content of the program on the tape,
something we knew how to do already. The implicit assumption in his work is
that a machine (or "automaton", as he called it) is a set of interconnecting
parts, combined in a way that allows something useful to get done.

The are many systems in nature that would qualify as automata by this
definition. The balance maintained by the solar system. The oxygen, water, and
nitrogen cycles that make up the environment. Photosynthesis. The pulmonary
system. Even something as subtle as the interplay of molecular forces that
causes water to expand when frozen (most liquids contract), allowing many
sea creatures to breathe during the winter months.

So, we can ask about living systems: how did evolution introduce this

Through mutation? Driven largely by the same cosmic radiation that puts
noise -- and reduces the information content -- of radio transmissions?

Perhaps you'd argue through "survival of the fittest", eliminating the parts
of the noise that are not useful. But this would require this filtering
process to know something about the function of the final automaton (see
our definition of "information content of an automaton".)

We see this latter point in the writing of genetic software, which uses an
evolution-like method of mutating approximate solutions into better ones. They
inevitably have a "fit-ness function", something that determines probability
of this particular solution being used in future "generations". And the
fitness function is written by someone who knows some features of the
ultimate solution. (Although not the solution itself, otherwise, why go
through all this?)

About ten years ago, proponents of evolution had hit a crises. Evolution,
the way it had been understood until then, predicted the gradual change of
form for each being as needs changed. What the fossils showed, however,
was definite stages of development, with no transitional fossils between
them. For example, there is fossil record of one type of proto-horse, and
record of the next, but in nearly a century of looking no one has found
any intermediate forms. Evolution appears to be stepwise, not gradual.
What is interesting about this for our discussion is that there is no
fossil evidence for the evolution of any automata! Most new systems were
not introduced gradually but appeared suddenly during of these steps.

Actually, if you think about it, this makes sense. What use does some
organism have for chlorophyl if it doesn't have the system for using the
energy it traps. On the other hand, how can such a system be of any use until
it develops chlorophyl? If a system is a set of interconnected parts, how
can it evolve? What value is there to have some of the parts if it requires
all of them to work? This is just a rephrasing of the information problem
we spoke about. There is information about how the parts interrelate that
evolution does not explain.

But evolution is only part of the entire picture. Many of my examples
of automata aren't living. Where did they come from? What generated the
information they represent?


Micha Berger (973) 916-0287          MMG"H for 19-Aug-99: Chamishi, Seitzei
micha@aishdas.org                                         A"H O"Ch 358:17-23
http://www.aishdas.org                                    Pisachim 25a
For a mitzvah is a lamp, and the Torah its light.         Nefesh Hachaim I 9

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