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by Joel Rich

Interesting article in the current issue of Conversations on “Learning from the Bene Israel of India”. They have an oral tradition which Rabbi Shafner somewhat describes. My questions is how do we know we got it right and they need to switch to our understanding of halacha? If they need to switch, why did later deviations (e.g. ashkenaz vs. sfard) not have to pick one approach once they rediscovered each other?


One researcher who has taken advantage of that diversity (Joel’s note – participant diversity available in new study methodology called “Mechanical Turk”) is David Rand, a lecturer in psychology at Harvard University. He is using Mechanical Turk to reconsider the results of several experiments originally conducted mainly on students. In a recent study of moral decision-making, for example, he recruited hundreds of Turkers to repeat a classic thought experiment known as the trolley problem. (Joel’s note #2 – you remember our version of Casey Jones and the switch track.) This confronts its participants with a dilemma – a runaway railway trolley will kill a group of people unless the subject of the study chooses to push a single individual in front of it, in order to slow it down. Doing so will kill that individual, so the dilemma is whether to kill one person deliberately, or several through inaction. (Joel’s note #3 – we considered several other versions.)
Dr. Rand is unwilling to discuss the results of his re-run in detail, because they have not yet been formally published. But he will say that he found he could replicate the prior findings of trolleyology, as this branch of psychology is often known, only among the atheists in his sample of Turkers. Those with strong religious beliefs behaved in a dramatically different way, and such believers are more common among Turkers than Harvard undergraduates. (Joel’s note #4 – be interesting to see the results – do people buy the CI’S maaseh hatzalah?)


  • Rabbi Yona Reiss-Separation Between Religion and State

    There is a division of power between King and Kohain Gadol. (Ramban – that was a big part of the problem of Chashmonaim taking kingship). Similarly Drashot Haran on the powers of the King vs. those of the Beit Din. King must have real awe of heaven and all the parties with power must be aligned to carry out HKB”H’s will.
    Me – special irony that today all these powers are not split but vested in the courts and/or Rabbis. R’YBS pointed out the division of powers was because HKB”H did not “trust” man.

  • Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Ten Minute Halacha – Say It Ain’t So Joe! The Trader Joe’s Chocolate Chips Controversy

    If only issue is that there is a small possibility that a non-material dairy chocolate slipped into the bag, it’s likely not a real halachic problem.

  • Rabbi Mordechai I. Willig -Yom Yerushalayim as a preparation to Shavuot

    R’Willig was in KBY in ’67 and gives a moving first hand account of his experiences and why we need to be giving thanks to HKB”H for having Jerusalem in our hands.
    Then random Q&A which includes:
    *showers on Yom Tov (yes, but limited)
    *taking off kipah and tzitzit when playing ball (no, no) [I thought it was a trick question – you should be learning, not playing ball].
    *secular college (no – read the original Gil Perl Ivy League article) (me – what does he know, he’s the son of a ball player!)
    *ball playing (older) on Shabbat (no)
    *proof of chosen nation? (Kuzari proof)
    *learning preferences (roll your own)
    *switch minhag to that of your Shul’s (not generally)
    *dairy on Shavuot (differing practice)
    *putting on tfillin at mincha (no) [me-yuhara?] *going to mikveh (“our” practice – erev R”H and Y”K – that’s it)

  • Rabbi Hershel Schachter -Simanim

    A technical discussion of the halachic force of simanim (recognizable marks). Issues include the varying application between (and within) monetary and ritual cases, comparison to one witness and tviat ayin (person recognizes his own object).
    Interesting discussion of the Baal Hamaor’s midot (methodologies) when trying to extrapolate halacha from gemara – e.g. when the gemara posits a case and mentions two factors and relevant psak, do you assume you need both factors for this to be the psak or is it possible one is enough?

  • Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner -Business Ethics: The Unethical Friend and Client

    How far do you have to go to “encourage” ethical behavior (i.e. encouraging others to comply with law. Issues of hochacha (giving rebuke) lfnei iver (stumbling block), areivut (joint responsibility), msayeah (assisting in sin) and machzik ovrei aveirah (strengthening sinners) all discussed.

  • Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz–Ten Minute Halacha – Shiluach Hakein

    A segulah R’Lebowitz likes! It’s not so simple since type and sex of bird, day of week, as well as ownership of eggs and intent of “sender away” all play a role in determining whether you’ve done a mitzvah and whether you need to make a bracha.

  • Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky-Hilchos Shabbos Series Zman Ben Hashmashos

    Seemingly paging Dr. Bill! 1st part of a 2 parter on the resolving the contradictory Talmudic sources on “sunset”. All the usual suspects are here!

  • Rabbi Mordechai Machlis -Preparing for After Yeshiva- Relationships with Non-Jews

    Life is a dialectic (he didn’t say it, that was the message I heard) on the one hand every human is created in the image of God and we need to be teachers, yet at the same time we need to be separate (and you know what can happen on campus!).

  • Rabbi Ari Zahtz -Rus and Boaz What Happened That Night

    Most say nothing happened that night, some disagree. It was a Yibbum like situation and both Ruth and Boaz showed tremendous self-discipline.

  • Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz -Ten Minute Halacha – May One Eat Food That Was Cooked Without Checking for Bugs?

    Six reasons to allow (after the fact) prepared food with veggies which weren’t totally infested but should have been checked (R’Asher Weiss).

  • Rabbi Azarya Berzon -Yom Yerushalayim: Two Important insights of the Ramban on Yerushalayim & Eretz Yisrael; Part II: “Shem” Yerushalayim and “Kedushat” Yerushalayim

    The Ramban et al on the holiness of Israel and Jerusalem. Then R’YBS on the difference between Kedushat Karka (holiness of the land) and Kedushat Mikdash (holiness of Temple).

  • Rabbi Adam Mintz- Mercaz Harav

    Discussion of R’Kook’s history with “not yet frum” (including opposition of R’YC Sonnenfeld). The original curriculum for the “Universal Yeshiva” included history and geography and was very broad and demanding. R’Mintz discusses the impact of the Nazir on the curriculum as well as the possible connection with RIETS.
    Did R’Charlop, in order to preserve R’Kook’s legacy, water down his non-traditional side? (me – shades of R’YBS?) Was Machon Harry Fishel intended as a broad counterpart when R’Kook realized where Yeshivas were going?

  • Rabbi Baruch Simon -21. Series at Cong. Heichal Moshe (Rabbi Voorhand Shul) Issur of Achila Kodem Tefilas HaShachar

    The prohibition of eating before shacharit (morning prayer) Torah or rabbinic? Can you have water? Coffee? OJ? Liquor? Technical analysis.

  • Rabbi Azarya Berzon -The Spiritual Metzorah & the State of Israel: Are we permitted to criticize the State?

    Don’t speak negatively about Jerusalem, Israel or another Jew.

  • Mrs Ilana Saks -What’s in a Name?

    Menucha in Tanach is used for Israel, Shiloh and Jerusalem – it may refer to rest from war or rest for Ark.

  • Mrs. Shani Taragin -The Parallels Between Yom Yerushalayim and Shavuot

    Relationship between Har Sinai and Har Hamoriah – halachic and hashkafic connections. Then discussion of parallels between Shavuot and Jerusalem – e.g. unity of people, Jerusalem belonging to all the people. Very nice modern medrash on why the Lions’ Gate was deemed worthy of having the IDF enter in 1967 (similar to Har Sinai being chosen for matan Torah).

  • About Joel Rich

    Joel Rich is a frequent wannabee cyberspace lecturer on various Torah topics. A Yerushalmi formerly temporarily living in West Orange, NJ, his former employer and the Social Security administration support his Torah listening habits. He is a recovering consulting actuary.

    7 comments

    1. R’ Joel Rich,
      Thank you and ye’yasher kochakha for the important questions. I would answer based on R. Ovadiah Yosef’s introduction to Shu”t Yabi’a Omer IX, where he cites sources to the effect that it is an accepted principle in the Oral Torah that the Shulchan Arukh represents the normative pesak halakhah. As Shulchan Arukh contains both Sefardic and Ashkenazic contributions (viz. Mechaber and Rema), both Sefardic and Ashkenazic communities can continue in their traditions. Those communities that – due to geographic isolation – were unfamiliar with Shulchan Arukh can now be acclimatized to it.

    2. R’SS,
      Thought experiment. All the Jews of the town and Yeshiva of azrei which existed prior to the churban bayit rishon were teleported to the planet mesorahb which had today’s technology back then where they continued to develop the oral law. They are now teleported back to earth with a video recoerd of all the developents of their mesorah which includes quite a different mesorah including allowance of use of electricity but prohibition on women leaving the house. How do they act here?

      KT

    3. R’ Joel Rich,
      Thank you for the thought experiment. When I was a student at Har Etzion during kayitz zeman of 5760, R. Yosef Zvi Rimon gave a speech at se’udah sheleesheet devoted to precisely this question. He explained that we believe there is Hashgachah Klalit of HKB”H on the process of pesak halakhah. “Process of pesak halakhah” includes such milestones as the sealing of the Talmud and the canonization of Shulchan Arukh. To reword it otherwise, “soklin ve-sorfin al ha-chazakot”, as per the gemara in Kiddushin 80a. We have a chazakah that our mesorah is true, and so our conscience need not bother us that perhaps there is an alternate mesorah out there which might yield superior halakhic conclusions. Even so, our mesorah certainly includes recognition of “minhag ha-makom” as a significant concept, as per the fourth chapter of Pesachim. Thus, the Jews of India should maintain their minhagei ha-makom.

    4. Sources for your extensive excerpts?

      כל האומר דבר בשם אומרו, מביא גאלה לעולם אבות ו”ו

    5. R’ Skeptic
      Sorry, I thought I had noted this was from an article in the Economist
      KT

    6. From a reader:
      . I read your post and saw your recap of the Rav Willig shiur. The topic didn’t interest me that much but the questions and answers looked interesting. The one that interested me especially was the one where you wrote, “taking off kipah and tzitzit when playing ball (no, no).” I was never in Rav Willig’s shiur and never went to his shul so I haven’t heard him say too many things. I think he once gave a chazara shiur in halacha that I went to about 20 years ago and I specifically remember him addressing this question about tzitzis. At the time he said that just like if you go swimming during the day you take off your tzitzis so they don’t get ruined you can also take them off when you play basketball. That’s what I tell my 12 year old son and he doesn’t wear tzitzis when he goes to his basketball chug so I was nervous when I saw this. I listened to the Rav Willig shiur and I think your first no in the parentheses is actually incorrect according to him. At 49:30, he says that it’s OK to take off your tzitzis but not your kippa.

    7. That said, Rabbeinu Joel Rich, I want to thank you for jogging my memory as to R. Rimon’s speech, thereby saving me from violating “Rabbi Meir omer, kol ha-shokhe’ach davar echad mi-mishnato, ma’aleh alav ha-katuv ke-ilu mit’chayev be-nafsho” (Pirkei Avot ch. 3). Without your pedagogic prompting, I would have completely forgotten that episode. Thank you for your lifesaving kindness!

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