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by Joel Rich

for there is nothing either good or
bad, but thinking makes it so. Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 239
How will Halacha inform on this new technology (makes me think about PIGD as child’s play?)

The technique, called optogenetics, hasn’t been tried yet in people, and treatments that work well in mice and other lab animals often fail in humans. But the researchers have found they can instantly modify animals’ behavior, suppress memories and lay bare the biological underpinnings of psychiatric disorders—all by illuminating neurons primed with light-sensitive proteins. (From a recent WSJ article)

There was recently a conversation on this blog concerning the nature of nature and of miracles. While much of it seemed to revolve around defining terms, it did seem to focus on how we perceive HKB”H’s hashgacha pratit (individual intercession) and Klalit (general intercession).
It occurred to me that a similar pattern might be seen in chukim (mitzvoth we don’t understand) and mishpatim (those we think we do). Take eidim zomimim (witnesses who are proven not to have been where they claim to have seen the event) vs. respect for parents. [BTW, by eidim zomemim which is more a “chidush” (uniqueness), that we automatically believe the 2nd set of witnesses, or the punishment of doing to them what they wanted to do to the accused?] In my mind the question always is “so what?”, meaning how does the thought impact actions? For example, would one who sees hashgacha pratit in every action be less likely to extend themselves in hishtadlut (individual effort)? Would one who sees mitzvoth as generally more logical be quicker to extrapolate them to new circumstances?
And, of course, my usual question – what factors lead some to favor one approach over the other?

  • Rav Asher Weiss- Vaeira-Darchei Shalom

    How do mishum eivah (not to cause hatred) and darkei shalom (ways of peace) relate to each other? R’Weiss feels they are similar with eivah more of a matir (allowing certain otherwise problematic actions) and darkei as more of a takanah (requiring otherwise not required actions). Note that we are not discussing cases where there is an actual threat to life.
    Then a discussion of specific cases – what prohibitions/preferences can eivah override?

  • Rabbi Hershel Schachter -Hilchos Tzitzis

    Another tour de force discussing specific halachot of tzitzit – which garments require them, who may weave and tie them and when must they be worn.
    Some interesting points:
    1) 18 gzeirot enactments that Beit Shammai pushed through when they were in majority – even though Beit Hillel originally disagreed, the next day when Beit Hillel were in the majority, they changed their minds and agreed with them (I assume this was to answer the question that always bothered me – Why didn’t they just reverse the gzeirot? Still unclear to me how Sanhedrin rules worked at that time? BTW, if Beit Shammal were mechadedei tfei(sharper), why couldn’t they convince Beit Hillel? )
    2) Archeological evidence is acceptable in halacha (me – maybe in time of gemara – now you just say it was found in a gniza)
    3) Some communities did not wear tzitzit except for the Rabbi (based on why make a special garment to require tzitzit – isn’t that Yuhara)
    4) No stripes needed on talit if you wear tcheilet (since stripes are zecher (to remind) of tcheilet)
    5) Why white talit (Daniel’s dream, halacha re color of strings being same as garment)
    6) Even though gemara Bavli says we bury men in talit with kosher tzitzit, we don’t (unclear general issue – why sometimes we ignore the Bavli)
    Not so clear (maybe Yerushalmi) why women not encouraged to volunteer for tzitzit.

  • Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz-Ten Minute Halacha – Listening to Music B’zman Hazeh

    Review of the sources and interpretations on listening to music (I have extensive source sheets if anyone is interested). Sources would seem more against listening to music in general, with perhaps exceptions but the practice seems to be very lenient.
    Best line was regarding the need to sometimes listen to something and it can’t be shiurim because it would put you to sleep. R’ Lebowitz isn’t so into music (interesting question-Here the poseik is aware that his personal preferences may inform on his practice, I wonder how often that is the case)

  • Rabbi Hershel Schachter-Hilchos Krias Hatorah

    I gave up trying to jot down all the items noted by R’HS – it’s like King Canute! A few items:
    *what if community missed kriat hatorah – is there a makeup?
    *is reading the Torah an individual or community responsibility?
    *you need 6 people who didn’t hear kriah in order to make a birchat hatorah
    *#of aliyot/hosafot issues
    *Kohain being mocheil (waive) his aliyah – during the week, Shabbat
    *need to read haftorah from full sefer (R’YBS – no, Taz – yes)
    *error in sefer torah – should really read whole parsha over but we usually don’t (guess why)

  • Rabbi Nosson Rich -Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Shabbos Siman 252-6

    Things you can’t go out with right before Shabbat (right before = ½ hour before Shkiah). Check pockets for muktzeh as well.

  • Rabbi Nosson Rich -Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Shabbos Siman 253-1

    Hachzarah and Shehiya – putting up pot before Shabbat, putting things back on the fire (this part of series breaks down the data dump R’HS previously reviewed)

  • Rabbi Nosson Rich -Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Shabbos Siman 253-2

    Putting things next to fire (before or during Shabbat).

  • Rabbi Nosson Rich -Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Shabbos Siman 253-3

    Accidental and purposeful shehiya (leaving on fire) and hachzara (returning to fire), can you use the food (and when) ? Issues include: was the food fully or partially cooked, who was it cooked for, who cooked it?

  • Rabbi Nosson Rich -Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Shabbos Siman 253-4

    More on the above plus the Rama saying that hatmanah (surrounding) includes the requirement that the top be covered to be considered hatmanah.

  • Rabbi Bezalel Rudinsky -Chiyuv maaseh melacha

    Lots of lomdut on analyzing shogeig or meizid and when does intent or knowledge need to happen?

  • Rabbi Hershel Schachter -Hilchos Muktze

    R’HS does another summary – here on muktzeh. Some gleanings from a large field:
    *muktzeh for achila (eating) vs. tiltul (carrying)
    *reason for rules of muktzeh? Majority – so one shouldn’t carry, Rambam – part of general requirement of making Shabbat special.
    *it’s patterned after rules for tumah (ritual impurity)
    *history of enactment of muktzeh is unclear
    *description of different types of muktzeh
    *basis issues – requires owners positive intent in placement
    *defining l’tzorech klal (some purpose) – R’YBS felt that twiddling a spoon is of no purpose and thus forbidden on Shabbat

  • Rabbi Nissan Kaplan-Shemos

    If you are not a makir tov (recognize those who did good for you) you are not human but some will go out of their way to forget what was done for them (selective memory). Mussar (i) look to do the small things that others don’t even notice; (ii) make an effort, HKB”H will help; (iii) trust in HKB”H.

  • Rabbi Dr. Jacob J Schacter -On the suffering of the righteous: Reflexions on Yom Hadin

    Does our saying “Tshuva, tfila, tzedakah maavirin et roah hagezeirch” (repentance, prayer, charity cause the evilness of the decree to pass) imply if something bad happens, it is our fault? 4 answers to this question of Theodicy (me – whatever gets you through the night) – (i) we don’t really know who deserves what; (ii) we don’t know final score till the world to come; (iii) HKB”H only gives what one can take; (iv) lashes of love.
    Perhaps most important is to wrestle with these issues with our relationship with HKB”H as backdrop, perhaps that means that the relationship itself takes the “evil” of the decree out even though the decree stands.

  • Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner -Medical Halachah: Issues in Elder Care

    Institutional care of the elderly is somewhat recent, tradition was in-home care.
    Who makes decisions when parent can’t and on what basis? (common sense, what they would have wanted). Sources on general approach and specific cases (e.g. home vs. facility care, bathing, giving injections). Every case is different.

  • Rabbi Hershel Schachter -Hilchos Ribbis

    Another omnibus shiur covering the prohibition of charging interest. Stops include: Torah, rabbinic prohibition, avak ribbit, mechzei K’ribit, saah b’saah, heter iska.
    I wonder how many people realize that pre-publication and early bird discounts can be a problem in certain cases.

  • Rabbi Eli Reich-The Case of the Poisoned Sandwich

    (full disclosure – my son Natan Aryeh’s shana alef rebbi at Shaalvim) An unknown bully steals a weakling’s sandwich from his locker every day. One day the weakling poisons the sandwich. The bully is uncovered (the weakling has the antidote). General question – can you passively cause damage to another person or his belongings in this manner? Sources and debate (lots of it).

  • Rabbi Hershel Schachter -The Laws Of Mezuzah

    The recording is missing the beginning of the shiur. Is the requirement to put a mezuzah on a rental dwelling based on perceived permanence (Torah requirement) or is it Rabbinic due to marit ayin (how it looks). Does the actual placement require “lishma” (intent)? What’s the deal with putting it at an angle and did you know that sfarim should be held upright? 5 simple rules to know which side of the door post (ok, lots of rules on placement). Apparently, R’HS is not a big fan of showing your mezuzot to mekubalim in order to know why your marriage has gone south?!

  • Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank -Can a person be faulted for not believing? Disbelief Resulting From Faulty Reasoning

    The Rambam didn’t invent ikkarim (basic principles of faith), he just systematized them. Maybe he did this (and which ones he picked) due to the intellectual currents of his day.
    Do we say if someone honestly comes to the wrong conclusions he’s a heretic? It depends who you ask (ok, there’s more detail than that!)

  • Rabbi Michael Yammer -Contemporary Halacha: Killing One To Save Many

    Prioritization in life/death (one of my areas of interest). R’Yammer (full disclosure – my son Yisrael Mordechai’s shana alef rebbi at Shaalvim) discusses 3 cases:
    1) The IDF building collapse in Lebanon (do you bull doze the top and a few there will die but more below will be saved)
    2) Concentration camp (guards tell prisoner to pick 2 to kill or we will kill 4)
    3) Airplane flying towards twin towers – do you shoot it down?
    4) Ghetto hideout – do you suffocate a crying baby or be discovered and many die
    All the usual suspects brought into the discussion – sheva ben bichri, chayei olam vs. shaah (one who will die anyway), whose blood is redder? individual is already convicted…..

  • Rabbi Hershel Schachter -Hilchos Onaah

    Review of rules of Onaah. Primary issue is misleading in business dealings (prohibited). Specific issues concerning non-bnai brit – rabbinically forbidden to cheat real idol worshippers, others are a Torah prohibition! This is generally true for “bein adam l’atzmo” prohibitions.
    There’s a separate rabbinic enactment of not charging more than 1/6 on staples.
    To me a very telling remark by R’HS was that back in the day of R’Meir everyone wanted to learn practical halacha, so he had very few students being the super genius thinker he was, seeing so many possible alternatives [does anyone know why I said very telling?] whereas today everyone runs to conceptualization.

  • About Joel Rich

    Joel Rich is a frequent local lecturer on various Torah topics in West Orange, NJ and supports his Torah listening habits by working as a consulting actuary.


    1. Shalom Rosenfeld

      And the classic Steipler — Ona’as mekach doesn’t apply to shidduchim. I can say “I wanted a standard Taurus, not this one with a broken radio.” But there’s no such thing as a “standard, off-the-rack” human being without quirks!

    2. R’SR,
      And yet at some level there is kidushei taut?

    3. Shalom Rosenfeld

      Mum gadol: implied “harei at mekudeshet li” conditioned on your not having a *horrible* problem.

      Mum katan: implied “I will pay you 200 zuz conditioned on your not having a *significant* problem.”

      Ona’ah — I want my money back because you gave me defective, not standard, merchandise.

      Basically, keep nezikin in nezikin and nashim in nashim. (I still didn’t quite understand the Tradition piece from R Warburg about trying to apply Bava Kama to verbal abuse in a marriage — Kesubos says yotzee v’yitein kesubah, and today I’m sure “equitable distribution” would factor this in, so why are we going to Bava Kama?)

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