God vs The Multiverse

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Women in Miracles (Part 2: Questions and Methodology)

One issue that needs to be addressed according to both the Rashbam and Tosafos is how אף הן gets around the fact that these mitzvos are still time dependent.  Women are certainly obligated to accept the sovereignty of Heaven and the unity of God, yet they are nevertheless exempt from reading shema!  What is the rationale for אף הן היו באותו הנס circumventing this issue?

What most disturbs us in this sugya is the position of the Rashbam.  What is the connection between the miracle being done through a particular woman, and women of all future generations being obligated in a mitzva that publicizes the miracle?  Are we trying to publicize that it was done by a woman?  Why is that even relevant?  How would men and woman doing the mitzva show that the miracle was done by a woman?

At this stage, we are going to largely ignore Tosafos' question on the Rashbam, of why it says אף (also), if woman were the עיקר הנס (the main part of the miracle).  There were two reasons for this.  Firstly, it seems like a weak question that is only based upon a particular language choice.  Secondly, the text of the Rashbam we have never actually says women were the עיקר הנס.  (It seems that Tosafos' version of the Rashbam did have that, but our's does not.)  We also thought our version made more sense as it is hard to believe that Yehudis was more essential than the Maccabees and the events in the mikdash.

As a final methodological point, we think that you can not begin to define the difference between the Rashbam and Tosafos, or explain how אף הן היו באותו הנס gets around the problem that these mitzvos are still time dependent (according to the Rashbam), before you can make make plain factual sense of the Rashbam's explanation.  

What does the fact that the miracle was done through a particular woman, have anything to do with women in general being obligated in the commandment of publicizing the miracle?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Women in Miracles (Part 1: Facts)

The gemara on the top of Psachim 108b states:
אמר ר' יהושע בן לוי נשים חייבות בארבעה כוסות הללו שאף הן היו באותו הנס
Women are obligated in the 4 cups because they too were in the miracle.  Similar gemaras state the same reason for their inclusion in the obligations of Chanuka candles and reading the megila.   Tosafos here explains that we would have otherwise excluded women, as all 3 are positive commandments that are dependent on a particular time, in which they are not usually obligated.  (Even though these 3 are all of Rabbinic origin, the Rabanun formulate mitzvos in a similar manner to the Torah.)

The Rashbam explains further:
שאף הן היו באותו הנס. דאמר במס' סוטה (ד' יא:) בשכר נשים צדקניות שהיו באותו הדור נגאלו וכן גבי מקרא מגילה אמר הכי משום דעל ידי אסתר הוה וכן גבי חנוכה
The reason women are obligated, is that the miracle was done through them.  The redemption from Egypt was a reward of the righteous women of that generation; Purim was done through Ester; and Chanuka was done through Yehudis.

Tosafos in Megila 4a quotes the Rashbam's opinion (which he has slightly differently), rejects it, and then gives his own opinion:
פירש רשב"ם שעיקר הנס היה על ידן בפורים על ידי אסתר בחנוכה על ידי יהודית בפסח שבזכות צדקניות שבאותו הדור נגאלו וקשה דלשון שאף הן משמע שהן טפלות ולפירושו היה לו לומר שהן לכך נראה לי שאף הן היו בספק דלהשמיד ולהרוג וכן בפסח שהיו משועבדות לפרעה במצרים וכן בחנוכה הגזירה היתה מאד עליהן 
Tosafos argues that the reason women are obligated is that the miracle was also done to them, in so far as they were saved by the miracle too.  Tosafos justifies this interpretation based on the phrase "אף הן" (women were also), which implies that women are included secondarily. Since according to the Rashbam, women were primary, it should have left out the word "also".

How do the Rashbam and Tosafos understand the halacha of  אף הן היו באותו הנס?  How should we approach an understanding of the issue?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Forbidden Fruit (Part 5: Philosophy)

We would like to try to answer a philosophical question that bothered us at the end of the last series of posts (see parts 5 and 6 of "Half a Tree").  According to the Ramban's explanation elaborated on there, ערלה is intimately tied to the institution of bringing the fourth year's fruits to Jerusalem.  If so, why did the Torah extend the prohibition of ערלה to outside of Israel (through the הלכה למשה מסיני)?  Since there is no institution of the fourth year fruits outside the land of Israel, it doesn't seem to make sense to have the prohibition of ערלה there either!

We think that the unique halachik formulation of the הלכה למשה מסיני that we have suggested in the prior posts helps point to the direction of the solution to this philosophical question.  First, we want to bring down the Ramban's summary for the reason for ערלה as given by the Rambam (Guide 3:37):
כי היו לחרטומים ולמכשפים בזמן ההוא מיני כשוף יעשו אותם בעת נטיעת האילנות ויחשבו כי בהם ימהר האילן להוציא פריו קודם זמנו הידוע במנהגו של עולם, ובבואו יקריבו את הפרי לפני העבודה זרה שעשו בשמה הכשוף ההוא, ולכך ציותה התורה באסור הפרי הבא קודם שלוש שנים שלא יבאו לעשות המעשים הרעים ההם, כי רובי האילנות יביאו פירות בשנה הרביעית. ושנאכלהו לפני השם, הפך אכלם אותו לפני עבודה זרה
The Rambam's understanding of ערלה is in line with his general custom of explaining many of the Torah's commandments based upon ancient idolatrous practices that the Torah tried to uproot.  Ancient pagans used to perform magical ceremonies before their false gods in an attempt to cause a newly planted tree to produce good fruit earlier than it naturally would (in about three years).  They would then eat this fruit in their temples before their false gods as an act of worship.  This practice was supposed to be necessary for the tree to be fruitful over the course of its entire life.

For that reason, the Torah prohibited the fruit in the first three years of the tree's life.  If the fruits are prohibited, it would not benefit the owner to try these mystical practices that allegedly cause it to give fruit earlier.  The Torah commanded us to eat the fourth year's fruits before the true God, and promised that as a result of us keeping this commandment, we will be blessed and the tree will produce an abundance of fruits.

This reason that the Rambam gives for the prohibition of ערלה, naturally explains why the Torah posited a הלכה למשה מסיני that extended it to all places.  Idol worship is not limited to Israel, and the prohibition is necessary to uproot these primitive practices wherever the person may be.

We think that the unique formulation of the הלכה למשה מסיני, in fact, points to this type of explanation.  As developed in Post 4, the object that the הלכה למשה מסיני prohibited is the object as it is subjectively perceived by the person, not the object as it exists in itself.  This subjective entity corresponds to the fruits as they are perceived in the imagination of the idol worshipers.  The magical practices that they perform, and the resultant mystical fruits which they bring before their false gods, are all products of fantasy.  They have no objective basis in reality.

Therefore, the הלכה למשה מסיני forbid us to eat the fruits as they are subjectively perceived by the individual.  The forbidden fruits exist only in the imagination of the person, while in reality the fruits are permissible.  All idolatry, magic, and mystical practices have no basis in reality, but exist solely in the fantasy and imagination of its deluded worshipers.

We would like to thank Rabbi Chait for directing us to the idea of the correspondence between the prohibition of ערלה outside the land of Israel and idol worship.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Forbidden Fruit (Part 4: More Svara)

We left off the previous post with the difficult problem of making sense of the הלכה למשה מסיני that only fruit that is definitely ערלה is prohibited, but fruit about which one is uncertain is permitted.  Therefore, even an unreasonable doubt will prevent the fruit from being prohibited.

The difficulty is that our knowledge about the fruit shouldn't play a role in determining whether the fruit is ערלה or not.  Our knowledge, or lack thereof, should determine our actions regarding the fruit, but it should not play an integral role in defining the fruit itself.

It would seem that to answer this question we have to look at the הלכה למשה מסיני in a new light.  It is true that normally a prohibited food is defined based upon its objective characteristics, and as such a person's knowledge is something extraneous to the fruit itself.  However the הלכה למשה מסיני here has a unique formulation that enables the person's uncertainty to play an essential role in defining the fruit.

The entity that the הלכה למשה מסיני prohibits is the entity as it is subjectively perceived by the person.  The object of the prohibition is not the objective entity, but is rather fruit as a subjective phenomenon of human perception.

The observer's knowledge is extraneous to the fruit as a thing in itself.  It is the same objective fruit, whether or not you are certain or uncertain about it.  However, as an object of subjective perception, uncertainty plays an essential role in distinguishing between two objects.  There is an essential difference between the perceived object of certain ערלה (fruit definitely within the first three years), and an object that is perceived as uncertain ערלה.  They are two qualitatively different objects relative to a person's idea of them.  Knowledge about an object (certainty and uncertainty) is extraneous to the object in itself, but is essential to the subjective object of perception.  The הלכה למשה מסיני only prohibits that which you perceive as certain ערלה.

We can understand what compelled the הלכה למשה מסיני to use such a unique formulation of the prohibition outside the land of Israel.  Since there is no inherent holiness in the land, none of the general agricultural laws and entities can exist in their usual manner, as they are generated by the unique status of the land of Israel.  The הלכה למשה מסיני used a definition of the fruit that isn't based upon its objective status, but is based upon the person's subjective perception of it.

This idea also explains why you are allowed to give your friend fruit which you know with certainty is ערלה.  If the fruit in itself was prohibited, you would not be able to give it to him, even if he didn't know at all what it was.  You still know that it is objectively prohibited, and would be prohibited from giving it to him.  However, here the entity that is prohibited is the subjective phenomenon of definite ערלה.  The entity as it exists relative to you is not the same as it exists relative to him.  You perceive it as definite ערלה, but he perceives it as uncertain ערלה.  It is one objective entity, but two different subjective entities.

(We realize that the distinction between the object in itself, and the subjective perception of the entity is a bit abstract.  There is a similarity between the formulation of this הלכה למשה מסיני and the famous distinction made by the philosopher Immanuel Kant between the noumenon (thing-in-itself) and the phenomenon (thing-perceived).  They are not identical distinctions, but seeing a slightly different application might help you grasp the concept.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Forbidden Fruit (Part 3: Svara)

We'll take a small step and define the difference between סוריא and all other lands. We base this step on the fact (mentioned in the previous post) that סוריא has a Rabbinic prohibition, while all other lands are only the pure instance of the הלכה למשה מסיני.

In order to permit the איסור דרבנן on the fruits from סוריא (using the principle of ספק דרבנן לקולא), it is necessary to have a reasonable doubt regarding their status.  If you see grapes being sold outside a vineyard of ערלה and you are unsure of their origin, that uncertainty functions to create a status of ספק (doubt) in the fruits and thereby permits them.

However, if you see a basket of grapes coming out of the vineyard of ערלה, you are pretty certain that the grapes are ערלה.  Is there some far out possibility that the grapes are from somewhere else?  Isn't it possible that they happened to find their way into the vineyard in a basket, and are now being brought out?  It is possible, but it is not a reasonable doubt. Therefore, there is no status of ספק in these fruits, and they remain prohibited.

This is regarding סוריא, where there is a separate איסור דרבנן besides for the הלכה למשה מסיני.  But in other lands, there is only the pure הלכה למשה מסיני.  In this case, the fruits are permitted even when there is no reasonable doubt, but only a far out possibility that they are not ערלה.  The הלכה למשה מסיני says that only fruits that are definitely ערלה are prohibited.  An unreasonable doubt will prevent the fruits from having the status of an absolute ודאי (definite), and therefore will be sufficient to permit the fruits.

The main concept is that in סוריא the status of ספק is necessary to permit the fruits, while in all other lands the status of ודאי is necessary to prohibit the fruits.  The case which brings out this difference is where there is an unreasonable doubt.  Only a reasonable doubt can legitimately create the status of ספק, but even an unreasonable doubt can prevent the fruits from being ודאי ערלה.

This understanding of the הלכה למשה מסיני allows us to ask the next critical question:  What sense does it make to say that only fruits that are ודאי ערלה are prohibited?  Our knowledge about the fruit is something external to them, and it doesn't seem to make sense to distinguish between two types of fruit based upon our knowledge of them!  For example, if you are in doubt, but your friend knows for sure, the fruit itself is the same for both of you.  What sense does it make to have ודאי be the essential definition of the prohibition?

This is a subtle question, and it is important to appreciate the problem in order to move forward.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Forbidden Fruit (Part 2: Approach)

The first thing to realize when approaching this sugya is that we are dealing with a הלכה למשה מסיני.  While a הלכה למשה מסיני has the status of a Biblical law, it often times has a unique halachic structure compared to a regular law.  In fact, if the law could have been smoothly incorporated into the regular halachic structure without making recourse to a specific הלכה למשה מסיני, then presumably it would have been!

It is hard to describe what we mean by "unique halachic structure", and it is something that you'll get a better feel for as you come across and define more of them.  In any event, "unique" does not mean that you can just say anything you want.  It still has to make sense, and you still need to clearly define what the הלכה למשה מסיני is doing. (For an excellent series of shiurim which develops this idea of הלכה למשה מסיני, among other important topics, listen to Rabbi Yisroel Chait's Mesora 1-3, found here.)

What about the situation of ערלה outside Israel demands a הלכה למשה מסיני?   In general, only the land of Israel (which has holiness) is able to endow things that grow in it with a special status.  It is most unusual to find any agricultural laws applying to something grown outside the land of Israel.  It would seem that the Torah, in seeking to overcome this obstacle of giving a status of ערלה to fruits grown outside the land of Israel, had to make recourse to a הלכה למשה מסיני.

The second thing to realize is that the pure case of the הלכה למשה מסיני is found only in the case of all other lands (other than Suria and Israel).  Suria, because of its proximity to the land of Israel, has an additional Rabbinic status of ערלה which mimics the status of ערלה in Israel itself.

This Rabbinic status of fruits in Suria (in addition to the הלכה למשה מסיני that of course also applies there) is what is responsible for its stringency relative to all other lands.  This is a bit of a paradoxical situation, as normally we would regard a הלכה למשה מסיני as being more stringent than a Rabbinical decree.  No doubt this results from the fact that the הלכה למשה מסיני specifically states that only definite ערלה is prohibited, while uncertain ערלה  is permissible.

Let's first define the exact difference between the doubt (ספק) required for permitting a regular Rabbinic prohibition (the case of fruits from Suria), as opposed to the doubt needed to permit the pure case of the הלכה למשה מסיני.  After we do that, we'll be in a better position to clearly see what we need to define in order to really make sense of the הלכה למשה מסיני itself.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Forbidden Fruit (Part 1: Facts)

The Rambam in the Laws of Forbidden Foods (10:9-11) says:
הערלה כיצד כל הנוטע אילן מאכל כל פירות שעושה אותו אילן שלש שנים משנטע הרי הן אסורין באכילה ובהנאה...במה דברים אמורים בנוטע בארץ ישראל שנאמר כי תבאו אל הארץ וגו'. אבל איסור ערלה בחוצה לארץ הלכה למשה מסיני שודאי הערלה בחוצה לארץ אסורה וספיקה מותר
Fruits that grow from a tree in its first three years after being planted (ערלה) are forbidden to be eaten or enjoyed.  This is only prohibited by the written Torah in the land of Israel.

The prohibition of ערלה outside Israel is based on a הלכה למשה מסיני, a specific law that was axiomatically given to Moshe at Sinai.  This law posits that only fruit which is definitely ערלה is prohibited, while if you are in doubt over whether the fruit is ערלה or not, it is permissible.

In general, we treat a doubt in a הלכה למשה מסיני like any other uncertain Biblical prohibition, and have ruled stringently that it is prohibited.  Here however, the הלכה למשה מסיני itself tells us to be lenient in a case of doubt, and to permit the fruit.

The Rambam continues to explain the situation of uncertain ערלה:
ספק ערלה בארץ ישראל אסור. בסוריא והיא ארצות שכבש דוד מותר. כיצד היה כרם ערלה וענבים נמכרות חוצה לו. שמא ממנו הוא זה שמא מאחר. בסוריא מותר ובחוצה לארץ אפילו ראה הענבים יוצאות מכרם ערלה לוקח מהן. והוא שלא יראה אותו בוצר מן הערלה בידו
If you see them selling grapes outside a vineyard that you know is definitely ערלה, and you are unsure as to whether the grapes are from that vineyard or from somewhere else:

1) In Israel the fruits are prohibited; 
2) In Suria (lands very close to Israel) they are permissible; 
3) In all other lands they are permissible to the extent that even if you see them carrying out a basket of grapes from the vineyard itself, as long as you don't see them actually cutting the grapes off the vine!  This last case is prohibited even in Suria, and is only permissible in all other lands.

How can we define and understand the difference between Suria and all other lands?

The gemara in Kiddushin 39a goes further in explaining just how lenient uncertain ערלה is:
אמר ליה לוי לשמואל אריוך ספק לי ואנא איכול רב אויא ורבה בר רב חנן מספקו ספוקי להדדי
In Bavel, Levi would ask Shmuel to make him some uncertain ערלה, and they would do this for each other.  This would entail each one cutting the fruit (which they knew to be definitely ערלה) without the other one seeing, and then giving it to them!  This is a very unusual leniency.  How is this permissible?

How can we define the הלכה למשה מסיני in a way that makes clear sense of these extreme cases?