Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Philosophers Debating G-d from NY Times blog

This is a concluding reflection on my series of 12 interviews with philosophers on religion. I’m grateful to all of them for the intelligence, clarity and honesty with which they responded to my questions, and to the readers, who posted hundred of comments on each interview. It seemed natural to keep to the interview format, even though I (G.G.) had no one to interview except myself (g.g.). Taking some of the recurring views and concerns expressed by the readers into account (there were too many to cite individually), I’ve tried to submit myself to what I hope was the polite but challenging voice questioning my interviewees.

G.G.: What was the point of talking to a bunch of philosophers about religious belief?

g.g.: The immediate impetus came from the poll I cited at the beginning of the first interview: 73 percent of philosophers said they accepted or were inclined to atheism, while 15 percent accepted or inclined to theism. Only around 6 percent identified themselves as agnostics. I would have expected a good majority to identify as agnostics.

G.G.: Why did you expect that?

g.g.: The question of whether God exists is a controversial one: there have been, and still are, lots of smart, informed and sincere people on both sides. So it would seem that philosophers, committed to rational reflection on the big questions, wouldn’t be atheists (or theists) without good reasons. But it is also obvious that the standard arguments for and against God’s existence — first-cause arguments, the problem of evil, etc. — have stimulated an enormous amount of debate, leading to many complications but to no consensus. (To get a sense of contemporary discussions on theism see the Stanford Encyclopedia’s articles on the cosmological argument and on the problem of evil.) Given this, it seemed to me that at least a good proportion of philosophers would be agnostics, undecided about God’s existence.

G.G.: So you wanted to talk to philosophers to see why they accepted or denied the existence of God. What did you find out?

g.g.: Well, the theists were pretty much as I expected. None claimed to have a decisive argument for God’s existence; that is, an argument they thought should convince any reasonable person. Alvin Plantinga claimed that there are lots of “pretty good” arguments, but allowed that they aren’t conclusive, even though they may be “as good as philosophical arguments get”— which I take to mean that they can make it rational to assert God’s existence, but don’t make it irrational to deny it.

Sajjad Rizvi suggests something similar when he says that theistic proofs “allow believers to fit their faith in God into a rationally coherent framework,” even though atheists may not find them rationally compelling. But the two other theists, John Caputo (a Catholic) and Howard Wettstein (a Jew) think that arguing for God’s existence misunderstands what religion is all about.

In my experience, all this is typical of philosophers who believe in God. As Daniel Garber noted, once upon a time believing philosophers thought they had arguments showing that atheism was irrational. Nowadays, the most they do is argue that it can be rational to be a theist.[...]

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Rav Triebitz:Chol HaMoed Sukkos - What is Beis Din?

 Update - It will be  Monday night at the home of Dr. Shulem in Har Nof at 8:30.

Rav Triebitz will be speaking this chol haMoed Succos regarding the nature of beis din. What is the authority of beis din  in the absence of semicha and community authority? What is the relationship of beis din to secular courts and what should it be?

The Jewish community is faced with many challenges and problems which require a source of authority - is that the beis din and if not what are the alternatives?

Those who are interested in joining this discussion Jerusalem - please contact me at yadmoshe@gmail.com

Problem with the Theory of Evolution or "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" (Wizard of Oz)

My recent posting about Evolution elicited many heated comments. To set the record straight - I am not a champion of a particular biological explanation. I simply wanted to note that the **IDEA** of creation through evolution and change - is not inherently heresy. (There is a parallel issue - which also elicits heated comments - of whether Torah was given in its entirety at Sinai or whether the Five Books of Moshe were given together with the 13 Midos at Sinai - and the halacha was generated over time - but that is for a different post). What is heresy is to deny that G-d is the ultimate source of everything.

 On the other hand, Evolution is clearly more than simply a scientific theory. As Prof Abraham Luchins once pointed out to me - The Theory of Evolution elicits incredible emotional defensive and offensive responses from scientists when it is challenged on rational grounds. When I was studying biology at R.P.I., my professor introduced Evolution by saying first there was matter, this sloshed around for millions of years until organic molecules developed. Several million years later single cells were developed and then evenutally multi- celled creatures. I raised my hand and politely asked him how he got from step 1 to step 2 to step 3 to step 4. What was the mechanism? He looked at me in astonishment. "But if you don't believe this is what happened -  that means you are a fundamentalist!" Obviously the most obscene and degenerate state possible. The following Ted presentation illustrates my point.

The following is a recent book which attempts to explain how random selection produce complex traits. At least it acknowledges that there are fundamental problems with the Theory of Evolution. Again the fact that Evolution has problems doesn't mean that the world was literally created in 6 24hour days.

Scientific American Book Review: Arrival of the Fittest

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution transformed our understanding of life's diversity, but it could not fully answer a basic question that still vexes scientists: How does nature introduce complex traits? As evolutionary biologist Wagner puts it, natural selection “does not innovate, but merely selects what is already there.” The latest evolutionary science, however, is beginning to reveal how new traits arise in the first place. “What we have found so far,” Wagner writes, “already tells us that there is much more to evolution than meets the eye.” Drawing on his own and other researchers' work, he explains how large numbers of random mutations within species can combine to form the intricate and innovative traits seen in our planet's vast diversity.

Beis Din - Authority comes from being agents of Israeli beis din which had semicha - how does that work?

Tur (Choshen Mishpat 1): Today, when there is no ordination, all the judges are unqualified according to the Torah, as it is written, “before them,” [Exodus 21:1] meaning before ’elohim, as written in the pericope, which is to say ordained [judges], and we interpret that to mean “before them and not before laymen,” and we ourselves are laymen [in that sense]. Therefore there are no judges with authority from the Torah except if they act as the agents [of the ordained judges of Palestine].

Prof Radzyner has a very interesting article on the authority of the contemporary beis din [click link]
Abstract: A sugya just a few lines long in the Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 88b, had enormous influence on the development of Jewish law in the area of the authority to pass judgment given to rabbinical courts in our day. According to the simple, commonly accepted understanding of this sugya, the Tannaim ruled that the Torah forbade men who had not received ordination to act as judges, and as a result, the judges in Babylonia were permitted to adjudicate, of necessity, only as agents of the judges of Palestine we act as their agents). The article reexamines these positions. The first part suggests two new ways to understand the essence of the agency of which R. Joseph spoke in the sugya. The second part of the article reexamines the source of the prohibition, to the extent that it exists, against adjudication by laymen

Friday, October 10, 2014

Succoth , She'mimi A'tzeret 74 - Futuristic Happiness

Allan Katz - Parenting by the book    We come out of the Rosh Hashanah – Yom Kippur Te'shuvah = repentance and atonement experience, with a joy in our new perspectives about life and closeness with God. These feelings of joy and closeness to God can be given expression through the  'mitzvah' of the ' sukkah' and the other commandments of the holiday Sukkoth. We leave our permanent homes and dwell in God's shadow – the sukkah. We no longer need the protection of a permanent   dwelling.  Being closer to nature, without the barrier of physical structures, we feel God's closeness and protection in a temporary booth. Our new trust and closeness with God makes us feel less threatened by others and more accepting of other people. Sukkoth is called the festival of happiness and we are happy with life itself and our relationship with God.

The other pilgrim festivals - Pe'sach and Shavuot have good reasons for experiencing joy and simchah. Pe'sach comes when it is spring - when the barley begins to ripen. It is also the spring of the nation who gained their freedom from the Egyptian   slavery.  The fruits of this freedom are not harvested until Shavuot, when the Torah was given on Mount Sinai. Shavuot is called Chag Ha'katzir when the actual crops are harvested. Sukkot is called Chag Ha'asif – the festival of the ingathering of the crops at the close of the year. On a spiritual level we ' gather in'  the  lessons of life which God and his creation have taught us over the past year. We then spend a week being very close to God and happy with our relationship and his creation.

Although we received the Torah on Shavuot, we will not be able to totally appreciate the Torah and the world until the messianic period. Chag Ha'asif hints to this period where the ' ingathering of crops ' on a spiritual level refers to our new understanding of God and his creation.

Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Bloch, a Rosh Yeshivah from Telse, explains that Sukkot is essentially a glimpse into the messianic period. When we hear of bad news, we bless God as the ultimate and true judge. When we hear good news we bless God as being the ultimate of Good and He does  good.  In the messianic period we will have the perspective to see God's goodness behind both good and bad tidings.

On sukkot , this new perspective allows us to find joy in leaving our homes  in order to be in a temporary 'sukkah' a  symbol of being in ' ga'lut'  = exile. In the sukkah we also  have the positive experience of being in the shadow of God , similar to the  clouds of glory that protected the Israelites in the desert.  Ga'lut = exile is now only a positive experience. 

The 4 plant species=' 4 minim'   are pointed and waved during prayers in different directions in order to invoke God's blessing of rain on the world.  They also symbolize the unity of the Jewish people. The ' etrog' = citron which has both taste and a pleasant aroma symbolizes the scholar who possesses scholarship and good deeds, the lulav= the palm tree branch has fruit – the date which has taste= scholarship but has no aroma= good deeds. It symbolizes the scholar who   lacks  good deeds, the myrtle=hadas has aroma but no taste, symbolizes a person who has good deeds but is deficient  in Torah learning. The willow lacks both taste and aroma. On sukkot we are happy with everyone, and bless God who is good and does good even to those people who don't have taste or aroma.

The sacrifices are often accompanied by song = shi'ra and the wine libations – nisuch ha'ya'yin. The principle is  ' ein shi'ra e'la ul  ha'ya'yin. There is ' song' only with wine, because only wine has the ability to elicit joy and song. On sukkot we don't have any special reasons to be happy except life itself. And it is for this reason we are happy even with ' plain water '. We celebrate the gift of water with the ' simchat beit ha'sho'evah ' and accompanying the daily sacrifice with water libations in the hope and prayer for the blessing of rain.

During the year we suffer from the nations of the world who pursue Israel like 70 wolves. But on Sukkot, we wear different lenses and see only the good in the nations, and thus we bring 70 sacrifices for well-being of the seventy nations.

We need to leave our permanent dwellings for the temporary structures of Succoth in order to enjoy the heavenly, spiritual and 'futuristic ' happiness of the messianic period. But our spiritual demands and aspirations are to leave the sukkah and take with us its eternal messages and combine ' heaven and earth '. On she'mini a'tzeret, the 8th day of our celebration, we leave our Succoth and return to our homes. For 7 days we were God's guests in His sukkah. Now, we invite God as a permanent guest back into our homes and try to live 'eternal lives ' and enjoy ' a futuristic happiness ' where we can see God's positive hand in all the creation. May we see only good in our kids and family and see problems as opportunities for growth and becoming closer to God.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz's asks parents to speak to their kids about child safety


Reb Daniel

Hope all is well. Could you please post this with a note asking parents to speak to their kids about child safety before/over Yom Tov?

It is SUCH a dangerous time for kids to be abused.

You cannot imagine.


Thanks and Best wishes for a piska tova and a gutten Yom Tov. 


Visit www.bbchumash.com to learn more about our popular chumash workbooks designed to give your children the Hebrew language skills to succeed in school. 

Teach your kids how to protect themselves from predators. Watch our 3 short videos to learn how. 

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Dean, Yeshiva Darchei Noam
Director, Center for Jewish Family Life/Project YES
2nd Letter

Yesterday evening after dark, a pre-bar-mitzvah-age boy came to our front door collecting for a school-based charity drive. No reflector. No adult accompanying him. He does not live on my block and subsequently no one - including his parents - really knew exactly where he was or whose door he was knocking on. And I stopped counting after ten such children came knocking on our door since Rosh Hashana.  


L'ma'an Hashem; haven't we learned anything from all the tragedies and ruined lives of kids who have been abused? At least in previous years, many or most of us thought our community was somehow immune from problems of this nature. What is the excuse now?

My dear friends, this lack of supervision is simply unconscionable knowing what we now know about the scope and magnitude of child abuse nowadays.
In fact, over the years, we have noticed a significant spike in abuse-related calls to Project YES around the joyous Pesach and Succos Yomim Tovim.
Those of us who work in the arena of child safety attribute the greater number of abuse cases during these times of year to:

1) The less structured environment at home, in Shul and at play.
2) The fact that children are exposed to a far greater number of pre-teens, teenagers and adults during Yom Tov than they are during the average school week.  

We are all busy before Yom Tov, but we at Project YES strongly encourage you to speak to your children about child safety before Succos, and give them a refresher talk if you already have.  

We plead with you to take this matter seriously and do everything in your power to keep your kids safe. There are two steps you ought to take in order to accomplish this:  

1) Have safety talks with your children - using effective, research-based techniques that will educate and empower your children without frightening them.  

2) See to it that they are properly supervised over Yom Tov.

There are four basic messages that children need to internalize in order for any abuse prevention program to be truly effective:

1. Your body belongs to you
2. No one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable
3. No secrets from parents
4. Good touching/bad touching

Please educate yourself before speaking to your children so that your discussions generate light and not heat. Additionally, it is important for you to know - and to share with your children - that although "stranger danger" is a genuine concern, the vast majority of molesters are family members or people well-known to the children.  

As Tenafly Police Chief Michael Bruno brilliantly said during a magnificent talk he gave on child safety, "We need to train our children to consider the "it"
(the inappropriate action being done to them) not the "whom" (regardless of the relationship or stature of the individual who is doing it).  

There are free resources available in the Karasick Child Safety Initiative section of our website www.kosherjewishparenting.com, and we encourage (read: plead with) you to take advantage of them, including a comprehensive list of Links to Safety Resources for Parents  
and our three free Child Safety videos; #1 , #2, #3.
Thanks for reading these lines, and kindly take a minute to forward this to others - for the only way our children and grandchildren will be safe, is when each and every one of us is well educated about child safety.
Best wishes for a Chag Samayach and much Nachas from your family.  

Yakov Horowitz

D.A. Kenneth Thompson failed to keep his promise to crack down on Orthodox child abusers

Daily Beast   Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson ran on the promise that he’d clean up the office’s problems with prosecuting ultra-Orthodox sex offenders who preyed on children—but so far he appears just as lax as his predecessor.
After initially facing up to 32 years in prison for eight counts of child sexual abuse, Baruch Lebovits walked out of Riker's Island last week a free man. He had served just under 16 months of total prison time.

That Lebovits, a cantor from the ultra-Orthodox Borough Park section of Brooklyn, was even convicted is seen as a victory considering the difficulty of prosecuting abuse in that community. However, his release is disappointing, if not surprising, for those who hoped Brooklyn district attorney Kenneth Thompson would be the man to end decades of ultra-Orthodox sex abuse cover-ups.

Thompson beat out Charles Hynes for Brooklyn DA, ending a reign that last more than 23 years. Towards the end of his time as DA, Hynes was scrutinized for his perceived unwillingness to prosecute crimes against the ultra-Orthodox, especially in regards to sexual abuse. At best, his administration appeared exceptionally lax, and at worst, it willfully obstructed justice. He was famously reluctant to release the names of convicted sex abusers in the Orthodox community. His office let Rabbi Yehuda Kolko get away without jail time or registering as a sex offender. Instead, Kolko received a plea deal that allowed him to plea guilty to child endangerment. The DA claimed the alleged victims—first graders in Kolko’s class—were unwilling to testify, but chief of the Kings County sex crimes division, Rhonnie Jaus, publicly said that their parents had been willing to put the kids on the stand. It was one of many cases that raised questions about Hynes' willingness to prosecute ultra-Orthodox sex abuse.

Many critics of abuse and corruption in the ultra-Orthodox community hoped and believed Thompson would bring justice to Brooklyn. For his part, Thompson openly criticized Hynes’ record on crimes committed by the ultra-Orthodox. “Every community in Brooklyn has to be treated the same,” he said during a 2013 interview. “When I become Brooklyn DA, I’ll make sure there’s equal justice for everyone, under the law.” [...]

Thompson may be no worse than Hynes, but his first year has been frustrating for advocates who once had high hopes for his tenure. “I don't think Thompson is an inherently bad guy,” says Rosenberg. “But he's an extreme disappointment.”

Evolution and Religion - an update by an evolutionary biologist

 Update Oct 8, 2014

update - added additional sources Oct 2, 2014

While the majority position in the Chareidi world is that Evolution is heresy as is the belief that the world is more than 6000 years old  - there are minority views. Regarding the age of the universe - I asked both Rav Yisroel Belsky and Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky this question and both said it is not heresy because there are statements of Chazal that indicate an old universe. [There is a list in Torah Shleima Bereishis]. Similarly regarding evolution - aside from Rav Kook - it seems that Rav Soleitchik accepted an evolutionary creation of Man. Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky was asked about it and he said it not a horrible thing to belief in an evolution process - which is similar to the view of Rav Hirsch. Rav Kasher wrote an article providing sources in Chazal that supported an evolutionary creation process.
NY Times   EVERY year around this time, with the college year starting, I give my students The Talk. It isn’t, as you might expect, about sex, but about evolution and religion, and how they get along. More to the point, how they don’t.

I’m a biologist, in fact an evolutionary biologist, although no biologist, and no biology course, can help being “evolutionary.” My animal behavior class, with 200 undergraduates, is built on a scaffolding of evolutionary biology.

And that’s where The Talk comes in. It’s irresponsible to teach biology without evolution, and yet many students worry about reconciling their beliefs with evolutionary science. Just as many Americans don’t grasp the fact that evolution is not merely a “theory,” but the underpinning of all biological science, a substantial minority of my students are troubled to discover that their beliefs conflict with the course material.

Until recently, I had pretty much ignored such discomfort, assuming that it was their problem, not mine. Teaching biology without evolution would be like teaching chemistry without molecules, or physics without mass and energy. But instead of students’ growing more comfortable with the tension between evolution and religion over time, the opposite seems to have happened. Thus, The Talk.

There are a few ways to talk about evolution and religion, I begin. The least controversial is to suggest that they are in fact compatible. Stephen Jay Gould called them “nonoverlapping magisteria,” noma for short, with the former concerned with facts and the latter with values. He and I disagreed on this (in public and, at least once, rather loudly); he claimed I was aggressively forcing a painful and unnecessary choice, while I maintained that in his eagerness to be accommodating, he was misrepresenting both science and religion.

In some ways, Steve has been winning. Noma is the received wisdom in the scientific establishment, including institutions like the National Center for Science Education, which has done much heavy lifting when it comes to promoting public understanding and acceptance of evolution. According to this expansive view, God might well have used evolution by natural selection to produce his creation.

This is undeniable. If God exists, then he could have employed anything under the sun — or beyond it — to work his will. Hence, there is nothing in evolutionary biology that necessarily precludes religion, save for most religious fundamentalisms (everything that we know about biology and geology proclaims that the Earth was not made in a day).

So far, so comforting for my students. But here’s the turn: These magisteria are not nearly as nonoverlapping as some of them might wish.

As evolutionary science has progressed, the available space for religious faith has narrowed: It has demolished two previously potent pillars of religious faith and undermined belief in an omnipotent and omni-benevolent God.[...]


  =======================Rav Kook ============

Rav Kook[1](Letters 1:91):[[ 1. Even to the ancients, it was well known that there were many periods that preceded our counting of nearly six thousand years for the current era. According to the Midrash [Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit ch. 3], "God built worlds and destroyed them," before He created the universe as we know it. Even more astonishing, the Zohar [Vayikra 10a] states that there existed other species of human beings besides the 'Adam' who is mentioned in the Torah. 2. We must be careful not to regard current scientific theories as proven facts, even if they are widely accepted. Scientists are constantly raising new ideas, and all of the scientific explanations of our time may very well come to be laughed at in the future as imaginative drivel. 3. The fundamental belief of the Torah is that God created and governs the universe. The means and methods by which He acts, regardless of their complexity, are all tools of God, Whose wisdom is infinite. Sometimes we specifically mention these intermediate processes, and sometimes we simply say, 'God formed' or 'God created.' For example, the Torah writes about "the house that King Solomon built" [I Kings 6:2]. The Torah does not go into the details of Solomon speaking with his advisors, who in turn gave instructions to the architects, who gave the plans to the craftsmen, who managed and organized the actual building by the workers. It is enough to say, 'Solomon built.' The rest is understood, and is not important. So too, if God created life via the laws of evolution, these are details irrelevant to the Torah's central message, namely, the ethical teaching of a world formed and governed by an involved Creator. 4. The Torah concealed much with regard to the process of creation, speaking in parables and ciphers. Creation - referred to as "Ma'aseh Bereishit" by the Kabbalists - clearly belongs to the esoteric part of Torah [see Chaggigah 11b]. If the Torah's account of creation is meant to be understood literally, what are its profound secrets? If everything is openly revealed, what is left to be explained in the future? God limits revelations, even from the most brilliant and sublime prophets, according to the ability of that generation to absorb the information. For every idea and concept, there is significance to the hour of its disclosure. For example, if knowledge of the rotation of the Earth on its axis and around the sun had been revealed to primitive man, his courage and initiative may have been severely retarded - by fear of falling. Why attempt to build tall buildings on top of an immense ball turning and whizzing through space at high speeds? Only after a certain intellectual maturity, and scientific understanding about gravity and other compensating forces, were human beings ready for this knowledge. The same is true regarding spiritual and moral ideas. The Jewish people struggled greatly to explain the concept of Divine providence to the pagan world. This was not an easy idea to market. Of what interest should the actions of an insignificant human be to the Creator of the universe? Belief in the transcendental importance of our actions is a central principle in Judaism, and was disseminated throughout the world by her daughter religions. But if mankind had already been aware of the true dimensions of the cosmos, and the relatively tiny world that we inhabit - could this fundamental concept of Torah have had any chance in spreading? Only now, that we have greater confidence in our power and control over the forces of nature, is awareness of the grandiose scale of the universe not an impediment to these basic ethical values. To summarize: Ancient Jewish sources also refer to worlds that existed prior to the current era of six thousand years. One should not assume that the latest scientific theories are eternal truths. The purpose of the Torah is a practical one - to have a positive moral influence on humanity, and not to serve as a primer for physicists and biologists. It could very well be that evolution, etc., are the tools by which God created the world. Some ideas are intentionally kept hidden, as the world may not be ready for them, psychologically or morally. [adapted from Igrot HaRe'iyah vol. I, pp. 105-7] Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison

[1]  רב קוק (אגרות הראיה א:צא ע' ק"ה): וע,ד מנין שנות היצירה ביחש להחשבונות הגיאולוגיים בזמנינו. כך היא הלכה רווחת, שהיו כבר תקופות רבות קודם למנין תקקופתנו הוא מפורסם בכל המקובלים הקדמונים. ובמד"ר "שהי' בונה עולמות ומחריבן" ובזוהר פ' ויקרא דף י. שהיו כמה מיני אנשים חוץ מאדם  שנאמר בתורה: אלא ששם צריך להשכיל יפה את המליצות העמוקות, הצריכות ביאור רחב מאד מאד. א"כ אותן החפירות מורות לנו, שנמצאו תקופות של ברואים, ואנשים בכללם, אבל שלא היה בינתים חורבן כללי, ויצירה חדשה, ע"ז אין מופת מוכיח, כ"א השערות פורחות באויר, שאין לחוש להן כלל. אבל באמת אין אנו נזקקים לכל זה, שאפילו אם הי' מתברר לנו שהי' סדר היצירה בדרך התפתחות המינים ג"כ אין שום סתירה, שאנו מונים כפי הפשטות של פסוקי תורה, שנוגע לנו הרבה יותר מכל הידיעות הקדומות, שאין להן עמנו ערך מרובה. והתורה ודאי סתמה במעשה בראשית, ודברה ברמיזות ומשלים, שהרי הכל יודעים שמעשה בראשית הם מכלל סתרי תורה, ואם היו כל הדברים רק פשוטם איזה סתר שי כאן, וכבר אמרו במדבר (רמב"ם פתיחת מורה נבוכים רמב"ן בראשית א) "להגיד כח מעשה בראשית לבו"ד א"א, לפיכך סתם הכתוב בראשית ברא אלקים". והעיקר היא הידיעה העולה מכל הענין לדעת ד', וחיי המוסר אמיתי, והקב"ה נותן במשקל אפילו הרוח שחל על הנביאים (תזריע פ'  טו), הוא צמצם שדוקא כששיכנסו הדברים הגדולים שבאלהה הענינים בבאלה הציורים יוכלו בנ"א לשאוב מהם, עם כל השתדלותם, את כל היותר מועיל ונשגב להם. ואור יקרות וקפאון, שהם סתרי תורה, שבעוה"ז הם יקרים ויהיו קפויים _פסחים נ, במדבר רבה פ' יט) לע"ל רק הוא יגלה לנופרטי הדברים. אבל  עכ"פ אין שום סתירה לשום דבר מן התורה מכל דעה מחקרית שבעולם כלל, אלא שאין אנחנו צריכים לקבל השערות לודאיות, אפיל יהיו מסכמות הרבה, כי הן כציץ נובל, שעוד מעט יתפתחו יותר כלי הדרישה, ותהיינה כל השערות החדשות ללעג  ולקלס, וכל החכמות הנעלות שבינימו לקטנות המוח ודבר אלקינו יקום לעולם. "כי ההרים ימושו והגבעות תמוטינה, והסדי מאתך לא מוש וברית שלומי לא תמוט אמר מרחמך ד'" . כי יסוד הכל הוא מה שאנחנו מלמדים בעולם, שהכל פועל ד'. והאמצעיים רבים או מועטים, לרבבי רבבות, הם הכל מעשי ד', שלא חיסר מעולמו כלום, ושאין קץ לגבורתו ועז חכמתו ותפארתו ב"ה וב"ש לעדי עד. ופעמים שאמחנו מזכירים את האמצעיים ג"כ בשם, להרחבי את הדעת, ולפעמים אנו אומרים בדרך דילוג "ויצר ד'" "ויעש ד'" כמו שאנו אומרים "אז יבנה שלמה", ואין אומרים ששלמה צוה לשרים והשרים לנמוכים מהם, והם להאדריכלים והאדריכלים לאומנים והאומנים לעושי המלאכה הפשוטים, מפני שהוא דרך ידוע, וגם איננו עקרי. כן כל מה שיחקר בהרבה רבבות שנים בהגדלת הדרים והאמצעיים, שהם מוסיפים לנו דעה והשכל בגאון ד', המה ברב הפעמים מקוצרים, ותוכן הדבר שיש משקל מיוחד לכל רעיון ומחשבה לזמן לידתו ופעולתו, באין שום מקרה והזדמנות בלתי מכוונת כלל. למשן אנחנו יכולים להבין, אם הי' נודע דבר תנועת האץ לפני כמה אלפים שנה למפרע בהמון הי' המין האנושי מתירא לעמוד על רגליו. פן יפול מכך התנועה וק"ו שהי' מתירא לנות בנינים רמים, וזה הי' מביאו לרפיון לב למניעת פיתוח שאין לשער. והחשבון של כח המושך לא הי' יכול להבטיהו, אחרי ראותו בעיניו שכל דבר העומד על דבר מתנעע איננו בטוח מנפילה, רק אחרי בגרות של הרגל יפה היה מקום לצאת ההכרה של תנועת הארץ, שלא תקבל האנושיות מזה אך טוב.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Absurd Mandatory sentences: Killing in self-defense is o.k.- but firing a warning shot gets you 20 years!

CBS News [...]   According to Wollard, the young man lunged at him and punched a hole in a wall; the teenager disputes that. But no one disagrees about what happened next. 

"So I fire a warning shot into the wall, [and] I said, 'The next one's between your eyes,'" said Lee. 

Sandy continued, "And the kid turned around and just hurried out the door. And that was the end of that."

Not quite. 

Wollard was charged with shooting into a building with a firearm, aggravated assault, and child endangerment. And when he went on trial a year later, a jury convicted him of all charges -- and then Judge Donald Jacobsen sentenced him to 20 years in Florida state prison, the mandatory minimum.

That means Wollard will serve every day of 20 years in state prison.[...]

It didn't matter that Lee Wollard was a first offender, or that no one was physically injured. In Florida, a conviction for aggravated assault involving a firearm means an automatic 20 years. That's the mandatory minimum sentence.

"I looked at him and told him, 'I would not be sentencing you to this term of incarceration, 20 years Florida state prison, if it were not for the fact that I was obligated under my oath as a judge to do so,'" said Judge Jacobson.[...]

And Wollard's sentence seems particularly harsh, says his wife, when you consider that in Florida, if you happen to kill someone while "standing your ground" in self-defense, you may face no charges at all. 

"But if you shoot a warning shot just to scare them away, you'll get twenty years in prison," said Sandy.[...]

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Yom HaDin - a reminder of the inherent insecurity of life

Received the following letter from a friend:
Chanced on this story last night listening to NPR on my way home.

Would perhaps have been better for Yom haDin than Y"K, but certainly helps engender the general mood of this blessed season.  

To think how tenuous the future is...  The narrative, entirely factual, and very clear, could have come right out of Kafka or The Count of Monte Cristo.  A Bronx teenager is doing his thing one day with other teenagers, and then for no reason becomes jailed for 3yrs, mostly in solitary confinement, and mostly due to nothing more than ruthless bureaucracy.  (Was Yosef haTz' jailed for 2yrs or 3 ?)  No trial, no conviction, no bail-- just awaiting trial on flimsy evidence until a housecleaning dismissal 3yrs later.

His crime, apparently, was living in a region where the justice system is overwhelmed and the administrators of all levels care little (NYC).  I find the story chilling.  I doubt any of us can relate to the boy's background, but in the possibility that the story may help any others recognize how little protects what we count so dear, I pass it on.  Well, for that reason, and as well because of my lunatic fringe taste.

Gmar chasima tova, and wishing you an easy fast,
 New Yorker Magazine   Late on Saturday, seventeen hours after the police picked Browder up, an officer and a prosecutor interrogated him, and he again maintained his innocence. The next day, he was led into a courtroom, where he learned that he had been charged with robbery, grand larceny, and assault. The judge released his friend, permitting him to remain free while the case moved through the courts. But, because Browder was still on probation, the judge ordered him to be held and set bail at three thousand dollars. The amount was out of reach for his family, and soon Browder found himself aboard a Department of Correction bus. He fought back panic, he told me later. Staring through the grating on the bus window, he watched the Bronx disappear. Soon, there was water on either side as the bus made its way across a long, narrow bridge to Rikers Island.

Of the eight million people living in New York City, some eleven thousand are confined in the city’s jails on any given day, most of them on Rikers, a four-hundred-acre island in the East River, between Queens and the Bronx. New Yorkers who have never visited often think of Rikers as a single, terrifying building, but the island has ten jails—eight for men, one for women, and one so decrepit that it hasn’t housed anyone since 2000.[...]

Prestia has represented many clients who were wrongfully arrested, but Browder’s story troubles him most deeply. “Kalief was deprived of his right to a fair and speedy trial, his education, and, I would even argue, his entire adolescence,” he says. “If you took a sixteen-year-old kid and locked him in a room for twenty-three hours, your son or daughter, you’d be arrested for endangering the welfare of a child.” Browder doesn’t know exactly how many days he was in solitary—and Rikers officials, citing pending litigation, won’t divulge any details about his stay—but he remembers that it was “about seven hundred, eight hundred.” [...]

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Another "cool" charismatic teacher arrested for abuse

NY Times   She got to know Mr. Shaynak — “ShayShay” to his favorites — during her sophomore year, when she and a friend went to his classroom at lunch. He tutored them in geometry. He sometimes bought them lunch outside school. He gave one of them cigarettes.

Then, at one point, Sean Shaynak, the hip aerospace teacher in his early 40s with a flight simulator in his classroom, asked the girls if he could take pictures of them in the park, to inspire a nude painting he wanted to do. According to a friend of one of the girls whom she later confided in, they thought the request was weird and put him off, saying they were too busy. They told no one. They thought: Why ruin a teacher’s life? [...]

In interviews on Wednesday with dozens of students, virtually all said they had no knowledge of inappropriate sexual behavior on Mr. Shaynak’s part. But many knew that he was unusually close with some students, often in ways that might alarm parents, including smoking with students and sometimes attending their parties.
But these signs were not so much missed as, apparently, kept private by the only people who really knew Mr. Shaynak — his students, who liked him and saw him as one of their own. In this way, the authorities said, he was able to gain their trust and “groom” the girls he pursued.[...]

Those students who did know Mr. Shaynak were loyal. Two groups in particular — the smokers and the children in his aerospace classes — saw Mr. Shaynak as the rare teacher who talked like a teenager. He made students feel relaxed, told stories about flying and doled out cigarettes and hugs. He was the hip teacher who wore jeans, smoked with older students and drove a Mini Cooper, that is, when he wasn’t riding the B train home to Flatbush. [...]

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Emancipation and individual freedom - destroyed the viability of Beis Din

Justice Menachem Elon (Mishpat Ivri Chapter 41): THE PERIOD OF THE EMANCIPATION

A. Internal-Spiritual and External-Political Changes

A fundamental change in the historic course of Jewish law took place in the eighteenth century with the advent of the Emancipation and the abro­gation of Jewish autonomy. The story of the termination of Jewish auton­omy in general, and of Jewish juridical autonomy in particular, has been widely documented in recent historical studies and need not be repeated here. 1 As already noted.2 two factors supported and explain the persistence of a living and functioning Jewish legal system not withstanding the lack of political sovereignty and of a territorial center. The first factor was the integr­al discipline of traditional Jewish society, which, rooted in religious and national imperatives. felt bound to govern its everyday life by Jewish law. The second factor was the existence of the corporative state; by virtue of its political structure, the state allowed autonomous bodies possessed of jurid­ical authority to exist within its boundaries and, indeed, for various reasons already discussed. even had a positive interest in promoting the existence of such autonomy.

In the eighteenth century, however, both these factors underwent a radical change. From the political perspective, as a result of the movement toward equality before the law for all citizens, including Jews, the European countries, in quick succession, withdrew from their Jewish communities the power, even in civil litigation, to compel Jews to submit to adjudication before Jewish courts. The use of the ban, as well as other methods of en­forcing the judgments of Jewish courts, was also prohibited. Important as the political factor was, however, the primary cause of the progressive dis­use of Jewish law in practical life was the change wrought by the Emanci­pation in the social and spiritual life of the Jewish people, and the conse­quent erosion of the internal discipline that had been largely responsible for the vitality of Jewish law in the everyday life of the community. Up to that time, the Jewish community had regarded Jewish law as the supreme value by which all activities were to be measured; but the Emancipation split the community-some still followed the tradition, but others felt no obligation to do so.

I. See S.w. Baron, The Jewish Community, II, pp. 35 Iff.; Y. Kaufmann, Golah ve-Nekhar [Exile and Estrangement). II, 1930; J. Katz, Tradition and Crisis, eh. XX, pp. 2 I 3ff.; Assaf. Battei ha-Din, pp. 5-6; A.H. Freimann, "Dinei Yisrael be-Erez Yisra'el" [Jewish Law in the Land of Israel). Luah ha-Arez, 1946, pp. I l Off.: S. Ettinger, "Toledol Yisra'el ba-Et ha-Had­ashah" [History of the Jews 'in the Modern Period). in H.H. Ben-Sasson. Toledot Am Yis'ra 'el [History of the Jewish People]. vol. 3, 1970, pp. 17-137.

2. Supra pp. 3-39.