Thursday, March 29, 2012

The All-Time Most Popular Post

The most popular post on this blog of all time is that featuring my monograph on The Evolution Of The Olive, with over 3600 pageviews, and many more who received the monograph via e-mail. I assume that the reasons for its popularity are that everyone encounters this topic at least once a year, and many people are confounded by the strange and common practice of eating huge amounts as a "kezayis." (See too my follow-up post, The Riddle of the Giant Kezayis Defense.)

I noticed that the Jewish Press has a new column on this by Rabbi David Bar-Hayim, which was also picked up by Vos Iz Neias (on which the comments always provide fascinating material for social anthropology). While I agree with Rabbi Bar-Hayim's analysis of the halachic history of the kezayis, I cannot agree with his positions regarding how halachah must always confirm to reality as we understand it. Judaism attributes great significance to tradition, and furthermore I'm not sure that he appreciates just how much of a Pandora's box his approach opens.

30 comments:

  1. I think that Rav Bar Hayim distinguishes between tradition and reality very much on purpose. From what I can tell, and others may correct me if I am wrong, he argues that the Torah relates to reality and therefore any discrepancy in a given tradition must be due one of the many potential sources of error or corruption. For instance in the case of the k'zayit in the article you mention he explains some of the likely reasoning behind the errors amongst rishonim in estimating the size of that unit of measurement.

    I know that for some people this is a difficult issue to deal with, since they would like to accept all halachic material in the Talmud. It makes a very clean distinction between what one must believe (the divine origin of all halachic material) and what one need not (everything else, particularly haggadot and scientific ideas). That opinion, exemplified by Rav Herzog, argues that the halacha is always valid, and that the flawed examples or reasoning given in the Talmud is exterior to the fundamental halacha, which itself was always known without a doubt. I personally find this view hard to believe, however. In the case of say, killing lice on shabbat, hazal had a real machloket on whether it is permissible; it seems a stretch to argue that they had a tradition stretching back to Moshe that killing lice is permissible. I think that to assume that all of the halachot decided upon by hazal (or by subsequent generations, since it is unlikely that the Talmud as it exists today was redacted by the amoraim) can be chalked up to tradition and that they did not rely upon their own observations and logic has more to do with what people would want to believe than with reality.

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  2. R. Bar Hayyim finishes with the statement: "The clear implication is that Judaism, as a system, is broken and beyond repair."

    Isn't the language here also a little too strong? I mean, if we were to succeed in restoring a recognized Sanhedrin, wouldn't we be able to "repair" these errant rulings?

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  3. You obviously don't know too much about Bar Chaim, go to MishkonShilo to find out more; and that is only half of his craziness.

    I really think you get too much attention for you article on the kzayis. I didn't see anything new in it, that wasn't already said in other articles.

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  4. perhaps you could elaborate on what pandora's box would be unleashed

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  5. I really think you get too much attention for you article on the kzayis. I didn't see anything new in it, that wasn't already said in other articles.

    That's not a very nice thing to say. Why did you write that? Furthermore, if hundreds or thousands of people have read R. Slifkin's article--be it the first of its kind or not--then R. Slifkin should at least get credit for (a) writing an article that people are interested in reading, and (b) making it available and publicizing it so that people actually know about it and DO read it. Give me one good educator rather than 100 ivory-tower intellectuals.

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  6. While I am with Rav Bar-Hayim in the halakhic realm I think that Rav Slifkin does deserve credit for his enlightening work regarding the k'zayit. I do not see the relevance of bringing up the fact that others also may have researched this matter.

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  7. Yehudah P: You never finished reading the article. There is page 2. I must say the Jewish Press cut the article at a very bad point.

    Here's the conclusion from page 2:

    "Before you eat your k’zayit of matza at this year’s seder, you might pause to consider what you are about to say about yourself, and what message you are about to send to your family and friends.

    I can tell you what message I will be sending: that Torah and Halakah are as real as it gets."

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  8. Some comments on R. Bar-Hayim's article:

    In their view, Halakha need not reflect reality; it exists in an alternate reality of its own. This is a tragedy because it paints Judaism as divorced from reality

    Thank God halacha exists in an alternate reality. How else would we be able to sell our chametz for Pesach (which a non-Jew could "theoretically" come into our home and take, but certainly doesn't reflect the "reality")?

    and irrelevant to a rational person

    A rational person can distinguish between an actual olive and the legal-halachic definition of an olive, without having to claim olives were "huge" in days of yore.

    This is a lie because Torah was intended by Hashem as our handbook for operating in the real world.

    Thank God we "lie" (i.e. interpret Torah to our needs) because if we took Torah at face value (as an ancient Near Eastern text, where an eye for an eye means an actual eye) we'd be unable to "operate in the real world".

    I agree with R. Bar-Hayim where it comes to making Judaism more "natural", easier to live day-to-day. But I don't agree with his justification - i.e., being more "authentic", getting back to the glory days of Torah, back to the "original" meaning, original pronunciation, original clothing, etc.

    It's true, sometimes "halachic reality" feels disingenuous, as does interpretation/drash. But that's Judaism! The alternative is "authentic" (and often brutal) Bronze Age Torah - take your pick!

    Bottom line - the reason to change the kezayit back to a regular olive isn't that it's more authentically Biblical - it's that it's easier to live with.

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  9. David Meir,

    The greatness of Rav Bar-Hayim is that he advocates authenticity but at the same time does take into account new realities.

    If we utilize interpretation based upon authenticity and at the same time take into account new realities-that need not leave us in the Bronze age. The reference to an "eye for an eye" is a red herring.Hazal's interpretation overrides any such interpretation.

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  10. David Meir,

    The reason that the olive-size is easier to live with is because that is what the Torah intended and such is the reasonable interpretation. When halakhic interpretation is done authentically and reasonably then we arrive at practical, reasonable conclusions. When gorgeous wigs are "interpreted" to be legitimate hair-coverings then we get to the unreasonable reality of haredi woman looking way more glamorous than women from other sectors. When olives are not real olives but "halakhic" olives then people get sick at the seder table.

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  11. "The reference to an "eye for an eye" is a red herring. Hazal's interpretation overrides any such interpretation."

    Why?

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  12. There are commentators who have explained why Hazal's interpretation of an eye for an eye is actually the p'shat.

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  13. David Meir,

    The olive issue can not be compared to a case such as selling hametz. Selling hametz is designed to make life easier-the fact that some interpret an olive to be the size of a grapefruit is a result of a mistake-there was no "benefit" intended.

    Having said that Rav Bar-Hayim does oppose the selling of hametz in accordance with the standard "sale" done nowadays.

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  14. Hazal's interpretation overrides any such interpretation

    Then it really depends what moment one wishes to freeze in time as the "authentic" interpretation - original Mosaic Law vs. Chazal vs. Rishonim, etc.

    But wherever you "freeze" the picture, the tendency is to then say that all the predecessors in the mesorah really held that way too. To me, THAT doesn't accord with reality. The reality is that we have a "living Torah" that never freezes - rather it constantly evolves over time to reflect changing realities. It bends to reflect people's real needs. And halachic "technicalities" help Torah to achieve this!

    gorgeous wigs are "interpreted" to be legitimate hair-coverings

    The wig is a perfect example. Yes, it's totally disingenuous to the idea of covering hair. BUT... It reflects the reality that women feel the need to look attractive according to contemporary standards. Which is a reasonable, legitimate need - and even "authentic" when you consider the Torah's description of Sarah, Rachel, etc. as "beautiful".

    There are commentators who have explained why Hazal's interpretation of an eye for an eye is actually the p'shat.

    Someone more educated than me please chime in... But I understand that in Hammurabi's code, it's an actual eye. In Islam, it's an actual eye, etc.

    But that's not even the point. The point is that day-to-day Judaism is not about the pshat - it's all about the DRASH. Pshat is really the realm of scholarship and science, the desire to uncover the reality of things, what "is". Drash is concerned with how we actually live our lives, what "should be", the ongoing discussion of how to define our reality.

    And Jews generally don't want a real eye for an eye. As opposed to the olive - many Jews would like to go back to the real olive. They're saying they want to because it's "pshat" - I'm suggesting it's a mistake to give that as the reason. Because believe me, we don't want to conduct our lives on the basis of pshat!

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  15. I read R' Slifkin's monograph and I think he places too much weight on his very shaky assumptions about olive growing. Many of the Rishonim he cites lived in France, a Mediterranean country. They didn't live in olive-growing areas, as far as I know, but I find it hard to believe that olives were not sold in their markets. When they write that they "are not familiar with the measurement of an olive," it very likely means either that they saw the different sizes and didn't know which olive had been meant, or, like the Acharonim, they had difficulty reconciling the size of an olive with that of other measurements. That is to say, R' Slifkin's examples actually argue against his conclusion.

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  16. How does Rabbi Bar-Chaim deal with birchas hachamah in terms of Halacha reflecting reality?

    And what about the molad? Does he adjust the inaccuracy in order for Halacha to reflect reality?

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  17. The olive issue can not be compared to a case such as selling hametz.

    They're not analogous, but they both relate to the idea of striving for "authenticity", which I'm saying is not only elusive and arguably arbitrary, but also potentially misguided.

    R. Bar-Hayim's approach seems to be that where a practice seems to be "artificial", either because it's newish or the result of halachic machinations, he'd like to change it back (to a certain moment in time) the way Judaism is "supposed to" be.

    This approach clearly resonates with many people, who want to see Judaism as organic, true to the Torah text, in accordance with the "true" will of God, etc. I think this is a reasonable and even noble goal. However...

    1) It has potentially unwelcome consequences. On the one hand, there's making niddah only 7 days, kitniyot on Pesach, shorter davening, 1-day Rosh Hashanah, etc. - many changes "back" that most Jews would find a welcome relief! On the other hand, you could probably say goodbye to things like the Shabbat wire eiruv, wigs, "easy" sale of chametz, Simchat Torah, etc. And potentially you'd welcome a more "Biblical purist" approach, a Karaite-like orientation which sees Rabbinic Judaism as "artificial" and would have us reinstituting polygamy, playing harps, wearing Biblical garb, offering sacrifices, killing Amalekites and the like.

    2. Who's to say that "artificial" Judaism isn't also a noble approach? Like R. Slifkin says, there's something to "tradition", even if that tradition was "created" over time. The diagonal mezuza might be a tradition which resulted "artificially" out of a halachic compromise, but it's now part of Judaism which means something to people. I'm guessing that R. Bar-Hayim would say that such a tradition is baseless and inauthentic. But likewise Ktav Ashuri that the mezuzah is written in is inauthentic (albeit "halachic").

    Clearly, many of the "traditions" of Judaism are made precisely by bucking tradition!

    So while I understand people wanting to recreate "God's ideal" in Biblical (and perhaps Talmudic) Torah, traditional Judaism might arguably be seen as more a project of creation than recreation. And there is something noble in that as well! After all, who's to say that creating meaning, innovation and adaptation aren't part of "God's ideal" for us or in line with the idea of being a "goy kadosh"?

    I apologize for being so verbose, but I think this issue reveals a profound divergence of attitudes about Judaism that's worth trying to articulate and understand.

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  18. i want to suggest the general approach of rebbi nachman's the most sensible. he said "if you find an authority to depend on you can depend on it." (The word posek in his days meant a medieval authority and he also used the word to refer to the page of the shulchan aruch)
    In this case that would mean that kezait would be about the amount of a olive--exactly like it says in the shulchan aruch.(Forgive me for sounding like blurbing for rebbi nachman but i admit to being impressed by him.)

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  19. "I'm not sure that he appreciates just how much of a Pandora's box his approach opens."

    Or maybe he does and this is his way of cracking the lid?

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  20. R. David Bar Hayim is not concerned with reality as we understand it. He is concerned about reality as it exists and how human beings experience it.

    The difference is between those who have an intellectual understanding of something, but emotionally respond in contradiction to that intellectual understanding. (Take discussions regarding Free will and it's illusion status for example)

    Regarding selling chametz, most of the people in the Town I live in, do not think that selling chametz is a viable option. Instead they either burn it or donate it to the non-Jews of the city.

    I think they also distinguish between actual chamatz, and chamatz derabanan in that regard.

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  21. David Meir,
    R. David Bar Hayim isn't looking to go back in time, to some mystical "original" Judaism.

    He is looking to re-establish the Nusach and Minhagim of Eretz Yisrael. Building the Judaism of Geulah rather than the Judaism of Galuth.

    His basis for this, is following the rulings of the last standing SanHedrin and beit dinim. Along with siding with the Talmud Yerushalmi over the Talmud Bavli.

    You can read and listen to his positions on just about any topic at MachonShilo.org

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  22. David Meir,

    "Then it really depends what moment one wishes to freeze in time as the "authentic" interpretation - original Mosaic Law vs. Chazal vs. Rishonim, etc."

    Rabbinic Jews (as opposed to Karaites) believe in the Oral Torah. I do agree that without such a concept, there is little difference between a Tanna presenting Halacha LeMoshe MiSinai, and an opinion or personal taste of an Acharon. Since both RDBH and RNS are Rabbinic Jews, I don't see the point to analyze their views from the perspective of different religions or sects.

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  23. ....Judaism attributes great significance to tradition, and furthermore I'm not sure that he appreciates just how much of a Pandora's box his approach opens....

    I believe this is taking a position that adds to the problem, not helps repair it.

    Bar Hayim rightly feels tradition for its own sake makes no sense. One example he uses is Kitnyos as (if you will) that came from outside Eretz Yisrael to begin with, so why do people in Israel follow it.

    Traditions are in fact ever changing. Before something became a tradition is was obviously NOT a tradition. Therefore traditions can and do come and go with the times.

    To believe older traditions are somehow more valid or untouchable by default also makes no sense nor does it add to Judaism, it just makes in seem locked in and close minded.

    Shalom,

    Rabbi Simon

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  24. If you can get a copy of Oros Hapesach Siman 28 by Hagaon Rav Shlomo Wahrman 1992 (who is accepted and has haskamos by kimat all the gedolim in the Chareidi world), he has a discussion of this issue, and concludes that many Rabbonim follow the Aruch Hashulchan that there is no need to double the kzayis, and it leads to achila gasa. He cites from one of the acharonim that how is it possible that eggs were constant-sized from the time of the mishna until shulchan oruch, but then halved in size in the few years from the time of shulchan aruch until time of the Noda Biyehuda. He also cites that the NB's talmid said he was one of the tallest in his generation, and when he mentioned to the NB that his measurements may therefore be exaggerated, the NB smiled and appeared to agree.

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  25. "To believe older traditions are somehow more valid or untouchable by default also makes no sense nor does it add to Judaism, it just makes in seem locked in and close minded."

    This makes such a mockery of the definition of the word "tradition", I don't know how to take it seriously.

    From wikipedia:
    "The English word "tradition" comes from the Latin traditio, the noun from the verb traderere or tradere (to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping); it was originally used in Roman law to refer to the concept of legal transfers and inheritance.[3][4] According to Anthony Giddens and others, the modern meaning of tradition can be seen as having evolved in the European discourse in the last two hundred years, during the Enlightenment period, as philosophers and thinkers counter posed the concept of modernity with the concept of tradition, in the context of progress.[3][5][6]
    As with many other generic terms, there are many definitions of tradition.[1][2][4][7] The concept includes a number of interrelated ideas; the unifying one is that tradition refers to beliefs, objects or customs performed or believed in in the past, originating in it, transmitted through time by being taught by one generation to the next, and are performed or believed in the present.[1][2]"


    Did you mean to write : ""To believe traditions are somehow more valid or untouchable by default also makes no sense nor does it add to Judaism, it just makes in seem locked in and close minded." ?

    And if not, what did you mean?

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  26. I love when Pesach rolls around each year providing Rav Bar Hayim the opportunity to bring Torath Eretz Yisrael the attention it deserves. What the exile-minded fear the most about Rav Bar Hayim is that he (like very few other Jewish scholars out there, perhaps a Rabbi Wein or a few lesser known personalities) simply cannot be influenced or deterred by the satmar/chassidic/aguda mafiosos and pressure tactics and really does not care what they say about him. That takes all their power away and actually causes people to take notice. Kol hakavod to the Rav and to Rabbi Slifkin.

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  27. Response to Amateur regarding my post.

    Ameteur said...
    "To believe older traditions are somehow more valid or untouchable by default also makes no sense nor does it add to Judaism, it just makes in seem locked in and close minded."

    This makes such a mockery of the definition of the word "tradition", I don't know how to take it seriously.

    From wikipedia:
    "The English word "tradition" comes from the Latin traditio, the noun from the verb traderere or tradere (to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping); it was originally used in Roman law to refer to the concept of legal transfers and inheritance.[3][4] According to Anthony Giddens and others, the modern meaning of tradition can be seen as having evolved in the European discourse in the last two hundred years, during the Enlightenment period, as philosophers and thinkers counter posed the concept of modernity with the concept of tradition, in the context of progress.[3][5][6]
    As with many other generic terms, there are many definitions of tradition.[1][2][4][7] The concept includes a number of interrelated ideas; the unifying one is that tradition refers to beliefs, objects or customs performed or believed in in the past, originating in it, transmitted through time by being taught by one generation to the next, and are performed or believed in the present.[1][2]"

    Did you mean to write : ""To believe traditions are somehow more valid or untouchable by default also makes no sense nor does it add to Judaism, it just makes in seem locked in and close minded." ?

    And if not, what did you mean?...

    Thank You

    I noticed a couple of my type o's, I should proof read before pressing publish. lol.

    To be clear I mean, keeping a tradition only because others observed them before us may not automatically be a valid reason to continue following them.

    That comment requires some explanation.

    1. Kitniot / 2nd day Yom Tov are perfect examples of traditions with Halachos attached that are way past their prime, yet Orthodoxy feels the need to keep them in tact. I do not feel traditional sources ever managed to intellectually justify these traditions and their Halachos in a way that strongly compels subsequent generations to follow them once the reason for them have past or other options are available.

    The fact that later generations of leaders feel so insecure or unworthy, about making changes to our Halachos and Customs should be viewed as a major cop out and very sad for Kal Yisrael.

    Bar Hayim FWIW at least has the courage to try to do what he believes is right and issue a pasak though many will not follow his lead he is trying to make a difference. I do not know him but he seems like a man with courage and conviction.

    2. Purim / Hannukah are traditions with Halachos attached that are very important and essential to our culture, with out going into detail I think we would all would agree.

    The traditions mentioned in #1. are NOT essential to living a Torah lifestyle, nor do they particularly enhance our culture, quality of life, spiritually, etc. Many feel they are rather an unnecessary hardship on people.

    Rabbis should help the people live meaningful Jewish lives not pile on Humrah after Humrah and never clean up the mess.

    On Peasach we clean our homes from Chumatz and our minds from excess Gyvah. The message of Peasach is too important to miss. Clean your house and then help others to clean theirs.

    Sorry in advance for anything unclear.

    Shalom,

    Rabbi Simon

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  28. Regarding the Rosh Chodesh concern. There are a lot more people in the religious Jewish world - such as those who follow the shitah of the Rambam in this matter - who acknowledge the new moon with the appropriate berakhah no matter what the calendar date is. This does not mean, however, that an individual has the ability to "fix" the calendar and say Hallel and Musaf Rosh Chodesh on another day than what the fixed calendar says. This is a completely separate issue. This is why there is a Religious Zionist push to rebuild the Beth HaMikdash and the Sanhedrin to sit within it - only they have the authority to repair the calendar for all of Israel. Everyone wants to note extremes and assume lunacy on the part of people who want to push our people forward rather than live in the [predominantly] European dimyon of the past that is so prevalent and suffocating to a real emunah in HaShem and His Torah. So, they maintain that one would have to "throw the baby out with the bath water" if they moved from their stale place - so they opt to simply be passive and accept the nonsense that is labeled as "Daas Toirah" today. The fact is that real decisions may be made and real change can take place, but it takes shaking off the slumber of galuth and coming back to our senses as the offspring of Avraham Avinu.

    Stop with the cheap shots and excuses and start being a part of the solution.

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  29. "Sorry in advance for anything unclear.

    Shalom,"

    Thank you for clarifiying, makes much more sense now.

    Originally, I thought that maybe you were suggesting creating "new traditions" (an oxymoron if there ever was..) which would be more meaningful, but I see that your clarification makes much more sense to what you intended.

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  30. R. David bar Hayim gave an interesting interview with Yishei Fleisher about Religious Zionists who insist on a "new hashkafah", yet also insist on the same Galut Halacha, and how it's not really compatible at all.

    Interview with R. Bar-Hayim

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