Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Kezayis Revolution!

This is amazing!

My article on "The Evolution of the Olive," which explains how the measurement of a kezayis got to be so big if olives are so small, is probably the most widely-read of all my articles. Although there's nothing really controversial about it, many anti-rationalists nevertheless deem it problematic. This is partly because they are very uncomfortable with saying that the Rishonim of Ashkenaz did not know the size of an olive (although strangely they seem to be fine with Rabbi Meiselman repeatedly saying that all the Rishonim are wrong), and perhaps in part simply because it was written by me. The charedi polemical journal Dialogue included an article that fabricated some sources and ignored others in order to challenge me on this topic and to claim that olives used to be bigger. Someone told me that he asked Rav Aharon Feldman about my article on kezayis, and Rav Feldman replied that he is writing a full-length rejoinder to be published soon.

Well, last week somebody presented me with a fabulous sefer written by Rabbi Hadar Margolin. Titled Hiddurei HaMiddos, it mostly focuses on the size of a kezayis. And, albeit in a much more yeshivishe manner, it makes all the points that I made in my article and in my blog posts:
  • Olives were always the same size as those of today.
  • The Rishonim of Ashkenaz only said otherwise because they had no access to olives.
  • There are sources from several Rishonim that the kezayis is the same size of the olives of today.
  • Eggs were likewise never any bigger than they are today.
  • The only reason to assess a kezayis in terms of a proportion of an egg is if you don't know how big an olive is.
  • The kezayis is supposed to be a minimum, less than which is not even an act of eating; it's certainly not a "target" that one should struggle to get down.
Best of all, this work presents an astonishing array of evidence that recent charedi gedolim likewise held that a kezayis is very small, including even the Chazon Ish! There is a testimonial from a rav who asked the Steipler Gaon how much matzah the Chazon Ish gave out at his seder, and the Steipler replied that in a piece of matzah the size of a palm, there were two kezaysim. Likewise there is a statement from Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach that if necessary, one can rely on Rav Chaim of Volozhin's position that a kezayis is the size of a regular olive. There are many other such statements from leading charedi rabbinic authorities. (Considering this work, a fascinating question arises. What is the charedi mesorah? Is it what the oilom of today does, or is it what the Gedolim of yesteryear held?)

I asked Rabbi Margolin if I could make his sefer available for my readers, and he kindly consented. So here is the entire work for download! (it is a 16mb PDF). This is one small step for mankind, and one giant leap for Rationalist Judaism!

48 comments:

  1. Maybe I missed it, but I have long wondered why I never saw anyone quoting the Aruch Hashulchan (Orech Chaim 486:1) and his sound rejection of doubling shiurim in just this context.

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  2. I'm surprised at your surprise. At the end of the sefer מדות ושיעורי תורה by ר' חיים בניש there is an article which makes all of these points. That article was reprinted in that sefer after having first been published in the (chareidi) journal אור ישראל affiliated with Stoliner chassidus. I presume you are familiar with that article because you reference it in a footnote (and, if you'll pardon me, the bulk of your article seems to have been lifted from there).

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    1. Yes, that's a wonderful article which I quoted and made great use of. But this is an entire sefer, which is much higher profile, and with amazing haskamos!

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  3. While I agree that in general your approach is certainly correct, your penultimate point ("the only reason to assess a kezayis in terms of a proportion of an egg is if you don't know how big an olive is") could be phrased more carefully. Rabbi Margolin recommends using a kezayis of between 17-20 cc; this is based on a calculation involving eggs and is certainly larger than an olive.

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    1. Actually, if you read the sefer carefully, you'll see that that is a tactical measure to gain wider acceptance.

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    2. I'm not sure I agree. It's difficult to prove what an author's "true" intentions are, but, for example, in his guidelines for 'motzi matzah' on page 116, R. Margolin allows using a shiur of 17cc (which itself is larger than an olive-based measure) "b'shaas hadchak". It is only for the mitzvah of 'korech', on page 117, that he allows using the 5cc, olive-based measure "b'shaas hadchak", and even that only after a "sh'eilas chacham".

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    3. Well, one way is to speak to the author...

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  4. Here's what cracks me up (and I'm just stealing R. Haym Soloveitchik's point here but this is such a delicious example of it...)

    Do we really need a 400 page book to tell us the size of an olive?
    How messed up has our world become?
    How much discussion is really needed?
    How far have we really fallen when we care enough to write a book like this?
    Pitting olives while jeruslem burns, as it were.

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    1. Ever hear of multitasking?

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  5. I would like to raise an important point.

    The focus here is on the size of the olive.

    However, I think the historical size of eggs should also be examined in such a study, due to the two sizes being linked in texts. If the size of eggs doubled (if not more than that), for example, in modern times, due to breeding and scientific, nutritional, health, and agricultural advances, and therefore, some people, not realizing what had happened, correspondingly doubled the size/shiur of kezayis, that needs to be acknowledged, brought out, addressed, and taken into account.

    Do these new studies address this angle?

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    1. Yes, that is addressed both in my monograph and in Rabbi Margolin's book.

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  6. I feel guilty asking this question after reading Fozziebear's post, but: "a kezayis is the size of a regular olive" - Is this before or after compressing the matza using 50,000 psi?

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    1. I've always wondered what exactly a kezayit of ashkenazi cracker matzah is. And why ashkenazim use crackers for matzah in the first place...

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    2. Just as much an issue for bread with its air pockets and stippling. And I don't know the answer.

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  7. While the practical shiur for a revi'it (1.5 large or extra-large eggs) in principle involves a measurement of actual egg volumes, the shiur of a zayit for matzoh and marror need not or should not involve such a volume measurement. The usual means of such a measurement is to assume some value for the volume of a zayit (usually exaggerated) and then to measure off that volume of matzoh meal while noting its weight. The ratio of that weight to the average weight of a whole matzoh is then used to determine the fraction of a matzoh allegedly corresponding to a zayit. The measurement is problematic even if the volume is realistic. The bulk density of the matzoh meal which is actually being measured is dependent on the fineness of the grind and whether or not tamping has occurred. Moreover, there is no need to exclude the tiny air pockets in a matzoh from the measurement of its volume. Grinding a matzoh to exclude such air pockets as well as to facilitate the volume measurement is therefore unnecessary and misleading. One practical determination of a zayit volume for matzoh and marror (lettuce) is to break the matzoh (of fold the lettuce) into small olive sized pieces and to build up a thickness equal to, say, twice the thickness of a normal large olive (to take into account the large spaces between the pieces of matzoh or leaves of lettuce). While I can't rule for others, this is the procedure that I have followed for myself and family over the years. Moreover such estimation methods have been traditionally used over the generations.


    Y. Aharon

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  8. I can't talk for Israel, but here in the US, the large size of a charedi kezayis of matza is not just "what the oilam does" but is based on Igros Moshe -- as are many practices, charedi and non, here.

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    1. In the Pesach period last year, Rabbi Boruch Hirshfeld of Cleveland, OH, stated that the shiurim in the widely circulated laminated color chart for Pesach shiurim, are not from Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l himself. Rather, a kollel afilliated with his yeshiva made it, incorporating various chumras to try to satisfy all opinions.

      You can hear this (and other important related info) after 16:00 at http://podcast.headlinesbook.com/e/3-28-15-headlines/

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    2. I have the Kol Dodi Haggadah from Rav Dovid Feinstein and it has the larger Shiurim, I'm pretty sure it's in the name of his father. I don't have it handy right now.

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    3. Don't have it handy either but my undertstanding is that the size of the actual kzayis is from R' Moshe. R' Dovid's contribution was to measure the volume of matza by crushing it. Yes, that's also a chumra, but not the one under discussion here.

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    4. There is a teshuva in Igros Moshe which says that a k'zayis has to contain that amount of flour - not the final baked product. That would seem to imply that he also holds that the matza must be crushed.

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  9. Anyone with a connection to people from a couple of generations ago, and certainly to the pre-war world, knows that the kezayis issue is for the most part a non-issue that was popularized only in the past 30 years or so.

    I'm not even that old, and I don't recall any of my grandparents, who were considerable talmidei chachamim from prominent families in eastern europe, making any deal about this issue. They simply ate a reasonable amount of matzo and gave the same to everyone at the Seder, and this issue barely ever even came up for consideration.

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    1. This "chumra inflation" has happened in a lot of areas of halakha in the past 60 odd years.

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    2. Future history will show the post-WWII period to have been a blip, a variation that periodically happens because of major events (like WWII.) We are already starting to see the pendulum correction, thanks in large part to this blog and others like it.

      I offer myself as an example. My grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, never worried about shiurim. He just ate a reasonable amount of matzah. My father, though, influenced by the shiurim sheets that came into vogue in the late 80s/early 90s, and also by the affluence of the times and easy availability of matzah, started giving out massive amounts of matzah. But I have gone back to מנהג ישראל סבא. I am sure this story is typical for many.

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  10. Using an actual olive size would also be a great help to people with celiac disease. (That is, actually allergic to gluten, not just avoiding it as part of the fad.) Today, such people may eat oat matzah, which may not even be matzah. (No gluten=can't be chametz=can't be matzah.) Spelt may be better, but this would probably be ideal.

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    1. Oats are not the five species - they never grew in E"Y. True, the haredi world doesn't pasken light that. But for those who believe you cannot pasken that the sky is orange and make it be true, you can't pasken oats are the five species. And its a huge safek d'oraitha

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    2. That's what I meant.

      For the same reason, the five species can't include bread wheat (that is, what we commonly call "wheat"), spelt, or rye. But those (especially the first two) are related closely enough to the five species* to at least rank as chametz if not matzah. Oats aren't, don't even contain gluten, and at best may be kitniot.

      R' Elyashiv admitted this but said that tradition, even mistaken, should count for something. He has a point, of course, but not strong enough to make matza, I'd think.

      *Most likely durum wheat, einkorn wheat, emmer wheat, two-row barley, and six-row barley.

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    3. Every year around pesach there are shiurim about celiac and matzah. The one thing I haven't heard is why this isn't a basic case of ones dirachmana. If you're medically not supposed to eat matzah, then why is simply not eating matzah not a valid option?

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    4. This blog is certainly thought provoking, (that’s why I'm here!)

      I feel compelled to point out however, that all vestiges of ahavas Yisrael are painfully lacking. This blog has become a platform for “bashing”. All groups and individuals seem fair “game” for attacking or denigrating.

      Why can’t there be intellectual discussions on this blog without personal attacks and hate? More importantly, define yourself by what positive qualities or ideas you posses, not by the failings or flaws of others!

      Rationalist Judaism should not be about, not being charedi or not having those “extreme” ideologies. That’s a futile and unworthy mission. Rationalist Judaism needs to present a viable approach to Judaism. What does it have to offer? What is it about? Not, we are because we are not like “them”

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    5. Modern_Orthodox, you are broadly correct. However I would like to point out that one of the reasons everyone on this blog is constantly declaring their positions to be clearly opposed to that of the Charedi world is that they have much experience with things that are not declared so being co-opted and transformed by the Charedi world.

      Too many people/movements/institutions that are very non-charedi in the beginning fall prey to the widespread general assumption that Charedi Judaism is, after all, the authentic Judaism. When combating a force which has a stated goal of swallowing all legitimate things and labeling all things left out as illegitimate, a big part of establishing an alternative position is clearly locating oneself in contrast to the big force, even if that does sometimes admittedly descend into petty sniping.

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  11. Congratulations! This is wonderful news.

    So perhaps there is now some reason to hope that the Luddites will eventually break down and accept the massive evidence supporting the use of murex trunculus techeiles.

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  12. "in a piece of matzah the size of a palm, there were two kezaysim"

    Maybe he meant a date palm?

    Or maybe the palms back then were bigger?

    :-)

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  13. Massive chumra. Now I can't eat as much cheilev.

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  14. I am very disappointed that the author appears to dismiss Professor Greenfield's explanation of how an etsba is measured in a footnote, due to the Steipler's rejection of that explanation, despite the fact that no less than three famous gedolei Yisrael accepted it- the Rogochover, the Ohr Sameach, and Rabbi Eliezer Silver.

    Shmooli

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    1. The Steipler gave him permission to publish it. His objection, which he published has to do with the use of word for width.

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  15. Considering it took ten people to carry a grape vine by the meraglim, maybe a kezayis is the size of a basketball.

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    1. Grape vines can be massive if they have sufficient water, sunshine and hospitable soil and are not trimmed and pruned to optimise fruit quality and ease harvesting. Ivy, a variety of the grape can cover entire buildings.

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    2. A tremendous vine doesn't imply that each individual grape is proportionally oversized!

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  16. Kudos to Joseph & DF above.

    Does it really matter how much matzah one eats or how much wine (red, white, whatever) one drinks per cup at the Seder. Just eat some matzah & drink some wine. Since when was being obsessive-compulsive a deoraita mitzvah?

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    1. While I agree with your sentiment, we are talking about a religion that codifies how to put on your shoes in the morning and how to clean yourself after using the bathroom.

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    2. I can understand your excitement in the context of this blog but take a step back and its enormously depressing.

      You are very excited because an entire book has just been written proving that an olive is the size of an olive.

      This is the major issue in Judaism at a time when people are being blown up in Europe, the Middle East is in civil war and we are facing impending disaster from climate change.

      Did Hashem chose us so that we could debate the size of an olive? Is this our mission in the world?

      I think that when later generations look back at us, they will shake their heads at our small-mindedness.

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    3. That's why I described it as a small step for mankind!

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    4. G*3, perhaps ours having become "a religion that codifies how to put on your shoes in the morning and how to clean yourself after using the bathroom" points to a problem that needs correcting. We've become so fixated on the minutae of particular trees that some of us tend to forget there's a whole forest out there. We've become very big on very small things. Medieval Christians debated how many angels could dance on the head of a pin; we split hairs over the size of an olive.

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    5. This sub-thread is what's depressing. Yes, hashem mot definitely created us to debate the size of an olive if we are doing so because w care baout his mitsvot so much. He also created us to to do lots of other things. We're complex creatures. But the bitterness at traditional is disheartening. Why do you even read R' Slifkin and others who are obviously punctilious in their mitsvot observance?

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  17. A very very small step no bigger than a kezayis

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  18. G*3

    "While I agree with your sentiment, we are talking about a religion that codifies how to put on your shoes in the morning and how to clean yourself after using the bathroom."

    Yes but the Torah also talks about alleviating poverty and promoting justice. The fact that there is a law in the Shulchan Arukh doesn't mean that it has to be the center of one's attention.

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  19. When I compare what the Pope is talking about to what's we're discussing I'm red with shame.

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  20. This controversy could, I think, be resolved, at least in part, if we could just say that we now know that the assumed size of an olive was simply wrong. Why is it so hard, considered so disrespectful and heretic to admit that, while acknowledging that they were very intelligent men, very learned men, and very righteous men, they were still, after all, just men and they could make a mistake? I have a hard time accepting that they all had perfect and infallible knowledge. Has such a man ever walked the earth?

    When we refuse to correct ourselves, doesn't that just make us look stupid and silly? And perhaps we are? And perhaps that is one reason that so many people can't buy into frum Judaism?

    When we refuse to correct ourselves, I think it burdens us with layers of unnecessary practices that are harder and harder to make a meaningful part of our lives; we have to spend so much time getting it "right" that we forget the joy and fulfillment that there is in frumkeit. It seems that one could make a case that we have raised the Obsessive Compulsiveness mental disorder into a lauded and standard practice.

    How does this extreme attention to such detail contribute to our spirituality, how does it help us connect to Hashem? I cannot find any good purpose for it. It is a distraction. It is, perhaps, an excuse for those who don't otherwise know how to make Hashem a reality in their lives?

    Who are we doing all this for, anyway? Does anyone really think that Hashem is interested if we mechanically and obsessively eat large and exacting quantities of matza and wine or does He really just want us to remember the Exodus, tell the story, and eat a good bit of matza and wine? What is the hiddur mitzvah?

    I think we have lost our way.

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