Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Museum Is ROCKING!

This is an incredible week at The Biblical Museum of Natural History. We've broken all our records - most people in a single tour, most tours in a day, most visitors in a day. Below are some highlights from the past three days. There are still some openings for tomorrow and Thursday - if you'd like to come, call 073-213-1162 or email office@tevatanachi.org to book your spot!


This is our first visitor to be brave enough to handle a hedgehog without gloves

Making a new friend

A special encounter

AAAARGH!!! IT'S A HORRIBLE HAIRY THING!!! screamed the tarantula

Golden girl!

A young visitor enjoys one of our new video displays

 Mesmerized by a gecko

Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik with his congregants

Open wide!

Amongst the vilde chayos!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Kezayis Season

Pesach is rapidly approaching, which means that it's nearly time for people to obsess over the size of a kezayis. The monograph that I wrote on the evolution of the kezayis is by far the most popular piece that I have ever published - if you haven't seen it, you can download it at this link. Here are some follow-up posts on the topic:

Matzah/Maror Chart for Rationalists - so that you, too, can have a chart!

The Popularity of Olives - discussing why this paper is so popular and yet hated by some.

Why On Earth Would One Eat A Kezayis?  - discussing the strange notion that one should eat a kezayis of matzah on Seder night.

The Riddle of the Giant Kezayis Defense - wondering why many people would not accept that a kezayis is the size of an olive.

Maniacal Dishonesty About Olives - exposing an error-ridden critique that appeared in the journal Dialogue.

It's Krazy Kezayis Time! - discussing the view that one should eat a huge amount of matzah in a very short time in order to fulfill all opinions.

The Kezayis Revolution - A new sefer by Rav Hadar Margolin presents a wealth of evidence for the smaller size of kezayis, as well as testimonials regarding charedi Gedolim who held this way!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Surprising Reward for Abstaining from Lashon Hara

(A re-post from 2010 - I couldn't resist it, it's my all-time favorite post and it relates to this week's parashah.)

This Shabbos, my adorable five-year-old son was telling me what he had learned about the parashah. He said, "If we say lashon hara, then we get bad things on our skin, and if we don't say lashon hara, we get long animals."

I had been slightly distracted by the antics of one of my other kids, but my attention snapped back at the last part of his sentence. "What? What did you say?" I asked, unsure if I had heard correctly.

"My moreh said that if we don't say lashon hara, we get long animals." He paused, and looked confused. "Aba, is that really true? Will we get long animals?"

My mind struggled to understand what was going on. I know that with my son being in a Hebrew-speaking preschool, sometimes the teacher's words get lost in translation. But what on earth had the teacher said?

Suddenly, I had a burst of inspiration.

"Oy vey!" I said. "Chayyim aruchim does not mean 'long animals,' it means 'long life'! It's chayyim aruchim, not chayyot aruchot!"

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Rationalist Remembrance

A treasured memory from eighteen years ago -
on a canoe with my dad, sipping from coconuts,
during a father-son trip to Mombasa, Kenya.
Tonight is the ninth yahrzeit for my father, Professor Michael Slifkin, of blessed memory. He was a wonderfully patient and good-natured father, a brilliant scientist, and a man of outstanding integrity. In a career spanning biochemistry, physics, electronics, membrane biology, and nanoparticles (amongst other things), he published 197 papers, including 11 in the prestigious journal Nature. He strongly believed in doing the right thing even if it made him unpopular, such as when he voted according to his conscience and not according to what was "the done thing" in England, or when he took on the position of safety officer for university labs and actually enforced safety regulations. He also had a terrific sense of humor!

I decided to deliver a shiur in his honor, for family and friends. However, when my family were planning this event, we realized that if it were to be held tonight, one of my sisters would not be able to make it, due to a scheduling conflict. I therefore said that we should hold the event tomorrow night.

"But that's not actually the date of the yahrzeit!" said someone near and dear to me. "It won't have the proper effect for his neshamah!"

This is, I believe, a terrific example of the difference between the rationalist and mystical worldviews. According to the mystical worldview, our actions serve to manipulate various metaphysical energies. If they are not done in exactly the "right" way, then they don't have any effect. According to the rationalist worldview, on the other hand, our actions are not manipulating any metaphysical energies. The date of a person's passing is a meaningful and appropriate time to honor their memory. If it's done a day late, in order to better accommodate the family, that honors their memory more, not less.

This also relates to the fundamental nature of what one does for the deceased, a topic that I examined in detail upon the passing of my dear mother-in-law, Anne Samson, of blessed memory - see my essay, "What Can One Do For Someone Who Has Passed Away?" In brief, the mystical viewpoint, of very recent origin, is that one elevates the soul of the deceased by doing mitzvos whose reward is transferred to their mitzvah-account. The classical and rationalist view, on the other hand, is that by doing memorial events we honor their memory, and by performing good deeds we become a credit to their influence.

Dad, I love you dearly, and I miss you more than ever. I'm sure you would understand why we are doing the shiur a day late. Because amongst the many good qualities that you taught me, one of them was common sense!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

It's Jumping Elephant Day!

Today is when Daf Yomi reaches the Case of The Jumping Elephant! You can download my essay on this topic at this link.

Y'know, it's funny. There were people who went crazy with me for saying that one of the Tosafists never saw an elephant. On the other hand, Rabbi Moshe Meiselman says that all of the Rishonim were repeatedly wrong in their basic understanding of several topics in the Gemara! I am waiting for Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel to be consistent and to condemn Rabbi Meiselman, too.

Meanwhile, I am still receiving objections to this topic. Somebody wrote to me yesterday, arguing that Tosafos could be understood as referring to an elephant jumping in the water, or on a trampoline! I kid you not!

(See too this post: Sugar for Elephants)


The Heresy of Noah's Crystal

Following on from last week's post about the ban on "Peshuto Shel Mikra," let's discuss an example of the purported heres...