Thursday, August 3, 2017

Time Travel

This Sunday morning, I am flying from Melbourne to Los Angeles. My flight leaves Melbourne at 9:15am Sunday. The flight is long - over fourteen hours. And it arrives in Los Angeles at 6:30 am - on the same day.

I am traveling back in time! It's going to be the longest day of my life (unless we are speaking metaphorically, in which case we have to give precedence to days in which I was at Misrad HaPenim).

Halachically, it raises all kinds of interesting questions. Which tefillos do I davven? When do I davven them? Does Shabbos come back again briefly for me, and if so, do I make kiddush/havdalah? (See extensive halachic discussion on these issues at this link.)

Such questions, and the very concept of the International Date Line - and the question of where, halachically, to set it - potentially relate to the rationalist/mystic divide. According the mystical approach, halachic reality is a metaphysical reality which is "out there" and we have to discover it. There is a metaphysical dateline, and we have to try to figure out where it is. According to the rationalist approach, on the other hand, halachic reality is institutional. We create halachah, by the application of halachic principles to the best of our ability. Once created, it is what we created.

For further discussion on this point, as well as on the related topic of what Chazal and the Rishonim believed to be the shape of the world, see my post Rationalism and the International Dateline.

55 comments:

  1. Rabbi Slifkin, do you have a copy of Rav Zimmerman's "Agan HaSahar" handy? ;)

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  2. We create halachah, by the application of halachic principles to the best of our ability. Once created, it is what we created.

    How does this square with the mitzva of the Sanhedrin bringing a korban when it makes a mistake? If there is no God-desired set of halachot which we are aspiring to match as closely as possible using our intellect and the basic principles of Judaism, to what can we possibly be comparing the Sanhedrin's decision when we determine that the Sanhedrin was wrong and this other thing was right?

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    1. Because they can admit to mistaken reasoning or missing a precedent. Judges can change their minds. I haven't looked into the practicals of this, but Sanhedrin also changes membership, so they could also overrule themselves because later judges see things differently. This explanation would also be needed to explain the fact that an individual who "knows" that the Sanhedrin erred is prohibited from following its ruling in ritual matters.

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  3. There is a Halachik discussion as to where the (Halachik) date line is placed. The *International* Date Line refers to the one agreed by the international community.

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    1. There's actually no agreement. Each political entity decides which side of the line they are on and some have changed when political borders changes (e.g. Alaska). See here for examples.

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  4. This issue is different. Even mystical types may be rational because there is no mesorah for a dateline (no mention in Shas). I mentioned tonight that the Betzel Hachochmo is a prime source for these Halachos. I looked it up and his opinion would be that the rising of the sun causes a chiyyuv, as opposed to the 'name' if a day. Accordingly you have two Shachreisim on your way home.

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  5. The notion of the halacha being "out there", you probably know, is literally the exact same formulation that old (and outdated) legal philosophers used to say about the law. That it was "out there", and the Judges, by their legal scholarship, went out and found it. Few people believe that anymore. Most people today are called "legal realists", which recognize that law is created by men by the application of legal principles to the best of our ability.

    I am sure you're aware of this, given that it is, in all practical points, the same "debate", if it can still be called a debate, between what you call rationalists and mystics. If you're not aware of it, there's a vast amount of literature on the subject, some of which we studied in law school. It's all pretty boring, though.

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  6. I assume that you know what to do about the International Date Line or any such 'line' that you will cross whether it be the Chazon Ish line as you leave Australia, the secular line in the mid-Pacific, or the line crossing eastern Alaska. The rational position, as I see it, is the view of Rav Zvi Pesach Frank and Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer that there is no halachic 'date line' and that one follows the day count of the local Jewish community or one's own sunrise/sunset day count - if there is no established Jewish community. I would think that one would wait until one reached LA in the morning of the a same nominal day to avoid duplicating tefilot. If one had to fly on Tisha B'Av, or another major ta'anit, one would end the fast as soon as the sky was completely dark. However, the above is just for discussion purposes. I don't pretend to be able to judge for others.

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    1. ">The rational position...is that there is no halachic 'date line' and that one follows the day count of the local Jewish community."<

      Yes, agreed. The proof of that is that there is no Jewish community in the world, nor has there ever been one, in which Shabbos is kept on any day other than the local Saturday. Hawaii, Australia, Japan, etc, all keep it on the local Saturday. It does not speak well for the Mir yeshivah that they asked a "shailah" about this while temporarily located in Kobe, during WWII. There had been an established Jewish community there long before the Mir came, with thousands of other Jews, and they all kept Shabbos on Saturday. It was מיחזי כיהורא for the Mir yeshiva even to ask the question, not to mention הוצאת לעז על הראשונים. Unfortunately, these principles are often selectively employed, especially by the charedi/yeshivah world.

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    2. I think that is going overboard. The dateline question had been posed in the 19th century, but not resolved. While it is true that the first Jews in Kobe simply kept to the local Saturday, it is not illegitimate to ask the question (I don't know that it is ever illegitimate to ask a question anyhow). Perhaps the first inhabitants simply acted in ignorance, since this was a completely new issue. And Rav Herzog did not reply that this was a stupid question; he convened the Rabbis to discuss it. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I don't see in the accounts of that decision that you have local Rabbis of Kobe issuing a considered P'sak. The people did what was natural. The don't think that the notion of "הוצאת לעז על הראשונים" means that whoever gets there first is automatically right. It means that we when there are two ways of looking at things, we should give weight to the longstanding practice.

      I do think, that while it I'm not on the level to really state this, that that Chazon Ish should not have issued a P'sak independent of all the other Rabbis. This is the kind of issue where there needs to be some kind of majority rule so that people know what to do.

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    3. I agree with you david that such places may not have such great reliable traditions. i have recently seen a teshuva by ben ish chai about eggplant and orlah where he says the tradition of the people of bombay india dont count at all becuase it is unknown what scholars lived there and who was there to rely on. the same argument can probably be made about kobe. (and bear in mind we are talking about shabbos and yom kipper not nusach hatefillah.

      but your second point about the chazon ish, it is rather intersting as chazon ish writes in a letter that he everything he writes is derech limudo, and if someone relies on him he does not take responibility ! except byt the date line he sees fit to get involved and issue a ruling!

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    4. David, while DF may have overstated the case against the position that that 90 deg. longitude east of J'lem constituted an 'halachic' date line (crossing China and the western third of Australia), it need not reflect poorly on the Mir yeshiva in Kobe to have asked the question about when to observe Shabbat and Yom Kippur east of that dateline. Yeshiva people are geared to textual analysis. The first discussion of a date line by a Talmudic commentator was the putative resolution of an odd statement of the sages in T.B. Rosh Hashanah by R' Zerachya Halevi who introduced the idea of a date line into Talmudic discourse (the same idea was presented in a non-halachic context by R' Yehuda Halevi). He advanced the notion that the date line was 90 deg. east of Israel. While he is not one of the pillars of Halacha (much less R' Yehuda Halevi), his is apparently the only 'halachic' discussion on the subject by a Rishon. The fact that his explanation of the gemara leaves much to be desired (why would an Amora in Bavel living a few degrees east longitude from Israel consider that that the gemara was referring to someone living in the eastern end of Asia as 'lon' (us). Nonetheless, the Hazon Ish used that 90 deg line in his ruling for the Mir yeshiva, but made the rational adjustment that a contiguous territory must have the same date. Thus, all of Asia has the same day, as does all of Australia (since the western part is west of the above date line). However an island territory falling east of the line, like Japan, has a different day (as does New Zealand). I note that R' Herschel Shachter has the same viewpoint. However, as noted previously, R' Zvi Pesach Frank, the leading J'lem posek during the wartime, and R' Isser Zalman Meltzer, the leading J'lem rosh yeshiva had both argued against the idea of any halachic dateline.

      The rational position that I had argued was to disregard any date line in the determination of the day of the week. Jews who settled in the far corners of the world are expected to have kept track of the days when they journeyed since Shabbat and the calendrical observances were involved. Jews first settled Australia and Japan moving eastward from Europe and Asia, respectively. They didn't concern themselves with some 90 degree date line. They just counted days based on the sun and stars. Why should their count be superseded by some attempt at understanding a problematic statement of the sages? If Hawaii has an old Jewish community, they presumably came there from the Americas traveling west. The above argument would then hold for when to observe Shabbat there. The question arises about areas without an established, observant Jewish community. Do you use the local day, your own count of days from the start of your travel, or both? In any case, the dateline, however defined, is not directly relevant.
      The above is purely for discussion purposes rather than practical Halacha.

      Y. Aharon

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    5. Y. Aharon, I agree with everything you say. My comment above was that it was not improper for the Mir Yeshiva students to have asked the question. I do think, although I don't have the right to say anything, that the Chazon Ish should not have issued an individual p'sak in this case.

      I've heard Rav Schachter on this. He makes a number of statements that it is easy to take issue with. He repeats the assertion of the Chazon Ish that all Rishonim agree with his position that the dateline starts at the cost of China, while it is doubtful that any actually agree. He also states that Rav Tukachinski didn't know who the Chazon Ish was. I read Rav Tukachinski's account and that is not what he says. WADR, he seems to be overconfident on this topic.

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    6. Just to add one point. Reb Isser Zalman has no recorded pesak against the CI. He wrote a letter asking a question on the peshat the CI said regarding the dateline. He did not pasken at all.
      Shortly after his death, a known forger suddenly printed a letter, purportedly written in his final days. The same forger came up with a story from the CI on his final day. A pinch of salt is called for.

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    7. I can only offer the citations of some foremost near-contemporary rabbinic figures about the issue of an halachic dateline. I don't have access to these sources for verification. Rav Z.P. Frank's view that there is no halachic dateline is cited in his sefer, Har Zvi, OH 138. Rav I.Z. Meltzer's similar view is from an approbation to the sefer on the subject by Rav M.M. Kasher. An additional such citation is from the sefer of t'shuvot from the Radbaz 1:76. As I recollect from a lecture on the subject by Rav Herschel Shachter, he made no mention was made of any of these figures other than Rav Kasher who was simply dismissed as an authority. I also do not recollect a citation of Rav M. Feinstein, Rav S.Z. Auerbach, Rav Y.S. Elyashiv, and others who are said to have supported Rav Tukachintzky's view that the halachic dateline was 180 deg. from J'lem.

      Y. Aharon

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    8. Y. Aharon, he thinks that Rav Kasher forged that letter of Rav Meltzer.

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  7. I think there is a school of thought that believes that halachic reality is a combination of discovered and created.

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  8. It seems quite twisted to say that in the Far East where Jews kept mitzvos as well as Shabbos for centuries based on their local Rabbonim who decided Shabbos is the local Saturday, yet people in the very modern era while using modern technological tools thousands of miles away decided that those people are and were wrong.

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    1. Can we hear any source for these 'centuries' that people kept Shabbos on Saturday?

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    2. Jewish traders along the Silk Road which stretches from the Mediterranean Sea and Persia to China, Japan, and Korea.

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  9. Just make sure that your flight doesn't stop in Hawaii on the way (Some flights do), because it would be Saturday Afternoon in Hawaii and then you'd have all kinds of problems.

    As an aside I once met a Australian businessman who regularly traveled to New Zealand on a Sunday afternoon flight (he was a semi-regular regular at the Monday morning minyan in Wellington). In accordance with the Chazon Ish's view, in Summer if he flew on Sunday before Shkiya, as soon as the plain took off (and he was entering Shabbat as soon as he left Australia) he was careful not to do malacha until it got dark outside - although I don't think he made Havdalla again.

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  10. I think that there is different distinction, perhaps related to the distinction that you mention, that comes into play here. There is a claim by some that halacha (and specifically the corpus of Gemara and Rishonim) has an answer to every question. I've heard Rav Schachter say this explicitly on some recorded shiur. If you think that is true, then you will scrutinize the Gemara and Rishonim and try to derive the halacha from their discussions, even if they weren't completely knowledgeable of the facts. This comes up in both this issue and in the brain death issue where people try to figure out what Chazal would have said, even though the phenomena under discussion (person kept alive through artificial respiration) did not yet exist.

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  11. Lol @ the booth! Wishing you a most excellent adventure

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  12. A few hours after take off you cross back into Shabbos, according to all shittos of the date line. Do you know when the next sunset is?

    What did your rabbi tell you to do? Take muktzah out of your pocket? Make sure you use a non-Jew to open and close the bathroom door. I am genuinely curious. Some Rabbis say take sleeping pills to sleep through the shabbos period, although I can't agree with that one, that will make you groggy and sick.

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    1. A few hours after take off you cross back into Shabbos, according to all shittos of the date line. Do you know when the next sunset is?

      I don't think that it is "all shittos". There is position that you keep your personal 6+1 count until you are back in "civilization" and then take on their count. The "all shittos" that you refer to are all the ones with a dateline; not everyone agrees that there is one.

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    2. Thats why I wrote "shittos of the date line". Quite apart from the fact that is a posek long before the era of aeroplanes or when the date mattered for legal matters. Nowadays The aeroplane may well be 'civilisation' even according to those poskim. Legally if a baby was born or somebody died on board the legal dob or dod would be determined by the IDL.

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    3. Thats why I wrote "shittos of the date line".

      Fair enough.

      Quite apart from the fact that is a posek long before the era of aeroplanes or when the date mattered for legal matters.

      No true.

      Nowadays The aeroplane may well be 'civilisation' even according to those poskim.

      I don't know why it would be moreso than a ship.

      But I think that you miss the point. On the airplane itself, nothing happened. Those on the airplane will certainly not say that the day changed. The problem comes about when you arrive in a location where the inhabitants have experienced more or fewer sunsets than you have; that is when you have a contradiction to resolve. The people on the plane have all experienced the same number of sunsets, so they will agree on the day of the week. When he arrived in Los Angeles, he had experienced one more sunset since last Shabbos than those who stayed in Los Angeles.

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    4. People on the plane would very much say it mattered. As I wrote, if an event happened when the legal date mattered, such as a birth, death or a contract signed between two businessmen it would matter. As would the pilots log. That is the difference to a few sailors on a boat and when that teshuvoh was written i doubt dates had such legal significance. In any event again that is one posek out of many.



      In any event poskim write one should avoid taking such a flight or at least ensure no melocho is done and muktzah is removed the shabbos part of the flight. It is a sofek d'oreysah after all.

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    5. People on the plane would very much say it mattered. As I wrote, if an event happened when the legal date mattered, such as a birth, death or a contract signed between two businessmen it would matter.

      Actually, this isn't true at all. The pilots log would always be expressed in UTC (Universal Time Coordinated) aka GMT aka Zulu time. Where you are and what timezone you use to express a given time time are two completely different things. 8PM ET Monday = 3AM Israel Time Tuesday whether I'm standing in Baltimore, Haifa or anywhere else. Otherwise you could not have businessmen in different timezones agree on anything.

      I'll also point out that timezones themselves are somewhat arbitrary constructs. When it is noon today in ET (which is where I live), it is not really noon by either my Mean Solar Time, nor by the actual crossing of the sun across my local meridian. Yes, there may be a few oddballs who try to keep changing their watch over each timezone that their in, but most people just reset their watch one time (or nowawadays, they just wait until they can turn their phone out of airplane mode, and the phone auto updates to the local timezone).

      In any event again that is one posek out of many.

      More than one it seems.

      In any event poskim write one should avoid taking such a flight or at least ensure no melocho is done and muktzah is removed the shabbos part of the flight. It is a sofek d'oreysah after all.

      For some it would be a safek and for others a vadai one way or the other. I don't think that the Chazon Ish felt there was any safek at all.

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    6. Ok pilot might. But not businesman or birth or death days.

      The Chazon Ish would be one of those who hold no sofek, its shabbos. By sofek i meant sofek between the poskim who hold it is shabbos and those who hold it isn't until you land.

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    7. Ok pilot might. But not businesman or birth or death days.

      Please give an example. E.g. if you are trying to figure out which lien was placed first, then it makes no difference where you are on the globe.

      It's also unclear why you think that this makes any difference.

      The Chazon Ish would be one of those who hold no sofek, its shabbos. By sofek i meant sofek between the poskim who hold it is shabbos and those who hold it isn't until you land.

      The Chazon Ish is not a Amora or even a Rishon. You don't have to consider every opinion of every Acharon to be a safek. Especially in the case of R Slifkin, who belongs to a group where the Chazon Ish is not an authority especially as a singular opinion against authority of R Herzog and his gathering of authorities.

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    8. "The CI is not an amora or rishon"

      If you only want to consider rishonim then you have crossed back into shabbos.

      You can't have your cake and eat it. If you want to apply the acharonim that consider the trigger when you reach civilisation,then you have to reckon with the Chazon ish to.

      We don't do counting up, at the end of the day RNS has not got koach hachrohoh to decide against the CI, Rav Tushanesky etc and insist that it is not a sofek at all. It is a sofek in halocho between all the poskim, whether you wish to admit it or not. And it is a d'oreysah sofek.

      You do not have to count every acharon but the CI is a very important one. Rabbi Skifkin belongs to a group of how many exactly? Does he have a specific rabbi-talmud mesorah that permits him to ignore the CI and others who hold that he crossed the date line, to the extent that it is not even a sofek in his eyes?

      And as I have mentioned before, a plane in today's world may well count as civilisation anyway. I am not sure what example you want. I have given examples. Somebody born on a plane will have his legal birthday following the IDL. As will businessmen signing a contract. Planes these days are subject to laws and are civilised places. Unlike a few sailors when those teshuvous were written. So it is also a sofek whether those teshuvous are applicable.

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    9. Again. Its not just the CI. According to all the shittos that there is a date line (many acharonim and rishonim) they have all been crossed soon after take off.

      If you asked cabin crew what day of the week it is they would answer according to the IDL. If a contract of insurance was signed commencing one minute after minute on the date of signature at the place of signature, it would follow the IDL. A plane in the 21st century is a very civilised place and not comparable to a lone boat in the middle of the ocean.

      It is not clear how somebody (especially not a rav or a posek) can decide of his own accord and off his own back that it is not a sofek at all and decide to be machriah. That is not the way halocho has ever worked. At least concede it is a sofek d'oreysoh and avoid melocho and muktzah during that period. What's the big deal?

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    10. The Satmar Rav also held that there is no dateline:

      http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=15016&st=&pgnum=108

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    11. If you only want to consider rishonim then you have crossed back into shabbos.

      I don't agree. You have the Baal Hamoar and the Kuzari with a vague division of some kind somewhere between Israel and China, and then you have others not creating a dateline.

      You can't have your cake and eat it. If you want to apply the acharonim that consider the trigger when you reach civilisation,then you have to reckon with the Chazon ish to.

      No, you don't. There is no principle what we can't decide among Acharonim like there is with Rishonim (and even the Rishonim rule is not always adhered to). The Chazon Ish can be rejected (in fact he was rejected by the Rabbinic conference on the topic).

      We don't do counting up, at the end of the day RNS has not got koach hachrohoh to decide against the CI, Rav Tushanesky etc and insist that it is not a sofek at all. It is a sofek in halocho between all the poskim, whether you wish to admit it or not. And it is a d'oreysah sofek.

      This is wrong. Whether R Slifkin would do so or defer to others is up to him. But it is completely valid to follow the P'sak of an Acharon against others.

      You do not have to count every acharon but the CI is a very important one.

      He was a great Talmid Chacham and he is very important for the Ashkenazi Charedi world. He is simply not as important or not important at all for other camps. Just think about how the great Zionist Poskim + the Sefardi poskim count as zeroes in the Ashekenazi Charedi camp and you can understand how this is. In this particular case, it applies all the more as he ignored all of the other Rabbis on the topic and went out out his own with a very hard to understand P'sak.

      Rabbi Skifkin belongs to a group of how many exactly?

      I can't speak for him, but I think that he moved to the Zionist camp so that the Charedi poskim are no longer his poskim (although it is not symmetrical and the Zionist don't consider the Charedi poskim to be zeroes, they are also not bound by them in the way that the Charedim are).

      Does he have a specific rabbi-talmud mesorah that permits him to ignore the CI and others who hold that he crossed the date line, to the extent that it is not even a sofek in his eyes?

      I don't know, but if he has left the Charedi camp, then the answer would be that he has the right to. You agree, since the Charedim do that to all the other camps.

      Again. Its not just the CI. According to all the shittos that there is a date line (many acharonim and rishonim) they have all been crossed soon after take off.

      See above. No Rishonim have a dateline although some have a vague dateline area which not a single acharon agrees to.

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    12. If you asked cabin crew what day of the week it is they would answer according to the IDL. If a contract of insurance was signed commencing one minute after minute on the date of signature at the place of signature, it would follow the IDL. A plane in the 21st century is a very civilised place and not comparable to a lone boat in the middle of the ocean.

      You are still confused. If the insurance contract comes in to force one minute after it is signed, it makes no difference what timezone it was signed in.

      Also, you do understand that the zig-zag line that you see on the maps has no meaning other than to put the various contries and territories on side or the other. There is are universally agreed upon zig and zag points.

      Finally, I'm not expert, but ships have had their own rules for order for a long, long time including brigs for those who break the rules. Had they been "uncivilized", they would have a hard time getting anywhere.

      It is not clear how somebody (especially not a rav or a posek) can decide of his own accord and off his own back that it is not a sofek at all and decide to be machriah. That is not the way halocho has ever worked. At least concede it is a sofek d'oreysoh and avoid melocho and muktzah during that period. What's the big deal?

      There's no big deal. But I don't see why someone needs to follow the Chazon Ish and not Rav Zvi Pesach. Again, a argument among acharonim doesn't make a safek for everyone.

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    13. Thats why I wrote 'comes into force one minute from midnight on the day it was signed'.

      Why doesn't an argument among acharonim create a sofek for everyone? The only time it wouldn't if somebody asked his Rav to be machria for him. Or was a talmid of rav issur zalman or similar.

      And in something like this few Rabbis would accept they have the shoulders to be machria. Which is why all over the internet plenty of rabbis not associated in the slightest with the chareidi world write along the lines off, this is a sofek. With all that that entails including ideally not taking such a flight or if you have to avoiding melocho.

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  13. How is the more rational position miraculously aligned with the International Dateline? Does it not give you pause? Is rationalism a way of life? Or a way of rationalizing (pun intended) allowing the secular world and belief system to set the parameters and belief system?

    There is nothing less rational about the Chazon Ish's opinion and Kasher's idea that the Rabbis should decide on their own is based on specious arguments and half sources.

    Agan HaSahar knocked these arguments out of the park. He showed clearly the letzonus of those people. Some cholkim on the CI were not leitzim, but Kasher clearly was.

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    1. How is the more rational position miraculously aligned with the International Dateline?

      How is the basic practice of the entire Jewish world is miraculously aligned with the local day count (as DF points out above)?

      How is that when the star-k counts up the Shitos, they miraculously always get at half or more aligning with the international dateline?

      How is that miraculously the entire world uses a 7 day week and that Saturday is almost always a day off.

      The answer is that entire world does use a 7 day week (which does seem somewhat miraculous) which solves 90% of the problem. The size of the Pacific Ocean solves 90% of the rest.

      Or a way of rationalizing (pun intended) allowing the secular world and belief system to set the parameters and belief system?

      The Rationalist Rishonim did not consider "secular" knowledge to be "secular". They considered it knowledge. So to restate your question in different terms, is it rational to use knowledge to set the parameters and belief system? Yes it is rational. Will it sometimes result in error? Absolutely. Witness the enmeshing of the 4 elements into Jewish thought.

      There is nothing less rational about the Chazon Ish's opinion and Kasher's idea that the Rabbis should decide on their own is based on specious arguments and half sources.

      You leave out the honorific for Rav Kasher. This means that you probably aren't evaluating this objectively, but making it personal. That is a common source of error. You should try to eliminate that.

      The problem with the Chazon Ish is that he assumes (in this case) that our knowledge of geography was also known by the Rishonim. So he interprets literally some of their statements that the day begins off the eastern edge of Asia 90* from Jerusalem rather than what they intended: the day is going to start at the eastern edge of what they thought was civilization which they thought was 90* east of Jerusalem and end at the western edge. When you interpret their statements without the anachronism, then his claim that all the Rishonim support his position falls away.

      Agan HaSahar knocked these arguments out of the park. He showed clearly the letzonus of those people. Some cholkim on the CI were not leitzim, but Kasher clearly was.

      Ad hominem arguments are not valid or "rational". If you have "home run" arguments to quote, quote them.

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    2. You are circling the argument instead of dealing with it.
      The outside world had reasons for setting a dateline and their reasoning was done accordingly. The necessity for a halachic dateline is not the same as the necessity for an international dateline. It is highly suspicious that in some way the two reasonings miraculously aligned to create one dateline. It is certainly not a more rational approach.

      This need to ensure there is no difference between the Torah's guidelines and the secular ones, even when they are not attempting to solve the same issue, seems to be a bias, an unwillingness to subjugate a life to H-shem and His Torah.

      Kasher does not deserve an honorific for the foolishness he wrote about the dateline, suggesting the Rabbis get together and make one up. Rav Zimmerman quaintly asked "so why kill the mekoshesh? Why not temporarily move the dateline?"
      For in deptb discussion, learn Agan Hasahar. I haven't seen anyone close to his level of depth on this issue. And ftr, he was RY in a decidedly non Charedi Yeshiva and he was stoned by the Satmars and Briskers.

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    3. You are circling the argument instead of dealing with it.
      The outside world had reasons for setting a dateline and their reasoning was done accordingly. The necessity for a halachic dateline is not the same as the necessity for an international dateline. It is highly suspicious that in some way the two reasonings miraculously aligned to create one dateline. It is certainly not a more rational approach.


      You ignored my answer and my questions. I disagree that the secular and religious purposes are all that different. And the Yesod Olam does refer to the agreement of the entire world, not just agreement of the Jewish religious authorities in his assertion that the day begins in the East.

      This need to ensure there is no difference between the Torah's guidelines and the secular ones, even when they are not attempting to solve the same issue, seems to be a bias, an unwillingness to subjugate a life to H-shem and His Torah.

      Or the perhaps the need to always put a line between the Orthodox and the Gentiles and Reformers introduces a bias against any idea, no matter how good, that originated elsewhere.

      Also, you again ignore the approach of the Rationalist Rishonim. There is not such think as secular guidelines or secular knowledge. There is just knowledge.

      Kasher does not deserve an honorific for the foolishness he wrote about the dateline,

      Rav Kasher deserves an honorific for he amazing breadth of Torah knowledge and his written contributions to Torah. That you disagree with him is not grounds for disrespect.

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  14. There is a fascinating fundamentalist discussion in Artscroll on where the Talmud would have put the international dateline. It quite ignores the fact that Chazal thought the world was flat...

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    1. Probably some did and some didn't. The sphericity of the world was too well known.

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    2. According to the Baal HaMaor's explanation of the sugya of "18 hours" in Rosh HaShanah, Chazal knew that the world was a sphere.

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    3. The Baal Hamaor's explanation is most likely not the original meaning, so it is hard to take from there whether that Gemara implies a knowledge of the sphericity of the earth. However, I have to believe that the at least Tannaic discussions about determining the feasiblity of a new moon at any given time were done with that understanding because it was so basic to anyone looking at the subject.

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    4. It certainly fits the language of the gemara better than Rashi's explanation - I am not aware of another reasonable explanation of that gemara (not that I am such an expert...).

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    5. Sometimes a Gemara must remain obscure until Eliyahu comes to explain it.

      Generally, the Gemara is discussing visibility of the new moon. The most likely reading for the first Gemara is that one should discount any sighting of the moon which is less than (approx) 18 hours after the conjunction, so that the conjunction must occur before midnight if the moon is to be sighted the next evening. The record for a reliable sighting 15 hours and 32 minutes and there are probably many more false positives at that time, so the 18 hours would stand as a good rule of thumb.

      On the next part, it is hard to tell who "they" and "we" are, but you again see the notion of 18 hours in there. The six hour reference remains a bit obscure.

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    6. However, I would say that that Gemara on its own is good evidence because it implies that they were calculating the conjuction which means they understood astronomy. However, it is possibly that they were relying on the calculations of others and just expressing a rule of thumb.

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    7. David, I agree but would add that the gemara in Rosh Hashana 20b is both problematic from a physical standpoint and doesn't appear to correspond to Halacha - at least as formulated by the Rambam in hilchot Kiddush hachodest 1:3. He states there that the moon is invisible for approximately 2 days - about 1 day before (lunar conjunction) and about 1 day afterwards. The above gemara, on the other hand asserts that the moon is invisible for 1 day which is divided into 6 and 18 hours for viewers in Israel and Bavel. The Rambam elsewhere in Kiddush hachodesh states that the sages were not expert in astronomical observations and calculations, and had no accurate mesorah on the subject. Why, then, should the entire issue of the existence of an halachic dateline be dependent on how to interpret that gemara - besides the oddity of assuming that the 6 and 18 hours is switched between obervations in Israel and Bavel (the assumption of the Ba'al Hama'or that some theoretical Jew living at the eastern end of Asia is being referenced is hardly the evident meaning of the text)?

      A further point is the need to distinguish between the molad which is a calculation based on a mean lunar month and the astronomical lunar conjunction (called 'new moon' in the calendars) which takes into account the variable lunar period over the year. A review of the last 26 months shows that the difference (molad - conjunction) varies from -10.5 to + 15 hours. The delay between conjunction and the first visibility of the new lunar crescent is at least 1 day at the most favorable location on the planet and using a telescope to increase light gathering vis-à-vis the unaided eye. Hence the Rambam's observation accords with reality. If the molad advancement of 11-15 hours around Rosh Hashanna time in the last 2 years is typical, then the statement of the Amora about the moon's invisibility for 18 hours after the calculated molad is reasonable (just for that time of year), but not the statement about the last crescent of the old moon being invisible 6 hours prior to the molad.

      Y. Aharon

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    8. David, I agree but would add that the gemara in Rosh Hashana 20b is both problematic from a physical standpoint and doesn't appear to correspond to Halacha - at least as formulated by the Rambam in hilchot Kiddush hachodest 1:3. He states there that the moon is invisible for approximately 2 days - about 1 day before (lunar conjunction) and about 1 day afterwards.

      However, the Gemara's prior comment that the conjuction must occur before midnight (Chatzos) in order for the new moon to be visible in the next night does seem like a reasonable rule of thumb given that the record for naked eye observation is 15h32m. It would also imply that the period of invisiblity is longer. I would regard the later statements about 6/18 and them and us as obscure rather than definitely wrong.

      The Rambam elsewhere in Kiddush hachodesh states that the sages were not expert in astronomical observations and calculations, and had no accurate mesorah on the subject.

      I don't that is what he says. On the contrary, the Rambam thought that they could accurately predict (the to degree possible) the visibility of the new moon. He does say that his calculations come from the Gentile astonomers, while those of calendar council (Sod Ha'ibbur) would have come from Jewish sources. He also Darshans the word Sod to mean an important secret which indicates that he though it would be known by the elite among Chazal.

      Why, then, should the entire issue of the existence of an halachic dateline be dependent on how to interpret that gemara

      Of course you are right.

      The delay between conjunction and the first visibility of the new lunar crescent is at least 1 day at the most favorable location on the planet and using a telescope to increase light gathering vis-à-vis the unaided eye.

      I don't think that this is true. Reliable naked eye observations have been made much earlier than 24 hours (as early at 15 hours 42 minutes). Assuming that many, many trained observers were looking for the moon, you could get many sighting earlier than 24 hours (if sunset occured then) or at least you could not automatically ignore such testimony using a 24 hour rule of thumb. Thus, you need not resort to idea that they were talking about a month where the mean and true conjunctions differ by 6 hours.

      Using the most sophisticated telescope and camera setup, the new moon was actually recorded at 4.4 degrees of separation: http://lunarnetworks.blogspot.com/2013/07/earliest-possible-new-moon-captured-on.html.

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    9. Moreover, to be charitable to the Talmud, for practical purposes, if the moon is invisible for 24 hours, then it must also be invisible for 36 hours in any single location. So the 24 hour should perhaps be interpreted more like a "day". If last old moon visibility is on day 1, you cannot see the new moon until the end of day 2. If so, this suggests an interpretation of the gemara as follows:

      We, who base the month on the new moon, can see the new moon at the earliest 18 hours after the conjunction, and in that case the moon would be invisible to us the prior evening, 6 hours before that conjunction.

      They, who base the month on the first invisiblity of the old moon would consider the last sighting of the old moon to be valid only if it occurred 18 hours before the conjunction; in that case, 6 hours after the conjuction would be the invisibility of the old moon (and the beginning of the new month).

      I admit that this is speculative.

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  15. I wish to understand David, you wrote
    There is a claim by some that halacha (and specifically the corpus of Gemara and Rishonim) has an answer to every question.

    Isn't there by definition a halachik answer for a halachik question.
    From what you wrote further, I think you meant that there is a claim that the sources provide an answer for every halachik question. When I questioned Rav Shachter on this exact point, I understood him to say that the sources may provide an answer and as we have no other way of determining the halacha, we must base ourselves on the sources, namely the Gemara and the rishonim's explanations of the gemara.

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    1. Isn't there by definition a halachik answer for a halachik question.

      Danger Will Robinson: if you say that a statement is true "by definition", then that statement can't be saying anything about the real world. Statements about the real world are true by checking the real world. (Sometimes, we say "by definition" when we really mean "very easy to test", but it pays to be careful.)

      Is there an answer for every question? If by "answer" you mean an actual "answer", no. The Gemara leaves questions open. Also, some questions can be posed in halachic form, but aren't really. "Is the solar system heliocentric?" was debated by poskim, but it really wasn't a halachik question to begin with.

      From what you wrote further, I think you meant that there is a claim that the sources provide an answer for every halachik question. When I questioned Rav Shachter on this exact point, I understood him to say that the sources may provide an answer and as we have no other way of determining the halacha, we must base ourselves on the sources, namely the Gemara and the rishonim's explanations of the gemara.

      On the one hand this seems reasonable, but I think that in the end, it leads down the wrong path sometimes. Sometimes the Gemara simply doesn't say anything on the topic. Or it says something, but the premises were either completely different or mistaken. Either way, you end up trying to read entrails. With complete respect for Rav Schacter who is a very knowledgeable Talmid Chacham, it leads him into some pretty odd conclusions, like you could be a walking, talking human being while halachically dead, IIUC/RC

      Also, the Gemara really does contradict itself sometimes. When you the take the approach of trying to resolve everything from the Gemara as a unified whole, you get oddities.

      Going back to the dateline, IMHO, the Gemara did not conceive of the problem and does not address the problem. The Rishonim who started to talk about it, had a radically different conception of Geography than we do, and didn't really deal with it in a practical way. So trying to tie yourself back to sources in this case, may result in odd results, IMO.

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