Monday, January 29, 2018

Who is Making a Mockery of Halacha?

A number of people took grave offense at the previous post, about checking fruit for bugs. There were two general types of criticism. One was that the position that I was espousing was completely against halachah. The other was that I was engaging in inappropriate mockery of the standard practice.

With regard to the first criticism, let me first reiterate what I explicitly stated in the previous post: That I was oversimplifying, for dramatic effect. And yet not by much. There is a vast gulf between that which Rav Vaye presents as normative halachah, and what was historically normative halachic practice. Consider the following from Rav Eliezer Melamed:
Some poskim are of the opinion that since under certain conditions, experts can see these insects – every vegetable or fruit that most likely has tiny insects, is forbidden to be eaten without removing all the bugs. And when in a minority of cases, tiny insects can be found in them, one must make an effort to remove them, and bediavad, if one mistakenly did not check, the food is kosher.
On the other hand, some poskim hold that although if one sees a tiny insect like this, it is forbidden to be eaten, nevertheless, when it is on a food that an ordinary person cannot see without making a great effort, or without auxiliary means – it is considered tafel and batel to the food, and there is no prohibition of eating the vegetable or fruit, which chances are, contains an insect.
...According to accepted rules of halakha, the law goes according to the lenient opinion since it is a safek d’Rabbanan, for a person is not interested in eating the insect, but is compelled to eat it along with the food, against his will. Moreover, according to the majority of poskim, a tiny insect is batel b’shishim from the Torah, and it was only the Chachamim (Sages) who were stringent in declaring that a ‘briyah’ (a whole insect) is not batel even in a thousand. Some poskim say that the Chachamim were stringent only in regards to an insect that has some importance, but if it is tiny and disgusting, even from rabbinical status, it is batel b’shishim. In addition, it’s also doubtful whether in actuality a tiny insect exists.
On the other hand the strict approach also has a strong argument for under certain conditions anyone can see the tiny bugs, and with great effort, even if it takes a few hours, since one can find the bug and remove it, it is not considered to be mixed-in, and is not batel even in a thousand.
Therefore, the halakha follows the lenient approach, and the mehedrin minhag is to be machmir. The mehedrin minhag is clarified in detail in the books of Rabbi Moshe Vaya and Rabbi Schneur Zalman Revach, however, the claim that this is the binding halakha for all Jews, is not correct
Thus, there is ample basis for strongly disputing that Rav Vaye is presenting normative halachah.

Now, with regard to the accusation that my post was engaging in inappropriate mockery of Rav Vaye's approach, I saw as follows: There was indeed some humor intended in the way that I contrasted his approach with the traditional and normative approach. However, I consider this humor to be totally appropriate.

There is ample precedent in rabbinic discussion for sharpness and humor in disputing views that one believes to be incorrect. And when I engage in it, it's usually not actually using mocking words, but rather bringing to light how the exponents of the view are actually themselves making a mockery of halacha.

Consider, for example, Rabbi Yair Hoffman's view that on seder night, one should eat one-and-one-third of a matzah, within the span of two minutes, using the following method:
Place both kezeisim in the mouth together. Both kezeisim are then chewed well and split, within the mouth, in half—one kezayis on each side. Then one is swallowed, followed by the other.

Notwithstanding the fact that he can build a halachic case for this, I think it's perfectly legitimate for someone to call it ridiculous and to accuse Rabbi Hoffman of making a mockery of halachah.

By the same token, consider figs. When Rav Vaye, in his one-page handout, states that for strawberries, one must do as follows:
With a knife, cut off the leaf at the top together with a few millimeters of the fruit. Remove any cracks, deep clefts, or damaged areas. Soak in water mixed with a little dishwashing liquid for 3 minutes, rub in the water, and rinse well under running water in such a way that the water reaches every part of the berry. This process should be done three times, after which the berries may be cooked or blended.
Some of the materials required for eating fruit.
...and for figs, says that the process is so complex that he cannot even give such a paragraph of instructions and one must instead to refer to his book, this, to my mind, makes a mockery of halachah. For no reasonable person can possibly think that eating figs historically involved anything so complex (and the Gemara in Shabbos 90a clearly indicates that no such checking was being done). Rav Vaye no doubt builds a halachic case for his requirements, and may consider Rav Melamed's approach to be totally unacceptable. But by the same token, others are entitled to sharply dispute his approach.

Many are concerned about widespread laxity and even complete disregard for halachic observance. That is not caused by people advocating a reasonable approach to halachah. It is often caused by just the opposite - by people insisting on an approach to halachah that is too far-reaching and which is reasonably perceived as ridiculous.


UPDATE: I have published a follow-up post at http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2018/01/keep-science-away-from-torah.html


See this post for my forthcoming US lecture schedule. 
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46 comments:

  1. Reading the processes by which various Gedolim render fruits and vegetables kosher makes a reasonable person cynical and skeptical of the entire halachic mesora. God may exist, but he is surely not the God of an expanding chumra repressed right wing Judaism. You need not search too far to understand why so many are going OTD.

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  2. You are being too conciliatory in this case. The approach of this Rabbi Vaya is absurd and that ought to be said forcefully and without equivocation. R. Melamed does not do it justice, and will just confuse people, by dancing around bitul, safek derabaan, etc. Say it straight out: If you don't see bugs, eat. Finished.

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  3. The advice of R. Melamed, while much more lenient than R Vaye, still seems more strict than you imply. Basically he says everything needs to be soaked in soapy water for several minutes.
    -- JSS

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  4. Re: R. Eitam Henkin, his conclusion is apparently that:
    לאחר דיון ובירור העובדות בנוגע למחקרים שהתקיימו עד היום (והם אינם רבים) אודות התולעים בתותים, מגיע הרב הנקין למסקנה כי לאחר הסרת ראש התות ושטיפת התות (עם עדיפות להשרייה במי סבון). בפסיקתו, נשען הרב הנקין על פסקו של רבה של קריית ארבע חברון, הרב דב ליאור.

    לעומת תות השדה, את קלח התירס מעדיף המחבר שלא לאכול, אך מי שרוצה לאכול "יש לו על מי לסמוך".

    https://www.inn.co.il/News/News.aspx/233062

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  5. Serious question-If i can see a small spec on the fruit but i cannot tell whether it's an insect or not, can i eat it? Do i need to now examine it with a microscope?

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    1. Yes. And you never need resort to a microscope.

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  6. I enjoyed the last post immensely (much I as enjoyed R' Slifkin's "Matzah Chart for Rationalists"), and wholeheartedly agree w/ the points above re: ridiculous chumrahs making a mockery of halachah.

    The difference, as I imagine R' Slifkin realizes, is that his "mockery" (I'll bet it has been called "leitzanus"--or "leitzonus"--more than once) involves humor, and humor is anathema to authoritarianism. Orwell wrote, "Every joke is a tiny revolution", and that revolutionary, individualistic spirit is intolerable to those whose aim to enforce conformity and groupthink.

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    1. The two issues are totally different. In one case Rabbi Slifkin is saying we should follow objectively demonstrable reality in the other case he is saying we should not follow objectively demonstrable reality.

      I believe a case can be be made for both, but it's not surprising that some people are peturbed by the flippant way this is being done (not to mention the misrepresentation of Rav Henkin's views), nor is it all that surprising that most of the 'Rationalist Jews' still commenting here appear to be minim and cofrim.

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    2. I think this is what is bothering people:

      לעולם הלכה כבית הלל והרוצה לעשות כדברי בית שמאי עושה כדברי בית הלל עושה מקולי ב"ש ומקולי ב"ה רשע מחומרי ב"ש ומחומרי ב"ה עליו הכתוב אומר (קוהלת ב) הכסיל בחשך הולך אלא אי כב"ש כקוליהון וכחומריהון אי כב"ה כקוליהון וכחומריהון

      Now, G-d forbid that anyone should accuse Rabbi Slifkin of being עושה מקולי ב"ש ומקולי ב"ה , but it's not hard to see why it my look that way when the issue is approached so flippantly.

      Rabbi Slifkin has stated before that he does not wear Tekhelet, despite his belief that it has been rediscovered, because doing so would make him look 'extreme' and detract from his task of promoting zoology in the Jewish world. Might we perhaps suggest that if the costs of not performing a mitzvah are worth it in order to make the right impression, then so are the costs of refraining from making an amusing blog post?

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    3. That's not an entirely accurate presentation of my reasons for not wearing techelet.

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    4. Even if somewhat true - by your own admission, this is a disgraceful revelation.

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    5. Gavriel M --

      While the 2 issues may be "totally different", their ripeness for satire is not.

      Incidentally, I think it is fair to say that many of us diverge from you on what constitutes the "right impression" (even those few of us who are not minim or kofrim).

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    6. "Modern_Orthodox" --

      I know several rebbeim (of he Modern/Centrist/YU persuasion) who do not wear techelet for similar reasons. I even know one who wears techelet on his talit katan but not on his talit gadol. Not exactly sure what is disgraceful about it...

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  7. "It is often caused by just the opposite - by people insisting on an approach to halachah that is too far-reaching and which is reasonably perceived as ridiculous." That is precisely what happened to me when I read R' Bloomencrantz Pesach Halacha Digest.

    His discourse on bugs in the water (and to a lesser degree Styrofoam cups) made me doubt the divine origin of the religion.

    If in fact these halachos were what God intended - why would he want us to needlessly waste time searching for bugs - that didn't seem logical or serve any purpose, so the halachos must be man made. The obvious next question is what else did man impart on the religion? Answer: everything

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  8. A question:

    As justification for the ever-increasing stringencies imposed in the realm of bedikat tola'im, I have heard it argued that modern advances in science/technology lend themselves to more stringent insect examination. That is to say, since we have light boxes and magnifying lenses, it behooves us to use them in order to observe halachah "better".

    So why is it that "modern science/technology" only ever seems to be invoked to justify new chumrahs, but not leniency in halachah?

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  9. You ignored the more substantive arguments and chose the arguments that were hardly expressed and were easily shot down.

    The fact is that Rabbi Melamed seems to misunderstand the concept of ספק דרבנן as it is totally irrelevant over here. Indeed, laymen should leave this halacha to Talmidei Chachomim. Rabbi Henkin hy"d showed us that the halacha may not be exactly as Rabbi Vye says, but it is not easily provable. It takes a serious effort to learn the relevant sources. It is not as simple as 'derabanan', 'bottel' etc. There is still much to learn on the topic.

    - Many are concerned about widespread laxity and even complete disregard for halachic observance. That is not caused by people advocating a reasonable approach to halachah. It is often caused by just the opposite - by people insisting on an approach to halachah that is too far-reaching and which is reasonably perceived as ridiculous. -

    Chazal seem to think the opposite. The Gemoro tells us that at a time of widespread laxity, the Rabbis are more strict. See fourth Perek of Pesachim.

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    1. "Chazal seem to think the opposite. The Gemoro tells us that at a time of widespread laxity, the Rabbis are more strict. See fourth Perek of Pesachim."

      That works in the ancient era. But not in the modern era, when people are more educated and independent-minded, and can recognize something as unreasonable.

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    2. Dr Slifkin, you trying to say -Chazal were only relevant 2,000 years ago?

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    3. Modern_Orthodox, you are a moron. That is not what RABBI Dr. Slifkin was saying at all.

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    4. Did you really just claim that Rav Melamed doesn't understand the concept of safek d'rabbanan? Can you please explain what you meant by that?

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    5. Why would this be considered a time of widespread laxity? Among the orthodox this is a time of widespread chumra, if anything.
      You dismiss Rabbi Melamed's learning pretty cavalierly but I noticed you didn't explain what he got wrong in your view. Sad.

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  10. Rav Belsky Zt'zl (head of the OU and generally lenient in halachic rulings) always used to say "if you want to eat Kosher, you need to eat less"
    It's not clear at all that in the times of chazal they were eating the wide variety of greens and fruits that are accessible today.
    Rav Belsky zt'zl always said checking for bugs should not be viewed as a labor, but an integral part of eating. He would point out that we similarly put great effort into meat preparation and no one considers it excessive or unnecessary.Shchita, nikur, kisuy hadam etc no one ever suggested these were unnecessary or excessively difficult.

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    1. It's not clear at all that in the times of chazal they were eating the wide variety of greens and fruits that are accessible today

      We know that things like potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers and chilis, corn (maize), avocados etc. come from the New World and would have been unknown to Hazal.

      Hazal probably ate a wider variety of leafy vegetables and tubers than we do now (they are available to use but we just don't choose to eat them commonly).

      I don't think that the greater variety of food available now means that we necessarily need to apply added stringencies. Hazal did not have access to the synthetic pesticides commonly used on our crops. Their produce was likely very bug-infested compared to what we get from a fruit and vegetable market nowadays.

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    2. Simple logic: The more you eat,and the larger variety = bigger probability of bugs.

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    3. Additionally the Gemarah says about R' Yehudah Hanasi that he was so rich that he never lacked romaine lettuce. Apparently the poor people didn't have access to greens the way we do today - such that seasons don't effect the availability of vegetables.

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    4. "Modern_Orthodox January 30, 2018 at 7:03 PM Simple logic: ...and the larger variety = bigger probability of bugs."
      Simpleton's logic...

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    5. Simple logic: The more you eat,and the larger variety = bigger probability of bugs.

      I agree that we eat more than Hazal did. I also agree that we have more variety available to us. I don't agree that greater variety correlates to a higher probability of bugs (how?) And I can't see why you've ignored the fact that we spray insecticides all over our crops, whereas Hazal didn't.

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  11. I think you missed the main thrust of people’s arguments. It’s not about how crazy we need to make ourselves looking for bugs it’s about our willingness to use modern technology and science in realizing there r bugs there. And all of a sudden charedim use science and technology to help them keep Halacha and r’ slifkin is suggesting to ignore it because “that not the way it was done”

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  12. In general rabbonim are more likely to be religious extremists than the average population. That's a general trend, and is not true of every rabbi.

    Give that process 2000 years and things are going to look a little strict.

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  13. The issue with halacha today is that they focus on the what and not the why.
    God says don't do A.
    The chachamim said be safe and also don't do B.
    Nowadays instead of thinking about how B stops you from doing A and what the logical definition of B should be, rabbis focus on how to define B with no thought as to its source.

    God says don't eat a plate of slugs. Rabbis say you'd better not even eat them unintentionally or if they're mixed in with other things so check first - in order so you don't get lax and come to eat a slug here and there.

    When rabbis today go crazy about checking they are inventing halachot whose purpose is not to prevent breaking a Torah law but is a law for its own sake.

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    1. If you're commanded not to eat something, you must be exceedingly careful not to. It may even involve thinking above a third grade level.


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    2. You missed the point. Why we are commanded to do something reflects directly on how the issur should be understood.
      When you pass third grade you will reach the level where you can consider the meaning behind an issur and then you will be able to keep it propely.
      A biblical decree has behind the scene conditions for when it applies.
      A rabbinic decree to protect the biblical one has context.
      To follow a command properly you need to understand the context. Blindly following black and white orders is something one should probably grow out of.

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    3. You have a strange interpretation of the Torah. In my Torah it says 'don't eat bugs', as in any bugs, even one. If it is crawling around a broccoli head, don't eat it. It is not rabbinical. Rabbinical kicks in after bitul and such. The plate of slugs is a red herring.

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  14. Folks. I understand the spirit of Freedom is strong here. We all appreciate that. But surely you all realize that someday, somehow, you are going to come into contact with a Mosaic or Talmudic structure that you can't rationalize. And you will be stuck with it. Granted, food checking gets very weird and there are great arguments for being more lenient, as R' Natan mentions. But you can't escape all the stranger/less pleasant halakhot, and if you insist on only doing what you can rationalize, you will end up on the other side of the halakha without a leg to stand on, at least at some point. Food for thought: try applying rationalistic principles to what we do and don't define as "dam" on a bedika cloth. Lekula and lehumra, I think that would go a lot of places we don't want to think about!

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    1. This is an argument against irrational halachos,not an argument for irrational chumros.

      Though I agree, once you accept some irrational strictures, it becomes difficult to justify drawing the line *here* instead of *there.*

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    2. So if it doesn't all make sense, shouldn't the logical conclusion be to keep none of it, not all of it?

      ..

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    3. @Yavoy by that logic, we should never have returnees to Judaism. I can assure you that almost nothing we do makes sense to recent baalei teshuva. Maybe we just need to work a little harder at finding the "natural law" latent in these halakhot.

      @G*3 I think we're on the same page.

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    4. @Israel Coleman.

      Yes. I think Baalei Teshuva are usually making a bad decision.

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    5. @yavoy "I think baalei teshuva are making a bad decision" Why do you state that? and are you 100% perfect that you never do/ did teshuva? Baalei Teshuvia people (who self-indentify as such) are not even apart of this discussion. Anyway, I grew up in a secular home and did not know basic concepts of Judaism until I was in my mid-20s, and really only started keeping kosher at 29yrs of age... and my approach to bugs is pretty simple -- if I can't see them with the naked eye, then they are not there. This was the approach of every household I entered in a wide variety of homes in many frum communities (Atlanta; Passaic; Brooklyn; Miami; Israel).. Strawberries and other problematic foods, people either didn't serve or waited until Bodek came around ; and batdaz started selling strawberries/ brocholi and such. Figs, obviously the were one the major staples of the mishna/ Talmudic diet as even an 10 year old studying mishna / talmud can tell us.. we don't need to be great gedolim to know they didn't have industrial pesticides ... but to think they didn't check for visible bugs?? what proof do we have they didn't do spot checking (with their eyes)...

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  15. The underlying snipping at chazal, halacha and Rabbi's - has turned into an agenda against Torah M'Sinai.

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    1. Unfortunately u r correct. However the onus is on people who use their logic inconsistently. Do they stick to the “way it was” or do they not? Do they insist on only doing things they rationally believe in and mock irrational approaches but when they ha w no answer they ignore thee question?
      As a side point if u ask most rabbis they will tell u the approach is between R Vaye and R Melamed so the whole discussion is just away to show some extremism and put ppl in one of two categories which most ppl r not.

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  16. I don't think the 'minutiae rabbis' are making a mockery of halacha. Honestly. They are taking it to absurd extremes at which point one wonders what the value of the whole is if this is where it leads.

    Making a mockery assumes you think that the thing itself is stupid and that you are point the stupidity out to others. These guys are unintentionally (as has been pointed out) showing that the emperor (who they worship) is actually naked.

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  17. Thank you Rabbi Slifkin for posting Rav Melamed discussion on the topic. I never knew there was another opinion. I have Rav Vaye's book and I heard him speak in RBS a few years ago. One of the things that bothered me about his book and presentation is that almost every product grown in Israel was labeled as infested. I have checked dozens of fresh apricots (grown on our very own tree. what a zechus to live in Israel and see the geula everyday), strawberries, cherries, cashews etc and have rarely found any bugs. I find it frustrating when people declare things to be infested when its the exact opposite. It makes a mockery of the whole thing. Thanks again for this post.

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  18. I also feel that as science progresses Halacha seems to be move toward stringencies. What is the melacha of the LED light on Shabbat? (Not the geder but the violation)
    Pesach is not far away and there one can witness our neuroticism at its worst. Overly stringent rules and guidelines can bring derision of Halacha, the rabbis and Judaism itself, both from within and outside our Orthodox ranks.
    There is one other casualty of overly complicated and arduous halachot and that is the theme of the mitzvah itself. Is one to labor cleaning the house for Pesach at the expense of family/self improvement/Israel and the varied themes of the holiday? Is the hidur of the Etrog and its sterling silver case outweigh the messages of Succoth?
    I am sure you have heard the “blessing” appropriate in the near future:
    May you Purim be kosher despite your efforts to make it sameach and your Pesach be sameach despite your efforts to make it kosher

    Well done Rabbi Slifkin

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  19. every single major kashrus organization in the world takes this topic seriously and spends ample time discussing what is necessary and required to just dismiss the whole topic with a 1 line statement, i dont think is accurate or professional

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