Thursday, December 26, 2013

He might have possibly maybe said what? I'm appalled!

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky is now purported to have stated that anyone who uses an iPhone is invalid as a witness, or as a mesader kiddushin.

But why does Haaretz report on this story with the words "Prominent rabbi reportedly declares marriages and divorces witnessed by those who have Internet access invalid."

Why "reportedly"?

Why does Harry Maryles write in The Jewish Press that he's sure R Kanievsky was either misquoted or misled?

Why isn't there a clear process of communication for "gedolim" to communicate to the Jewish world they supposedly represent? Why is everything hearsay?

I know that the Charedi world doesn't work this way, but I wish there was a publication and verification process, like there is in the academic and reputable journalistic worlds. Otherwise, we depend on rumor and hearsay about what these rabbinic statements.

We should not be having endless conversations about whether a famous rav actually said what he is purported to have said or not. The conversation should be about agreement or disagreement with these statements. It's ridiculous that so much time is spent discussing who said what.

If a well known rav makes a statement, it should be unambiguous and he can then be called upon to defend or explain himself. Vague statements from behind closed doors reported by followers with agendas should not be taken seriously.

For those who adhere to the guidance of "Daas Torah", any directives of this sort should be disregarded unless there is a clear communication from the rabbi in question himself.

And for those of us, like myself, who do not subscribe to the concept of "Daas Torah"? We should similarly demand a clear and unequivocal statement from the source before we attack the rabbi in question for statements he only may have said.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Can you support gay marriage and be Orthodox?

There's a new article on Huffington Post by Rabbi Shmuley Yanklowitz titled "5 Reasons Being an Orthodox Rabbi Compelled Me to Support Gay Marriage"

First of all, I want to say that agree with him 100%. But the point I want to make here is another one.

We've seen this script before. Several times, in fact, over the last couple of years.

A graduate of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah publicly declares support for something that Orthodoxy traditionally rejects. Orthodox Jewish social media then spends weeks obsessing over and over again about whether he can be called Orthodox or not. And in all the debate, virtually no ink is spilled on the actual issues he raised. And that's a shame.

For the record, I support gay marriage, 100%. As a human being. As the right thing to do from my personal moral perspective. My religiosity is irrelevant to this issue. And whatever denominational label my coreligionists want to slap on me as a result is truly irrelevant to my identity as a Jew.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

V'ten Tal U'matar, Thanksgivikkah, and the slippage of the Hebrew calendar

The unusual juxtaposition of Chanukah and American Thanksgiving got a lot of attention this year, and many
people excitedly repeated the statistic that this won't happen again for another almost 80,000 years.

What many people are unaware of, though, is the reason for this. It's not because of random coincidence. Rather, it's because of the slight "slippage" of the Jewish calendar relative to the solar year. The Jewish calendar is very slowly getting out of sync with the seasons.

At the current rate, it'll take around 40 millennia for the holidays to end up in the opposite season from where they are now, and around 80 millennia to come back to their appropriate seasons. So in around 40,000 years, we'll be celebrating Pesach in the Autumn, and Sukkot in the spring. Tisha B'Av will be a marvelously short fast day, ending with an early sunset, and Shavuot will be associated with Christmas in popular culture.

Thus far, most of our holidays and rituals have continued with this being just an interesting curiosity. After all, the fixed Jewish calendar is less than 2,000 years old, perhaps much younger, depending on who you ask. Before that, the mechanism for keeping on seasonal track required a bet din to establish a leap year when needed. A millennium or two isn't enough to throw us seriously off track.

However, there is one, (and only one), day of the year where this slippage is actually visible in Jewish ritual. That day was last week, December 5th, the first full day day we started reciting V'ten Tal U'matar Livracha outside of Israel (we actually start at Maariv of December 4th). Halacha, following a practice established in Babylonia, states that we should start inserting this prayer into the Amidah 60 days after the Autumnal Equinox.

The Equinox this year was September 22nd, so technically, that should have been November 21st. However, due to seasonal slippage in the Julian calendar, Pope Gregory introduced the Gregorian calendar some 450 years ago, which reset the date of the equinox. Jews, however, simply saw that an adjustment of around 10 days had occurred (that first year of the new calendar, Pope Gregory removed 10 days from October for re-alignment), and ignoring the reason for the new calendar's introduction, moved the annual initiation of V'ten Tal U'Matar 10 days later into early December.

So we have an odd situation: A Jewish ritual timed for the agricultural cycle of Babylonia becomes the norm for the rest of the Jewish world (excepting Israel), and that ritual is, unusually, relative to a point in the solar cycle, rather than the Jewish calendar, AND because of over-reliance on the Julian calendar to identify that solar event, the ritual gets pushed even further away from it upon the initiation of a new, more accurate, solar calendar.

Those oddities aside, we do recognize the slippage of the Jewish calendar against the solar year, and against the more solarically accurate Gregorian calendar. This results in the slow advancement of the date we start saying V'ten Tal U'matar. A few hundred years ago, we started on December 2nd. Now we start on December 5th. In the year 2100, that will change to the 6th. This happens every 231 years.

Of course, there's another factor to consider. While we start reciting V'ten Tal U'matar on a date of the secular calendar, we stop at Pesach time. So in approximately the year 30000, we will start saying the prayer in early April and we will stop at Pesach time.... in November or December. We will then start reciting just "V'ten Bracha", the spring prayer, just in time for winter.

Or course, someone will presumably (hopefully!) fix the Jewish calendar by then, so it's highly unlikely we'll really have to wait 80,000 years for another Thanksgivikkah.

And if either Chanukah or Thanksgiving still exists in 80,000 years, I'm betting on Chanukah.

Related links:
Joel M Hoffman: How the Secular Date of Dec. 5 Made Its Way into the Jewish Calendar
Daniel J. Lasker - "December 6 Is Coming: Get Out the Umbrellas"