20 Ways Jews Use Pens

Observing some Yeshiva students lately, I realized that they were teaching me more than I could hope to ever teach them. I refer, of course, to the multifarious uses of the humble pen. I lovingly dedicate this post to them.

I mean, what is a pen for anyway? Certainly not for writing; there are manifold digital gadgets for that. So here are twenty practical uses of this obsolescent object.

  1. Nudge or poke your Chavrusa, or study partner, when you decide he isn’t paying you enough attention. Be mindful of whichever side you choose to use.
  2. Mix someone else’s coffee, tea and/or soup. Use blue for Milchigs and red for Fleishigs, or be careful about “Ben yomo”!
  3. Toy with it, juggle it, flip it between your fingers, roll it over your hand (this demands practice, so get started now), spin it on the table like a Dreidel, etc. Whatever your Rebbe says, it’s great Occupational Therapy.
  4. Use it as a ruler to create straight lines in your Gemara (assuming you can find a suitable purpose-built handheld ink-dispensing implement to draw those lines in the first place…).
  5. Use it to weigh down your shirt’s front pocket. Add additional pen and paper if needed. If you leave it open when doing so, you will get a nice and blotchy design to liven up your white shirt (the tint depends on the ink within the pen).
  6. Throw the pen at someone to get their attention. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you: You may not use a Torah book (Sefer) to protect yourself from Blowback (retaliation).
  7. Use it to drum on the Lectern (Shtender) / table. This may require two pens for optimal effect. Ignore any protests of so-called “Sound Pollution”.
  8. Fool around with the enigmatic inner workings, taking matters as far as possible without getting all covered in ink.
  9. Suck on it (Notice: This use is especially intended for toddlers. Yes, they tend to employ the open tip, but apparently their inscrutable diet demands some nutrient found in the ink). This has many therapeutic and psychological benefits for all ages (similar to nursing, pacifiers, smoking, etc.).
  10. Use as a temporary bookmark. Cap it first. Does it ruin the book binding?
  11. On Erev Shabbos, place strategically in a location inconvenient for someone other than yourself. Check the relevant laws of Muktzeh.
  12. Play with as imaginary superhero figurine.
  13. Ponder why your beloved soul mate – the pen, is not considered a Tashmish Mitzvah. Refer to #9 for appropriate activity while doing so.
  14. Attempt to pronounce the pen’s company name. Next pronounce it backwards. This gets boring fast.
  15. Take a full inventory of the pen’s components, while tackling the “Problem of Classification”, see here.
  16. Masterfully roll it down the table (not on the ‘Sefer’). The cap may have to be removed first.
  17. Conceive of brilliantly improved industrial design, and imagine how you receive your first registered patent.
  18. Carefully open an envelope (that’s right, snail mail) – assuming you even get any.
  19. Poke around fifty tiny holes in your [dark colored] pants without creating a tattoo on your leg.
  20. Instead of constantly using your fingers to write words, try to type by using a pen to stab at the computer keys. It definitely improves your motor skills. Or maybe not.

One tiny comment: What about using the pen to write?

You know. Words?

Disclaimer: This post is categorized as “Humor”. Always read the disclaimer first!

Learning Empathy from Megillas Esther – Avraham Rivkas

Here’s a Hebrew article I wrote for “Beino Uveini”, a Parsha Sheet on interpersonal relationships (yeah, I mean Chessed). The tone is meant to be slightly humorous.


ניחום או אונאת דברים?

מרדכי והמן (הי, לא להרעיש!) לא ממש היו חברים… בחלק ה”מהפך” שבמגילת אסתר למדים אנו כיצד הוכרח המן לבזות את עצמו עד עפר. אחשורוש צווה על המן לקחת את מרדכי, להלבישו בגדי מלכות, לרוץ לפניו, ולגדל את כבודו. זה לא היה נעים להמן כלל.

הרי המן תכנן אותה שעה לתלות את מרדכי על כך שאינו משתחוה לו. הדבר האחרון שהיינו מצפים ממנו בשעה זאת, אבל וחפוי ראש, הוא לטרוח ולספר את המקרה לאחרים. מה דחוף לו לפרסם את קלונו הלאה? אך כך אכן נוהג המן. המגילה מפרטת (ו’ י”ב): “ויספר המן לזרש אשתו ולכל אהביו את כל אשר קרהו ויאמרו לו חכמיו וזרש אשתו אם מזרע היהודים מרדכי אשר החלות לנפל לפניו לא תוכל לו כי נפול תפול לפניו”.

יש עוד מספר תמיהות לשוניות וסיפוריות. לעיל (ה’ י’) נכתב “אוהביו ואת זרש אשתו”, וכאן מגלים סדר הפוך. למה? תחילה נקראים אנשיו בתואר “אוהביו”, ואח”כ כ”חכמיו”. מדוע? חכמיו דנים “אם מזרע היהודים מרדכי…”, כאילו הדבר מוטל בספק. מה, מישהו עוד לא מכיר את עובדת היות “מרדכי היהודי”, יהודי?

על דרך הפשט ניתן לבאר שהמן ביקש “כתף לבכות עליה”. לכן סיפר “את כל אשר קרהו”. המן לא בא לגלות להם חדשות טכניות, אלא לשפוך את ליבו אל אשתו ואף אל אוהביו, בתקוה לשמוע מהם דברי נחמה. אנשיו היו צריכים לגלות כלפיו חמלה ואמפתיה. אבל תקוותיו נכזבו באחת. פתאום הפכו לו ידידיו ל”חכמים” גדולים, עם טיעונים לוגיים יבשים או חשבונות מתמטיים. אם א’ אז ב’, אם מרדכי יהודי, אתה אבוד. ניתוח אסטרטגי מתנשא אותו טורחים הם לפרט לו בארוכה, משל שאלתו לא נגעה אליו אישית. גם אשתו לא מיהרה לעזרתו. הווה אומר, הנטישה עצמה מעידה על נכונות נבואת הבלהות…

אל תבינו לא נכון, אין מה להצטער בצער המן, אבל יש ללמוד מכאן לקח. להבדיל ממעשי הרשעים, התורה מלמדת אותנו את מידת החמלה. “אם היו יסורים באים עליו, אם היו חלאים באים עליו, אל יאמר כדרך שאמרו חבריו לאיוב, ‘הלא יראתך כסלתיך תקותך ותום דבריך, זכר נא מי הוא נקי אבד'” (ב”מ נ”ח ב’). “אין מרצין לו לאדם בשעת כעסו” (ברכות ז’ א’). אם אין לך ניחום וחיזוק, שמור על שתיקה. השתתף בצער חברך בהקשבה. כדאי גם ללמוד פרטי הלכות אונאת דברים בשו”ע חושן משפט סימן רכ”ח.

יהי רצון שנזכה להיות חברים אמתיים, ותהיה אך תורת חסד על לשוננו.

הערה: חלק מהנקודות מתוך ספר יוסף לקח.

The Laws of Shofar (Hebrew)

The Laws of Blowing the Shofar

Here’s another monograph by Rabbi Shammai Rubin, this time on the complex laws of blowing the Shofar.

I would look it over critically in an attempt to write some comments, but Rosh Hashana is almost upon us. Maybe later…

The content is in Hebrew.

Read and/or download and enjoy!

Download (PDF, Unknown)

Reprinted with permission.

The Good Old Days Before Political Correctness

Are Women Akin to Animals?

That title sure got your attention, huh? Blogging experts claim controversy can be beneficial, so let’s check out their claim.

What, no, I didn’t say it! It wasn’t me! He said it!

Rabbi Yaakov Shimshon Shabsai, son of R’ Rafael Issachar Sinigalia (1770 – 1840) is the author of Ya’akov Lechok (on Pri Megadim), responsa Megged Shamayim, and several other works. He also wrote “Shabbos Shel Mi” on tractate Shabbos, his best-known work, and also the one which contains the offending passage we discuss here.

Here is the title page of the book –

Here’s a closer look –

In his book “Shabbos Shel Mi” (first published in 1807) Rabbi Sinigalia ends most chapters with some short phrase in prose.

For illustration, here are some chapter headings and their attached notes:

Bameh Madlikin –

Bameh Tomnin –

Bameh Beheimah –

Klal Gadol –

Hamotzi –

It’s pretty banal so far. In the chapter of “Bameh Isha”, (that’s page 175 of Part One in the Jerusalem, 1961 edition) it gets personal, however.

A full page view –

A closer look –

Just in case you still can’t see it, here it is in Hebrew:

דרשינן סמוכים פרק במה בהמה ובמה אשה כל הקרב הקרב כי לא לחינם הלך זרזיר אצל עורב

I don’t need to translate this (nor do I wish to do so)! The clear meaning is his view that women are analogous to animals. The only important question that remains is: Did he mean “Beheima Gasah” or “Beheima Dakah”…?

Just to be clear, this is not some canonical dogma of Judaism. We don’t slaughter either Goyimor women for our Matzos!

This is purely an offhand remark by a little-known author of two hundred years ago, not based on anything. It is slightly puzzling that this was published as is, however (maybe this wasn’t immediately noticed).

Rather shocking, right? What drove him to write this? Was he a misogynist, or was he simply having a difficult Friday? There might be an explanation/justification, but I can’t think of one.

So what do you think? Should we ban the book…?

What ought a modern publisher to do about these kinds of sticky situations? Leave it as is and note it in the introduction? Delete it, and then note its deletion?

There’s one other quote which is meaningless on its own, but might reinforce the “theory” of misogynism (from SSM idem Shabbos 118b) –

Rant and rave all you like! Just remember, I didn’t write these words, so please don’t shoot the messenger.

And oh yeah, if I got you excited enough to want to buy the book, see here.

A Taste of the Chazon Ish Torah Study Method

The Chazon Ish School on Talmudic Dispute – Three Parts

Two Batei Midrash

Broadly speaking, two “Batei Midrash”, or common learning methods are prevalent today; ‘Brisk’ and ‘Chazon Ish’. The respective approaches clearly preceded these individuals, thus Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz and Rabbi Chaim Solevechik are not the ‘Founding Fathers’ of the methods that bear their names.

Nevertheless, their powers of exposition and persuasion, their commanding scholarship, and the unique devotion displayed by each toward their own school of thought effectively turned them into the “mascots”. By now, their very names are synonymous with the various approaches (Reverse Eponym).

Entire volumes could be written on the two methodologies, but the time is not yet.

A brief summation suffices for our purposes; the “Brisker” camp studies Torah textually as a ‘Taxonomic Science’ (labeling its perceptions, and focusing on legal definitions). The Chazon Ish adherents practice a kind of Inductive Science (using human logic, and intuitive grasp of the text). Kindly forgive the vast imprecisions in the above descriptions.

A product of the logic-directed school is its inclination to the following two principles:

  1. “Afushi Plugta”
  2. Aggadic “Mashma’us Dorshin”

These will be clarified soon.

Our focus here will be on the Chazon Ish himself and his followers as characteristic of the whole school. Unfortunately, I am not as familiar with the Brisker ‘Derech’.

In the ‘Chazon Ish’ view, perhaps contrary to common belief, Halacha is not an amorphous body of ‘Great Truths’ stemming from many individuals’ “Shoresh Neshama”. Absolutist truth and falsehood do exist, and humans possess the ability to differentiate one from the other.

In every Halachic dispute, one side is correct, and the other is not. All Kabbalah aside, the oft-quoted saying “These and those are the words of the living G-d” means only what Rashi Kesubos 57a says it does (except maybe in Eruvin 13b).

Hence, the advent of Halachic Machlokes (dispute) was a negative turn of events caused by the decay of Torah wisdom, not its growth.

(I am not quoting the Chazon Ish here; I am defining the supposed axioms of the approach which is his namesake!)

Afushi Plugta

This leads us, then, to the famous rule known as “Afushi plugta bechdi lo mafshinan” (lit. we do not presume increased debate without adequate grounds to do so).

A form of Occam’s razor, this means the Gemara is predisposed to interpret the sages as agreeing with one another wherever feasible. The polarity of reasoning in their factual debates, too, is always reduced.

As once explained by the Chazon Ish in a letter, sound logic dictates that any two (approximately equal) wise men are far more likely to agree on any given topic than to disagree.

One example is found in the Ritva Nidda 21b (also echoed by Ramban, Rashba, and Ran) —

(וה”מ היכא דשיעא אבל פלאי פלויי וכו’,) איכא למידק כיון דאיהו לא צריך לומר אלא בשפופרת תנאי היא ל”ל לאפושי פלוגתא בכדי ולומר דפליגי נמי בדפלי פלויי. וי”ל דלאו אפושי פלוגתא הוא דכיון דלת”ק דם נדה הוא זה ע”כ טמאה בדפלאי פלויי

In brief, the Gemara seems to needlessly introduce a new point of contention. The answer given is that the two cases stem from the same issue already being dealt with.

One caveat: Oftentimes the precise point of contention is some minor detail. Still, that one minor detail has far-reaching consequences for Halacha. Say the common disputes in the laws of Shabbos (note Sanhedrin 67b!), where one opinion fully allows a given action, and the other deems it a Torah-mandated prohibition. In the same way, the seminal dispute of Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Akiva Sanhedrin 51b on scriptural exegesis —

אמר ליה רבי עקיבא ישמעאל אחי בת ובת אני דורש אמר ליה וכי מפני שאתה דורש בת ובת נוציא זו לשריפה

Has bearing on (at least one) different case in Yevamos 68b (cf. Tosafos ad. loc.)

Only when the source of disagreement lies in logic or reality does the Gemara even attempt to mitigate it.

One example of the Chazon Ish’s tendency toward “Afushi Plugta” was made famous by Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin in his book “Great Men and Methodologies (Ishim Veshittos)” (I can’t now find the spot in the Chazon Ish).

In Bava Kama 114a we find a Mishna discussing Tum’ah (impurity) of animal hides held by robbers and thieves. The decision to use them without further treatment (as a mat, for example) makes them a ‘Keli’ which can subsequently become Tamei. According to Tanna Kama, a robber’s thought cannot render the animal hides subject to Tum’ah, while a thief’s thought can.

Rabbi Shimon says the opposite. The hides of a thief do not become Tamei; only the hides of a robber become Tamei.

The underlying reasoning is that one’s thought holds no influence on items not in his possession. If the victim still believes he can recover his loss, the decisions of the robber or thief are meaningless.  The disagreement between the sages and Rabbi Shimon is whether the victim had “Yiush” (legally – recognized despair) in the case of robbery, or in the case of theft.

— The inherent difficulty is obvious. How can the two sages differ so fundamentally on the facts of the matter? How can Tanna Kama hold ‘Yiush’ is present in one case but not the other, while Rabbi Shimon asserts the exact reverse?

The Chazon Ish writes as follows (I recommend reading the Hebrew original) —

הא דפליגי ר”ש ורבנן בגנב וגזלן נראה דלא פליגי במציאות הדבר בסברות הפוכות, אלא ענינו דכל יאוש פתיכי בו מעט תקוה ובכל תקוה פתיכי בו יאוש, ומדת היאוש אינו נמדד במדה ומסור הדבר לכחמים, ולרבנן אלימא להו בסיבת הגנבה שהוא מצד שאין לו מקום ידוע לתקותו, ולר”ש אלימא לי’ יאוש בסיבת בסיבת הגזילה שהוא מצד רפיון כחו, כו’

In other words, the degree of “Yiush (despair)” present in victims of both robbery and theft is nearly equal. Robbery causes despair in its victims because of the force exerted, even though the robber can be sued in court. On the other hand, the victim of theft does not know who took their property, although they rely on their power of investigation to catch the thief.

The question at hand, then, is just which type of “Yiush” suffices to grant ownership to the villain.

Another Chazon Ish quote based on Afushi Plugta (although this is not explicit) regarding the Mishna in Nega’im 14:1 (re Leviticus 14:7, 51) —

כיצד מטהרין את המצורע, כו’. טבל והזה שבע פעמים לאחר ידו של מצורע, ויש אומרים, על מצחו. וכך היה מזה על השקוף שבבית מבחוץ.

Chazon Ish Nega’im 11:13 —

בתוי”ט כ’ בשם הק”א דפליגי בקרא דעל וכ”כ הגר”א בתוס’ והא דפסל ת”ק על המצח משום דכשמגביה ידו היא למעלה וזה דוחק ועוד למה לאחר ידו דוקא, ואפשר דמתנ’ מנהגא קתני ולא דינא ובאמת כשר בכל הגוף כמו בהזאת חטאת אלא שנהגו בקביעות מקום ומשום שהוא לבוש בגדיו בשעת הזאה ואין מגולה מבשרו אלא פניו וידיו, וגם לפעמים נופל לעינו ולפיו, ונהגו לאחר ידו דתוך ידו חששו דלמא כו’ וי”א שחשש גם בגב היד דלמא יזה בתוך ידו ונהגו על מצחו, וכו’. וכן על השקוף שבבית אינו אלא מנהגא ומן הדין כשר אם הזה בכל מקום שהוא ואפי’ בפנים אלא שהנהיגו להזות במקום מיוחד, וכו’

I cannot do it justice in translation. The elementary idea is his interpretation of the Tannaic dispute as concerning custom, not Halacha.

Mashma’us Dorshin

Exegetical disputes contain a related form of reductionism called “Mashma’us Dorshin”. Mashma’us Dorshin means that while the meaning of this specific verse in scripture is debated, no disagreement is found with reference to the Halacha itself, or as to what in fact happened at the time being described.

For instance, in Mo’ed Katan 7b Rabbi Yehuda and Rebbi argue over how we derive delaying the Kohen’s inspection of leprosy for a Chassan. Is it from the verse of “and on the dayor by a Kal Vachomer of sorts from the waiting period (Hamtana) of Leprosy of the Home? In Abaye’s view, the dispute is academic; the law itself is unanimous.

Another instance of Mashma’us Dorshin is Shabbos end of 69b (according to Abaye). In short, violating Shabbos by forgetting either Shabbos itself or the fact this moment is Shabbos obligates one to bring a Chatas offering for every single violation.

Rabba son of Abahu and Rabbi Nachman differ on how we learn out the preceding two laws from the following two verses: Exodus 31:16 and Leviticus 19:3. Here too, the laws do not change, only their source does.

Now, at first seem it might as though the device of Mashma’us Dorshin is the topic of an ongoing debate between Rava and Abaye. Whenever Abaye applies M.D. – such as the above two cases, Rava disagrees. Since we know the Halacha always accords with Rava in his disputes with Abaye, we might deduce that M.D. should not be in our toolbox.

But in fact, if you check all such cases, it appears their disputes only revolve Mashma’us Dorshin in Halachic issues. In Aggadah, they would apparently not differ (these assertions are based on memory – I have not yet checked). Indeed, the Chazon Ish and students seem to often discern M.D. in Aggadah.

One example of novel Mashma’us Dorshin by the Chazon Ish is also quoted by Rabbi Chaim Greineman in his “Chidushim Ubiurim”.

The Torah says (Genesis 6:9) —

אלה תולדת נח נח איש צדיק תמים היה בדרתיו את האלהים התהלך נח

“These are the offspring of Noah – Noah was a righteous man; perfect in his generations; Noah walked with G-d.” (ArtScroll translation)

The Gemara Sanhedrin 108a (also quoted by Rashi Genesis ad. loc.) —

אמר רבי יוחנן בדורותיו ולא בדורות אחרים וריש לקיש אמר בדורותיו כל שכן בדורות אחרים

“Rabbi Yochanan said: In his generations [Noah was considered perfectly righteous], but not in other generations. But Reish Lakish said: in his generations [Noah was considered perfectly righteous], and surely in other generations.”

“Chidushim Ubiurim” Sanhedrin 108a —

א”ר יוחנן בדורותיו כו’ אחרים, שמעתי בשם מרן זללה”ה דמר אמר חדא ומר אמר חדא ולא פליגי, דאמנם אילו היה בדורו של אברהם היה צדיק יותר, אבל מ”מ לא היה נחשב לכלום מחמת גדלותו של אברהם

“I heard in the name of [the Chazon Ish] that each sage spoke to a different matter and did not disagree with one another. For, had Noah been in the generation of Avraham, he would, without doubt, have been more righteous, nonetheless, he would not have been considered significant compared to Avraham.”

This is not the conventional understanding. The author (who?) of the glosses on Targum Yonasan (ad. loc.) and others disagree (but cf. Eruvin end of 18b in support of the Chazon Ish). Cf. too Gur Arye on Rashi (ad. loc.).

This method is also demonstrated with similar efforts by students of the Chazon Ish. The Gemara in Kiddushin end of 33b quotes the following verse (Exodus 33:8) —

כו’ והביטו אחרי משה עד באו האהלה

Then raises a dispute over whether the Jews would watch Moses in a critical or positive way.

Following in his master’s footsteps, Rabbi Chaim Greineman, a prime disciple of the Chazon Ish, comments on this Gemara in his Chidushim Ubiurim Kidushin—

חד אמר לגנאי וחד אמר לשבח כו’, יתכן וגמירי שהיו לגנאי ושהיו לשבח ופליגי לאיזה מהן רמז הכתוב

“Perhaps they knew that some Jews viewed Moses in a good way and others in a bad way. The argument then is to which of these two groups this verse is referring.”

One more sample, Sanhedrin 94a regarding Exodus 18:9 —

ויחד יתרו רב ושמואל רב אמר שהעביר חרב חדה על בשרו ושמואל אמר שנעשה חדודים חדודים כל בשרו

“And Yisro rejoiced (vayichad)”: Rav and Shmuel disputed [the allusion]. Rav said this means he transferred a sharp (chadah) sword on his flesh [meaning circumcision], and Shmuel said this means Yisro’s entire body was covered with goose bumps (chiddudim) [distressed about Egypt’s downfall].

Comments the Chidushim Ubiurim (ad. loc.) —

נראה דלא פליגי ותרוייהו קושטא ורמיזי בקרא

“It seems there is no disagreement. Both opinions are correct, and are hinted at in the verse.”

Note the disagreement of Rabbi Hirsch’s commentary (Exodus ibidem).