Sunday, January 30, 2011

La-ad Kayamet after Shma: Musical Note

MUSICAL NOTE by Cantor Sherwood Goffin

I want to point out an essential difference between the Artscroll Hebrew-English Siddur and the subsequent All- Hebrew version, the Yitzchak Yair Siddur. For those who are functioning as the chazzan, whether on weekdays or Shabbat, one has to be informed that the English Artscroll is incorrect as to where the chazzan is to recite immediately after the reading of the Sh'ma. As far as most of us can remember, after the recitation of Shma in Shacharit, the chazzan always continued at the words "L'dor vador Hu Kayom Ush'mo kayom" - NOT at "Al Avoseinu." The special indicator for the chazzan is incorrect in the English version. However, in the all-hebrew version, the indicator has been corrected to indicate that one begins at "L'dor Vador..." This is the correct choice because, in actuality, a NEW "topic" begins at "Ud'varav Chayim." I surmise that the original Artscroll editors for the English version were mislead because some anonymous printer more than a century ago arbitrarily made a new paragraph at "Al Horishonim." Despite that, it is well documented that baalei tefilla for centuries have always ended the first topic at "L'dor Vador." I would ask all those who lead the Shacharit services to please follow this guideline. Thank you!

Daven Well, Don't Talk, and Sing Along!

The preceding copyright (c) Lincoln Square Synagogue and Sherwood Goffin

Well. That clears up something I've long suspected. Listening to people lead davening, those who say aloud "Ledor vador ... la'ad kayamet" seem to be people who learned to daven Before Artscroll, while those who say "Al Avoteinu..." were those who learned from Artscroll. This confirms it - the Chaz says outright it is an error in the English Artscroll.

Contra the Chaz, I wonder if it's a Nusach Sfard thing. In the all-Hebrew Nusach Sfard Artscroll, at least the chazan-sized one that I've been using for the past 6 months by the `amud in a local shtibl, I think they do begin at Al Avoseinu.

I checked - yes, the Artscroll NS siddur has the chazan start at Al Avoseinu. Further, I checked with the gabbai, who, like me, grew up Before Artscroll, and asked what he grew up with. As far as he knows, he always started from Al Avoseinu. So now we know - rather than being an error of the siddur printers, it was a Nusach Sfard custom, that leaked into the Artscroll Nusach Ashkenaz, probably because whoever edited that section grew up with Nusach Sfard. Not that siddur printers are innocent of introducing changes in the davening.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Response to RYGB and the HoS view

RYGB: your attempt [in the comments to the previous post] to disavow the anecdotes you brought to support your position looks disingenuous. You certainly wrote to give the impression that you support the position RAS took, given that it was brought as support for your dismissal of RNS as "flippant", There was also the story of RYBS' dismissal of the Meiri. As well, you brought R Kamelhar as evidence that Chazal didn't take the aggadita literally, when there's absolutely no reason to believe that, v. infra.

"most courteous manner possible" - repudiation? hope that he recant, like Galileo Eretico? calling him flippant where you simply call others wrong? Ad hominems are courteous? They're Internetty, sure, but I thought you were trying for something better.

Although, reading Micha's quote above, I think RNS could have expressed the same idea without being quite so, well, abrasive. "Chazal were mistaken"? Really. "Chazal ruled in accordance with the science of their time, we have no evidence that they should have known current science through ruach hakodesh, therefore, when our poskim rule in accordance with the science of our time, they are following in the footsteps of our Sages."

The sociological characterizations, stipulated. The vehemence and flippancy of your disassociation essay, led me to think that you had actually supported his earlier positions, rather than supporting him personally. Sorry not to have remembered your actual position.

I'm not dismissing Kamelhar on the basis of his obscurity, but on the basis of the irrelevance of a modern reading for understanding how Chazal thought. As RNS said, there was a different metzius then, that Chazal thought Aristotle was right on physiology. To take a post-Harvey metaphorical reading is anachronistic and does not explain anything, except to make the aggadita more palatable to us, so that we don't have to reject it as "wrong" in a Maimonidean sense.

I wrote a paper on Galileo and the Church in HS for a history class. For a year afterwards, I would not say the Shir shel yom on Fridays, Ps. 93, "the world is set firm, it does not move." Until I read a metaphorical explanation by RSRH. Now, sure, that's not necessarily what Dovid Hamelech was thinking, but it allowed me to have a true idea in mind when reading the posuk. So too here. Kamelhar allows us to accept the aggadita without having to say Chazal were wrong. But that doesn't change the fact that Chazal thought they were right. It's just not an idea based on mesorah, hence independent of physical truth.

And that's the different metzi'us - not an actual change in teva (although that too may allow us to rationalize the change in rabbinic positions), but a change in scientific worldview between their day and ours. The metzius includes their mental state, the possibility of their having knowledge through non-supernatural means. Since they didn't espouse a position that was clearly not compatible with their medicine, that of brain-death, we have no evidence that they knew what we know about brain-stem death and rejected it in the face of supernatural knowledge.

I for one have no trouble accepting that they perceived phenomena that they interpreted as bas kol, or appearances of dead people - such stories continue on to today. How can a believing Jew deny the possibility of the supernatural? But there is no evidence of their having supernatural knowledge here, only natural knowledge. Which places them soundly within normal intellectual history - they ruled in accordance with reality as they knew it to be, but we understand reality differently. Shifts in psak due to the influence of the Zohar and the Ari are the same - rabbinic perceptions of reality changed, so psak changed. Supernarual or natural changes are still changes in reality. Only God is the Knower, the knowledge and the known - for us, they are different things.

Maybe I'm being an apologist for RNS because the HoS perspective resonates with me. Ainochenami, it's a different perspective than has yet been expressed in this debate, one which might help bring some resolution to the two "sides" that may not really be so far apart.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Brain Death and Arguments at Cross Purposes

Reading the extensive debates on the brain death vs. heart death issue, I begin to discern positions, and understand to some extent where various parties are coming from. And I am coming to the conclusion that the one who best pursues Emes in this case is R' Slifkin (RNS), while other parties seem to sometimes argue disingenuously.

R' Moshe Feinstein, and yblcht"a R' Moshe Tendler, agree on brain-death as equalling death, based on close readings of a mishna in Ohalot, a Rashi in B. Yoma 86a, and other sources. Never mind that those who support heart-death read the same things another way. R' Tendler doesn't approach the scientific basis of Chazal and the Rishonim in understanding this, he seems to treat the whole thing as an empirical exercise. His primary motivation seems to be to allow heart, lung and liver transplants, which cannot take place from a donor whose heartbeat has stopped. Therefore, read the halacha, take what you can, and who cares what the science was underlying their opinions?

R' Slifkin, taking off from there, looks at what Chazal thought about science, based on an aggadita in B. Ber. 61a. Seeing that it doesn't agree with modern science, but does agree with Aristotelian ideas about the functions of the various organs, he says that "Chazal were mistaken in this regard", and then goes on to say that the modern understanding of brain-death vs. cerebral death vs. heart death is based on that flawed understanding of science. Now that we know the true function of most organs, we can follow those who say brain death is death.

R' YGB (Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer), in a fit of political pique, finds a 19th-century source (R Kamelhar is a good writer, I have his capsule biographies of 18th and 19th century rabbis "Dor Deah", but do people really take him more seriously outside his field than, say, the Torah Temimah?) that understands R' Slifkin's aggadita metaphorically, and uses that to say R' Slifkin was wrong, and further heretical to believe that Chazal were wrong. RYGB's post and comments seem based on a desire to disassociate himself from RNS, whom he had supported in the earlier banning of R' Slifkin's books.

Note that R' Slifkin is not disagreeing with Chazal, he's not saying they're wrong in any metaphysical sense, just that they had outdated science, and ruled in accordance with that.

Note further that RYGB also says that contemporary poskim should rule in accord with modern science, in some cases. Where to draw the line? Apparently, where it crosses a line. What line? The line drawn in the sand by loud "gedolim" and their handlers. (in quotes because one never knows what's really from a godol and what from the handler - e.g. the RYSE-Crocs controversy).

RYGB paints himself into a contradictory position: poskim can/should depend on science/secular knowledge, AND poskim who rely on science/secular knowledge where that knowledge is true yet different from that of Chazal, are heretics.

RYGB tries to portay his position as one of respect for Gedolim, using the story of his smicha farher, but even that fails, in that he embraces positions of ziluzul chachomim, like that of RASolo who would have put R' Yitzchak Lampronti into cherem.

RNS demonstrates clearly that the Acharonim had no problem embracing science and its changes since the days of Chazal, or even in their own times, e.g. R' Yonasan Eibeschutz ruling in accord with post-Harvey understandings of the heart and circulation as against the Chacham Tzvi who extensively supported Chazal's understandings of organ function as literally true. He doesn't even seem to have a problem himself with using modern understandings of biology to change psak (not just explain changes in psak, but actually change it).

I think RYGB really gives away the game in comments such as "[the Chasam Sofer used Conservative reasoning in ruling that karpas is celery based on Arabic language] Certainly not! He was using secular wisdom to understand chazal, not to override them," and "[if you have no proper fear of Chazal] you have no business in the world of psak." Either RYGB is completely misreading RNS intentionally, and thus fighting tooth and nail against a strawman for political purposes, or he is truly misunderstanding RNS beyond his evidently superficial reading, which seems unlikely.

RNS' whole purpose appears to be understanding Chazal, rather than overriding them. Others have already long since overridden Chazal on matters dependent on changing understandings of science - R Tendler, the Chasam Sofer, etc. They just don't make it explicit that they're disagreeing with the science of Chazal. They just ignore the history of science, and run roughshod over precedent. That seems to be the position of R' Tendler and, by extension, his late father-in-law. As is psak. RNS is not paskening, he's using evidence of change in our Rabbis' understandings of science, based on the changes in the ongoing history of science, to understand the shifts in their thinking and psak. So RYGB's arguments are not really aimed at RNS, but at a strawman. I don't think RYGB would actually disagree with RNS if he were to take the time to understand him.

Really, most people don't think all that much about history of science. Good history of science writing is often based on the idea of "we would know what they thought when they did it." (Richard Hamming, 1980) The discipline of the history of science has long been developed by amateurs. E.g. Galileo studies, my late aunt's field, was largely developed by Stillman Drake, who started out with several decades as a financial consultant, teaching himself about Galileo. He never took a PhD. Her advisor, a prominent figure in the history of mathematics, did her PhD is in math, albeit a historical survey of modern abstract algebra. (Full disclosure, I minored in Science in Human Affairs, and wrote my bachelor's thesis on "The IBM 650, A Computer in Context", advised by the late Prof. Michael S. Mahoney).

This may be a problem for RNS in being accepted by those who want to be seen supporting Yeshivish positions. He is engaging in intellectual history, and the history of Halakhah is often seen as a Maskilic undertaking (about it, not it.) But who better to write history of halachah than one who has spent his life within its daled amos, and who has been forced by circumstances to take the long view in understanding intellectual shifts?

By raising the issue of "they could say this but we cannot", his banners created a consciousness of shifts in intellectual trends within the Torah world over the millenia of its development. I get the feeling RNS started out writing his animal books in the spirit of "ignore what they used to think, here's a way to think about them for kiruv," much as R' Tendler's approach to brain-death ignores history in accommodating contemporary needs. But in the course of the dispute, he seems to have gained a sense of history. Is it any wonder that he now applies that sense to other disputes in contemporary Orthodoxy? It was not he who started the brain-death dispute, it was an RCA committee report.

To sum up then, from what I can see, R' Tendler (and the other poskim who rule for brain-death rather than heart death) ignore Chazal's history of science, and simply rule in accordance with changes in science and technology, motivated by the need for organ transplantation and Jews not being portrayed as takers but not givers. RYGB pretends that there is no history of science, and that RNS is being disrespectful of his betters by saying they were wrong and paskening against them. On that basis, he disassociates himself from an effigy of RNS. And RNS honestly undertakes an investigation of the history of rabbinic science, explaining the shift in psak, not paskening for anyone.