Sunday, December 26, 2004

DovBear, Tiferes Yisroel and the Woolly Mammoth

Reb Yisroel Lipschitz of Danzig (1782-1860) was the author of Tiferes Yisroel , the popular commentary on the Mishnayos which can be found in many a home and probably every Shul.

Dov Bear is a prolific blogger; go there you’ll enjoy it. On a couple of occasions he has posted that the Tiferes Yisroel is supposed to have written that the world is a lot more than 5765 years old. The last time he mentioned it was last week in a post entitled “Depends What You Mean By Modern”. Have a look at what he says. Intrigued I asked DovBear for the source and within an hour DovBear had responded. It is an essay called “Derush Ohr HaChayim” (Homily on the Light of Life) and is printed after Maseches Sanhedrin. I studied it over Shabbos and I present my findings below, which naturally I dedicate to DovBear.

In this Derush Ohr HaChayim the Tiferes Yisroel debates the eternality of the soul. The first two parts are pretty much the same as one would expect to find in any traditional commentary. In part three he suprises. He asks what is the point of Techiyas Hameisim (Resurrection of The Dead)? Why can’t the soul remain wherever it is? Why does it have to return back into a body?

In answer he quotes a “Midrash Rabbeinu Bachya”. Bachya ben Asher (1255-1340), a younger contemporary of Nachmanides, was one of the most prolific biblical exegetes of his era. In addition to his many scholarly writings, he functioned as a dayan (judge) and preacher in his hometown of Sargasso, Spain. Bachya writes that the world is due to last for 49,000 years or seven sets of seven thousand years. Each set of 7000 years is made up off 6000 years of ‘normality’ and 1000 years of ‘Shabbos’. Year 50,000 is the jubilee year and everything sort of ends there. Bachya does not say much more than this. To me it seems clear that Bachaya understands that we are at present in cycle number one.

The Tiferes Yisroel uses this Bachya but adds more. Although he does not bring an actual source he says that books on Kabbalah state that we are at present well into cycle number four. (I.e. the world is 26765 years old). He then goes on to say how the recent (recent for his time) archaeological findings had proven that this was indeed the case. Archaeologists had found four distinct layers of strata – a stratum for each cycle. Each stratum had remains of different animals. The earlier the stratum the more crude the animal (dinosaurs); the later the stratum the more refined – the world gets better and better in each cycle. The previous cycle he claims had seen the first type of human (Neanderthal Man ?)– we are the second sort of human to walk the earth and better than the first as our minds are far more developed. At the end of each cycle a cataclysmic event takes place destroying all that has been before. We are reborn into each cycle which is the meaning of "Resurection of the Dead" and answers the initial question. The story of Genesis refers primarily to our cycle – number four. The first letter of the Torah is a beis and in the Torah scroll this beis has four verticall on its topmost tip. Beis equals two which represent the fact that we are the second sort of human, while the four lines infer that we are in cycle number four.

Phew. That’s about as summarised as I can manage. If you want to see more take a look. The Bachya is at the beginning of Leviticus 25 and the Tiferes Yisroel is where I said it was.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Bloggs - A Prediction

In its end of year issue The Economist treats its readers to some fascinating essays on various subjects. One article this time round entitled ‘The Writing on the Wall’ discusses graffiti.

There are two sorts of graffiti. The puerile, and the sort that attempts to makes a point be it political or on a taboo subject etc. This post concerns itself with the latter.

Allow me to repeat two points that are blog-related.

Number 1:

Instances of graffiti have gone down in the last decade. Why? The Economist proffers what I think is the obvious answer; The Internet. People who want to make anonymous points can do so far better on the Internet.

Number 2:

In the 1970s American academics began collecting graffiti from the walls of university lavatories. They were puzzled with finding that the most hateful anti-black graffiti were found on the walls of the most progressive institutions, while in the conservative universities there was hardly any offensive graffiti at all. Strange?

The answer is again pretty clear. There is no need for graffiti were people can express their feelings openly. Graffiti exists were people are afraid to express themselves; were they have to be carefull about what they say on a given subject.

Well now for a bit of ‘lomdus’. If graffiti is an expression of pent up ideas and blogs are the new graffiti then the ‘chareidi’ community is going to see lots and lots and lots of blogs. There is more than a handfull of people in the community who are totally fed up and only need to find an anonymous forum to vent their frustrations. They now have one. We have already seen some fantastic blogs– all barely ten months old. The quality of some of are fantastic and a few are refreshingly subversive. Have a look at this: theshaigetz/ or this: mis-nagid/ for starters.

Gob smacked?? There will be a lot more.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Bring Back The Rod

‘Another Stream’ is a fortnightly opinion column in ‘The Jewish Tribune’, the UK’s indigenous chareidi newspaper. (Sorry no website. Now or ever.)

The author a well-known communal know-it –all, tackles a range of important issues such as the playing of the wrong type of music at chasunnes (weddings), the plummeting levels of derceh eretz youngsters have for their elders (so unlike when he was young), the scarcity of shadchonim (matchmakers) resulting in too many young women left on the shelf, and other such topics. You get the gist.

This weeks subject was corporal punishment, which he enthusiastically supports. Scripture, Gemorrah (Talmud) and the Rambam (Maimonodies) are all on his side he assures us as and all back it as a pedagogic tool. He is currently enthused by the topic as he has found an ally in the Christian Fellowship School.

Well well.

I am an alumnus of chareidi school/cheider system. And take it from me it was violent. The bruises have healed long ago but as an adult I still suffer the side effects of being hit at school. The reason why I have confidence taking my children to school each morning is because I know that hitting is now illegal and looked upon seriously by the courts. Even chareidi staff fear the enraged parent rushing off and informing the authorities. They are conscious that parents faced with protecting their children might well overcome the prevailing fear of being branded malshinim (informers).

No! Banning corporal punishment was a great step forward. What upset me was that the chareidi community could not have seen reason to unilaterally remove it from its schools. I am gutted that some are agitating to have it reinstated. Schools today are far friendlier places – and it shows. I suspect even King Solomon, who famously suggested that ‘ He Hates His Son He Who Withholds The Rod’ (Proverbs 13:24 ) would readily approve.