Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tuesday's Thoughts on the Daf - Megillah 18

On the bottom of Megillah 18b, there is a discussion as to whether Torah scrolls and other seforim can be written by a sofer without a source document. The question arises in the context of a discussion about how R' Meir traveled to a location where there was no Megillah, so he wrote one by heart.

At the end of the discussion, the gemara draws a distinction between seforim (such as a Torah) and mezuzah and/or tefillin. The gemara explains that tefillin or mezuzah can be written without reference to source materials since everyone is familiar with the pesukim.

For many years I have been receiving via email, R' Adler of the Beechwood Kollel's Daf Notes (also available on dafnotes.com). R' Adler had a great teshuva from R' Elyashiv in today's daf notes which illustrates this point.

Reb Elyashiv, cited by Chishukei Chemed ruled on the following inquiry and he derived his ruling from our Gemora.

A person residing in Eretz Yisroel developed a heart issue and he was required to undergo a risky heart surgery. The local doctors said that they do not perform this type of surgery frequently, but they are ninety-five percent confident that the surgery will be a success. There is an expert surgeon outside of Eretz Yisroel who performs this surgery daily and he said that if he would perform the surgery, he would be successful ninety-five percent of the time.

Should this individual travel outside of Eretz Yisroel to have the surgery performed by the expert surgeon? Reb Elyashiv ruled that he should go because that doctor is more accustomed in performing this type of surgery.

The Gemora in Taanis 15a states regarding a communal fast: They would send a chazzan to lead the prayer who was an elder and fluent in the prayers. Rashi explains: One who is fluent in his prayers will not make a mistake.

Our Gemora states that one who is fluent in the words of the Torah will not make a mistake when he is writing the Torah without copying from a text.

This is why it would be preferable to travel to the doctor outside of Eretz Yisroel even though the percentage of success is the same. Someone who is more accustomed to performing this type of surgery will not make a mistake. 

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Night Suds - Innis & Gunn Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer plus Bonus Nine Days Havdalah Guide

This week's Sunday Night Suds looks at Innis & Gunn's Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer. Additionally, because this is the last Sunday before the Nine Days, I have republished the Nine Days Havdalah Guide, updated for 2014.

Many years ago, I tried the Innis & Gunn original, a Scottish Ale which first was distributed in the NY Metro Area in 2006. I remember liking the beer, but also thinking that it had a strange aftertaste which reminded me of the docks in Freeport (LI). Although I had consumed the beer based on the chazkah, I was concerned about the nature of the beer and possible additives, so I wrote to the brewery to ask whether they used any grape extract, shellfish or animal by-products. They wrote back that no such additive were used in the beer, but I still felt uncomfortable about the aftertaste and did not purchase any additional I&G products.

Recently, the CRC expanded their kosher beers list based on a significant amount of research into various breweries which had not contracted for kosher supervision of their products. Having spoken to R' Niehaus who is quickly establishing himself as the young dean of kosher alcohol, it is my understanding that the CRC researched breweries to ascertain that the chazakah should apply to their products. The results of their labor is a twelve page list which contains three designations - beer which is certified kosher (along with the designated agency); beer which is recommended based on the CRC research and beer which is not recommended. Oh, and they also now certify a brewery - Minhas Brewery. I can't say I ever heard of Minhas and their products are not available on the East Coast, but I will try to find their products the next time that I head west.

I tried the Innis & Gunn Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer this past shabbos afternoon, following daf yomi. It was offered to me by the camp Rav, Rabbi B, and the quiet Tzaddik of Camp M and I shared the .750 liter bottle along with Rabbi B as we traded stories of emunah and bitachon (appropriate for the three weeks). The beer had a sweetness from the rum infused oak chips which almost masked the odd I&G aftertaste. The beer has a 6.8% abv, but it is actually low for the style of beer (Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy). In fact, the beer was not overly dark and was perfectly drinkable on the porch on a warm shabbos afternoon.

As mentioned above, the Innis & Gunn Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer is not certified kosher, but it has been checked out and approved by the CRC. To see what the experts on Beer Advocate think about this brew, please follow this link - http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/10272/39258

Bonus section - Nine Days Havdalah Guide.

In years past, I would receive numerous email and cell phone messages prior to Shabbos Chazon (the Saturday within the summer nine days mourning period) with questions as to what would be a good choice to make havdalah on. As the Shabbos of the Nine Days actually falls towards the end of the period, I have presented the annual Nine Days Havdalah guide in this post to allow people to get an early look at alternatives to wine.

By way of introduction, on Saturday nights after the evening prayer is said, Jews have a special set of blessings that are said by which we separate between the holy shabbos and the rest of the week. There is a custom to say this prayer on a cup of wine, however this custom needs modification when the Saturday falls during the nine days of mourning.

As noted by the Orthodox Union on their website:

Meat and wine are prohibited during the Nine Days, except on Shabbat. Meat and wine are associated both with joy AND with Temple service. Both reasons combine to explain this prohibition.Even though havdala is officially after Shabbat, one is permitted to drink wine. It is preferable to give the wine to a child who is old enough to understand brachot but not yet old enough to understand the concept of "mourning for Jerusalem". Alternately, some authorities recommend the use of a substitute beverage for havdala such as fruit juice, beer, etc. Other authorities insist on wine as usual.

Should your local Rabbi direct you to utilize non-wine in your havdalah, there are multiple options to use to fulfill the havdalah requirement. Indeed, my father in law will use diet soda (or as he says "diet pop"). I recall as a child seeing my father on one occasion use hard alcohol for havdalah (and then burn the decorative plate my sibling made when he tried to put out the candle).

To me, the simplest answer to the havdalah dilemma (and one that is widely recommended by rabbinic authorities) is to use beer, which in the time of the talmud was called chamra d'medina - the wine of the masses. This brings us to the reason I get more summer phone calls and email around this time every year - which beer would I recommend?

The number one problem with the question is that most people who ask me about it don't generally drink beer. It then becomes difficult to make a recommendation of a beer that they can use for havdalah that won't have them making faces in their attempt to drink the halachic minimum level for the blessing. A second problem is that since the havdalah cup is imbibed on its own (i.e. without the benefit of food) people who might be inclined to have a beer with a meal will still have problems finishing their cup when the beer is consumed on its own.

The easiest solution is not to have beer, but instead to make havdalah on what is commonly called alcopop. These are malt beverage drinks with some similarities to beer and a beer-like 5% alcohol content by volume, but do not have the beer taste. Some examples are the Boston Beer Company (aka Sam Adams) Twisted Teas or the Smirnoff Twisted V/Twisted Ice line. Please be aware that not every flavor of Smirnoff is certified Kosher. Indeed, the last time I looked at the CRC list, only the following flavors were certified kosher: Green Apple, Mango,Raspberry Burst Pineapple and Wild Grape (I am unaware of whether there is actual grape in this beverage). For the complete list of those Smirnoff products and other alcopops approved by the CRC, please click here http://www.crcweb.org/liquorList.pdf.

Another alternative had been hard apple cider, but as of the present date there are no kosher hard apple ciders. Frequent readers of this blog may recall that for a time the Angry Orchard Hard Apple Cider was certified kosher by the Star-K, but they ceased their supervision of the product almost eighteen months ago.

However, there are a number of fruit flavored beers which bridge the gap between alcopop and true beer. These include the Miller/Coors line of Redd's products, including Apple Ale (reviewed here http://kosherbeers.blogspot.com/2013/02/sunday-night-suds-redds-apple-ale.html), Strawberry Ale (reviewed here http://kosherbeers.blogspot.com/2014/01/sunday-night-suds-redds-strawberry-ale.html), Blue Moon Blackberry Tart Ale (reviewed here http://kosherbeers.blogspot.com/2013/05/sunday-night-suds-blue-moon-blackberry.html), Samuel Adams Blueberry Hill Lager (reviewed here http://kosherbeers.blogspot.com/2013/04/sunday-night-suds-samuel-adams.html) and Saranac Blueberry Blonde Ale (reviewed here http://kosherbeers.blogspot.com/2012/04/sunday-night-suds-saranac-blueberry.html).

If you do like beer, or would like to drink something that is more manly than alcopop, the next step up would be an American wheat beer or some of the better Summer Ales. Many of these beers have been reviewed on the pages of this blog and you can search through prior Sunday Night Suds reviews to find one that might appeal to you.If you are a beer aficionado, you obviously won't need this post to tell you which ale or lager you should crack open for havdalah.

Again, I would stress that you consult your halachic authority before selecting a havdalah alternative. My Rav advises me that beer would be the first choice, followed by malt beverages. I did not ask about how the non alcohol options fit into the list.

May the world have a tikkun from our three weeks/nine days observances and may tisha b'av soon be transformed to the holiday that the gemara tells it will be in the times of moshiach bimheira biyamenu.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thursday's Parsha Tidbits - Parshas Masei

Normally, the Thursday night parsha post on this blog slot contains a thought said over by R' Frand in his satellite shiur. Since the shiur is now on hiatus through Elul, I will be substituting with divrei torah found in other sources. This week I have attempted to summarize a vort from R' Mansour which can be found at www.learntorah.com and have tied it into a thought I wrote on years ago. As always, if the p'shat appears to be incorrect, it is a result of my efforts to convey the thought that I found in the sefer or shiur.

R' Mansour then began a fascinating discussion wherein he connected the Jews travails in Egypt and the desert to the four exiles. R' Mansour tied each of the exiles to the first four words of the parsha - Eleh Masei B'nei Yisrael: Eleh begins with an Alef which signifies Edom; Masei begins with a Mem which signifies Maddai; B'nei begins with a Bet which signifies Bavel and Yisrael begins with a Yud which ties to Yavan.

R' Mansour then explored this concept more deeply by looking at the trup on the first pasuk. The word Eleh has an (azla) geresh - showing that the Jews would be exiled. The word Yisrael has a revi'i, signifying that the Jews would be exiled four times. However, the Jews also pray for the redemption from galus on a daily basis in shmoneh esreh. We say three (and sometimes four or five) times per day - u'mavi goel l'vnei b'neihem - mavi is spelled Mem Bet Yud Alef - Hashem, the goel will redeem us from the galuyos of Madai, Bavel, Yavan and Edom.

R' Mansour also tied his discussion into the exile of Egypt. We mention yitzias mitzrayim in our prayers in the morning and evening and have many mitzvos to remember the leaving of Egypt. Although Egypt is not listed among the four exiles, it actually was the paradigm of exile and each of the four exiles are an offshoot of the exile in Egypt. R' Mansour explained that on the night of the seder we drink four cups, to signify one of the four exiles. It is well known that the four cups connect with the four languages of redemption which appear in chumash. On the surface the words all appear to be similar - you took us out, you saved us, you redeemed us from Egypt and you brought us. However, these l'shonos are not merely redundant - they are symbolic of the four exiles that we will be in - each very different and the four times that we will be saved from exile (bsd).

R' Mansour quoted the Belzer Rebbi who noted that we went down to Egypt four times and we left four times. The brothers of Yosef went to Egypt to get food, then they went back to get Binyamin, they then came down again with Binyamin and left again to get Ya'akov, they went down a third time with Ya'akov and left to bury Ya'akov. They came back from burying Ya'akov (the fourth trip down) and left the fourth and final time when Hashem redeemed the Jews from Egypt.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday's Musings on Sports - Unwritten Rules

On Sunday a story broke about Texas Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis, who lost his cool after Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Colby Rasmus laid down a bunt when the shift was on. Lewis explained afterwards that Rasmus has broken one of the "unwritten rules of baseball" but no one seems to have bought it.

In addition to the overstuffed official rule book of baseball, there are certain "unwritten rules" which have developed over time. Some of these rules are gentlemanly, such as don't bunt to try to break up a no-hitter. Others are more like rules of engagement - if you hit one of our guys with a pitch, we will hit one of yours. Still others are superstitious, such as - don't mention a no-hitter while it is still in progress.

While the above mentioned rules are well known, the Colby Lewis rule of not bunting to the opposite side while a shift is in process is simply foreign to me. If a team is going to put all or most of its fielders on one side of the infield because the hitter has a tendency to hit to that side, why shouldn't the hitter force the issue by bunting the ball the other way.

I can recall how when my daughter Yael was in little league, she would hit everything to the left of the outfield. The coach of our rival team began to deploy all his fielders on the left side from the edge of the outfield grass and back a good forty feet. Although Yael and I practiced directional hitting, they were able to contain her by keeping the fielders on the left side...until the championship game when she hit the ball to the right and easily scored.

Its ironic to me that in a sport where the rule book is so thick and is constantly updated when players try to bend the rules, there is such high regard for the unwritten rules. To draw a parallel to Torah, there are halachos (laws) and there are minhagim which are customs that developed over time. The minhagim are not biblical or rabbinic laws, but people seem to honor the customs almost more than the laws themselves. Indeed, there is a statement which I have heard attributed to more than one Rabbi that if "Do not steal" was a custom, it would be more widely kept...

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Night Suds - Big Eddy Imperial IPA

This week's Sunday Night Suds looks at Big Eddy Imperial IPA.

As I have written before, the name Big Eddy does not conjure images of class or refinement, yet this is the name chosen by Leinenkugel for their premium line of beers. I know that it may seem that I am fixated with this topic, but its tough to take a beer seriously when it makes me think of a bald old bus driver I had, but I digress...

I picked up this beer in the Total Wine store in Delaware. Total Wine is one the better national chain beer/liquor stores as they have a fantastic selection with decent prices, no matter which state that you shop in. When leaving Baltimore on a Sunday I could not stop in my Total Wine store of choice (Towson) as they observe blue laws and do not open on Sundays. But since my GPS informed me that the Claymont, Delaware store was not far off I-95, I made a stop in and loaded up on quality beer at excellent prices.

The Big Eddy Imperial IPA poured a very dark orange with a decent amount of lacing. The hops were present and they melded well with the complex alcohol flavor that comes with a beer which is 8.2 abv. The beer is not the kind of brew that you would drink quickly as it is meant to be savored. I tried mine with Andrew S. (aka the Tzaddik of Camp M from prior years' posts) on a Shabbos afternoon. As we had this after a post lunch shiur, there was no accompanying food, but I could see pairing this with a good steak.

Leinenkugel's Big Eddy Imperial IPA is certified kosher by the Orthodox Union, and has an OU on the label. To see what the experts on Beer Advocate think about this beer, please follow this link http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/710/35806

As always, please remember to drink responsibly and to never waste good beer unless there is no designated driver.

If you've tried this beer or any others which have been reviewed on the kosher beers site, please feel free to post your comments (anonymous comments are acceptable). 

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Thursday's Parsha Tidbits - Parshas Matos

Normally, the Thursday night parsha post on this blog slot contains a thought said over by R' Frand in his Thursday Night shiur. Since the shiur is now on hiatus through Elul, I have reprinted my summary of a prior year's shiur that R' Frand gave on Parshas Matos. Any perceived inconsistency is the result of my efforts to transcribe the shiur and should not be attributed to R' Frand.

Parsha Matos begins with Moshe telling the heads of the tribes about nedarim. This is out of the ordinary as a parsha usually begins "and Hashem told Moshe to say [to the Jews]." However in this parsha Moshe speaks directly to the roshei matos without the Torah specifying that the source was from Hashem. The language of roshei hamatos is also unique as the Torah usually describes the people as nesi'im, not as roshei hamatos.

Rabbi Frand quoted R' Alpert who cited the Rashbam in Chukas about the maa'aseh meriva. In this parsha, Moshe is told to pick up the mateh and then later told to talk to the rock. Ultimately, Moshe is punished for using the staff, rather than speaking to the rock. But why is he told to pick up the staff in the first place? The answer Rabbi Frand gave is that Hashem was trying to teach Moshe a lesson about how to interact with the Jewish people. Hashem instructs - there are two ways to interact and influence the Jews, either by speaking to them or by hitting them. This time, the lesson is that the pen (or in this case the spoken word) is mightier than the sword.

When Hashem tells Moshe to take the staff, Hashem is saying take the staff, but then go and talk to the Jews. Hashem attempts to teach Moshe a lesson that every leader and Rebbi or Rov must know - you don't need the stick. You can have as much impact by speaking.

Matos is a parsha about speech - nedarim. A person can have a Rabbinically certified kosher meat sandwich, but if he has sworn that that he will not eat meat, then it is as great a sin to eat the sandwich as if he has eaten not kosher food. This is the power of speech. Therefore the parsha begins with Moshe telling the roshei hamatos, because Moshe has learned the power of speech and he can then instruct the leaders of sticks that they can lead with power or with speech, but leading with speech is much more effective.

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