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Tonight outside the grocery store a man holding a clipboard approached me.

Him: Are you registered to vote?
Me: Yes.
Him: Would you be willing to sign a petition to get a third-party candidate onto the ballot?
Me: Quite likely -- which party?
Him: Libertarian.
Me: Oh good; I've been hoping a petition for Gary Johnson would cross my path. Gimme that.
Him: Sounds like you're politically active.
Me: If I were active I'd have my own petition.
Him: Sounds like you're politically informed.
Me: Yeah, that's closer.

Ballot access is rigged by the two major parties to, as much as possible, keep everybody else out. Other parties need to gather a disproportionate number of signatures, for each race, to get a candidate onto the ballot. And it's pretty much a given that the major parties will challenge the petitions for other candidates, so in practice you need to collect three or four times as many signatures as you officially "need", just to be safe. This is why I was very likely to sign the petition even before knowing who it was for (though if it had been someone repugnant I'd've said no).

Smaller parties are better served trying to gain local and state offices; the White House and probably Congress are out of reach. But there's more publicity to be had for national races, and this year especially I think it's worth giving serious consideration to alternatives. Gary Johnson is a pragmatist, not a hard-line idealist, and he has experience with the realities of the political world (he was governor of New Mexico). I hope we get more of a chance to passively hear what he has to say.
We talked last week about the categories of mu'ad and tam. A mishna on today's daf describes them, saying: cattle become mu'ad (known to cause damage, so the owner has to take precautions) after the owner has been warned for three days (regarding the act of goring), but return to the state of tam (it couldn't have been reasonably foreseen) after refraining from goring for three days. These are the words of R' Yehudah. R' Meir, on the other hand, says cattle become mu'ad after the owner had been warned three times, even on the same day, and become again tam when children keep touching them and they don't get gored. (23b)

In the g'mara they discuss the other two permutations -- that we follow R' Yehudah for mu'ad and R' Meir for tam, and the reverse. Final answer? I don't know.

The talmud describes two categories of damages, mu'ad and tam. The first, mu'ad, means cases where an outcome could reasonably be expected -- an animal will eat anything palatable and available, animals don't walk gently so if they step on something delicate you expect damage, and the ox that gores is known to gore. The other, tam, means cases where there is no such expectation.

If damages are done through mu'ad -- for example, a man doesn't restrict his goats and they go eat somebody else's crops -- then the responsible person owes full payment out of the best of his estate. If damages are done through tam, on the other hand, the responsible person and the victim share the damages (which are further limited) -- this is a case of "accidents happen". (The torah covers full versus half payments explicitly in Exodus 21 in talking about the ox that gores.)

The mishna says that a wolf, lion, bear, leopard, panther, and snake are all mu'ad. R' Eleazer says they are not mu'ad if they have been tamed, except that the snake is always mu'ad. (15b-16b)

In Jewish law, mu'ad applies to the custodian, not to the victim. "You should have known that would happen" is something we say to the owner of an animal as an explanation for why he must make full restitution -- not something we say to the victim to absolve the other of any responsibility. Your animals (or children or own behaviors) are your obligation to manage, not others' to dodge. (I suspect this doesn't apply to provocation or trespass, though; the talmud talks about things like not keeping your animals in, not about people climbing your fences and getting themselves hurt by your animals. There is probably also halacha on attractive nuisances, but I don't know what it is.)

Shavuot night I went to an interesting class at our community-wide tikkun leil shavuot, the late-night torah study that is traditional for this festival. The class was taught by Rabbi Danny Schiff on "the real context of the oven of Achnai".

We started by reviewing the famous story in the talmud (Bava Metzia 59b): Rabbi Eliezer and the rest of the sages are having an argument about the ritual status of a particular type of oven. After failing to win them over by logic, R' Eliezer resorted to other means: If I am right, he said, let this carob tree prove it -- and the carob tree got up and walked 100 cubits (some say 400). The sages responded: we do not learn halacha from carob trees. He then appealed to a stream, which ran backwards -- but we do not learn halacha from streams either. Nor from the walls of the study hall, his next appeal. Finally he appealed to heaven and a bat kol (heavenly voice) rang out: in all matters of halacha Rabbi Eliezer is right. But the sages responded: lo bashamayim hi, it (the torah) is not in heaven. That is, God gave us the torah and entrusted it to the sages, following a process of deduction given at Sinai, and that torah says that after the majority one must incline (in matters of torah). So, heavenly voices aren't part of the process. (It is then reported that God's reaction to this response is to laugh and say "my children have defeated me".)

That much of the story is fairly widely known, and I've also heard a joke version that ends with "so nu? Now it's 70 to 2!". The g'mara goes on from there, though, and it takes a darker turn. After this episode they brought everything that R' Eliezer had ever declared to be ritually pure and destroyed it, and, not satisfied with that, they excommunicated him. Rabbi Akiva agrees to be the one to tell him, and the g'mara describes a fairly roundabout conversation in which it's clear that R' Akiva is trying to let his colleague down gently. But even so, R' Eliezer is devastated and, the g'mara reports, on that day the world was smitten: a third of the olive crop, a third of the wheat crop, and a third of the barley crop were destroyed.

But wait; we're not done. Rabbi Eliezer's wife, Ima Shalom (literally "mother of peace"), was the sister of Rabban Gamliel, the head of the Sanhedrin that had ruled against R' Eliezer. Ima Shalom was careful to keep her husband from praying the petitionary prayers at the end of the Amidah, for fear that he would pour out his heart to God and God would punish her brother. But one day something went wrong, she found him praying these prayers, and she cried out "you have slain my brother!" (And yes, he had died.) How did she know this, he asked? Because tradition says that all (heavenly) gates are locked except the gates of wounded feelings.

And that's the second level of the story, which I also knew before this class. The real "aha" moment for me came, instead of reading on, we backed up.

Why is the g'mara talking about this now? Sometimes we do get things that just seem to pop up out of nowhere, but usually there's context. In this case, that context is the previous mishna (the g'mara expounds the mishna). (Rabbi Schiff: "ok, everybody turn back four pages in the handout now".) That mishna says: Just as there is overreaching in buying and selling, so is there wrong done by words. One must not ask another "what is the price of this item?" if he has no intention of buying. If a man was a repentant sinner, one must not say to him "remember your former deeds". And if he was the son of proselytes one must not say to him "remember the deeds of your ancestors".

We talked about each of these cases. On the repentant sinner, he said, every married person knows this one: you do something wrong, you make amends and beg for forgiveness, your spouse forgives you... and then, five years later, in the midst of an argument, it comes out again. It feels terrible, right? The other cases can be just as bad. (You ask the price knowing you're not going to buy, then don't buy, and the seller tries to figure out what he did wrong. And for the proselyte, you're reminding him of things that somehow taint him that he didn't even do!)

Right after this mishna the g'mara begins discussing verbal wrongs, saying they're worse than monetary wrongs and that one who slanders another is as if he shed blood. The rabbis discuss all this for a while, and then we get to the oven of Achnai.

The episode with Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Schiff says, is not about rules of derivation, or proofs from miracles, or divine will versus human will. That's all just back-story. The main point is the hurt that the sages caused after the dispute. Disputes are fine; we get that all the time. But they over-reacted, hurtfully, and that is the point the g'mara is trying to make by putting this episode here.

Interesting class, and well-presented. (This writeup doesn't really do it justice, but it's the best I can offer.)


I adopted Giovanni from Animal Friends in 2012 (along with Orlando). He wasn't shy in our first meeting; he was immediately comfortable with me and purred non-stop. The folks at the shelter thought he was around 6 or 7.

A week ago I didn't know what FIP was. Giovanni had been losing weight for a little while, but about a month ago his appetite dropped and we started looking in earnest for the cause. The ultrasound suggested possible lymphoma, and a week ago yesterday he went in for surgery to get samples for a biopsy. That's only diagnostic, not corrective, so I didn't expect his appetite to pick up when I brought him home, but he became even more disinterested, no matter what I offered him (or forced into him). Wednesday night he was very lethargic, and Thursday morning he was jaundiced. Back to the vet we went.

The biopsy results had just come back -- no lymphoma, but the lab suggested testing the sample for FIP because that was consistent with all the symptoms we were seeing. We admitted him to the hospital so they could give IV fluids and nutrients. I began reading veterinary articles online about FIP.

FIP is progressive, incurable, and fatal. We thought we might have weeks or perhaps a couple months left, but he continued to decline and today Giovanni decided he was done fighting. He was a sweet kitty with a non-stop purr who was content to sleep in my lap for hours at a time on Shabbat afternoons. I miss him.

We don't know how old he was, but the consensus of the vets who've seen him recently is that there's no way he was only ten. I gave him a good home for his last years; I was just expecting more of them.

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Today we begin a new tractate (in a new order), Bava Kama. Bava Kama ("first gate") is the first of a trio addressing civil damages; the others are Bava Metzia ("middle gate") and Bava Batra ("last gate"). Bava Kama begins with accidental (non-criminal) damages. The first mishna enumerates four broad categories: the ox, the pit, the mav'eh (to be defined), and the fire. The g'mara then derives other categories from these.

The ox, as in the ox that gores (Exodus 21), or more broadly, damages done by your animals. The pit, as in when you open a pit in the public way and someone falls into it (ibid). The mav'eh seems to mean accidental damage caused by people (this isn't clear to me). And the fire, as in a fire that you kindled that then goes out of control (Exodus 22:5). In all of these cases the person -- owner of the ox, digger of the pit, person who did the damage, kindler of the fire -- will be held responsible. (2a)

There's a lot of hysteria, much of it fabricated, about who can use which bathrooms. Every public bathroom I've ever encountered has been one of two types: a single-seater, in which case any label on the door is superfluous (and sometimes obstructive), or a multi-seater with individual stalls, in which case each user has privacy and thus it reduces to the single-seater case. I grant that men's rooms have an additional complication with urinals, though people who use urinals can also use toilets in stalls so, again, I don't see the problem. Bathrooms with privacy should be a non-issue for reasonable people.

But locker rooms are getting tacked onto this discussion, and that case is a little different. There's no privacy in locker rooms, at least the ones I've been in, and that matters.

I understand -- as much as one not in that situation can, which I admit is limited -- that some people feel profoundly uncomfortable using a gender-based facility that conflicts with their self-perceived gender. I get that. Transgender people feel that their rights to be themselves are being restricted if they have to use locker rooms that match their anatomy instead of being able to use ones that match their inner identity. And the wing-nuts who want to check birth certificates at the door, or who think that any of this is the purview of government, are making things even worse. Members of the transgender community rightly feel that they are under attack, and that stinks. I don't want to be part of making that worse.

But I worry that another concern is being lost. When using a shared space for women -- locker room, Pennsic shower house, women's mikvah, etc -- I would be extremely uncomfortable being undressed in front of someone with male anatomy. (Edit to bold that, as it seems to be being lost.) I don't care how the person identifies; it's about the parts. I'd also (secondarily) be rather uncomfortable seeing exposed male anatomy belonging to anyone other than my husband. While not judging anybody else, I feel that this violates my personal standards of modesty.

Do I have rights too?

I'd like to understand what the thoughtful response to this is. One possible argument is that the levels of discomfort are unequal, that trans people in the wrong place are way more distressed than I am in a mixed setting. Another possible argument is that we need to take turns -- people like me have had our way for a long time and it's time for others to get to call the shots for a while. I'm probably missing other possibilities. I'd like to understand; please educate me.

And yes, the real solution is privacy for all, but when that isn't attainable, what should we do?

(Also, for me this isn't at all a concern about safety or fear of inappropriate behavior, which can come from anybody.)
The mishna teaches that before marrying, a man should investigate his prospective wife's lineage to verify her status. (The mishna has previously discussed categories of people who are and are not allowed to intermarry.) For a daughter of a priest he looks back two generations; for Levites and other Israelites, three. (The mishna is more complicated, but that's what it boils down to.) However, if the investigation reaches a priest who served at the altar in the temple, a Levite who sang in the temple choir, or a judge or public officer, he can stop there -- they've already been vetted.

The g'mara, however, says that this investigation isn't required: families are presumed to be fit, and we only investigate if there is some question. This mishna, the g'mara says, is about cases where the matter is contested. (76a)

According to the mishna, ten genealogical classes of people returned to Israel from Babylon after the first exile. These are: kohanim (priests), Levites, Israelites ("regular" Jews), halalim (disqualified priests), proselytes, freedmen, mamzerim (products of a forbidden union), netinim (temple assistants, possibly Cana'anites), shetuki (to be defined), and foundlings. On these last two, the mishna says that the shetuki knows who his mother is but not his father (so he knows he's Jewish but doesn't know his tribe), while a foundling was gathered in from the street and knows neither his father nor his mother (but if he's circumcised the g'mara assumes he's Jewish).

The mishna goes on to list who may marry whom (which may be why it bothered to enumerate these ten groups). Kohanim, Levites, and Israelites may all intermarry. (These are, by the way, the three main groups; if you hear people talk about three categories of Jews, this is what they mean.) Levites, Israelites, halalim, proselytes, and freedmen (but not kohanim) may all intermarry. And prosselytes, freedmen, mamzerim, netinim, shetuki, and foundlings may all intermarry. (69a)

If you map this out, you'll see that these last few categories, who mostly have uncertain or non-Jewish parents, are pretty limited in whom they can marry. One reason for the restriction is to prevent accidental forbidden marriages -- for example, we don't want a foundling who doesn't know who his parents are to accidentally marry his sister. I guess the rabbis see the odds of this being very low if they stick within these groups; in principle two foundlings could have the same parents, but the only alternative would be to forbid them from marrying at all. (Skimming ahead a bit, it looks like they do in fact make the rarity argument on 73a.)

TIL #1:

Somebody linked to this question on Stack Overflow about some unexpected results when doing math on dates in Java. The problem, according to Jon Skeet, is that the date being used in the calculation is near midnight on December 31, 1927 in the Shanghai time zone -- when Shanghai moved its clocks by 5 minutes and 52 seconds. So the time in question existed twice, and Java chose the one that the programmer wasn't expecting.

That answers the programming question, but my question from that was: why in the world would somebody move clocks by 5 minutes and 52 seconds? I understand shifts of an hour (that happens all the time), and there are timezones out there that have 30-minute offsets and even one with a 15-minute offset, so that wouldn't have much surprised me either. But 5:52???

So I asked Google, which led me to a question on History Stack Exchange about this, where an answer explained that 1927 was not a good year for political stability in Shanghai, and one of the side-effects was a change in who had control over the central astronomical institution, with the result that the reference point moved east from Beijing to Nanjing. Greenwich was apparently not yet a thing as far as they were concerned.

A comment on the answer, from Taiwan, casts doubt on whether there was a time shift at all -- but, if not, doesn't explain where Java got the idea. Curious.

TIL #2:

A few days ago on Mi Yodeya somebody asked if, during the Exodus, the commandment to place the blood on the doorposts and lintel was just on one door or all of them. (Is it like mezuzot, which are on every door, or like the chanukiyah, which we place next to one door only?) My first thought was that there might have only been one door in ancient Egyptian slave housing. Last night I learned a little about ancient architecture and then wrote an answer about the four-room house, which appears to have had one outside door. I argued that we're given the reason for the commandment: it's to mark which houses are to be passed over. To me, that says blood on exterior doors, of which there was one.

Not TIL #3:

Today on Mi Yodeya somebody asked how many people the Pesach offering would feed. The torah says to use a lamb or kid, that it all has to be eaten that night, and that if you don't have enough people to do that, get together with your neighbors. So how big a group are we talking about? One can find plenty of information (not always in agreement, mind) about the weights of modern livestock animals, but animal husbandry has worked its magic over the centuries -- heck, even within my lifetime we've seen "standard" chickens for food get a lot bigger. So knowing how much a yearling lamb weighs today doesn't necessarily tell us what it might have weighed in ancient Egypt or in the time of the first or second temple, when this was done.

I considered asking on History SE, but I haven't yet. Anybody happen to know?
A mishna on today's daf teaches: if a man betroths a woman thinking she is the daughter of a kohein and it turns out she's the daughter of a levite only, or the reverse; or he thought she was poor and she is actually rich, or the reverse -- she is betrothed, because she did not deceive him. (He failed to properly investigate what he thought to be true.) On the other hand, if a man says: be thou betrothed... after I become a proselyte, or after you become a proselyte, or after you are liberated, or after your husband dies -- in all these cases she is not betrothed. The g'mara explains why not -- these are actions that are not in his power. But, the g'mara asks, surely becoming a proselyte is in his power? No, because you need the approval of a beit din, a court of three judges. (62a-b)

The g'mara does not here comment that in order to say "after you become a proselyte", the man must be betrothing a non-Jewish woman (at the time). I don't know if a betrothal to a future Jew would be held to be valid, or if the discussion just never gets that far because of the other issue raised.

Today is Yom HaShoah (Holocaust remembrance day). I don't know what is done elsewhere, but my Conservative morning minyan adds a short service after the torah service. It consists of some psalms and some modern writings, and ends with an unusual Kaddish. The Kaddish text is the usual text, but it's interspersed with the names of camps -- Aushwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, and so on through the entire list. The reader reads the Kaddish; the congregation reads the names.

I led the service today, but someone else, someone who is old enough to remember first-hand, always leads this special service. So after he finished he turned to me to continue and it was time for...Aleinu. Aleinu is the prayer where we look forward to the day when the whole world will follow God.

I stumbled, tripped up by the cognitive dissonance.

I know that, even in the light of outrageous suffering at the hands of monsters, individuals can retain faith in God. People did, then and in earlier times (the Nazis were far from the first). People do today when murderous Nazis have been replaced with murderous Arabs. People will in the future too. Not all people, but some. This I believe.

This morning I found it a little harder to believe that at some time in the future the whole world will come around. I realize that Aleinu is looking ahead to messianic times, but the messiah will come only after we have done the groundwork. God won't send the messiah when we've sunk into the depths and all hope is lost; rather, God will send the messiah when we collectively deserve it. I hope that day will come. This morning I found it a bit harder to know that it will.
The mishna is still discussing the objects with which a man may or may not betroth a woman. (Betrothal calls for a gift of a certain, small, monetary value.) Today we learn: if a kohein (priest) betroths a woman with his portion of the offerings (the part designated for the priests), she is not betrothed. This is true whether it is of the higher degree of sanctity (the sin-offering, eaten only by priests) or of the lower (peace-offering, eaten by priests and the person who brought it). This is, it will be explained later, because these offerings belong to God; the priests may eat them, but they do not belong to the priests, and a man must own the object he uses to betroth a woman. The mishna then makes a similar statement about the second tithe, which also goes to the priests -- no betrothing with them, either. This is the view of R' Meir. R' Yehudah says: if he did it unwittingly she is not betrothed but if he did it deliberately, she is. (52b)

(Today's daf is 55, and part of a long discussion arising from this mishna.)

When a man betroths a woman he must give her something of (at least small) value. Today we use a ring, but it could be anything so long as its value can be ascertained. The mishna teaches: if a man says to a woman "be thou betrothed to me with this wine" and it's found to be honey or "with honey" and it's found to be wine; or "with this gold dinar" and it's found to be silver or "with this silver dinar" and it's found to be gold; or "on condition that I am rich" and he's found to be poor or "on condition that I am poor" and he's found to be rich -- in all these cases, she is not betrothed. R' Shimon says: if he deceived her to her advantage (for example in the case where the silver coin turns out to be gold), then she is betrothed. (48b)

I don't understand conditional betrothals. As far as I can tell this isn't about some future state (if I am wealthy when it's time to get married); betrothal takes effect, or doesn't, immediately, so the state of the condition must be known, right?

Last night, as has become traditional (three times makes a tradition, right?), I held a second-night Pesach seder that I bill as the "it takes as long as it takes; you had lunch, right?" seder. In other words, the goal is plenty of good discussion, tangents welcome, and we'll get to the meal when we get there and meanwhile I'll put out some snacks.

We were five this year, having lost a couple people at the last minute. Our group included our new associate rabbi and another minyan member joining us for the first time; the others have been to this before. I asked everybody to bring something to share -- something from another haggadah, other readings or teachings, new songs, etc -- and, of course, plenty of questions.

We had a blast! We left few tangents unexplored, and I saw some haggadot that were new to me and interesting. (When people have a chance to answer the email I just sent, I'll update this post with specifics.) I heard some new songs (learning will take more than the one hearing, but now I know about them), and it turned out that some of the melodies I know were new to some others. And I take it as a good sign when a discussion about torah text gets to the point where somebody says "do you have a BDB" (a standard lexicon) or "pass the Jastrow" (dictionary of Aramaic terms). Why yes, we were taking apart grammar on the spot to answer niggling questions.

Here's a thing that only registered for me this year, despite using this same haggadah for three years now: you know that part at the beginning of Magid (the story) where many haggadot say "My father was a wandering Aramean"? Our haggadah (Silverman 2013) says "An Aramean sought to destroy my father". !!! The latter understanding is Rashi's (we learned), reading oved (wandering) instead as ibed (destroyed). That raised some eyebrows over grammar, and it turns out it does with Ibn Ezra too, who opts for the "wandering" version. Huh, interesting. Tonight I found an article at My Jewish Learning that talks about this.

I didn't notice exactly when we started, but it was about three hours until we got to the meal. To make that possible and not butt-numbing, I continued something I learned from Lee Gold: do the pre-meal part in the living room on the comfy chairs. We're supposed to be able to recline in comfort during this part; if space permits, I've found it helpful to actually do that. This wouldn't work with a large group, but with a large group we probably wouldn't be able to have this kind of discussion and interaction anyway.

Dinner conversation was enjoyable and wide-ranging, and then we went back to the living room for the after-meal parts, including a pretty rousing Hallel. It turns out we all like Hallel. :-)

I was able to share some things from "Hagada - Mi Yodeya?", and I sent everybody home with a copy. (You can download yours here.)

Food notes: During the earlier part, in addition to the ritual foods, I put out raw vaggies and almonds to munch on. Dinner was: (hard-boiled eggs,) ginger-coconut soup (with assorted veggies), gefilte fish, baked chicken with rosemary and sage, roasted red peppers stuffed with butternut squash and sweet onions, roasted small potatoes (golden and red) with sea salt, green salad with fruit (brought by a guest), and assorted desserts including cookies brought by a guest. (I was a wizard of multi-tasking on Friday!) For those wondering about the soup: everybody is presumed to have had chicken soup with matzah balls the previous night and one guest is a vegetarian, so I wanted something non-meat and didn't want to just use something that came in a box. I saw this soup recipe in a newspaper recently (it was a fish soup but I adapted it) and decided to make that.
Three years ago, we at Mi Yodeya put out our first publication, a Hagada supplement full of questions and answers related to the Passover seder, hand-picked from the thousands of great Jewish Q&As at Mi Yodeya. Seders around the world were enlivened, thanks to people bringing printouts of this booklet.

Today, for Passover 5776, we are proud to present a second edition, significantly expanded and improved. With eleven additional Q&As, "Hagada - Mi Yodeya?" now covers every step of the seder, from preparation (how can I make an engaging seder?) to the closing songs (why does Echad Mi Yodeya stop at 13?). It includes questions of theology and philosophy (did hardening Paro's heart mean he wasn't really responsible?), practical questions (what do you do with the wine in Eliyahu's cup?), and other things you might have wondered about (is two zuzim a lot of money for a kid goat? how much is a zuz anyway?).

You can download the new edition at http://s.tk/miyodeya. Please download, enjoy, and share! I'll have copies at my seder; perhaps you will at yours too?
The mishna discusses who is obligated in which mitzvot. For positive commandments limited to certain times, it says, men are obligated and women are exempt. For positive commandments not limited to certain times, and for all negative commandments, both men and women are obligated (except for three specific negative commandments, two of which have to do with facial hair).

Now we get to the g'mara. What are positive time-bound commandments from which women are exempt? The g'mara lists: dwelling in the sukkah, taking the lulav (a special ritual done during Sukkot), hearing the shofar, wearing tzitzit (fringes), and wearing t'filin (phylacteries). And what are positive commandments not bound by time? Placing a mezuzah on your doorpost, building a guard-rail on your roof/balcony, returning lost property, and sending away the mother bird before taking the eggs from the nest. These are not complete lists.

But the g'mara goes on to object. It points out several positive time-bound commandments that women are obligated to, including rejoicing on festivals, eating matzah on Pesach, and assembling at the Temple on Sukkot (when we were able to do so). And there are positive non-time-bound commandments from which women are exempt, such as studying torah and procreation. R' Yochanan answers: we cannot learn these from general principles. Over the next couple pages the g'mara presents sources about specific commandments. (29a mishna, 34a g'mara)

Remember that the talmud doesn't always start from "we have these facts; what can we derive?", but, rather, often starts from "we know the law to be X (because the oral law is a received tradition); from where do we know it or how can we characterize it?". We aren't here given a principle from which we can derive that women are exempt from sukkah, lulav, and so on; we're given a list.

"Don't read the comments" -- common, often-correct advice when browsing the Internet. But comments are important, if you want to build community instead of just publishing stuff.

The Guardian looked at trends in the 70 million comments they've received. Not too surprisingly, articles posted by identifiable women get more abusive comments than those posted by men -- except in the fashion category. About 2% of the comments they get are blocked by moderators as way over the line; I'm surprised it's not rather higher, actually.

People who find themselves abused online are often told to ignore it – it’s only words; it isn’t real life. But in extreme cases, that distinction breaks down completely, such as when a person is doxed, or SWATed, when nude photos are posted of the person without consent, or when a stalker assumes the person’s identity on an online dating site and a string of all-too-real men appear at their door expecting sex. As one woman who had this experience said: “Virtual reality can become reality, and it ruins your life.”

But in addition to the psychological and professional harm online abuse and harassment can cause to individuals, there are social harms, too. Recent research by the Pew Centre found that not only had 40% of adults experienced harassment online but 73% had witnessed others being harassed. This must surely have a chilling effect, silencing people who might otherwise contribute to public debates – particularly women, LGBT people and people from racial or religious minorities, who see others like themselves being racially and sexually abused.

Is that the kind of culture we want to live in?

Is that the web we want?

They talk about their research methods.
The talmud has moved on from talking about acquiring a wife and then acquiring a slave to acquiring property. The mishna teaches: property which offers security (real estate, which can be held as collateral for a loan) is acquired by money, by deed of sale, or by "hazikah" -- doing something to it such as plowing a field. On the other hand, property which does not offer security (movable goods) can be acquired only by meshikah, physical transfer from hand to hand. You can acquire both types of property together with money, deed, or hazikah (you don't need to physically pass the movables from person to person), but if there is a dispute over the transaction you will be obligated to take an oath. (Oaths are serious business.) (26a)

The mishna's position on adverse possession is unclear to me. I asked on Mi Yodeya.

(Today's daf is 27.)

For the past couple weeks -- but not before then -- both Firefox and Chrome have been randomly seizing up on me on my Mac at home (running Snow Leopard). When this happens, first that application and then (about 10-15 seconds later) the entire machine become unresponsive, presenting the spinning beachball of doom. After a minute or so, but occasionally longer, things go back to normal. Sometimes I see a Chrome pop-up about an unresponsive site flash by. When this happens and I can watch in the Activity Monitor, neither CPU nor memory is pegged. Sometimes this happens once a day; sometimes it happens a couple times in an hour. It's becoming a pretty big usability problem.

All browsers are up to date (and not beta versions). This doesn't happen on my work machine (Win7). Dani says this happens to him on his brand-new iMac with maxed-out memory, but only with Firefox. (So he uses Chrome -- problem solved.) For me on my dusty old Mac Mini, it's happening with both browsers. I can't figure out what changed -- why is this happening now?

Googling told me that disabling the Flash player extension/addon/plugin/whatever could fix this, but it didn't. I've also looked through extensions and disabled anything I'm not actively using; it's pretty bare-bones. I do have several userscripts, none written by me, but I don't see anything glaringly suspicious in their code. I've already disabled the ones I can live without at least for a while, but a couple of them really are critical. I'm not finding any help on the Apple forums.

I've been thinking about upgrading my hardware anyway, as even before this started my Mac was starting to get sluggish sometimes. I bought it in something like 2009, so that's not too surprising. But the Mini hasn't been updated since October 2014, so this is the wrong time to buy -- something better should be coming before too much longer.

Meanwhile, I'd like to diagnose and fix this problem. But I'm out of ideas. :-(
Having discussed how a man acquires a wife, the talmud goes on to discuss how one acquires a Hebrew slave, how the slave acquires his freedom, and how he is to be treated in between. The g'mara on today's daf talks about how he is to be treated. From "because he (the slave) is well with thee (the master)" (Deut 15:16), we learn that the slave must be with -- equal to -- the master: the master cannot eat white bread while the slave eats black bread; the master cannot drink old wine while the slave drinks new wine; the master cannot sleep on a feather bed while the slave sleeps on straw. Hence it was said: whoever buys a Hebrew slave is like buying a master for himself. (20a)

The Hebrew slave goes free in the seventh year (it's not forever). The verse cited here, though, is from the case where at that time the slave says he loves his master and refuses to go -- in that case he remains forever. This decision is entirely the slave's, so while you think you might be acquiring him, and thus taking on the obligation to treat him as one of your household in exchange for his labor, for six years, it could end up being for much longer.

Rav Yehudah said in Rav's name: one who does not know the peculiar nature of divorce and betrothal (I think this means one who doesn't know the laws of how to effect them) should have no business with them. R' Assi said in R' Yochanan's name: such people are more harmful to the world than the generation of the flood, for it is written: by swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they spread forth, and blood touches blood (Hosea 4:2). And it continues (4:3): therefore shall the land mourn and everyone that dwells there shall languish with the beasts of the field and the fowls of heaven and even the fish of the sea. But with the generation of the flood nothing was decreed against the fish, because it says: all that was in the dry land died -- what was in dry land, but not what was in the sea. So those who commit Hosea's list of transgressions cause a punishment more harsh than the flood, and the rabbis understand that to include those who try to act on betrothals and divorces without knowledge. (13a)

Whatever Hosea is talking about involves a penalty more dire than the flood (it all comes down to the fish). How do we get from Hosea's list of transgressions to those who don't know what they're doing with divorce and betrothal? I think it's about the adultery -- if you bungle a divorce then she's still married but doesn't know it, leading to adultery. This is my speculation; it's not completely clear to me in the text that this is the reasoning.

It's Purim Torah season at Mi Yodeya, where, in addition to the regular, serious questions, we also welcome parody questions. Our policy (yes, we have a policy) says:
It's gotta be distinctly "Purim" (not serious), distinctly Torah, and distinctly Q&A. Purim Torah questions that don't have all three of these qualities may be closed.

So, post sincere-looking questions (you know, the kind that invite answers) that:

  • misinterpret a real Torah concept or Jewish text, or
  • apply a distinctly Torah style (e.g. Talmudic analysis) to an irrelevant topic
Here's a sampling from this year. Purim Torah is welcome through this week, so feel free to join in.

There are a lot more, over 250 from this and past years.

Having finished Gittin (divorces), we now move on to Kiddushin (marriages). No, I don't know why they were recorded in this order.

The first mishna of Kiddushin says: a woman is acquired in marriage in three ways: by money, by deed (a written document), or by intercourse. On money, Beit Shammai requires a dinar in value, but Beit Hillel requires a perutah (a very small amount). The g'mara then discusses betrothal through money for several pages. Shortly before today's daf we learn how this works: if a man gives a woman money (or its equivalent value in goods) and declares "behold, thou art consecrated to me" (or "betrothed to me" or "wife to me"), and she accepts the gift, they are betrothed. Apparently a gift by itself doesn't effect the betrothal without the declaration, so it's safe to give gifts to your single female friends. (2a mishna, 5b g'mara)

Today's daf is 6.

If a man refuses to give his wife a get then she is trapped in the marriage (even if he has left her) and cannot remarry. This is why the laws of gittin are so important -- as a protection for her. A mishna on today's daf tells us that we can go so far as to compel the man to give her a bill of divorce even under duress and the get is valid -- if under an Israelite court. If it is done under a heathen court, on the other hand, the get is invalid. However, the heathen court can flog the man and tell him "do what the Israelite authorities command", and if he writes a get it is valid. (88b)

So the compulsion can come from any court, but the instruction must come from an Israelite court -- we don't entrust gentile courts to rule on matters concerning Jewish law.

Note: This has been an issue from before the time of the mishna through to today. The mishna's view is not the final word on this nor the halacha, about which (I understand) there is some controversy. I'm just presenting what the talmud says here; don't draw broader conclusions from this.