Saturday, February 28, 2009

Strawberries and Why Contemporary Halakha Has Stagnated

As many of you know, there is a website, including video, making the rounds proving that strawberries are infested with a "new" insect called thrips.

Several points:

1) Thrips have been abundant for well over 100 million years

2) A quick review of the agricultural literature reveals that thrips infestation of straweberries is most definitely not new, here's just one of many examples:

3) R. Moshe Feinstein argues that any insect that is not clearly visible to the naked eye is not of Halakhic concern (Iggerot Moshe, YD4:2). R. Nachum Rabinovitz makes a similar argument that even if the insect is visible but does not appear to be a living creature to the naked eye is of no Halakhic concern (Shu"t Siach Nachum 45)

4) The video appears to have been filmed through a zoom lens that paints a picture more magnified than can the naked eye.

What does this have to do with stagnation of Halakha?

A friend reported to me that a prominent Rabbi this past Shabbat delivered a shiur on strawberries. In reviewing the issue, he stated that R. Rabinovitz's book has many radical responsa.

Now ... I've been through that book, and I can find nothing even approaching radical. Original and creative, but not radical. It's not like R. Professor Daniel Sperber permitting women to have aliyot, or R. Sherlo raising the issue of allowing older single women to become pregnant through artificial insemination. Au contraire, his book is filled with good old fashioned creativity and original thinking.

I asked my friend if anyone asked said prominent Rabbi what about the book is radical. Answer: no.

So ... why has Halakha stagnated? Because anyone daring to be creative and ... heaven forefend ... original ... is labeled by his contemporaries as "radical" and the masses nod their heads and accept it.

I find this especially ironic in that R. Rabinovitz is a product of the chareidishe velt.


  1. the point of the video, I think, is really to disgust the consumer so completely that he will stop eating strawberries....

  2. I'm just waiting for the demonstrations against the large supermarket chains. After all, they're selling strawberries which are treife le-mehadrin.

  3. but boy oh boy are they delicious!

  4. Notwithstanding the fact that Rabbi (name withheld by blogger) referred to the some of the teshuvas in the book as radical (if you anything about Rabbi you'll know that he's given to such hyperbole) he quoted from the book in discussing the lenient opinions on Strawberries.

    Rabbi is I'm sure you know, is a major Talmid Chachom. Friday night's shiur is just the second of several in which he is examining this issue. Which he will do with the same thoroughness that he approaches everything.

    I hardly think you can use as your example of halachic stagnation (of which I agree there is plenty) a rav who paskened, against some of his mentors btw, that his shul can have a female president.

  5. My posting was not meant as an ad hominem attack. I know said Rabbi for MUCH longer than 99% of his congregants. Indeed, he is relatively open-minded when compared to some Rabbinic sectors.

    I submit to you there is something wrong with OUR (in the broadest sense of that word) approach. By way of example:

    1) "We" consider having a female shul president as still pushing the envelope? If we're still thinking that, there could be no better example of Halakhic stagnation.

    2) We're spending multiple shiurim on strawberries?? Meila multiple shiurim on women getting aliyot. But strawberries??

    3) Our Rabbinic hyperbole is, somehow, too often applied consistently ... in directions that generate stagnation.

    The problem is not with this or that Rabbi. The problem is with the whole.

  6. 1) Why?

    2) Shiurim on women getting aliyas? Talk about beating a dead horse.

    3) Examples?

    It seems to me that your idea of "stagnation" is quite subjective and focused on "womens" issues. If that's your criteria then you will be disappointed as their are going to be some hard limits.

    I know it's just an example, but the strawberry issue doesn't hit me as a particularly good one.
    There is nothing stagnant about using a topical issue on which launch a series of shiurim on the broader halachic issue.

    While I agree that on one end of the orthodox spectrum is there is not only stagnation but regression, on the other end there is such a mad rush to "change" things the people and even institutions there tend to jump off the deep end.

    The Strawberry issue further illustrates another problem of left vs. right. The left often responds to such things with "that's ridiculous" while on the right the automatic response is "that's a problem". When in reality the proper response of a Torah Jew, IMHO, is "hmmm let's check it out".

    Things do change. Bugs are an important halachic issue. I don't know when you made Aliyah but just a few years ago in the states a reduction in pesticides created a massive bug issue.

    There's nothing stagnant about halachically responding to changes in the physical world. It is stagnant, however, to ignore those changes and continue on doing what grandma did as if nothing had changed.

  7. A quick review of the agricultural literature reveals that strawberries have been infested with thrips for a very long time. Google it. Nothing had changed in the physical world.

    If women's aliyot were a dead horse, they would be getting aliyot, because it is obviously not an issue when viewed from a narrow Halakhic perspective. What's dead is the way 99.9% of the Rabbinic world is analyzing the issue.

    Define, please, in your opinion, what the "hard limits" are in women's issues.

    There is a very wide range of non-gender issues where Halakha has stagnated ... everything from pets being muktza to organ donation to conversion protocols. Just open up any book of contemporary Halakha. 90% acomplish nothing more than making a knowledgeable reader yawn.

    Examples of one-directional hyperbole? Why is it that when liberal Rabbi Ploni claims that Halakhic death is determined by medical science, the response is "radical", but when ultra-conservative Rabbi Almoni labels R. Drukman a heretic the response is "I don't understand."

    I have been in Israel for almost 18 years. I don't know about insect infestation in the US, nor do I care. What I do know is that the system ain't working here. I found it sad that, during the disengagement, I had to turn to the various newspapers to read thoughtful analyses. The Rabbis, with very few exceptions, had nothing deep to say at all ... in either direction.

    I also don't know what a "Torah Jew" is. I only know what a Jew is, but even then, alas, R. Elyashiv and his puppets reject the opinion that I hold even on that.

    I know one other thing. Those that claim to be Torah Jews are checking out almost nothing in serious depth. Rehashing what's already been said a million times over doth not constitue serious depth. Looking at things from new angles is necessary for serious depth, and those who dare do so are labeled "radical".