Thursday, January 31, 2008

In defense of one oven

One friend (who will remain nameless to protect the guilty) made the claim that our kitchen is not kosher because we use one oven for milk and meat. Not that it was not in accordance with her stricture. But, that it was not kosher.1. I went ahead and made the claim that the idea that one needed a separate milk and meat oven is one of the piled-on modern chumrot. I underestimated the amount of time that it took to enter halacha. I originally put it at about 40 years (see below), but it turns out that the theory can be traced to a longer-running dispute that I'm not sure how much significance it had for practical halacha.

The Internet has some very good resources. 2

As you can see from the sources (I won't repeat the details, if you want them, see the links above), the primary problem that is discussed in the literature until the Rema (16th century) is cooking kosher and non-kosher in the same oven simultaneously. The Rema inserts that milk and meat and kosher/non-kosher have the same laws, and that consecutive use under the same covering might be problematic because the steam (not the "aroma," which is essentially halachic cooties) from one food might change the status of the other. The ensuing halachic debate revolves around how steam transfers food-gender. Does it only work directly (from one steamy pot to another above it)? Does it work indirectly (from one steaming pot to anything else in the same enclosed atmosphere)? Does it work through enclosures? Does steam embed in the oven? Do all hot things produce steam with the same halachic status?

It also appears that "steam" the Rema is worried about is an actual physical entity, not halachic cooties. It is directly analogized to the condensation that appears on a pot cover. Note also that this explains the Rosh's (13th century)3 seemingly paradoxical conclusion that steam doesn't affect hot pots, where one would ordinarily expect that heat would worsen the transfer: water doesn't condense above its boiling point.

Our approach is never to cook or heat milk and meat in the same oven at the same time, and to allow the oven to cool down before switching genders. It is cleaned if recognizable food particles are present. In practice, it is an implementation of the Aruch Hashulchan's position, but, in theory, it's somewhere between those of the Aruch Hashulchan and Lichtenstein/Feinstein's. The added chumra is that even if the steam from consecutive use is important, we are worried about an actual physical entity. The actual steam from food is evacuated when the door to the oven is opened to remove the food (and the air inside exchanges with the air outside), and that if anything recognizable condenses during the cool-down cycle, it can be cleaned.

As noted in Rabbi Mordechai Broyde's article, the Aruch Hashulchan's position "was the custom in Eastern Europe a century ago."

In fact, three of the four practices with halachic-literature bases ((1) use the same [clean] oven for both, but not at the same time (2) use the same [clean] oven for both, with a 24 hour waiting period OR one hour at maximum temperature in between, (3) use the same [clean] oven for both, covering either dairy or meat liquids,4 (4) not using the same oven for both unless one is double-wrapped) allow the same oven to be used for milk and meat, with only the procedure for their use varying.

The practical implication is that it's possible to have a fully functional and fully kosher kitchen without being super-wealthy. That is, until the chumra police make you need a second oven.

1 Actually, she compared eating at our house to "eating out" (in the Jewishism sense), and effectively treats food we cook as treif. It was later modified to a "lower level transgression" instead of actual treifness.

2 For other resources, one wonders if they deliberately archaize the text ("a housewife should...") in order to sound more "traditional" or "authentic," or if the writers really live in a hole.

3 But didn't I say that this problem isn't discussed until the 16th century? Indeed, I did. The problem the Rosh is discussing is steam emitted directly onto another pot. The question of import here is whether steam that is emitted, condensed, and re-emitted is significant.

4 Reading about this subject has made me wonder whether popular misunderstanding of Rav Moshe Feinstein's position (or the other variants of it) contributes to the idea that one needs two separate ovens. It does require that one designate an oven as "meat" or "dairy" and pareve items that are cooked in it uncovered are considered to have the status of "meat equipment" or "dairy equipment." Yet, still a "meat" oven can be used to cook covered dairy liquids or uncovered dairy solids. Does the concept of designation itself lead people toward acceptance of the strictest opinion?

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Responding to email forwards

I've been thinking about this for a while, but finally decided to implement this plan for dealing with junk email forwards, specifically the ones that warn of the newest super-dangerous WILL KILL YOUR CHILDREN AND PILLAGE YOUR HOME virus. Basically, the plan is this: start with a form letter, enter a few specifics, then send it back to whoever sent it to me plus everyone who sent it in the forward chain as far back as I can find. Although I would hope it informs someone down the line, at least it helps me get out my aggressive tendencies toward serial forwarders. Anyway, here goes the form letter (required insertions/comments in CAPITALS):

You are receiving this message because you are in a forwarding chain of a hoax/false/insufficiently detailed email that eventually got to me. Nobody likes getting spam. At some point in the past few days, you sent some. You (or your friends) forwarded to their friends. Then, it got to me. You are a spammer. Here is how you can be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem.

1. When you receive any kinds of warnings by email, be wary of them. Most warnings that come over email are simply false. A small number are true, but exaggerated.
2. Email forwarding expands exponentially, and frequently is undated. Chances are, by the time you get it, even if it were true, it's not true anymore.
3. The more dire the warnings, the less likely it is that the details are true. Warnings such as "THIS WILL DESTROY ALL YOUR DATA INSTANTLY AND FRY YOUR HARD DRIVE AND EAT YOUR CHILDREN!" are exaggerated.
4. One should always practice safe Internet usage:
a. Don't open attachments from unknown sources.
b. Be wary of unrequested attachments from known sources.
c. Carefully read and respond to warnings sent by your software.
d. Use antivirus/antispyware software if you use Windows *or* switch to a Mac or Linux.
e. Disable macros if you use Microsoft Office, or don't use Microsoft Office.
f. Avoid use of insecure and buggy Internet software, such as Microsoft Internet Explorer and Outlook or Outlook Express. Use alternatives such as Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird.
99% of the time, whatever is warned about by these kinds of warnings, even *if* true, would have been prevented by these steps. So, no need to bother your friends, except to tell them those six things.

You can prevent this kind of spam by doing a tiny amount of research. For the email you sent me, the following <(INCLUDE A LINK THAT SHOWS THE EMAIL IS A HOAX)>, which was the *(INSERT NUMBER, IT'S USUALLY LOW) result* of a Google search I did proved that the email you sent was (INSERT THE LEVEL OF TRUTH OF THE FORWARD). It took me less than 10 seconds. You could have saved your friends (and their friends, and theirs) a bit of worry by doing the same thing I did, and not pressing forward.

And to make it even better, even if this email were true, I could not have been affected by the virus. I use Linux. X VIRUS would likely only affect Microsoft Windows. (INSERT DETAILS HERE; SINCE I'VE NEVER SEEN A VIRUS IN THE WILD THAT ATTACKS LINUX (OR MAC OS X) SYSTEMS, THIS IS RELEVANT) You would never know that from the email, either. (MOST VIRUS FORWARDS SAY "WILL ATTACK YOUR COMPUTER" AND ARE UNSPECIFIC ABOUT WHAT SYSTEMS ARE AFFECTED, EVEN IN THE RARE CASES THAT THEY'RE TRUE.)

In addition, your record of following instructions in a random email without even checking if you should shows that *you* should be the one worried about falling for virus attacks, identity theft scams, and other "social engineering" attacks sent by email.

Remember -- your friends have enough to worry about. Think before you forward.

Thanks for your time; no thanks for wasting mine.

The email you forwarded, and the forwarding chain showing how I got it is quoted below:

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Hartman rabbinic ordination of women: not such a big deal

This J-Post article is setting the blogosphere abuzz about Rabbi David Hartman's decision to offer Orthodox rabbinic ordination to women at the Shalom Hartman Institute. The popular press rhetoric is certainly the rhetoric of egalitarianism. Rabbi Donniel Hartman, co-director of the institute and son of David Hartman, is quoted as saying:
"The classic distinctions between men and women are no longer relevant. People who come to the Hartman Institute to study are committed to making gender equality in Judaism a reality."

Now, here's the description of the program:

Melamdim also offers an optional Rabbi-Educator track – the first rabbinic ordination program of its kind. Tailored to the distinct professional needs of rabbis who serve as North American community high school educators, the track is open to students of both sexes and all denominations who are interested in pursuing an MA degree, teaching career and rabbinic ordination at the same time.
Target Population
The program is open to individuals of all denominations from Israel and North America, who satisfy the following criteria:

  • Hold a BA either in Jewish studies or in Bible, Talmud or Jewish Philosophy

  • Have a good knowledge of Hebrew

  • Have a knowledge of classical Jewish texts

  • Commit to fulfill the program’s considerable study and work requirements

  • Commit to work as a teacher in a Jewish high school for at least three years after graduating from the program

It looks like it's offering the status of rav hamaggid, the lowest level of ordination which entitles the bearer to hold the title of "rabbi" and to teach. It does not confer the status of halachic decisor. It does not automatically allow one to perform the functions commonly associated with pulpit rabbis (which was the focus of the Conservative teshuvot in the 1970's and 1980's). One can argue that this status is not an equivalent of nor a modern replacement for "traditional" (Talmudic?) rabbinic ordination.

In Modern Orthodox circles, many high schools already allow women to be taught Talmud, a few more allow women to teach Talmud to men. Most already have women teaching some subjects, implying that they do not consider teaching high school to be serara (holding a position of communal authority), so, they do not have to face that halachic boundary. Judaic studies teachers who hold the title of "rabbi" are probably paid at a higher level for their advanced degree, which is a path toward career advancement previously not open to women. If a high school were to accept Hartman's ordination of a woman, they may then be forced to pay her at an equal rate to men who hold the same type of degree.

Even so, women who graduate from the program would have a second-class status, even as a rav hamaggid. They could function as high school teachers (the intent of the training in the program), but they could not function as pulpit rabbis, the other career path for a rav hamaggid, because their activities are still restricted by Orthodox interpretations of halacha.

In sum, this may affect teachers' pay and titles (and we aren't even sure if the title "rabbi" will be conferred on a woman), but it doesn't look like there's anything truly ground-breaking coming out of it.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Lawyers think of everything

Check out this disclaimer in the EULA for the SBL Hebrew font:
8. Neither Tiro Typeworks nor the Society of Biblical Literature accept any liability for injury, death, financial loss or damage to person or property (including computer hardware, software or data) resulting from the use of this font software.

(It's in Appendix A of the manual PDF, but it's helpfully reproduced here in web-friendly HTML)

They planned for the contingency that someone will die because of the use of their font.

(Incidentally, while this EULA is clearly non-free, there is a free software Unicode 5 Biblical Hebrew font, Ezra SIL, which is released under the Open Font License. Sadly, the OFL contains a more standard software disclaimer and does not anticipate death as a result of the use of the software.)

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