Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Shoveling snow on Shabbat, '09 version

I'm copying and pasting a big chunk of the first version of this post. Not because it's so eloquent that it needs to be repeated, but so that I don't have to bother paraphrasing it. There's some new stuff at the end.

Snowy sidewalks are no big deal in themselves, but they become icy sidewalks after they've been walked on for a while, and those things are dangerous.

When it's necessary to shovel on Shabbat, I always do so, wearing socks on my hands as a shinnui. I haven't asked a rabbi about this, and this is out of respect for the rabbinate--I want to save them the embarrassment of possibly giving the wrong answer.

As a side note, I once told a friend, former and (I hope) future havrusa and/or hevruta, and ethical adviser about this. He (who lives in an apartment where the landlord is responsible for shoveling, so it's not his problem) said he thought this a fine idea. Since it's just me, he said, I should do it without any distinctive Jewish accessories visible. If, however, I were R' Gedalia Dov Schwartz, av beit din of the RCA and the Chicago Rabbinical Council, who lives a few blocks away, I should do it looking like I was R' Gedalia Dov Schwartz so everyone would know it's OK. I take his point, although I should point out that if I were R' Gedalia Dov Schwartz, I wouldn't need his advice.

And now the new stuff. This last Shabbat morning, there was a layer of slush on the sidewalk. I ignored it, since it was Shabbat, and what would the people coming to lunch think? By Sunday morning, the slush had turned into solid ice with footprints.

So let's imagine that someone had injured themselves on the ice that I piously left there, and let's further imagine that I'd passed away and had to face the Heavenly Tribunal.

Members of the Tribunal (M"T): Well, what about this Mr. McNotzreigh who got injured on your ice?

Me: Sorry about that, but only a little, since I was observing Shabbat.

M"T: Very nice.

(I assume the M"T are Orthodox Jews, among whom "very nice" means "yeah, right, whatever.")

Right. Well, very nice. But next time, I'm going to do what needs to be done and forgo the after-the-fact teshuvah.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A great stochasticity happened there

I temporarily turn this pulpit over to my neighbor, whom I'm calling Nigel ben Ploni even though that isn't really his name. Please give him the same respect you give me.

A few years ago on Shabbat Hanukkah, Young Progeny (not her real name) told me that if you start spinning a dreidl with the gimmel facing you, it will land on a gimmel. I asked where she heard this; she said it came from friends of hers. I asked if she was sure; feeling a lesson coming on, she hedged. I asked if she'd like to try it. She agreed, realizing she didn't have much of a choice.

So we got a dreidl, and Young Progeny spinned it thirty-six (two hai) times, and we used raisins as counters. Each letter came up roughly the same number of times, with gimmel coming in third. Admittedly, we should have tried spinning from other letters and using other dreidls. But hey! (not to mention nun!, gimmel!, and shin!), it was Shabbat.

We would have submitted our results for publication, but one of the researchers ate the data.

Thank you, Nigel. Inspiring, as always.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Reference books

It was recently pointed out to me that the well-respected nineteenth-century biblical grammar Maslul, by R. Hayyim Kesslin, lists four properties of a proper noun. A proper noun:

  • does not take plural endings. You don't say "Avrahamim" (Abrahams).
  • does not take the prefix "ha," meaning "the." "Ha-Avraham" (the Abraham) is not OK.
  • does not take possessive suffixes. "Avrahamkha" (your Abraham) doesn't work.
  • is not the nonfinal element in a semikhut. A semikhut is one or more nouns following one another. The first noun is the actual item; each noun other than the first has some relationship to the one(s) that precede(s) it. For example, "magen Avraham" means "shield having to do in some way with Abraham." "Shield of Abraham" and "Abraham's shield" both seem like reasonable renderings. (B"N, IY"H, I'll soon be writing more about semikhut in a posting about l*shon hara.) According to this final rule, a proper noun cannot be a nonfinal element in a semikhut. Thus, the Bible doesn't have such usages as "Avraham Yerushalayim" (in the sense of "Abraham of Jerusalem"). A preposition would be used.

  • 1892 ed., hebrewbooks.org/7124, pdf p. 121

    The list makes sense. The problem is that the second rule has several exceptions, at least when it comes to names of places (which the Maslul includes in its definition of proper nouns). The Bible is full of references to "ha-Levanon" (Lebanon), "ha-Gil'ad" (Gilead), and "ha-Yarden" (the Jordan). There may be others as well.

    So there are several exceptions to the rule, and those exceptions appear throughout. I don't mind exceptions (I like to think of myself, and of you my readers, as exceptional); the problem is that the Maslul gives these rules without telling the reader that there are exceptions. The larger point is that, as Ed Absurdum has pointed out, we need to read critically. Reference works are invaluable; some of us would be helpless without them. But we shouldn't blindly accept everything they say--we need to use our own judgment.