Saturday, September 29, 2012

Berachot 59a: Causes of earthquakes

Reposted from parshablog:

Did Homosexuality, Or Homosexual-Friendly Legislation, Cause the Recent Earthquakes?
I don't think so.

But a certain Shas MK is certain they did, if news reports are to be believed:

Benizri said the government should not make do with reinforcing buildings, but should instead pass less legislation that encourages homosexuality and other "perversions like adoptions by lesbian couples."

The ultra-Orthodox party MK invoked passages from the Talmud and the Gemarrah to support his claims. 
"Why do earthquakes happen?" said Benizri. "One of the reasons is the things to which the Knesset gives legitimacy, to sodomy."
This reflects a particular brand of Judaism, prevalent I think more among Sefardim, about schar veOnesh and claims to knowledge about what causes what.

It it funny that the article in HaAretz calls it passages from the Talmud and the Gemarrah. Firstly because Gemarrah is an atypical spelling, and calls to mind Sodom and Gomorrah. Secondly, it would appear that whoever wrote this was an ignoramus, who did not realize that "the Talmud" and "the Gemmarah" are one and the same. And this is who you have doing your religion reporting? (Perhaps it is a bad translation to English of a Hebrew article, where for some reason it made sense?)

I do not know whether this is an accurate portrayal of the remarks, but assuming it is, here is my reaction.

Firstly, if you want a prooftext that "
legislation that encourages homosexuality and other 'perversions like adoptions by lesbian couples.' " causes earthquakes, look lower down in the gemara. Look in Yerushalmi Berachot 9:2, where the gemara states:
ורבנן אמרו מפני המחלוקת. (זכריה יד) ונסתם גיא הרי כי יגיע גיא הרים אל אצל.
Thus, the Rabbanan rely on the prooftext from Zechariah which states:
ה וְנַסְתֶּם גֵּיא-הָרַי, כִּי-יַגִּיעַ גֵּי-הָרִים אֶל-אָצַל, וְנַסְתֶּם כַּאֲשֶׁר נַסְתֶּם מִפְּנֵי הָרַעַשׁ, בִּימֵי עֻזִּיָּה מֶלֶךְ-יְהוּדָה; וּבָא ה אֱלֹהַי, כָּל-קְדֹשִׁים עִמָּךְ.5 And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azel; yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah; and the LORD my God shall come, and all the holy ones with Thee.
If you want to say that gays being parents of adopted children causes earthquakes, say the following derasha: Al Tikrei "Gay Haray" ela "Gay Horay."

Enough joking.

Note that the quotation of the remarks in the article was that "One of the reasons is the things to which the Knesset gives legitimacy, to sodomy." Note that it starts "one of the reasons." That means that there are multiple reasons given. Even if we could apply this gemara to persent-day situations, does this MK have ruach hakodesh to know that this is the reason?

Let us examine the many reasons the gemara gives for earthquakes. First, in Bavli Berachot 59a. In English:

AND OVER EARTHQUAKES [ZEWA'OTH]. What are ZEWA'OTH? R. Kattina said: A rumbling of the earth. R. Kattina was once going along the road, and when he came to the door of the house of a certain necromancer, there was a rumbling of the earth. He said: Does the necromancer know what this rumbling is? He called after him, Kattina, Kattina, why should I not know? When the Holy One, blessed be He, calls to mind His children, who are plunged in suffering among the nations of the world, He lets fall two tears into the ocean, and the sound is heard from one end of the world to the other, and that is the rumbling. Said R. Kattina: The necromancer is a liar and his words are false. If it was as he says, there should be one rumbling after another! He did not really mean this, however. There really was one rumbling after another, and the reason why he did not admit it was so that people should not go astray after him. R. Kattina, for his own part, said: [God] clasps His hands, as it says: I will also smite my hands together, and I will satisfy my fury. {Ezek. XXI, 22.} R. Nathan said: [God] emits a sigh, as it is said: I will satisfy my fury upon them and I will be eased. {Ibid. V, 13} And the Rabbis said: He treads upon the firmament, as it says: He giveth a noise as they that tread grapes against all the inhabitants of the earth {Jer. XXV, 30}. R. Aha b. Jacob says: He presses his feet together beneath the throne of glory, as it says: Thus saith the Lord, the heaven is my throne and the earth is my foot-stool Isa. LXVI, 1}.
Thus, there are multiple reasons.

1) The reason of the necromancer, which may or may not be accurate for that particularearthquake. (My reading of the gemara was that the necromancer was correct as to the physical phenomenon, such that there was one rumbling after another, but entirely incorrect as to the cause.) Which is that Hashem is sad at the suffering of His children. Nothing to do with sodomy.
2) R' Katina: Something to do with God's anger over wrongdoing.
3) R' Natan: Similar.
4) The Rabbis: Not necessarily negative, but something to do with God's honor, perhaps.
5) Rav Acha bar Yaakov: Similar.

Nothing yet to do with homosexuality, so how is this MK so sure that it was not one of the aforementioned reasons?

Next up, we have the Yerushalmi Berachot 9:2:

אליהו ז"ל שאל לר' נהוריי מפני מה באין זועות לעולם אמר ליה בעון תרומה ומעשרות. כתוב אחד אומר (דברים יא) תמיד עיני ה' אלהיך בה וכתוב אחד (תהילים קד) המביט לארץ ותרעד יגע בהרים ויעשנו. הא כיצד יתקיימו שני כתובין הללו בשעה שישראל עושין רצונו של מקום ומוציאין מעשרותיהן כתיקונן תמיד עיני ה' אלהיך בה מראשית השנה ועד אחרית השנה ואינה ניזוקת כלום. בשעה שאין ישראל עושין רצונו של מקום ואינן מוציאין מעשרותיהן כתיקונן המביט לארץ ותרעד. אמר ליה בני חייך כך היא סברא דמילתא. אבל כך עיקרו של דבר אלא בשעה שהקב"ה מביט בבתי תיטריות ובבתי קרקסיות יושבות בטח ושאנן ושלוה ובית מקדשו חרב הוא אפילון לעולמו להחריבו. הה"ד (ירמיהו כה) שאוג ישאג על נוהו. בשביל נויהו. אמר ר' אחא בעון משכב זכר. אמר הקב"ה אתה זיעזעתה איברך על דבר שאינו שלך. חייך שאני מזעזע עולמי על אותו האיש. ורבנן אמרו מפני המחלוקת. (זכריה יד) ונסתם גיא הרי כי יגיע גיא הרים אל אצל. אמר רבי שמואל אין רעש אלא הפסק מלכות. כמה דאת אמר (ישעיהו יג) ותרעש הארץ ותחל. מפני מה (ישעיהו יג) כי קמה על בבל מחשבות ה.

The Yedid Nefesh translation / elaboration is to the right. Once again, we have multiple reasons:

1) Neglecting terumah and maaser.
2) Ignoring the churban habayit and attending theaters and circuses instead. (But theaters and circuses had different meaning back then, and the attention payed present-day churban habayis perhaps may not prompt this, given changed political and physical realities.
3) Sodomy.
4) Divisiveness!
5) The ending of a kingdom.

(Note, by the way, that despite Eliyahu haNavi offering an opinion and revealing the reality, this does not stop others from offering their own opinions as to the significance of earthquakes.)

So sodomy is featured there, but one opinion among many. How do we know to identify specifically this one, as opposed to any of the others? Or none of the above? Or natural causes?

Indeed, by making such a statement, in such a manner, he increases machloket, so perhaps heis the cause of the earthquakes!

Furthermore, all the Yerushalmi speaks of is the act of sodomy. But does gay-friendly legislation really encourage sodomy? Not directly -- people do not suddenly become gay because of friendly legislation. I could see the argument that it provides social support for long-term relationships, in which case people might engage in more homosexual acts. So there is some logic to the argument, based on the prooftext of the gemara.

But, once again, why rely specifically on this one opinion in the gemara and claim knowledge of the cause?

And more importantly, such statements are unproductive at best. It is, or comes across, as hatred. It increases machloket. And do you think they are going to listen to you, or will they dismiss you as a lunatic and religious freak?

On the other hand, we do see this well established practice of trying to find causes for natural phenomena such as this, in the time of Chazal, by examining the world about them as well asdarshening various pesukim.

Update: Meanwhile, people have lines that they think are good, but only because they haven't seen the sources inside. I refer to this:
Mike Hammel, chairman of the Israeli Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Association isn't having any of it. Hammel responded by saying:
"It is sad that a religious MK in Israel doesn't think earthquakes are God-made. On the other hand, I suppose we should be flattered he attributes us with such magical powers.
The Yerushalmi cited above explicitly says that it is God-made:
אמר ר' אחא בעון משכב זכר. אמר הקב"ה אתה זיעזעתה איברך על דבר שאינו שלך. חייך שאני מזעזע עולמי על אותו האיש.
as a Divine response to such activities.

But what can you do?

1 comment:

  1. this actually came up again after the virginia earthquake that had some effects in the NYC area, and it was used to oust an orthodox (shabbos observant) jew from a political seat by some radical religionists. got me really angry how people distort one of a bunch of guesses (to be nice, you could say educated guesses based on linguistics) to try to state something as an accepted jewish belief. As an aside, i never learned Yerushalmi but i think this is also in the Midrash Koheles, and as i remember there were like 6 opinions.

    re that Mike Hammel comment, while you have a point, i think he would reply that the Shas MK believes that his G-d is an extremely weak and powerless G-d, who can't control Himself and is forced to cause earthquakes and hurt innocent people based on the acts of some sinners.

    btw, really enjoy the blog.