Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Is R. Ovadya Yosef Guilty of picking and choosing?

In his infamous speech, Rav Ovadya Yosef said the Carmel fires were caused by fire shabbos desecration. He bases this on something attributed to Rab on BT Shabbos 119b, where we're told that fire occurs ONLY in a place where there is Shabbos desecration; concludes Rab (or his student), the fire that destroyed Jerusalem resulted from Shabbos desecration.

Only not so fast..

EIGHT other explanations for the fire that destroyed Jerusalem are given on the same page of the Talmud. EIGHT!

Why is R. Ovadya Yosef certain that it was Shabbos desecration that caused the Carmel to burn? Perhaps the fire came for one of the other reasons given by the Talmud?

>> See the list from the Talmud after the jump.

  1. Because the reading of the Shma was neglected (R. Abbahu)
  2. Because the education of school children was neglected (R. Hamnuna) So, perhaps it's not the Sabbath desecraters of  Tel Aviv that caused the Carmel to burn, but the Sabbath keepers of Peta Tikva. Per Rav Hamnuna isn't it at least possible that the fire came because haredi school principles refused to accept black students?
  3. Because its inhabitants were not ashamed of each other ('Ulla) No issue, I think: In modern Jerusalem, every Jew is ashamed of something some other Jew is doing.
  4. Because the small and the great were made equal (R. Isaac) Certainly a problem in "the land of 5 million prime ministers."
  5. Because they did not rebuke each other (R. Amram son of R. Simeon b. Abba said in R. Simeon b. Abba's name in R. Hanina's name) Thank God for blogs and bloggers! We keep the fires of destruction at bay!
  6. Because scholars were despised (Rab Judah) Do they mean religious scholars or secular scholars? Probably both, as in the ancient world no one recognized a distinction. In which case, the science rubbishers  and the Torah bashers seem equally at fault. 
  7. Every town in which there are no school children shall be destroyed. (Reish Lakish)
  8. Because there were no honest or trustworthy men therein (Rabba)

*Note: Yes, yes, yes: OF COURSE Rav Ovadya Yosef knows what it says on BT Shabboth 19b. As a scholar and a genius, doesn't he owe his audience an answer to the self-evident question? If he's going to select one Talmudic statement ahead of eight others, shouldn't he provide the criteria he used to reach that conclusion? And if no such criteria were employed, hasn't he ceased to operate as a scholar in this instance? Isn't he instead performing as a polemicist?

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