Halachah For the 22nd Century

The Fringes of Technology meet the Fringes of Halachah

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Cyborgian Phylacteries

When it comes to wearing Tefillin the issues seem to be rather straight forward a righty wears it on his left hand and vice versa. But what if specialized interchangeable arms are made. These could lead to some major problems. For example what if you own a right arm which is your naturally stronger one and a artificial muscle bound left hand. Or for example suppose you own multiple arms which all can go on your right hand. Would we say you go by the hand you write with and you must put on your writing hand and put the Tefillin on the other hand. Or do we say that we go with the hand which is overall stronger and therefore you should wear Tefillin on a specialized arm. Then what about Tachanun and leaning on Pesach. Leaning on Pesach can be an issue because there are two reasons for leaning to the left. 1. To avoid choking 2. It's easier for a righty to eat leaning right. However if your left hand has a sporife (spoon, fork, knife) attachment to it then reason number two goes out the window. Also once we have interchangeable hands we'll probably have solved the problem of choking so it seems that you should lean to the right in that situation.

Monday, May 15, 2006


Hello out there, technopsak readers. I have been kindly invited to contribute to this blog, and hope that I can keep up with Mike's level of prolificness (is that a word) and quality.

Today, we will ponder the issue of cyronic suspension, commonly used in science fiction as a way of reviving people who may have died of diseases that were not curable at the time, or as a way of dealing with the time limitations of space travel.

First of all, would one wash negel vasser when awakening? According the sevara of negel vasser that holds that it stems from the tumah of sleeping i, which is akin to death, then the answer would obviously be yes. On the other hand, if we say that the obligation stems from "yadayim askaniyot haim"- the hands are busy and must have touched an impure part of the body in sleep, such reasoning would not apply in the case of cyronic suspension. Since we have no way of being machria between the opinions, I would advise to wash without making the bracha. The case is, however, interesting because it is one of the few nafka minot between the sevarot.

Moving on, let us discuss the issue of bentching gomel. Are you considered to have been in danger while frozen? If the freezing was for a space trip, then probably that would be a kal v'chomer from an across-ocean trip, although this may depend on the risks attendant to space flight in that particular society. If the person was awakening from death, then I would also tend towards prescribing the bracha- isn't being temporarily dead just like being dangerously ill, only more so?

A final question is whether the person would say shehechiyanu for things that happen after they awaken. If they ate a fruit the day before they were frozen, and awoke twenty years later, is this considered to have been a break of twenty years, or of one day? This is a very complicated issue, for which I think we must go back to the sevara behind shehechiyanu. Is it gratitude for living over a certain period of time, or an expression of gratitude when experiencing something that you have not had for a long time? I would lean towards the latter explanation, since it depends not on the time period, but on the experience. However, this would mean that the person might not say shehechiyanu even on a chag, if they were awake for less than a year in the interim, which seems odd halachically. However, lacking a way to resolve this doubt, I would advise against the bracha (since 'safek brachot l'hakel) and suggest that for a chag, the person eat something which they have not had for a week of awake time, or else purchase a new outfit.

Yeharaig v'al Yaavor Robotics

As you may know Asimov had as a basis for his robots the three laws of positronics the first of which was, "No Robot can harm or allow to come to harm any person." Now suppose someone threatens you with death unless you eat some pork and there is a Robot standing nearby. Is it a certainty that the robot will save you and therefore you should refuse or can you not rely on a computer for safety. This may also depend on whether these robots are aware of the Zeroth Law of Robotics which Asimov threw in the second half of his career as a cheap buy-out. Therefore since given Asimov's views on religion he probably would think making the world atheist is in humanity's interests a robot can not be relied on.

Friday, May 12, 2006

For you robot overlords (I mean protectors) the question of brainwashes on Shabbas comes up rather frequently. This involves a halchic problem of mechikah as most memory is permanent and is imprinted in our brains. This is more debatable when brainwashing amnesiacs or people with short-term memory loss. This memory could be considered non-permanent and it would therefore be permitted. You also have an issue of causing a person to sin as he would forget all his knowledge of Jewish law and would therefore sin. There is room to be lenient there, however, since we can say that it wouldn't be a sin as the brainwashee wouldn't be punished in Heaven. Therefore it is better to avoid these issues by scheduling brainwashes for Friday or maybe Saturday night.

Where have You Gone Aryeh Kaplan? (A Nation turns its lonely eyes to you.)

While I haven't had personal experience with that much kiruv stuff my school will occasionally get some outreach speaker to preemptively speak to the school. From those presentations here is what is the large problem with the Baal Teshuvah movement today and why it is faltering. The major problem is that the Baal Teshuvah movement never really could make a purely intellectual case and they never really tried. Rabbi Kaplan came the closest but in general the movement was successful because people were emotionally dissatisfied with their secular lives in the 60's and 70's and turned to religion for more meaning in their lives. However the kiruv organizations never prepared for a time when there would be less dissatisfaction with the outside world. This meant that all of their arguments which are so ironclad within their paradigm fall short to someone who doesn't share all of their starting beliefs, even if he believes in G-d. The problem is that there hasn't been an argument in most of these lectures originated within the past millenium. This creates a vicious cycle because Judaism enters into an intellectual climate which is weakened by the inbreeding among the opinions with old commentaries elaborated on and no new source of ideas coming in from the Baalei Teshuvah. This means that fewer ideas are thought of and fewer rational and unemotional thinkers come into Orthodoxy. The only new source of ideas for many in the Jewish community are those from the outside world and this leads to more and more assimilation. Most rational people are turned off by the seminar's focus which is a combination of pseudoscience and Coast-to Coast A.M.. A case in point is a seminar which was given by someone good in Powerpoint but not that good in his scientific knowledge. He would make a point which he thought proved Judaism's truth based on some Gemorah predicting a scientific discovery, such as the Eart's roundness, not realizing that a large number of the Greeks thought that and that is what the Sages based their statement on. This is not really a technology and halacha post but its a trend which could affect Orthodoxy in 2100 more than anything else I post on.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Hilchot Star Wars

Star Wars may be known for many things (don't get me started on the new episodes) but an attention to Halachah isn't one of them. Take for example every single lightsaber battle. The law of putting up a fence on a roof (which certainly applies to a giant hole in the floor) is continually ignored. Also Quidon or whoever gambles with Anakins master for Anakin's freedom he is not only possibly violating a Torah command of lifnai ivar but also making himself an invalid witness. However these are Halachic points not in dispute. The real questions come up with the Jedi powers. For example is a spaceship allowed to be moved on Shabbos or is it muktzah and forbidden to move with the Force. According to the explanation given in Star Wars the Force is really symbiotic creatures who you can use to gain the Force. The question is if these creatures are the ones using the Force or if they merely activate an individuals latent abilities in the Force. If the creatures are using the Force it would be forbidden to use the Force on Shabbas because of the passuk Atah Uvehamtecha (You and your animal) however if these creatures activate a latent ability then lifting the spaceship would be done kliachar yad and would be permitted on Shabbas because it is only a Rabbinical violation of a Rabbinical decree. A final question is if it is permissible to slaughter an animal for kosher consumption with a lightsaber? It appears that there wouldn't be a problem but it is a moot question because you couldn't get the blood out of the animal because the lightsaber instantly cauterizes what it cuts.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Hulk and Shabbas

Tobie has asked me for a post on superheroes so here one is. (Actually my school newspaper did carry an article on X-Ray vision and Kashrus.) We know that the Incredible Hulk when he transforms gets bigger and turns green. Now on Shabat you are not allowed to dye something and that is one of the reasons shechitah is assur on Shabbas. Now when the Hulk turns green is he dyeing the blood in his skin or is it an immediate change. Because if it is an immediate change I don't think it can be called dyeing which is a gradual process. However if the dying mechanism works the same way as his growth process, that is growing in stages from a normal man to a muscle-bound monster. I haven't read the comics or seen the movie to know but I would say that at first glance it appears that it would be assur for the Hulk to turn green (unless there was a case of pikuach nefesh chas v'shalom). Also the muscles create the same problem because to form his tremendous new muscles he must tear the old ones which is forbidden m'doraisa because it is destruction for a constructive purpose. Therefore on Shabbas the Hulk should stay at home and leave the hero work to some hero better equipped for Shabbas.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Quantum Theory and Shabbas

We have a principle by Shabbas that an unintended action is permitted if it is not a definite consequence of the action. This is based on the rather gory example of a chicken's head used as a toy where we say that even if you didn't intend for it to happen when you cut off the head the chicken will die. The question comes in when you analyze it with the principles of quantam mechanics. Suppose you want to move a radioisotope (don't ask me why). You place it down in a spot where if it decays a specific amount it will form a circuit and if it doesn't decay it won't. You then leave the room where it has a 50/50 chance of decaying enough. This situation is the classic quantam situation known as Schrodinger's cat where instead of a circiut it is whether or not a cat would be alive or dead. The strange answer is that it would be both alive and dead. This is based on one of two theories, both equally strange. Either it is because of superposition where until an object is observed it occupies both states and then resolves to one of them. The other theory is the multi-verse theory which states that whenever a random event happens the universe splits into two parallel universes and then resolves which one we are in. Which theory is true could possibly make a difference in Halchah because superposition says that it is definitely dead at one point in our universe and it would therefore be a psik reishah. The multiverse theory says it is only a 50/50 shot of it being dead in our universe. Because each of these theories are equally likely you only have a 75% chance of killing the cat and therefore it would not be a psik reishah.

Focus Time Travel

In my intro I mentioned time travel and how it would effect the Sefirah count. So I decided I would try and tackle this monumental problem facing the visitors from the future. Time Travel comes in two varieties. One is the science fiction version which involves only time translation based on some machine. The other (slightly more scientific) way is that it involves some space and time translation. This could be by wormholes, parallel universes, or simply FTL whilch also involves wormholes, parallel universes etc. Based on my understanding of Sefirah this would make a huge difference because a simple space translation resulting in time travel would not change the Sefirah count. However if there was a time translation it gets interesting. It seems to me however that you would use the time based on your current time location. This is because the Pasuk says and you shall count 7 weeks. A week is not a pure time term and is only a week because it is considered a week by the people measuring time. A day is a much more scientific measure of time which is determined by one turn of Earth's axis. If it said 49 days it would imply that you would count based on your experienced time but it says 7 weeks. (Now you kn0w what it means that each verse has 70 interpertations.) I am not certain if this ruling would also apply to relativistic speeds or not so please ask a competent Orthodox Rabbi for that type of ruling.

Why I'm Writing This.

I've always been fascinated with science, especially its most unlogical, incomprehensible parts. The same goes for halacha. The idea isn't to have boring discussion of cases which might actually come up, like artificial insemination, but it is interesting to discuss some hypothetical, like, I don't know, time travel and its effect on Sefirah. These posts are mainly tongue-in-cheek. I have no real knowledge of either Halachah or technology so anything serious I might say is probably worthless. In addition I like science fiction/fantasy and that can have just as interesting and just as ridiculous halachic implications.