Was Bill Cosby Right About Noah?

A young Bill Cosby

In a well-known routine, the great Bill Cosby shares his thoughts on the conversation between Noah and God which led to Noah’s building the ark. The bit is certainly humorous, but do its facts correspond with those of the traditional Jewish interpretation of the flood episode? Let us see:

Cosby calls Noah “a good carpenter.” Rashi (Bereishis 5:29) writes of a farming implement that Noah invented. Does that qualify him as a carpenter? Possibly not. But I find it reasonable to assume that a farming tool inventor is likely to have been a good carpenter, as well.

Cosby says that God told Noah to make it 300*80*40 cubits out of wood. While the pasuk has God telling Noah to use wood (6:14), Cosby is conspicuously incorrect on the measurements. Noah was actually commanded to make it 300*50*30 cubits. Cosby’s ark would actually seem to be more roomy than Noah’s, with more than double the cubic space (960,000 square cubits versus 450,000).

With regard to the duration of the flood, as Cosby has it, Noah was promised 1,000 days and 1,000 nights of rain but subsequently tried to bargain those numbers down to 40. Bereishis 7:4 reports Noah being told that it would rain for 40 days and 40 nights. Unlike the story with Abraham and Sodom (Bereishis 18), we are not told of any negotiations. (It may have been the potential for a longer storm that made Cosby give Noah roomier accommodations. ;-))

By portraying Noah as unwilling to explain his ark-building to his neighbor, Cosby has God’s goal as the destruction of everyone other than Noah. Rashi (6:14) has a very different take. He says that Noah’s 120 year long ark construction project was necessary so that many people would observe Noah’s interesting actions and ask him why he was engaging in the bizarre endeavor. When told of the answer (that God was to destroy the world), they would, hopefully, repent.

Just before the rain begins, Cosby has Noah frustrated at God, unhappy about the position God has put him in. (“I’m sick and tired of this…you know I’m the only guy in this neighborhood with an ark…you let me go out there and bring in a pregnant elephant, you give me no manual for delivery…) It is only the downpour that has Cosby’s Noah ultimately return to the side of God. Though he does not share any such dramatics on the part of Noah, Rashi (7:7) similarly has Noah as a man of wavering belief. In fact, Rashi states that Noah and his family did not enter the ark until “the water forced them.”

In summary, while the facts in the Cosby version of the ark-building story correspond with some facts in the traditional Jewish version of it, we certainly cannot say that Bill Cosby, with all his genius, got all the facts right.

Here’s the Youtube clip:

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Was Rav Hirsch Modern Orthodox?

RSRH – Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch

The question of whether Rav Hirsch was Modern Orthodox has been bandied about by many people. I think this is a very intriguing question, and I have various thoughts worthy of mention that can, perhaps, combine to answer the question.

What I really feel about this question, however, is that it’s generally mis-stated. Rav Hirsch was college-educated, embraced modernity, preached in the vernacular and wore clerical robes. I believe that it was clear to (nearly) all of his acquaintances that he was Modern Orthodox. It seems to me that the question people are really grappling with is whether today’s Modern Orthodoxy can claim Rav Hirsch as a founding figure.

That’s not a simple question to answer, but I think that framing the question more accurately is the first step toward answering it.

(This is not relevant to the question of R. Hirsch’s location on the Orthodox spectrum,  but I want to point out that the claim on the 19th century “Rebbe card” that he was “Dr.” Samson Raphael Hirsch is inaccurate. He never graduated university, and certainly didn’t get a doctorate. Also, for whatever it’s worth, R. Hirsch assumed the Frankfurt rabbinate in 1851 and lived there for the rest of his life. He looks rather young here, so I’m assuming that this depiction of him is from some time in the 1850s.)

Drizzling in the Sukkah – To Eat or Not to Eat?

As is well known, while the consumption of bread on Sukkos must take place in a sukkah in most circumstances, significant rainfall is an exception to the rule. If there is significant rainfall, it is permitted to eat bread outside of the sukkah. At what point, however, is rainfall considered “significant?”

The mishna in Sukkah (2:9) permits eating outside a sukkah when the rainfall is strong enough to ruin a porridge-like substance. The Shulchan Aruch seems to agree. Based on this, the criterion for determining whether rainfall is a legitimate exemption from eating in the sukkah seems to be the quantity of rain.

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A sukkah covered 51% by schach (“schach coverage”) is fit for use.* While 100% schach coverage renders a sukkah invalid, the schach coverage can get close to that figure. I feel quite certain that schach coverage well north of 95% would still render the sukkah kosher.

What results is quite interesting. You can have two neighbors, one with a schach coverage of 51%, the other with a schach coverage of 96%. Both have kosher sukkahs. Yet when a light rainfall occurs, one of them must remain in the sukkah while the other is permitted to eat inside his house

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* When we say that schach coverage of 51% is acceptable, that means schach spread (more or less) across the whole sukkah in a uniform pattern which covers only 51% of the area is acceptable. A sukkah with 100% schach coverage on the right half and 2% schach coverage on the left half would not be valid even though its schach coverage would average out to 51%.