Thursday, December 01, 2011

Fuzzy Math: False Claims in the Name of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l

Part of an ongoing commentary on the bias against city eruvin.


In the cover article of Mishpacha (May 25, 2011), More Than Math and Marathons: How Mathematician Dr. Leon Ehrenpreis Became a Follower of Rav Moshe Feinstein, Dr. Ehrenpreis’s wife is quoted as saying (page 52):

Rav Feinstein knew he could consult with Dr. Ehrenpreis anytime a sh’eilah arose that involved mathematical calculations. Hence, when asked about the possibility of constructing an eiruv in Brooklyn, he sought his talmid’s input. As Ahava explains it, Rav Moshe said there can be no eiruv in a reshua harabbim, which is defined by the volume of people in an area. When her husband looked at the figures that had been given to Rav Moshe, he shook his head.
“If these are true, then I’m the fastest runner in the world,” he said, referring to his daily ten-mile run between Prospect Park and Brighton Beach — the amount of traffic said to pass through, given the distance, just didn’t seem high enough.
“So Eliezer and I went and stood on the corner of Avenue N and Ocean Parkway with a stopwatch, counting cars,” Ahava recalls. “The volume of cars was much higher than the initial estimates.”
Their “research” contributed to Rav Moshe’s ultimate psak about the eiruv, contending that it’s not halachically permissible in Brooklyn.  

As I mentioned in a previous post, Rav Shlomo Pearl shlita made a similar claim in reference to Dr. Ehrenpreis (without mentioning his name) in his shiur titled The New Eruv in Queens (Jan. 9, 2011):

One of the earlier teshuvos in chelek aleph, Rav Moshe seems to indicate that maybe even Brooklyn was only a shema yitu. And he says later that he was informed by chaver of mine who happened to be a marathon runner who knew exactly how many miles it was from one end of Brooklyn to the other. Rav Moshe thought that Brooklyn was more than twelve mil, but the runners knew exactly the size of Brooklyn and the map will also show you the size of Brooklyn and it was less than twelve mil, and if you wanted to create twelve mil it would probably go into Manhattan and part of Queens.

On Avodah (Volume 28, Number 76 — Wed, May 11, 2011 — see the thread Inviting Someone On Shabbos Who Uses the Eruv) there is a similar assertion about Dr. Ehrenpreis with some additional detail mentioned:
 
Here is an historical footnote that I know you will enjoy, because it involves Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Ehrenpreis, Z"L. Leon, as he was known, told me proudly that he and his wife were responsible for Reb Moshe saying that one could not make an Eruv in Flatbush for two reasons.
1.  Originally Reb Moshe was told that the distance from Prospect Park to Sheepshead Bay was 12 miles.  When Leon heard this, he said, "No it is not. I run this distance a few times a week and it is no more than 6 miles."
2.  Secondly, Leon told me that he and his wife stood on Ocean Parkway at the height of traffic and counted the number of cars that went by.  According to their count more than 600,000 people traveled on Ocean Parkway at this time.        
"I am responsible for Reb Moshe saying one cannot make an Eruv in Brooklyn," he told me more than once.

While these accounts differ somewhat from each other, they are in essence presenting two arguments: 1) Dr Ehrenpreis corrected the estimates of the traffic tally of Ocean Parkway, and this was a cause for Rav Moshe zt”l’s objection to a Brooklyn eruv. 2) Dr Ehrenpreis proved that Brooklyn was less than twelve mil by twelve mil in area, and therefore, Rav Moshe argued that the entire population of Brooklyn would be included in the tally (of the three million). This was grounds that, according to Rav Moshe, Brooklyn would be classified as a reshus harabbim.
I will address both these issues and prove that they are tall tales and moreover factually incorrect. We will only make use of Rav Moshe’s teshuvos as all the other claims made in his name are unsubstantiated and usually contradict his written arguments. As I mentioned previously, I do not believe that a posek such as Rav Moshe would want us to follow what some people — no matter who they are — say in his name, but only what he wrote in his teshuvos.  First, I want to establish the pertinent chain of events as set forth in Rav Moshe’s teshuvos:

After Rav Moshe wrote that Brooklyn’s population over a twelve mil by twelve mil area was more than he required for it to be classified as a reshus harabbim (Igros Moshe, O.C. 4:87), someone (the Muzay rav) sent Rav Moshe statistics (from the District Manager of Community Board 12, Brooklyn) demonstrating that Brooklyn’s population was less than he required, and that the area that Brooklyn encompassed was greater than twelve mil by twelve mil (and so the entire Brooklyn population would not be included in the tally — see ibid., 4:88). [Nevertheless, Rav Moshe objected to a Brooklyn eruv because of a gezeirah — that some may think that, in an area such as Brooklyn, the population was over three million. However, as I have argued previously, when the matter is only a gezeirah, Rav Moshe would certainly allow a tzuras hapesach to delineate only a section of the area in question (see http://eruvonline.blogspot.com/2005/11/three-million-more-or-less.html).]
However, after Rav Moshe was informed that the area that Brooklyn encompasses is greater than twelve mil by twelve mil, he was lead to believe that, besides for a population of close to three million, over a million people come into the borough to work (ibid., the end of 4:88). Therefore, he argued that Brooklyn is osser l’dinah (me’d’Oraysa). These facts were made up out of whole cloth by people who simply did not want an eruv and were willing to lie to Rav Moshe in order to achieve their goals (for the source of this misinformation listen to the recording of the Hisachdus HaRabbanim convention on April 30, 1980 and read the teshuvah  in Kerem BeYavnah, 3:3, dated July 3, 1980, where this misinformation was also publicized).[These numbers are clearly untrue and are obviously incorrect. The number of people who actually commute into the borough to work is approximately 235,000 people (NYC Department of City Planning, Table CTPP P-6, 2003); thus, according to Rav Moshe, the total falls far short of his requirement of three million. Additionally, since Brooklyn is larger than twelve mil by twelve mil, we should not include the entire population of Brooklyn towards the tally (approximately 250,000 people should be subtracted from the total). Had Rav Moshe known these facts, he would concur that Brooklyn does not have the status of a reshus harabbim d’Oraysa.]

Now that we are informed what Rav Moshe’s arguments opposing a Brooklyn eruv was let us examine the above two claims Dr Ehrenpreis made in Rav Moshe’s name (or at least how people understood Dr Ehrenpreis’s claims).
Claim number one: Once Rav Moshe was informed about the correct traffic tally of Ocean Parkway, he classified Brooklyn as a reshus harabbim. This is simply fiction. There is not one teshuvah of Rav Moshe’s that mentions Ocean Parkway at all, the reason being that, according to Rav Moshe’s shita, it is irrelevant. Since Ocean Parkway was in Brooklyn, Rav Moshe included all the people traversing it towards the total population of a twelve mil by twelve mil section of Brooklyn.
Furthermore, this claim is factually incorrect. The DOT states that the traffic count of Ocean Parkway is less than 60,000 cars (this factors in two-way traffic, but if it’s the same people who are coming and going, they should only be counted once — see http://eruvonline.blogspot.com/2006/01/part-2b-why-brooklyn-is-not-reshus.html).  Clearly there is nowhere near shishim ribo traversing Ocean Parkway.
Claim number two: Brooklyn is less than twelve mil by twelve mil in area. Consequentially, the entire population of Brooklyn is included in the tally. This is more hearsay. Rav Moshe clearly stated that Brooklyn is larger than twelve mil by twelve mil (and therefore the entire population of Brooklyn should not be included in the tally).
It is inconceivable (unless as I mentioned numerous times they do not know his teshuvos) that anyone would claim in Rav Moshe’s name that Brooklyn is less than twelve mil by twelve mil when Rav Moshe clearly stated otherwise in two of his teshuvos.
 
Rav Moshe stated the following (ibid., 4:87):

ולכן בברוקלין שהוא עיר אחת מלאה אוכלוסין אבל אפשר שהיא יותר מי"ב מיל על י"ב מיל

And then Rav Moshe’s final teshuvah on the matter (ibid., 4:88):

ונמצא שכל ברוקלין הוא רק י"ב מיל על י"ב וקצת יותר

 
Moreover, this argument is factually incorrect. Brooklyn is seventy-one square miles (without its inland water, which I think should also be included in the tally, and therefore would make it even larger). Twelve mil by twelve mil is sixty-four square miles (according to Rav Moshe’s shiur amah in regards to hilchos Shabbos). Consequentially, there is no doubt that Brooklyn is factually larger than twelve mil by twelve mil.


Dear reader, it is clear that Dr Ehrenpreis’s good name is being used in order to demonstrate that Rav Moshe’s p’sak was predicated on someone with great knowledge of the situation; hence Rav Moshe could not have been misled. However, Rav Moshe’s teshuvos prove these tall tales’ undoing. It’s about time these people learn through Rav Moshe’s teshuvos prior to making grand statements; maybe then they will become educated. Oh, but that would be terrible! They might then come to the realization that unlike them Rav Moshe was not anti-eruv. In any case, as I have argued many times, even those close to Rav Moshe did not know (or did not care to know) his shitos in eruvin.