Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Yeah, sure.

A well-known book company from whom I purchase occassionally has sent me an e-mail advertising a compass that defies the laws of nature, and which, wherever I am, will point to Jerusalem.

Always to Jerusalem. From anywhere on the globe.

How many are willing to accept this claim without asking how it works?

Can I see a show of hands?

Apparently, this miracle gadget is indispensible when davening mincha. It is non-electric, has no computer chips, and no circuitry. And it's patented!

Pardon my French.......

Heck, pardon my skepticism. I know of only two directions that can be determined without electricity and computer chips.
One is magnetic north, the other is down (f&#*!!!, I just dropped a computer on my foot!!!).

Now, any rational person would have questions. Here's three to start:
1. How can something defy nature?
2. You say it's patented....., how can something which defies nature (and is therefore demonstrably neither provable, nor mechanically possible) be patented?
3. If it really defies the laws of nature, isn't it witchcraft? This is kosher?

This is the home site for the product in question:

Here are the haskamos:
[Haskamic letters from Rabbi Joseph Liberman, Moshe Halbershtam, Moshe Sternbuch]

And here is the site which takes the whole issue of a magic miracle compass to task.
Please note, it does not in way state or imply that the rebbeyim who approve of this thing are deficient in any way, so it isn't lashon hara to click on this link and read it.http://observantastronomer.blogspot.com/2005/11/incredible-jerusalem-compass.html

The site mentioned above (observant astronomer) does an excellent job of pursuing the matter. So, rather than explaining some basic rules of science, which all of y'all ought to know (they were in some way taught in your high-schools, weren't they?), I'll just recommend that you cruise into his blog. Here it is again: http://observantastronomer.blogspot.com/

Now, I'll admit that being wrong is a privilege to which I feel everyone is entitled, and that rebbeyim are to be asked questions regarding halacha, not science (because that is not their strong suit), and that in fact there have been rebbeyim who are scientifically trained (okay, here's three: the Vilna Gaon, Rebbe Schneerson, and.... SLIFKIN!), so the fact that a gadol says something that at first glance seems to be stark raving bonkers does not prove anything, the gdolic statement should be carefully studied so that it's full meaning can be grasped.

That being said, a compass that defies nature and invariably points to Yerushalayim, from where ever the owner finds him or herself, is absolutely impossible.

For anyone who doubts this, I'm not going to bother explaining high-school level science; there are plenty of good reference books out there, and if you go through the texts you had to use for "English" when you were at Yeshiva, you're sure to find at least one not written by a rabbi.

Maybe you shouldn't have sold those books down the street the moment you got a passing grade in enough 'English' that you could ignore it the rest of the year, huh?

You might find some of those books fairly usefull now.

Trust me on this: a product such as the one described above (with no circuitry and electricity, and which defies the laws of nature) does not exist.

Yes, I realize that there are many kind and good people, much better people in fact than myself (I am often neither kind nor particularly "good") who are willing to push scepticism aside, and accept that Jewish scientists can invent miraculous devices that the goyishe velt knows not of.
Please grow up. You're making everybody else look stupid by association, and we're a little bit embarrassed to be seen with you. If you have to be a credulous dunce, why don't you join J4J, or the Southern Baptists, or the Pentecostals.... they'll be glad to have you, and we'll stifle our tears at your departure, and we'll wish you well in your new life, with your new family.

--- --- --- --- --- ---

On the other hand, if you are nevertheless that righteous and serious that you insist that the world is flat (or a reasonable approximate thereof), that six days (or an exact approximate thereof) define how the universe came into being, and that the sun rotates around Yerushalayim (which is the precise and ordained centre of the universe, according to Chazal), please enter your credit card account numbers and bill-to addresses in the comments, so that I can try to seriously address your concerns.

I promise I'll look at each and everyone of your comments with the utmost attention!


Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I've seen stuff like this.

They have a number of lines around the compass, marked with the names of worldwide Jewish communities. You line up one line on the compass with where you are, and another line ends up pointing towards Jerusalem based on the angle of where you are, where Magnetic North is, and how the 'location' lines are placed around the compass ball/needle itself.

Mar Gavriel said...

Flat Earth?

See here.

And here.

The first one seems to be serious. I'm not sure about the second one.

Phillip Minden said...


I've seen them too, and just come from commenting it.

Anonymous said...

BUt if it has haskamas, that means that the Rabbis actually examined it and it was proven to work. These are not just anybody, but known and respected authorities.

It is not nice to poke fun of people who are much more inteligents and respectable than yourself, and you should retract this post.

Mar Gavriel said...

people who are much more inteligents

Shlomo, is your native language French?

Anonymous said...


BBJ said...

Oh. That's what the thing I keep seeing the ads for is. I never focused on them, I just kept thinking 'a compass? Odd.' and ignoring it.

Although when I headed off to rabbinic school, my dad bought me a compass, so I would always be able to find east. But it was a regular compass, you know, you find north and then turn right.

Wasn't that a line in 'Last of the Mohicans'? "How can you go west at a time like this?" "Easily. I just find north, and turn left."

The back of the hill said...

And of course here in the Bay Area, finding east is no problem.

Anonymous said...

My husband was curious about this "miraculous" compass, and we looked up the patent application. There's a very good reason that they won't be shipped outside the USA -- the patent was for a "novelty item" and it's basically a compass with an opaque cover and a second, visible needle attached at the angle required to point to Jerusalem from most of the USA.

I've used tinyurl.com to make a short link to the patent application: http://tinyurl.com/a76ft

My husband has been working on a letter to the publishing company and to others from whom we've received advertisements for it. I don't know what to say about the recommendations from well-respected rabbis.

The back of the hill said...


Thanks for your comment - I appreciate the explanation for the 'miraculous' device, though I wish that the companies that have been sending me miraculous adds would have looked as closely at the issue.

Certainly, given how the adds are phrased, one might have concerns about the advertising campaign.

It might be a liability for the companies in question. Or a learning experience.

Anonymous said...

Dear Robin,

I also checked out this compass and the alleged patent. Do you really believe those great rabbis are as ignorant as you are?
I found out that the link to that patent is NOT the patent referring to this compass.
I was bothered by the question: How can a company spend thousands of dollars advertising a lie. For sure, they would suffer in the end with everyone returning their purchases, cancelling their credit card orders, etc, etc.
I even saw that the company advertises on their site a no questions asked 100% satisfaction guaranteed. They would be insane to invest so much in a lie.
The real question is how could you fall for this, and wonder about the great Rabbi's?
I have always chosen never to believe anything until I have personally seen it myself.

Anonymous said...

I found that most people, when they have reached the age of adult hood,they are able to tell the difference between advtertising, and lies.
It wasn't obvious to you that the claim of "defying the laws of nature" was advertising? Do you mean to tell me that you actually took this literally? Everyone knows (if you have reached the age of adulthood), that nothing can defy the laws of nature. Therefore it must be advertising.
Haven't you every walked down the street and seen in store windows new ads about new products, and the advertiser wants to draw attention to the fact that the product is special?
Below is a comment I found on the observant astronomer blog. Someone who also can recognize advertising.
Here is the quote below:

"oy vey.
give me a break!

Only someone with a huge chip on his shoulder would read it that way. No *chareidi* would read it this way. There is a difference between ad copy and genuine claims of miracles. "Defies the laws of nature" is ad copy.

They spent 11 years developing this, and there is a patent pending for it (a fact mentioned in the ad). What they mean by "defies the laws of nature" is that it *seems* to defy the laws of nature in that people expect a compass to point North, not east or whatever specific direction Jerusalem lies. Obviously, they hope to patent a technological construction, rather than a miracle.

The gedolim are NOT endorsing the "miracle". They are endorsing the "better" halachic observance made possible by use of the Jerusalem compass. This is an endorsement re halacha, not regarding miracles.

I don't see anything in Moshe's response that would suggest otherwise.

Yours is an attempt to manufacture a controversy where none exists.
# posted by joshwaxman : Friday, December 02, 2005 1:04:09 PM

The back of the hill said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The back of the hill said...

Tayere Anonymous,

The add copy is misleading, and plays to the credulity of the public.

As yet I have seen no evidence whatsoever that the claim that the device points towards Yerushalayim is scientifically possible.

I have on the other hand seen many credible statements that it is a gyp, and credible explanations thereof.

But, in order to satisfy my curiosity, I have ordered one of these devices.
Which, when it arrives, I will take apart to examine.

I will post what I find.

Anonymous said...

Back of the hill is an absolute heretic and nobody should read his writings.

Anybody that reads this will be reading apikorsish garbage.


The back of the hill said...

They spent 11 years developing this, and there is a patent pending

I could've sworn that an almost identical device (see description of how it works here: http://atthebackofthehill.blogspot.com/2006/01/miracle-compass-part-2.html ) was known to the Arabs, and to the seamen of the great age of sail.

The principles certainly were - find out where you are in relation to magnetic north, the equator, and the prime meridian, and you'll be able to figger out where you are in relation to any place in the world.

What took eleven years?

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of an incident I recently witnessed just outside the corridors of power (in front of the Union Pacific club, don't you know):
Initiate 1(walking south from Sacramento Street)greets Initiate 2 (walking north from California street): "Which way to Mecca?
Initiate 2 (pointing with his thumb over his left shoulder in a east-by southeasterly direction): "Thatta way"
Initiate 1: "Which way?"
Initiate 2 (using the same gesture): "Thatta way!"
Both Initaites in unison: "Hot Dog!
Your thoughts?

The back of the hill said...

There's only one person in SF who would know that ritual. Hi bookseller!

I wonder, by the way, how sober (or not) the cocktail waitress will be the next time.

And no, karaoke is not such a good idea (unless middle-aged showbiz queens are singing).

Anonymous said...

I already know many people who have them, and they all say that it works like advertised, and that they are satisified. I am also buying one.

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