Monday, April 14, 2008

הרי אני כבן שבעים שנה

שאמר ראב"ע הרי אני כבן שבעים...ולא זכיתי

R' Eliezer's excitement with this new Deasha would appear to be somewhat excessive?
The Gemara in Horiyot (4a) discussing derasha that the Saducees did not agree with cites as an example:

דאמרי זבה לא הויא אלא ביממי דכתיב (ויקרא טו) כל ימי זובה

Perhaps in this statement is the explanation behind R' Eliezer's peculiar excitement with this derasha. Lacking a tradition that would explain the "Kol" of Krias Shema to be referring to the night, R' Eliezer was left open to a charge of inconsistency - implying that the Pharisees had no real tradition but rather picked their exegesis based on their own whims). Hence the excitement with Ben Zoma's derasha.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Derech Ha-Limud of the Yeshivos?

In this method (i.e. the Talmudic method of text study), the starting point is the principle that any text that is deemed worthy of serious study must be assumed to have been written with such care and precision that every term, expression, generalization, or exception is significant not so much for what it states as for what it implies. The contents of ideas as well as the diction and phraseology in which they are clothed are to enter into the reasoning. This method is characteristic of the Tannaitic interpretation of the Bible from the earliest times; the belief in the divine origin was sufficient justification for attaching importance to its external forms of expression. The same method was followed later by the Amora’im in their interpretation of the Mishna and by their successors in the interpretation of the Talmud, and it continued to be applied to the later forms of rabbinic literature. Serious students themselves, accustomed to a rigid form of logical reasoning and to the usage of precise forms of expression, the Talmudic trained scholars attributed the same quality of precision and exactness to any authoritative work, be it of divine origin or the product of the human mind. Their attitude toward the written word is like that of the jurist toward the external phrasing of statutes and laws, and perhaps also, in some respect, like that of the latest kind of historical and literary criticism which applies the method of psychoanalysis to the study of texts.

This attitude towards texts had its necessary concomitant in what may again be called the Talmudic hypothetico-deductive method of text interpretation. Confronted with a statement on any subject, the Talmudic student will proceed to raise a series of questions before he satisfies himself of having understood its full meaning. If the statement is not clear enough, he will ask, "What does the author intend to say here?" If it is too obvious, he will again ask, "It is too plain, why then expressly say it?" If it is a statement of fact or of a concrete instance, he will then ask, "What underlying principle does it involve?" If it is a broad generalization, he will want to know exactly how much it is to include; and if it is an exception to a general rule, he will want to know how much it is to exclude. He will furthermore want to know all the circumstances under which a certain statement is true, and what qualifications are permissible. Statements apparently contradictory to each other will be reconciled by the discovery of some subtle distinction, and statements apparently irrelevant to each other will be subtly analyzed into their ultimate elements and shown to contain some common underlying principle. The harmonization of apparent contradictions and the inter-linking of apparent irrelevancies are two characteristic features of the Talmudic method of text study. And similarly every other phenomenon about the text becomes a matter of investigation. Why does the author use one word rather than another? What need was there for the mentioning of a specific instance as an illustration? Do certain authorities differ or not? If they do, why do they differ? All these are legitimate questions for the Talmudic student of texts. And any attempt to answer these questions calls for ingenuity and skill, the power of analysis and association, and the ability to set up hypotheses-and all these must be bolstered by a wealth of accurate information and the use of good judgment. No limitation is set upon any subject; problems run into one another; they become intricate and interwoven, one throwing light upon the other. And there is a logic underlying this method of reasoning. It is the very same kind of logic which underlies any sort of scientific research, and by which one is enabled to form hypotheses, to test them and to formulate general laws. The Talmudic student approaches the study of texts in the same manner as the scientist approaches the study of nature. Just as the scientist proceeds on the assumption that there is a uniformity and continuity in nature, so the Talmudic student proceeds on the assumption that there is a uniformity and continuity in human reasoning. Now, this method of text interpretation is sometimes derogatorily referred to as Talmudic quibbling or pilpul. In truth, it is nothing but the application of the scientific method to the study of texts.

Harry Wolfson, Crescas' Critique of Aristotle (Cambridge, 1929), 24-7

(Quoted in Katz "Formation of a super-rabbi - The early years of R' Ezekiel Landau")

For more on Wolfson - see Leo Schwarz "Wolfson of Harvard: Portrait of a scholar" and Hillel Goldberg "Between Berlin and Slabodka"

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

HaRav HaGaon R' Yosef Zechariah Stern zt"l

Combine Chacham Ovadiah's mastery of every sefer of the Acharonim of any importance with the Rogatchover's style of writing in a series of "ayins" and you will have some idea of the great Geonus of R' Stern [1]. Better yet, open up any volume of Zecher Yosef (particularly the Maamer Al Tahaluchei Aggadot at the end of Zecher Yosef v. 4) and you will see this first hand.

He did not confine his vast knowledge within the confines of the"Dalet Amos shel Halacha". He was an expert in the "outside wisdom" as well. See for example Zecher Yosef no. 53 where he quotes Gesenius in order to identify a certain type of raisins (see the interesting introductory paragraph citing all the sources that permit citing a Gentile). He was also a great fan of R' Tzvi Chajes and he quotes him very often (in particular in his Tahaluchei Aggadot).

At one point this open-mindedness caused a bit of a controversy. In one of his letters to the Sdei Chemed, not have ing any idea it would be printed, he quoted Moshe Mendelssohn. The Sdei Chemed innocently printed this not knowing the controversy surrounding Remad, which provoked a sharp letter from the Maharsham of Brezhin castigating him for citing "maskilim". R' Yosef Zechariah printed a long and interesting letter defending himself in Sdei Cheme entry - Aba Mezakeh Bra.

Unfortunately, a fire destroyed most of his writings. See the list of the writings in manuscript in the notice in the back of Zecher Yosef. The scope of his writing is vast, covering almost every imagineable area of Jewish scholarship.

R' Stern was also on the forefront of the fight against Reform [2]. He wrote numerous articles in the newspaper Halevanon responding to the claims of the Maskilim. This article is one example of his writing. The article clearly defines R' Stern's position, vis-a-vis Haskalah, Maskilim, and Halachich Reform.

For more on R' Yosef- see the excellent series of articles by Chaim Chamiel in Sinai - (which I hope will soon be printed as a book), a biography (that I haven't found yet) by Z. Rabiner, and an article in Yavneh (What is this?). S. Fishbane's published a very good summary in HaDarom No. 60, as well as an interesting Teshuva on Chinuch and other things.

[1] Shai Agnon in his "Sefer, Sappur, Sippur" (hinting at the same phrase in Sefer Yetzirah) gives a reason why he chose to write in this fashion.

[2] Very likely it is for this reason that Yeleg chose to position him (under the anagram "Vofsi HaKarzavi") as the symbol of fanatical Orthodoxy in his billiant but distorted poem"Kutzo Shel Yud". R' Yaakov Lifshitz (Zichron Yaakov) describes Yeleg's attempts to have Halevanon banned; apparently the liberalism of the Haskalah went in one direction only. Another arch-enemy of Yeleg was R' Yitzchok Blazer whom he referred to in his writings Yitchok Nafcha. See the memoirs of R' Yaakov Mazaah (V. 2 pgs. 38 - 45), who was influenced by Yeleg in his youth, for a very moving description of his meeting with R' Itzeleh wherein he admits that Yeleg's portrayal of R' Itzeleh was a pure distortion.

Interestingly, in Zecher Yosef on Even Haezer (published by Mechon Yerushlayim) he has a Teshuva (No. 58 - first printed in Sdei Chemed) involving a case very similar to that described in "Kutzo" (involving the yud of the name Henya) in which one sees how R' Yosef Zecharya uses the full weight of his "Kocha D' Heteira" in order to ease the plight of the poor Agunah.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A "stirah" in Paul - R' Yaakov Emden's hagahot to Seder Olam

ובאמת גם לפי דברי כותבי האוונגליון אין שום יהודי רשאי לעזוב תורתו, שהרי פויל [=פאול, שאול התרסי] בכתבו לגאלאטה כתב: "אומר אני כל איש אשר ימול מצווה הוא לעשות את כל דברי התורה"...וכן מטעם זה הזהיר בכתבי אלקורינטו שהנמול לא יעשה עצמו ערל והערל לא ימול. ובכאן מקשים על פול מדידיה אדידיה: כי באקט אפוסטולורוס פרק ט"ו כתב שזכר שמל את טימוטיאוס תלמידו, ונסתבכו בזה מאד, כי פעולתו זו סותרת למאמריו המוכיחים לכל אחד ואחד לשעתו המצווה היא מצווה זמנית עד ביאת משיחם, והרי זה מעשה אחר הנוצרי.

אך דא עקא וקבל האמת ממי שאמרו, כי מכאן נראה בבירור שהנוצרי ושלוחו לא באו לבטל תורה ח"ו מישראל. כי במאטיאוס פרק י' שאמר הנוצרי: לא תחשבו שבאתי לבטל את התורה. לא באתי כ"א לקיים וכו', וכן כתוב בלוקאס פי"ו וכן נמצא לפויל תלמידו בכתבו לקורינטו, מאשים אותם בחטא גילוי עריות.

לכן תדע שלא קשיא מידי אפויל שמל את טימוטיאוס, כי הוא היה בן אישה ישראלית מאיש יווני, כמ"ש בפט"ו מאקטא ופול למדן היה, שמשו של ר' גמליאל הזקן ובקיא בדיני התורה, ידע שנכרי הבא על בת ישראל הולד כשר ודינו כישראל גמור, לכן כדין וכהלכה עשה שמל את טימוטיאוס.
See here
See also Sefer Shimus, Yaavetz's hagahot to Shevet M' Yehuda (printed in Sefunot). He also wrote a sefer refuting the blood libel of which only ten pages are extant (the article in Sefunot mentions where it was published)

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Chafetz Chaim

I'd like to attempt a post analysing the differences between the Aruch Hashulchan and Mishna Berurah. Before I start on that I will try to sketch a brief intellectual profile of these two Great leaders.

The Chafetz Chaim's is well known for his extraordinary piety, integrity and humility. The Chafetz Chaim was a Tsaddik in every sense of the word. It is important to emphasize that all of the CC's work is generally focused on the masses. With the exception of his Mishna Berurah, the vast majority of the CC's books are geared towards the masses. They are written in an clear and simple fashion, Devarim Ha'Yotzim Min HaLev V'Nichnosim L'Lev, exhorting the common person towards good deeds and proper behaviour.

Certainly, even those books that that are of a popular character show tremendous erudition but it is important to emphasize that the Chafetz Chaim’s greatest effort was to reach even those who were not great scholars. He wrote works for woman, for soldiers and for all those who were in need of Chizzuk. The Chafetz Chaim cared deeply about the common person. I am not aware of any teshuvos, or in fact of virtually any work of a purely scholarly character.[1]

The Chafetz Chaim was not an intellectual. There are numerous letters of his exhorting people not to read the literature of the Haskalah [2]. He could not understand why anyone would want to read a newspaper even a “kosher” one. (See his son’s description in Sichos CC). His son recounts that at one point he picked up a book by one of the great Chassidic masters and after scanning it briefly, he said “I do not see anything here that I need. The words of the Tannoim and Amoraim contain all that is necessary.” He was against the study of philosophy of any sort (“the philosophizers”. His son writes that when he was younger he started reading the Moreh Nevuchim. His father was unhappy with this and took the book away saying, “if one needs to read this sort of book it shows that the emunah is not well-founded”.

His attitude towards the Chassidim seems to have been very mixed. Although he appreciated their role as the defenders of the faith, he did not consider Chassidism to be the correct path. He said that on the left are the philosophizers, the right the Chassidim, and the middle path is the way of true belief, the way of the Mishna and Gemara. (See sichos for more on this.)

The Chafetz Chaim believed very strongly in the Kabbalah. His son recounts that, on occasion, late at night his father would study Kabbalah (see Sichos for a list of Kabbalah Seforim that the CC owned) but he was sad that he did not have the time to study it seriously.

[1] I would imagine that the shiurim he gave in his Yeshiva were of the same clearness and simplicity that characterizes his other works.

[2] See Chaim Grades description of the problem of forbidden literature in “The Yeshiva”. Interestingly, the story of the destruction of the library is also mentioned in Meir Einei Yisroel, although the hero is the CC not the CI(?).
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