Saturday, May 24, 2008

On Sleep and the Jewish Question?

For do but consider what an excellent thing sleep is : it is so inestimable a jewel, that, if a tyrant would give his crown for an hour's slumber, it cannot be bought : of so beautiful a shape is it, that, though a man lie with an empress, his heart cannot be at quiet till he leaves her embracements to be at rest with the other : yea, so greatly indebted are we to this kinsman of death, that we owe the better tributary half of our life to him ; and there's good cause why we should do so, for sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together. Who complains of want, of wounds, of cares, of great men's oppressions, of captivity, whilst he sleepeth ? Beggars in their beds take as much pleasure as kings. Can we therefore surfeit on this delicate ambrosia ? Can we drink too much of that, whereof to taste too little tumbles us into a churchyard ; and to use it but indifferently throws us into Bedlam ? No, no ! Look upon Endymion,,the Moon's minion, who slept threescore and fifteen years ; and was not a hair the worse for it. Can lying abed till noon then, being not the threescore and fifteenth thousand part of his nap, be hurtful ?

-John Dekker

Amongst all the wild men that run up and down in this wide forest of fools, the world, none are more superstitious than those notable Ebritians, the Jews : yet a Jew never wears his cap threadbare with putting it off; never bends i' th' hams with casting away a leg; never cries "God save you!" though he sees the devil at your elbow. Play the Jews therefore in this, and save thy lips that labour ; only remember, that so soon as thy eyelids be unglued, thy first exercise must be, either sitting upright on thy pillow, or rarely lolling at thy body's whole length, to yawn, to stretch, and to gape wider than any oyster-wife ; for thereby thou dost not only send out the lively spirits, like vaunt-couriers, to fortify and make good the uttermost borders of the body ; but also, as a cunning painter, thy goodly lineaments are drawn out in their fairest proportion.

- Ibid. (Index - Jews salute no one - What does all that mean?)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Reactions to Yaavetz's Mitpachat Seforim

In his (as usual) meticulously researched, very interesting post, R. Brodt cited a passage in ShuT Chasam Sofer approvingly citing the Mitpachat Seforim . MS is really a sort of intellectual minefield since it was A - authored by one of the most prominent and well respected traditional Rabbis of the last century, and B - contains some very trenchant, powerful criticisms against a deeply held traditional view [1]. I thought it would be interesting to examine the reactions of several prominent Rabbonim to the Mitpachat.

1. Chasam Sofer - Calm acceptance. At first glance. this would seem to be a bit surprising given that the Chasam Sofer was 1- a student of the R' Nosson Adler and R' Pinchas Horowitz who were both Mekubbalim, and 2- seems to have been an adherent of Kabbalah himself (See Marc Shapiro's article in Be'erot Yitzchok - Aspects..). In truth, Yavetz's claim was not all that radical since R' Chaim Vital (I don't know the exact source) had already suggested that there were interpolations in the Zohar. Moreover, the question in this case was not the authenticity of Kabbalah as a whole since that was supported by the Ramban, Sefer Yetzirah , etc. but of one (admittedly very important) source of Kabbalistic teachings.

2. Chida - Denial. See the citation in the link in note one and the discussion there.

3. Ben Ish Chai - Grudging acceptance - In the Kuntres Sod LaYesharim that is at the back of ShuT Rav Paolim (I don't have the sefer in front of me, I will try to bring the exact Siman later) there is a discussion concerning a Teshuva attributed to the Ari printed in Avkas Rochel 136. The Ben Ish Chai insists that this letter is a forgery (the Teshuva would appear to show a very weak understanding in the subject and the Beis Yosef's response is very critical) and grudgingly cites MS as proof. The Ben Ish Chai was clearly very upset at the Yavetz for writing MS and I believe that the sharp criticism of Yavetz in the introduction to Ravv Paolim is hinting at this.

4. R' Moshe Kunitz[2] - Apologetics - Kunitz's book Bar Yochai (available at ). The book is full of rather ridiculous nonesensical interpretations and was never taken very seriously. Shir (I intend to continue posting on him as soon as I have time) was enraged by this book and wrote very sharp criticisms inside his copy of Bar Yochai. These notes were published posthumously as a pamphlet - Maaneh La'Mitpachat. From the notes it appears that Shir was chiefly angered at the insulting tone with which Kunitz responded to the Yavetz. It is possible that Shir also wrote this becuase he was upset at Kuniz's involvement with Choriner (whom he detested - see Igrot Shir, and because Shir was very much against even the slightest change in practice - see his letter regarding kitniyos cited in Zecher Yosef OC V. 3), and because Shir strongly believed that the Zohar was forged by R' Moses De Leon (this is apparent in either the first or second of the letters in Igrot Shir. Shir wanted to examine R' De Leon's other seforim so he could ascertain this.)

5. The Gra - Oblivious? - The most puzzling reaction is that of the Gra - namely no reaction. The Gra had a tremendous critical sense (See L. Ginzberg , Students.., I. H. Weiss frequently emphasized that the Gra was the founder of the science of criticism,etc.,etc.). Although the Gra's form of criticism was rather different then that engaged in by the Yavetz, it is still strange that he didn't at least respond to the Yavetz's critcism. I emailed Prof. Etkes thinking that perhaps there might be some hint of a response in the Gra's kabbalistic works but he assures me that the Gra had absolutely no doubts regarding the absolute authenticity and authority of Kabbalah.

(One final note, the Torah Temimah very pointedly lists Eish Nogeh (the Yavetz pointed out that this seems to be based on the Portugese Esnoga - Synagogue) in his list of terms for synagagogues in Mekor Baruch - Mevo. See there - I think he is trying to hint at some type of response to this criticism of the Yavetz.)

[1] See here for an interesting discussion on Mitpachat and the Yavetz as well as some more sources Re: the CS and MS.

[2] He was accused of being a Reformer because he wrote a responsum in Nogeh Tsedek permitting the introduction of the Organ in the Synagague. This seems to have been a mistake on Kunitz's part and he is not to be considered a reformer.

Friday, May 16, 2008

On some articles in Yeshurun - R' Menashe M' Ilya and R' Shlomo Dubno

In the recent edition of Yeshurun, there is a rather lengthy article on R' Menashe M' Ilya by a R' Dovid Kamenetsky. As you will see in the Seforim blog post I linked above, there is a dearth of information on R' Menashe so this new addition is quite useful. (He was also discussed in a previous edition of Yeshurun).

The article is written in a very polemical style and there seems to be a bit of politics behind it. Apparently, Yehoshua Mondshine (or one of his followers) published an article in Kerem Chabad 4 (I don't have access to this but I've seen a similar article in Ohr Yisroel) denigrating the accomodating nature of the Beis Medrash of the Gra towards the Maskilim [1] and using R' Menashe as an example.

Kamenetsky's main fight is with R' Menashe's official biographer, Mordechai Plungian. He quotes the negative HaMaggid review cited in Seforim and relates in "oral tradition" that it was written by R' Mattisyahu Strashun (Strashun usually signed his articles Yud Beis (or something like that) according to At Bash (or something like that). He accuses Plungian of recreating R' Menashe "in his own (maskilic) image". He notes several discrepancies in his account, for example a famous statement attributed to R' Yisroel Salanter (by Louis Ginzberg "Students".. - A favorite saying of his was that the Hasidim as well as their opponents, the Mitnagdim, err the former in believing that they have leaders, the latter in maintaining that they have no need of them) is put into the mouth of R' Menashe, and some other good points.

Interestingly, Kamenetsky never mentions the other great (or not so great according to the Seforim Blog post) biography on R' Menashe which is that of Isaac Barzilay.

Kamenetsky's articles are generally very tendentious and very often resort to forced, "pilpulistic" readings of the text in order to support his views. For example, R' Menashe wrote a book Pesher Davar which is very clearly attempting some type of reconciliation between Chassidim [2], Misnagdim and Maskilim. For some reason Kamentsky isn't happy with this so he re-interprets the book as a theoretical fusion of the elements of Kabbalah, the sciences, etc. into one coherent worldview - not directed towards any specific groups of people.

This is a very forced reading, it is almost certain (to me) that an activist like Menashe (for ex. he had plans to reinstate the Vaad Arbah Aratzos) would have very practical concerns in mind when writing such a book (pamphlet really). Second, I really don't see how Menashe's clear statement that he seeks a "reconciliation among the Tsaddikim" and his following discussion about the various "groups" can be understood to refer to a question of forming a theoretical reconciliation of various "viewpoints" unless by "forcing an elephant through the eye of a needle" (I am quoting the Talmud, not the NT - obviously).

Another article in which Kamenetsky follows a similar pattern is in Yeshurun 8-10. There he is discussing R' Shlomo Dubno who was one of the original circle of the Biurists. At one point, Dubno broke with Mendelssohn and he later had a very close relationship with many Gedolim of that time, as the Haskamos that Kamenetsky printed attest. Kamentesky is faced with a bit of a dilemma here since Mendelssohn is the personification of the evil of Haskalah, and Dubno's association with him is a bit of a headache.

Now all the evidence (very finely laid out by Altmann in his biography of M.) suggests that the cause of the break was Mendelssohn's refusal to print Dubno's lengthy introduction. This isn't good enough for Kamentsky though so he invents a conspiracy theory according to which M. deliberately refused to print the introduction in order to push of D. who was to frum for him. D. on his part was only to happy to leave because he knew how bad M. was all along anyway. This really doesn't work to well. All the documents prior to the break show a pretty fine relationship bet. M. and D. The only statements that support Kamenetsky's assertion were those written after the break up which appear only to reflect an attempt by Dubno to retroactively justify his break.

In short, Yeshurun is a very fine journal with many good articles but rather tendentious on historical issues. (Incidentally, I was quite surprised that R' Yaakov Chaim Sofer in his "Al Seforim..) in the issue prior to this one seems not to have been aware of the existence of R' Nosson Adler of Hanover/London , the Baal Nesinah La-Ger.

[1] Inadvertently, Kamenetsky helped me clear up an interesting historical point. It is easily understood why the Maskilim called themselves by that name (though from a purely philological point of view it might be inappropriate (V'Hamaskilim Yizaharu in Daniel isn't referring to the "rationalists") but would did their opponents call them by a complimentary term. אבל כנראה כוונתם היה על המלה מסכילים זה מזכיר לי את כמאמר המפורסם של סטנוב "לא כל הראשונים השכילו ולא כל האחרונים הסכילו" עוד יש לפרש שהוא מלשון "שכל את ידיו" (בראשית מח, יד) והבוחר יבחר

[2 Most of Kamentsky's arguments that Menashe was essentially a Misnaggid are already presented in Barzilay's book. See the chapter on Menashe's ambivalent attitude towards Chassidim (also printed in the JQR).

An anti--Essene polemic in Tosefta

דמאי ב:ז כהן שקבל עליו כל עבודת כהונה חוץ מדבר אחד אין מקבלין אותו בן לוי שקבל עליו כל עבודת לויה חוץ מדבר אחד אין מקבלין אותו שנאמר (ויקרא ז) המקריב את דם השלמים וגו' אין לי אלא זריקת דם והקטר חלבים מנין ליציקות ובלילות תנופות והגשות הקמיצות והקטרות המליקות והקבלות והזאות והשקאת סוטה ועריפת עגלה וטהרת מצורע ונשיאות כפים מבפנים ומבחוץ ת"ל (שם) בני אהרן כל עבודה שהיא בבני אהרן [אמר ר"ש] יכול אין דוחין אותן אלא ממתנות מקדש בלבד מנין אף ממתנות גבולין ת"ל (דברים יח) ראשית דגנך [תירושך ויצהרך] וגו' מפני מה (שם) כי בו בחר ה' כל המקבל עליו שירות יש לו במתנות כל שאין מקבל עליו שירות אין לו במתנות בזמן שהכהנים עושין רצונו של מקום מה נאמר בהם (ויקרא ו) חלקם נתתי אותה מאשי משלהן הן נוטלין ואין נוטלין משלי ובזמן שאין עושין רצונו של מקום מה נאמר בהם (מלאכי א) מי גם בכם ויסגור דלתים וגו'.

See also the alternative formulation in Chullin 133a. The Essenes believed that it was forbidden to sacrifice animals. The emphasis on Kohanim might imply that their opponents were something akin to the Tzadokite sect (?). If I am correct in this (although R' Shimon (bar Yochai) is not quite the right time frame) then this might be another support to Halivni's theory that the Midrash preceded the Mishna since this would be the earliest formulation of this law. I am sure this Baraita must have already been discussed, perhaps someone can check the Tosefta Kipeshuto.

Monday, May 5, 2008

A basic analysis of Shir's legacy - courtesy of R' S.

My thanks to R' S. for allowing me to post this email that he sent me awhile ago. This is an excellent, very perceptive summation of Shir's complicated legacy.

"My opinion of him is a little mixed, but mostly for personal reasons. I just get the sense that perhaps he really wasn't a very nice person. This shouldn't make a difference, maybe, but I can't say it doesn't.

Putting that aside, he was a very, very interesting person. He is definitely an important figure in the history of Jewish history. Although he didn't originate the genre of the Jewish biography (Zunz, essentially did, with his Toldos Rashi), Shir took it to a new level. It was he who really showed what Zunz had discovered, namely that you can actually get a good picture of who some of the great people of Israel were by carefully studying what they wrote and what others wrote about them. So he's important. As for who claims him, to a certain extent the Conservative movement claims him, particularly the scholarly-historical-JTS wing. Or at least it did, when it used to care about such things (they also, sort of, claim Shadal - Gerson Cohen [former JTS chancellor] pretty much claims Shadal in his foreward to Morris Margolies bio of Shadal). What is interesting is that *Orthodoxy* hasn't completely repudiated Shir, although often he is ridiculed in Orthodox sources. So, for example, in "My Uncle the Netziv" R. Epstein's story that Shir began to dress like a choshuve rov only when he was about to become a rov is repeated. In R. Wein's Triumph of Survival he writes the following: "[Isaac Mayer Wise]* was ordained by Rabbi Solomon Y. Rapaport, a noted rabbinic scholar and maskil, who was the controversial rabbi of Prague in the middle 1800s" - and in a larger treatment: "Even traditional, Talmudic scholars, such as Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Rapaport, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Chajes, and others, were strongly opposed by the chassidim." - which is a little odd, since Shir was a major misnaged, so of course they opposed him. He called them "mischasedim."

Anyway, Wein's footnote reads:

"Known by his acronym Shir, he was a well-known Talmudic scholar and the son-in-law of the renowned author of Ketzos HaChoshen. His rabbinic career was beset by fierce opposition from chassidim, because he was accused of being a maskil. He was opposed by the German leaders, Rabbi S.B. Baemberger and Rabbi S.R. Hirsch, as well, because of his tolerance of Reform." - the last is a strange, well, libel. Since he was pretty kannoisdike against Reform!

In any event, Shir is interesting also because it seems that he had a personal belief that although Jews are permitted free thought, rabbis aren't, but they must maintain the traditional role that they always had, especially because the people expect it of them. That's why he could only oppose rabbis proposing reforms. Not only that, he seems to have practiced what he preached, voluntarily (or prudently, depending if you're cynical) suppressing his critical bent, once he became a rabbi. I think a lot of people looked at him like he was kind of a joke, having been a notorious maskil who suddently reinvented himself as a serious rav, but the point is that for him that was the only way one could be a rav, and when he wanted to be a rav, he stayed true to that vision.

*it might be worth pointing out that there is no evidence that Wise was ordained by Shir, or anyone - and, indeed, this was a matter of controversy in the US. Orthodox Jews claimed that he isn't even a rabbi (or a Dr.), and he never could produce evidence that he was. Conversely, Wise used to attack Isaac Leeser for not being a rabbi, despite the fact that Leeser used to make a point of noting that he wasn't a rabbi" [A"H - See this site - - for a good deal of information about Wise and his contemporaries."]

To be continued

Prolegomena to the study of Shir

Well nothing quite as pretentious as all that but I do want to discuss some of the earlier studies pn Shir.

The first is Simon Bernfield's Toledot Shir. It seems like a somewhat mass-produced volume (part of a series of such Toldot by Dr. Bernfeld). Bernfeld was writing at at time when the image of the enlightened Maskil (i.e. rationalists) had lost its glamour and the more mystical, romantic type was becoming in vogue. Bernfeld tries rather too hard to seem objective, constantly declaiming that "he has now wish to act as Shir's "defender"" which gives the book a very jumpy feeling since he tries to write from four points of view at once.

This style displeased the adherents of the enlightened maskil school. A Feivel Wettstein put out a small pamphlet "L'Toledot Shir" as a scathing (but not very good) attack on Bernfeld and to defend Shir. Bernfelds book does an adequate job sketching the basics of Shir's biography but he hardly takes advantage of the abundance of material, both in print, and still in manuscript nor can we is his analysis particularly perceptive.

The next study shares most of the faults of the former (indeed he appears to have borrowed quite heavily from Bernfelds book). This is Isaac Eisenstein-Barzilay's (Barzilay is the Hebrew for eisen) "Shir and his contemporaries. The first part is an adequate overview of "The Scholarly Contribution of Shelomo Judah Leib Rapoport", first printed as an article in PAAJR (I thank R' S. for notifying me of that article). The second is an overview of Shir's polemics. It is on the whole a very adequate job, and some pieces of his analysis (e.g his analysis of his polemic with Fisher/Hirsch - although even here he misses the point as I hope to show) are quite good but in general it is mostly a summary of the various polemics without much in the way of analysis. He also narrowly focuses on only these two areas leaving many aspects that still need to be explored.

Rav Shlomo Yehuda Leib Rapoport - Shir

As someone has already noted there seems to be a general lack of information on Shir. His position as a son-in-law of the Ketzos HaChoshen, as the Founder of Chochmat Yisroel in Galicia, and Chief Rabbi of Prague is enough by itself demonstrate the complexity of his position.

There is simply a massive amount of Shir's writings available on the Internet. These include:

1- Harkavy's Zichron La'Rishonim - These contain the first collection of letters between Shir and Shadal. (Artscroll released a book called Zechor Yemos Olam containing all sorts of correspondance between Harkavy and the Rabbonim of his day.)

2. Igrot Shir - and this contains the rest of the letters. This collection focuses on the argument on the origin of the Masoretes (Bavel acc. to Shadal, Eretz Yisroel acc. to Shir), a long commentary of Shir's to "deutero"-Isaiah (towards the end), Onkeles vs. Aquilas and other such issues. The volatile nature of their relationship is discussed (though not particularly well) in the Shadal bi-centennial volume.

3. Tochacha Megullah (the last part is in Hebrew)- This was Shir's response to the Reform convention in Frankfurt.

4. Toledot Mishpachot Rosenthal - This contains a good many documents relating to Shir's problems in Tarnopol and his attempt for the Rabbanus in Prague.

5. Otzar Nechmad - In the chapter on Tekufos Sa'arah B' Chayei HaChatam Sofer. Same as before.

6. Nachlas Yehuda - This was published posthumously by his son. The first part (Ner Mitzvah) is a letter to a friend of his who had become attracted to Chassidus. It's quite typical of anti-Hasidic polemic if its time. (Or says Barzilay whose work I will discuss soon. Unfortunately the file is missing pages so I acn't read the whole thing.)

The second part (Ohr Torah - a pun on the name of Geiger's book - Ur - schrift) is a very heavy attack on Geiger's magnum opus - "Urschrift und Übersetzungen der Bibel in ihrer Abhängigkeit von der innern Entwicklung des Judentums” (Basically - Original text and translations of the Bible as they relate to the inner development of Judaism - See Susannah Heschel's book on Geiger and the Jewish Jesus Ch. 2 for an overview. Basically he uses the Targumim to construct his own version of Second Temple history in order to support his own program of Reform (but don't worry its all very objective and "scientific"). Incidentally some of Geiger's works are also available in the same place.)

7. Lots of his ontroductions to various books are available, each containing all sorts of information - Shoresh Davar, Maamaer HaYichud (of the Rambam), Gal Ed (R' S. has already pointed this one out.), Higayon HaNefesh and (not on-line at the moment) Teshuvos HaGaonim ed. Lyck and the dictionary of Ibn-Parchon.

8. Kiryat Sefer Years 1-4 - M'Arkiono Shel Shir by B. Dinaberg containing some letters written by Shir

Mar Shmuel available on line

R' Dovid Tzvi Hoffmann's doctorate - Mar Samuel is now available online both at Google Books and the Internet archive.

While in the archive, you can also check out his son-in-laws biography of him here. in Louis Ginzberg's monograph on him in "Student,Scholars, and Saints" here.

(Ginzberg's doctoral dissertation on "The Agaddah in the writings of the Church Fathers" is also available.)

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A conversation with Hagaon Prof. Dovid Halivni

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Professor Halivni and discuss several issues which I will record here. Prof. Halivni revolutionized the field of Talmudics by distinguishing between the various elements of the sugya – The amoraic statements and the stammatic discussions. This methodology helps clear up various difficulties within the sugya as Halvni demonstrates in his multi-volume Mekorot U’ Mesorot.

It was interesting to watch the Professor learning . He uses only the standard Vilna Shas and the Dikdukei Soferim. (He is currently studying Tractate Sanhedrin, after just recently publishing Mekorot U' Mesorot on Bava Basra) Occasionally he opens another Tractate (or the Sifra ,etc. ) in order to compare readings. It is fascinating to watch the amount of concentration that is placed in analyzing every line.

1. I asked him how he understood the Talmudic phrase (Ravina V’ Reb Ashi Sof Hora’ah). The Rishonim seem to have understood it as referring to the redaction of the Talmud (See Kalmin’s excellent book on that subject) although even they were not entirely sure (See Tosafos in Chullin 2a). Now the word Horaah literally refers to decision-making. One might say that one cannot refute a decision of Ravina and R’ Ashi but this also seems not to be correct as frequently a V’Hilchosa (which are generally assumed to be Geonic) argues on an Amoraic decision. See also my earlier post)

I cannot remember all the details of his response. He was (naturally) quite adamant that it had nothing to do with redaction. He noted that the term “Itmar” is only used in connection with pre- R’ Ashi Amoraim (although there weren’t that many Amoraim after R' Ashi for this to be significant?) and that the statement was simply meant to express the end of an era (marked by “Itmar”). Most surprisingly, he said that he believed that even today there is no technical reason that would prevent us from arguing on an Amora. The difficulty is practical i.e. we don’t know really understand the methodology that the Amoraim used to arrive at their decisions that we should be able to dispute them.

2. Another issue I raised is the statement in Shabbos 118b - וא"ר יוסי מימי לא עברתי על דברי חברי יודע אני בעצמי שאיני כהן אם אומרים לי חבירי עלה לדוכן אני עולה

First, I was bothered by the question of Tosafos – “What issur is involved…?”. I do not understand why Tosafos assumed that there must be an issur involved (raising the question that we will soon discuss how could he involve himself in an issur to please his friends). Certainly, the next statement (I never said anything and retracted) involves no issur. It would be easier to say that R’ Yosi was simply saying that he would even do something remarkably strange (for a non-kohen to go up to the duchen) for his friends.

Prof. Halivni’s response was that in the view of the Tosafists – it is obvious R’ Yose would do all one can for a friend, even something somewhat strange. The vehemence of R’ Yose’s exclamation would imply something more – an actual issur.

Regarding the main difficulties of the passage – 1. How could R’ Yose transgress an issur (acc. to Tosafos) 2, and why would his friends ask him to do so? Prof. Halivni is of the opinion that R’ Yose was merely using an expression to demonstrate his loyalty to his friends – not that he ever was asked to actually do so. I find this explanation somewhat difficult since I do not see why R’ Yose should have chosen such a strange way of expressing himself – one that has parallels anywhere else.

(The Torah Temimah had pointed to a variant in Rabbenu Yerucham that substitutes “K’dai” for Kohen. Acc. to this explanation – duchen which simply means a platform referred to a place where a darshen stood (as in Reish Duchna referring to an assistant teacher). This would resolve the question neatly.

This brought forth a rather immoderate attack from R’ Kasher in Torah Shlemah to Tsav. To cite one example – Kasher questions the TT’s new interpretation for Duchen as opposed to everywhere else where Duchen means Birkat Kohanim. In fact, in all of the Tannitic and Amoraic literature duchen never is used in to refer to Birkat Kohanim. I would suggest that perhaps the substitution of Kohen to K’dai might have happened during Geonic times when the word duchen started to be used in reference to Birkat Kohanim VT”I).

3.I also raised the issue of the “מאי לאו” that is that frequently a proof is brought in which the Talmud first assumes (w/o any proof) that the Baraita should be interpreted to be referring to the case under discussion and is then pushed off by saying that it does not refer to that case. Prof. Halivni’s explanation (it is already recorded numerous times in his book) is that when this proof is brought by Amoraim it is generally followed by a “אי הכי” which demonstrates why the first position (the מאי לאי) is to be preferred. The Stammim kept this form even where there is no אי הכי to be followed simply to demonstrate that they realize that there exist two ways to understand this Baraita (elsewhere Halivni writes of the general rhetorical style of the Stammaim which involved a back and forth even where this is not strictly needed). (I might add that generally one might say that the first option – the מאי לאו would fit more logically within the pashtus of the baraita whereas the second option is a mere דיחוי which doesn’t fit as well – ויל"ד)

4. I told him a pshat of mine (rather vilely written here) that I think he liked. I think it is important since it would mean that one has to carefully check every Maskonah to see if it might not be a reformulation of an earlier "Hava Amina".

5. Finally, he told me an explanation (I think its already printed in his Memoirs) on the statement לעולם לא יפטר אדם מחבירו אלא מתוך דבר הלכה שמתוך כך זוכרהו - ברכות, לא why the empasis on D'var Halach as opposed to Aggadah? This is because Aggadah is by nature plastic, as one can see that each movement and ideology through the ages interprets the aggadah to fit with their own ideas. Thus with an aggadah you will not "remember him" for the aggadah can be changed to a new form. But the Halacha is eternal and unchangeable.

(This is not at all an exact account and all the usual disclaimers apply)

R' Yair Chaim Bachrach's Etz Chayyim

Although the only one of the R Yair's works that is fully extant is his Chavas Yair, he also left behind over 46 volumes of writings in manuscripts. A large part of which was to have been a vast encyclopedic work called Eitz Chaim. All that we have of this is the introduction (printed together with Chavas Yair) and an index (Yair Nesiv) with which one can get a taste of the vastness of the project.

An excellent overview of R' Yair Chaim's life and major works can be found in the JQR 1891 V. 3(this is an English summary of a larger work in German). Here is a small excerpt:

The merest glance at the extent of this collection gives some idea of its richness; a thorough examination of the multiplicity and scientific tone of its contents changes our wonder to admiration. Thus the first volume consisted of 237 leaves, the table of contents of which occupies twenty-four closely written folio pages of the index. The headings that succeed each other in miscellaneous order are somewhat as follows:- Talmud, Agada, Legalism, Ritual, Bible, Homiletics, Ethics, Philosophy, Cabbala, History, and general Criticism.

The variety of the contents, and the rays of light that break through the mental darkness of the period may be illustrated by a few examples from this work. Thus in one passage he asserts that even ethical writings in German are of more value than the greatest and most ingenious Tal-mudical works that are not based upon truth. Elsewhere he excuses the Polish Talmudists for their deficient knowledge of the Bible. The story of two women who agreed that the one who died first should relate to the survivor her experiences after death,' seems to him to be as well worth noting down as the impressive rebuke he administered to his co-religionists for certain defects (and their causes) that had crept into divine service. At one time he inveighs against the misunderstanding of Christian commentators of the Talmudical saying, "Keep back your children from reading," as well as against the reproaches levelled against the Jews for their ignorance of the interpretation of Holy Writ, and then his philosophical reflections cause him to soar aloft to a height whence he recognises how the Biblical verse (Ps. civ. 31) has this profound meaning, that God will only rejoice in the future, for at the present time each day reveals some new imper-fection in the world.

At one time he is defending Abraham Ibn Ezra against the imputation that in his exegesis he disregarded Rabbinical tradition, and at another he traces the development of the system of hospitality among the ancients, and the origin of the so-called Pletten, i.e., the bills for the payment of the expenses of poor students and travellers to whom hospitality was shown. In one passage he seeks reasons for declaring the drawing and hanging up of one's own portrait, and that of one's relatives to be perfectly allowable; in another he puzzles himself about the phenomenon that in a mirror the human face does not seem to turn from right to left. He is as anxious to settle the question whether Maimuni possessed a knowledge of Hebrew grammar, poetry and metre, as whether the Joseph Hacohen mentioned in the Mishna may not be the author of Josippon.

In this part he is engaged in questions of natural science, as, e.g., about objects that are visible and yet cannot be perceived by the sense of touch, and vice versa [A"H- See Chavas Yair No. 233] , or about the query, why drunkem men have thought or presenttiments that are more correct then other men. He further speaks of the superstitious notions of about hobgoblins, elves , and litle fairies as he had read about them in the popular literature of his time.

[ ענין בן תמליון . ושאין חמא על מי שמגדלו בביתו ודברים רבים ראיתי בספרי א"ה וקוראים לו קאבאלד ובכינוי פולדר גייסטער והם דמות ילדים קטנים בלבוש יפה רואין ואינם נראין וכל משרתי הבית משימי' להן בזמן קבוע קערה בתבשיל לאכול הוא עושה להם כל מיני עבודת הבית ובפרט לנקות הרפת ושאר עבודות הבהמות ובלבד שלא ילעיגו עליו או ירבה עליו דברי בזיון ושאר פרטי ענינין ומעשיו שהיו ומהותו לדעתם לא רציתי להאריך]

On the בן תמלין - see TB Mei'lah 17a.

"Especially rich in material was Vol. VII., that contained 282 leaves, and is described in the index from p. 89a-104a. Here he had written out his father's commentary to the tractate of the Mishna, called Kinnim, with his own criticisms and the replies thereto of the author. Natural science, history, and literature were here gathered together pell-mell. The pigmies (Alriunchen) are as much a point of interest to him as the query whether the human race has really deteriorated in stature, strength, and longevity."

The enumeration of the Messianic movements in Jewish history, is as important an object of solicitude as the fixing the date of the composition of the legal code of Joseph Karo, at the years 1522-1542. He makes a note of the supposed introduction of Hebrew words into other languages, such as the word "baar" into German, or the word " null," into Latin, and, like a harbinger of the study of folk-lore, he comments upon the appearance of Talmudical tales in other literatures. Like the Christian theologians, he raises the question, how America was peopled after the flood, and makes use of an opinion of Philo to help him to disprove that Cain married his sister. He holds in pious respect every Jewish custom, but nevertheless reads polemical writings against Judaism, and adduces remarks collected from Wagenseil's works. He
is as much interested in the personal individuality of Bachya b. Joseph, as he is eager to defend Maimuni against the suspicions of Abravanel.

[concluding statement]

But even if he has not come down to posterity with all the ripe produce of his life's work, nevertheless he has become so deeply impressed upon their memory as to have his name preserved as one of the most prominent men of genius, one of the most important phenomena among the German Jews of the seventeenth century, who, though having his nature deeply rooted in the past was still in advance of his time, and who will always be regarded as the forerunner of the study of Judaism in a historical and scientific spirit.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Some He'aros on Kalmin's article in HTR- Christians and Heretics in Rabbinic Literature..

Note 5: "According to conventional accounts of the chronology of Yehoshua ben Perahya, he lived well before Jesus and could not have come in contact with him. The rabbis here reveal either ignorance of Jesus' chronology or a lack of concern for historical accuracy. It is conceivable, although unlikely, that the present story has in mind a Jesus other than the founder of the Christian faith."

There is a crucial point that Kalmin misses. As is well known, The Jewish chronology differs from the general chronology by some 150 years. What is particularly interesting here is that Jesus would fit quite perfectly into Yehosua Ben Perachya's times according to chronology of the Rabbis. Assuming the general chronoly correct (which seems likely) one would have to say that the Amoraim had a tradition that Yeshu was a student of an important Rabbi of his time but following their own chronology they assumed it to be Yehoshua ben Perachya (who was the only well-know Rabbi who had run off to Egypt. וצ"ע ויש להאריך ואכ"מ

Kalmin consistently refers to minim and Christians, without attempting to define minnim.

(He provides the following sources -25 On the question of the identity of these minim, see Hirshman, "Midrash Qohelet Rabbah," 2. 61; Burton L. Visotzky, "Overturning the Lamp," JJS 38 (1987) 76-77; and Stuart S. Miller, "The Minim of Sepphoris Reconsidered," HTR 86 (1993) 384-85 n. 31. - The only one I have at the moment is the last and that one is to specific to be useful).

I would imagine that the other "non-jewish bible readers" were some form of gnosticism. (R' Yosef Zecharya Stern (Maamer Al Tahluchei Aggados - possibly quoting someone else) suggests that the etymology of the word min is related to the founder of mancheism - Manos). The discussions in the Talmud trying to refute the doctrine of dualism (Berachot - Yotzer Ohr U' Borei Choshech, Acc. to Shadal the Ohr L' Arbaah Assar of the first Mishna in Pesachim was because of a desire to avoid referring to the dark (D' Lo K'Hagemara and it seems unlikely anyway), there is also a discussion somewhere abou Hormuz and Ahormuz but I can't find it a at the moment.)

If one assumes the tale of Yeshu and Yehoshua ben Percahya is a historical then it was the Rabbis explanation for the excessive emphasis on Repentance in the NT. If it is historical then this is what caused that doctrine.


Mizrachi movement in Russia - Need help identifying men in photo

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