Sunday, November 30, 2008

On shaking hands with women among the German-Orthodox

And see here

Anyone know who this - גאון מפורסם מאלט שטאט was?
[The source is from a letter in HaDarom 64 by J. Appel of Leeds containing various comments on different articles.]

Friday, November 28, 2008

Chasam Sofer and R' Mordechai Banet on the study of Geography

and here is something so interesting that I had to make it into its own post. Shimshon Halevi Bloch (one of Shirs pals - the first volume is dedicated to him and the second to Renak) wrote a two volume work on Geography called Shvili HaOlam 1, 2. He recieved an interesting Haskamah from R' Mordechai Banet - Chief Rabbi of Moravia as well as a letter of support from Chasam Sofer (I have never seen this letter quoted in any of the studies on Chasam Sofer), as well as R' Eliezer Fleckles of Prague (Talmud of Noda B' Yehuda), R' Shmuel Landau and others.

More from

4 - Shalu Shalom Yerushalayim - regarding the forged Yeushalmi to Kodshim

5 - The Seforim of R. Moshe Leiter (search for משה לייטר or לייטער) - I don't know very much about him but the articles I've seen from him are generally very good. His Zuto Shel Yam is not dissimilar to R. Reuvein Margolies's style of Mechkar and his B'Shulei Gilyonei is also worth checking out.

6 - Chiddushei Rachah 1, 2- R' Chaim Hirschenson on Horiyos - Volume 3 contains many interesting letters.

7 - HaMisderonah (search for המסדרונה)- This is the periodical published by R' Hirschenson while still in Yerushalyim. See the end of the 3rd volume for an very interesting letter. In the same volume we have Chiddushim of Michah Yosef Berditchovsky on Kesubos in which I think one can already see some of the ideas that he will develop in his later writings.

8 -Ohel Moshe 1, 2 - R' Eliezer Moshe Horowitz of Pinsk, father-in-law of Torah Temimah (a hesped by the latter of the former is available at Seforim Online). Judging by his hagahot to Shas this should also quite interesting. - Some interesting new seforim and on R Y. Halevy has updated their site to include many more seforim. Here are some of the many interesting seforim available:

1 - Maamer HaTigalachas - Y. S. Reggio - See here for an excellent description of this sefer.

2- Tocho Ratzuf Ahavah - M. S. Gerondi - I don't know anything about this particular book but based on the authors reputation (see M. Hershkowitz's article in HaDarom) it should be worth looking into.

3-Igrot R' Yitzchok Isaac Halevi (Note: All volumes of Dorot HaRishonim are also available there) - This is based on A. Recihel's doctoral dissertation and has been out of print for years. It includes in extensive biography and letters. It is generally believed that Halevi's harsh polemics against the Maskilim was because he was angry at their role in the closing of Volozhin (although it is hard to see a connection between Graetz and the Russian Maskilim who were very different in style). My own impression from the letters is that Halevy had a far too high opinion of his own abilities as in historian and a far too low opinion of anyone elses (see the comments in the letters on R' Dovid Tzvi Hoffmann who was unquestionably far greater then him). In point of fact, little remain of Halevy's theories - S. Albeck (and later Halivni) destroyed his theory regarding the redaction of the Talmud (Sinai), R. YY Weinberg - his theory of Yesod Mishna (Seridei Esih 4), L. Ginzberg - his theories regarding the Geonim (Geonica - English part). Note also that when referring to the German Rabbis he refers to them by their last name whereas the Lithuanian Rabbis are referred to with their proper titles. His Sefer on Sefeikos - Batim Levadim has been published a few years ago.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Still more Irano-Judaica: On Biblisch-talmudische Medizin

For those interested, in "Biblisch-talmudische Medizin" J. Preuss's groundbreaking study has long all that is available. I now see that M J Geller wrote a very thorough article entitled "Akkadian Healing Therapies in the Babylonian Talmud". The article is available here.

Of especial note is pg. 19 ff. which explains a puzzling piece of Talmud as being based on an Akkadian pun.

Friday, November 21, 2008

David Kaufmann and his collection

מי שבירך for his holiness the Archbishop

And another:

On R' Moshe Sternbuch's Halachic Novellae and on a conversation with him

If you would like a clear and concise summary of virtually any issue in Halacha, no matter how complex, then I highly recommend R' Moshe Sternbuch's Teshuvos V' Hanahagos. He generally cites and discusses only the important sources on an issue with little or no sidetracking (see his introduction).

In many of his earlier Teshuvos (dating from his tenure as a Rov in S. Africa), he demonstrates the sensitivity that Prof. Daniel Sperber seems to value so much in a posek. My favourite Teshuva concerns a Baal Teshuva who was raised for many years by a step-mother before becoming frum. The dificulty is that he is not even able to shake hands, let alone kiss or hug her, something that would obviously casue no few problems. R' Sternbuch suggests that he give half a hand which is not derekh chibah and therefor permitted. Lest this seem like no big deal, note that as opposed to the German posekim[1], R' Sternbuch considers handshaking to be not only a Torah violation but an actual אביזרייהו דעריות and he is now Raavid of the Edah HaChareidis not well-known for leniency in these matters.

In D. Horowitz's article on "R. Moshe Sternbuch's Halakhic Novellae", he discusses the innovative nature of R' Moshe's novellae which, as opposed to the novellae of the yeshivos, have direct halachic ramifications.

Prof. Sual Lieberman used to say:

כשאדם אומר חידוש הרי לבטח כבר קדמו אדם אחר, ואם לאו - הרי שאין החידוש אמיתי. אם בכל זאת חושב הוא שהחידוש נכון, אזי צריך הוא לשאול את עצמו מדוע לא אמרו את החידוש הזה לפניו

Perhaps, this might be true of some of R' Sternbuch's chiddushim. As I was studying Yevamos[2], the following occurred to me. [Although after reviewing the sources, I see that this is not a very good example as R' Sternbuch is following the strict ruling of the MB who resolves the apparent contradiction, but I decided to write this anyway - בשביל דבר שנתחדש בו.]

[In one of his Teshuvos (4:118 and other places), he suggests that if on Shabbos one needs to have a child turn on a light, it is best to have someone else's child, in order to avoid the extra prohibition of שביתת בנו. This prohibition, although mentioned in Mechilta, is nowhere mentioned in the Mishna or Talmud. In fact, in Yevamos 114a we read:

ש <עובד כוכבים> {נכרי} שבא לכבות אין אומרים לו כבה ואל תכבה מפני שאין שביתתו עליהם קטן הבא לכבות אומרים לו אל תכבה ששביתתו עליהם א"ר יוחנן בעושה על דעת אביו

as Rashi explains , the problem is that it is as if the father directly commands the kid to extinguish but w/o this difficulty, it would be permitted and the father does not have to stop his son because of שביתת בנו. The exact status of the Halachic Midrashim, when in conflict with the Talmud still needs to be clarified.]

R' Sternbuch is a descendant of the Gra [3], so when I had an opportunity to meet him I asked him what he considers to be the purpose of the hagahot hagra on Shas (Bavli). The hagahot seem to differ very much in style between tractates. At the time I was learning Bava Metzia in which most of the hagahot simply mention that "the Rambam disagrees and the Rosh is in doubt" and the like, which don't seem to add anything substantial to the sugya. R' Sternbuch suggested that the Gr"a means to pasken like that Shita in these cases but I must confess that this doesn't seem to me to be sufficent explanation. Can anyone check if Y. S. Spiegel discusses this type of hag'ah in his Amudim?

[1] See here, I have unearthed some more sources on this Minhag Ashkenaz (not one you will find mentioned in Shorshei) which I hope eventually to place here.

[2] It is interesting that the difficulty of Yevamos was so well-known that it is even referred to in Karaite polemics - see Shraga Abramson's article in Sinai 52.

[3] As he signs his name, נין ונכד להגר"א, I saw R' Chaim Kanievsky refer to a "certain Gadol who signs this way and I told him they are both false" - as in Bereishis 21:23 that the terms refers to the 2nd and 3rd generation but not beyond (see here).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rashba's response to the Bible critics

Menachem Mendel refers to Rashba's polemics against Ibn Hazm - or more precisely against -
"an Ishmael[ite] who composed a work on the religions; a fool, for he spoke [disparagingly] even of our perfect religion."

B. Naor has recently published the full text of the polemic (available at Biegelesien) - see here for an excerpt.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lubavitcher Rebbe in college

Menachem Friedman on the early years of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (here) - via this thread. See also this post where I suggest that the Lubavitcher Rebbe went to study in Berlin to investigate the conflict between Torah and Science.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Correspondence between R' Yaakov Reifmann and the Aderet

There ia a fascinating piece from the Seforim V' Soferim Forum (see also these posts on Reifmann)
[Update: Another piece of a fascinating letter discussing Rabbenu Tam's Sefer HaYashar and the Aruch HaShulchan's edition has been added here.]

Avraham's mother, Shimshon's sister and the "Immaculate Conception"

Parshablog has an interesting post on the post-talmudic designation of Lot's wifes name as Idith. There is an interesting wiki on the subject of post-biblical designations for biblical characters here (hebrew) and here (english - they bring the source for Lot's wife back to the Sefer HaYashar).

On this subject, R' Reinman (One People Two Worlds) argues for the strength of Rabbinic tradition - because even a minor detail like the fact that Avrohoms mother's name was Amatlai bas Karnebo (see end of Ch. 5 of Bava Basra) has been verified by the discovery of a similar name in ancient Sumerian records.

I innocently mentioned this "source" on Wikipedia at one point, to which I got the following response:

"You mentioned that this was the name of Abraham's mother and that it had been found to be a name in Sumerian times. I am interested in following up on this as I can find no Sumerian called Amatlei Bas Karnebo (linguistically it looks very un-Sumerian too). Do you have a reference? "

Does a more scholarly source exist for this claim?

In the same sugya, we have the following cryptic tidbit:

The mother of Sampson, Z'llpunith, and his sister N'shiin. To what purpose was this said? For an answer to the Epicuristen (censored - should be minim - based on the shoddy and overly apologetic - Rodkinson ).

One might understand the need for the names of the mothers as per Rashi but what is the importance of the nameof Shimshon's sister?

R' Yaakov Kamenetsky has the following brilliant interpretation (B'Mechitzos Rabbenu pg. 212 - and this is a foreshadowing of what we can expect from EY on Nach which I am eagerly awaiting):

Minim generally refer to the Christians [Rashi, for instance, seems to learn that it is an acronym for M'Talmidei Yeshu HaNotzri - see the Rashis removed by censor. See the second part of R. Kimelmans diss. for a more comprehensive discussion]. In Judges 13 - it first states

verse 2 - הנה נא את עקרה ולא ילדת והרית וילדת בן

verse 4 - כי הנך הרה וילדת בן

In the first verse we are told that she is going to conceive a child - in the future. The second verse seems to say that she has already conceived - in the past tense. Chazal (Bamidbar Rabbah 10) explain that the seed that was already there "gathered" so as to form a child. But the Christian explain (although I see no nore of this distinction in the AKJV), that we have here mutatis mutandis a beautiful proof for the doctrine of the Virgin Birth - since we see that the word of an angel can cause conception. Therefore, by citing the sister of Shimshon -whose birth was preumably natural - we can prove that Tzlilpones's conception was of the normal kind.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Updated Shadal list to include Ohev Ger - Thanks to S.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Yaltha, the wife of R' Nachman: A woman of spirits (1)

I had often wondered why in the (excessive) modern focus on proto-feminist figures (here is the earliest article I know on the subject) I have rarely seen mention the name of Yalta, the wife of R' Nachman. After a quick internet search, I see that there is some discussion but surprisingly, no full-length study.

The name Yalta is acc. to Kohut - Aruch Ha-Shalem) is derived from the aramaic for doe or mountain-goat. Yalta was the daughter of the Reish-Galusa and wife of R' Nachman (bar Yaakov). Babylonia was the bread-basket of the Sassanian empire and hence of vital importance. The Reish Galusa as head of a significant minority group weilded considerable power (see wiki). Yalta, a princess of sorts, would have had a considerable sense of her own importance. This is crucial for understanding her action in many of the stories cited. She acts not as a proto-feminist but as a princess [1].

One full-length article analysing one of the Yalta stories is: Yalta's Ruse: Resistance Against Rabbinic Menstrual Authority in Talmudic Literature", in Women and Water: Female Rituals of Purification in Jewish History and Culture,ed. by Rachel Wasserfall, University Press of New England, 1999, pp.60-82 (here).

An over the top typical feminist analysis of the story in Berachot 51b (which I refer to in the title) is in R. Adler's Engendering Judaism (and see here). Adler's exposition involving cups and wombs is all very nice and Da Vinci Code-ish but it is also utter nonsense. It is all too easy to find hidden messages and symbolisms where none exist. I would like to discuss this source in detail in a future post.

There is an interesting thread here that collects R' Nachman's statements about woman whether there is a correlation between these statements and his famous wife is anyone's guess. (I saw one scholar insists that Yalta was not necessarily his wife, etc. ,etc. This is nonsense. It is clear from numerous statements is the Talmud that R' Nachman was the son-in-law of the Reish Galusa (see Graetz's lovely biography)) - or at the very least close to his court.

This is all that I have found of the scholarship on the subject. In the next post, I will discuss some of the other Yalta statements and see what we can make of them.

[1] I do not have Tal Ilan's - Mine, yours, and hers (see pgs. 121- 129 - basing herself on Shamma Friedman's "good story deserves retelling" hypothesis) but agree with her basic thesis.

Friday, November 7, 2008

גם להו"א יש משמעות

I once posted on a theory that in many cases the הו"א and מסקנא of the Gemara are identical except that the language of the original statement wasn't sufficiently clear. See there where I provided one example.

I see now that the Aderet in Kuntres Zecher Davar pg. 64 also makes use of this rule.

On the Gemara in Kesubos 40b:

אבוה דשמואל אומדין כמה אדם רוצה ליתן בין שפחה בתולה לשפחה בעולה לשמשו שפחה בעולה לשמשו מאי נפקא ליה מינה אלא בין שפחה בעולה לשפחה שאינה בעולה להשיאה לעבדו ולעבדו מאי נפקא ליה מינה בעבד שיש לו לרבו קורת רוח הימנו

The Aderet explains that לשמשו should actually be read with a Kametz under the Mem - so instead of to serve him, it would be saying for his servant - as per the מסקנה

ודפח"ח-ע' שם לעוד דוגמאות

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Another NT-Tannaitic Parallel?

Thomas 53 - His disciples said to him, "is circumcision useful or not?"
He said to them, "If it were useful, their father would produce children already circumcised from their mother. Rather, the true circumcision in spirit has become profitable in every respect."

Parallels to Thomas 53 are found in Paul's Romans 2:29, Philippians 3:3, 1 Corinthians 7:19, Galatians 6:15, Colossians 2:11-12. (From WP)

בתנחומא, פרשת תזריע

"אמר לו (טורנוסרופוס לר' עקיבא) למה אתם מולים, א"ל אף אני הייתי יודע שאתה עתיד לומר לי כן, לכך הקדמתי ואמרתי לך מעשה בשר ודם הם נאים משל הקב"ה, הביאו לי שבולים וגלוסקאות, ]אמר לו אלו מעשה הקב"ה ואלו מעשה בשר ודם אין אלו נאים, הביאו לי[ אנוצי פשתן וכלים מבית שאן, א"ל אלו מעשה הקב"ה ואלו מעשה בשר ודם, אין אלו נאים, א"ל טורנוסרופוס הואיל הוא חפץ במילה, למה אינו יוצא מהול ממעי אמו, א"ל ר' עקיבא ולמה שוררו יוצא בו, לא תחתוך אמו שוררו, ולמה אינו יוצא מהול, לפי שלא נתן הקב"ה לישראל את המצות אלא כדי לצרף בהן, לכך אמר דוד (כל) אמרת (אלוה) [ה'] צרופה וגו' (תהלים יח לא"), ואברהם היה האשון שהוכיח כי מעשי אדם יפים יותר"!
Malbim - Peshat or Derash


Sunday, November 2, 2008

מילי מעלייתא דאית בה דרשינן

וזו כוונת הפתגם אין נביא בעירו או לעירו שהוכא בפוסקים, ואינו בדברי חז"ל אבל הוא בברית החדשה להבדיל בין הטהור לטמא
שו"ת בני בנים ח"ד ז' כו
[Yitzhak send us to a fascinating Ha'aretz article on the subject]

Saturday, November 1, 2008

בא"י אמ"ה שעשיתני אשה ולא איש


Autonomy and Precedent in P'sak - A programmatic post -1

The general trend in the modern study of Halacha has been focused on the possible impact of external factors on halachic decision making. These include, Haym Soloveitcik writings which focus on the influence of socio-economic factors in the writings of the Medieval posekim, and Jacob Katz and his disciple who focused on the anti-Reform component in the writings of the Enlightenment Posekim. While I do not dispute the importance of these external factors, I think it is vital to also identify the "internal" factors that govern halachic decision making.

Awhile back, I posted on one such internal factor[1], the relative weight of autonomy and precedent in the decision making process. Although this is an important factor in any judicial system (as can be seen here), in Halacha the question is more complicated since we have the added component of the quasi-canonic status of the texts. This must compete with the posek's own self-perception as an "agent of God" who is empowered to make orginal decisions.

In studying this issue, it is important to differentiate between those parts of Orach Chaim which carry the extra factor of Minhag making precedent much more powerful and Choshen Mishpat issues which as a judicial system has somewhat different rules then the rest of Shulchan Aruch.

In studying this (and any other meta-halachic question), it is important to cite support both from programmatic statements of posekim and from analysis of actual responsa or codes.

An excellent demonstration of the necessity for such double support can be found in footnote 28 here which shows that although in his programmatic statements, the Maharshal insists on absolute autonomy, analysis of his responsa shows a healthy respect for precedent as well.

Background - stages of codification

1 - The Talmud - The debate here centers around the cryptic statement in "Sifra D' Adam haRishon" - רבינא ור' אשי סופר הוראה. This has traditionally been interpreted as referring to the redaction of the Talmud. But according to Tosafos in A"Z (beginning of Ch. 2) this refers to Pesak. In an (un-scientific) experiment here, I showed that the later Saboraim did argue with R' Ashi and Ravina so that it would seem that one should not attribute to much weight to this statement (as Halivni suggests see Mekorot U' Masoret - Bava Basra - Introduction. I mentioned this point to him when I met him and he agreed but unfortunately I didn't take down his exact comment.)

2. Geonim - See the sources in cited in Encyclopedia Talmudit - S.V. Halacha - last section. Note that the Rambam has no qualms of arguing with the Geonim. Since as I mentioned in the previous note the Geonim who authored the והלכתא statements and these argue on the Amoraim, by way of as syllogism of sorts the Rambam should technically be able to argue on the Amoraim!!!

3. Rambam - See Yitzchok Zev Kahana - הפולמוס מסביב קביעת ההכרעה כהרמב"ם סיני, לו-לח

4. Shulchan Aruch - The מאסף לכל המחנות here (as in everywhere else) is Chacham Ovadiah in the various Pesichos and Hakdamos to his Yabia Omer - See esp. Pesicha to Vol. 5 and sources cited there

[1] Even here external factors can also be involved. Thus, in two seperate studies on the role of precedent in Halacha, the Orthodox writer (Jeffrey Woolf) insists that the judge retains significant judicial discretion whereas the Reform writer says that they do not. This is because of the system itself has a mechanism for change then there would be no need for a large scale Reform. [Taken from Larry Rabinovich, The Judge as Educator, JLA, 04 - Note 52. My thanks to Mr. Rabinovich for making his article available to me.]

אם הראשונים כמלאכים... פירוש חדש

We are then able to answer in some manner the question, "Why have we no great men?" We have no great men chiefly because we are always looking for them. We are connoisseurs of greatness, and connoisseurs can never be great; we are fastidious, that is, we are small. When Diogenes went about with a lantern looking for an honest man, I am afraid he had very little time to be honest himself And when anybody goes about on his hands and knees looking for a great man to worship, he is making sure that one man at any rate shall not be great.

G. K. Chesterton
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