Wednesday, July 21, 2010

And these are scholars...

I've been following the amusing exchange between R Chaim Rapoport and Prof's Heilman and Friedman over at Seforim blog. A commenter to a post about sockpuppets on the comment thread there notes that:

What you didn't realize Josh, is that Heilman & Friedman also wrote 41 sock puppet comments!

Needless to say that this is completely unprofessional and should deservedly land them in a heap of trouble.

Click on the "guest" of the second comment who wrote: "I think the Blog was the one who decided to limit posting on this", and you'll see that it's the same account which originally wrote the comment "Since this blog has not been either able or willing to post our final response to Chaim Rapoport's latest posting..." signed "Samuel Heilman & Menachem Friedman"!!!

However H & F hide their identity in the other comments by referring to themselves in third person such as:

Aren't there also a series of comments that begin with the assumption that F & H are out to smear the Rebbe?

Did you read the book? They mention the phone directory on p. 304!!


A rather odd story about the magical powers of Perek Shirah

S. sent me the very interesting collection of letters of Shadal's cousin Shmuel Chaim Lolli. Some of the letters discuss Shadal's Vikuach Al Kabbalah. In the discussion of the prophetic power of dreams on pg. 82 (recently referenced by Eliezer Brodt in his magnificent post here), Lolli records the following anecdote:

I think its fascinating that A - this "miracle" is very similar to the many wondrous stories that circulate today. B - The phenomenon of women reciting Perek Shira is not a product of our own era.

I thought it odd that this "prophecy" was delivered to the gentile maid and not to Bas Sheva directly. If a rational explanation of this story is needed, it is not impossible that the gentile maid would have heard Bas Sheva lecturing on the benefits of Perek Shira at one time or another which later surfaced in this dream.

Friday, July 16, 2010


I saw a really nice discussion regarding the minhag to wish L'chaim over wine in Alei Tamar to Brachos 6:8. He discusses the three Tannaitic sources that refer to the minhag and the many intricate details on the correct way to wish L'chaim.

There are several creative explanations on the reason for the custom.

The Avudraham and Daas Z'keinim to Emor explain that this is based on the opinion that the forbidden fruit that brought death into the world was a grape. Therefore, when drinking wine one says L'chaim to counteract this effect. Also, because one who was sentenced to death was first given wine in order to confuse him. Therefore, wine is symbolic of death.

Another possible explanation (I don't have any source for this) is on the custom I have seen of having wine to separate between fish and meat courses as having the two together is considered dangerous. The L'chaim can refer to the fact that the wine counteracts this danger.

Most likely this is just another example of cultural borrowing. Wikipedia notes that:

According to various apocryphal stories, the custom of touching glasses evolved from concerns about poisoning. By one account, clinking glasses together would cause each drink to spill over into the others (though there is no real evidence for such an origin)[2] According to other stories, the word 'toast' became associated with the custom in the 17th century, based on a custom of flavoring drinks with spiced toast. The word originally referred to the lady in whose honor the drink was proposed, her name being seen as figuratively flavoring the drink.[3][4] The International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture says toasting "is probably a secular vestige of ancient sacrificial libations in which a sacred liquid was offered to the gods: blood or wine in exchange for a wish, a prayer summarized in the words ‘long life!’ or ‘to your health!’”[5]

In regards to the last reason offered. In a recent trip to the Met, I saw the following vessel which contains the

Although, it might seem strange that a Hellenistic pagan custom should have entered the Jewish canon. we do know of cases where this has happened. See S. Lieberman Hellenism in Jewish Palestine for examples.

Re: the question of cultural borrowing, I recently noticed the parallel between the Japanese tale of Urashima Taro, and the Talmudic story of Choni HaMaagel (See here) although it is highly unlikely that either culture had any contact with each other.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sunday, July 4, 2010

On some Italian Rabbis and their beards

(Some comments on this post by Yitzhak)

1 - A letter of R' Kook expressing a similar sentiment on the question of beard-wearing can be found in letter 466 of Igros HaReiyah in which he quotes a story about R' Chaim of Volozhin dismissing the kabbalistic importance of beards while at the same time "one must admit that 'the Jewish sense of beauty' is agreeable to waring a beard and it should be viewed as a nice custom in a place where the custom is to be stringent, and it can be called a Mitzvah Kallah like the wearing of black shoelaces."

2 -Much ink has been spilled on the difficult question of Rema M' Fano's beard. See Likutei He'aros on the Responsa of Chasam Sofer there for many sources on the question. It does appear that Chasam Sofer is incorrect and the passage in Eilim is referring to Yashar himself. See here for a "drawing" of Rema M'Fano and here for a drawing of Yashar both supporting beards (or in the case of Yashar at least a goatee). I have not been able to trace the background of the drawings and do not know if they are authentic (I see now that I missed the lengthy post on the subject here.)

3 - That many Italian Rabbis did forgo the beard is well-known. A great example is the photo of R' Moshe Chafetz in Dan's article here.

4 - Re: the question of Ramchal's beard, one of the complaints cited by his adversaries was that he shaved his beard, The apologetic on this point are most amusing. Either the Ramchal knew how to shave without upsetting any of the 13 middos etc., etc. or, "everyone knows that Italians grow their beards later then the rest of humankind (!?)".
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