Sunday, June 29, 2008

Founding father of Reform Judaism- Samuel Holdheim (for Andy)

Perhaps no man has more right to the title of founding father of Reform Judaism then Samuel Holdheim. It is he who moved the Sabbath for Sunday, who removed all mention of the final redemption from the prayers, who called for the abandonment of the Brit Millah,etc. And yet as is true for most of his contemporaries he did not hate Judaism. He was not a "hater of Israel". Had he in truth hated Judaism he could have easily abandoned ship and converted to Christianity. The fascinating aspect of the lives of Holdheim, of Geiger, etc. is that their religious radicalism actually bespoke of a great love for Judaism and a desire to ensure its continuity. At this point, centuries after the polemical debates that surrounded these men we are perhaps at greater liberty to fully evaluate the many diverse aspects that motivated these men.

On Holdheim we have Michael Meyer's excellent article - "Most of my brethren find me unacceptable": the controversial career of Rabbi Samuel Holdheim" Jewish Social studies 2003, I have chosen to excerpt parts of it in order to provide a brief glimpse into the world-view of this most complex personality.

"By sharply differentiating Jewish past from German present, Holdheim was implicitly raising questions about whether Judaism in any recognizable form was worthy of continuation. But no less troubling to them was the effect they assumed Holdheim's critique of rabbinic Judaism would have on the Jewish struggle for emancipation. Would not the enemies of the Jews claim that the adherents of a legal tradition that did not treat non-Jews in the same manner as it treated Jews and that possessed legal means to avoid fulfilling an oath were not worthy of Jewish political equality? Holdheim must have called to mind the medieval apostate who, using his knowledge of Judaism, took the Christian side in disputations directed against his former comrades. They could not look with equanimity upon this talmudist who attacked the Talmud, this rabbi who raised moral questions about the rabbis of old. In their eyes, he was an underminer not only of the Jewish past but also of the Jewish future. Both Graetz and Zunz (as early as 1839) called him a second Paul, comparing him to the New Testament figure who had cast aside a Judaism based on law in favor of a new faith entirely liberated from it. (16) In Graetz's unsparing words: "Since Paul of Tarsus Judaism had not experienced such an enemy from within, who tried to shake the entire structure down to its foundations." Yet that was not at all the way that Holdheim understood himself. "

"Graetz possessed an emotional attachment to Judaism that made him detest Holdheim as a critic who lacked his own appreciation for Jewish historical achievements. He wrote: O what impertinence, what shamelessness! This Holdheim! All historical reminiscences, which grip my heart with tremendous force and make the full glory of the Jewish past come alive within me and shine radiantly for me, and which instill the ecstasy of pain--all of this to the impudent Kempner [from the town of Kempen] is a horror, a fable. "

"In Prague, Holdheim also undertook rabbinical studies with the leading rabbis of the city, among them Samuel Landau, later dedicating a sermon "to the memory of his unforgettable teacher and benefactor."

Much as Holdheim saw no lasting value in the Jewish ceremonial law, he expressed his severe opposition to any German state's requiring Jews to give up dietary and ceremonial laws in order to gain civic equality. He also believed that the state did not have the right to force Jewish schoolchildren to write on the Jewish Sabbath. Even less did he tolerate an offer of emancipation made conditional on Jews giving up elements of their belief. But what indicates most clearly that Holdheim was concerned with religion first and political status only second is his refusal to abandon his severe moral critique of talmudic Judaism although he realized that it might very well be used by state authorities as an excuse for withholding emancipation. The sharp opposition to Holdheim was motivated in no small measure by his critics' fears that Holdheim was undermining their struggle for political equality.

By the time he left Frankfurt, Holdheim had come to view what he called the present-day Zeitbildung, the contemporary cultivation of mind and character, as the criterion by which historical Judaism was to be judged and modified. In his first major tract in favor of religious reform, he argued that Judaism could survive only if it attached itself to the Zeitbildung, which was already embodied in a large portion of the German Jewish population. (22) This Zeitbildung, however, as Holdheim would repeatedly make clear, was for him neither Christian-Germanic nor Christian-European, but universally human. What Holdheim set out to do in the following years was to pour Jewish tradition through the filter of universally human moral principles, removing all those elements that he believed to be in contradiction with them. Not only did his efforts bring him into conflict with all but the most radical reformers but they also involved a severe struggle with himself. Holdheim told a visitor to his home in 1845 that Jews were reluctant to abandon the Talmud "because the Talmud still sticks in people's limbs, because they are still chained to it by invisible bonds, still unable with complete freedom and self-consciousness to position themselves opposite it in the way that Christian theologians do with regard to equally reprehensible church teachings of earlier times." (23)

"The Talmud seems to have stuck in Holdheim's bones as well. Contemporaries and later writers noted that Holdheim--ironically, for a critic of the Talmud--himself remained a talmudist, even a pilpulist, in his style of writing. But perhaps it was not simply a matter of style. Holdheim engaged himself in a struggle to liberate German Judaism from what he believed to be the dead hand of the Talmud, a struggle that was energized by his personal quest for self-emancipation from it. We gain some insight into his inner emotional turmoil when Holdheim refers angrily to the "rotten principles of talmudic-orthodox Judaism" or writes of the "progressive inner self-liberation from the legal bonds of Judaism." Compromises, which Holdheim consistently rejected, at least in theory, would have meant to him compartmentalization into a Jewish self and an incompletely self-emancipated one. It seems not unfair to Holdheim to suggest that his unmitigated critiques of Jewish tradition were motivated, at least in part, by his need to justify rationally his own emotionally difficult abandonment of it. His polemics were not solely directed against his opponents but also against himself. "

In general, Holdheim during his last years became more appreciative of both the history of Judaism and the history of the Jews. Although he continued to deny the dogmatic authority of the Talmud, he now claimed that it was "indisputably an unshakeable historical authority." And he began to glorify the Jewish past. Like Graetz, his severest critic, he extolled the history of Jewish martyrdom, recommending that it be taught to Jewish children so that its deep impact would prevent them in later life from engaging in the "faithless denial of Judaism for the sake of external advantage." Loyalty to Judaism, set against apostasy, now became a leading theme in Holdheim's writings and sermons. On one sermonic occasion he was even willing to compare the present unfavorably with the past, complaining that the present "enervated time" with all of its "much praised Bildung" was far removed from the spirit of sacrifice that characterized the spirit of Moses. In the 1850s, it continued to be true that remaining Jewish required a measure of sacrifice, and Holdheim declared that the unwillingness to accept that sacrifice was a moral offense. He referred to the Reform Congregation as an "association against apostasy." Earlier his arguments for liberation from traditional Judaism had reflected his own quest for self-liberation from it; now he spoke of the abandonment of Judaism as an abandonment of self. Holdheim had always had a special interest in Jewish education. Surprisingly, the Reform Congregation's religion school, which was under his direction, offered instruction both on the significance of the ceremonial law and, on a voluntary basis, in the Hebrew language.

"When the Jewish community informed its elderly Rabbinats-Verwalter, Jacob Joseph Oettinger (not to be confused with the Aruch LaNer), of Holdheim's death, he is supposed to have replied: "Holdheim is dead? Boruch dajin emmes--he was a great lamdan; whatever else he did and his turn of thought--for that he will now have to render account to God. Death blots out everything. I have nothing against his being buried in the row of the rabbis."

"Within the perspective of his own life, however, Holdheim appears more as a divided personality than as a pioneer.His early inner struggle for self-emancipation was driven by both mind and heart, but with his achievement of it the two became divided. The Nobel Prizewinning Hebrew writer S. Y. Agnon relates the following anecdote: Samuel Holdheim was the preacher of the Reform house of worship in Berlin. Those were the reformers who shifted the holy Sabbath to the first day of the week. On the Day of Atonement, between the morning and afternoon prayers, when they would take a long recess, Holdheim was accustomed to visit the cafe close to the synagogue. People were of the opinion that he had gone there to eat and drink,but in fact he went there only to read all those prayers and liturgical poems that he had excised from the High Holyday prayer book of his congregation. "

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Doctored Photographs - The Chafetz Chaim

The first is the original photograph (taken from here). The second is a copy that was sent around by a Yeshiva for fundraising.

I'm not certain if the Yeshiva felt that it isn't fitting for the CC to be seen sitting next a woman. which would be an insult to the memory CC who obviously had no such problems. Or if they simply felt that their recipients were even "frummer" then the CC and wouldn't want to hang up a photo containing a woman.

Either way, this is a pure falsehood - something that the CC considered a D'Oraita - see לאוין -פתיחה לס' חפץ חיים ובאר מים חיים שם

See here for more on doctored photographs, and here.
[Comment from M. Y. Gluck: It looks like they used Photoshop's stamp tool to get rid of the woman on the left, leaving obvious traces. When they got rid of the woman on the right, it looks like they left a little to outline the guy's shoulder - but that's a fake highlight, and should have been blended into the background. Also, they actually constructed the rest of the Mezuzah. ]

Defense of Torah Temimah Redux

Since Dan Rabinowitz's article on the TT has recently been made freely available on the site (see also the correspondence in the following issue), I'd like to revise one point of my own post on the subject. Essentially, my response to Dr. Shapiro was that it was in fact possible for the Rayna Batya to have found a copy of Mayin Ganim.

At the time I had overlooked D. Rabinowitz's argument (quoted by Dr. Shapiro) that:

"The entire famous Rayna Batya incident must now be called into serious question. Was Rayna Batya so ignorant as to confuse Ma’ayan Gannim with a legitimate book of halakha? How, then, do we reconcile this with her supposed profound learning? It cannot be that R. Epstein was unable to recognize the Ma’ayan Gannim for what it was, for he himself writes that he told his aunt of the true nature of Ma’ayan Gannim. But if he did know what it was, how is it that in his Torah Temima he refers to Ma’ayan Gannim as responsa—and yet in the same paragraph in the Torah Temima he seems to backtrack and wonder how it is that the Ma’ayan Gannim could innovate “new laws about women with reason alone?” The entire Rayna Batya episode is a highly problematic one, raising one perplexing question after another."

Before I begin, I think it is necessary to underscore the main point of my response. That is, that the main difficulty with the TT's seforim is his lack of attention to detail. Essentially, Mekor Baruch is the first "blog" - a string of "posts" on any subject that happened to have caught his mind. I doubt he set about writing it as an academic scholar would go about putting together a scholarly article.

To give another example, he discusses and evaluates (wrongly IMO) Shadal's view of Judaism as a means to develop "Chemlah" in MB citing Igrot Shadal 461 but (and I thank Dr. Shapiro for looking this up for me) the letter there is an entirely irrelevant to that subject, yet this is a main point of Shadal's philosophy and is actually the subject of an extensive dissertation. He cites a story involving the Knesset Yecheskel in the name of the Noda B'Yehuda, etc. ,etc.

Thus, it hardly seems surprising (to me at least) that he would refer to Mayin Ganim as if it were a regular teshuva sefer, even though he was well aware that it could hardly be called such. This is simply another of the type of carelessness that can be seen throughout his books.

"Never put down to evil intent, that which can be explained by..."

I'd also like to 1. point out the following article by Prof. Y. S. Spiegel -, 2. supplement Rabinowitz's footnote 4 with an article in Tesfunos containing the Admor M' Ozhorov's hagahot to Torah Temimah, as well as an article in Paamei Yaakov (no. 4 - published after Rabinowitz's article) containing the same. 3. interestingly, there is a letter in Malki BaKodesh in which the TT asked R' Hirschenson to read the manuscript of MB, not entirely clear for what purpose. 4. apologise for belabouring the subject and promise to let it rest.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Abraham Geiger - SR"Y or Z"L?

On finding out that his friend Zunz had started to keep Kosher:

Apparently, he even considered converting to Christianity at one point:

And yet, I know of no one who defended Judasim from the attack of anti-semitic Christain scholars with more passion (See at length S. Heschel - Geiger and the Jewish Jesus - what follows are excerpts from that book.):

Finally a quote from Wikipedia concerning his stance in the Damacus blood libel affair,
Geiger's opposition to a Jewish national identity was also sharply criticised, most notably an accusation made that he refused to intervene on the behalf of the Jews of Damsacus accused of ritual murder (a blood libel) in 1840. However, Jewish historian Steven Bayme has concluded that Geiger had actually vigorously protested on humanitarian grounds.[2]

Monday, June 23, 2008

Of latkes, kreplach and Reconstructionist doctrine

Joan Friedman - "Solomon B. Freehof, The Reform Responsa and the shaping of American Reform Judaism".

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Taking a page out of R' Slifkin's book

Or not. Please let me know if he's written about this already. (Update: R. Slifkin discusses the Adnei ha-sadeh is chapter 14 - "Vegetable Men and Tree Geese" - in his Sacred Monsters book. I thanks Frumheretic for bringing this to my attention.)

משנה כלאיים- פרק ח.ד ואדני השדה, חיה; רבי יוסי אומר, מטמאות באוהל כאדם

ירושלמי (כלאיים ח,ה): 'אבני(צ"ל אדני) השדה חיה' - ייסי ערקי (יש מפרשים: שם חכם; אבל יסטרוב מתקן:ר' יוסי אומר): בר נש דטור הוא. והוא חיי מן טיבורייה, איפסק טיבורייה לא חיי. רבי חמא בר עוקבא בשם רבי יוסי בן חנינה: טעמא דרבי יוסי 'וכל אשר יגע על פני השדה' (במדבר יט,טז) - בגדל על פני השדה

Basically (see Ra'av to that Mishna) this refers to a man who hs connected by an umbilical cord to the ground and if this cord is severed he dies. According to the Gra- the איש שדה
mentioned in Toledot 25:27 - ויהי עשו איש ידע ציד איש שדה; is this same Adnei Ha-Sadeh (The Ra'av identifies it with אוב)

Given that Josephus originates from the same background as the Amoraim of the Yerushalmi, I have no doubt that the following passage paralells that of the Yerushalmi.

In reference to the Mandrake root he writes (courtesy of Wikipedia - also see the next passage quoted and you will understand the identification with אוב):

According to the legend, when the root is dug up it screams and kills all who hear it. Literature includes complex directions for harvesting a mandrake root in relative safety. For example Josephus (c. 37 AD Jerusalem – c. 100) gives the following directions for pulling it up:

A furrow must be dug around the root until its lower part is exposed, then a dog is tied to it, after which the person tying the dog must get away. The dog then endeavours to follow him, and so easily pulls up the root, but dies suddenly instead of his master. After this the root can be handled without fear. (War of Jews - Book 7, Chapter 6 , 3)

(Note: Josephus does not mention the similarity between the Mandrake root and the shape of a man.)

Thus, you will understand the skill necessary of Esau to hunt the "Ish Sadeh", according to the Gra's explanation. If the Dudaim are to be connected with the Mandrake, reputed to be so difficult to "hunt" perhaps this is why they were so highly prized by Rachel.

Also see, the following poem - and it's Midrash ;)

Friday, June 6, 2008

New perspective on R' Aaron Kotler's opposition to secular studies - from a PH.D on BMG

I've just come across a very amusing dissertation on Beth Medrash Govoha. The title says it all.

A school for scholars: The Beth Medrash Govoha, The Rabbi Aaron Kotler Jewish Institute of Higher Learning in Lakewood, New Jersey: A study of the development and theory of one aspect of higher education in America

S. R. Lewitter - 1981 - Rutgers University

Take a look at the impressive list of subjects that a pupil must master in order to qualify for their First Rabbinic Degree:

Students of BMG are of course, world famous for their proficiency in the Major and Minor prophets, the philosophical writings, etc.

Although, a distinguished alumnus of BMG seems to have had a somewhat different opinion. The point he raises really needs to be discussed at length. V'od Chazon L'Moed.

Lewitter has an interesting theory to account for R' Aaron Kotler's opposition to secular studies (even today most Lakewood Mesivtas do not teach secular studies).

R' Halivni records an interesting conversation he had with R' Aaron on this subject. See "The Book and the Swrod" pgs. 85-87:

They were in the car together and R' Aaron was trying to dissuade Halivni from his decision to go for a degree. They passed underneath the Battery-Battery Tunnel. R' Aaron exclaimed "all water, on the top water, below water, and on the sides water."

I couldn't resist and said, "R' Aaron, this is what they teach in college."

A study of the attitude of prominent Rabbinic figures such as R' Aaron, R' Moshe and (acharon choviv) R' Yaakov to secular studies and similar subject and the development of American "ultra"- orthodoxy is certainly a "major scholarly desideratum".

On Naftali Hertz Wessely and the Biur to Vayikra

Aaron Schreiber - The Hatam Sofer’s Nuanced Attitude Towards Secular Learning, Maskilim, and Reformers in TUMJ 11 (online):

"In fn. #105:"R. Hayim Kanievsky, a noted contemporary talmudic scholar in Israel with a reputation for zealotry, advised me in a recent note that he had it on good authority that many prominent talmudic scholars had examined the Biur on Va-Yikra and could find no fault whatsoever with it.""

R' Kanievsky's father, the Steipler Gaon is reported to have said that "Der Seforim zennen Gutt Oif Em iz geven Taanos" (See Milchmatom (cited below) 4th installment last footnote)

The Biur on Vayikra was authored by Naftali Hertz Wessely (Wiesel in Hebrew). On Wessely see "Milchamtam Shel HaRabbonim Neged HaMaskil Naftali Hertz Wiesel" in Beis Ahron V' Yisroel (Issue 43 on) by one Yehosua Heschel Schorr containing some unpublished documents relating to the controversy.

In general see Meir Hildesheimers articles in PAAJR, specifically the article on "Moses Mendelssohn in Nineteenth-Century Rabbinical Literature."
Creative Commons License
Ishim V' Shittos by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at