Sunday, August 31, 2008

Update: R' Dovid Tzvi Hoffmann - Parshanut

I see I missed this Ha'Mayan article containing a protion of his commentary to Shemos.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A dissertation for the J-blogosphere


BA, SUNY Binghamton, 2006

Part II
IV - The Slifkin Controversy 83
V - Metzitza B’peh 126
VI -Halachic Organ Donation 142

A second informative aspect of the poster is the name of the subject, Nosson Slifkin. The name ‘Nosson’ is an Ashkenazic pronunciation whereby the Hebrew letter Tav (English T Hebrew ת) is pronounced as a Sav (English, S). This is contrasted with the Sephardic pronunciation used in Modern Hebrew whereby the same letter is pronounced with a T sound. The Ashkenasic pronunciation is by and large used by those
Orthodox Jewish individuals who are on the more right ‘side’ of the theological
spectrum. The more liberal strands of Orthodoxy would be more apt to use the Sephardic pronunciation of Modern Hebrew. By utilizing this pronunciation the authors of the ban are making a very nuanced ideological move that has theoretical implications for their constructions of heresy. By pronouncing his name ‘Nosson’ the authors are affirming
Slifkin’s identity as a cultural insider who has been led astray by contemporary science.
From a theoretical perspective, the authors are positioning Slifkin in a position that is at the same time both ‘near’ and ‘far’. Slifkin is theologically’ near’ to the authors, he is one of them. Yet ideologically he is an individual who is ‘far’ from their particular worldview.

[Note:As DP wrote to me in an email, this observation is not particularly meaningful since Rabbi Slifkin refers to himself as Nosson in his earlier books - one would not expect the Rabbis to refer to him as anything else.]

For sociologist Lester Kurtz this type of positioning is typical of heretical movements. Such heretics “are close enough to be threatening, yet distant enough to be in error” (Kurtz, 1983. 1087). In order to proclaim Slifkin’s books as heretical, the authors must first make him part of their own theological and social community. Indeed, it is interesting to note that before the ban Slifkin’s books were authored under the name ‘Nosson’, yet after the ban his name linguistically (and culturally) changed to Natan. Using the above paradigm there is some evidence to assume that Slifkin viewed himself as part of the community until the publication of the rabbinic ban. Once his books were deemed to be heretical Slifkin may have desired to place himself ‘outside’ of that community, thus lessening the effect of the ban. Thus within the title, the authors of the ban are very effectively utilizing cultural terminology in an attempt to appropriate Rabbinic authority. By utilizing these terms, they are negotiating a cultural strategy whose effect is a proclamation of heresy.


I will be analyzing one article from the Ultra-Orthodox periodical Yated Ne-eman that was
supportive of the ban. In opposition to this, I will be analyzing a New York Times article
that was highly critical of the ban. Thirdly, I will be analyzing a commentary authored by
an Orthodox female educator that in her own unique way attempted to coherently
synthesize the ideological notions of heresy contained in the above mentioned articles. As
such, I will be studying how these three writers construct their own circles of ideological
discourses by commenting and reporting on the institutional rationalizations (for the
construction of heresy) of others. In this way using the Yated Ne’eman article as an
example, I hope to understand the ways in which heresy is semiotically contextualized
within an Orthodox elite. In contrast using the New York Times article as an example I
hope to understand how that heresy is perceived and commented on by that elite’s
opposition, namely the ‘secular’ journalist. Finally using the commentary from the
female Orthodox educator as an example, I hope to understand how the Orthodox laity
have contextualized – by being influenced by both forms of editorial mediums- in various
ways the banning (the ideological labeling as heresy) of those particular books. As such,
from a theoretical perspective I will be comparing and contrasting three circles of
ideological discourse each expressed from a different perspective, and reflexively
interpreted through this author’s perspective. The socio-cultural result of this semiotic
exercise will be to explore the ways in which these circles of ideological discourse are
used as a means of formulating particular stances on, and paradigms for, the cultural
brokering of traditions


The first sign that I would like to discuss would be the ethnographic location of
this particular commentary. It is significant to note that this commentary appeared in
partial form on an internet blog, and in full form, it took the dual position of the private
musings of an educator as well as a public e-mail to this author. Indeed much of the
Jewish response to the rabbinic proclamation of heresy – and their constructions of
rabbinic authority - has been located within the realm of the internet. Individuals both for
and against the ban post their opinions on internet blogs and message boards. Slifkin
himself has placed much of the material pertaining to the controversy on his website. The
appropriation of the internet as the site for response to rabbinic authority is rather
interesting. The internet affords people a certain sense of anonymity (if they so desire) as
well as a public forum for the expression of ideas. Individuals may say things on the
internet that they may be reticent to express in person or in standard print. Additionally
the internet as a technology is a very ‘modern’ (to appropriate Alex Mindlen’s use of the
term) invention.

Indeed, it entails aspects that comprise ‘modernity’ within its Orthodox
Jewish context, namely globalization and technological advancement. The internet is a
technological advancement that makes long distance communication both faster and
easier. The ultra-orthodox rabbinic authorities have placed numerous bans on the use of
the internet. Utilizing the internet as an (almost exclusive) means of social response to a
rabbinic proclamation of heresy is rather telling in that it points to a general practical
reinterpretation of rabbinic authority. While the internet has been banned, its use is still
widely prevalent. For those opposed to the Slifkin ban the internet provides the perfect
anonymous and public site in which to voice their discontent. To those who support the
ban the very use of the internet implies that they do not necessarily comply with the
institutional rationalizations expressed by the rabbinic elite who signed the ban. For Toby
Katz, the internet probably functions as a means to express opinions and to reach
audiences that she - as a female Orthodox educator - would not necessarily be able to
reach in person.


The commentary by Toby Katz is an example of one woman’s informed response
to the divergent and complementary ideological discourses of the New York Times and
the Yated Ne’eman. Here we have an example of how one woman is confronted with two
opposing circles of ideological discourse concerning the same event. Mrs. Katz
encounters this synthesis by posting her views partially on the internet and wholly in an
e-mail to this author. Thus affording her a partially (we know her name but we can’t ‘see’
her) anonymous voice and a wider readership. The use of the internet as a medium for the
dispensing of ideological discourses may also be viewed in relation to the use of
newspaper editorials that serve the same purpose. As stated, the internet is a relatively
anonymous means of communication. Additionally the internet is a relatively egalitarian
technology. Anyone with a computer and a phone line can post their opinions on the
internet. The same is not true for perspectives published in newspapers. As such, the
internet is a prime site for, and indicative of, a lay ideological response to elite
institutional rationalizations.


The blog Cross-Currents is open for individuals to post their comments to the
various articles. As such, the comments posted by the lay readers are rather instructive.
The very first comment reads, “I applaud R Shafran for his mentioning RHS [Herschel
Schachter] and R JD Bleich’s POVs [Point of View] on this issue. IMO, articles of this
nature illustrate what we need more of-mutual appreciation of Gdolim.” This reader
congratulates Shafran for writing his piece and claims that we need more appreciation for
the rabbinic elite, thus echoing the notion of Da’as Torah and rabbinic infallibility. In a
rather poignant note, one reader indeed points to the theologically bifurcating rhetoric of
the article. “Rabbi Shafran’s insinuation of a league table of halakhic authority is
unfortunate. I note the way Rabbis Schachter and Bleich are tacked on the end as
“leading scholars at Yeshiva University”, after referring to Rav Elyashiv as being
“considered by many Jews to be the most authoritative authority of Jewish law today.””
The reader goes on to note; “As it is, articles of this kind are apt to turn this most
sensitive of issues into the next metzitzah befeh/idolatrous wigs… issue.” The reader
connects the tone of Shafran’s article to the discourses surrounding the Metzitza B’peh
controversy, along with another ‘crisis’ concerning the use of Indian hair in wigs (this
will be explained in the following chapter).


A popular Orthodox Jewish internet blogger using the name Frumsatire recently
posted a fascinating video on Youtube. Frumsatire, or Hesh as he calls himself, was
raised ‘yeshivish’ although now he appears to be slightly disenchanted with Orthodoxy in
general. He calls himself ‘Modern Orthodox’, yet the listener is never quite sure what this
really means, and in his videos as well written blogs, he never quite explains what this
means for himself. He seems to be existing within that very murky and ambiguous area of
a boundary-less Orthodoxy. The listener is never quite sure if he is more ‘yeshivish’ or
‘modern’. Frumsatire analyzes, in a humorous and perhaps slightly irreverent manner,
contemporary Orthodox Jewish culture. In this particular video, frumsatire discusses the
‘Shidduch Crisis’. He says,

“You know I think the Shidduch crisis is there…but when did this happen? You
know, when did someone start deciding there’s so many girls over the age of
nineteen that are single. Like where did this come from? I have no idea where it
came from. I mean all of a sudden…it’s kind of like Indian hair crisis! Someone
thought of an Indian hair crisis. Screw it man! We’ll have an Indian hair crisis.
We’ll have a bugs in the water crisis, we’ll have a strawberries and the bugs
crisis. You know what, now were on the Shidduch crisis”.

This was a fascinating video. Here a ‘regular’ Orthodox individual notices a ‘wave’ of
controversies and he does not really understand why they are occurring. He notices the
series of issues and he takes part in the internet discussion concerning these issues. He
does it in part to entertain, but more importantly to add his particular voice to the ‘wave’.
In so doing, he analyzes the controversies from the ‘outside’, yet at the same time, takes
part in the controversies from the ‘inside’. Yet most importantly, his is a discourse that
seeks to understand why these controversies are appearing at this particular juncture in
history. He answers the question by exclaiming in perfect angst “what the hell!” I would
argue however, that the answer may not be found in the netherworld, but rather, in the
sociological concept of ‘function’.

This thesis attempted to practically explain the reasons for, and the meanings
behind, the recent spate of theological crises within contemporary Orthodox Judaism.
The analysis successfully linked these controversies to current theological and social
paradigms within Orthodoxy. What it cannot do however, is meaningfully predict the
outcomes of such social and theological paradigms. Considering the ways in which
‘Orthodoxy’ is perceived and enacted within an era of ‘post Orthodoxy’ many questions
remain concerning the theological and social future of the movement as a whole.

If this thesis is correct in assuming that new boundaries and definitions of
‘Orthodoxy’ are being mediated within a post Orthodox age, then one should expect to
see no let-up in the rate of controversies and crises arising. Indeed within the past month
of the writing of this chapter (March 16th 2008) several new ‘controversies’ have erupted.
Various rabbis have recently banned a concert that was to be held in Madison Square
Garden by a popular Chassidic musician Lipa Shmeltzer. Several rabbi’s felt that the way
in which this musician adapts non-Jewish tunes to Jewish themes would have a negative
affect on his Jewish audience. In another occurrence within the past month, the
rabbinical dean of the Chaim Berlin seminary in Brooklyn called for a boycott of a
nearby store selling wigs for Orthodox women. The rabbi felt that the images of women’s
faces that were exhibited in the stores front display would have a negative effect on his
students. At this moment, one is forced to wonder as to what forms future controversies
and crises will take. Who will be affected by these controversies, and how will they
respond? Most importantly, how will future controversies shape the ways in which
religion and society are redefined and reinterpreted?

It remains to be seen how such a struggle will play out. Will a new ‘type’ of
Orthodoxy emerge out of this post Modern era? Alternatively, will this moment of
boundary blurring and ideological experimentation subside and eventually give way to
the standard bounded conceptions of religious denominationalism? How will the Jewish
community as a whole - as represented by the communal institutions of monetary support
- respond to these new post denominational challenges? The answer seems uncertain. Yet
the question itself leaves ample room for further research opportunities within this
academic area of exploration.

Has anyone ever seen..

Reason, revelation, and history in nineteenth century Jewish thought; Samson Raphael Hirsch and Heinrich Graetz. by Joseph Elias (MA thesis)

There seems to be exactly one extant copy in the U. of Chicago. Has anyone read this?

Politics in Ponevezh:The Patriotic Rebbetzin

From Benny Brown - Rabbi E.M. Shach: Admiration of Spirit, Critique of Nationalism, and Political Involvement", Neri Horowitz, ed., Religion and Nationalism in Israel and the Middle East (Tel-Aviv: Am Oved Publishers, 2002; Hebrew), 278-342

When dealing with personalities that were involved in sharp controversies, historians occasionally fall into the trap of allowing the controversies to obscure the richness and beausty of other aspects of their thought. (I am thinking specifically of Mortimer Cohen's "biography" of R' Yaakov Emden , Allen Nadler's articles on the Munkatcher Rebbe, and the Satmar Rebbe (the last being a bit better) and there are others as well.) Prof. Brown is to be greatly commended for avoiding this and I believe his study really reveals the depth and beauty of R' Shach's philosophy.

I will end with a quote from R' Shach (from the same article) that I think even his opponents must concede to:

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Inclusiveness and Tolerance in the writings of HaRav Shlomo Yehuda Leib Rapoport - Part 1

[A continuation of the earlier series - here, here, and here.]

One of the most interesting, unexplored aspects of HaRav Shir’s legacy is his policy of inclusiveness and tolerance [1a]. Since this particular belief influenced some of the most important episodes of his life, and indirectly, the future of all Jews, I’d like to discuss this at some length.

It is necessary to give some background in order to fully understand the significance of this opinion of Shir. As it is clear from the first part of his Nachlat Yehuda (and from other letters), Shir had no great love of Chasidism. He believed as did most of the Maskilim of his time, that Hasidism was an unhealthy sort of cult. This was reciprocated by the Chassidim who by all accounts made his life in Tarnopol a misery, even to informing the Government that he lacked a proper marriage license [1b]. He may have been placed in Cherem earlier in his life [1]. See B I believe that this personal experience with religious intolerance might have contributed to the development of his view.

The most complete exposition of Shir’s “policy of tolerance” is in the Zikhron L’Achronim by A. Harkavy , pgs. 43 – 49 (pg, 360 – 354 of the pdf). I will try to recap some of the major points of the letter [2] here.

1.- Shadal in various places had, in turn, attacked I. M. Jost , Ibn Ezra and Rambam. Shir had responded to Shadal’s attacks in his letters. Shadal writes that if Shir champions an deceitful personality like the Ibn Ezra that doesn’t reflect well on Shir himself. Shadal points to the perils of heresy to the Jewish people as the reason for his sharp opposition.

2 – Shir responds that his love for the Jewish people is as strong as that of Shadal, and it is that very love that lies behind his own position of tolerance. Who is he that he should try to look into the hearts of his fellow man and judge them? How can he tell them that he, and he alone, knows the right path that must be followed?

3 – Men have often thought up new heresies but they were quickly forgotten in the depths of time. The zealous (Kannoim) however can cause real damage. Shir points to the destruction of the 2nd temple as a result of misplaced zealousness [2a]. If each man must divide himself from everyone else who thinks slightly different then he does then the Jewish people would be split into a multitude of small groups (he points to the numerous groups of the Chassidim as an example of this.) Such division within the Jewish people is a far greater problem then any heresy.

4 – He points to the opposition against Mendelssohn, and Wessely [3], the French Rabbis against the Rambam who also believed they were removing heresy but caused only destruction. He points to the Ramban's "תוכחה מגולה ואהבה מוסתרת" as a better method of reproof.

5 - Shir asks if Shadal considers the religious zealousness of the Crusaders, who killed whole communities without mercy in their pursuit of heresy praiseworthy. What harm can heresy, which is merely in the minds of the few men, and was always ignored by the masses do in comparison? On the other hand, asking question even if they sometimes result in heresy more often lead to a truer and more complete belief (pointing as examples to Saadyah Gaon's Emunot V' Deot, Chovot HaLevavot and Moreh Nevuchim as examples).

6- He writes that the spirit of the times is against intolerance (America and Europe -Locke and Jefferson, I assume) and that the age-old hatred of those with differing beliefs cannot and will not continue.

This is the basic outline of this fascinating document although the original should be consulted as I have left out many important details. In the next post, I will discuss how this belief of Shir's influenced his relations to R' Zechariah Frankel and Samson Raphael Hirsch.

[1a] See also G. Perl – “Pluralism and Tolerance in the works of the Netziv” TuM Journal, and T. Ross - “Between Metaphysical and Liberal Pluralism: A Reappraisal of Rabbi AI Kook's Espousal of Toleration”, AJS review.

[1b] This is recorded in KS 1 – B. Dinaberg “M’Arkyono Shel Shir”. It is not clear there if this was done by the Chassidim but since they were his opponents I am assuming that is who it refers to. Toledot Mishpachat Rosenthal has some letters relating to that period. Interestingly, see the letter of the Minchat Eliezer (Munkatch) printed in the back of Greenwald’s Otzar Nechmad – I am not sure what he is referring to.

[1] See wiki - the exact nature of his difficulties with the Yeshuos Yaakov is unclear. See Bernfield, Toledot Shir, but see the pamphlet L' Toledot Shir - published by P. Wettstein

[2] On the stormy relationship between Shadal and Shir see – Shmuel Werses, “Shadal and Shir: Luzzatto and Rapoport through their letters” – Samuel David Luzzatto bicentennial volume. On their polemics as they relate to the Ibn Ezra specifically, see A. Weiser, “The controversy surrounding the Ibn Ezra in the works of the Haskalah”, Sinai 61 and S. Vargon, “The dispute between Shir and Shadal regarding the Ibn Ezra...” Morashaseinu 10 (expanded version in the bicentennial volume) and see S.'s post here. The best biography of Shadal remains that of M. Margolies, which discusses many of the issue mentioned in this letter.

[2a] Misplaced zealousness is an important topic in R' Yaakov Kamenetsky's thought as well. See for example Emet L' Yaakov to Bereishit 49, 7 and many other places.

[3] See the sources mentioned in this post.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Some Rambam links

There is an interesting thread going on at Chadrei Charedim on the methodology of the Rambam as compared to other Rishonim here. The person who started that thread has also transcribed several lectures of HaRav Kappach from tapes on this thread.

Marc Shapiro in his book argues against those who would place too much emphasis on small nuances in the Rambam's writing since these can sometimes be attributed to simple stylistic flourishes with no Halachic import intended (See pg. 58). In R' Yaakov Kamenetsky's Emet L' Yaakov on Shas his methodology is to use such nuances to learn out important points in a most convincing manner. I hope to place a post on the subject in the near future.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Ha'Mayaan online

Ha'Mayaan, one of the most important hebrew periodicals is online here (some of the older issues can be found at Articles of interest include some hespedim for HaRav Mordechai Breuer, an article on R' Kook's opinion on the opening of Hebrew University, how to relate to Maskilim who changed the nusach of the tefillah and many more.

One can find links to other periodicals through Rambish (cousin of the more well known Rambi - which has very few full-text resources.) Somewhat related to my last post is this review of the various new critical editions of the Rambam's seforim.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Some notes on Marc Shapiro's "Studies in Maimonides and his Interpreters"

There is a fascinating responsa in the Aderet's Maaneh Eliyahu [1a], in which he starts out to answer a difficult Rambam (the omission of the law of kashering a glass vessel). He first creates a brilliant pilpul to explain the omission, but then he quickly points out that this was obviously not the Rambam's intention and that this is obviously a textual error.

Similarly, R' Zevin[1] in many places makes light of the Roshei Yeshivot who out of fear of "originality" like to "blame" their chiddushim on the Rambam. And the Seridei Eish[2] has many times differentiated between the methodology of the historical Rambam [3] and the Rambam of the yeshivos.

It is the purpose of the first essay of the book to demonstrate that the historical Rambam did, in fact, make mistakes, phrase statements inaccurately, etc. and that a critical student needs to keep these options in mind when studying Rambam. I believe that Prof. Shapiro has proved his thesis admirably.

Here are several notes relating to various topics mentioned in the book:

1- Pg. XI Shapiro leaves it to the reader to judge whether the attacks of the "Roim" crossed the line into "jealousy and hate". I refer the reader to Toledot Mishpachat Rosenthal by Y. Y. Greenwald and I think it will be obvious that the reprehensible actions of the Roim against Shir' attempt bid for the Rabbinate in Prague certainly crossed the line into jealousy and hate.

2- pg. 3 note 11 - Shapiro mentions R' Yaakov Kamenetsky's view that the first four chapters of Yesodei Torah are not to be regarded as Torah. (Cf. the similar statements of Shadal - Devarim 6,5.) R' Yaakov expands on this view in Shai L' Melachim to Melachim 1 6,2 (My sincere thanks to R' Nosson Kamentsky for providing me with a copy of this booklet).

This excerpt from a speech given by R' Nosson contains the backstory behind this view of R' Yaakov:

"Beyond that, RNK said his father would have taken issue with the entire idea of denying the validity of modern science when it seems to contradict Torah as interpreted by Chazal. He recalled how R. Yaakov watched Neil Armstrong land on the moon (in the house of a neighbor who owned a TV) and conclude that, clearly, the first few chapters of the mishna torah that discuss the moon being a living spiritual being must have been based on Greek philosphy that had been conclusively disproven."

Not everyone, took this so sanguinely. The Lubavitcher Rebbe in one of his letters (quoted and critiqued here) makes a rather "violent" attempt to explain away Maimonidean astronomy and R' Shakh is also know to have commented that even Maimonidean astronomy is infallible (Update: I was referring to this, which for obvious reasons might not be the best example.) (Also somewhat relevant is R' Kook's Maamer Meyuchad - printed in the back of Toledot Yisroel of Ze'ev Yaavetz V. 13) [Update: See this comment for a similar view.)

pg. 11 n. 54 - Shapiro refers to the famous letter to R' Pinchas Dayan in which Maimonides admits to forgetfulness. In Mivchar Ketavim (pg. 120), R' Matisyah Strashun points out that in that case the Rambam didn't actually forget the source. (See here)

pg. 54 - In his list of scholars who trie to answer the Rambam in a way different then the Rambam himself answered in his responsa, Shapiro misses a major source. In the Kesef Mishna to Kriat Shema 1,8 , Maran throws up his hands in despair at one of the Rambam responsa to Chachmei Lunil and offers his own explanation instead.

pg. 57 n. 239 - Emendations that ignore the commentary to the Mishna. See this post for Rambam Berachot 1,15 in which most of the answers (including that of the Gra) ignore the explict statement of the Rambam in his commentary to the Mishna.

pg. 85 - On the Rambam and the Zohar - the Kesef Mishna (in Sefer Ahavah, I can't find the exact place right now but it should be easy to find with a DBS search) cites a Zohar as a soiurce for one of Rambam's halacha. I am not sure if he believed that the Rambam actually had the Zohar.

pg. 89 n. 376 - although not directly related to the book 'd like to mention an interesting source re: Rashi and Kabbalah. Rashi Beitzah 33a cites a Piyut Yotzar from one of the Chachmei Lombardy. The Gilyon writes that this is actually the Pirush to Sefer Yetzirah of R' Shabsi Donnolo (Rashi cites this Pirush- called Chakomini -in Eiruvin 56a). Possibly by Piyut Rashi refers oi the rhymed introduction. S. Y Friedman pointing to this example says that Rashi's language "I heard" means he heard it recited in the shul - which is unlikely if he refers to the pirush to Sefer Yetzirah.

Last essay - On the Rambam and superstition - I believe C. Tchernowitz in his Toledot HaPsoekim alsio provides some examples of the way in which Rambam phrases things to fit with his philosophical beliefs. (See note 4 here for a case where the Rambam phrases a statement to avoid an apparent anthropomorphism (this was already noted by Prof. Twersky, along with some other examples in the Chapter on Law and Philosophy in his Introduction) )

[1a] The Aderet produced many seforim on some rather unusual topics. They have only recently started publisihng them. I believe his is the only sefer in history that contains an approbation by the author to his own work, the kuntres Acharis Ha-Shanim on Vidui Maaser. Here are photos of the title page and Haskamos:

[1] See for example Ishim V' Shitot - R' Meir Simcha, as well as many of the reviews in Seforim V' Soferim. His review of Kasher's Rambam V' Mekhilta D'Rashbi has some particularly important methodological observations.

[2] Shapiro collects all his statements on the subject in the Hebrew section. I would add to his list the SE's statement in his responsa on abortion that R' Chaim's answer there, while brilliant, doesn't reflect the historical Rambam.

[3] See this post for a relevant statement by the Maharsha.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

HaRav Dovid Tzvi Hoffmann - Part 4a - Rabbinics - Mar Shmuel

Perhaps, Rav Hoffmann's greatest contribution was to the critical study of Rabbinics to which he contributed in many ways. His doctoral dissertation Mar Samuel was the first full length "biography" of a major talmudic figure. S. has already discussed the controversy that ensued as a result of the books publication here (and see the quote from M. Breuer's "Modernity within Tradition" cited here).

Here is a random passage from Mar Samuel (courtesy of the Internet archive and Google translate - I take no responsibilty for it's accuracy)

page 43 -

Between the heads of the universities of Sura and Nehardea reigned unity and brotherly love. They worked in beautiful harmony together for the glorification and dissemination of the teaching of God, as well as to improve the morals and refinement of the people. Rab often came to visit Samuel in Nehardea, and he returned the visits several times to Rab's town Sura (Note:
Epist. Scher, p. 15: ולפרקים הוה מתחזינן רב ושמואל אהדדי cf. Erubin 94a,Pesachim 30a, Chullin 53b.) These frequent meetings between them helped forge increasingly close ties of friendship and also their uniform interplay of influence [!] (this sentence didn't translate)..

It took the eager and energetic efforts of these two great men, to reform the intellectual and moral conditions of the Babylonian communities and enforce the strict observance of Jewish law. Because public education had been long neglected in Babylon, even in the cities where the sciences were studied...."

This will have to suffice to give an idea of the nature of the work. A full translation remains a scholarly desideratum.

A brief history of the Rabbinic Biography

The first to attempt a biography of Talmudic figures was Heinrich Graetz. In his "History of the Jews" he attempted to reconstruct the personality of the Rabbis based on their statements. R' Samson Raphael Hirsch conducted a campaign against his former student in his periodical Jeschurun (later translated in Collected Writings V. 5) . The basis of Hirsch's critique was ideological. Hirsch believed that the Talmud consisted almost entirely of statements that were passed down at Sinai or derived from exegesis such that to say the personal thoughts of a Rabbi influenced his talmudic statements was considered heretical. Setting aside the ideological issue, Hirsch also demonstrated many important methodological flaws with Graetz's work. Graetz isolated several Rabbinic statements to derive his biography and ignored the fact that there were many other statements by the same Rabbi that could contradict this view.

During the period of Haskalah many such biographies were written. Most were merely in the nature of an anthology of statements and storied without containing any real research. R' Hoffman's work was groundbreaking in that it was the first full-length biography and also in the use he made of general historical material. (N.B. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote a biography of R' Yochanan Ben Zakkai in German but it has never been translated.)

One of the best biographies of a Rabbinic figure that I have read is that of Reuvein Kimelman's extensive dissertation on R' Yochanan ben Nafcha of Tiberias. I believe this really should be the model for all such biographies.

Jacob Neusner (who himself had written a biography of R' Eliezer ben Hyrkanus. A new Hebrew biography of Eliezer has recently been published but I haven''t had a chance to see it.) threw somewhat of a bombshell in to the field by contending (and here I would like to thank Biblicalia for permitting me to quote his excellent summary of Neusner's position from a private email. The summary is based on Neusner's recent work including - In Quest of the Historical Pharisees[Baylor Univ Press, 2007]):

"I think in this case, many of the concerns you note are inextricably tied up with Neusner's work on determining how much of the sources are historical. For instance, what does it say about historicity when certain sayings or phrases are put in the mouths of several different rabbis throughout the course of the Rabbinic literature's composition, or even within a given document?

From what I recall, this was the first thing that led to Neusner's questions about historicity. The statements/quotations simply can't be taken at face value anymore, if only because of the editing and systematization that has occurred in fitting them into the structure of the Mishnah and the Talmudim particularly, but with multiple attribution, how is one to tell which, if any, is the correct attribution? So much of that information if taken at face value becomes unreliable for reconstruction of history. On the other hand, as Neusner has demonstrated, there is a way to make historical use of these materials in that the varied attributions for sayings do roughly belong to the same generations, so that a time-line of roughly chronological usage can be established.

Overall, I think, that is The Biggest Problem that most people have with Neusner's historical work, in all fields, that he's saying that the history is by no means as easy to reconstruct as we have thought up to the present (and as many still think), and that we certainly can't pin precise names to sayings as confidently as we would like and as we used to. But the discovery of this generational clustering of sayings, etc, is very helpful for issues of historicity."

An important critique of this view of Neusner's was penned by J. Elman in the JQR, 89 361-386. He writes:

Neusner turned his full attention to the question in a brief work entitled In Search of Talmudic Biography: The Problem of the Attributed Saying (Chico, CA, 1984). He sums up the results of his research as follows: We find ourselves, therefore, in the position of Judah b. Batyra (M. Neg. 9:3, 11:7). Our conclusion is that Eliezer really did carry on the tradition of his master. And in substance, if not in fact, his master was really Yohanan b. Zakkai.... Nothing in Eliezer's message goes beyond what had already been stated by Yohanan. Nothing in Yohanan's message has been omitted. And behind Eliezer and Yohanan stands Hillel .... The path from Hillel through Yohanan to Eliezer may, therefore, have been discovered only in much later times. But the late- second-century and third-century masters who posited such a single, straight line from Eliezer to Yohanan to Hillel. .... from our perspective were absolutely right. [italics mine]

This nuanced, carefully articulated judgment thus constitutes the core of the Neusnerian position. Around this, unfortunately, has grown a vastly inflated polemic which attempts to pin the label of gullibility upon anyone who attempts to study any rabbinic attributions within any rabbinic compilation, even though there is nothing in the contemporary literature on the classical rabbinic corpus to substantiate anything approximating this extreme skepticism. It has simply become an article of faith on the part of some, who misleadingly assert that this is the "recognized standard" of critical research.

In fact, rabbinic literature provides much evidence that the Rabbis and the redactors took great care in attributing statements to the proper authorities. For example, there is the well-known dictum that "one who says something in the name of the one who stated it brings redemption to the world." There is also the dictum that if one repeats a teaching in the name of the one who "said it," the latter's "lips murmur in the grave." This is not mere rhetoric, for both the Bavli and the Yerushalmi practice what they preach, and cite alternative tradents for a particular statement when there is uncertainty. Thus, when Neusner concludes that we may not employ attributions in historical study ("We have been unable to identify principles by which they will have chosen one name [Eliezer's] in preference to some other. We do not even know why they thought it important to use names at all."), his conclusions apply primarily to tannaitic literature, where alternative chains of tradition are not cited. However, as we shall see, his own conclusions regarding the ahistoricity of tannaitic traditions refers primarily to anecdotal material rather than halakhic dicta. The conclusions of Neusner's study of traditions regarding the tanna R. Eliezer b. Hyracanus cannot of course be applied to all rabbinic literature without distinction, and even less to the Bavli. But there are indications of concern for such matters on the part of the redactors. While both Talmuds register variant attributions, the Bavli (its tradents and redactors alike, it would seem) created a terminology for such variations.


Indeed variations of attribution are recorded in the same way as halakhic variants-indicating that variants regarding attributions were considered as important as other variants regarding halakhic detail. This is precisely what we might have expected, since the authority of a tradition or statement may often have rested with the amora to whom it was attributed. This would also explain why most variants are recorded in connection with major authorities and their associates, since their authority was greater. Thus, the ideology behind this recording of variants applied to attributions as it did to halakhic matters, and the variants in all these matters (attributions, facts of the case, and halakha) may most often be attributed to aural confusion, or to errors of association. Indeed, these variants may teach us some rather interesting things about the ways in which the tradents' mem- ories and mental associations worked; I hope to devote a study to this matter on another occasion...."

(See there for the continuation of the argument.)

An extremely important methodological breakthrough was made by Alyssa Grey. In her "A Talmud in Exile: The influence of PT Avodah Zarah on the formation of BT Avodah Zarah", pg. 71 in discussing a difference of attribution between BT and PT. She shows that BT generally refers to a Palestinian statement by the head of the academy (in this case Reish Lakish) as opposed to a minor member of the academy (in the case under discussion R' Isaac Bar Nachman). Other scholars (notably Richard Kalmin) have succeded in resolving this vexing problem in a variety of ways but undoubtedly the writing of "rabbinic biography" is more complicated then was once thought. (WP has a decent summary of the major positions on the subject here)

(N.B. Although Prof. Grey's work comparing the Bavli to Yerushalmi is a definite breakthrough, I feel her study is fundamentally flawed. I do not think she gives the position that she refer to as the "Yerushalmi of the Bavli" the proper attention. To put it briefly, I think given that any transmission of the Yerushalmi to the Babylonians would have been by way of the Nechutai (see the recent Milllin Chavivin), it is reasonalble to assume that they may have given over summaries of the lectures, which might have similar structure and content to that of our Yerushalmi and still differ in siginificant aspects with it, as is the nature of any lecture that is retold orally. The matter reqires further study.)

[Update: Menachem Mendel sends us to the following important reference - Alyssa Grey's review of Alon Goshen-Gottenstein's book on Elisha Ben Abuya: "Is Critical Rabbinic Biography Possible?" Review, Prooftexts 23:3 (Fall 2003): 376-382.]

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Monday, August 18, 2008

HaRav Dovid Tzvi Hoffmann - Part 3 - Responsa

R' Hoffmann studied by both the Mahram Schick and the Kesav Sofer. Thus he was heir, to the special sense for correct halachic decision making that is characteristic of the talmidei Chasam Sofer. M. Hyamson in a review of the first booklet of Melamed L' Hoel (all of Melamed L' Hoel is available here) describes R' Hoffman's responsa as:

...of a practical character. They do not discuss purely hypothetical cases which would merely exhibit the writer's erudition and acumen, but are replies to actual questions put by Rabbis or laymen on points on which definite decisions were sought. The replies are clear, terse and usually brief, varying from two or three lines to a few pages

Dr. Hoffmann's Responses, though concise, are not peremptory decisions but reasoned judgments, supported by proofs and arguments and setting forth the pertinent references to an exceedingly wide range of authorities from the Talmud and earliest decisionists to the most recent summaries and expositions of Jewish Law.

Dr. Hoffmann is exceedingly rigid where no serious inconvenience would result. But where real hardship would follow from a rigorous construction of the law, he tries to find a way out. This is in accord with the principles that have ever guided the great commenta tors and decisionists, expressed in the biblical text (Prov. 3: 17) "Its ways are ways of pleasantness," and in the talmudical maxim כחא שהיתירא עדיף

(JQR 19,3 275-280)

The majority of scholarship on Melamed L' Ho'il has focused on the question of the interelationship of historical/socio-economic factors in the writing of the responsa.

Thus we have Daniel Gordis's - Dialectics of community, continuity and compassion: the legal writings of Rabbi David Zevi Hoffmann(abstract):

This dissertation discusses the legal writings of Rabbi David Zevi Hoffmann (1843-1921) in light of the work of several modern philosophers of law. It demonstrates that despite the widely accepted view that halakhah reflects the commitments of jurisprudential positivism, a close reading of Hoffmann's Melamed le-Ho'il suggests otherwise.

This study focuses specifically on judicial discretion in Jewish law. The first section of the dissertation summarizes the views of jurisprudential positivists such as Kelsen and Hart, who insist that judges must apply precedent without regard to their own evaluation of the ethical, social or political merits of the case.

The dissertation then introduces the competing "naturalist" positions of Ronald Dworkin and Robert Cover, among others. It focuses on Dworkin's "right answer thesis," his distinction between policy and principle and his "chain-novel" model of adjudication. After discussing Dworkin, the argument addresses Robert Cover and his conception of the interplay of nomos and narrative.

The second section of the dissertation establishes that most descriptions of halakhic adjudication assume a positivist orientation for Jewish law. Even those scholars who argue for a broader sense of halakhic judicial discretion have failed to articulate with sufficient clarity the non-positivist parameters they find operative in Jewish law. This project suggests that analysis of Hoffmann's opinions supports the views of halakhic naturalists, but further submits that analysis of Hoffmann's work in light of the vocabulary provided by Dworkin and Cover yields greater precision in descriptions of halakhic adjudication.

The latter half of the dissertation examines approximately forty of Hoffmann's responsa in detail, arguing that in a variety of socially or morally urgent cases, Hoffmann implicitly rejects positivist limitations on judicial discretion. Instead, his opinions reflect a Dworkinian commitment to the "principle" of the socio-political survival of traditional Judaism; many of his responsa reflect the narrative-oriented adjudication described by Cover.

The dissertation concludes with the suggestion that analysis of other posekim (halakhic authorities) in light of western jurisprudential thought has the potential to vastly enrich the continuing discussion of the fundamental theological, ethical and political commitments of Jewish law.

See also his article in Modern Judaism - DAVID ZEVI HOFFMANN ON CIVIL MARRIAGE: EVIDENCE OF A TRADITIONAL COMMUNITY UNDER SIEGE , David Ellenson's - Sociology and Halacha, its review by Marc Shapiro in Tradition and the subsequent communication.

As interesting as this issue might be its discussion hardly brings forth that which is unique about Melamed L' Ho'il. I'd like to discuss a point from T. No. 16 - Here is how Hyamson describes the Teshuva:

No. 16. Another congregation actually decided to introduce the organ. The religious head of that community states that he would be inclined to permit the innovation provided that the instrument be only used on week days, and then only at weddings, on the king's birthday or similar gala occasions. Would this permission be correct, the correspondent asks, and adds that if he leaves, his successor will most probably allow more radical changes. The Response, covering nine pages, summarizes the entire literature on the subject, gives the various opinions pro and con, and refers to the organ in the old synagogue in Prague, on which melodies were played every Friday afternoon before Lekah Dodi. The writer also quotes a hymn, brought to his notice by Jacob Wagner in a Siddur dated 5438, and afterwards also by Dr. Alexander Marx (this was before he became his son-inn-law W.), who found it in a prayer book printed at Amsterdam in the year 5440.

The hymn has the superscription "A beautiful song by the late Rabbi Solomon Singer, sung in Prague in the Meisel Synagogue to the accompaniment of organ and flutes before Lekah Dodi." The decision finally arrived at is in line with decisions given in the early part of the 19th century, namely, that the organ, primarily dedicated to church use, should never be used in Jewish places of worship. Even at weddings and other festivals on week days, other musical instruments are to be employed. Then in his lenient way, Dr. Hoffmann concludes: "A graduate from the Rabbiner Seminar will not have his diploma with- drawn if he is forced to sanction the use of the organ on week days at weddings, etc. But it is his express duty to make public the restrictions on the permission." Before the Response was issued, it was sent to five prominent rabbis of Germany with a covering note stating that the Rector of the seminary, Dr. Hildesheimer, had approved of its tenor. Four of these rabbis expressed their dissent. Horowitz of Frankfurt would not give any opinion out of deference to Dr. Hildesheimer's view.

On page 14 in the discussion of the "מגריפה" which was in the Beis HaMikdash, and according to the description in the Yerushalmi sounds very much like an organ, R' Hoffmann cites the testimony of "Bartholdy and Meyerbeer" (I find it interesting that the testimony of Jewish musicians is quoted specifically. Is the testimony of an apostate Jew more reliable then a Gentile? Its further interesting that he calls Felix Mendelssohn by his Christian surname Bartholdy - although he is quoting a book by a Dovid Deutsch so perhaps we can't be "medayek" too much.) that the organ doesn't harmonize with other instruments so it can't be the instrument in question. Its this sort of attention to the realia that makes his responsa unique.

Also worthy of note is responsa no. 101 in which he responds to a "critic" who attempted to argue based on the psuedo-epigraphical work Susannah that in pre-rabbinic times the parsha of עדים זוממים was understood literally. R' Hoffmann refutes this by pointing out that Susannah was originally written in Greek (see wiki) which shows that its author didn't know Hebrew and was most likely an ignoramus who wouldn't have know the complexities of Jewish law.

Responsa 57 (p. 98) is a work of pure genius in which an issue is analysed according to all the different positions in oredr to avoid a claim of "kim li". This excellent combination of critical scholarship and classical rabbinics is almost unique in the literature[1]. Highly interesting is one of the letters published by Marc Shapiro in Ha'Mayaan involving a philosophical enquiry in which R' Hoffmann shows his complete proficiency in that literature as well. In the letters in Parnes L' Doro we have several queries involving the Arabic original of the Rambam's commentary to the Mishna, in which R' Hoffmann shows his expertise in that language.

Note: There should be enough material to create another volume of Melamed L' Ho'il. In addition to the letters in Ha'mayaan, the letters in Parnes L' Doro, a responsum on Yayin Nesekh printed in a booklet Ner L' Menachem (there is mention of some other responsa in manuscript in the posession of the family) , the piece from Daiches's Beit Va'ad L' Chachomim and some German articles in Jeschurun (and perhaps in some of the other German periodicals) that deserve translation (A Gilyon Rashi was printed in Sefer Zikkaron of R' Yitzchok Isaac Halevi but I don't think it needs to be reprinted). Publication of these works would be of great value for all students of Rabbinic literature and to the memory of R' Hoffmann.

[1]The Seridei Eish has some Teshuvos along this line - most notably his teshuva on "Get she'nimtzo b'archaos"

Some things never change - Kli Yakar on Pilpul

In this exhortation I have seen fit to conclude the "pillar of Torah" by saying that in our generation it is quite feeble and hanging over the void. For in all the ways of learning there is no wholeness, from the time one comes to the age of reasoning until he grows old. For before the lad knows to renounce evil and choose [good], he is entrusted to a "melamed" to teach him scripture. One week he learns a few verses from the portion "Bereshit," the next week a few verses from "Noah," and so forth. He only teaches him the meaning of the
words, not the connection of the verses.

Even if he studies the entire portion with him, he never teaches him the connection of ideas. Afterwards he starts to learn Mishnah or Gemara. But he still does not know about the principle that God is one, or acceptance of the yoke of His reverence and commandment, because he knows nothing about the love of the Lord or the fear of the Lord or the commandment of the Lord. What is the point of teaching him Mishnah or Gemara? From all that he has learned in Scripture, he has derived nothing of substance - it contains no learning of Torah, but only learning of language, to speak in the sacred tongue (Hebrew), for he will only remember the meaning of the words. But one could study the sacred tongue with him without any book at all, in the manner that one learns any ordinary language. I am amazed how one can call mere linguistic study "the study of Torah." Is this Torah?

Also, when one teaches the student Gemara, one teaches him tractates of which he has no need of knowing, such as Eruuin, Hullin, and the like. With the passing of time, all is forgotten, and his memory retains nothing of all that he learned. One has acquired only the talmudicaI method, but not the knowledge to perform any mitzvah properly, nor any moral instruction of which youth is in need. The reason for all this is pride, for the father only wants to puff up the reputation of his son, so that others should say, USee how this one is tender in
years but is learning halakhah, or Tosafot, or chilluk! He knows pilpul, how to draw an elephant through the eye of a needle!" When he progresses in years, he will get to sit in the circle of the "learned." There the essence of study is sharpening the wits, the empty and vain pilpul which they call "chilluk." Heavens, be astonished
at this! - that an elder rabbi, ensconced in a yeshiva, should pervert what is common knowledge to him and to others in order to say, "I have a new insight t
o tell you, and indeed it is the plain sense of the Gemara!" - when he knows full well that it is not the plain sense." Is there such blindness in the world, that he should lie to himself and to others? Is this what is commanded, that he should sharpen his wits through falsification, to waste his days in vanity and cause his listeners to waste their days similarly? It is all to make a glorious name for himself.

I myself know that there are a few lonely survivors in this generation who have as their constant desire to abolish this kind of study, but they have not the power to do so, for they are perceived by the mass of the people as deviant...they are vastly outnumbered by the many rabbis who oppose them in the land. The majority think that this pilpul is the essential of Torah. They entice them with words until the words of those who cry out and protest are annulled and have no weight. In this way the pillar of Torah is completely corrupted.

from Amudei Sheish - translated by Leonard Levin, "Seeing with both eyes:The intellectual formation of Ephraim Lunschitz"

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The deathbed conversion of a patriarch?

Biblicalia posts a fascinating account of the alleged deathbed conversion of the Nasi Hillel ii.

One interesting point is the fact that a Christian Bishop should be called in for medical reasons. We find a parallel to this in the Talmud - Avodah Zarah 28a:

"What about R. Abbahu, who too was a distinguished man, yet Jacob the Min prepared for him a medicine for his leg, and were it not for R. Ammi and R. Asi who licked his leg, he would have cut his leg off? - The one [who attended] R. Johanan was an expert physician. - So too was that of R. Abbahu, an expert physician! - It was different in the case of R. Abbahu, for Minim adopt the attitude of let me die with the Philistines."

Jacob the Min (who is mentioned fairly frequently in the Talmud) has been identified by some I forget where I saw this) with the apostle James (I don't know which one). Now R' Abbahu live only several decades before Hillel II so it isn't so far fetched to say that Hillel would call a Bishop for medical reasons.

On the other hand, if this were true, one would expect a reference to this in Rabbinic literature. Specifically, Kiddushin 40b:

ר"ש בן יוחי אומר אפילו צדיק גמור כל ימיו ומרד באחרונה איבד את הראשונות שנאמר (יחזקאל לג) צדקת הצדיק לא תצילנו ביום פשעו ואפילו רשע גמור כל ימיו ועשה תשובה באחרונה אין מזכירים לו שוב רשעו שנאמר (יחזקאל לג) ורשעת הרשע לא יכשל בה ביום שובו מרשעו וניהוי כמחצה עונות ומחצה זכיות אמר ריש לקיש בתוהא על הראשונות

would have been the perfect place to mention Hillel II. Yet again, deathbed conversions, retractions and the like are all very convenient since they can't be easily refuted (as in here) Further, Epiphanius would definitely have it out for Hillel since he was close to Julian the apostate (see the letter quoted in the WP article) who was the arch-enemy of the Christians (For the same reason the account concerning Gamaliel V also needs to be taken with a large grain of salt.)

(See part 2 of R. Kimelman's dissertation on R' Yochanan of Tiberias for a full discussion of the relations between Jews and Christians during 3rd century Palestine - about a century before the time of Hillel II)

[Update:Biblicalia posts the full account of "Magic and A Patriarch".

I thank him for leaving the following important comment:

My own impression is that this Count Joseph, the Tiberian convert, was spinning some tales. As a convert, such a practice is not uncommon, of painting one's past associates in an unflattering light (in the case of Gamaliel V) and elevating certain beloved and respected former associates to one's own perceived post-conversion superiority (as in the case of Hillel II). I'd lay the onus on Joseph for these stories, as Epiphanius does indicate that he's the sole source for them. And as it's explicitly stated that Joseph was made a count by Constantine, Julian's hated uncle, there was likely some backlash that Joseph did experience, and which, as you suggested, tainted his memories of Gamaliel V, influencing him to tell the peculiar tale (which I'll also post for your benefit) of the rather lurid love-magic done for him, like something out of one of those old Greek romances.

The Jacob/James you mention wouldn't be any of the apostles, strictly so-called, as they all lived and died in the first century. It's such a common name, it would be hard to tell who R. Abbahu's physician may have been. We'd need more precision.

But I don't find it unlikely that people of a higher socioeconomic level would find calling on one another for matters such as health (and wealth) at all unusual. There may be quibbling about it later from inferiors, but there are some things that wealthy people simply did for one another that was more a part of intra-class courtesy than anything else. This tends to be forgotten.]

[Update 2:Menachem Mendel send us to Studia Patristica 32 - which in turn references an article in the JBL 60,4 The Textual History of an Aramaic Proverb (Traces of the Ebionean Gospel), Luitpold Wallach. The focus there is the famous account in Shabbos 116a concerning the dialogue between Imma Shalom[1] ,the sister of Rabban Gamliel, Rabban Gamliel and an unnamed "philosopher". The following passage relates to our discussion (C refers to the TB version of the narrative):

It is not for nothing that Gamaliel has been connected with the Ebionites. We have the report of Epiphanius, Haeres., XXX, 4, who delivers it not without reserve after a certain Joseph, that the later Patriarch Hillel II, the descendent of Gamaliel's family, was converted to Christianity as a young man.18 Karl Holl was right in pointing out that this legend is due to the older legend that the earlier Gamaliel was a convert.19 The connection of Gamaliel II 20 with the Ebionean tradition in C thus turns out to serve but one purpose: to refute the fantastic claim laid by the Ebionites to an heir of the house of Gamaliel. This claim must have been known to the Jewish redactor of the "historized" version C, for it is only upon this assumption that the part of Gamaliel and of his sister in C becomes really understandable. The unmasking of the Ebionean Jewish-Christian on the part of Gamaliel implies the refutation of any claim]

[1]Tal Ilan in The Quest for the Historical Beruriah, Rachel, and Imma Shalom, AJS Review 22,1 seems to be unaware of this source.

[I'm going to move this back eventually so as to keep all the Hoffman posts together)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

HaRav Dovid Tzvi Hoffmann - Part 2b - Parshanut and Biblical Criticism

I wil begin this post with another citation from Sulzbach:

In order to construct a scholarly and credible refutation of the Protestant biblical scholarship of his era. He [Hoffman- W.] had to acquire the necessary tools. First and foremost mastering languages. The basic curriculum for any Jewish Bible scholar required a thorough knowledge of biblical, mishnaic, and medieval Hebrew and Aramaic. to which Hoffmann also added Syriac and Arabic. Of course he worked in German, and as part of his secular education he learned Greek and Latin. Moreover. it should be noted that he indeed utilized the extra-biblical sources these languages provided (Josephus. Philo. LXX. Peshitta and the Samaritan Pentateuch to support his arguments.

His linguistic knowledge alone gave him a great advantage over the Christian scholars, who definitely lacked his virtuosity in Hebrew and Aramaic language and literature. They also lacked much of his insight into Jewish historical and religious dynamics, and thus had to forego the rich information available in other Jewish primary sources. This assumes they were ready to take these sources seriously, but this may be false, as in their opinion, Judaism had lost its right to exist after the rise of Christianity.

Moreover. Hoffmann in fact studied all the attacks upon the Hebrew Bible and Judaism. which enabled him to tight the war on the enemy's ground. Despite Kipling's famous dictum. that East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. Hoffmann broke the silence from the Jewish side and did not just go on the defensive with his refutation of critical biblical scholarship. but actually opened up an offensive by using the same methods and reasoning as did the critics. Up to the period of the revival and modernization of'Orthedox Judaism in Germany, of which he was one of the great champions. it had never before happened that these two worlds - which were so far apart - met on equal ground in the pages of a modern. scholarly Jewish commentary on the text of the Pentateuch.

It is to these commentaries I turn now as the 2nd positive aspect fo Hoffman's biblical scholarship. There is already a fairly complete list of articles on R' Hoffman's method of parshanut, as well as links to a hebrew translation his commentaries on Bereishis and Devarim that are available online at Hebrew wiki. (and see example 1 in this article.) It must be noted that these last two commentaries were censored and many of the polemics against the critics were taken out because "nobody is worried about this anymore". (Something similar occurred to the 1965 edition of Shadal's commnetray on Chumash - perhaps for the same reason. See this comment by Dan Klein [1].)

Personally, I have not used Hoffman's commentary very much. I have a copy of the Hebrew translation of "Das Buch Leviticus" but it is almost entirely unreadable being filled with references to scholars whose works are no longer studied. For the moment, this quote from NEJ must suffice to explain why I refer to this aspect of his work as "positive":

"In his commentaries to Leviticus and Deuteronomy he relied on rabbinic homiletical and exegetical interpretations for an understanding of these books, as well as offering his own innovative ideas, often based on comparisons between biblical Hebrew and other Semitic languages."

[1] R' Klein's translation of Shadal's commentary comes highly recommended. Especially valuable are the notes since Shadal likes to send us to his articles in Bikkurei Ha'Ittim and Kerem Chemed which are very difficult to obtain. (Some pages of the translation can be seen here.)

HaRav Dovid Tzvi Hoffmann - Part 2a - Parshanut and Biblical Criticism

R' Dovid Tzvi's work in this field needs to be divided into two parts - positive and negative. The first part consists of his polemics against Wellhausen (available in Hebrew translation here).

An English translation with an introduction and annotations was prepared by Carla Sulzbach as a Masters thesis for McGll University. Although I cannot claim any great proficiency in the subject, I will try to give a basic overview of the subject basing myself as much as I can on Sulzbach.

Wellhausen designed the structure of his hypothesis with a very distinctly Pro-Protestant bias in mind. To this end, he attempted to divide the "pure" prophetic spirit (read Protestant) of the earlier books from the the degenerate legalistic (read Jewish) or ritualistic (read Catholic) aspects of the "later" books.[1]

To accomplished this he placed the P(riestly) code (mainly Leviticus ,etc.) as a later post exilic work reflecting the "Oriental" "degeneration" into excessive legalism whereas the Y, E and the prophetic books all represent the earlier pure prophetic spirit of which Jesus (as interpreted of course by his prophet Martin Luther) was heir [2].

Enter R' Dovid Tzvi Hoffmann. R' Hoffman singlehandedly shattered Wellhausens elegant structure by conclusively demonstrating that Wellhausens dating made no sense whatsoever and that, if anything, the P document which contained all the hated legalistic "distortions" must be shown to be the earliest document[3].

Complementing R' Dovid Tzvi's writing was the work of his colleague Prof. Jakob Barth [4] (R' Ezriel Hildesheimer's son -in-law). Prof. Barth's main opponent was the orientalist Friedrich Delitzsch [5] who in his Babel and Bible attempted to place the Torah as deriving organically from within its Babylonian background. On Prof. Barth's response see my earlier post on the Beis Vaad.

In the next post, I will discuss the positive aspect of R' Hoffman's biblical scholarship.

[1] The proto-Nazi overtones of this discussion are clear and cannot be understated. Sulzbach makes the point that one can already see hints of the budding Nazi "doctrine" in the writings of the 19th century biblical scholarship. The supposed "Aryan" origins of Jesus is all of a part with this (L. Ginzberg has a letter relating to this subject.)

[2] Lest anyone wonder why this obviously agenda driven "scholarship" was given any credence at all. One must try to reconstruct the spirit of the 19th century in which Scinece had made such tremendous strides that Scientists wre vewed as demi-gods and their "critical" methods looked on as infallible. See the article on The Amber Witch at Wikipedia (one of my first attempts at writing anything) for a very clever historical hoax that showed exactly how fallible the "scientists" and their "internal criticims" really were.

While on the subject - here are a few more DH hoaxes - 1- Did Bush Exist - A and B. 2- New Directions in Pooh Studies (one needs to be slightly acquainted with the subject to get all the jokes)

[3] Yet again, I don't claim any expertise in the subject but to briefly summarize subsequent scholarship, Y. Kaufmann made use of R' Dovid Tzvi's work in the creation of his own version of the hypothesis that was much more Judeo friendly. Since then various hypothetical structures have been created, overturned and then rebuilt as if in some type of caricature of the Hegelian triad (I'm just showing off with that last bit haven't the faintest idea what I mean to say.)

At the moment, R. Whybray's fragmentary hypothesis [3a] dominates the scene (interestingly this is basically the same form of the hypothesis proposed by Italian Chief Rabbi Moshe Dovid Cassutto decades ago. For some reason Cassutto's theory wasn't taken seriously in its time on which we can say "הכל תלוי במזל אפילו ספר תורה שבהיכל" ) but as the WP:DH article very elegantly summarizes "The verities enshrined in older introductions [to the subject of the origins of the Pentateuch] have disappeared, and in their place scholars are confronted by competing theories which are discouragingly numerous, exceedingly complex, and often couched in an expository style that is (to quote John van Seter's description of one seminal work) 'not for the faint-hearted.'"

[3a] Therefore the decsison of Encyclopedia Judaica ('o7) to have R. E. Friedman (a hidebound conservative DH proponent) write the Pentateuch entry (which he uses as if it was his own personal forum to debate his opponents - as does S. Wald in the Talmud entry) seems highly un-encyclopedic. (It certainly wouldn't pass on Wikipedia as it's has a definite POV).

[4] The biographical situation here is even worse then that of R' Hoffman. I can only refer to some cute stories in Leo Jung's autobiography.

[5] Interestingly, Delitzsch's father's Franz was known to be a great philo-semite (although he drew the line at Geiger's very contemptuous attitude towards Christianity - see S. Heschel "Geiger and the Jewish Jesus"). See note two of this post. Shnayer Leiman published a memoir from Leopold Greenwald with an interesting story about Delitzsch the elder - partially summarized in this comment. See also "Franz Delitzsch (1812-1890) A Palm-Branch from Judah on His Newly-Covered Grave" by David Kaufmann - The Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol. 2, No. 4, (Jul., 1890), pp. 386-399

Harav Dovid Tzvi Hoffmann - Part 1 - Biography

As Carla Sulzbach writes in the introduction to her Masters thesis on R' Hoffmann (a translation of his work against Wellhausen)[1]:

Many descriptions of a famous person and his work nowadays may be entitled:

"[so-and-so]: the man and his work." followed by a derailed and integrated picture of the person in question. With regard to David Zvi Hoffmann. we immediately run into a problem concerning the biographical material. The authoritative biography still remains to be written. His correspondence. so far as it may still exist, would shed enormous light on his personality. his concerns and his scholarship: research into it also remains a

The contents of the articles that are available about Hoffmann are mostly of a hagiographical nature: they mention the extent of his scholarship. and then stop short and express regret that 'this is not the place to go into detail' concerning the particular aspect of his work that had just been mentioned. Furthermore. the authors of such articles state that there definitely is a need for more research on Hoffmann and his work.

However honorable the intentions of these writers and however well deserved the praise. the result is that we lack in depth studies of Hoffmann and his work. His very comprehensive writings. which cover a wide range of topics. such as Bible commentaries. works on post-biblical literature. halakhic responsa, historical studies. book reviews. political brochures about contemporary Jewish issues. etc. remain largely virgin territory. It is not the purpose of this thesis to attempt to answer the question of why Hoffmann and his work have been neglected. Nor is this an attempt to correct all aspects of this oversight. Future research in this area is therefore indicated.

Since the writing of these words, Prof. Marc Shapiro has printed some important letters in the periodical Ha'Mayaan ועוד ידו נטויה (there are also several letters in Parnes L' Doro) but other then that I don't believe much has been done to remedy the deficit.

The following articles will have to suffice for now:

1. Alexander Marx (R' Dovid Tzvi's son-in-law) - "Essays in Jewish Biography"
2. Louis Ginzberg - "Students, Scholars and Saints"
3. Aviad-Woltsbcrg, Ycshayahu - D. Z. Hoffmann in Guardians of our Heritage (translated into Hebrew in Sinai).
4. Leo Jung - "Path of a Pioneer" (his autobiography) has some interesting recollections on R' Hoffmann and other figures from the Hildesheimer seminary
5. Chaim Tchernowitz - Pirkei Chaim - a very nice description of R' Hoffman's lectures.

[1] I owe this reference to R' S. I am very much in his debt for directing me to it.

The last of the Chasidei Ashkenaz - HaRav Dovid Tzvi Hoffmann

Of all the great rabbinic figures with which the Jewish people have been blessed, R Dovid Tzvi Hoffman stands forth as a towering figure of unparalleled greatness. His scholarship extended to many fields and he made significant contributions to the every one of them.

Specifically, he laid some crucial foundation blocks to the field of critical scholarship of Rabbinic literature. He single-handedly dismantled the impenetrable fortress of the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis. He wrote hundreds of Responsa that show an exceptionally clear grasp of halachic decsion making. His work on the Shulchan Aruch remains unmatched in the field of apologetics. All this is besides his many important articles in various German periodicals that unfortunately still await translation.

This is in terms of his scholarship. On his tremendous greatness on the personal level , the two accounts quoted here speak for themselves.

In the following series of posts, I would like to try to, at least in some small measure, to give a basic overview of the many fields that R' Dovid Tzvi contributed to, with an emphasis on the citation of articles that can be found online. At the end I will upload his Hebrew articles from the Beis Vaad L'Chachomim I mentioned earlier.

2 - Biblical Criticism and Parshanut -Part A, Part B
4- Rabbinics - Part A

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tisha B'av resources

1-A letter from HaRav Mordechai Breuer zt"l on the meaning of Tisha B'av after the establishment of the state of Israel.

2 - A book from Yomtov Lipman Zunz - "The Suffering of the Jews during the Middles Ages".

3 - Several articles on the issue of adding new קינות to the liturgy.
[To be updated - suggestions welcome]

רמב"ם הלכות תעניות פרק ה- יש שם ימים שכל ישראל מתענים בהם מפני הצרות שאירעו בהן כדי לעורר הלבבות ולפתוח דרכי התשובה ויהיה זה זכרון למעשינו הרעים ומעשה אבותינו שהיה כמעשינו עתה עד שגרם להם ולנו אותן הצרות, שבזכרון דברים אלו נשוב להיטיב

Friday, August 8, 2008

Mendelssohn's commentary on the Rambam's Milot ha-Hegayon (and more)

Now online. As Harav Yosef Kappach writes in the introduction to his edition of Milot Ha-hegayon -

"הכל מודים כי פירוש הרמ"ד הוא הפירוש הטוב ביותר".

The site where this comes from (part of B'chadrei Charedim) is worth keeping in eye on -

also a Hebrew translation of Mendelssohn's Phaedon (for which he was called he was called the German Socrates.), R' Naftoli Hertz Wessely's Divrei Shalom V' Emes (which as is well know was the caues of much controversy - see Milchamtam Shel HaRabbonim Neged HaMaskil Naftali Hertz Wiesel" in Beis Ahron V' Yisroel (Issue 43 on)), his Sefer Hamiddos, and some of his poems.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The making of a scholar – Chiddushim of Levi Ginzberg, age 15

The file below is a scan of some letters is from Parnes L’ Dorot[1], a collection of letters written to R’ Eliezer L. Prins (See Introduction to PL and his entry in NEJ for biographical information). There are letters from virtually evry scholar/rabbi of any importance of the 19th- earlier 20th century and anyone interested in that period must make sure to get a copy.

I have left out the first letter from his father since it didn't contain anything of importance. All of the necessary background information is contained within the letters (supplied by the invaluable notes of Dr. Meir Hershkowitz and Neriah Gutel). The discrepancy in the handwriting mentioned in the intro to the last letter (written when Ginzberg was 17) is not significant. I would imagine that after recovering from the flu (as mentioned in the letter) Ginzberg was still to weak to write so he must have dictated the letter to someone else. I must say that the almost condescending tone that Ginzberg uses when writing about the Mateh Levi is certainly not worthy of him. (Some would no doubt say that from the lack of humility displayed in the letter one can see the character trait that lead to his later unorthodox career[2].)

In any event, the chiddushim are indeed impressive for a boy of his age (allowing for the fact that his father may have helped him) and one can understand his father’s chagrin that his son had become a “mere” scholar rather then the Gaon he could have been.

I uploaded the file here:

[1] I thank Mrs. Elsa Bendheim, granddaughter of R’ Prins and publisher of the book, who made available to my father (and hence to me) a copy of the book gratis. Also, recommended is the second volume, Parnes L’Dorot containing all the chiddushim of R’ Prins. There is also a 3rd volume of his Dutch letters.

[2] Even so Ginzberg never wavered in his belief in the primacy of Halacha. See the introduction to גנזי שכטר and somewhat less clearly the Introduction to Geonica (at Google Books).

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

גדולתו של יהונתן

One student, for example, described how when his time came to "graduate," to leave the yeshiva, Eibeschutz, in a spontaneous gesture, grabbed his wife's prized Sabbath silver candlesticks and gave it to the young graduate as a lifelong token of his teacher's affection.

- Leopold Greenwald, Beit Yehonatan (Sziget, 1908), second section (comments and additions), 3a

Zerah Eidlitz, one of Jonathan Eibeschutz's more illustrious students, a leading light in Prague's rabbinical and Talmudic establishment in the mid-eighteenth century, whose sermon collection and Talmudic comments are republished in the yeshiva world down to the present day. Born in Prague 1725 to pious but impoverished and undistinguished parents, Zerah was orphaned at an early age. Such circumstances should have prevented him from ever having the educational or financial opportunities necessary to pursuing a life of achievement. But Jonathan Eibeschutz took the boy in, raised him, educated him, and married him off to a wealthy girl, whose family supported him in style for decades and eventually enabled him to pursue a distinguished intellectual and religious career, to even head a yeshiva of his own in Prague and to occupy a highly honored position in the community, a sincere pillar of Prague orthodoxy.

- Or la-Yesharim (Jerusalem, 1995 edition), unpaginated biographical introduction. See Zerah's autobiographical remarks on page 93. According to one story, Eibeschutz not only arranged Zerah’s marriage to a wealthy bride, a member of the well-connected Yerushlami family of Prague, he also arranged, when the young wife died not long after the marriage, for Zerah to marry her sister. This second marriage required adroit maneuvering on the part of Eibeschutz, see Klemperer, 355; Zinz, 260-261.

Rabbi Meir Fischel's (1703-70), head of the senior beth din of Prague for four decades, another pillar of the Prague rabbinical establishment,..... referred to his teacher Eibeschutz as "equal to Maimonides in the non-mystical branches of the Torah and equal to the ARI (Isaac Luria of Safed [1534-72], the greatest kabbalist of all time) in the mystical branches.

-Klemperer, Chayei Jehonathan, 136.

(quoted in D. Katz - "A case study in the formation of a super-rabbi.."

Correspondence between R' Yecheskel Abramsky and R' Chaim Nachman Bialik

Here, see also here.

Monday, August 4, 2008

More Irano-Judaica

R' Yaakov Elman has done a lot of work on the subject.

(See his article "Acculturation to elite Persian norms and modes of thought in the Babylonian Jewish community of late antiquity" in Netiot L' David - Prof. Dovid Halvni's Festschrift (which I happened to have read while sitting next to Prof. Halivni. I ought to have asked him of his opinion on the subject while I was there - Chaval Al D'Avdin.) See also his article in Printing the Talmud which is online.)

There is a full dissertation on the subject:

"Dashtana -- 'ki derekh nashim li'": A study of the Babylonian rabbinic laws of menstruation in relation to corresponding Zoroastrian texts

by Secunda, Samuel Israel, Ph.D., Yeshiva University, 2008, 502 pages (Advisor:Y. Elman)

This is the abstract:

For over half a century, academic scholarship of the Babylonian Talmud (Bavli) has focused primarily on the dynamics of this work's internal textual (lower and higher criticism) and hermeneutical phenomena. This dissertation participates in a recent scholarly endeavor to consciously incorporate the Bavli's external, Sasanian Iranian context into talmudic research. By closely examaning the development of the Babylonian rabbinic laws of menstrual purity ( hilkhot niddah ) against corresponding Zoroastrian texts, I argue that rabbis and Zoroastrian priests were engaged in similar, sustained legal discussions that reconsidered (a) the role of religious authorities in determining the legal onset of menstrual impurity, (b) whether to delay purification rituals beyond the cessation of the menstrual flow, and (c) the place of menstruants in the home and society. In each of these cases, rabbinic and Zoroastrian sources share analogous legal trajectories that testify to a broader conversation that was taking place in Sasanian Iran. In addition, analysis of seven talmudic aggadic (non-legal) sources reveals a dynamic in which the rabbis were aware of the importance of menstrual purity amongst Persians and anxious about the legitimacy of certain rabbinic menstrual purity practices in light of Zoroastrian stringency. Consequently, the rabbis sought to assert the authoritativeness of the rabbinic system by imagining the Sasanian queen-mother consulting (and subsequently praising) a prominent fourth century talmudic sage in order consulting (and subsequently praising) a prominent fourth century talmudic sage in order to diagnose her bloodstains. In a different passage, the Bavli depicts an important talmudic sage verbally sparring with an anonymous "Zoroastrianized" heretic. The rabbinic sage claims that even spiritually weak Jews are uniquely equipped to withstand the temptations of violating the menstrual prohibitions. Finally, another Babylonian rabbinic sage claims that the Zoroastrian menstrual purity system is actually derived from the Jewish one since the Persian word for menstruation, dastan, can be traced to the biblical matriarch, Rachel. The parallel legal trajectories and the dynamic of rabbinic defensiveness in the face of Zoroastrian stringency all contribute to our understanding of the Bavli and its relationship with Sasanian Zoroastrianism.

Lest we become to carried away finding parallels (This is a general comment. U am certainly not referring to Prof. Secunda's exceelent disssertation.) it is worth quoting the following:

We may grant that we meet with Persian influence in the Jewish conception of angels, ritual cleanliness and uncleanliness, and in a few ethical sayings, etc. On the other hand, we can be certain that Persian business law did not influence the Jews; for the latter never came in contact with it!

The Relation of Jewish to Babylonian Law Author(s): H. S. Linfield Source: The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 36, No. 1, (Oct., 1919), pp. 40-66

[As Prof. Secuda comments: "In any case, Linfield's comments from 1919 were made before significant work had been done on Sasanian civil law - which is collected primarily in a seventh century work, "The Book of a Thousand Judgments." See Elman's JSIJ article for an example of rabbinic discussion of Sasanian civil law.Of course in all of this we need to remember that the Bavli is built upon Palestinian material which is then (re)interpreted and (re)applied to new realities. uncovering so-called "Persian influences" is not just a matter of finding similar sounding laws in Zoroastrian texts, but of looking for simialr trajectories and the like."

Elman's JSIJ article can be found here. Certainly, the Persian Law influeneced the Talmudic law, in the same way that American law might affect an American Posek's Teshuvos. But it is only in the issues of magic,etc. that Zorastriansim would be the source for the Talmudic statement.]

See also Encycylopedia Iranica s.v. Talmud
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