Thursday, April 29, 2010

Great men and their correspondence

The more things change...

The following exchange is from the Robert Weltsch archives at LBI. I've always admired Lord Jakobovits, in part because of his ability to respect someone despite "differences in outlook and upbringing".

Monday, April 26, 2010

Another attempt at solving the authorship of Responsa Besamim Rosh

[Seforim Blog has a very thorough post on Besamim Rosh which links to some earlier posts of mine on the subject. Following is a rewrite of those posts]

Another attempt at solving the question of the authorship of ShuT Besamim Rosh

Besamim Rosh was first attacked as a forgery by R' Mordechai Banet [1]on the grounds that the book contains many halachic leniencies and heretic ideas that could not have been written by the Rosh. Even if this is sufficient proof to show that the Rosh cannot have written it, we still do not know if Saul Berlin forged it or if he was taken in by some earlier forgery.

I think I can show that R Saul Berlin who forged the letter. R' Berlin wrote a satirical work K'tav Yosher in which he attacks the Rabbis who placed Naftali Hertz Wessely's Divrei Shalmo V' Emet under ban. In the midst of this work, he refers sarcastically to several stringencies such as Chalav Akum:

pg. 8a - לו יאבה מלך לתת לי עד חצי המלכות ואשתה מחלב שחלבו גוי לא אעשנו

for which in Besamim Rosh No. 36 he has the Rosh ruling leniently in regards to Chalav Akum

pg. 4a – in response to a suggestion to Wessely's suggestion that Jews should become acculturated with the nation in which they are living, he writes:

- ולא עוד אלא שדרש ברבים להתקרב אל הגוים, ואנו אין לנו אלא שנתרחק מהם ב־תכלית הריחוק , ולא נבקש שלומם וטובתם כל הימים , ואם בשנאתם אותנו רבים צרינו הקמים עלינו לכלותינו, אדרבא זה הוא לטוב לנו כי עי׳׳ז נזכה לקדש שם שמים לעיני הגוים ומיום שחרב המקדש ובטלו הקרבנות , אין נחת רוח להשי"ת גדול מזה בהיותינו נהרגים ונשחטים כקרבן ועולה על קדושת שמו הגדול

and in Besamim Rosh no. 301 he writes that there is no obligation to die for the sake of heaven even during a time of שמד, but he repeats a similar point to that in K'tav Yosher that Mesiras Nefesh is a means to avoid assimilation:

אבל ישראל קדושים. מעצמם מותרים נפש. שלא להטמעות בין הגוים שזה הוא כאלו

מת ועבר ובטל

From the above, we see that the issues discussed in Besamim Rosh line up with the concerns of Saul Berlin in his K'tav Yosher. The discerning reader can probably find many more parallels.

[1] R Banet's letter to R Tzvi Hirsch Berlin was first published by Salomon Rosenthal in the literary supplement of “Der Orient” No. 6 53-55 No. 9 140-141 , and then later republished in Parashat Mordechai (1889) No.5. Another similar letter was published in והמה בכתובים, העתקות כתבי־יד מנחלת האחים לבית יעללעש pg. 20.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Chayei Yehuda and maskilic cognitive dissonance

Yitzhak has a brilliant post on two reactions to R' Yehuda Aryeh Modena's autobiography Chayei Yehuda which portrays him as being "all too human." I find the comment of R' Goldschmidt extremely puzzling as he refers to Chida's view of R' Yehuda -

וגם החיד”א בשם הגדולים לא כתב בגנותו, הגם שלא הללו

But neglects to mention that in that very entry Chida refers to Chayei Yehuda quoting a comment from the Sefer in regard to Gilgul (Chida also refers to Modena in Maagel Tov). At best, he could insist that the maskilim interpolated their own thoughts into the work. As in regard to Megillas Sefer, parallels abound and the accusation would be really foolish as well.

An interesting counter example of cognitive dissonance this time from the maskilic side can be found in Igros Yashar pg. 82 ff. In this case, because Yashar could not accept that his hero would believe something so irrational. He therefore argues with great vehemence that Chayei Yehuda could not have existed (for the really ridiculous reason that "why would he wait to write his memoirs until the end of his life) and - making use of an argument that has become very popular today to dismiss any view of any great Rabbi that doesn't conform to contemporary standards of religiosity - he insists that it must be some mistaken student who believed in Kabbalah who copied it over in the name of his teacher.

(Adelman in his dissertation refers to Yashar's arguments as a "multiplicity of mutually exclusive and self-defeating responses to the problem of Modena's supposed recantation of his views against transmigration. Today it would be argued that Reggio's scholarly accomplishments were in the service of his ideas and beliefs. It was, in fact, Reggio's desire to undermine the Kabbalah which prompted his research into the life and writings of Modena in the first place. When he found information which was contrary to his requirements, such as Azulai's report aobut Modena's recantation, he probed even deeper to explain it away. )

Similarly, A. Geiger conveniently omits the Gilgul story in his biography of Modena. So much for the great "objective critical scholarship" of the 19th century.

Here is Howard Adelman's analysis of Chida's excerpt of Chayei Yehuda in his exhaustive dissertation on Modena pg. 28 ff.:

Azulai wrote that Modena had recorded all that had happened to him during his life, including personal matters. According to Azulai, Modena had also written that at first he did not believe in transmigration of souls, already a well known fact by 1774. Then, according to Azulai's report a neighbor of Modena's gave birth to a son who within a month became very sick. When after six months the infant began to expire, his mother called in Modena to recite biblical verses. While Modena was there, the infant sang hymns, said the "Shema" (Deuteronomy 6: 4), and then died.
From that day on, according to Azulai, Modena believed in transmigration of souls because he had seen that the young child had the soul of an old sage in him. 30

This account was very important for future studies of Modena. It seemingly contradicted all of Modena's anti-kabbalistic writings. The appearance of this story in Azulai's catalogue motivated many subsequent researchers to seek more information about Modena's views on Kabbalah as
well as to find a copy of Hayye Yehudah. Many tendentious views of Modena would be based on Azulai' s account. Most writers, especially those who opposed Kabbalah, considered
it to have been a forgery.31

The story related by Azulai is not in any known manuscript of Hayye Yehuda~, including the autograph copy. However, it still needs explanation. 32 It appears unlikely both that Azulai actually had a copy of Hayye Yehudah in his possession and that he invented the story in its entirely.

Had he desired to discredit Modena on the basis of his autobiography, there was enough incriminating material in it itself, so that there would have been no need to forge material. It is also noteworthy that Azulai did not make use of the great wealth of bibliographic information contained in Hayye Yehudah. Significantly, Azulai wrote that he had "seen" Hayye Yehudah. It is possible that on his short visit to Venice in 1754, when he saw copies of Ari nohem, he also got a brief look at Hayye Yehudah and made quick hostile references to that work in his journal, too. 33

Twenty- f.ive years later, after having read many books and manuscripts with descriptions of similar incidents, including one in Sefer elim by Joseph Solomon Delmedigo,34
who was mentioned regularly by Modena in Ari nohem, and another in Ari nohem itself concerning a man's soul which entered a young girl because he had denied that Simon bar Yohai was the author of the Zohar, 35 Azulai confused some of the details of these stories with Modena. Two additional facts may have contributed to such confusion. At the time that Modena was becoming known as the leading anti-kabbalistic figure, the church had just exposed him as
a newly discovered convert to Catholicism.

Further, Modena himself may have planted the seed for Azulai's claim at the end of Ari nohem: there he wrote to Joseph Hamitz, his former student and a leading kabbalist, to whom the book had been addressed, that he hoped Hamitz would respond to the charges raised against the Kabbalah in Ari nohem, but cautioned Hamitz not to try to refute them in hopes that Modena, as the kabba1ists claimed about Maimonides, too would recant his views against Kabbalah. 36

As opposed to the attitude of Goldschmidt, Shir was able (at least at first) to accept that a great man can have faults and still be considered great (Igrot Shir pg. 71):

מספר חיי יהודה, אשר האיש המסופר ממנו גדול בעיני מאז עד מאד, ועוד גם עתה אחרי כל החסרונות הנודעים לנו ממנו.

However on learning of Modena's heterodox views as expressed in his sharp criticism of Rabbinic Judaism in Kol Sachal, Shir quickly changed his tune (Igrot Shir pg. 208):

לא נבהלתי משמיע קול סכל ושאנת אריה, זה האריה אשר נגלו עתה שניו הטורפות ונראה למחנק נפשות, כי היה מאז חשוד בעינינו, אחרי ידענוהו למבלה זמנו במשך רוב שנותיו לשחק בקוביא, ועם כל ידיעותיו וחמדת לשונו ונועם תוכחתו לרבים בפה ובכתב, לא היה יכול לשחרר את נפשו מתאוה בזויה כזאת. ועתה ננלה לעיני כל כי מרמה היתה כל תוכחתו. צוף על לשונו ולענה בקרב לבו. ותחת אשר קרא לעצמו בונה[1], סותר יקרא, כי סותר באמת כל התורה . ועד מהרה נתתי לו שם ויד בין איזה חנפים וצבועים אשר לבשתנו נמצאים גם בעמנו

[1] A reference to Modena's commentary on Ein Yaakov - HaBoneh
[I see Artscroll's Early Achronim has an entry on Modena which I look forward to reading, I suspect their treatment of him was similar to that of R Azariah De Rossi.]

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

An excerpt from R Yaakov Emden's Igeres Purim

The following scan contains excerpts of R Yaakov Emden's Iggeres Purim published by Dr. Jacob J. Schacter in Studies of Medieval Jewish History Vol. 2. The style of this work is very similar to that of Megillas Sefer and confirms (not that this is necessary) some of the accounts in Megilas Sefer that the author of MP finds so impossible such as his attack on Knesses Yecheskel (which can be found in Sheilas Yaavetz as well). Dr. Schacter mentions that another excerpt of IP was published by A. Bick "in hopelessly garbled fashion" in Kiryat Sefer V. 50. The KS excerpt also parallel MS as it talk about RYE's illness and "most intimate sexual feelings". I have not yet seen the KS myself and would greatly appreciate if someone can send me a pdf.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Three Cheers for the Leo Baeck Institute

LBI has been placing parts of their holdings online at since 2006. I've seen fascinating stuff such as unpublished correspondence of Gershom Scholem and Cecil Roth. I just recently noticed that they have placed the entire Joseph Perles collection online.

There are many, many fascinating letters from such well known figures as R' N N Rabinowitz, the Dikdukei Soferim, Shadal, S. Buber, as well as from many lesser known but equally important personalities. Knowledge of German and Italian (which I don't have) is necessary for most of the letters but there is also a nice percentage of letters in Hebrew.

I hope to make use of some of this material on this blog over the next few weeks. If anyone finds anything interesting there that they would like to share, I'd appreciate if they can leave a comment or send me an email.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I just noticed this rather comical attempt to disprove" R' Yaakov Emden's authorship of Megillas Sefer . Its an interesting cultural artifact, if nothing else. I wonder if Dr. Schacter will refer to it in his upcoming long awaited critical edition of Megillas Sefer.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Jews of England - a combination of perfervid patriotism, strabismic loyalty and flabby tergiversation

From a rather interesting address of Rabbi David De Sola Pool here:

There are Jewish super-citizens, such as Sir Francis Montefiore, a citizen & outrance, whose perfervid English patriotism restrains him from aiding destitute or starving Jews of German or Austrian birth lest his English patriotism become suspect.


He lives at peace in multiple loyalty to his wife, his family, his shool, his city, his country, his king and his God, blissfully free from the strabismic loyalty of a Sir Francis Montefiore which jumbles these loyalties of varying references and various planes into conflict.


Unlike his brethren in other countries, when he fought for his political rights, he did so without the flabby tergiversation of claiming them solely as a citizen. He claimed them frankly and outspokenly as a Jew.
My spell check doesn't even recognize these words as English anymore, yet R Pool could use them in a public lecture. How different then today in which one cannot use words of more then two syllables if you want to have any chance of being understood.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Chazon Yechezkel on the secret to a successful marriage

From Jewish Chronicle August 9 '46:

"When a woman marries for a fur coat and luxury and has no sense of the idealism of a human partnership, for good times and bad times as well, one cannot expect a marriage to endure. When one marries to carry out the moral and ethical side of life, that marriage continues until death."

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