Wednesday, February 25, 2015

New Book Announcement: Esther Unmasked: Solving Eleven Mysteries of the Jewish Holidays and Liturgy by Mitchell First

The Seforim blog is proud to announce the publication of our contributor Mitchell First’s newest book, Esther Unmasked: Solving Eleven Mysteries of the Jewish Holidays and Liturgy (Kodesh Press, 2015), available here (

Table of Contents

Introduction by Rabbi Hayyim Angel   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   9
Preface   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   13

1. עולם לתכן: Establishing the Correct Text in Aleinu   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   17
2. What is the Origin of the Word הליחמ?   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   30
3. והו ינא: What is the Meaning of this Cryptic Mishnaic Statement?  .   42
4. What is the Meaning of “Maccabee”?   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   60
5. What is the Meaning of Ḥashmonai?   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   76
6. What Motivated Antiochus to Issue
His Decrees Against the Jews   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   94
7. The Origin of Taanit Esther   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   118
8. Achashverosh and Esther in Secular Sources   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   129
9. Mah Nishtannah: The Three Questions   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   168
10. Arami Oved Avi: Uncovering the Interpretation
Hidden in the Mishnah   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   189
11. The Pe/Ayin Order in Ancient Israel and its
Implications for the Book of Tehillim   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   207

Abbreviations   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   231
Index   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   232


This book consists of eleven articles that address interesting questions that arise in connection with the liturgy and origin of the Jewish holidays. Too often, Orthodox Jews take the liturgy and the origin of the holidays for granted, without adequate investigation.
For example, regarding the liturgy:
       The Jewish obligation of תקון עולם, “improving the world,” is widely referred to and it is traditionally assumed that the Aleinu prayer is one of the texts upon which this obligation is based.  The first article shows that a very strong case can be made that the original version of Aleinu read לתכן עולם, “to establish the world under God’s sovereignty,” and not לתקן עולם, “to perfect/improve the world under God’s sovereignty.” If so, the concept of תקון עולם has no connection to the Aleinu prayer.
       A phrase that is part of the traditional Sukkot hoshanot liturgy is אני והו הושיעה נא, based on the text of a Mishnah at Sukkah 4:5. The meaning of the phrase אני והו has been a puzzle throughout the centuries. The third article shows that almost certainly the original text of the Mishnah read  אני והוא.  With this reading,  the statement can be explained.
       It is usually assumed that the Passover recital of “Four Questions” is one of the fundamental rituals of rabbinic Judaism. The ninth article explains that the original mah nishtannah only included three questions. The variation in the number of questions in the mah nishtannah over the centuries is then described, and the evolution of the number of questions into the present four is then explained.

Regarding the origin of the Jewish holidays:
       The sixth article discusses what motivated Antiochus to undertake his persecution of the Jews. The three main theories will be discussed and evaluated.
       In the seventh article, the origin of the fast of the 13th of Adar (Taanit Esther) will be addressed.  No fast in Adar is mentioned in the book of Esther or the Talmud, and the origin of this fast has always been difficult to understand. The 13th of Adar was even a holiday (Yom Nikanor) in the late Second Temple period, a day on which fasting was prohibited. Based on a careful examination of Geonic sources, the seventh article will explain how this fast first came into existence in Geonic Babylonia.
       The identification of Achashverosh in secular sources had always been a puzzle. The eighth article will explain how, in the middle of the nineteenth century, Achashverosh was finally able to be identified. He is the king that the Greek historians referred to as “Xerxes.” The article will detail the basis for this identification, and will show that Esther can be identified in secular sources as well.
Regarding the balance of the articles:
       The second article suggests explanations for the origin of the mysterious Tannaitic root מחל, a root not found in the Bible. The article further attempts to distinguish this root from its synonym סלח.
       The fourth article explains the correct spelling of the term Maccabee (מקבי) and points to its likely original meaning.
       The fifth article discusses the identity and meaning of חשמונאי.
       The tenth article conducts an analysis of Mishnah Pesaḥim 10:4. It shows that it is likely that this Tannaitic source understood arami oved avi to mean “my father was a homeless/wandering/lost Aramean.” Typically, it is assumed that this interpretation of arami oved avi did not arise until the time of the Rishonim.
       The final article explains the reason why the pe verses preceded the ayin verses in the acrostics in chapters 2-4 of the book of Eikhah (and in the acrostic in chapter 1 in the Dead Sea text of Eikhah).  It turns out that pe preceded ayin in the order of the alphabet in ancient Israel! The implications of this explanation for dating the book of Tehillim (interspersed with many acrostics) are then addressed.
• • •

Many of the articles included in this book have been published in earlier forms in Ḥakirah, Biblical Archaeology Review, AJS Review, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament and  (For the references to the earlier articles, see the first footnote in each article.)  

Several of the articles: the first (establishing the reading לתכן עולם), seventh (origin of Taanit Esther), eighth (the identification of Esther in secular sources), and eleventh (the implications of the ancient pe/ayin order) have been viewed by many as groundbreaking.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Maccabean Psalms? (and more)

Maccabean Psalms? (and more)
By Marc B. Shapiro

(This post was originally part of the previous one, but since I know people don’t like reading posts more than twenty pages long, I split it up into two parts.)

1. I know that every year around Christmas time some people read my article on Torah study on Christmas eve. At the end of the article I raise the possibility that the various Nittel practices were actually based on non-Jewish superstitions. My suspicion was proven beyond any doubt in a wonderful article by Rebecca Scharbach, “The Ghost in the Privy: On the Origins of Nittel Nacht and Modes of Cultural Exchange.”[1] I recommend that everyone add this article to their “holiday reading”. (Due to reasons beyond my control, this post was not able to appear, as planned, before Christmas.)

As for our own holiday of Hanukkah, let me share something that I think people will find interesting. When it comes to the dating of various Psalms, for those in the Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist world there don’t appear to be any dogmatic issues involved, much like there are no dogmatic issues raised if one assumes that the prophecies beginning in Isaiah chapter 40 come from a later prophet than those in the first part of the book.[2] Nevertheless, I think people generally assume that traditionalists will not speak about “Maccabean Psalms”. (Truth be told, I don’t know if there are even any academic scholars that still identify some of the Psalms as belonging to the Maccabean period.)

See S’s post here where he notes that Philip Birnbaum, in his siddur, does refer to a psalm as having been written in the Maccabean period. However, S. also quotes R. Samson Raphael Hirsch as stating that Orthodox Judaism rejects the notion of “Pseudo-Isaiah”, and of “Maccabean songs under the name of David.” On the other hand, R. Solomon Judah Rapoport believed that at least one psalm (and perhaps more) were written during the Maccabean period. He identified other psalms as dating from the Second Temple period and defended the religious legitimacy of this view. “If the sages of the Talmud advanced the date of a number of Psalms from the time of David to that of Ezra, a period of more than five hundred years, we must have no scruples in advancing them another two hundred years.”[3] R. Samuel Barukh Rabinkow also felt that “the religious value of any of the Psalms is independent of the time of its composition or any historical consideration or reflection.”[4]

I found a very interesting passage by R. Abraham Saba in his Tzeror ha-Mor.[5] He appears to be saying that Psalm 30, which we recite every day (and which many recite after Hanukkah morning tefillah and after lighting the Hanukkah candles) was written when the Temple was rededicated by the Hasmoneans.

אני סבור כי מזמור שיר חנוכת הבית לדוד נתקן על חנוכת הבית של חשמונאי . . . ולכן נעש' נס בשמן והדליקו ממנה שמנה ימים ועל זה סדר מזמור שיר חנוכת הבית

R. Saba continues by explaining the various verses in line with this conception. Now I realize that one can argue that what he means is that David prophetically wrote the psalm with the Hasmonean rededication in mind, and this interpretation is actually stated by R. Abraham the son of the Vilna Gaon.[6]

מזמור שיר חנוכת הבית לדוד: עשה המזמור הזה לשיר אותו בחנוכת הבית העתידה להיות בימי החשמונאים

Yet such an approach this does not appear to fit with the words of R. Saba:

נתקן על חנוכת הבית של חשמונאי

In his “translation” of this passage Eliyahu Munk writes: “I am convinced that David, in his holy spirit, foresaw such a period and dedicated Psalm 30, 1-13 to that period, therefore commencing with מזמור שיר חנוכת הבית לדוד ‘a song for the consecration of the House,’ the ‘house’ being the reconsecration of the Temple after the Hasmoneans’ victory.”[7] Yet all readers can see that in the original R. Saba does not mention David or his holy spirit.

R. Joseph Hayyim[8] believes that Psalm 30 as a whole was written by David, and he says it is possible that David also wrote the first verse. But he also says that it is possible that the first verse, which speaks of dedication of the Temple, was added to the psalm during the Maccabean period.

אפשר לומר לעולם דוד הע"ה לא אמר פסוק זה של חנוכת הבית, אלא גם הוא התחיל מן ארוממך, ופסוק זה בזמן בית שני כשעשה הקב"ה להם נסים וניצולו וחנכו הבית והמזבח מחדש הוסיפו על מזמור זה פסוק זה מפני שראו דכל דברי המזמור שייכים גם לעניינם.

He adds that this notion should not trouble anyone, as we know that according to one opinion in the Talmud the last eight verses of the Torah were added by Joshua, and he also notes that there were a couple of verses in the book of Joshua that were added after Joshua’s death. In other words, minor additions to abook after the death of the author are not religiously problematic.

Nevertheless, R. Meir Mazuz is indeed troubled by what R. Joseph Hayyim wrote.[9] He claims that the verses added to biblical books noted by R. Joseph Hayyim were added by prophets.[10] Yet in the case of Psalm 30, R. Joseph Hayyim is suggesting that an addition took place during Second Temple times after prophecy had already ceased and there was no longer the institution of anshei keneset ha-gedolah. According to R. Mazuz this is indeed religiously problematic. One can reply to R. Mazuz that while prophecy might have ceased, ruah ha-kodesh did not,[11] and therefore it was permissible for verses to be added to the book of Psalms even in the Maccabean period. After all, a standard view among rishonim is that the book of Psalms is not the product of prophecy but of ruah ha-kodesh.[12]

R. Mazuz adds a second reason why he cannot accept what R. Joseph Hayyim writes. He claims that R. Joseph Hayyim's position will give support to the modern biblical scholars who believe that verses in the book of Daniel were added in the Maccabean period, a position he also finds religiously objectionable. I don’t understand this objection as the modern biblical scholars do not need, and do not look for, support from traditional commentators. They are completely oblivious to what rabbis like R. Joseph Hayyim have to say on these matters, and have no reason to cite his view as a support for their own position.

R. Moses Isaac Ashkenazi discusses the authorship of Psalms in the introduction to his Ho'il Moshe on Tehillim (Livorno, 1880). Although he has his doubts, he says that one who assumes that Psalm 44 was composed during the Maccabean period "has what to rely on."

So much for Maccabean psalms, but what about post-Davidic psalms in general? R. Ashkenazi identifies Psalms 79 and 137 as having been written during the Babylonian Exile. He also thinks that Psalms 126 and 129 might have been written then. He is led to his view because he can find no evidence that David was a prophet. While David had ruah ha-kodesh, it is only prophecy that reveals future events, and thus the psalms that reflect a post-First Temple era must indeed have been written centuries after David.

ואין להניח שמזמורים כאלה נכתבו בנבואה, שלא מצאנו בשום מקום שדוד היה נביא ה', כלומר שה' דבר עמו כמו שדבר עם שלמה בנו רק שלח אליו נביאיו נתן וגד, אולי מפני ששפך דם הרבה, רק רוח ה' לבשתהו תמיד כשבא לחבר מזמוריו

As with R. Ashkenazi, his predecessor R. Eleazar ben Samuel Shmelke claims that Psalms 79 and 137 were composed after the destruction of the First Temple. He states that this was also Ibn Ezra’s opinion.[13] In Ibn Ezra’s introduction to Tehillim (which is not found in all mikraot gedolot editions) Ibn Ezra states that “others” held that Psalm 137 and a number of other psalms were written during the Babylonian Exile, yet he does not signal his acceptance of this view. 

One of those Ibn Ezra had in mind who held that some psalms were written during the Babylonian Exile was R. Moses Ibn Gikatilla.[14] R. Raphael Berdugo also states that a number of psalms, including Psalm 137, were composed during the Babylonian Exile.[15]

In addition, Malbim, introduction to Tehillim, states that some Psalms were written during the Exile:

התפלות אשר יסדו בגלות בבל על שרפת המקדש ועל הגלות, עד שוב ה' את שיבת ציון בימי כורש.

He refers in particular to Psalm 137 and also Psalm 85. After saying this, however, he has a footnote in which he states that what he just mentioned is only on the level of peshat, but that he really believes that these psalms were written prophetically in the days of David. I ask readers to examine the text and footnote, and tell me, does anyone think that Malbim is being frank in his comments in the note?

It appears to me that what he writes in the note does not reflect his actual view, which is indeed found in the text. The note is only apologetic, and designed to protect him from being attacked by those who would see his approach as heretical. He would therefore be able to say, “But look at what I wrote in the note.” 

According to Rashbam, Commentary to Pesahim 117a s.v. Yehoshua, R. Yose ha-Gelili was of the opinion that the Hallel in Psalms (Ps. 113-118) originated with Mordechai and Esther, i.e., in the Persian period.[16] 

In Rashbam’s commentary to Tehillim (which we can expect ArtScroll to censor if it ever publishes it), he points to psalms which were composed during the Babylonian Exile and also states that other psalms were written after Ezra’s return to Jerusalem. For example, Psalm 122:3 states: “Our feet are standing within thy gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem, that art builded as a city that is compact together.” According to Rashbam, these references to Jerusalem must date from after the return from exile.[17]

2. Here is a provocative passage quoted in the name of the hasidic master R. Uri of Strelisk (1757-1826).[18] Would any hasidic leader speak this way today?

והרה"ק מסטרעטן זצ"ל אמר משמו עה"פ שומר נפשות חסידיו מיד רשעים יצילם, שאמר: לפני ביאת המשיח יהיו רבי"ס רשעים גמורים ר"ל, אבל הן החסידים הם בתמימותם סוברים שרבם הוא עובד ה' ולכן נוסעים אליו, לזאת התפלל דהמע"ה שומר נפשות חסידיו כי השי"ת ישמור את החסידים ומיד רשעים יצילם שלא שלא יכשלו ח"ו ברבי"ס כאלו

His comment was only applicable to the phony rebbes. But for an authentic rebbe it is worth travelling great distances and missing out on Torah and tefillah just to hear one bit of wisdom.[19]

אמר שיש ליסע לצדיק אמת אפילו אלפיים פרסאות ולבטל בהליכתו ובחזירתו מתורה ותפלה והכל כדי דיבור אחד של אמת אשר ישמע מפי צדיק אמת

3. Every year there is discussion about the moment of silence in Israel in memory of the soldiers and Holocaust victims, and we always hear about how this is not a Jewish thing to do. Here is a page from R. Ovadyah Hadaya’s Yaskil Avdi, vol. 6, p. 300 (hashmatot Yoreh Deah 2:2).

He regards the moment of silence as entirely appropriate, seeing it as similar to the silence in a house of mourning which shows acceptance of God’s decree.

See also my post here where I wrote that in November 1965 R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg gave a hesped for four recently deceased rabbis, among them R. Yerucham Warhaftig and R. Eliezer Yehudah Finkel. These latter two were good friends of R. Weinberg, and R. Weinberg’s friendship with R. Finkel went back to their youth. After the eulogy R. Weinberg asked everyone in the room to stand up. They stood silently for around ten seconds and then he asked them to sit down.

In this post I wrote: “I presume this was intended as a show of respect rather than as a moment of silence, since the latter could be done sitting down.” I now think that my statement is probably incorrect, because a moment of silence is also intended as a show of respect, i.e., the two are not in contradiction. In thinking of the story now, it appears that R. Weinberg’s request to stand in silence is really no different than what takes place in Israel.

4. A haredi biography on R. Isaac Blazer has recently appeared. Here is its title page.

Needless to say, R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg is quoted a good deal in the book. Here is page 410 which contains a picture of R. Weinberg.

The book does not mention that this picture first appeared on the Seforim Blog; see my post here.

In the quotations from R. Weinberg, the book has no problem making “improvements”. For example, R. Weinberg sometimes refers to R. Isaac Blazer as רי"ב, and the new book has altered this to הגרי"ב. R. Weinberg certainly regarded R. Blazer as a gaon, and he sometimes does refer to him as הגרי"ב. However, he did not feel that it was necessary to always refer to R. Blazer this way. The author of the book therefore decided to “correct” what R. Weinberg wrote. I guess this author (who is unnamed) did not think that R. Weinberg showed proper kavod to R. Blazer, which itself is a crazy thought.

Speaking of R. Weinberg and kavod, I think readers will find the following interesting. R. Weinberg stated: “We are all human. I too like kavod. I try not to chase after it, but if it is put on my plate, I will take it.”[20] How many other great rabbis would be honest enough to admit that they are not at the level of the Hafetz Hayyim and R. Elijah David Rabinowitz-Teomim,[21] and that they too like kavod? What R. Weinberg was saying is that this is normal and nothing to be ashamed of, and that for “mere mortals” what is important is not to chase after kavod.

5. In my post here. I discussed Haym Soloveitchik's newly published volume 2 of his collected essays. I neglected to mention that on pp. 285-287 he deals with R. Yitzchak Grossman's criticism of one of his essays, criticism that appeared on the Seforim Blog here here. Soloveitchik shows his scholarly honesty in that he is prepared to acknowledge that in two of his criticisms Grossman is correct. He also responds to another criticism of Grossman, and I ask people to read what Soloveitchik says very carefully. It was precisely this sort of interpretation, now standard in the academy, that R. Samson Raphael Hirsch was so opposed to. You can be sure that if these words were stated by R. Dov Linzer or R. Ysoscher Katz, that a certain author, on a certain website, would go after them for "undermining the mesorah".
Ben sorer u-moreh, according to the setam mishnah, nidon al shem sofo. This runs contrary to every principle in Jewish law and, indeed, in most Gentile law. People are executed for crimes that they have committed, not for crimes that they might commitpreventive detention for the criminally inclined perhaps, but preventive execution?! If I find tanna'im attempting to make the implementation of this law impossible, does it strain the imagination to think that they did so because it contradicts their elementary sense of right and wrong? I, for one, think not. 
Rabbi Grossman argues that we find a similar ruling about nig'ei battim and there is no ethical problem in this realm. Indeed, there isn't; however, no one claimed that all instances of "never was and never will be" (lo hayah ve-lo nivra) are a result of ethical issues. Only those in which we find this type of problem, such as ben sorer u-moreh and, to add to the roster, the "apostate city" (ir ha-niddahat) as R. Eliezer Berkovits has contended (as noted by R. Grossman). . . . An exegesis that makes execution of a law more difficult may be simply a matter of interpretation; an exegesis that makes execution impossible has that in mind to begin with. One plausible reason that one might have sought to render a Divine directive inoperable is that such a dictate appeared inconceivable for a just God.

6. I want to call readers attention to the recently published Kovetz ha-Mashbir, vol. 1, edited by Yissachar Dov Hoffman and Ovadyah Hoffman. This volume is devoted to the writings and teachings of R. Ovadiah Yosef and is full of valuable articles. It can be purchased at Biegeleisen.

[1] Jewish Studies Quarterly 20 (2013), pp. 340-373.
[2] The point about Second-Isaiah has recently been made by R. Amnon Bazak, Ad ha-Yom ha-Zeh: She’elot Yesod be-Limud Tanakh (Tel Aviv, 2013), pp. 161-172. There is a good deal that can be said about this book, which deals with a number of themes we have discussed in previous posts. See e.g., p. 274 n. 60, which accepts the notion that sometimes the numbers given in the prophetic books are only symbolic and don’t reflect historical reality.
[3] Quoted in Isaac Barzilay, Shlomo Yehudah Rapoport (Shir), 1790-1867, and his Contemporaries ([Israel], 1969), p. 54.
[4] See Fritz Gumpertz’s recollections in Jacob J. Schacter, ed., “Reminiscences of Shlomo Barukh Rabinkow,” in Leo Jung, ed., Sages and Saints (Hoboken, N.J., 1987), p. 110. Gumpertz, ibid., also notes that Jacob Barth dated a number of psalms to the Second Temple period.
[5] Parashat Noah, p. 13a in the Venice, 1522 edition, and p. 13a in the Warsaw 1879, edition.
[6] Tehillim: Be’er Avraham (Warsaw, 1887), Psalm 30:1.
[7] Tzror Hamor, vol. 1 (Jerusalem, 2008), p. 156.
[8] Rav Pealim, vol. 3, Orah Hayyim no. 5.
[9] See his Emet Keneh on Psalm 30:1 (p. 513), and his recently published Asaf ha-Mazkir (Bnei Brak, 2014), p. 283. (My thanks to Dov Weinstein for kindly sending me a copy of Asaf ha-Mazkir.)
[10] I have discussed the matter of later prophets adding material to the Torah and other biblical books in a number of posts. This is the phenomenon of multiple authors for one book. What do readers make of the following example, which appears to be an example of attributing one verse to more than one prophet? The Av ha-Rahamim prayer states ועל ידי עבדיך הנביאים כתוב לאמור (“your servants the prophets) and then proceeds to only cite a verse from the book of Joel. Does this make any sense? Jacob Reifman did not think so and he actually found a manuscript that had עבדך הנביא. He claimed that  this must be the authentic text and the one that printers should now use when they publish siddurim. See Ha-Magid, Jan. 23, 1861, pp. 14-15, Feb. 12, 1862, p. 55. Yet we also find in the liturgy for a ta’anit dibur that the words עבדיך הנביאים are used and this is followed by three verses from the book of Micah ch. 7. In other words, הנביאים is again used with regard to only one prophet. See this page from Seder ha-Selihot ha-Shalem Ateret Paz, p. 103 (second pagination).

When the phrase עבדיך הנביאים כתוב לאמר is used in the mussaf of Rosh ha-Shanah, in both the silent amidah and the repetition (two times in each), it is followed by citations from different biblical books.
[11] Although Yoma 9b (and parallels) states that ruah ha-kodesh ceased after the days of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, it was always assumed that there were exceptions to this general statement (and some believed that when the Talmud stated “ruah ha-kodesh” it actually meant real nevuah). Also, the Talmud itself, ibid., states that even without ruah ha-kodesh people still had access to a “bat kol”. See R. Reuven Margaliyot’s introduction to his edition of She’elot u-Teshuvot min ha-Shamayim, pp. 25ff. See also R. Meir Ibn Gabai, Avodat ha-Kodesh, vol. 4, ch. 24; R. Isaac Sternhell, Kokhvei Yitzhak, vol. 2, p. 186; R. Aaron Maged, Beit Aharon, vol. 11, pp. 704-705. R. Joseph Engel, Gilyonei ha-Shas, Yerushalmi Shevi’it, 9:1, writes: צ"ל דתרי גווני רוח הקודש הם
[12] See Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed 2:45, R. David Kimhi, introduction to his commentary on Psalms, Ritva, commentary to Rosh ha-Shanah 32a (col. 296 in the Mossad ha-Rav Kook edition) commentary to Moed Katan 16b, R. David Abudarham, Abudarham ha-Shalem (Jerusalem, 1963), p. 272. See also Meiri’s introduction to his commentary on Psalms, p. 9:

זהו דעת הקדומים בענין דוד המלך ע"ה ר"ל שלא להיות בכלל הנביאים [אבל] ברוח הקדש

[13] Ma’aseh Rokeah (Amsterdam, 1730), p. 65a. See his Ma’aseh Rokeah al ha-Torah (n.p., n.d.), parashat Va-Yehi, where he does not attribute this view to Ibn Ezra. See also Aharon Marcus, Barzilai (Jerusalem, 1983), pp. 271-272.
[14] See Uriel Simon, Four Approaches to the Book of Psalms, trans. Lenn. J. Schramm (Albany, 1991), pp. viii, ix, 120-121, 130ff.
[15] See Mesamhei Lev (Jerusalem, 1990), pp. 141, 222 (both of these page numbers are from the second pagination).
[16] See Yisrael Moshe Ta-Shma, Keneset Mehkarim (Jerusalem, 2004), vol. 1, pp. 286-287.   
[17] See the selections of the commentary printed in Aharon Mondshine, “Al Gilui ha-Perush ha-‘Avud’ shel Rashbam le-Sefer Tehillim,” Tarbiz 79 (2010-2011), pp. 130, 133.
[18] Imrei Kadosh ha-Shalem (Jerusalem, 1961), Or Olam, no. 11.
[19] Imrei Kadosh ha-Shalem, no. 42. Regarding phony rebbes, see R. Pinhas Miller, Olamo shel Abba (Jerusalem, 1984), p. 245, regarding a rebbe in Bucharest who drank non-kosher wine.
[20] Hidushei Ba’al Seridei Esh (Jerusalem, 2012), vol. 3, p. 28 n. 21.
[21] See R. Kook, Eder ha-Yekar, p. 64.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

More on R. Kook’s Recently Published Writings

More on R. Kook’s Recently Published Writings
by Marc B. Shapiro

In my post here here I mentioned that R. Kook argued that there is good reason to observe mitzvot even if one does not have a traditional view of the Torah’s authorship. On the one hand, there is nothing surprising in this. After all, would anyone tell a non-Orthodox Jew that it is OK if he eats on Yom Kippur?[1] R. Kook’s originality is therefore not seen in the bottom line, but in the argument he uses.[2] He notes that Maimonides and other medieval greats used arguments that they themselves did not accept in order to make religious points. For example, Maimonides used an argument that assumed the eternity of matter in order to prove the existence of God.[3] This was valuable in that those who accepted the former point would also be forced to acknowledge the latter point, i.e., God’s existence. Only then could he attempt to weaken the belief in eternity. Similarly, R. Kook is prepared to argue for the binding nature of Torah law even on the assumption that it was not given to Moses. This is valuable since, in his day at least, it was the acceptance of biblical criticism that encouraged people to give up the observance of mitzvot. If R. Kook can therefore show that even an acceptance of biblical criticism does not mean that there is no place for mitzvot, it will be a great achievement.[4]

R. Kook notes that traditional Jews observe rabbinic laws and even customs. His point is that these are regarded as valuable and help form the religious personality Yet no one believes that they were given to Moses by God. Why, then, should believers in biblical criticism not feel bound to other laws, which while traditionally seen as from Sinai, can also be regarded as rabbinic or even as customs (“folkways” in Mordecai Kaplan’s language). In other words, the mitzvot should be seen as having value regardless of their origin.

I have to say, however, that the weakness in R. Kook’s argument should be apparent. For those who accept the entire system, it makes sense that on top of the divinely revealed Torah laws, that rabbinic laws and customs are also added. But if one rejects the basis of Torah law, then the other two components simply fall away.

R. Kook picks up with his theme in a later passage.[5] Before dealing with the matter of biblical criticism, he briefly discusses the so-called dispute between science and Torah that caused so much difficulty in his day. In a passage that is very similar to one that appears in his letter to Moshe Seidel,[6] R. Kook explains that the Torah makes use of the “science” of its day, and writes about such matters in a simple and understandable fashion. The Torah makes no attempt at scientific accuracy (which would not have been understandable in earlier days). As R. Uri Sharki, a follower of R. Kook, puts it, the creation story (which contains great secrets) is presented in the language of myth בסגנון המיתי.[7] Most people today who have examined the matter accept this approach, but since the average person does not understand what myth is (seeing it as synonymous with fairy tale or legend), you don’t have a typical Orthodox rabbi using this language in his sermon on parashat Bereshit.

I have discussed this matter in detail in an earlier post here so there is no need to repeat what I have already said. Let me only add that the use of the term “science” in this context is not really accurate. What R. Kook is discussing is the early history of the universe, knowledge of which we have arrived at by means of science. R. Kook is saying that we should not treat the Torah’s descriptions as “history”, as that is not the Torah’s purpose. As I have pointed out in the post mentioned above, I believe that R. Kook’s approach was not only intended to answer problems dealing with the first chapters of Genesis but with any problems that might arise between what historians conclude and what appears to be the peshat in the Torah, e.g., the lifespans recorded in Scripture, the description of the Flood, and the huge number of people who took part in the Exodus, to mention just a few that are often discussed.[8]

Following this matter, R. Kook returns to the issue of Torah mi-Sinai. He states that even if one believes that the Torah was written after Moses or that the text has been corrupted, this does not affect his obligation to observe the mitzvot, since the acceptance of the Torah was dependent on its acceptance by the nation. Therefore, an individual cannot remove himself from this group. This is no different than a host of other matters where we say that an individual cannot choose a separate path from that which was decided by the group.[9]

Regarding the revelation of the Torah, it is important to also cite R. Kook’s words in Shemonah Kevatzim 1:633, about which an entire post could be written. I ask readers to focus carefully on the implications of what he says.

There is denial that is like an affirmation of faith, and an affirmation of faith akin to denial. A person can affirm the doctrine of the Torah coming from “heaven”, but with the meaning of “heaven” so strange that nothing of true faith remains. And a person can deny Torah coming from “heaven” where the denial is based on what the person has absorbed of the meaning of “heaven” from people full of ludicrous thoughts. Such a person believes that the Torah comes from a source higher than that! . . . Although that person may not have reached the point of truth, nonetheless this denial is to be considered akin to an affirmation of faith. . . . “Torah from Heaven” is but an example for all affirmations of faith, regarding the relationship between their expression in language and their inner essence, the latter being the main desideratum of faith.[10]

Since we are speaking about R. Kook, let me also call attention to a few more significant passages in the newly published Li-Nevokhei ha-Dor. I previously referred to this text which a few years ago was somehow illegally placed online. In 2014 R. Shahar Rahmani published the work with notes, and it is to this edition that everyone should now refer. In studying Li-Nevokhei ha-Dor, readers should remember that it was written before R. Kook came to the Land of Israel.

In chapter 13 R. Kook acknowledges that in a future era, when we will have a Sanhedrin, there will be a need for new derashot in halakhah, which will respond to the then current circumstances, something we at present cannot do. In this future era people will no longer be able to complain, as they do now, that the rabbinic obligations are not suitable for the current time. This is an acknowledgment that there are indeed aspects of rabbinic law that should, and will, be changed. But R. Kook falls back on the procedural problem of doing this prematurely, before the mechanism to do so exists (i.e., the Sanhedrin).

I have no reason to assume that R. Kook is speaking about the messianic era, since he does not mention this, instead writing about the “far off future”. Had he intended the messianic era, he would have said so. What this means is that when the Jews are once again dwelling in their land there is a possibility for the revival of a living halakhah, by means of a Sanhedrin which would create derashot. See, e.g., these two sentences, where he responds to suggestions by those living in Europe to alter halakhah. He insists that no changes in halakhah can take place at present, but it is significant that he does not mention the messianic era (and note the positive way he describes the רגש of the advocates of halakhic change). In other words, while haredim push off all such talk to the messianic era, R. Kook is not bound by such conservatism and could imagine halakhic change via a Sanhedrin in the pre-messianic era as well.

אבל הרוצה לדחוק את הקץ, ולהתנהג בדרישות שאנו חייבים ויכולים לקיימן רק בהיותינו בבית חיינו, גם לעת פזורינו ודלדולינו, ופורץ גדר של המרכז הלאומי הנשגב, התלמוד וחתימתו, בשביל קורת רוח של חיי שעה ודרישת אסתתיקא זמנית, הוא מחליף עולם קיים בעולם עובר בכלל האומה ומביא אנדרולומוסיא לעולם

ידעתי אמנם שהדעה הנשאה הזאת תוכל להיות למפגע לקלי דעת החפצים לדחוק את הקץ ורודפים את העתיד הרחוק בלא זמנו, אלה הם השועלים המחבלים, שאף שהרגשתם היא הרגשה רוממה ונעלה, אבל רוחם אינו רוח שוקט הראוי לכל איש ישר היודע את אשר לפניו

The future Sanhedrin will be able not only to overturn talmudic halakhot, but it will also be able uproot Torah laws if it finds it necessary. R. Kook further tells us that if the Sanhedrin is able to change our understanding of a biblical law by means of a derashah, it is not even to be regarded as an “uprooting.” It is by means of derashot that the Sanhedrin would be able to permanently alter the way of Torah observance. Consider for example the matter of women not being accepted as witnesses for certain matters. Rather than using apologetics to explain this to contemporary women, R. Kook’s approach allows people to say that indeed, this can be changed by a future Sanhedrin by means of a new derashah, but that today there can be no change since we do not have the mechanism to do so. The matter is thus turned into a technical problem rather than an ideological one.[11]

R. Kook also elaborates on the idea that the closing of the Talmud was a historical phenomenon brought on by the difficulties of the galut. But the Jewish people only accepted such a closure until the time that they returned to their land and the nation was once again rejuvenated.

Chapter 13 of Li-Nevokhei ha-Dor can stand alone as an essay. It is a very important statement of how R. Kook understood Jewish law, and I hope someone will translate it into English. I think what R. Kook was talking about is the same thing later advocated by R. Eliezer Berkovits, although I am not claiming that R. Kook would have supported Berkovits’ ideas as practical in our time. However, the concept that Berkovits was speaking about, of an Eretz Yisrael halakhah, is exactly what R. Kook had in mind.[12]

If this wasn’t enough, R. Kook has more to say in chapter 13. He discusses how the great stress on Talmud study in recent centuries has brought much that is positive to the Jewish people. However, he also notes the downside of this single-minded focus on Talmud study, a criticism that (for those who accept it) would be even more applicable in our day. He says that this focus on Talmud study has led to a weakness of the body for many students, a point already known from Orot. He also states that the Talmud-only curriculum has led people to be unaware of those secular studies that are indeed essential.[13]

חסרון המדעים הנחוצים לאדם באשר הוא אדם

Most interesting, however, is the additional problem R. Kook sees with the exclusive focus on Talmud study. He says that it has led to ethical problems, problems that arise when people spend their time focused only on halakhic details without seeing the broader picture, that of the heart which cannot be encompassed in halakhic details but only in a broad ethical vision.

וגם חסרונות מוסריים שבאו לרגלי התיחדות העסק השכלי רק בפרטי ודקדוקי הלכות מאין שם לב לרגשי לב והגיוני מוסר כלליים

R. Kook is quick to point out that it is not the study of Talmud per se that is responsible for the problem he mentions, but rather the single-minded focus on Talmud to the exclusion of all else, meaning that there is no room for secular studies, physical exercise, and exposure to the larger ethical teachings of the Torah.

אמנם כל המגרעות האלה לא באו לנו מצד השקידה על למוד התלמוד וקיומו, כי אם מצד ההפרזה הקיצונית על שלא הנחנו מקום לחלקי החינוך האחרים להכשרת החכמות והמדעים, לחוזק הגוף, להרחבת הדעה וההגיון המוסרי שבתורה, שעל זה כבר צוחו גם כן גדולי הדורות, ומקוצר רוח לא היה להם שומע

For good measure R. Kook adds that extremism, be it in actions or beliefs, is always bad for us.

והנטיה הקיצונית היא לעולם מכאבת בנו כל חלקה טובה, הקיצוניות בחינוך ובמעשים וכמו כן הקיצוניות בדעות

I will continue with more from Li-Nevokhei ha-Dor in future posts, but for now I would like to add one more comment about R. Kook. At least one reader is upset that I haven’t focused on R. Kook’s halakhic and talmudic writings, as he thinks that this is the main aspect of R. Kook, while his philosophical writings were only done on the side, as it were. This exact same point has been made with regard to R. Soloveitchik. That is, people have criticized certain academics for portraying the Rav as primarily a philosopher for whom his talmudic studies were a secondary element. In this case the criticism is certainly correct, as when it came to the Rav his talmudic studies were the main focus and it was his philosophical writings that were secondary.

Yet this is not the case when it comes to R. Kook. It is true that he was a great posek, however this was not where his heart was. In his inner essence he was a thinker and kabbalist, not a talmudist or halakhist. This is not just my own speculation. R. Kook himself said as much to both R. Reuven Margaliyot and R. Moshe Zvi Neriyah. Here is what he told R. Neriyah:[14]

שעה שחפץ היה הפילוסוף קנט להנפש מקצת ממחקריו הפילוסיפיים, עסק בגיאוגרפיה. וכך היה אומר: "מחמת שאני איש האבסטרקים, חש אני הרגשת-נופש וחילוף כחות כשאני מעיין בדברים מוצקים כגון: הר, נחל, עיר כפר וכדומה," אף אני כך – ציין הרב – הרי אני מטבעי איש המחשבה והרגש, אולם בבואי להנפש, אני עוסק בהלכה ואני חש שרגלי עומדות על קרקע מוצק.

R. Kook told R. Margaliyot the same thing:[15]

מטבעי "בעל מחשבות" אנכי ושורש נשמתי היא "המחשבה", וכשאני זקוק למנוחה והחלפת כוח הנני מתעסק בהלכה.

See also my post here where I discuss R. Kook’s belief that the nitty-gritty of halakhic study can have a negative effect on great people’s spiritual life. 

All that I have just mentioned is far removed from R. Soloveitchik’s understanding of the role of halakhic study and its place in his own spiritual personality.[16]

Based on what I have cited, we can also reject what Hillel Goldberg has written in a generally very positive review of Yehudah Mirsky’s new book on R. Kook.

R. Kook’s status as a major halakhic decisor was not just something added onto an already impressive resume. It was not just one more remarkable thing he did. It was of his essence. And the elevation and illumination it entailed were of a piece with, perhaps even a spur to – certainly not in opposition to – the strivings of his soul.[17]

These are very nice words by Goldberg, but the problem is that they are contradicted by none other than R. Kook himself who denies that halakhic study is “of his essence” and confesses that halakhic study was at times indeed in opposition to “the strivings of his soul.”

In previous posts I have quoted all sorts of amazing passages from R. Kook, and here is another one. It appears in Shemonah Kevatzim 2:34.

At the beginning of the passage R. Kook refers to those special tzaddikim who do not need to learn Torah or pray on a regular basis. (When he speaks of learning Torah he is referring to traditional talmudic learning.) That there are some individuals who are so close to God that they don’t need to learn is not that surprising, as one can find the idea in certain hasidic texts that learning Talmud removes one from devekut with God. Some hasidic texts also state that the tzaddik does not need to heed the proper times of prayer, as he is above time. Yet I don’t know if there are any hasidic texts that go as far as R. Kook in assuming that that since the tzaddik is so closely connected to God that he can go for weeks without praying. I assume all this was only theoretical for R. Kook. I stress this since when one studies the totality of his writings it is obvious that R. Kook includes himself among the special tzaddikim he speaks of.

Now look at how this passage appears in Arpilei Tohar,[18] p. 16. 

The words לפי מדרגתם have been added to the original. This entirely alters the passage’s meaning, turning it on its head. R. Kook is now saying that there are tzaddikim who only rarely need to learn or pray at their special level (meaning that on a daily basis they learn and pray at a lower level, like everyone else). This alteration completely removes the antinomian sense of the passage, since one reading Arpilei Tohar will have no way of knowing that in the original text R. Kook’s point was that the tzaddikim only rarely need to learn or pray at all.

There has been a great deal of discussion about the changes made in Arpilei Tohar, and how they subverted R. Kook’s original intent. In this example, however, it was R. Kook himself who made the change,[19] obviously because he regarded his initial formulation as too provocative to appear in print.

Returning to the matter of Torah mi-Sinai, I was recently asked the following question. In Genesis 46:23 it says ובני דן חושים. “And the sons of Dan: Hushim.”[20] Many commentators discuss why it says “the sons” and not “the son”, since only one son is mentioned.[21] We find the same issue in 1 Chronicles 2:7-8 where it states ובני כרמי and ובני איתן but in each case only one son is listed. The Malbim wrote a commentary on Chronicles entitled Yemei Kedem. In this commentary, ibid., he explains that Carmi and Eitan had more sons, but Ezra, the author of Chronicles, was simply copying this information from an earlier source and only gave the name of the son that was important for his purposes. However, he kept the earlier part of the sentence, which mentions “sons”, and in the original source from which he was quoting other sons’ names also appeared.

Say what you will about this explanation, there is nothing radical in it. However, following this the Malbim says that the phenomenon he just described also explains the verse in Gen. 46:23: ובני דן חושים as well as the verse in Num. 26:8: ובני פלוא אליאב. That is, there were other sons but “he” only included the names that were important for his purpose.[22]

The questioner wondered, who is the “he” that the Malbim is referring to? Is it possible that he has Ezra in mind? I find this most unlikely, as everything that I know about the Malbim argues against the notion that he could have thought that Ezra had a role in the writing of the Torah. This leads me to assume that when the Malbim writes ולא חשיב רק הצריך לו לענינו that he is referring to Moses, and saying that just like Ezra only included the information that he needed, so too Moses chose to leave off the additional names since it wasn’t important for the story he was telling. This preserves complete Mosaic authorship, which I believe the Malbim genuinely affirmed (i.e., I don’t think he is hinting to a more radical view here). 

Some will still see the Malbim’s explanation as problematic in that it assumes that Moses independently made choices about what to include in the Torah. But in truth, even from a traditional perspective this is not problematic, and no different from the many other sources that speak of Moses formulating passages in the Torah on his own. As I pointed out in Limits, p. 113, the traditional view has always been that God’s imprimatur, as it were, was later given to those words originally stated by Moses on his own. So too the Malbim would say that while Moses originally chose what to include here, when the Torah was later given to the Children of Israel this was done at God’s direction, and this is what sanctified the text. So there is really nothing radical about what the Malbim is saying.[23]

Regarding the Malbim, R. Mordechai E. Feuerstein shares the following from R. Soloveitchik.[24]

He told me about the Malbim, the great Torah commentator, who in 1834 paid a visit to the Chasam Sofer in Pressburg. The Malbim was a younger person, about twenty-five years old at that time, while the Chasam Sofer was at the zenith of his career, one of the greatest rabbanim of the 19th century and of the whole period of the Acharonim. The Chasam Sofer accorded much honor to the Malbim, seating him on his right side at the Shabbos table, enabling them to speak together at greater length.

Apparently, after the Shabbos-day meal, the Malbim was so engrossed in what he had heard from the Chasam Sofer that he wandered back to the shul, lost in thought. It was quite dark inside the empty shul, and the Malbim found a place to stand near what seemed to be a wall, and remained there in profound contemplation.

Later when the congregants began returning to shul for Mincha, they were stunned to see the Malbim standing near the aron, still deep in thought, right in the makom kavua of the Chasam Sofer! An angry murmur swept through the crowd; people were about to step forward to rebuke the Malbim when the Chasam Sofer walked in. Quickly sizing up the situation, he stopped them and said: Zol ehr blaiben shtayn (“Let him remain standing there”). The Malbim awoke from his trance and, horror-struck to discover that he had inadvertently been standing in the Chasam Sofer’s place, offered the Chasam Sofer profuse apologies, which were accepted.

For the rest of his life, the Rov told me, the Malbim used to sequester himself in a room for a period of time, right after Shabbos Mincha. Afterwards, he would emerge red-eyed from weeping. With the passage of years, he gradually came to interpret the Chasam Sofer’s words, Zol ehr blaiben shtayn as a punitive decree: Let him remain standing where he is now—his qualitative advance in Torah knowledge is over. Where he is now is where he will stay. The Malbim sensed that the divine gift of creative inspiration which he had experienced before his inadvertent slight to the honor of the Chasam Sofer, had been irrevocably taken away.

R. Hershel Schachter, Nefesh ha-Rav, pp. 251-252, also tells the story, as he heard it from R. Soloveitchik, and in his version there are some differences. To begin with, he records that the Malbim came to Pressburg to request a haskamah on his halakhic work Artzot ha-Hayyim, which the Hatam Sofer provided. According to R. Schachter’s version, the mistake happened not when the Malbim returned to the synagogue before minhah, but when he returned for maariv. Furthermore, the Malbim was not standing in the Hatam Sofer’s place, but actually sat in his seat. As he explains, this was an understandable mistake as it was dark and throughout Shabbat he has been sitting in the seat next to that of the Hatam Sofer. When one of the laypeople tried to point out to the Malbim that he was in the Hatam Sofer’s seat, the latter was so involved in his learning that he did not even realize that someone was speaking to him. It was then that the Hatam Sofer said to leave him be. From that time on the Malbim’s main area of hiddush was in the study of Tanakh but not in halakhah[25]:

וכאילו לשונו של הח"ס שאמר לו "שישאר שמה" היה מוסבת על דרגת הלימוד שלו, שלא יעלה עוד הלאה בהלכה

* * * *

I was hoping to discuss the recent political developments that revolve around R. Meir Mazuz, but I see that the post is already quite long as it is. I will therefore postpone this discussion until a future post.

[1] R. Elhanan Wasserman suggests that it makes no difference if a non-believer fulfills a mitzvah since he does not believe in the concept of mitzvot. See R. Elhanan’s Kovetz Ma’amarim ve-Iggerot (Jerusalem, 2000), vol. 1, p. 96. However, this does not mean that R. Elhanan would actually tell a non-believer that he can violate the Torah, and I am certain that he would encourage him to fulfill mitzvot, as a means of kiruv.
[2] See Kevatzim mi-Ketav Yad Kodsho, pp. 125-12.6
[3] See his addition to the Fourth Principle, found in the Kafih edition of Perush ha-Mishnah, Sanhedrin, introduction to ch. 10 (p. 142), Guide 1:71.
[4] In Yehudah Mirsky’s fantastic new book (which deserves all the accolades it has received), Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution (New Haven, 2014), p. 38, he writes: “He [R. Kook] suggests that one may accept the findings of biblical criticism and still keep faith with tradition.” This sentence is poorly formulated as it implies that R. Kook thought that biblical criticism was acceptable. Yet this is not true, as all R. Kook was saying is that even if one unfortunately does accept the falsehoods of biblical criticism, this does not mean that he should then discard Torah observance.
[5] Kevatzim mi-Ketav Yad Kodsho, p. 133.
[6] See Iggerot ha-Re’iyah, vol. 2, no. 478.
[7] See here. R. Chaim Navon apparently approves of Cassutto’s contention that the Torah incorporates pagan mythological conceptions, such as the taninim referred to in Genesis 1:21. See Navon, “The Torah and Ancient Near Eastern Culture,” available here.
[8] Regarding non-historical understandings of the Torah, let me call attention to an unpublished medieval work, falsely attributed to Ramban, entitled Zekhut Adam ha-Rishon. A selection of it is published in Adolf Jellinek’s edition of Ramban’s Torat ha-Shem Temimah (Leipzig, 1853), pp. 39-40. (This text I print below is not included in the second edition of Torat ha-Shem Temimah that Jellinek published in Vienna in 1873.)

I have not seen any discussion of Zekhut Adam ha-Rishon among modern scholars. This work advocates taking the narrative sections of the Torah literally, including the Cain and Abel episode. However, when סברא האנושית הישרה tells us that the text is not to be taken literally, then it is time to offer a non-literal interpretation, for the Torah does not require us to believe things that are impossible or מהתלות which I would translate as  “absurdities”:

חובה עלינו שנבין ונקבל כל תרי"ג מצות על פשוטיהם כמו שעשו אבותינו כאמרו כל אשר דבר ה' נעשה, לכן כל הנביאים כולם היו שומרים מצות התורה ועושים אותן לפי דרך המצווה, הם עשיית הפסח בימי חזקיהו וככה בימי עזרא, ועל כולם היו מזהירים באמרו זכרו תורת משה עבדי ובזה אין חולק ואין מדחה חלילה, אבל הספורים הרומזים או הנבואיים אשר אין מצוה תלויה בהם דין אחר, וזה כי אם סברא האנושית הישרה לא תבגוד [צ"ל תנגוד] ותקביל לספור ההוא אין ראוי לנו שנתן לו ציון וחקוי דמוי או המשל אבל ראוי שנבינהו על פשוטו כמדרגת ספור עניני האבות, כמו נצחון אברהם את המלכים וספור הריגת משה רבינו ע"ה את המצרי, כי הספורים האלם [צ"ל האלה] יגידו הענינים אשר קרו בימים ההם ומה לנו לתור אחריהם חקוי ודמוי, ומזה המין הוא אצלי הפירקין והכל [צ"ל בפ' קין והבל], אבל כאשר ימצא ספור מה בתורה אשר הסברא האנושית הישרה תחלוק עליו, ותספק בו בצדדים ודרכים עיוניים אמיתיים, ראוי שנעזב הפשט מהספור ההוא ונתן לו ציור או דוגמה מה, כי לא בא התורה להכריחנו להאמין נמנעות או מהתלות חלילה, כי תורת ה' תמימה מחכימת פתי

[9] See also R. Kook, Eder ha-Yekar, pp. 38-39. Regarding Torah mi-Sinai, and how some segments of the Modern Orthodox world have begun to accept aspects of Higher Criticism, see my post here.

In that post I wrote: “In the next installment of this series I will present further evidence that in some parts of the Modern Orthodox world the old taboo against Higher Criticism has begun to fade.” I have decided to incorporate this further material into an academic article. Once this appears, I will summarize matters on the Seforim Blog. But in the meantime, let me offer the following interesting example relevant to the wider subject (called to my attention by a reader). 

Ba’al ha-Turim to Lev. 1:1 states that because Moses was so modest, he did not want to write the word ויקרא, but instead ויקר which implies happenstance. God however told him that that he should also include the aleph at the end of the word, so Moses wrote this letter smaller than the other letters. In other words, this was done independently by Moses, without being told to do so by God. (The comment of Ba’al ha-Turim in the standard Mikraot Gedolot humashim is abridged. The entire comment can be seen in R. Yaakov Koppel Reinitz’s edition [Jerusalem, 1996]).

R. Akiva Eger, Teshuvot, Mahadura Kamma, Orah Hayyim no. 75, summarizes the Ba’al ha-Turim as follows:

שמשה רבינו ברוב ענותנותו לא רצה לכתוב אלא ויקר ואמר לו הקב"ה לכתוב בא' זעירא

R. Akiva Eger summarizes Ba’al ha-Turim as saying that when Moses did not want to write the word ויקרא, God told him to write the word with a small aleph. Yet this is not what Ba’al ha-Turim says. According to Ba’al ha-Turim, Moses made this decision on his own. The abridged version of the commentary available to R. Eger reads:
ואמר לו הקב"ה לכתוב גם באל"ף וכתבה קטנה

The complete version printed by Reinitz reads

ואמר לו הקב"ה לכתוב גם האל"ף ושוב אמר לו משה מחמת רוב ענוה שלא יכתבנה אלא קטנה יותר משאר אלפי"ן שבתורה וכתבה

The person who alerted me to this assumes that this is a form of censorship, i.e., for dogmatic reasons R. Akiva Eger altered what Ba’al ha-Turim wrote. I think it is more likely that when he wrote his responsum he did not bother to check the actual words of Ba’al ha-Turim and simply misremembered, and thus unintentionally altered Ba’al ha-Turim’s explanation so that the provocative element was removed.

In the forthcoming article I will deal not merely with biblical criticism, but also with those who assume that the Torah is not necessarily teaching historical truths. One such example is R. Shlomo Riskin’s Oct. 14, 2014 devar Torah, available here After telling us that the Torah is “not interested in conveying literal and chronological facts in its story of creation,” R. Riskin writes:

Maimonides, in his Guide for the Perplexed, interprets all of the early biblical stories until the advent of Abraham as allegories, whose purpose is to convey moral lessons rather than historical fact.

What R. Riskin says about Maimonides is simply incorrect, as Maimonides does not say what he attributes to him. However, R. Riskin does reflect a common sentiment in the Modern Orthodox world that the first eleven chapters of Genesis (i.e., up until Abraham) are not to be understood as “history” in the way we think of it today. (Yet contrary to his point, other than the Garden of Eden story, I don’t think that there are many who would regard any of the other stories in the early Genesis chapters as allegories.)

It will be the task of Modern Orthodox theologians to explain why it not problematic to regard Gen. 1-11 as (prophetic) myth, and at the same time to insist that the events dealing with the Patriarchs are to be regarded as historical. Why the distinction?

R. Kook already stated that when it comes to determining which portions of the Torah’s narrative section should be taken literally, this is something that is left to the “clear feeling of the nation”. He also acknowledges, as I  have mentioned already, that the Torah’s descriptions could be in line with how matters were understood in ancient times, which need not be historically or scientifically accurate. See Iggerot ha-Re’iyah, vol. 2, p. 119:

ואם אין כל יחיד יכול להציב גבול מדויק בין מה שהוא בדרך משל בתורה ובין מה שהוא ממשי,  —בא החוש הבהיר של האומה בכללה ומוצא לו את נתיבותיו לא בראיות בודדות כי-אם בטביעות-עין כללית. ואם נמצא בתורה כמה דברים, שחושבים אחרים שהם לפי המפורסם מאז, שאינו מתאים עם החקירה של עכשו, הלא אין אנו יודעים כלל אם יש אמת מוחלטת בחקירה הזמנית, ואם יש בה אמת, ודאי יש גם מטרה חשובה וקדושה שלצרכה הוצרכו הדברים לבא בתיאור המפורסם ולא המדויק.

As with the matter of biblical criticism, R. Kook believed that there could be a source of spiritual growth and value even in the mistaken view that none of the stories recorded in the Torah are historical. See Iggerot ha-Re’iyah, vol. 1, pp. 48-49:
שמא כל החלק הספורי שבתורה, אומרים הם, איננו כ"א דברי אגדה ולא דברים שבפועל . . . ונאמר להם: אחים, אם כדבריכם, —דברי אגדה, שכ"כ הם יכולים לפעול לטובה ולברכה, לתקות עולמים ולמוסר השכל, הם כ"כ יקרים ונכבדים עד שהנם ממש דברי אלקים חיים, והם ראויים שכל מה שנעוץ בזכרונם יהי נשמר בכבוד ואהבה רבה. זה לא יספיק להחיות לגמרי בכל המילוי, אבל יספיק לפתח פתח, להסיר את הבוז והשנאה, את המאיסה והבחילה, מכל אשר ליהדות, ג"כ בלבם של הבנים הרחוקים.

Both of these sources from R. Kook have been cited by Tamar Ross in various publications, and I will deal with her position in my forthcoming article.
[10] Translation in Jerome (Yehuda) Gellman, “Judaism and Buddhism”, in Alon Goshen-Gottstein and Eugene Korn, eds. Jewish Theology and World Religions (Oxford, 2012), p. 315.
[11] See here where I discussed R. Kook’s suggestion that the future Sanhedrin could come up with new derashot to put an end to the practice of animal sacrifice.
[12] See my “Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits’s Halakic Vision for the Modern Age,” Shofar 31 (Summer 2013), pp. 16-36.
[13] R. Zvi Yehudah Kook stated that working the Land of Israel was the equivalent kiddush ha-shem as studying in yeshiva. See Hilah Wolberstein, Mashmia Yeshuvah (Merkaz Shapira, 2010), p. 248.
[14] Neriyah, Likutei ha-Re’iyah, vol. 1, p. 427.
[15] Quoted in R. Ze’ev Aryeh Rabiner, Or Mufla  (Tel Aviv, 1972), p. 80.
[16] In my post here I wrote: “There are, of course, many other differences between R. Soloveitchik and R. Kook. From the excerpt printed in The Rav Thinking Aloud, pp. 155-156, we see that the Rav regarded R. Kook as a saintly figure, but not as an intellectual great. Yet this impression was derived from one short conversation. All the gedolim who knew R. Kook had the exact opposite impression. They correctly saw that R. Kook was a master of the entire Torah, in all of its facets. I think you have to go back to Maharal, or perhaps even Nahmanides, to find such a wide-ranging Torah scholar as R. Kook.”

In addition to what I wrote, readers should be aware that R. Kook was quite ill when R. Soloveitchik spoke to him.

Here are the pages from R. David Holzer, The Rav Thinking Aloud.

When The Rav Thinking Aloud was reprinted, what I refer to was deleted. Here is how it looks in the currently available edition.

Regarding how R. Soloveitchik viewed R. Kook, R. Ezra Bick called my attention to his important comments from 1959 available here beginning at minute 10.

While R. Soloveitchik might not have been intellectually impressed by R. Kook after his one meeting with him, R. Kook saw in R. Soloveitchik the continuation of his grandfather, R. Hayyim. Because of this, R. Zvi Yehudah Kook made a point of attending all of the shiurim delivered by R. Soloveitchik when he was in Eretz Yisrael. Here is the recollection of R. Avraham Shapira, from Siah Ish (published with his Hag ha-Sukot [Jerusalem, 2012), p. 123.

In my previously mentioned post I wrote, “I think you have to go back to Maharal, or perhaps even Nahmanides, to find such a wide-ranging Torah scholar as R. Kook.” Subsequent to writing this I saw that R. Simhah Assaf, in his eulogy at R. Kook’s funeral, stated as follows (Zohar Elyon [Jerusalem, 2011], pp. 25-26):

ממהר"ל מפראג לא קם כמוך, איש המוח והלב הגדול והרגיש. איש הרגש והמחשבה, יושב אוהל ושקוע בתורה ויחד עם זה איש המעשה, שידע ללכת לפני העם.

Since I mentioned R. Ezra Bick, let me also note the following. In an earlier post from March 11, 2013, available here, the following appears:

In my post of January 13, 2013, I wrote: "R. Meir Schiff (Maharam Schiff) is unique in believing that one without arms should put the tefillin shel yad on the head, together with the tefillin shel rosh. This is the upshot of his comment to Gittin 58a.” I saw this comment of Maharam Schiff many years ago, and unfortunately did not examine it carefully before adding this note. As R. Ezra Bick has correctly pointed out, Maharam Schiff is not speaking about wearing tefillin shel yad on the head to fulfill the mitzvah, but only stating that this is a respectful way to carry the tefillin shel yad if you have to remove it from your arm. This has no relevance to what I wrote about someone without arms (unless he has to carry the tefillin shel yad).

Yet I have now seen the following responsum of R. Jacob Meskin in his Even Yaakov: Rosh ha-Shanah (New York, 1954), no. 55 (p. 101a), who indeed derives from the Maharam Schiff that one can fulfill the mitzvah of the tefillin shel yad by putting it on one’s head.

[17] “Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of a Revolution,” Tradition 47:3 (2014), p. 71.
[18] The title of R. Kook’s work is ערפלי טהר. How is one to pronounce the first word? I write Arpilei since in my experience this is how it is pronounced in Religious Zionist circles. It also appears this way in some machzorim (mussaf of Rosh ha-Shanah, at the beginning of Shofarot, in the paragraph (אתה נגלית. Most importantly (to me at least) is that R. Meir Mazuz states that the word is pronounced this way. See Ha-Mahzor Ha-Meduyak: Rosh ha-Shanah, at the end of לאוקמי גירסא which is found at the beginning of the volume. He sees ערפל (segol under the peh) as parallel to כרמל  (segol under the mem). In Isaiah 1:18 the latter word appears as וכרמלו, with a hirik under the mem.

Others write Arpelei, with a sheva under the peh, and intuitively this is what most would assume. This is also how the word is vocalized by R. Seraya Deblitzky, Tikun Tefilah (Bnei Brak, 2010), vol. 2, p. 27, and by the ArtScroll machzor. Wolf Heidenheim, Philip Birnbaum, and Daniel Goldschmidt, in their editions of the machzor, place a patah under the ayin and under the peh. They also do not put a dagesh in the peh, so ערפלי is pronounced Arfalei. Heidenheim explains some of his reasoning in the Rodelheim Machzor (1872), p. 63b, and says that his vocalization is “without any doubt the correct version”.
Regarding the words ערפלי טהר, it is also worth noting that in Bereshit Rabbah 99:3 the following words appear: ערפלא טורא. When I first saw this I thought that there must be some connection to the Rosh ha-Shanah prayer, and this is indeed noted by Matenot Kehunah, ad loc. Yet the truth is that none of the commentaries really know what to make of these words, and it would appear to be a corrupt text. See Albeck’s note in his edition of Bereshit Rabbah, vol. 3, p. 1275.
[19] See Omer Silber, ‘Ha’arafel be-Taharato,” Ma’galim, 5 (2007), p. 311.
[20] חושים is written defective in the Torah.
[21] In Bereshit Rabbah 46:26 it states:

בתורתו של ר' מאיר מצאו כתוב ובן דן חשים

This apparently means that R. Meir’s Torah scroll differered from the current Masoretic text. However, many traditional commentators assume that it is only referring to a note that R. Meir added to his personal copy of the Torah or to a book of his commentaries on the Torah.
[22] The book of Jubilees must have also been troubled by the plural ובני דן, as it provides us with the names of Dan’s other sons and tells us that they died in the year that they entered Egypt. See Jubilees 44:28-30.
According to Sotah 10a Hushim killed Esau. However, the Jerusalem Talmud, Ketubot 1:5 and other rabbinic sources state that that Judah killed him. See S. Buber’s note to Aggadat Bereshit (Cracow, 1903), p. 160 n. 14. Tosafot, Gittin 55a s.v. bihudah, tries to reconcile the conflicting sources, but there are difficulties with this reconciliation. See Buber’s note referred to above. Regarding this matter, R. Samuel Jaffe, in his classic commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud, Yefeh Mar’eh (Venice, 1590), to Ketubot 1:7 (p. 264a), has quite a strange passage. In commenting on the text in the Jerusalem Talmud that Judah killed Esau, rather than note that this is disputed by the Babylonian Talmud, Jaffe writes:

וליתא דחושים בן דן הרגו ביום קבורת יעקב אבי' ע"ה כדאי' בפ"ק דסוטה

Has anyone ever seen this type of language – וליתא – used with reference to a talmudic source? It is one thing to use the term וליתא when rejecting a view put forward by one’s contemporary, but here Jaffe is rejecting a passage in the Jerusalem Talmud.
[23] In my post here I wrote:
In Limits of Orthodox Theology, I did not discuss the commentary of Ibn Ezra (Ex 20:1) referred to by Schonblum. That is because I assumed that he agreed with the standard medieval view that even though Moses may have written things on his own accord, when these texts were later included as part of the Torah given to the Children of Israel, this was done at God’s direction and that is what sanctified the text. I am no longer convinced of this. All Ibn Ezra says in his commentary to Ex. 20:1 is that minor variations in wording are due to Moses changing God’s original words. Nowhere in his commentary does Ibn Ezra state that Moses’ changes were ever given divine sanction. 
[24] “The Rov zt”l: The Nigleh and the Nistar,” in Zev Eleff, ed., Mentor of Generations (Jersey City, N.J., 2008), pp. 262-263.
[25] For other versions of the story, see Nathan Kamenetsky, Making of a Godol (Jerusalem, 2002), vol. 2, pp. 1118ff. See also Otzrot ha-Sofer 14 (5764), for a story (really a fairy tale) about how the Malbim came to the Hatam Sofer to request a haskamah. He falsely told the Hatam Sofer that the haskamah was for a book of his teacher when it was actually for a book the Malbim wrote. When the Hatam Sofer learnt of this deception, he declared that the Malbim’s life would bring him no peace, which is indeed what would later happen. 

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