Friday, October 21, 2005

Besamim Rosh

In the previous post, I mentioned a new book which is a collection of articles by Moshe Samet, who is well-known for his studies of the Besamim Rosh. In the comments section it appeared that some wanted more information regarding the Besamim Rosh. I hope this will answer some of the questions raised and give a more comprehensive background.

The Besamim Rosh is a book of reponsa first published in Berlin in 1793. It contained two parts, the teshuvot and a commentary titled kasa d'harsena. The person who published it, R. Saul Berlin was the Berlin Chief Rabbi's son. R. Saul claimed the teshuvot were from a manuscript which he attributed to the Rosh, R. Asher ben Yehiel. The commentary, kasa d'harsena, was from R. Saul. Right after it appeared there were some that doubted the authenticity of atleast some of the teshuvot. They claimed that those teshuvot were not from the Rosh.

There were many novel teshovot. Among these was one permitting shaving on Hol haMo'ad, permitting kitneyot and claiming kitneyot was actually a Karite custom, and relaxing the restrictions on a suicide.

The first book to come out against the Besamim Rosh was written by R. Ze'ev Wolf, titled Ze'av Y'trof and was published that same year, 1793. In it he takes issue with some of the teshuvot that are in the Besamim Rosh. He also, claims that R. Saul retracted one, the teshuva permitting shaving on hol haMo'ad. However, it is unclear whether R. Saul admitted it was a forgery or he retracted in a less sensational manner.

After this book, there were numerous others who doubted either the entirety or at least portions of the book. However, R. Saul's father, R. Tzvi Hirsch Levin (Berlin) defended the work of his son and vouched for the authenticity of it. He claimed to have seen the actual manuscript, something that no one else had seen. There were others who also supported the book. It appears that R. Yosef Hayyim David Azulai, Hida, also vouched for it, based upon the testimony of R. Tzvi Hirsch.

R. Saul, actually had a history that may explain why some were suspect of him. He published under a pseudonym a book title Mitzpeh Yekutel which attacked R. Rafeal Hamburg, the chief Rabbi of Altona, Hamburg, Wansbeck (AH"U). This book was put in herem and burned in some cities. [As an aside after he was unmasked there were at least two teshovot published by different authors dealing with jurisdiction in herems. That is, whether the herem of one city, namely AH"U, can be enforced in another, namely Berlin. Obviously, this has many modern day implications, but it appears that many are not aware of such jurisdictional limitation of herems.]

Thus, it appears that some people already had rather negative opinions of R. Saul and this may have influenced their opinion of the authenticity of the Besamim Rosh.

As mentioned above, the Besamim Rosh was first published in 1793, however, it was not republished until 1881, nearly 100 years later. In this edition, two teshuvot were removed. The teshuva relaxing the rules for a suicide as well as one that permitted one riding on a horse on Shabbat. This second teshuva dealt with a case where one was riding on a horse and the Shabbat was approaching. The rider was faced with a dilemma, should he stop and thus have to scourge and rely on the hospitality of others or continue on to avoid that type of "embarrassment." The teshuva permits him to continue based upon the rule kovod habreiot dokhe l'o s'ashe. That is, for respect one can violate certain prohibitions.

Finally, the Besamim Rosh was republished from the original edition in 1984. This edition has an extensive introduction that attempts to rehabilitate the Besamim Rosh. However, there are numerous flaws with the introduction. The publisher twists and in some instances perverts statements of those that question the authenticity of Besamim Rosh. He also make absurd arguments in support of his goal.

For example, one of the people that doubted the authenticity of the Besamim Rosh was R. Moshe Sofer, Hatam Sofer. Hatam Sofer calls the Besamim Rosh the Ketzvi haRosh -the lies of the Rosh. (Orakh Ha'ayim no. 154) However, the publisher claims this is an error. He explains that the Vienna edition (1895) of the Teshvot Hatam Sofer don't read kitzvi haRosh, rather it reads kitvei haRosh- the writings of the Rosh. Thus, according to the publisher, all the editions of the Hatam Sofer that people relied upon were incorrect.

This, of course, is silly. The first edition of the Teshvot Hatam Sofer of this volume, was NOT the Vienna edition, rather it was Presburg, 1855. In that edition, which the publisher conveniently ignores, it says "kitzvei haRosh" the lies of the Rosh. This is but one of the numerous examples that can be found in this 1984 reprint.

In conclusion, there is a long running debate about the authenticity of this work, which has not been fully resolved, although at least one blogger may have a method to do so.


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