Thursday, May 18, 2006

Errors in Seder Olam?

When one discusses the "Jewish" date of the world, the source used is the book Seder Olam. In fact, this is the source where we get to our counting of this being the 5766 year of the world. There was a rather intriguing controversy about whether the edition we have of Seder Olam is a corrupted edition or not.

R. Moshe Hagiz, pehaps most well know for his campaign against R. Moshe Hayyim Luzzato, had a very interesting correspondence with R. Jacob Emden. R. Hagiz was incensed when a published siddur by R. Uri Lipmann in Sulzbach.

This siddur offered an explaination for the recitation of Tzedkaska (צדקתך) at Shabbat mincha. "As Moshe died on Friday, King David on Shabbat were therefore recite tzeduk hadin at Shabbat mincha." R. Hagiz took issue with the statement that Moshe died on Friday. R. Hagiz first attacked this siddur in an wholly unrelated book. R. Hagiz added his comments to the book Birkat Eliyahu, Wandsbeck 1728. There, R. Hagiz claims that the publisher altered the death date of Moshe from the Shabbat to Friday in an effort to answer how Moshe could have written on the Shabbat. Thus, according to R. Hagiz, the publisher had Moshe die on Friday when writting is permitted.

This justification enraged R. Hagiz. He says
who is this person in todays day and age who calls himself a Jew . . . how terrible is it to change, to change even the dot of the letter yud of our perfect Torah. . . and this type of diesease which spreads among those lacking in faith and lacking in wisdom . . . god should pay back these comesurate with thier wickedness.
But R. Hagiz did not stop there. Instead, he wrote a long letter to R. Emden highlighting this terrible deed to have Moshe die on Friday. We now come to the issue of the book Seder Olam. R. Hagiz was faced with a problem. While it is correct that some sources have Moshe dying on Shabbat, others - specifically the Seder Olam - have Moshe dying on Friday.

R. Hagiz therefore decided that the Seder Olam must have been corrupted. "A wise person can see that is some places a later person . . . put in his own thoughts . . . as is common when persons write their notes on the side eventually printers incorporated these personal notes into the actual text of the book." Thus, according to R. Hagiz, the statement that Moshe died on Friday is one that was not from the actual Seder Olam but was inserted erronously into the book.

R. Emden takes issue with this explanation of the Seder Olam. He first notes this idea that later additions were incorporated into the Seder Olam is really from R. Azariah de Rossi the author of the controversial Me'or Einayim. R. Emden then continues and notes that while it is true that numerous additions to our texts by later persons have been incorporated into the text, including even in Nach (he cites R. Kimchi (RaDaK) on Joshua 21:7). R. Emden says that the Seder Olam did not suffer such a fate and is "clean and pure."

In the end R. Emden is satisified in admitting that there is a controversy amongst the midrashim about Moshe's death date, and therefore R. Hagiz should accept that there are those who disagree with him.

This debate regarding the Seder Olam was not only between R. Emden and R. Hagiz but continues to today. Among most scholars the concensous is that although portions of the Seder Olam date to at least Talmudic times there were later insertions. Among others, the entirety of Seder Olam is attributed to the tanna R. Yose ben Halfta.

Sources: First, if one wishes to read more about marginalia which have become part of the text, see R. Yitzhak Zilber excellent article "Yedi maTikim Shaltu Bo" in Ohr Yisrael 41, 201-222. Additionally, Zilber discusses the above controversy and also includes an extensive discussion regarding R. Emden's views on R. Azariah de Rossi and his Me'or Einayim. On the controversy discussed above see R. Eliyahu ben Yaakov, Birkat Eliayhu (Wandsbeck, 1728), 56b-57a; R. Jacob Emden, She'elot Ya'avetz, vol. 1 no. 33; see also the Ratner edition of Seder Olam.

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