Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Daniel Sperber's New Book - "The Path of Halakha"

As was noted in a prior post, Prof. Daniel Sperber has published another book - Darkah shel Halakha Kiryat Nashim b'Torah. As the title implies the main focus of the book is to discuss the permissablity of women being called to the Torah. Much has already been written on the topic, however, Prof. Sperber's focus is distinct. He focuses on two aspects (aside from other halachic considerations) kavod ha'briyot and more generally, how halakha has adapted over time. In his inimitable fashion he marshals terrific sources - the footnotes contain a treasure trove of material. It is especially interesting to see, for instance, R. Yissocher Frand and Prof. Michael Silber cited in the same footnote.

The book, however, is not limited to the narrower issue of women and Torah reading but instead, there is an extensive discussion throughout regarding changes which happened throughout history in the halakhic practice. To clarify any ambiguity Prof. Sperber includes an appendix listing many laws from the Shulhan Arukh which are no longer practiced in the same manner as advocated by the Shulhan Arukh. He also has chapters or appendixes devoted to specific instances [interestingly, he doesn't mention the tosafot, Moed Katan, 21a, s.v. elu which appears to support his thesis] where there have been changes in practice, including inter alia menstruating women attending the synagogue, the Bat Mitzvah ceremony, and even the inclusion of an ezras nashim (women's section) in the synagogue. In this last one, we are provided with a terrific history of architecture of synagogues from the Temple period onward.

There are, however, a few places where, Prof. Sperber is not as comprehensive as he is in some of his previous works. While these are a mere handful of footnotes, nevertheless it is worth noting. For instance, in a note he discusses the issue of blowing shofar when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat. While his sources are rather impressive, he misses (on purpose perhaps?) the Mo'adim l'Simcha's discussion [although he does mention an entire work on the topic which I was unaware - Shofar b'Rosh haShana sh'Chal L'hiyot b'Shabbat, by R. Menachem Bornstein]. Or where he discusses the historic evidence of whether it is permitted to read the newspaper on Shabbat he mentions the controversy about the translation of R. Barukh ha-Levi Epstein's Mekor Barukh which states the Netziv read the paper on Shabbat. Prof. Sperber doesn't mention that there is now a entire book devoted to the topic, R. Y. S. Bifus, Mikrayei Kodesh HaKiryah haMutteres ve'haAssurah b'Shabbat, Jerusalem, 2003 (122 pages) as well as Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter's article "Facing the Truths of History," Torah u-Madda Journal 8 (2000): 200-273 [PDF]. These are minor points and should not take away from the whole of the book.

Of course, the ultimate subject matter is the propriety of women and reading the Torah. In this area, Prof. Sperber is very convincing. Again, the sources used are wide ranging. Irrespective of one's views on the topic, there is much to gain by this book. In fact, whether one is even interested in the particular topic of women and Torah reading is really no matter, this book is worthwhile reading.

The book can be purchased at Biegeleisen books in the US, or it is published by, and can be obtained from, Rubin Mass in Israel.

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