Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Marc Shapiro: What Do Adon Olam and ס"ט Mean?

What Do Adon Olam and ס"ט Mean ? [1]


By Marc B. Shapiro ס"ט

1. People often refer to me as a Modern Orthodox intellectual. There are actually quite a number of us out there. If you hear someone using words like “ontological,” “existential,” “mimetic,” and now, “tergiversation”[2] you can assume he in in our club. Also, another telltale sign is that when we give divrei Torah you will hear us refer to Philo, the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha (if we are confident that we can pronounce the word properly[3]), Shadal, or Cassutto.[4] Of course, we are careful to only say Midrash, and never Medrish, as the latter pronunciation is a sure sign of a Philistine.

It is no secret that Modern Orthodox intellectuals like to look down on Artscroll, and to let others know about this. So we must find places where Artscroll makes mistakes. It is not enough to point to the vastly different historical conceptions between us and Artscroll; we need to find places where Artscroll simply got it wrong (for one such example see here). This will show that even if they are conquering the world, they shouldn’t think that they are so brilliant. I am not speaking about the Artscroll Talmud (which we use when no one is looking) or the Artscroll “History” series, which is not popular with the Modern Orthodox.[5] I am referring to the Artscroll siddur and chumash which have taken over the Orthodox world. (The Modern Orthodox intellectuals must have been so busy these last twenty years producing articles read by each other that it never occurred to them to produce their own siddur and chumash.)[6]

But finding these errors is easier said than done. I am not referring to run-of the-mill errors, but the sort that will impress people at your Shabbat table. That way you can show them that you are a Modern Orthodox intellectual, and not afraid to stand up to Artscroll, this generation’s anti-Messiah. Artscroll is the Goliath, and if it can be felled, then Feldheim, Targum and certainly the minor leaguers at Aish Ha-Torah will be that much easier to take down. If the obscurantists are not yet shaking in their feet, once they see our ever-forthcoming translation of the Arukh ha-Shulhan, which will bring back the 1950’s and the “mimetic tradition”, this will put them in their place.

As I state, it is not so easy to find the perfect mistake. One could point out that in the Artscroll siddur, p. 320, it refers to a “responsa” of Maimonides, when the word they should have used is “responsum.” But this clearly won’t do the trick. After all, no one assumes that Artscroll is an expert in English; it is because Artscroll is expert in Jewish things that it has become so popular. For a while I thought that I could impress those ever-impressionable Shabbat guests by pointing out that contrary to what the Artscroll siddur, p. 870, states, R. Eleazar Kalir was not a tanna. But again, this is not something that most people care about. Besides, someone always ended up pointing out that no less than Tosafot claims that he was a tanna, and my protestations about what Shir proved were always met with blank stares, for what does a Prague song have to do with anything?

And what about when I showed people that in the chumashim printed until 1999, Lord Jakobovits, who died in that year, is referred to as Emeritus Chief Rabbi of the British Empire (see one of the first pages of the chumash where it lists the important people involved with Artscroll). On the title page of Hertz’s chumash he is referred to as “Late Chief Rabbi of the British Empire,” and the Jakobovits reference might be trying to parallel this. All my protestations that Jakobovits was never Chief Rabbi of an Empire (which had ceased to exist before he came into office) but of a Commonwealth have never found anyone showing much interest. (The technical title is Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. The title is more grandiose than the office. At most, there are 300,000 Jews in the United Kingdom (as, at present, no one in Australia, Canada, Zambia, etc. looks to the British Chief Rabbi for religious guidance). Subtract the unaffiliated, Reform and Masorti from this, and then subtract the Haredim and the Sephardim and this will give you the number of Jews represented by the Chief Rabbi.)

There was actually a very big error I used to point out, and this was found in the Artscroll Shabbat Zemiros (it has since been corrected). At the beginning of the Shalosh Seudos section Artscroll wrote:

The three meals of the Sabbath symbolize the three Patriarchs, the three divisions of Scripture: Torah, Prophets and Hagiographa, and the three feasts through which Esther brought about Haman’s downfall. Many matters of awesome spiritual significance are dependent on the Third Meal as the Zohar discusses frequently (Aruch HaShulchan 291).

This is a very strange passage, since what does Esther have to do with the Three Sabbath meals? Furthermore, since when did Esther organize three feasts? Everyone who attends synagogue on Purim knows that there were only two feasts. This is what the Arukh ha-Shulhan states:

ויהא זהיר מאד לקיים סעודה שלישית ואמרו חז"ל דכל המקיים סעודה ג' ניצל משלש פורעניות . . . ואם אפשר שאינן ממש מן התורה מ"מ ודאי מתקנת משה רבינו הם שכן קיבל מסיני והם מרמזים נגד ג' אבות, נגד תורה נביאים וכתובים, ובשעה שניתן להם המן ניתן להם על ג' סעודות

What happened was that whoever wrote the commentary to the Zemiros understood the word המן (the manna) to mean Haman, and that he was given into the Jews’ hands because of three feasts![7]

Artscroll did what everyone should do when an error is brought to their attention, namely, correct it in a future edition.. (In another post I plan on noting a couple of corrections to my own writings.) In fact, this is a good lesson to all of us, because if Artscroll, whose writers are big talmidei hakhamim, could make such a simple mistake, then all of us should realize that we too can make simple errors.

The important thing is that they corrected the error. If only the same could be said about Mossad ha-Rav Kook. There has already been discussion on this blog about some problems with the Chavel edition of Ramban. In fact, although both the Commentary on the Torah and Kitvei Ramban have been reprinted about twenty times, many obvious errors have still not been corrected. I was planning on giving one example, but I wasn’t sure which one to use. About five minutes before writing this I received a call from the owner of www.publishyoursefer.com, which will soon be reprinting Kitvei R. Weinberg. He informed me that there are many students at the Ner Israel yeshiva who follow the Seforim Blog, pleasant news indeed. In their honor, since unlike myself, they spend most of their day involved in the intricacies of the Talmud and its commentators, my example will be from the introduction of Ramban to his Dina de-Garmei, a work which only a real talmid hakham would try to tackle. The text is found in Kitvei Ramban, vol. 1, p. 417. Ramban writes

אבל יש אשר קולמוס הראשונים סתמן
ועתה נעלם טעמן מעיני תלמידי הזמן
וחכמי הצרפתים אספו רובן אל עמן
הם המורים, הם המלמדים, הם המגלים לנו נטמן

Chavel explains the third line to mean

חכמי הצרפתים אספו רובן של הטעמים הללו לתוך ספריהם להיות לעינים של תלמידי הזמן

Yet this is incorrect. What the Ramban means is that most of the French sages have left this world and gone on to their eternal reward.

Getting back to Artscroll, I was pleased when I found the perfect example of an Arscroll error, and this in a prayer that we all know well, Adon Olam. What do these words mean? To answer this, most people will open their Arscroll siddur.[8] Artscroll translates, “Master of the Universe”. This, or similar translations (e.g., Lord of the Universe, Master of the World) seem to be standard. Yet for a while I was convinced that the proper translation was “Eternal Lord.” After looking at the song as a whole, and seeing how it speaks of God’s eternity, it appeared clear to me that this is what the first two words mean.

I was happy to find that both Birnbaum and De Sola Pool (both of which are now almost impossible to find in any synagogue) understood the first two words this way as well. So happy was I with my idea that I made sure to tell lots of people about it, all of whom were very impressed, since here was a bona fide correction to Artscroll. I was in London a couple of months ago and was davening with the new siddur published by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Lo and behold, I found that he too translated the words as did Artscroll. After davening the rabbi of the shul asked me if I liked the new siddur and I told him yes. I also used the opportunity to point out that even this wonderful siddur mistakenly translates the first words of Adon Olam. It seemed that he too was impressed. I certainly thought that for the rest of my life I would be able to pull this out of my back pocket whenever I needed to show that even Artscroll, the veritable Urim ve-Tumim, can make a mistake.

But alas, all good things come to an end. The very next morning after speaking to the London rabbi, I went to a hashkamah minyan and the siddur I chose to use was Ha-Siddur ha-Meduyak. This siddur is produced by the Kise Rahamim Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. This is a Tunisian yeshiva under the leadership of R. Meir Mazuz, who is known by the acronym נאמן ס"ט. In addition to the siddur, they have also produced a variety of other books with the title "Meduyak." This is because every line has been carefully examined by R. Mazuz, who does not hesitate to make corrections, even if the version he is correcting has been in use for many hundreds of years.[10] This has been very controversial and R. Dovid Yitzchaki, in various articles, has harshly polemicized against R. Mazuz. As we have come to expect, Yated Ne’eman quoted the condemnation issued by maranan verabonon gedolei Yisroel, in which these books were described as terrible breaches in Judaism. The implication to be drawn from the attack is that R. Mazuz and his students are dangerous reformers.[11]

R. Mazuz did not rest, and the 2005 edition of the siddur (which I purchased from mysefer.com) contains letters of support for R. Mazuz from R. Ovadiah Yosef, R. Shlomo Amar, R. Shmuel Wosner, and R. Shimon Alouf of the Brooklyn Syrian community. There is also a letter from “Ha-Gaon he-Hasid” R. Dov Kook, the son-in-law of R. Yitzhak Zilberstein, who is himself the son-in-law of R. Eliashiv. This is significant since R. Elyashiv was at the forefront of the condemnation. As the Yated article states:
Woe to a generation in which every man does as he sees fit. And the matter should be publicized to prevent others from being drawn in by their ways," write maranan verabonon gedolei Yisroel headed by Maran HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv shlita, in a letter opposing the publication of "precise" ("meduyak") editions of Chumoshim and Tehillim as well as new siddurim and machzorim that contain grave breaches and changes from the accepted tradition handed down to us.

Yet R. Dov Kook writes to R. Mazuz about how much he benefited from using the Siddur Ha-Meduyak!

R. Mazuz is a very interesting personality. To begin with, he had a close connection to Habad for many decades, having taught in a Habad school in Tunis in the 1960’s. Yet when he saw the Messianic fever and other problems in Habad, he publicly condemned what was going on and wrote a long letter detailing his objections.[12] In addition, he was very vocal in support of the Gaza settlers.[13] He is also the only one of our gedolim who is an expert in arcane areas such as grammar,[14] Masorah, and medieval Hebrew poetry.

In fact, since he is an expert in this latter field, I knew that I could ask him a question about which most other gedolim would probably have no clue what I was talking about. One doesn’t need to have read Steve Greenberg’s book, or have listened to some of the gay advocates speaking around the time of the recent Jerusalem parade, to know that man-boy love is a theme in a number of medieval Hebrew poems.[15] I raised this issue with R. Mazuz, and was pretty sure that he would answer the way he did:

חס וחלילה להאמין שחכמי ספרד כתבו שירים מענין משכב זכור. וראה בסוף ס' תחכמוני שהביא עשרה שירים לקלל ולארר נבל אחד שכתב "לו שר בנו עמרם פני דודי" וכו'. צבי חן הוא כינוי לעלם יפה ואין בו כל דופי. חוקרי זמננו מהרהורי לבם ותעתועי רוחם כותבים מה שכותבים

(The reference to the Tahkemoni can be found in the Warsaw, 1899 edition, ed. Kaminka, pp. 430ff.)

R. Mazuz is also the final halakhic authority for the Tunisian community. With the death of R. Shalom Messas, chief rabbi of Jerusalem, I think that after R. Ovadiah, R. Mordechai Eliyahu and R. Shlomo Amar, R. Mazuz is the most important of the Sephardic rabbis in Israel. He is also very close to R. Ovadiah, who has had a long attachment to Kise Rahamim. The yeshiva is unique in that it focuses on the old Tunisian approach to the study of Talmud (the Tunisian iyyun), and from very young the students are taught to master the art of Hebrew writing [16] and to acquire wide-ranging knowledge of Tanach. We are clearly dealing with an unusual man and an unusal yeshiva. Returning again to the Chavel edition of the Ramban, I should mention that R. Mazuz is pretty harsh in his evaluation of it, and he lists a number of errors.[17]

When I first starting looking into the Thirteen Principles, I wondered how, in the Eighth Principle, Maimonides could insist on complete Mosaic authorship, and assert that denial of this equals heresy. After all, there is a view mentioned in the Talmud, and quoted by Rashi on chumash, that the last eight verses were written by Joshua. And yet, people were saying that since kelal Yisrael accepted the Ikkarim, this view must now be regarded as kefirah. I asked R. Mazuz about this and he replied:

ולענין שמנה פסוקים אחרונים ודאי האומר שכתבן יהושע אינו נחשב אפיקורוס ח"ו

I was also curious to know what he would say about study of the Ralbag’s Milhamot ha-Shem, which differs with Maimonides’ principles when it comes to creation ex nihilo and God’s knowledge of particulars.[18] He wrote to me as follows:

ודברי רלב"ג במלחמות ה' ידועים. וזו היתה צרת הפילוסופיא היונית שלכדה ברשתה רבים וכן שלמים (כמו שלכד יצה"ר דע"ז בזמנו את מנשה בן חזקיה וחבירו ואפ"ה למדים מהם הלכה למעשה ע' סנהדרין דף קב ע"ב). בס' מלחמות ה' אסור ללמוד רק מי שמילא כריסו ש"ס ופוסקים וצריך לעיין בו משהו לפי שעה. וכבר כינוהו הרב אברבנאל והיעב”ץ "מלחמותיו עם ה'" (ח"ו). אבל בפירושו על התנ"ך מותר ללמוד ויש בהם דברים נפלאים וחכמה עמוקה, אם כי לפעמים נטה מדרך היושר. וה' הטוב יכפר בעדו

Throughout R. Mazuz’s writings, one finds interesting comments about the great medieval Jewish philosophers. Let me offer one such example.

In Guide 2:32 Maimonides speaks about the nature of prophecy and the prophet. One of the qualifications for a prophet is that he be intellectually advanced. Maimonides writes:

But with regard to one of the ignorant among the common people, this is not possible according to us – I mean, that He should turn one of them into a prophet – except as it is possible that He should turn an ass or a frog into a prophet.

Both Efodi and Shem Tov understand the last words as an allusion to Balaam’s ass and the fish that swallowed Jonah (and to whom God spoke), and understand both stories to have happened in dreams. Maimonides is, of course, explicit about the Balaam episode, and Efodi and Shem Tov see no difference between this and the Jonah story. Interestingly, Efodi says this elsewhere as well, but as Lawrence Kaplan has pointed out it was censored from the 19th century edition of the Guide that remains the standard edition (full details will be found in my forthcoming book). But the reason why that passage was censored was not because of the Jonah reference. After all, no less a figure than the Vilna Gaon saw the Jonah story as an allegory. The problem with the censored passage, and the reason it had to be taken out, was because there Efodi writes that according to the Rambam the Akedah also only happened in a dream.

According to R. Mazuz, Efodi and Shem Tov misunderstood Maimonides here, and if he was alluding to what they claim, he would have written fish, not frog. The key to understanding Maimonides are his words earlier in the chapter:

It is not possible that an ignoramus should turn into a prophet; nor can a man not be a prophet on a certain evening and be a prophet on the following morning, as though he had made some find.

In R. Mazuz’s opinion, this is a clear allusion to Muhammad, who according to Muslims was an illiterate man to whom Gabriel appeared and commanded “Read” (or “Proclaim”), and he was thus turned into a prophet. R. Mazuz concludes, “It is this sort of ‘prophet’ that Maimonides refers to as an ass or frog.”[19]

What does any of this have to do with Adon Olam? When I was using the siddur I began to study R. Mazuz’s notes (pp. 660ff.) to R. Yehudah ha-Levi’s piyyut Mi Kamokha, which Sephardim recite on Shabbat Zakhor. (For those who are Haim Sabato fans, this piyyut makes an appearance in ch. 10 of his recent book, Ke-Afapei Shahar) The first stanza of the alphabetical piyyut begins with the word אדון. On this word, R. Mazuz explains why the first letter has a kametz under it, and he contrasts that with אדון עולם אשר מלך, in which the aleph has a hataf patah since it is a construct, and means אדון של עולם.

When I saw this I was quite surprised, and upset, because here was R. Mazuz, whose knowledge of the ins and outs of the Hebrew language is perhaps unmatched except by a few specialists who spend their lives on this (while R. Mazuz’s forays into Hayyuj, Ibn Janach, and Radak’s Shorashim are as rakahot ve-tabahot to the study of Talmud and halakhah). Yet here he was explaining Adon Olam as Master of the World. I wrote to him asking why he assumed this is what it meant, especially as the piyyut as a whole seems to be speaking of Eternal Lord, the one who was here before the world and who will be here when the world ceases.

Although Adon Olam is a post-biblical prayer, as a side point I also noted that as far as I knew, the word עולם in Tanakh never means "world" (for which תבל is used) but always means ancient, eternal, eternity, or something along those lines. In fact, I was actually certain of this, and I had first heard this point twenty years ago when I was spent my junior year at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew Studies. I was fortunate to be able to study Biblical Hebrew, one-on-one, for an entire year with Professor Jeremy Hughes, author of Secrets of the Times: Myth and History in Biblical Chronology. Hughes was a strange combination of hippie and Bible scholar, and I learnt a great deal from him. I still remember my surprise at being told, when I used the word חזר in one of my exercises, that this is not a biblical Hebrew word, and I must use שב. He also pointed out the error in Weingreen’s Practical Grammar for Classical Hebrew, p. 110, which gives “world” as one of the translations of עולם. I wasn’t sure that he was correct, but a glance at the BDB confirmed his point.

A few weeks ago I received a letter from R. Mazuz, and well, let’s just say that I won’t be trying to impress people any more by pointing out that Artscroll has mistranslated Adon Olam. To begin with, R. Mazuz insists that Adon Olam is identical with Ribbono shel Olam. As for my point about “olam” never meaning “world” in the Bible, he writes:

זו דעת החוקרים האחרונים שעולם בתנ"ך פירושו נצח, אבל חז"ל לא הבינו כן

As proof for this he refers to Berakhot 54b

כל חותמי ברכות שבמקדש היו אומרים: עד העולם. משקלקלו הצדוקין ואמרו אין עולם אלא אחד התקינו שיהו אומרים מן העולם ועד העולם

At the conclusion of the benedictions said in the Temple they used at first to say simply, “forever.” When the Sadducees perverted their ways and asserted that there was only one world, it was ordained that the response should be "from world to world” [i.e., two worlds].

He also called attention to a passage in Sanhedrin 58b where the verse in Ps. 89:3, עולם חסד יבנה, is understood not as “forever is mercy built,” but as “the world shall be built up by grace.”

As I said, I am forced to conclude that in this case Artscroll gets a pass. What then is a Modern Orthodox intellectual to do? Anyone want to hear about Kalir?

Since everything with me seems to come back to the Thirteen Principles let me make one more point about Adon Olam. This time, I refer to the appearance of these words in Yigdal, and here there is no question that the words mean “Master of the Universe”. The passage reads

הנו אדון עולם לכל נוצר יורה גדולתו ומלכותו

Artscroll translates: “Behold! He is Master of the universe to every creature, He demonstrates His greatness and His sovereignty.” The translation is correct, but the problem is that this has nothing to do with the Fifth Principle. The Principle says that one cannot worship any other being but God (or use these beings as intermediaries to reach God). Because of this Birnbaum has the following in his siddur:

הנו אדון עולם וכל נוצר יורה גדולתו ומלכותו

By changing one letter, the stanza now agrees with the Principle. The problem here is that Birmbaum’s emendation, while it makes sense, is not actually a “version”. That is, there is no manuscript that reads as such. It is a speculative emendation. Abraham Berliner,[20] on the other hand, cites an actual variant text:

הנו אדון עולם וכל יוצר יודה גדולתו ומלכותו

The word יוצר is presumably a mistake for נוצר, although יודה makes sense. In fact, the Siddur ha-Meduyak offers וכל נוצר יודה as an alternate version for those who prefer that Yigdal actually correspond to the Principles.

2. Since I mentioned the Gaon נאמן ס"ט now is as good a time as ever to explain what the acronym ס"ט means. I am sure that even after what I write people will continue to err, but at least the yehidei segulah who make up the Seforim blog readership will know the truth, and will be ready offer a correction next time they hear someone refer to a ספרדי טהור.

Contrary to widespread belief ס"ט does not mean ספרדי טהור!! To be sure, you can find people today, even Sephardim, who will assert that this is what it means. But historically, it never meant this, and today, among the talmidei hakhamim who use it, this is not what it means.

How, you might be thinking, do I know this? The easiest answer is that the Hakham Zvi and R. Yaakov Emden both use the abbreviation, and neither of them were Sephardi. What it does show, however, is that the Hakham Zvi, who studied in Sephardic yeshivot and served as hakham to the Sephardic community in Sarajevo, adopted an abbreviation common in the Sephardic world. Those who study Sephardic works know that this is hardly the only example of an abbreviation which is not found in Ashkenazic works.

Furthermore, we have to ask what could the very expression ספרדי טהור mean? Presumably, it would refer to those who are not descended from Marranos. Yet we find that the abbreviation was used in an era before there was religious persecution in Spain. For example, R. David Abudarham, in the introduction to his work, attaches ס"ט to his name. Also, in Teshuvot R. Yehudah ben ha-Rosh, no. 75, two people sign with the abbreviation. What possible sense could ספרדי טהור have in early fourteenth century Spain, before the religious persecutions, not to mention in a place where everyone was Sephardic and there was no need to differentiate oneself from the uncultured Ashkenazim?

So what does ס"ט mean? Some have suggested that it stands for סין טין which is the Aramaic for רפש וטיט (Isaiah 57:20) and means mire and dirt. This would be like many other rabbinic expressions that show the author’s humility. H. J. Zimmels has correctly noted that “this explanation is not convincing as one would expect SvT = Sin ve-Tin (mire and dirt).[21] I would also add that while authors often use similar expressions – e.g., עפר ואפר – when referring to themselves, who ever heard of referring a great rabbi in such a way? It would be the height of disrespect, and yet we do find people writing to sages and attaching ס"ט to their names, showing that they didn’t have this explanation in mind.

Zimmels notes that Zunz already pointed out that the abbreviation stands for סופו טוב, which means, “may his end be good.”[22] It is also possible that the Aramaic סיפיה טב was intended.[23] This is parallel to the Ashkenazic שליט"א, the difference being that, unlike with ס"ט, no one adds שליט"א to his own name. R. Mazuz sums up the matter as follows (Or Torah [Tamuz 5733], no. 110):

ומכלל האמור תבין, שמה שכותבים כמה מאחינו האשכנזים (כגון בספר שם הגדולים וואלדען) על רבנים ספרדים ס"ט לאחר פטירתם, ויש אפילו הכותבים רב פלוני ס"ט זצ"ל, הכל טעות, ויסודו בפירוש המשובש הנ"ל ספרדי טהור, כאילו ישנה התנשאות הגזע לספרדים על אחיהם האשכנזים. ולפי הבאור הנכון "סיפי טב", נמצא הכותב ס"ט זצ"ל ככותב שליט"א זצ"ל בנשימה אחת. ופשוט שגם "אשכנזי טהור" יכול לחתום ס"ט בלי שום פקפוק, כמו שחתמו הגאונים חכם צבי והיעב"ץ הנ"ל. ותשקוט הארש

(The last words are a play on the expression ותשקוט הארץ that appears a number of times in Tanakh. Its meaning here is that all speech or utterance will cease, i.e., there is no need for any more discussion or argument about the issue.[24])

If there are still any who have doubts, let me also quote the words of the great R. Shalom Messas, late Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and unquestioned leader of the Moroccan community until his death a few years ago. In 2007 the fourth volume of his Shemesh u-Magen appeared. On p. 193 he writes:

הדבר פשוט וגם ברור אצלינו שהכוונה היא סיפיה טב, ר"ל שאחריתו יהיה טוב, ומעולם לא נתכוונו על ספרדי טהור כלל . . . ורק פירוש זה יצא מהמקנטרים שרוצים לעשות פירוד בין הספרדים לאשכנזים, ובאמת כל ישראל קדושים וטהורים הם בני אברהם יצחק ויעקב, אין ביניהם כמלא נימא

Now if only Yated Ne’eman and the haredi school systems in Israel would take these last words to heart![25]

Appendix 1

In my post responding to Rabbi Leff I elaborated on the fact that according to the Rambam the mezuzah does not provide any physical protection. Most Jews throughout history have disagreed with Maimonides, and a good example of this can be seen in the song my children learned in nursery school. The lyrics are as follows, and in the song each line is repeated twice.

I have a mezuzah
On my door
Now I will tell you
What it’s for
To protect us
Day and night
Kiss it when you enter
It’s on your right

This summer my three year-old came home from camp with the same song, but with different lyrics.

I have a mezuzah
On my door
Now I will tell you
What it’s for
To kiss it
That’s our aim
For on it is written
Hashem’s name

While the original manuscript of the song appears to be lost, I have no doubt that the first version is the original. The words in the second version are clumsy, and don’t fit the song very well. I therefore assume that the second version contains theologically-based textual emendations of the sort Geiger describes in his Urschrift. A critical edition of Jewish children’s songs remains a scholarly desideratum.

Appendix 2

When I asked R. Mazuz about his abbreviation ,נאמ"ן ס"ט he told me that in the book Rosh Mashbir by R. Berdugo one can find a number of examples of rabbis using such abbreviations. I haven’t yet looked through the book, but I did glance at the introduction by R. Yosef Messas. Messas was Chief Rabbi of Haifa, pride of the Moroccan rabbinate, and a great defender of R. Kook, yet unfortunately fate has destined him to be only remembered as the posek who permitted marrried women to go with uncovered hair and who permitted the use of electric hanukkah menoras. He ends his introduction to Rosh Mashbir with following words

עבד אל דוק וחוג אשש יוסף משאש ס"ט

This is a very unusual expression. I recalled that I had seen his cousin R. Shalom Messas also use it. In fact, I did a search on the various databases and other than these two, no one else signs his name this way, so it obviously was a family tradition..But what does it mean? In the search I turned up a comment by Shalom Albeck, in his edition of the Eshkol (the authentic Eshkol), p. 11 n. 9, who notes a piyyut by R. Yitzhak Ibn Ghiyat that begins

ברוך אשר אשש דוק וחוג בעשרה מאמרות

This piyyut was recited on Yom Kippur morning in North Africa, and we now know that the author was actually R. Joseph Ibn Avitur. But the question still remains, what do these words mean? Fortunately, R. Simeon ben Zemah Duran (the Tashbetz) wrote a commentary on this piyyut, and it has been published in a wonderful edition by Raphael Kohen (Jerusalem, 2002). Citing the relevant biblical texts upon which the words are based, Tashbetz explains the line as follow: “Blessed be he who established heaven and earth with ten utterances.”[26]

Thus, the Messas expression means “Servant of God, who established heaven and earth.”

Incidentally, Kohen, the editor of the Tashbetz’s commentary, is also the editor of R. Solomon ben Samuel’s Pithei Olam (Jerusalem, 2004). Kohen adds his own lengthy essay to this volume and it is of bibliographical interest in that it is probably the most vicious and insane attack of other scholars in the last hundred years (much worse than anything R. Shemariah Menasheh Adler wrote). When Kohen hates you, he says so openly. Thanks to him, we can even add two new acronyms to the Hebrew language. He adds the following after the names of all the distinguished scholars he despises (and it’s the final two acronyms that appear to be original to him).

שר"י ישו"ז תו"ע אל"ב

This means:

שם רשעים ירקב ימח שמו וזכרו תימקנה ותשחקנה עצמותיו אסור לעסוק בקבורתו


[1] I had intended my next post to be part 2 of my discussion of Auerbach’s Eshkol. However, I still need a couple of books to complete it, so instead I decided to post this.

[2] For example see here.

[3] A number of years ago I attended a session at the American Academy of Religion annual conference. I am not ashamed to admit that I didn’t understand what they were talking about. I understood the words, but the sentences didn’t make any sense to me. It was a different language. Yet there was a woman sitting near me who kept making comments and referring to gnosis, but the problem was that she kept pronouncing the “g”. I didn’t hold that against her. You can certainly know what you are talking about and mispronounce a word, since if you have never heard it spoken, how are you supposed to know? And there are certainly many examples of people who pronounce a word perfectly, but don’t know what it means. I struggled with myself as to whether I should put a note in front of her, pointing out that the “g” is silent.. I decided not to, figuring that since she didn’t know she was mispronouncing it, she was not embarrassed, and over time she would learn. This is different than the case of the speaker some years ago who kept referring, in his talk on Hasidism, to the Zaddik, pronouncing the “z” as a “z”, not a “tz”.

[4] I was at an event where one such intellectual even referred to the Tao!

[5] The one quality history book – and it is a really fine piece of work – published by Artscroll is Eliyahu Klugman’s biography of Hirsch. But unfortunately, even he couldn’t be totally honest. Thus, we find the following on page 66: “Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, the first great Torah educator in America . . .” Is it possible that Klugman has never heard of Rabbi Bernard Revel and Yeshivas R. Yitzchak Elchanan? Regarding Mendlowitz, and the great respect he gets from the haredim, I have always assumed that they are unaware of his great love for the teachings of R. Kook. Listen to Menachem Mendlowitz, “The Complexity of Greatness: My Grandfather, Rav Shrage Feivel Mendlowitz” at Torah In Motion here.

R. Shraga also planned to open, together with R. Hutner, the American Hebrew Theological University. This is discussed in Helmreich’s World of the Yeshiva. This institution would have been just like Lander College. For a relevant source which, as far as I know, has gone unnoticed, see Otzrot Yerushalayim (5741), no. 601. Here we find that Mendlowitz wanted the Mir Yeshiva in New York to institute secular studies. (The author of this report, R. Moshe Yehudah Blau, was the world’s greatest editor of rishonim from manuscript, long before this became fashionable.)

[6] It is easy to see why the Artscroll siddur replaced the Birnbaum. It is simply better, i.e., much more complete (although I wonder who gave them the crazy idea to put the English in italics). But I am not sure what makes the Artscroll chumash “better” than Hertz. It is different, to be sure, but I think that a typical Modern Orthodox congregation would still be well-served by Hertz, if not exclusively, certainly in addition to Artscroll. I don’t understand why all the Hertz chumashim were carted away, never to be seen again. The RCA chose to make the Artscroll siddur its siddur (adding in the prayers for the government, the State of Israel, and the IDF). The fact that the first RCA siddur, edited by De Sola Pool and published in 1960, never achieved lasting popularity, and Artscroll was willing to put aside its anti-Zionist ideology when presented with the possibility of selling hundreds of thousands of siddurim, no doubt influenced the RCA to go with a tried and true product. (I understand Arscroll leaving out the prayer for Israel, but how did the haredi community come to the view that the prayer for the government is not “frum”.and thus is neither recited nor included in the siddur?). The RCA’s reluctance to actually produce a new siddur on their own was probably influenced by the controversy that ensued when their first siddur was released. This siddur was banned by Agudas ha-Rabbanim. One of the reasons was that the Song of Songs appeared with a literal translation, and this no doubt helps explain Artscroll’s method of translation of this text. For details on the ban, see see Ha-Pardes, Feb. 1961.

Let me also note that in his 1987 introduction to the RCA Artscroll siddur, RCA president Rabbi Milton Polin wrote about the original De Sola Pool RCA Siddur, that it “has been reprinted many times since its original publication and continues in use in most large Orthodox congregations.” I don’t believe the last part of this sentence is correct. In fact, even if there were some large congregations that used the original RCA siddur as the “official” shul siddur, Birnbaum certainly outnumbered De Sola Pool 10-1 in this respect.

[7] See R. Menashe Klein, Shanu Hakhamim bi-Leshon ha-Mishnah (Brooklyn, 1994), p. 108.

[8] No one has yet written about the great influence of Artscroll in influencing prayer in the English-speaking world. Let me offer an example that everyone can observe during the coming holidays. When I was growing up, during Hallel everyone sung Hodu, Yomar Na, etc. together with the chazan. That was the minhag although I don’t know if it was a minhag of long standing. The Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 422:3 says that with regard to how these verses are recited – and he assumes that they will be done responsively – כל מקום כפי מנהגו. The fact that the Mishneh Berurah points out that they are supposed to be recited responsively was ignored, much like on Rosh Hashanah there are piyyutim which the machzor says should be recited responsively but are sung together, or like Yigdal or Anim Zemirot which are sometimes recited together rather than responsively. Yet today this practice of singing Hodu, etc. together with the chazan has almost completely disappeared from the American scene, and if you do try to sing along, you will often be the only one doing so and will probably get dirty looks. In the last twenty years, what has happened is that the chazan recites the verse, and the congregation is quiet and responds Hodu and then reads the next verse. Sometimes the congregation sings the Hodu response and sometimes not, but they never sing the other verses. How did the practice change? It was a direct result of the Artscroll siddur which tells people that only the chazan recites the verse and the congregation responds.

Minhagim have a funny way of starting. In my shul, for some reason, the chazan does not recite Mussaf from the middle bimah, but from the front of the shul. I am told that this is a Hungarian practice. No one I have asked seems to know how this started, and the synagogue is less than 10 years old. Currently, I am watching a minhag develop before my eyes. A couple of years ago I noticed that people were reading the Haftorah from the side of the bimah. If I’m not mistaken this is a hasidic practice. In any event, when this first started it was only one or two people who did so, Now, virtually everyone who comes up does so, no doubt thinking that this is the halakhah and they don’t want to do something incorrect. In another year, it might even be possible to declare that the minhag of the shul is to read from the side. There are many more examples of this I can give. Let me conclude with a story of one shul that refused to be run over by Artscroll. The year was 2001 and on Shabbat morning I was davening at the Rydniker Shtiebl on the Upper West Side which was across the street from my apartment. The late Rabbi Orenstein, who had studied in Kamenitz before the war, was the rav. It was one of those Shabboses where there is some confusion as to which Haftorah is read. Rabbi Orenstein told the reader what he should do, and someone called out that Artscroll says that we should read a different haftorah. Dr. David Diamond stood up, banged his hand on the bimah, and very sternly declared: “In this shul we have a rav, and we follow what he tells us to do. Artscroll is not the rav and Artscroll does not tell us which Haftorah to read!” With that he sat down, and never again did anyone dare ask a “kasha” on the Rav from Artscroll.

[9] R. Mazuz told me that the acronym stands for נאם מאיר נסים. He also informed me that he was following in the path of Moroccan sages who signed with acronyms, such as

המרבי"ץ (מרדכי בן יוסף [בירדוגו]), יעב"ץ (יעקב בן צור), משבי"ר - משה בירדוגו

[10] Unfortunately, the newest editions of the siddur do not include his lengthy essay in which he justifies his emendations.

[11] See here.

[12] See the volume Ve-Al Titosh Torat Imekha (n.p., n.d).

[13] See here.

[14] He has a number of notes in the new edition of R. Elijah Bahur’s Tishbi. Dan Rabinowitz wrote about this edition here. After seeing what R. Mazuz wrote about the proper way to pronounce the Kaddish (see Or Torah (5750), pp. 747, 875), I abandoned my practice of Yitgadel and returned to the the time-honored Yitgadal. See Dan Rabinowitz’ review of the evidence, here.
[15] Unless I missed something, I didn’t see any of the gay advocates mention R. Hayyim Vital’s assertion that when drunk, R. Israel Najara would engage in homosexual behavior. This passage was censored in a recent publication, as noted by Dan Rabinowitz. See here.

[16] Recently, one of the students, R. Ovadiah Hen, published the book Ha-Ketav ve-ha-Mikhtav which attempts to bring this to the Torah world. One interesting thing he notes is that one should not write עיין ברמב"ם. Instead, one should write
עיין להרמב"ם

[17] See his introduction to R. Hayyim Amsellem, Minhat Hayyim, (Sharsheret, 1986), vol. 2. Chavel’s error cited above was first noted by R. Mazuz here.

[18] Regarding Ralbag, this comment is addressed to the few guys I was speaking to in Teaneck a few weeks ago (whose names I can’t recall and who are probably reading this). I mentioned that in my next posting I would give another example of Ralbag differing with the Thirteen Principles that I only recently found. I was referring to prophets equalling Moses during the Messianic era. However, I misspoke. Ralbag’s oppositon to Maimonides, in that he thinks the Messiah will be a superior prophet to Moses, is mentioned in my book. What I meant to say was not Ralbag, but Radak. In his commentary to Joel 3:1, in speaking of the great spirit of prophecy that will come upon people in Messianic days, Radak writes of the possibility that among these people (including women!) there may be some who will equal Moses.

והבנים והבנות יתנבאו בנערותם כמו שמואל הנביא והנבואה תהיה להם במראה החלום כמו שאמר חלומות חזיונות, וכן היתה נבואת רוב הנביאים, כמו שאמר אם יהיה נביאכם ה' במראה אליו אתודע בחלום אדבר בו, וכן יהיו בהם מעלות זה למעלה מזה כמו שהיו בנביאים שעברו עד שאולי יהיה בהם כמשה רבינו ע"ה

[19] Kovetz Ma’amarim (Bnei Brak, 2003), p. 270. This example is not noted by Yehuda Shamir, “Allusions to Muhammad in Maimonides' Theory of Prophecy in His Guide of the Perplexed," JQR 64 (1975), pp. 212-224.

[20] Ketavim Nivharim (Jerusalem, 1969), vol. 1, p. 20.

[21] Ashkenazim and Sephardim (London, 1976), additional note to p. 286.

[22] Ibid., p. 287.

[23] For those who want more information on this topic, R. Shlomo Yitzchaki has written the most detailed study to date. See “Be-Inyan Roshei Tevot S”T,” Or ha-Ma’arav (Adar-Nisan, 5750), pp. 39-56.

[24] In a few weeks, in shaharit of Yom Kippur, we will recite the piyyut אדר יקר, the first line of which reads: אחוה בארש מלולי

[25] Lest people think that when it comes to Sephardi-Ashkenazi relations it is only the latter who have behaved in an improper manner, let me quote some interesting historical tidbits from Zimmels, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, p. 62:

In the year 1766 the Sephardi congrgation in London passed a law forbidding a Sephardi to marry an Ashkenazith and stipulated that the wife or widow could not obtain any relief from the ‘Zedakah’ (charity). Moreover, in the year 1772 a Sephardi asked the permission of the ‘Maamad’ to marry a “Tudesca’ but was refused, and in the Sephardi Synagogues in Amsterdam and London the Ashkenazim were prevented by wooden barriers from proceeding beyond the place permitted to them.

However, I have not yet found any sources in which Sephardim claim that Ashkenazim smell (Yated’s latest outrage, this time said about the Yemenites). It appears to me that the greatest social achievement of the religious Zionist movement in Israel has been the complete breakdown of the Ashkenazi-Sephardic divide.

[26] See also R. Abraham Ibn Ezra, Diwan, ed. Egers (Berlin 1886), p. 109: דוק וחוג התרועעו ממזרח ומים

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