Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Pitfalls of Disagreeing with the Gra

Sunday, the second day of Hol HaMo'ad, was the 210th yahrzeit of the Gra. The Gra, a towering figure in modern Judaism, was not immune from criticism. His views, like any other's were subject to scrutiny. And, at times, there were those who disagreed with the Gra's conclusions. While this criticism should come as no surprise (and especially so in light of the Gra's dim view of deference to prior authorities), some felt the Gra should be immune from any criticism. Thus, we find the Gra's dissenters taken to task for merely arguing with the Gra's position.
Additionally, this post will be the beginning of a series of posts devoted to reviewing and highlighting one of the most important books in the history of the Jewish book to be published in recent memory. Dr. Yaakov Shmuel Spiegel (who has a terrific Hebrew Wikipedia entry here)has published two volumes of Amudim b'Tolodot Sefer HaIvri. Both volumes are tremendously rich in material and appear to have gone virtually unnoticed. (Unfortunately, Spiegel soon after the publication of the first volume came out with a revised edition. All citations are to the first edition of the first volume.)
As mentioned above, the first part of this post, is the first in a series discussing Spiegel's book. The second part, although related to Spiegel is not discussed by Spiegel, and instead, is from another important bibliography work, Ohel Rochel.
There is but one review in HaMayaan [and in the latest AJS review of Spiegel's second volume]. In fact, although those who have read it have recognized its import it has not stopped some from hiding their use of the book. Thus, a couple of weeks ago the Hiddushei HaBach were published on portions of the Talmud. Spiegel has an amazing discussion about the Hagot haBach. Spiegel discusses the history, what the Bach was doing, which edition of the Talmud he had. Perhaps most importantly, Spiegel discusses the errors that have crept into the Bach - mainly because the editors of the Vilna Shas removed the introduction to the work. The introduction explains certain devices that were employed to make clear which words the Bach was removing. Both the device (quotation marks) as well as the explanatory notes no longer appear, thus Spiegel provides numerous examples of people who based their Torah on an incorrect understanding of what the Bach was doing.

Returning to the new Hidushei HaBach, in the introduction they discuss the Bach's other works. Of course, they discuss the Hagot HaBach and they rely heavily (read almost in entirety) on Spiegel. But, the only times they cite (p. 19 n. 1; p.43 n. 55; p. 46 n.65, n. 67) to Spiegel they use the following abbreviation עמודים בתולדות ה"ה. They do not provide what that means, and only a reader who was already aware of Spiegel's book would have any idea. This is deliberate as although they are willing to use his book they are unwilling to let others know that.

In this post, however, I will not focus on the Bach, rather as mentioned above, we are going to discuss the Gra, and the first example focuses on the Hagot HaGra. This portion of the post mainly comes from Spiegel (Amudim: Haghot u'Maghim pp. 422-426, 461).

R. Gershon Henoch Leiner, the Radzyner Rebbi, published Sidrei Tahros. Sidrei Tahros is an attempt to fill a gap in the talmud. There are some mesechtot that do not have any talmudic commentary. While some, Zeraim for instance, have at least Yerushalmi, the mesechtot of Tahoros do not. Thus, R. Leiner culled the corpus of Rabbinic literature, Talmud, Midrash, Zohar, etc. and collected the relevant statements to create a "talmud" (it is even labeled as such - the legend on the page reads Gemara) on the two mesechtot of Ohelot and Kelim. Additionally, he wrote his own commentary on these volumes. The volume on Kelim was published in 1873 and included a map that can be seen here. The volume on Ohelot was published in 1903. After that both books were not republished until 1960 in a photomechanical reproduction.

Soon after it came out, people took issue with the entire concept - the concept of "creating" a gemara. Those who came out against him, did so in the newspaper Halevonon (available here - see the 1875 nos. 34, kovod levonon (machberes sheni year 11) 6 tamuz edition and see Ir Vilna vol. 1 p. 60 n. 7 for some choice quotes). Someone responded in Hamaggid (also available online see 17 Av, 1875). Much of this criticism was more focused on the concept of the Sidrei Taharos, (creating a "new" gemara) for our purposes, however, we are going to focus on one point, R. Leiner's disagreements with the Gra.

In his commentary, R. Leiner takes issue with some of the Gra's textual emendations. For instance R. Leiner states:
ודע דדברי הגר"א ז"ל בזה בספרו . . . לא איתברר לן ולא זכינו לעמוד בסוד דבריו ז"ל . . . דרכו בקודש נסתרה ונעלמה מאתנו

This is but one of the times R. Leiner disagrees with the Gra. At one time, R. Leiner is willing to attribute his disagreement not to the Gra, but instead, R. Leiner claims that perhaps the difficult statements in the Gra were not made by the Gra. Instead, a student misunderstood and thus it is now necessary to figure out what in fact the Gra said. Setting aside this justification (which, when it comes to the Gra's notes on the Talmud is difficult to believe in light of the fact much comes from the Gra's hand itself), R. Leiner still disagreed with the Gra for whatever reason it may be.

R. Yosef Refael and R. Betzalael HaKohen, Dayanim in the Vilna Bet Din were against the whole notion of the Sidrei Tahros. But, they also singled out R. Leiner's disagreements with the Gra. Specifically, they say
ובהשגות המחבר [ר' גרשון] על רבינו מאור הגולה הגר"א ז"ל כתב הרבה נגד כבוד הגר"א ז"ל בכמה מקומות ומדקדק עליו בדקדודי עניות לבד אשר אין מהצרוך להשיב עליהם כלל, וגם במהלליו את רבינו הגר"א ז"ל התנכר כנגדו כובד וכאילו היה חלילה אחד מחבריו . . . ובכמה מקומות תלה דברים זרים בפירוש הגר"א ז"ל, אשר לא יטעה כל המתחיל ללמוד לפרש כזאת

Another example is that of R. Barukh Brody in his book Bet Ya'akov where he states:

ועל של עתה באתי כי זה לא כביר נדפס ילקוט על מס' כלים . . . והנה בעברי על פני דבריו באיזה מקומן ראיתי כי יצא בילקוטו באבני נגף נוכח תורת הגר"א ופגע ונגע בכ"מ [= בכמה מקומות] בכבוד רבינו הגר"א ומשיג על דבריו בעזות וחוצפה מאד, ושמתי עיוני על השגותיו ומצאתי ראיתי כי מלבד שאין קטן ערך כמוהו ראוי להתוכח עם ארי ארי[ה] דבי עילאה הגר"א ז"ל, בר מכל דין לא הבין ולא רצה להבין דברי הגר"א הקדושים רק שנאה וחוצפה מדברת מתוך גרונו . . . חכמתו המעט נסתקלה ממנו ולא הבין אפילו פשט הפשוט שבדברי הגר"א ז"ל

R. Brody thus accuses R. Leiner of brazeness, chutzpah, and that R. Leiner "is unable to understand even the simplest explanations." Harsh words indeed all for disagreeing with the Gra.

The second example deals with a recently discussed book. In our discussion of Teffilah Zakah, we noted that various editions of the Hayye Adam were altered. In this case, we are going to deal with R. Danzig's other well-known work the Hokhmat Adam. In the prior discussion the removal was due to the inclusion of a controversial book, in this case it was R. Danzig's own words. [1]

The Hokhmat Adam was published after the Hayye Adam. In the Hayye Adam at various times, he take issue with the opinions of the Gra. R. Danzig was no stranger to the Gra, R. Danzig's son married the grand-daughter (Gittel Vilner) of the Gra. It appears that R. Danzig's disagreements with the Gra did not go unnoticed or unopposed.

In the first edition of the Hokhmat Adam, R. Danzig addresses criticisms. R. Danzig notes, inter alia, that the Gra himself would be more than happy to have people disagree with him. It appears, however, that only one copy remains of R. Danzig's original words. This copy was discovered by Chaim Lieberman, one of the great bibliographers of the past generation, in what was R. Shmuel Straushun's former library (a portion of the library is now housed in YIVO). The page, in relevant part, reads as follows:

והנה לא נמצא בחיבור זה מדברי מחותני הגאון רשכבה"ג מו' אלי' החסיד, והוא לסיבת כי שמעתי דבת רבים המתרעמים עלי שהשגתי עליו באיזה מקומות בחיבורי [חיי אדם] ובלתי ס[פק] שהאנשים המתרעמים לא ידעו דרך הפוסקים שכך דרך תה"ק זה בונה וזה סותר והתלמיד חולק על הרב כמש"כ בש"ע [יו"ד ס' רמ"ב סע' ג] ודרך זה היה נוהג אף בזמן תנאים ואמורים, ובודאי ניחא להגר"א מה שאני מפלפל בדבריו ממי שהוא אומר שפיר קאמר כדאר"י [=כדאמר רבי יוחנן] על בר לקישא. ולכתוב דבריו אף אם לא יהיה נ"ל זה לא אוכל, ולכן אחזתי במדת השתיקה להסיר תלונתם מעלי והם עתידים ליתן את הדין כי מנעו נ"ר [=נחת רוח] להגר"א לפלפל בדבריו, ודין אותי לכף זכות ידונו אותו משמים לזכות

This is not the text that appears in Hokhmat Adam, rather a slightly different text appears. These changes, however, as been demonstrated by Ch. Lieberman are significant. The following is how it appears (prior to the Binat Adam section):

והנה דברי מחותני גאון ישראל וקדושו אשר מימיו אנו שותים המקובל אלקי החסיד המפורסם מהו' אלי' חסיד דקהילתינו לא הבאתי כלל דבריו כמעט רק איזה גרגרים והוא לסיבה כי שמעתי דיבת רבים המתרעמים עלי על שבאיזה מקומות בחיברי חיי אדם השגתי עליו, ובלתי ספק שאנשים האלה אינם בקיאי' בלימוד הפוסקי' שכן דרך תה"ק זה בונה וזה סותר והתלמוד חולק על הרב והטור על אביו הרא"ש כמש"כ בש"ע ובפוסקי', וזה ניחא להון כדאמר ר' יוחנן על ר"ל דמיני ומיני' רווח שמעתתא, ובודאי זהו נחת רוח להגואן יותר ממי שיאמר שפיר קאמר ועתידין ליתן את הדין על שמונעים נחת רוח מהגואן, והדן לכף זכות ידונו משמים לזכות

Lieberman points to four major changes. First, the honorifics surrounding the first mention of the Gra. Second, in the first iteration, R. Danzig decided to totally avoid any mention of the Gra while in the second iteration he cites "some small statements" of the Gra. Third, in the later iteration the statement of R. Yochonon is filled in. That is it provides the text. Lieberman allows that perhaps this was done to avoid "confusion" with another statement of R. Yochonon. R. Yohonon (Ketubot 84,b) says about Resh Lakish "what can I do my peer disagrees with me." Rashi explains that "peer" means equal. Thus, perhaps the reader would think that R. Danzig was comparing himself with the Gra. Instead, the reader is now directed to the statement of R. Yohonon (Pesachim 88,a; Megilah 14,b) generally discussing Resh Lakish providing numerous answers to questions. Finally, in the later iteration the language "it is impossible for me to write what I don't actually believe" is missing in it entirety. (For Lieberman's article see Ohel Rochel, vol. 1, 473-74 [first printed in Kiryat Sefer, 37 (1962) pp. 413-14]).

[1] For examples of R. Danzig's disagreements and some responses see Eliach, HaGoan, vol. 2 pp. 706-09.

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