Monday, November 12, 2007

R. Yehuda Hachasid & Natural Phenomenon: A Review of Amaros Tehoros

R. Yehuda Hachasid & Natural Phenomenon: A Review of Amaros Tehoros
by: Eliezer Brodt

In Kovetz al Yad (new series), volume 12, Professor Y. Ta-Shma published, for the first time from manuscript, a small kuntres of R. Yehuda Hachasid, that he titled Zecher Asa Lenifleosav. More recently, this article was reprinted and included in Ta-Shema’s collected writings, Kenesset Mekharim, (vol. 1, chap. 14). Two years ago, R. Yaakov Stal decided to turn this small pamphlet in to a beautifully edited book. He turned the work into a 517 page sefer!

Professor Ta-Shma, for the most part, printed the text almost as is, and did not add citations for the statements of R. Yehuda Hachasid. Furthermore, Ta-Shema included only a brief introduction to this work (which in general is not like him, as I will elaborate in an upcoming post). R. Stal, however, in his work on Chasedei Ashkenaz in general and more specifically R. Yehudah Hachasid, decided to reissue this work in a proper critical edition.

First, R. Stal shows that the name of the sefer is really Amaros Tehoros Chizionis U’Pnemeis. Additionally, R. Stal went out of his way to research all the statements in this work and show parallels to other works of Chasidei Ashkenaz. He includes very lengthy notes to all the statements in this work. Moreover, R. Stal shows that there were many inaccurate readings of the actual words in the text by Ta-Shma. The end result is an excellent scientific edition of this sefer by R. Yehuda Hachasid.

This sefer is heavily influenced by R. Sa’adia Gaon’s haEmunah V’Deos. It is worth pointing out that R’ Yehuda Hachasid and the other Chasidei Ashkenaz had a different translation of this work than the standard ibn Tibbon translation of haEmunah V'Deos. This alternative translation has only recently been found by R.C. Kiener that he published in his PhD dissertation, The Hebrew Paraphrase of Saadia Gaon's Kitab Al-amanat Wa'l-Ictiqadat (Penn. 1984) [according to Kiener's website, he is working on a critical edition of haEmunah V'Deos]. [1] R. Stal highlights R. Sa’adia’s influence throughout the sefer and note the important distinctions between the two translations of the haEmunah v’Deos and its effect on R. Yehuda Hachasid’s work.

Turning now to the content of Amaros Tehoros. The main theme of the sefer is to explain difficult philosophical concepts and to do so the sefer uses items appearing naturally to explain the supernatural. Consequently, the sefer is full of topics relating to nature, how the world works, and animals. There is much about the topic of nevuah, and many topics relating to and about malachim. For example, R. Y. Hachasid writes everyone knows that Hashem is everywhere, but that’s incomprehensible. To help understand it, he gives the example of a magnet. A magnet has a force that we can’t see but everyone knows that hat force is there. This can help us understand a bit the concept that Hashem is everywhere even though we can’t see Him (pp. 6-7).

Another example of utilizing everyday occurrences to explain otherwise incomprehensible topics is a discussion of how Hashem knows the future. R. Yehuda Hachasid says that we can understand this from the fact that people sometimes see the future in their dreams (p. 33).

Or, the question of how the world was able to be created in six days, when a pregnancy takes nine months so the creation should have taken much longer. R. Yehuda Hachasid points to the fact that there are certain things are able to grow overnight, for example, certain mushrooms so the power exists to create fast and god has that power (pp. 36-37).

This work is the first mention of the compass in Jewish sources, again this mundane phenomena is used to show more complex notions. Specifically, R. Y. Hachasid writes:

ועוד רב החובל בים מנסה בה לאן ספינתו הולכת מביא אבל בספל מצד אחד, והמחט מצד אחד, ואיש אומר לחבירו: אנה נחפוץ שתלך הספינה? אם יאמר למזרח, והספינה פונה למעריב תלך המחט סביב לאבן דרך עקלתון, ותכנס המחט כמעט כולו באבן, ואם פונה למזרח תלך המחט דרך ישר

Aside from the focus on explaining philosophical questions, the work contains other interesting points as well. For instance, R. Yehuda Hachasid says some interesting things about a pregnancy of triplets (pp. 50 -51):

ואם תאמר הלא המעשה משתנה לפעמים? כגון... ואשה ג' ילדים... ויש לומר כל אלו השנויים רומזים על בעליהם אשה שילדה ג' ילדים לפי שגזר השם על בעל להעמיד תולדות הרבה ופשע בגופו בחטאו, וכדי לקיים גזירתו בתולדותיו, מיהר והרבה לו ביחד ג' או ד' בנים כדי להמיתו מהרה"..

On this topic R. Stal brings a wide range of sources about twins and triplets and whether or not such a pregnancy is a good or bad sign (pp. 371-388).

R. Y. Hachasid mentions the using of a sword to protect one from Demons by going around the bed with it. Here R. Stal includes many sources for this which was done especially by the bed of a woman who just gave birth (pp. 176- 178).

R. Y. Hachasid discusses and rejects the notion that a person can think two different thoughts simultaneously. (p.11). R. Stal, however, provides an excellent collection of sources that document many gedolim who were able to think two thoughts at the same time ( pp.304-312).

As R. Yehuda Hachasid mentions many unique ideas, R. Stal includes a 200 page section with lengthy articles about many of these topics. For example, R. Yehuda Hachasid discusses how many colors exist. R. Stal includes a chapter discussing the differences of opinion from early Jewish sources about the number of colors. R. Y. Hachasid has a discussion about magnets so R. Stal has a whole article on the topic of magnet from many sources – how it works, what the point is, etc. As mentioned above, this work is the first Jewish reference to a compass, so R. Stal includes a chapter from early Jewish sources about the compass and how it works, even getting into a discussion of the Bermuda triangle. R. Y. Hachasid mentions the famous Even Takumah, again, R. Stal includes a chapter on this to. R. Stal includes an excellent chapter on the topic of lengthy pregnancies – more than nine months and some as long as fourteen and fifteen months such as Yitzchak and Yissacar.

In sum, this work is great for anyone interested in philosophy, nature or a plain old real interesting read from a great rishon.

In the U.S. the book is available at Beigeleisen Books.

[1] See also Kiener's article, "The Hebrew Paraphrase of Sa'adia Gaon's Kitab al-Amanat Wa'l-I'tiqadat," AJS Review, Vol. 11, No. 1, (Spring, 1986), pp. 1-25.

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