Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lag Ba-Omer and Upsherins in Recent Jewish literature: Revisionist History and Borrowing and Plagiarism

Lag Ba-Omer and Upsherins in Recent Jewish literature:
Revisionist History and Borrowing and Plagiarism
By Eliezer Brodt

In this post I would like to touch upon some of the topics relating to Lag Ba-Omer through a discussion of the latest volume of R. Tuviah Freund’s Moadim le-Simcha.

By way of introduction, in the past few years, the field minhaghim, specifically the research and investigation of sources and reasons for custom has expanded exponentially. To be sure, from early rishonim and onwards we have many books discussing minhag. But, only more only more recently, did the systematic study and collecting of sources as they relate to minhag really start. The basic idea underlying this particular area of research involves digging up as many sources as one could related to a particular minhag and then to try and put together a comprehensive picture of the development of the specific minhag. This is a time consuming process. To begin with, one has to carefully track down early sources, figure out who is earliest source, and then try to understand the reasons given for the custom on the whole. Additionally, one has to be mindful of who influenced whom, separate the development from the original unadulterated custom, as customs, being the product of human development tend to themselves to develop over time. The older a minhag is, the more difficult a challenge as the possible source texts multiply and patience is required to put together the whole puzzle.

The recent interest in the field has produced many articles and books. Although many of these articles rely on one another, proper attribution varies widely. Some authors always give credit, while others just “borrow” sources and still others take entire text portions without any attribution. At times, to obscure this misappropriation, the order of the original article is changed although the text remains the same.

Bar-Ilan University professor Daniel Sperber, in the introduction to his eighth and final volume of his Minhagei Yisrael, catalogues and comments on many recent works minhag. In an earlier volume he published a bibliography on minhagim by Prof. Yosef Tabory.

The Moadim le-Simcha Series

In this genre, one of the more recent and popular books is Moadim le-Simcha, by R. Tuviah Freund. The sixth volume of this series has just been published. The volumes follow the yearly holiday cycle and this latest volume covers the holidays appearing in the months of Iyyar and Sivan.

R. Freund first publishes portions of the books in the newsweekly Hamodia (Hebrew). Then, he updates them and collects and arranges them according to the months. Overall, the material found in this collection is excellent. R. Freund uses a wide range of sources and it is obvious that he works hard to put out a good product. Moreover, just collecting this disparate material in one place is admirable.

But, aside from doing his own research – a task that is obviously quite time consuming – R. Freund employs two other methods that ultimately allow him to produce these books. As I have elaborated on in the past, Machon Otzar ha-Poskim has a card catalogue comprising thousands of topics with a phenomenal amount of sources related to those topics. R. Freund, as other contemporary authors, uses these cards to get a head start (alternatively, sometimes the cards provide everything) on the articles in Moadim le-Simcha. R. Freund freely acknowledges, at the beginning of each volume, that he relies on these cards.

As we have previously noted, another source of R. Freund’s materials, however, goes unacknowledged. On many topics, not necessarily all, he locates a key article of a talmid hakham or academic scholar, and then R. Freund proceeds to use their material. At times he mentions the original source in a random footnote while on other occasions he makes no mention at all.

Of course, there is no problem using someone else material so long as the source is clearly noted at the outset of the chapter that you used it and you are adding on your own finds. To be sure R. Freund is not the only who fails to properly note all of his sources; many authors do this today both in the traditional rabbinic and academic communities, and this is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, below, we will see another such example.

Setting aside this methodological issue, Moadim le-Simcha also suffers from lack of proper organization. Chapters do not flow into one another like they should, content is not put in chronological order and many times sources are not given. One other issue is one can always find more material touching on the topics covered in Moadim le-Simcha. Although this is not a criticism of R. Freund but is an issue anytime someone attempts to collect material on minhagim. Overall, however, Moadim le-Simcha is well worth one’s money as it does have a wealth of information some of which will not be found else where on many interesting topics relating to the months of the year.

Moadim le-Simcha, volume 6 – The Customs relating to the Months of Iyyar & Sivan

As mentioned above, the latest volume of this series covers Iyar and Sivan. The first article is a lengthy one covering the issues of becoming bar-mitvah during the sefirah period. This one section is over ninety pages. The next topic is Pesach Sheni. The next eight articles cover topic that are connected with Lag Ba-Omer. The final section covers Shavous topics.

It is the Lag Ba-Omer section, however, that will be the focus of our discussion. Topics covered include the recent minhag called ח"י רוטל (pp. 146- 148), bows and arrows on Lag Ba-Omer (pp. 155-58),[1] and the origins of bonfires on Lag Ba-Omer and burning clothing. There is then a detour to discuss the more general custom of lighting candles at graves year-round. Then we return to Lag Ba-Omer with a discussion of Upsherin and a section on peyos, after which he discusses the custom of learning at the kever of the Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (“Rashbi”), followed by a chapter on the halakhic discussions relating to Kupas (charity) of Rashbi. On the topic of Rashbi, R. Freund turns to the controversial topic of authorship of the Zohar, as well as some general aspects of studying Kabbalah. Then we have another detour to discuss visiting graves of Tzadkim in general. He concludes this section with a discussion of the minhag to go to the kever of Shmauel ha-Navi on the forty-third day of Sefirat ha-Omer.

We now turn to the content of these chapters and Lag Ba-Omer generally.

Traditionally, the sefirah period is considered a time of mourning. The most well-known reason given – offered by the rishonim – is the mourning is due to the death of students of R. Akiva who died during this time of the year. Because this is deemed a mourning period, we refrain from shaving, taking haircuts, dancing, listening to music and making weddings, etc. Interestingly, some seem to think that there is an additional minhag during this time of abstaining from purchasing new clothes in order to avoid making a shehecheyanu; however, this is wrong. Many poskim write that people erroneously confuse the sefirah period restrictions with those customarily applied during the three weeks. Indeed, during the three weeks, one should refrain from buying new clothes to avoid a shehecheyanu, but during sefirah no such halakha applies. For example, the Mishnah Berurah writes that if during sefirah [493:2]:

מ"מ אם נזדמן לו איזה ענין שצריך לברך עליו שהחיינו יברך

The source for this ruling is the Ma'mar Mordechai who writes:

לא מצאתיו בשום ספר ראשון או אחרון ואין ספק שנשתרבב זה המנהג ממה שכתוב בשלחן ערוך לקמן סי' תקנא דטוב ליזהר מלומר שהחיינו בין המצרים על פרי או על מלבוש

While this is the halakha, today we do know that in fact there is some bases for refraining from shehecheyanu during sefirah. As many manuscripts have come to light, one of these manuscripts reflects this customs. In fact, this topic was comprehensively covered by R. Gedaliah Oberlander in his journal Ohr Yisroel, and later reprinted in his collection on minhaghim called Minhag Avosenu be-Yadenu (Merkaz Halakhah, 2005). There is much to add on this topic and I hope to return to it in a future post at the Seforim blog. While on this topic of shehecheyanu during sefirah, it is worth noting that one of the earliest sources reflecting this custom is the Leket Yosher. R. Zilber, quoted by R. Ben David, in his article in Tzohar, uses this example to question the authenticity of the Leket Yosher. Basically, they argue the Leket Yosher must be a forgery as this custom is only attested to in recent times. But, as I mentioned R. Oberlander demonstrates that there are many sources for the shehecheyanu restriction aside from the Leket Yosher. (Also, R. Ben David, in a later issue of Tzohar admitted that the fact the Leket Yosher may confirm what was believed to be a later custom is meaningless and disavowed his reliance on R. Zilber.)

Prof. Daniel Sperber (Minhagei Yisrael 1:101-117) posits that the mourning customs during sefirah are mainly due to the crusades, as many of the most horrific events of the crusades took place during the sefirah period. As evidence, Sperber notes that in Ashkenaz there was a custom to refrain from cutting one’s nails – a terrific extension of symbolic mourning. Moreover, in Sefer Assufot [printed in a few places- see Meoros ha-Rishonim p. 89] it says:

ועוד נראה לי מה שאין נושאין נשים בין פסח לעצרת, מפני צער הקהלות בכל המלכות, ומתענין עליהם ומזכירין נשמות באותן השבתות ומצטערין ודואגין עליהן באותו הפרק

In Spanish sources, however, we find that they were much more lenient some going so far to permit marriage during the sefirah period. (For one example of this leniency, see the manuscript published by Meir Benayahu,Yosef Bechiri [Jerusalem, 1991], 518-20).

Now for some reason or reasons all these prohibitions are lifted on Lag Ba-Omer. Additionally, there is a custom to celebrate on Lag Ba-Omer, while to a more limited degree in many places, but especially in Meron at the Kever of Rashbi. In Meron there are great celebrations with music and dancing and the like on Lag Ba-Omer. The obvious question, however, is why?

Now I will not even attempt to provide all the answers offered, but in a moment I will point the interest reader to additional sources. There are many early sources for simcha on Lag Ba-Omer, also that tachanun is omitted, marriages are allowed and so is shaving. In some rishonim the reason given is because the students of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying on Lag Ba-Omer. This reason, however, provides no insight into the connection between Meron and specifically Rashbi and Lag Ba-Omer.

One of the most famous reasons explaining the connection between Rashbi and Lag Ba-Omer – if you ask anyone this will probably be their reply – is because the Rashbi died on Lag Ba-Omer. Assuming for a moment this is factually correct, it is quite strange that we celebrate Rashbi’s death. We don’t find any other yahrzeit that we celebrate it in such a way and we had many other great people die besides for Rashbi, Avraham, Moshe, David HaMelech, etc. – none of whose death we celebrate with bonfires. Another problem is that neither chazal nor any of the rishonim mention Rashbi dying on Lag Ba-Omer. These questions and others were addressed by the Hatam Sofer in his teshuvot. In fact, because of these problems, he was very skeptical – to put it very mildly – of this celebration that takes place at Meron.

As an aside, an unknown sources about this whole topic is a statement found in some versions of Toledot Ha-Arizal (Sefer ha-Ari, 219) it is also found in a manuscript of the Chida which says:

בימי מרן (ר' יסוף קארו) הסכימו שלא יעשו ישראל הערביים מחול בל"ג בעומר על ציון רשב"י. ונראה למרן וב"ד שהוא זלזול שאוכלים ומרקדים, ונכתבה ולא נחתמה. בלילה חלם מרן עם הרשב"י וא"ל שתבא מגפה גדולה בעבור זו ההסכמה, כי רצונו שישמחו בהללולא, ולמחר קרע את ההסכמה

With this introduction regarding Lag Ba-Omer, we can now turn to the Moadim le-Simcha’s discussion of Lag Ba-Omer customs.

He starts the topic of Lag Ba-Omer with a nice list of issues regarding Lag Ba-Omer giving the impression that this list indicates the progression of the articles. The reader is quickly disabused of this notion as R. Freund jumps from topic to topic at times returning to earlier topics with no discernable order. After carefully reading the Lag Ba-Omer section, I decided to compare R. Freund’s work with that of R. Betzalel Landau’s [author of ha-Goan mi-Vilna] on Lag Ba-Omer called מסע מירון. R. Landau’s sefer is a collection of articles printed in 1966 and as is the case with R. Freund, R. Landau’s articles also first appeared in the Hebrew weekly Hamodia. R. Landau’s work is printed along with the Maseh Meron of R. Mendel Rabin. R. Landau’s articles deal with everything connected to Lag Ba-Omer, from the visiting of Meron and the accompanying celebration to Upsherin and much more. It is written beautifully, well organized and has excellent sources including manuscripts and many rare seforim.

After comparing the material, I noticed that R. Tuviah Freund basically lifted all the material from R. Betzalel Landau with one big difference: where R. Landau presents the material in very organized fashion, R. Freund does not. To be sure, Freund adds much material to the topics discussed by Landau and Freund covers areas not covered by Landau. On the other hand, Freund omits many interesting topics and sources relating to this day that he should have dealt with such as discussion of the song Bar-Yochai.[2] The point is not that Freund used the sources collected by Landau but rather at the outset of the articles Freund should note his debt to Landau and reference the reader to Landau’s work for its additional materials. In fact, in passing on at least two occasions Freund mentions “Mase Meron” indicating that indeed he was aware of and used Landau’s work. To make this even more bizarre, the only times Freund cites Landau, in truth, Landau was merely quoting from Avraham Yaari, Iggerot Eretz Yisrael (Tel Aviv, 1943), a work that Freund uses directly in other places (379-384). In other words, the times he does mention Landau’s work it was almost unnecessary while where Freund should mention it he does not. Is it to say that only here he used Landau work and the rest he found himself? I find it hard to believe and quite silly – there is no problem to use someone else’s material as long as you give them proper credit.

A Revisionist History of Lag Ba-Omer and Another Example of Plagiarism.

Before returning to the rest of R. Tuviah Freund’s Moadim le-Simcha, we need to examine another recent article that appeared in the journal Yeshurun (no. 15) authored by R. Moshe Blau. R. Blau’s article is devoted to Lag Ba-Omer and is well organized and clearly written – a model for R. Freund to learn from. While these facts distinguish R. Blau’s article from Freund’s, Blau actually has something in common with Freund – Blau too plagiarized.

Again, Blau uses information that appears elsewhere without mentioning the sources. Specifically, Blau plagiarized from Avraham Yaari, Meir Benayahu, Betzalel Landau, and possibly even R. Yaakov Hillel, as I will demonstrate below.

As I mentioned earlier many traditionally many claim the yarzheit of Rashbi is on Lag Ba-Omer. While this claim is well-known the source of this tradition is more difficult to locate. Avraham Yaari and Meir Benayahu show that the earliest source to mention Lag Ba-Omer as the yarzheit of Rashbi is none other than the Hemdat Ha-Yamim. (R. Yaakov Hillel also confirms this on page 13 in his Aid ha-Gal ha-Zeh.)

There were some, however, who attributed the Lag Ba-Omer death date of Rashbi not to Hemdat Ha-Yamim but to R. Hayyim Vital, whose source was the Arizal. In truth, it is a mistake to give R. Vital credit for this. The source of this mistake was based on a simple printing mistake in one version of the Prei Etz Chaim which was first printed in 1782 - available here. (For more on this edition see R. Yosef Avivi, Binyan Ariel, pp. 68-71.) That edition reads:
והטעם שמת רשב"י ביום ל"ג בעומר כי הוא מתלמידי רבי עקיבא הנ"ל שמתו בספירת העומר
The Chida already writes that this is a mistake and instead of שמת, one letter is missing and the correct reading is שמחת רשב"י. So it is not a reference to Rashbi’s death day at all. Avraham Yaari demonstrates that other sources aside from the Prei Etz Chaim confirm this reading of שמחת. Meir Benayahu also concludes this is the correct reading using manuscripts. Finally, R. Yakov Hillel also writes that it is clear from viewing many manuscripts of the Prei Etz Chaim that it is a mistake. [3]

Turning to the origins of going to Meron, again, Avraham Yaari, in an article in Tarbiz 22 (1951) has a very detailed piece showing how the custom of going to Meron was taken from an earlier custom of going on Pesach Shnei to the kevarim of Hillel and Shamai in Meron. Soon after Yaari published this article, Meir Benayahu penned a strong rebuttal (Sefunot 6 pp. 11-40), and is again summarized in Sefer Vilnai 2:326-330). According to Benayahu, the custom of going to Meron was begun by the "Mekubeli Sefat." Irrespective of whose side one falls, both articles are full of interesting facts about the development of this Lag Ba-Omer. In my opinion, Benayahu appears to have the upper hand. More recently, Tel Aviv University professor Elchanan Reiner revisited this topic in his incredible dissertation, “Pilgrims and Pilgrimage to Eretz Yisrael (1099-1517),” (PhD dissertation, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1988), 295-320. (Hopefully, Dr. Reiner will publish this in book form.)

Returning to Freund’s article on Lag Ba-Omer, there is no doubt he used both Landau and Benayahu, as he quotes them in his notes. At the end of his article, Freund raises the older, although less known, custom of going to the grave of Shmuel ha-Navi (again close to Lag Ba-Omer) (p. 384). In doing so Freund quotes an early source for this custom, a source that is only in manuscript. But, Freund provides no citation where this source can be found. In fact this comes from Yaari (neither Landau or Benayahu mention it) who notes that this was originally published in Jacob Moses Toledano, “Teudot mikkitvey-yad," Hebrew Union College Annual 4 (1927): 449-466, quote at 458. So either Freund was perusing random old copies of HUCA or more likely, he found Yaari’s article on Lag Ba-Omer and neglected to mention that.

Coming back to Blau's article, the general idea of Blau in his article is after dealing with all the sources of why Lag Ba-Omer is different than the rest of Sefirat ha-Omer. His new ideas which he brings to the table are that 1) the earliest source for Lag Ba-Omer being the death of Rashbi is from Hemdat ha-Yamim. This point was already made by both Yaari and Benayahu. 2) The printings of Prei Etz Chaim contains a printing error (Blau shows this to be the case from various manuscripts he checked). Again, not a new point, while it is nice that he prints in the article copies of the various manuscripts but this also was already shown to be the case by Benayahu much earlier. 3) Finally, at the end of his article he brings from a manuscript that R. Yosef Karo wanted to stop the going to Meron but did not. Blau, however, concludes that this fact is not mentioned by the Chida because the Chida did not believe this manuscript was legitimate. This whole major manuscript is brought by Yaari and Benayahu. The text itself is printed in Benayahu’s Sefer HaChida. Additionally, R. Landau also discusses this point. None of this is noted by Blau. All in all this leads to the conclusion that much of Blau’s article is premised, without attribution, on Yaari’s, Benayahu’s, and Landau’s works on the topic.

As an aside both R. Yaakov Hillel and R. Ovadiah Yosef (Yabia Omer 5:35 and Hazon Ovadiah, p. 274) do not encourage going to Meron on Lag Ba-Omer due to the situation of pritzus there. R. Hillel is also against going on these types of hilulas throughout the year.

In actuality, while it is difficult to connect with the death of Rashi, there is another important person who perhaps did die on Lag be-Omer, Yehoshua ben Nun. (See R. Hamberger, Shoreshei Minhag Ashkenaz 3:262). In Meglias Ta'anis, the last section, there is a part titled Meglias Ta'anis Batra. In many versions of this text, it places Yehoshua ben Nun's death on Lag be-Omer. Professor Shulamis Elitzur, in her excellent book, Lamu Tzamnu, deal with the death date of Yehoshua ben Nun at length. She cites to many early piyutuim that mirror this reading found in Meglias Ta'anis. (See Lamu Tzamnu pp. 18, 26, 34, 39, 66, 120, 126, 172.) Generally, Lamu Tzamnu is a scientific edition of Megilas Tannit Batra. For further on this, see also her Piyyutei R. Pinchas ha-Kohen, pp. 240 & 693. See also, Landau, p. 71, who errs in this regard based on a faulty manuscript; S. Leiman, "The Scroll of Fasts: The Ninth of Tevet" in J.Q.R., vol. 74, pp. 174-95, esp. pp. 174-79; Reiner, op. cit., pp. 289-90.

Moadim le-Simcha on Upsherin and Peyos

Now that we have covered the two latest discussions of Lag Ba-Omer and their similar faults, we return to the rest of Moadim le-Simcha. Freund’s next major topic is that of Upsherin. The problem with this article is that it is not objective.

The source for the Upsherin custom is highly problematic. R. Benyamin Shlomo Hamberger, Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz 3:251-267, attacks it for the following reasons: there is no mention of this custom in any of the rishonim. Now do not say they did not bother to write it down as we have very detailed discussions from the rishonim about this time period in a Jewish boy’s life how to take him to cheder etc. (discussed by R. Hamburger at great length in volume two of his Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz 2:502-532) but there is no mention of the Upsherin custom.[4] Furthermore, he shows from many places in the times of the rishonim they cut their hair long before three years old. Another big question dealt with by Yaari and later on in more detail by Hamberger is the attributing the custom of Upsherin on Lag Ba-Omer to the Arizal. This attribution is problematic as it is documented that the Arizal did not cut hair the entire sefirah – including Lag Ba-Omer. This particular issue M. Benayahu does not find to be such a problem as it could be what he did to his son and what he himself did were two different things. Another issue R. Hamberger raises is even if there is such a minhag what does it have to do with Rashbi and where do we find such a thing to give a haircut in a grave yard? Further more he brings sources [amongst them a National Geographic Magazine!] which claim that it come from outside – Arabic influences. R. Hamburger does defend it a little that it still makes sense to keep if it comes from outside sources. However after seeing all this documentation of R Hamburger notes that it makes sense why we can not find sources in litvishe or Hungarian sources – as there are no early sources in rishonim!

Professor Sperber [Minhagei Yisrael 8: 13-30] takes Hamberger's discussion much further documenting how this comes from many completely outside ancient sources. R. Yechiel Goldhaber (author of the Minhagei ha-Kehillos) told me that he just saw a manuscript of a letter of R. Akiva Yosef Schlesinger who writes very sharply that this whole custom is taken form outside sources. Generally, Freund has no problem mentioning R Hamburger as he quotes this very same volume in another chapter of his in this sefer – saying Tikun on shavuos night. But when it comes to using Hamberger to question or examine Upsherin, Freund seems unable to do so.

After this chapter Freund has a section all about the customs of peyos including different opinions about wearing it behind ones ears. A careful reading of this chapter shows he stole much [and he could of stolen even more] from Yitzchak (Eric) Zimmer's chapter in his Olam Keminhago Noheg (Mercaz Zalman Shazar, 1996) devoted to these topics.

Freund continues with a chapter on the development of the tomb over Rashbi’s kever and its history. He has a lot of important information on it. I would add to it the last section of M Benayhu previously mentioned article (which I think for sure Freund was well aware of on this topic of Meron in general).

The Zohar and its History

In connection with Rashbi, Freund examines the Zohar, its authorship and other topics related to the learning of the Zohar. This topic really deserves its own series of posts but for now I will just point out three issues. He does not mention that there was any opposition to the authorship of the Zohar. Now I understand perfectly well why he does not mention Yehudah Aryeh (Leon) Modena and others but there is one work which definitely deserves mention and that is the Mitpachat Seforim from R. Yaakov (Jacob) Emden. This work is not an attempt to undermine Kabbalah at all but rather it shows that there was some tampering done to the Zohar by different people. To be sure this work was considered very important by many as the Hatam Sofer writes in a teshuvah [Choshen Mishpat Likutim, 59] to someone:

הנה נמצא בשכונתך ס' מטפחת ספרים למהריעב"ץ תמצא שם כי דבר גדול דבר הנביא ז"ל בענין זה הלא ישתוממו רואיו וד"ל

Interestingly enough a few years back this sefer was printed by someone than it was put in cherem by the badatz! The printer was cursed by sefardi mekubalim and he died within the year! This edition of the sefer is now considered very rare. Indeed, included in the introduction to this edition, are other sources attesting to the importance of the Mitpachat Seforim. Additionally, R. Eliezer Waldenberg, in his Tzizt Eliezer cites the Mitpachat Seforim. (Tzitz Eliezer 9:51 and 21:5).

Another issue I have with this chapter is he does not even mention the famous discussion of the poskim regarding contradictions between Kabbalah and halakha; much has been written on this I will not even bother to cite sources.

One other issue with this chapter is at the end he lists commentaries on the Zohar although he does not claim to make a comprehensive list there are some strange omissions. One is the work of R. Reuven Margoliyot on the Zohar it is extremely important with all his comments as he draws parallels from all over chazal another thing he does is he references many halakhic discussions from the Zohar. Besides for this R. Margoliyot deals with all the questions which R Emden raises in his Mitpachat Seforim. R. Shlomo Zevin, Soferim ve-Seforim, has a beautiful review of R. Margoliyot’s work. One other important work that is not listed is Tiferet Zvi from R. Spielman. Thus far it is only six volumes, going up until chumash Vayikra. This work is literally an encyclopedia on the Zohar dealing with the hundreds of halakha and kabbalistic topics relating to the Zohar [see the comment of Professor Yisrael M. Ta-Shma, ha-Niglah she-b’Nistar, 109 n. 13]. It is very ironic that during R. Spielman lifetime he had to peddle his seforim going door to door begging people to buy them and now it is a very hard to find to purchase.

Finally, Freund discusses visiting kevarim in general – he includes a special section about Kohanim. Here Freund writes openly at the outset that he used an earlier work but he should have been aware there is a much more through and important work on the topic from R Spielman called Zion Lenefesh Chayah.

General sources:
All about Lag Ba-Omer (much of the material overlaps) see R. Shlomo J. Zevin, Moadim Bahalcha pp. 359-64; S Ashkenazi in Avnei Chain pp. 103-11; Pardes Eliezer.

For personal accounts of Lag Ba-Omer see Chanina Mizrachi Yehudei Paras (Tel Aviv, 1959), 29-34. For a Christian traveler account from 1838 see Maseh ha-Notzrim, 496 see id., 517-18 for another account.

Others used to go to Kever of Shimon Hazadik see: Nachlas Yosef [2: 42]; Eiyur Hakodesh ve-Yoshveha p. 43. See a Christian traveler account from 1838 in Maseh ha-Notzrim p. 448 – he mentions that they cut the hair there.

On going to Meron in general see: Kivrei Avos pp. 179-81; The excellent collection from Z Vilani in his Mazavos be-Eretz ha-Kodesh pp. 117-150.

On Shmuel ha-Navi and visiting his grave, see Lamu Tzamu pp. 177-180; Reiner op. cit. pp. 306-320

[1] On using bow and arrows on Lag Ba-Omer: see the sources listed by Landau, ibid pp. 124-26 [At this point I am unable to find the source for the riddle of the Malbim that Landau brings.] Moadim le-Simcha pp. 155-59; Pardes Eliezer pp. 229-49; ha-Koton ve-Halachosov chapter 24 p. 59 n. 22; Kundes p. 49 [see here on this work]; Zikhronot Av u-Beno p. 231; Zikhronot me-Rav Litai p. 245 [on this work see here]; A.S. Sachs, Worlds that Passed (Philadelphia, 1928), 112.

[2] About the song Bar-Yochai (which he choose not to talk about it at all), see Landau piece in Maseh Meron; the excellent study by Professor Moshe Hallamish, in Hakabblah, 507-531. See also Hallamish’s Hanageios Kabbalios be-Shabbat pp. 300-03. On general songs composed for Rashbi see Hallamish in Hakabblah pp. 259-83.

[3] R. Yaakov Hillel deals with all this in his sefer Aid ha-Gal ha-Zeh printed two years ago. This is a nice sefer all about Lag Ba-Omer and the Zohar. He has many interesting chapters including the origins of the Zohar the importance of learning Zohar and how to learn it. Another chapter he has is on the topic of contradictions between Kabbalah and halakha. He also has a chapter on Torah Lav Min hashamaayim and its relation to pesak halakha. He also deals with this topic in a few other places in his notes on Moreh Betzbah of the Chidah. It is worth seeing the latest edition, page 159 and onwards, as it is updated from the 1980 edition. He also dealt with this in his journal Mekabtzeal (25: 45-59). R. Hillel definitely saw what Benayahu writes on the topic but he does not credit him at all.

[4] For more on this see Ivan Marcus in Rituals of Childhood (Yale, 1996) and in his Jewish Lifecycle (Washington, 2004).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sale On Hebrew Book Harddrives

This year the sale will be 33% off the regular price of Otzar HaChomah. The sale runs from May 13 through June 7. The prices are as follows:
Full version (25,800 vol.) reg. 2275 sale 1520
Bnei Torah version (24,500 vol.) reg 2050 sale 1370
Gemara v'Halacha (18,700 vol.) reg 1525 sale 1020
Tanach u'Midrash (17,200 vol.) reg. 1525 sale 1020
also an additional 2,400 from Kehos Publishing is $70
All of the above include a "search engine" which is very good. It also has the ability to convert the "image" to "text" (at the moment only seforim with "square" print, not "rashi" print).
Also available is the "Library" version which has 28,000 vol. without search. The SALE price for the Library edition is $1050 (reg. 1130).
NOTE: There will be a special BONUS for readers of the Seforim blog (when mentioning Seforim blog)!

Also, Bar Ilan's new version (16) will be arriving in about 2-3 weeks. Pricing is not yet available.
DBS claims that there will be an update before Shavu'os as well.
The Morgenstern Library is supposedly going to be updated on or about Rosh Chodesh Sivan (June 4). They will also be having a BIG sale at that time.
Anyway, if you could post the above I'd greatly appreciate it.

Please contact Moishe Flohr at Computer Maven to take advantage of this pricing and with any questions.
cell: 917-456-7855

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Hunted Bears, Cantonists and Nazi Victims

by Yitzhak, בין דין לדין.

I thank Dan Rabinowitz for graciously allowing me to post this essay.

Hunted Bears

This is the cover image of the Gary Larson collection Beyond The Far Side:

I have long found this cartoon profoundly depressing, in its humorous but acute portrayal of the moral degradation of which we are capable. עור בעד עור, וכל אשר לאיש יתן בעד נפשו 1; the desperate bear grins inanely as he attempts to persuade the hunter to shoot his companion instead of himself.

Several months ago, though, I had an epiphany; it is all very well to consider the matter from a literary-psychological perspective, but what is the view of the Halachah 2?

Cantonists and 'Chappers'

The thought lay dormant in my mind, until I read the following paragraph in Dr. Marc Shapiro's typically erudite and fascinating article Rabbis and Communism at The Seforim Blog:

When dealing with anti-clericalism in Russia, we must also not forget the masses’ long memory of how some (many?, most?) rabbis were silent during the era of the chappers. This was when children were grabbed for 25 years of military service in the Cantonists, often never again to see their parents and usually succumbing to incessant pressure (including torture) to be baptized. Yet it wasn’t the children of the rich or the rabbis who were taken, but the poor children. Jacob Lifshitz’ defense of the way the Jewish community dealt with the Cantonist tragedy – which he regards as worse than even the destruction of the Temple! – and his insistence that no one can judge the community leaders unless they themselves had been in such a difficult circumstance, is something we must bear in mind. Yet all such ex post facto justifications would have no impact on the outlook of those that actually suffered during the Cantonist era, and it is no wonder that many of the common people would not regard the rabbis in a sympathetic light. The rabbis were certainly able to come up with a justification why their sons, the future Torah scholars, should not be taken to the army, just as they continue to make this argument. Yet this would only serve to show the masses that some children’s blood was indeed redder than others.

This post shall attempt to clarify the relevant controlling Halachos for both scenarios: may a bear attempt to save his life at the expense of his comrade's, and may a potential or actual draftee, or a friend of his, attempt to evade the draft if the consequence will be the drafting of another instead.3

The Yerushalmi

The locus classicus for this discussion is a passage in the Yerushalmi Bava Kama:

שור שעלה בחבירו ובא בעל השור ושמטו מתחתיו אם עד שלא עלה שמטו ונפל ומת פטור ואם דחהו ונפל ומת חייב

אמר רבי יוסי ותישמע מינה ראה אמת המים שוטפת ובאה לתוך שדהו רשאי לפנותן למקום אחר משנכנסו אין רשאי לפנותן למקום אחר

אהן כריסו ארגירא עד דלא ייתי אהן כריסו ארגירא שרי מימר פלן עביד עבדיתי פלן עביד עבדיתי. מן דייתי אהן כריסו ארגירא אסיר.

הדין אכסניי פרכא עד דלא ייתון רומאי שרי מיחשדוניה ומן דייתון רומאי אסיר.4

The Nimukei Yosef cites the second paragraph of the Yerushalmi, about the Amas Hamayim 5.

Rema rules:

היה רואה נזק בא עליו מותר להציל עצמו אף על פי שעל ידי זה בא הנזק לאחר6

Rema only cites the permissive component of the Yerushalmi; he omits the Yerushalmi's stringency, prohibiting the shifting onto another of a misfortune that is considered to have already befallen. Sema does indeed cite the latter part of the Yerushalmi:

שם בנימוקי יוסף סיים וכתב דאם כבר בא עליו אסור לסלקו ממנו כשגורם בזה היזק לחבירו:7

but why does Rema omit it? This question is raised by Rav Haim Yehudah Leib Epstein, who infers that Rema does not actually accept the stringency of the Yerushalmi L'Halachah, a position for which he offers various justifications, which are beyond the scope of this post 8. Although we shall see that The consensus of the Poskim, however, seems to accept the Yerushalmi in its entirety as Halachah 9.

The Hafetz Haim discusses this Yerushalmi; he is curiously tentative about its application to the question of Lashon Ha'Ra that he is considering, the deflection of blame from oneself in a situation in which so doing will consequently cause another to be accused:

אבל אם על ידי זה [שמשיב מי שנחשד מחבירו בעשיית דבר שלא כהוגן נגדו שאכן הוא לא עשאו] ממילא יוודע לו העושה, כגון שלא היה לו הספק כי אם על שניהם, תלוי בזה: אם הוא באמת דבר שאינו הגון, נראה דמותר לדחות זה מעל עצמו, אף שממילא יתגלגל הדבר על חבירו. אבל אם באמת דבר זה איננו עוולה, רק להשואל נראה שהדבר הזה הוא עוולה, צריך עיון אם מותר להשיב לו אפילו בלשון: אני לא עשיתי את הדבר, כיון שעל ידי זה ממילא יתגנדר הדבר על חבירו.10

ונראה שדבר זה תלוי במה שמבואר בחושן משפט, בסימן שפ"ח (סוף סעיף ב) בהגהה ... ועיין בסמ"ע שם ... ומשמע מביאור הגר"א שם (אות כ"ט) שהוא מסכים להסמ"ע. והכא נמי אם הוא רואה שנחלט לעת עתה חשדא אצל השואל עליו, אסור לו לגלות כדי להסירה מעליו ולתיתה על חבירו, ועיין בביאור הגר"א שם, ואם אינו בגדר זה, מותר. ואף על פי כן, דבר זה אינו מבורר אצלי היטב למעשה.

Draft Evasion

Rav Yosef Ibn Lev discusses a case apparently very similar to one of the scenarios in the Yerushalmi:

שאלה ראובן היה לו אהבה עם השרים ויועצי המלכות ולפעמים היו תופסין מחמת המלכות לקצת יהודים עשירים והיו כותבין לשראפי"ש או לשאר אומניות כמנהג המלכות הלז וזה היהודי שיש לו אהבה עם השרים יש לאל ידו להציל איזה יהודי מאותה הצרה אבל ירא לנפשו שאם יציל לשמעון יקחו ללוי תחתיו ומאן לימא ליה דדמא דשמעון סומק טפי דילמא דמה דלוי סומק טפי ועל זה שאל אם הרשות בידו להציל לשמעון מצרתו:

תשובה עיקרא דהאי מילתא איתא ביבמות פרק הערל אמרינן התם מאי שנא הני אמר רב הונא העבירום לפני הארון כל שהארון קולטו למיתה כל שאין הארון קולטו לחיים מתיב רב חנה בר ביזנא ויחמול המלך על מפיבושת בן יהונתן בן שאול שלא העבירו וכי משוא פנים יש בדבר אלא שהעבירו וקלטו ובקש רחמים ופלטו ואכתי משוא פנים יש בדבר אלא שבקש רחמים שלא יקלטנו הארון מהך שמעינן בנדון דידן שאם כבר כתבו ליהודי אחד לשארא"ף ותפשו אותו והדבר ידוע שאם ימלט זה שיקחו אחר תחתיו אין להשתדל להצילו אבל אם יצתה גזרה לקחת קצת יהודים לאומנות המלך לשרא"ף וכיוצא בו הרשות נתונה להשתדל להציל לכל מי שירצה

והאי דכתבינא דאם כבר נכתב למלכות דאסור להשתדל להצילו כיון דמנהג הוא לקחת אחר תחתיו היינו דוקא היכא דהוי ודאי דלית ספיקא אבל היכא דאיכא ספיקא די עידנא ישתנה ויעבור זעם ולא יקחו אחר תחתיו אין ספק מוציא מידי ודאי ...11

Shach endorses Ibn Lev's ruling distinguishing between where the royal decree specifies particular individuals and where it merely demands a quota, and he says that the inference from the Mefiboshes passage is compelling12. It is curious, though, that neither Ibn Lev nor Shach mention in this context the Yerushalmi that we have been discussing until now; Rav Akiva Eiger 13, Rav Baruch Frankel14, Rav Meir Ya'akov Ginzberg15, and Pis'hei Teshuvah16 all refer the reader to the Yerushalmi. We shall presently see a suggestion for why Ibn Lev and Shach do not cite the Yerushalmi.

Rav Shmuel Landau discusses whether it is permitted to take action to save particular individuals from a governmental draft, even though the result will inevitably be the seizure of others:

... ועל דבר שאלתו שאלת חכם חצי תשובה קשה להורות בדבר הנוגע לנפשות תחלה ומי ירים ראש בדברים כאלה. ...

אבל לבי מהסס בדבר אם מותר לישראל להשתדל עבור איזה אנשים שלא יקחו אותם. ודבר זה מבואר בתשובות מהר"י בן לב .. הובא בש"ך ... ואם כן גם בנדון דידן אם עדיין לא לקח השר ולא פרט מי שיהיה יכולים להשתדל דרך שלילה על אנשים ידועים שלא יקחו אותם:

ובאמת תמיה לי טובא על הש"ך בסימן [ק]ס"ג שהביא ממרחק לחמו מתשובת מהר"י בן לב הנ"ל הלא דבר זה מפורש בש"ע ברמ"א סימן שפ"ח סוף סעיף ב' ... הרי ממש כפסק של מהר"י בן לב וגם הסמ"ע שם כתב ... הרי ממש כפסק של מהר"י בן לב:

ואפשר ליישב דמהרמ"א לקמן נשמע דאותו אדם עצמו כשרואה דהנזק בא עליו דמותר להציל עצמו אבל שיהיה לאחרים רשות להשתדל עבורו לא שמענו ולכך הביא הש"ך דברי מהר"י בן לב ופסק דגם אחרים יכולים להשתדל עבורו אם עדיין לא בא הנזק וראייתו מדוד שהתפלל על מפיבושת שלא יקלטנו הארון: [ועיין שם שהאריך לפלפל בסוגיא דיחדו לאחד מהם.]17

Rav Avraham Maskil Le'Eisan cites this responsum and suggests that one may permitted to save himself at another's expense even if he has already been selected for misfortune:

ועיין בנודע ביהודה .. שכתב דאם כבר לקחו אנשים ידועים אסור להשתדל להצילם רק קודם שנלקח אף א' מותר להשתדל להציל א'. וכמו שכתב הש"ך .. ובהג"ה שם (ש"פ) [לכאורה צ"ל שפ"ח].

ונראה שהוא עצמו יכול להשתדל אף שנלקח דחייך קודמין:18

This is incomprehensible; as we have seen, the entire point of Rav Landau is that the reason that Ibn Lev and Shach do not derive their permission to save someone at another's expense from the Yerushalmi is because they are allowing a third party to save a victim, whereas the Yerushalmi is discussing efforts by the victim himself, and yet the Yerushalmi explicitly forbids even such efforts when the misfortune is specific to the victim! Perhaps Rav Maskil Le'Eisan holds like Rav Epstein, that the Rema's omission of the Yerushalmi's prohibition indicates that it is not normative, but given that the Sema does cite the prohibition, and none of the major commentaries reject it, if Rav Maskil Le'Eisan really held like Rav Epstein, he should have said so explicitly 19.

"At Risk" Youths

In his article, Shapiro comments that:

Michael Stanislawski notes that in one community the communal leaders wanted to grab a poor tailor since he wasn’t observant, but the local rabbi forbid it. ...

In a strong defense of the rabbis against the charge that they collaborated with the rich people in order to ensure that the poor were taken, R. Moses Solomon Kazarnov calls attention to all that the rabbis did to defend the children of the lower class. But he acknowledges that the rabbis would hand over the non-religious kids, including their own!

In the continuation of his responsum, Rav Landau, no mere local Rabbi, issues an uncompromising rejection of religious laxity as a justification for handing someone over to the government. He unequivocally, passionately and eloquently rejects a suggestion of his questioner that the community satisfy the government's demands with some "נערים קלים ופרוצים ביותר"; indeed, he seems horrified by the idea:

ומה שכתב מעלתו דיש שם איזה נערים קלים ופרוצים ביותר. אהובי ידידי אין אנו יכולים לדון דיני נפשות דעל כל פנים הנערים אינן בכלל מורידין אף שהם נוהגין בקלות קצת והרבה הילדות עושה וניתן להענישם בתפיסה ומכת מרדות וכדומה אבל חלילה למסור אותם בידים ואל ידח ממנו נידח להדיחם לגמרי מקהל עדת ישראל ואף שיש ביד טובי העיר והבית דין לדון בכל עונשים חמורים למגדר מלתא היינו אם העם פרוץ בו וגם לזה צריך שיהיה דוקא גדולי הדור או טובי העיר שהמחום רבים עליהם ... אבל היכא דליכא משום מגדר מלתא שאין העם פרוצים רק איזה נערים הקלים מי ירים ראש לדון בזה. ...

[ועיין שם שפלפל עוד בזה, והעלה:] ויהיה איך שיהיה ... בנדון דידן אף שיש נערים קלים ועוברים על איזה מצות אין אנו רשאין בשביל כן להעניש אותם כפלי כפלים ככל חטאותם ולסכן אותם בידים ובפרט שלא נתברר בעדות ברורה אם עברו על עבירה חמורה בשאט נפש לכן שארית ישראל לא יעשו עולה כזו.20

We must note that Rav Landau's unwillingness to countenance the seizure of the religiously dubious youths is apparently predicated on his assertion that they are not in the category of Moridin; if it were reliably established that they were thoroughly irreligious21, he may indeed not object to their seizure.

Rav Landau concludes with an apparent reiteration of his earlier ruling permitting action which is merely evasive:

אך את זה יכולים לעשות להשתדל דרך שלילה על אדם חשוב וכשר שלא יקחו את זה כל זמן שלא קראו לו בפירוש שאותו הם מבקשים אבל אם כבר בא הפקודה לאחד קשה להורות להתיר להשתדל עבורו אם על ידי שזה יוצא לחירות ילכד אחר במצודה זו ומאי חזית דדמי דהאי סומק טפי מדמי דאיש אחר אשר יבא אחריו.

וידעתי שבנדון זה קשה להורות ועל זה אמרו חז"ל כשם שמצוה לומר דבר הנשמע כן מצוה שלא לומר דבר שאינו נשמע והמשכיל בעת ההיא ידום אבל על כל פנים זה מחויב למחות ביד מי שרוצה למסור בידים.

The Hasam Sofer has a similarily strong denunciation of the unfair selection by the community of particular individuals, even alleged "פוחזים וריקים", to be drafted:

ועל דבר עם בני ישראל הנלקחים לצבא המלחמה למלכיות השתיקה יפה מדיבורינו בזה וגדולי ישראל ע"כ יעלימו עין והניחו להם להממונים מקהל לעשות כראות עיניהם לפי הזמן ועת לחשות

ומכל מקום אומר כי גוף ענין דינא דמלכותא להטיל מס על כל עמו להעמיד מהם אנשים לצבא מלחמתו וזה הוא מחק מלכותו ודינו דין וממילא מוטל אקרקפתא דכל מי שראוי לצאת ושאין לו אשה ובנים כפי נימוס וחק מלכותו אך לא אבחורים לומדי תורה שאפילו לא פטרום המלכות בפירוש מכל מקום מדין תורה פטורים דאמרינן בפרק קמא דבבא בתרא ח' ע"א הכל לכרי' פתייא אפילו רבנן והני מילי דלא נפקי באוכלזא אבל נפקי באוכלזא רבנן לאו בני מיפק באוכלזא נינהו ומכל שכן שהמלכות יר"ה פטרם וכבר כמה פעמים כשנתתי אטעסט לבני מדינו' פיהם ומעהר"ין שהם לומדים ויצליחו לנהוג ציבור נפטרו מלהעמיד עצמם לצבא ואם כן כל הנוגע בהם נוגע בבבת עין:

ואידך מהראוי שיעמדו עצמם כולם בשוה לפני העדה ויטילו גורל ועל מי שיפול עליו הגורל הוא ישתדל לעצמו במה שיכול לפטור בממון או להעמיד אחר במקומו או ילך בעצמו וכל ישראל מחויבים לסייעו ויקר פדיון נפשו אבל לאנוס אנשים בלי גורל ולומר שהם פוחזים ורקים אפילו מגלי עריות ומחללי שבת בעיני הוא כגונב נפש ומכרו כי מי נותן זה חליפי זה כיון שחיוב המלכות ופקודתו על כולם בשוה והמוסרו כמוסר לתוא מכמר אפילו מחוי אתיבנא חייב מכל שכן מוסר נפשו ורע ומר יותר כי הטובים הנאנסים עוברים על המצות באונס ולעתים רחוקים ואלו יעשו ברצון ואנו מדחים אחר הנופל עיין פרק קמא דקידושין לענין מכר עצמו לנכרים:

אך מה שנמצאים עתה למאות המוכרים עצמם מרצונם וברצי כסף ולכן אף על גב דהמה גריעי מכולהו שהרי בשאט נפשם מתנים לחלל שבתות ולאכול איסורים מכל מקום כיון דשכיחי טובא ולא הוה כתרי עיברא נהרי ואם אין קהלה זו קונהו ימכור עצמו במקום אחר אם כן קלקלתם בעו"ה תקנה קצת וכן עשו בכל גלילותינו והוא כעין בחירת הרע במיעוטו

והנה קצרתי מאוד כי אין ראוי להאריך בענין זה כמובן ...22

Hasam Sofer prohibits seizing even youths who are מגלי עריות ומחללי שבת, but perhaps he is referring only to those who yield to temptation, and are therefore not considered Apikorsim, Minim or Meshumadim, and are not in the category of Moridin 23.

Although both Rav Landau and the Hasam Sofer are unequivocal in their condemnation of the unfair seizure by the community of particular individuals in order to save others, I do not know if their opposition would extend to a mere request to the government that it draft them, or to the attempt by the targeted bear in the Far Side cartoon to convince the hunter to shoot his companion instead of himself. Normally these actions might constitute Mesirah, but in these situations, where the government will inevitably seize some individuals, and the hunter will certainly shoot a bear, and the request is merely determining who the victim(s) will be, perhaps the permissive rulings of the Yerushalmi and Ibn Lev still apply, since in any event the Yerushalmi seems to be a dispensation of the law of Grama B'Nizakin, which would presumably normally forbid the causing of harm to another even in the indirect forms under discussion.

Kapos, Quotas and Cards

Rav Zvi Hirsch Meisels relates the following heartbreaking story:

מסחר נפשות עם הקאפו"ס

והנה ליום המחרת, שהיא יום א' דראש השנה, אשר כל באי עולם יעברון לפניו כבני מרון, היה יום מהומה ומבוכה, ומפה לאוזן נתפשטה השמועה בכל המחנה, שלעת ערב יקחו את הנערים לבית המוקד, ... ולהרבה אנשים שבמחנה הי' להם בנם יחידם, אשר נשארו להם לפליטה, בתוך אלו הנערים או שאר בשרם הקרובים אליהם, או סתם ידידים אהובים אנשי עירם, והמה רצו כל היום בראש מבולבל מסביב הבלאק המוסגר, אולי יופתח איזה קרן אור להציל משם את הנער היקר להם עד שלא תחשך השמש.

אך השומרים הקאפו"ס לא שעו אל כל תחנוניהם ובכיותיהם להוציא איזה נער וילד, מבין המסוגרים אשר נדונים לשריפה, ... במקרה הלזה הי' גם טענתם בטענה צודקת בפיהם, היות שהם אחראים על סכום הילדים שהופקדו לשומרים אליהם, אשר היה במספר מדויק, ולעת ערב עליהם למסור אותם לידי אנשי הס' ס' ימ"ש במספר ובמנין כאשר מסרו להם, ואם יחסר אחד מהם אז דמם בראשם ויקחו אותם לשריפה, נפש תחת נפש.

אכן סוף סוף אחרי הרבה השתדלות ומו"מ של הקרובים עמהם גברה בהם תאות הממון, והסכימו בעד תשלום סכומים גדולים, לשחרר איזה נער וילד, ותיכף חטפו במקומו איזה נער אחר, מן הבא בידם בתוך המחנה, (מאלו שהצליחו להתחמק מהאוסף של אתמול או שנשתחררו בעת הבירור על ידי נגיעת ראשם בדף) וסגרוהו בהבלאק הנ"ל במקום הנער הפדוי כדי שיהיה המספר שלם.

והנה להרבה אנשים הי' עוד סכומי כספים, או חתיכת זהב או מרגליות, טמון במטמונים ובמנעלים לעת הצורך, וכמובן שהי' כמה אנשים פשוטים ובעלי קוצר השגה שלא עשו שום חשבונות מה נעשה במקום נער הנפדה, וקיבצו במסירת נפש כל הונם הנשאר להם או שהשתדלו לאסוף סכום הנצרך, מאחרים ידידים ומכירים, ופדו את בנם המסוגר מכליון בטוח, וככה נמשך סחר-מכר הלזה משך רוב יום הדין לעיני כל האנשים שבמחנה, ...

אמנם כמובן שהי' הרבה אנשים בעלי השגה, שלא רצו לפדות את בנם, על חשבון חייו של ילד אחר, כמאמר חכמז"ל מאי חזית, ולעולם לא אשכח עובדא נוראה אחת, אשר עיני ראו ואזני שמעו, אז בשעת ענין הנ"ל, אשר מעשה הלזה מסמל את קדושת בני ישראל, והתמסרותם לדרכי התורה הקדושה בתמימות אף בעת צרתם וסבלותם הנוראה.

מסירות נפש של אב מלהציל בנו יחידו

הנה ניגש אלי איש יהודי, שהיה נראה ליהודי פשוט מאויבערלנד, מתמימות הדברים שלו שאמר לי כדברים האלה.

רבי, הבן יחיד שלי, היקר לי מבבת עיני, נמצא שמה בתוך הנערים הנידונים לשריפה, ויש בידי היכולת לפדותו, והיות שידוע לנו, בלי שום ספק, שהקאפו"ס יתפסו אחר במקומו, על כן אני שואל מהרבי שאלה להלכה ולמעשה, לפסוק לי הדין על פי התורה אם אני רשאי לפדותו, וכאשר יפסוק כן אעשה.

[ועיין שם שלא רצה לפסוק הלכה בדבר זה, בלי ספרים, בלי רבנים אחרים ובלי ישוב הדעת, והתחנן אל השואל שאל יטיל עליו את האחריות הנוראה הזו. אולם האב השואל החליט, מתוך סרבנותו של הרב מייזליש להשיב תשובה ברורה, שהדבר אסור, ואמר שאם כן הוא מוכן להקריב את בנו יחידו על פי התורה וההלכה, ושהוא מקבל את זה באהבה ובשמחה, וכך עשה:] וגם ככה קיים דבריו ולא פדה את בנו, והיה כל היום, יומא דראש השנה, הולך ומדבר לעצמו בשמחה שזוכה להקריב את בנו יחידו לה' כי אף שיש ביכולת בידו לפדותו עם כל זה אינו פודהו מחמת שרואה שהתורה לא התירה לו לעשות כזאת ויהיה חשוב לפני השי"ת כעקידת יצחק אבינו שהי' גם כן ביום ראש השנה. ...24

In a footnote, Rav Meisels analyzes the question Halachically. He begins by citing the Rema, Sema (citing the Nimukei Yosef citing the continuation of the Yerushalmi, as above), Shach (citing Ibn Lev), and Rav Landau, and he then proceeds as follows:

ונסתפקתי בנידן דידן אם האב לגבי בנו רשאי להשתדל לפדותו אף שיודע שעל ידי זה יותפס אחר. לפי מה שכתב בהגהות יד אברהם .. דנראה שהוא בעצמו יכול להשתדל בהצלתו אף אחר שנתפס, אף על גב שיודע שעל ידי זה יקחו אחר במקומו, מכל מקום אמרינן חייך קודמין, ודוקא לפדות לאחרים אסור להשתדל להציל, אם על ידי זה יקחו אחר במקומו ע"ש. ואם כן יש להסתפק אם אב לפדות את בנו בכי האי גוונא שיקחו אחר במקומו, אם האב נידון כאחר ואסור להציל בנו בכי האי גוונא או דגם האב לגבי בנו אמרינן חיי בנך קודמין לחיי אחרים. ועיין בבא בתרא (קל"ו ע"ב) פלוגתא אי בנו עדיף ליה מנפשיה ע"ש וצ"ע.

As I have argued earlier, the Yad Avraham's assertion is quite puzzling, since it seems to contradict the Yerushalmi. Rav Meisel's acceptance of it is even more baffling, since he has just cited both the Sema and Rav Landau's responsum, which eliminates my earlier suggestion that the Yad Avraham disagrees with the Sema and does not accept the stringency of the Yerushalmi as normative.

Irving J. Rosenbaum cites the following discussion of Rav Efraim Oshry:

On the twenty-third of Elul, 5701 (September 15, 1941), the German supervisor of the Kovno ghetto (Jordan) provided the Aeltestenrat (Judenrat) five thousand "white cards" to be distributed to workers and craftsmen in the ghetto and their families. Only those having "white cards" would be allowed to remain. At that time there were about thirty thousand souls in the ghetto, of whom about ten thousand were such workers and their families. In consternation, those workers who were the strongest forcibly seized "white cards" for themselver from the Aeltestenrat. Rabbi Oshry perceived two halakhic questions involved in the matter. ... The second: Was it permissible for a worker to snatch a card for himself, even though by so doing he would certainly be causing the death of another - since there were only five thousand cards for ten thousand workers? ...

The second question - the permissibility of seizing a card and saving one's own life at the expense of another - also has precedent in Jewish law. The first is found in the Shakh ... However, Rabbi Oshry rejects this as a precedent for our case, since the Shakh's decision applies only when the men have not yet been seized. Then it is permissible to try to prevent them from being taken, even though others would suffer as a result. However, the Shakh would most probably rule that if two men were already in custody, it would not be permitted to attempt to free them; for it would then be inevitable that two others would be taken in their stead. In the Kovno ghetto situation, one could say that the entire community was already "taken prisoner". If so, the decision of the Shakh would not apply, and it would be forbidden for the workers to seize the "white cards."

Yet it might be held, Rabbi Oshry continues, that in our case it would still be permissible. For as the Yad Avraham .. points out, it is only forbidden for others to try to rescue the imprisoned men when this will simply lead to different victimes being seized. However, it is certainly not forbidden for the prisoner himself to attempt to escape even though someone else will suffer. So too, here, the worker who seizes the card is saving himself, not another. But upon close examination this analogy proves imperfect. For the Yad Avraham is referring to a case where his action does not directly cause another to die. It is simply that if he escapes another is imprisoned in his place. Though the second man may ultimately die because of this, his death is not directly resultant from the act of the first. But in the Kovno ghetto, the seizure of the card by one workman would directly result in the death of one who was denied a card by his action.

It is possible to support this distinction between direct and indirect action from the classic case in the Talmud, Baba Metzia 62a.

If two men are traveling on a journey [far from civilization] and one has a pitcher of water, if both drink they will both die, but if one only drinks, he can reach civilization. Ben Patura taught: "It is better that both should drink and die, rather than that one should behold his companion's death." Until Rabbi Akiba came and taught: "'that thy brother may live with thee' (Lev. 25:36), thy life takes precedence over his life."

As Rabbi Oshry explains Ben Patura's point of view, it is the drinking by the one man that causes the death of the other. The saving of his own life is, thus, the direct cause of his fellow's death. Ben Patura does not believe that the injunction of "and live by them" (Lev. 18:5) - not die by them - applies if one gains his own life by not attempting to save his comrade's. And though Rabbi Akiba disagrees with Ben Patura, it is only in this case of the two travelers, where the one takes no direct physical action to injure his fellow, but simply refrains from giving him water, that Rabbi Akiba would sanction his behavior. However, in our case, where as a result of the direct action of seizing the card, a fellow workman will be delivered over to the murderers, it is quite possible that Rabbi Akiba would agree with ben Patura and forbid the action. ... 25


To summarize, we have the following principles:

  • Actively, directly harming others, even קלים, ריקים, פוחזים, פרוצים ביותר, מגלי עריות ומחללי שבת, in order to save oneself is forbidden.

  • Mere evasive action, even with the inevitable consequence of harm to another, is permitted to both a potential victim himself as well as a friend of his, provided that the harm has not yet befallen the victim.

  • Once the harm has already befallen the victim, it is forbidden to shift it onto another. Some still allow the victim himself to take evasive action, but this view is problematic.


The idea that Halachah allows the privileged, the rich and the well connected to utilize their wealth and influence to shift, even indirectly, the burden of military service onto their less fortunate brethren26 will very likely trouble those (such as me) with modern, Western value systems. This is apparently a classic example of the celebrated maxim of Rav Ya'akov Weil:

[פסקי] בעלי בתים ופסקי לומדים שני הפכים הם27


1 Job 2:4

2 One can, of course, consider the matter from an ethical perspective without invoking Halachah, and there may even be an ethic independent of Halachah, but our discussion will be limited to the Halachah.

3 Dr. Shapiro read a draft of this essay, and commented helpfully thereon.

4 בבא קמא פרק ג' הלכה א

5 Bava Basra, p. 10 in the Rif pagination. He also cites the fourth paragraph, but he apparently understands it to be stating a different rule.

6 הגהת שו"ע חו"מ סימן שפ"ח סוף סעיף ב

7 שם ס"ק י

8 שו"ת פרי חיים חו"מ סימן ד

9 עיין בדברי החפץ חיים שנביא להלן, ובפתחי תשובה סימן קס"ג ס"ק כ"ז, ובתשובת רב שמואל לנדא שנביא להלן. ועיין להלן מה שנביא מהיד אברהם

10 ספר חפץ חיים הלכות לשון הרע כלל י' באר מים חיים אות מ"ג

11 שו"ת מהר"י ן' לב חלק ב' סימן מ

12 חו"מ סימן קפ"ג ס"ק י"ח

13 גליון שו"ע שם

14 חדושי אמרי ברוך שם

15 חדושי מוהרי"ג שם

16 שם ס"ק כ"ז

17 שו"ת נודע ביהודה תנינא יו"ד סימן ע"ד, ציינו הפתחי תשובה חו"מ שם וגם הביא קצת מדבריו ביו"ד סימן קנ"ז ס"ק י"ג

18 יד אברהם, שו"ע יו"ד סימן קנ"ז סעיף א

19 But note that the introduction to the Shulhan Aruch states that the Yad Avraham was published posthumously from manuscript, so perhaps something was lost in transcription.

20 The objection of Rav Landau and of Hasam Sofer (see below) to the seizure of religiously lax youths is noted by Dr. Shapiro in footnote 16 of his article.

21 The question of Tinok She'Nishbeh is beyond the scope of this post.

22 שו"ת חת"ם סופר חלק ששי סימן כ"ט ד"ה ועל דבר, ציינו הפתחי תשובה חו"מ שם

23 עיין רמב"ם הלכות תשובה פרק ג' הלכה ט', הלכות רוצח פרק ד' הלכה י', שולחן ערוך יו"ד סימן קנ"ח סעיף ב', אנצקלופדיה תלמודית ערך אפיקורוס

24 שאלות ותשובות מקדשי השם, שער מחמדים, עמודים ד - ו. Rav Meisel's narrative is cited (in English translation) by Irving J. Rosenbaum, The Holocaust and Halakhah, pp. 3 - 5, and see his discussion of it in the endnote on p. 158. I thank Dr. Shapiro for bringing this story to my attention.

25 The Holocaust and Halakhah, pp. 24 - 30. He is citing Rabb Oshry's Divre Efrayim, p. 95, a work to which I do not currently have access.

26 I have seen no discussion of whether there's any ethical imperative, such as Lifnim Mi'Shuras Ha'Din or Middas Hassidus, to refrain from so doing.

27 שו"ת מהר"י ווייל סוף סימן קמ"ו, הובא בסמ"ע סימן ג' ס"ק י"ג

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