A Preliminary Bibliography of the Recent Works on Birkat ha-Chamah
by Eliezer Brodt & Ish Sefer
There are many works and articles on this topic and, as such, this is merely a preliminary attempt to deal with this burgeoning area of Jewish literature. [See also here]. For a great bibliographic note on the development of Seder Birkat ha-Chamah, including publications relating to birkat ha-chamah, see R. J. D. Bleich, Birkat ha-Chamah, pp.128-133. JNUL has put up a many of the editions of relating to subject here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. That's right, the JNUL has 19 editions (!) of the Birkat ha-Chamah starting with the first in 1785 through 1981 Edah Haredit edition. These editions come from such disparate places as Egypt, Tunis, India, and Iraq. But, now, turning to the editions currently in print.
Tekufos ha-Chamah u-Berckoseh of R. Yechiel Michel Tukuchensky was reprinted again.
A new work on this topic is called Otzar ha-Zemanim by R. A. Brisk. This work is 336 pages is beautifully type-set, well organized, very strong in halacha and it has a bit on the astronomical aspects of birkat ha-chamah.
Another work on this topic is by R. M.M. Gerlitz called Birkat ha-Chamah ke-Hilkhoto. On the prior edition, R. J. D. Bleich writes that Gerlitz's book is the most comprehensive work on the topic. This work is an expanded version of its earlier edition, and is now 558 pages. This work is strong in both astronomy, devoting 190 pages to the topic, and strong in the halacaha aspects. It also has many responsum relating to this topic and includes dershot that were said at prior birkat ha-chama by various Gedolim. In addition, this new edition has many letters to R. Chaim Kanievsky on the topic (a recent "minhag" of all works on halacha). To just mention one interesting discussion which R. M.M. Gerlitz deals with is the Ozstrosver's now famous statement that it is extra special if Birkat ha-Chamah falls out on Erev Pesach (pp.115-18).
Another nice addition to R. Gerlitz's revised edition is R. Yakov Emden's comments (pp.479-94) all about birkat ha-chamah. These comments were originally printed in the back of the 1757 edition of Megilat Tannit and were omitted from later editions of Megilat Tannit. As such, R. Emden's comments escaped the notice of many of the people learning this topic. Aside from R. Emden's discussion about birkat ha-chamah, he also deals with the Frankist movement and states that one can inform on them to the government (he also deals with Christianity). However, R. Gerlitz cuts out a page of this - where R. Emden listed some of the Frankists sins - Gerlitz argues that there is no need to print this today. Today with the amazing web data base of free seforim at Hebrew books one can see this rare edition here and the pages on birkat ha-chamah here and the edited pages here. One thing lacking from this otherwise excellent edition is a proper index of topics discussed.
Another work is called Birkat ha-Chamah be-Tekufoseah by R. Genot. This work is 748 pages and is very strong in the astronomy aspects but weaker in the halacha aspects. On the bibliographical front, it reproduces many different editions of Birkat ha-Chamah. He also includes the comments of R. Emden but in a much more abbreviated form than R. Gerlitz. One interesting thing (p.276) a quote from a manuscript from 745 years ago of how the beracha was recited by the Chazan after Ma'ariv! One big mistake in this work when dealing with the famous question of if the calendar according to Shmuel is off so why do we follow Shmuel's opinion, R. Genot prints a photocopy of the original Halevonon article of R. Alexander Moshe Lapides he then writes:
בעוד שהקושיא בת מאות השנים על אמיתות תקופת שמואל נידונה בספרי האחרונים נתפרסמו מאמרים אחדים גם בכתבי עת, שלא עלו על שולחנם של שלומי אמוני ישראל. הבאונם אך כקוריוז משלים לנושא רחב זה , ואם יש בהם משפטים הנוגדים את מסורתנו, הרי הם דברים שאין בה ממש (עמ' 424).
He obviously does not know who R. Alexander Moshe Lapides was - a talmid chaver of R. Yisroel Salanter and one of leading Litvish Gedolim of his time. As an aside this piece was recently reprinted in the excellent edition of Torat ha-Goan R. Alexander Moshe pp.6-8.
Another work is from R. Zvi Cohen called Birkat ha-Chamah, 383 pages. This sefer is like all his others, full of excellent information from a very wide range of sources. This work is expanded from earlier edition and is strong in halacha aspects but not as strong in astronomy.
Another work on the topic is called Seder Bircas Kiddish Hachamah by R. Strohli, 203 pages.
Of great interest to me in the works of R. Brisk, R. Gerlitz, R. Genot, R. Cohen and R. Strohli [a version of this appeared in the recent Journal Etz Chaim volume 8] is how they list sources of Gedolim throughout the ages how they each did this beracha. In doing so, these works quote many rare sources although, at times, they overlap each other (next time around someone just has to take all the works on the topic and put it together into one volume). One source which escaped them (except for The Sun Cycle p. 23) is found in a autobiography from the early 1600's where the author describes as follows:
כט אדר שעז בהיותי בק' ורנקבורט נתחדש החמה כי כן נעשה כל כח שנה מחזור החמה ולא נעשה כזאת עוד עד ער"ח ניסין ארבע מאות וחמשה אשרי המחכה ויגיע לימים אלו והלכו כל הקהל בשעה ג' על היום על בית הקברות ויום מעונן היה ועמדתי בתוכם ואמרנו פה אחד ברוך עושה מעשה בראשית (ר' אשר ב"ר אליעזר הלוי, ספר זכרונות, עמ' 7).
Another interesting thing we see from this account is the strange minhag to say birkat ha-chamah in the cemetery or near it. This strange minhag is only mentioned briefly by R. Genot in Birkat ha-Chamah be-Tekufoseah (p. 290) and discussed at greater length by R. Gerlitz in Birkat ha-Chamah ke-Hilkhoto (pp. 231-233) (otherwise I have seen no mention of this strange custom). It seems this was the minhag in Frankfurt according to the Yosef Ometz but R. Chaim Rapoport in Birkat ha-Chamah Al Pei Minhag Chabad (p. 80-81) cites the Alei Tamar who argues that this is an incorrect reading of Yosef Ometz and they did not say the beracha at the cemetery. However from this account we see that they indeed did say it at the cemetery. [See also E. Prins comments on this Yosef Ometz in Parnos le-Dorot, p. 292.]
Another work is called Birkat ha-Chamah Al Pei Minhag Chabad, from R. Chaim Rapoport 167 pages. This edition includes a section of the halachot in English. Of special interest in this work of R. Rapoport and that of R. Strohli is their sections dealing with women and this beracha.
In English, there is R. J. D. Bleich, Birkat ha-Chamah, 243 pages. This work is extremely well written, as R. Bleich excels at making extremely complicated things sound easy. It deals with astronomy and halacha aspects very comprehensively for scholar and layman alike. Just to mention one interesting source, not only related to birkat ha-chamah, is that when discussing aleinu and the censorship of the statement שהם משתחוים להבל וריק ומתפללים אל אל לא יושיע that the Mahril Diskin held one has to be careful to say it because of משנה ממטבע שטבעו חכמים בברכות. R. Bleich writes that he saw in the siddur of R. Reven Grozovsky that this phrase was written in the siddur. Just one complaint with this particular edition is it is very annoying the way the pages are set up as a Hebrew book even though it is written in English making the pages confusing going from one page to the next. Additionally, one thing lacking from this otherwise excellent edition is a proper index of topics discussed.
Another work also in English is from R. Yehuda Hershkowitz, The Sun Cycle, 213 pages printed by Tuvia's. The strength of this work lies in its uniqueness not to merely retread the same ground the above works deal with. R. Hershkowitz, notes in the introduction that he does not see any point in replicating the seforim already out there on the topic. Instead, he chose to deal with the deeper meaning of the prayers and the beracha in general. He has extensive comments on the tefilos (according to kabbalah and machasvah). He also includes an excellent in depth chapter about the astronomical aspects of this topic. Most of the book is in English but he includes all the tefilos in Hebrew with a translation, notes and an in-depth scholarly chapter on the sugyah in Berkhot, regarding birkat ha-chamah, discussing the Bavli, Yershalmi and Tosefta. One thing lacking from this otherwise excellent edition is a proper index of topics discussed.
One interesting aspect in this work is as mentioned most of these works provide (just some better than others) accounts showing different birkat ha-chamah accounts through out history. Hershkowitz shows that the earliest possible source is from about 1300 years ago in various early paytanim (see The Sun Cycle p.15). Another interesting discussion which he deals with is the definition of the word סלה that it might mean refrain meaning repeat, which means it was intended for the choir to repeat it (see The Sun Cycle pp.68-70).
One interesting point regarding birkat ha-chamah is that although we hold that one makes the beracha with shem u-malchut, the Maharal did not. An explanation for the Mahral's practice appears in R. Moshe Kunitz's Ben Yochai:
ומהאי טעמא נראה שהגאון האדיר אבי זקני מהר"ל מפראג ז"ל היה מברך ברכת קידוש החמה בלא שם ומלכות, לפי שבערוך (ערך חמה) כ' ב' פירושים אהא דתני ברכות נט רע"ב הרואה חמה בתקופתה מברכין וכו' ולפי הב' אשתמיט מאמר אביי שם בש"ס ישינם לכן נראה דברכה קבועה כל כח שנין איתקין אחר חתימת התלמוד ומש"ה לא בירך בשם ומלכות (בן יוחאי, שער שבעי סי' רפא, דף קמא ע"א).
What is even more interesting is this account is referenced by R. Akiva Eiger who quotes it in his notes to Shulcahn Orach O.C. 229:2. The reason why this is interesting is because of who R. Kunitz was. In particular, he had very strong Haskala leanings and was even linked with R. Aaron Chorin a leading figure of the early Reform movement. R. Moshe Sofer referred to Chorin as Acher as a play on Chorin's name and, in R. Sofer's view, Chorin's opinions. In part, Kunitz's connection to the Reform movement is based on a letter that appears in Nogah Tzedek. Nogah Tzedek, printed Dessau, 1818, is written to justify various changes such as the using the Sefadic pronunciation, doing away with the silent Shemoneh Esreh, and the inclusion of musical instruments, such as the organ, even on Shabbat. At the end of this volume, pp. 27-28, Kunitz's letter addressing these issues appears. On the first issue, the Sefardic pronunciation, Kunitz says this is fine, and notes that R. Nathan Adler (R. Sofer's Rebbi) used the Sefardic pronunciation. Regarding abolishing the silent amidah, he is against this. Regarding the final issue, the use of music, Kunitz again takes a permissive view and allows for musical accompaniment, although he doesn't discuss Shabbat.
The "Traditional" response to Nogeh Tzedek (and its related works) was not short in coming. The traditionalists banded together sending out letters and collected the responses in a single volume, Eleh Divrei ha-Brit, Altona, 1819. On this aspect see M. Samet, Ha-Chadash Assur min ha-Torah pp.241-42 (and index) and this thread, this thread, and this thread.
Returning to Kunitz's work, Ben Yochai, one of the aspects of this work is explaining why some time Rashbi is referred to as ר' שמעון and others as ר' שמעון בר יוחאי. His basic theory is that before he went into cave he is referred to as ר' שמעון and only after the cave is he called בר יוחאי. Indeed, on the title page of the book there is an illustration of the "cave." In truth, however, this theory is a mistake as Yechosei Tannim Vamorim the Rebbe of the Rochach writes just the opposite:
וכן דברי ר' שמעון בן יוחי ורוב פעמים דברי ר' שמעון אלא כולן בבחרותן קודם שהובהקו לרבים ולכשנעשו ראשי ישיבות הוזכרו סתם (יחוסי תנאים אומוראים, מהדורת מימון, עמ' שצא).
Another large part of Ben Yochai deals with R. Yakov Emden's comments on the Zohar in Mitpachas Seforim. R. Kunitz answers each one of R. Emden's 280 comments. A more recent attempt to deal with R. Emden's criticisms of the Zohar was mounted by R. Reuven Margolis in his notes to his edition of the Zohar, Nitzotei Zohar. See R. Zevin excellent review on Margolis's Zohar in his Soferim Ve-Sefarim, (Midrash ve-zohar ..., pp.31-32). Yet at the same time, R. Margolis writes in Arshet 2, pp. 336-337 that one has to check carefully into each thing which Kunitz says. It is not only R. Margolis that question Kunitz's work. Rosenthal in his excellent bibliography, Yodeah Sefer, comments on the Ben Yochai:
ואתה הקורא בראותך את ספר הגדול למראה הזה עם כל אורך לשונו ובקיאותו לעור עין כל קורא, אל תבטחבו ואל תשע אל דבריו. לך נא וקרא בדברי המחברים אשר באו אחריו כמו בספרי כרם חמד, תעודה בישראל, בית יהודה, ושרשי לבנון והוא מחברת הראשונה מבית האוצר, ופרחי צפון, וכלם יענו ויאמרו כי כל דבריו הבל ואין בהם מועיל, וכל דבריו הטובים אשר נמצאו בספרו, אשר בהם התראה לעין הקורא כבקי בכל ספרי העברים, גנב מספר סדר הדורות.
On this work of Kunitz in general see Boaz Huss, Ke-Zohar ha-Rokiyah, pp. 321, 333, 343-44.
In the fascinating sefer (subject of its own post hopefully shortly) on Zohar called Matzav Hayashar by R. S. Z. Dober, Dober accuses Kunitz many times of plagiarism (1:2a, 7a). The only compliment R. Dober gives Kunitz is that he had a nice library (2:60) and that R. Dober is a good judge of that as he had a great library too.
Kunitz's work Ben Yochai is quoted by many just to list a few Shut Sich Yitzchak (67,116, 414, 464), Shut Afrekasta Danyah, (1:1&27) and R. Ovadiah Yosef in all his seforim. In the incredible sefer Ha-Meir Laretz he has a few comments on his Teshuvos Hamesaref (see pg 85a).
Another work of Kuntz is Ma'ashe Hakhamim, Beis Rebbi, Vienna, 1805. This work is a biography of R. Yehuda ha-Nasi, Rabbenu ha-Kodosh. An abridged version, titled Toldot Rebbi Yehuda ha-Nasi, appears at the beginning of the Tifferet Yisrael Mishnaot. Although, in the latest version of the Tifferet Yisrael, Zekher Hanoch edition, the Toldot have been removed. According to the publisher, Moznayim, it was Kunitz's reputation that was cause for removal. Ironically, in this latest edition, the publishers seem to have overlooked a much more controversial statement in their edition. There is an article titled, Ma'amar 'al Dikduk Lashon ha-Mishna that includes a footnote that argues that many parts of Kohelet were written later than the traditional dating. See p. 13b, note *. (Thanks to Dr. Marc Shapiro for calling this to my attention.) This passage remains in the Zekher Hanoch edition. While Ma'ashe Hakamim, until recently, received widespread dissemination through the inclusion in the Mishnaot, not everyone felt it was a worthwhile sefer. Indeed, Rosenthal, again in Yodea Sefer is very critical of this work, as well as Kunitz's other work, Sefer ha-Iyun. See Yodeah Sefer, letter Bet, no. 224, and letter Mem, no. 1208. The only sefer of Kunitz that escaped Rosenthal's wrath is Kunitz's Ha-Matzref, although Rosenthal doesn't have any entry for that work at all.