Monday, January 19, 2009

Review of Ma'amar al Yishma'el

Review: Ma'amar al Yishma'el
by Eliezer Brodt & Ish Sefer

 

Solomon Ibn Aderet, Ma'amar al Yishma'el, Bezalel Naor ed., Spring Valley, NY, 2008, 178 pp.
Bezalel Naor, Mitsvat Hashem Barah, Spring Valley, NY, 2008, 220 pp.
 

R. Bezalel Naor, who has published a host of translations and explanations of R. Kook's writings, as well as Post Sabbatian Sabbatianisms, discussing Sabbatean works, has published two works in a single volume. The first, Ma'amar al Yishma'el, is a critical edition of R. Solomon Ibn Aderet's (Rashba) discussion of Islam.

 

This work was printed from manuscript (which today is lost) for the first time in 1863 by Y. Perles. Most recently it was printed in the new Shut ha-Rashba by Machon Yerushalayim in their last volume (siman 367). At first it was not accepted that Rashba authored this work but today it is accepted that  he is indeed the author. Naor's edition begins with an excellent introduction dealing with amongst many things the authorship of this work, Naor raises the possibility that R. Dovid who was a talmid of the Ramban was the author. Throughout the text he brings various proofs about the authorship from other writings of the Rashba. As an appendix Naor printed a copy of a manuscript of Steinschneider where he deals with the authorship of this text.

 

The main topic of this work is about the Rashba defending the Torah from an Islamic attack. Although much has been written on Jewish Christian disputes, when it comes to Jewish Islamic disputes, much less is written or known. Indeed, most are probably unaware that the Rashba wrote this work defending Judaism against Islam. Naor's edition begins with an excellent introduction discussing the work generally and specifically providing background materials on exactly what the Rashba was responding to.  Naor discusses both the Jewish as well as Islamic sources in all languages. It is pretty incredible to see his command in both these groups of sources, it is clear that much time and hard work went into preparing this work.

 

The main topic which the Rashba deals with is defending that the Torah which we have is 100% accurate and was never tampered with. The Rashba deals with many specific examples in a very orderly fashion. Specifically, the Rashba elaborates why the torah publicized what seems to be sins of Reuven (p.74) and Yehudah (pp. 73-74). The Rashba also deals with why the torah had to include the story of Lot and his daughters (pp. 72-73). Another issue that the Rashba defends is proving that the numbers of the Jews given by the Torah was 100% accurate (pp. 63-71). Additionally, the Rashba deals with the famous incident of the finding of the Sefer torah in Yoshiayhu's time. There are also many Chidushim with regard to the seven Noachide commandments.

 

Regarding why Hashem chose to give the Torah publicly the Rashba writes (p. 90):

והתבונן כי בשתי תורת האלו, רוצה לומר, תורת בני נח ותורת משה עליו השלום לא רצה השם יתברך שיקבל אותם ממנו נביא, ויקבלו אותם מן הנביא שאר העם. וזה לשתי פנות גדולות האחד: כדי שלא יוכל אחד ממי שנתחייב באורה התורה, להסתפק בקבלתה, ולחשוד מי שקבלה, שבדה מלבו, או ששבש בם קצת... והשניה, כדי שלא יוכל לשבש בדת ובאמונה לאחר זמן, ויטעון שהשם יתברך נתן עתה על ידו תורת כן וכן, כמו שנתן תורה ראשונה מתחלה עד יד הנביא פלוני אשר קדמו. אלא קבץ כל הנמצא באותו זמן ונתן רוחו עליהם והתנבאו...

 

Naor already points out that although this is similar to the proof offered by the Kuzari, however, this proof has a new addition to it as it includes the notion that the ז' מצות בני נח were also directly and publicly given by God! 

 

Besides for the actual main topics that the Rashba deals with and its great importance (as he is one of our most important Rishonim) there is also a wealth of interesting side points and discussions in this work.

 

Amongst the many important points that the Rashba writes is that although we find many times about the Torah that the Gemarah says שכחה התורה וחזרה ויסדה (one of example of this is by with Ezra). The Rashba explains at great length that it does not mean the Torah was almost completely forgotten at these times. Rather all of torah is connected and if one thing is forgotten it is as if everything is forgotten so Ezra prevented this from happening (pp. 100-05). With this the Rashba explains many things amongst them the famous Gemarah in Pesachim (66b)

תנו רבנן: הלכה זו נתעלמה מבני בתירא. פעם אחת חל ארבעה עשר להיות בשבת, שכחו ולא ידעו אם פסח דוחה את השבת אם לאו. אמרו: כלום יש אדם שיודע אם פסח דוחה את השבת אם לאו? אמרו להם: אדם אחד יש שעלה מבבל, והלל הבבלי שמו, ששימש שני גדולי הדור שמעיה ואבטליון ויודע אם פסח דוחה את השבת אם לאו. שלחו וקראו לו. אמרו לו: כלום אתה יודע אם הפסח דוחה את השבת אם לאו? אמר להם: וכי פסח אחד יש לנו בשנה שדוחה את השבת? והלא הרבה יותר ממאתים פסחים יש לנו בשנה שדוחין את השבת. אמרו לו: מנין לך? אמר להם: נאמר מועדו בפסח ונאמר מועדו בתמיד. מה מועדו האמור בתמיד - דוחה את השבת אף מועדו האמור בפסח - דוחה את השבת. ועוד, קל וחומר הוא: ומה תמיד שאין ענוש כרת דוחה את השבת, פסח שענוש כרת - אינו דין שדוחה את השבת. מיד הושיבוהו בראש ומינוהו נשיא עליהם, והיה דורש כל היום כולו בהלכות הפסח. התחיל מקנטרן בדברים, אמר להן: מי גרם לכם שאעלה מבבל ואהיה נשיא עליכם - עצלות שהיתה בכם, שלא שמשתם שני גדולי הדור שמעיה ואבטליון. אמרו לו: רבי, שכח ולא הביא סכין מערב שבת מהו? אמר להן: הלכה זו שמעתי ושכחתי. אלא, הנח להן לישראל אם אין נביאים הן - בני נביאים הן. למחר, מי שפסחו טלה - תוחבו בצמרו, מי שפסחו גדי - תוחבו בין קרניו. ראה מעשה ונזכר הלכה, ואמר: כך מקובלני מפי שמעיה ואבטליון.

 

Many people have discussed this Gemarah throughout the ages (its was a popular derasha topic for Shabbat HaGadol) how could they forget such a thing? The Rashba explains it with his same theme. Here to Naor includes an excellent lengthy footnote dealing with this Gemarah providing many sources.

 

Another important statement of the Rashba (pp. 116-17) is:

כל שכן ספר כולל מה שהוא ומה שהיה ועתיד להיות כתורתנו השלמה והתמימה שכוללת מן החכמה כל מה שהיה מן הבריאה הראשונה עד תכלית כל חכמה. ואפילו בא נביא מן הנביאים לכתוב בפרטי כל מה שתרמוז בה לא יכיל גליון וכן בפירושי מצותיה. 

 

When talking about Rabbenu Hakodesh role in the writing of the Mishna he writes (p. 119):

והודיעונו יתרון חכמת רבינו הקדוש בסדור ספרו סדר המשנה חברו בתכלית החכמה בקצור ובסדור בסתם ואחר כך מחלוקת ומחלוקת ואחר כך סתם וכולל ענינים גדולים בדברי קצתם.

 

Although, as mentioned above, the notes are generally excellent there is comment that deserves to be discussed. The Rashba referring to a Gemrah in Mesectas Pesachim calls (p. 103) it מסכת פסח שני. Here, Naor does not explain what the Rashba meant. The intention of the Rashba is that many rishonim called the part of Pesachim which deals with Korbon Pesach, Pesach Shenei, and referred to the first part of Pesachim that deals with Chametz and perek Arvei Peachim as Pesach Rishon. This fact was not known to everyone see for example Hagadah Shelemah (p.197) where it is pointed out that the Abarbanel was not aware of this and made a mistake because of this. [See also R. N. Rabonowitz, Mamar Al Hadfosass Hatalmud, p.27]. The Merei writes (Peachim 57b):

אמר מנחם בן שלמה לבית מאיר י"א זאת המסכתא ר"ל מסכת פסח שני היא מסדר מועד וכבר ביארנו בפתיחת החבור שבסדור רבינו הקדוש ע"ה היו מסכת פסח ראשון וזאת המסכתא חוברות אשה אל אחותה נכללות במסכתא אחת נקראת פסחים ופרק ערבי פסחים היה אחרון לכל פרקיה ובימי הגאונים ז"ל חלקוה . לשתים וקראו הראשונה פסח ראשון והעתיקו פרק ערבי פסחים ממקומו וסדרוהו בסוף פסח ראשון וקראו שם המסכתא הזאת פסח שני ועל זה הצד הורגלנו בלמודה אחר מסכת פסח ראשון על הדרך שסדרנו בפתיחת החבור והיא כוללת חמשה פרקים וסדרם לפי שיטתנו...


Another nice piece is (p. 67):

יש לנו להשיב ולומר שלא כל התולדות אשר היו להם זכר הכתוב רק מקצת מהם או מקצת מן הנזכרים ואף על פי שהיו להם או למקצתם בנים אחרים רבים מאלה, אלא שלא זכר כאן רק אותם שהיה הצורך מביא לזכרם, מפני שאלה היו ראשי בית אבות למשפחותם והאחרים בלבד יקראו על שמם כאשר קרה ליוסף שלא זכר הכתוב מכל בניו רק מנשה ואפרים...

 

The text of Ma'amar also contains extensive footnotes which provide the sources for the Rashba's statements as well side discussions. In the final section of this work, Naor explores, in greater detail, some issues he raised in passing in his notes. Just to mention a few of the many topics he deals with in the notes and appendixes (with just a few additional sources). These topics are rather eclectic ranging from the Ramban's position regarding the Ibn Ezra (pp. 136-143). In the introduction Naor has another nice discussion about the Ibn Ezra's position regarding the authorship of the Torah (pp. 23-28) although many deal with this topic Naor has some new important points based on some manuscripts showing what R. Ezra of Gerona, the Rebbe of the Ramban, thought of the Ibn Ezra. Other issues he deals with in regard to the Ibn Ezra are with his work the Iggeres ha-Shabbat (p. 141 n.578) [see also Ohr Yisrael 54:238] and additions which were put in by others in his works (p.142 n.582) [see also my Bein Keseh Lassur (Jerusalem, 2008), p. 53]. Others issues Naor deals with: did the Rashba know Arabic (p.21 n.24), the authorship of the classic Kabbalah work Mereches Aleokus (pp. 53-55). It is interesting that the Rashba always refers to Muchamed as Meshugah (see the note on p. 61-62 about this) [One can add to this Marc B. Shapiro, Studies in Maimonides and His Interpreters (Scranton and London: University of Scranton Press, 2008), 151-52]  Another great note is about R. Abraham Ben Ha-GRA whose usage of very rare editions of the Talmud (pp. 72-72 n.236), and also about Ba'al Tosef on Taryag Mitzvot and the seven Noahide Laws (pp. 86-90). These are but a few samples.

In the introduction Naor writes that only after he completed working on this sefer did he find out that Chaim Zalman Dimitrovsky printed it already with notes - had he known he never would have bothered working on it. As is obvious, Naor has a tremendous command of the sources in Hebrew and academic world and he did incredible research for this work yet he never discovered the well known source where most should begin with when working on the Rashba - Dimitrovsky's works. It was good that he only found it at the end as he did a beautiful job dealing with many many things which Dimitrovsky did not, making it very worth while that he too worked on this sefer.

 

One minor piece of criticism is that Naor makes paragraph divisions between each section giving each chapter a heading.  While this is very useful, Naor does not explain that these are his creation and not the Rashba's and thus can cause some confusion.  For example, on page 120 he quotes a piece from Yigdal which would be a nice early source but after checking it out with other versions of the Mamar its clear that Naor himself added this in -to be helpful.

 

The second book included in this volume is Mitzvat Hashem Barah. This book deals with the seven Noahide commandments. Rather than dealing with the actual commandments - i.e. a mere list - this book delves into rather interesting issues that surround these laws. For example, Naor has a fascinating discussion regarding R. Hayyim Hirschensohn's opinion that all commandments can be adduced logically. This discussion implicates what obligations there are in absence of specific commandments or, in the classic parlance, what happened before Matan Torah (pp.72-83). As an aside although it is very useful that he quotes the exact lengthy pieces of Hirschensohn he says he is doing so as they are very rare seforim. Although it is true that a hard copy of the seforim are hard to get but anyone can access them today thanks to Hebrew books.

Naor also presents the controversy between R. Jacob Emden and Moses Mendelssohn regarding the Noachide laws (pp. 16-34). While some maybe aware of the correspondence R. Emden had with Mendelsshonn regarding determining the time of death (see Moshe Samat's article in Hadash Assur min ha-Torah (Jerusalem: Dinur Center & Carmel Publishing, 2005), 157-227), most are not aware of this important philosophical debate. For two additional scholarly sources to this topic not mentioned by Naor, see the important unpublished paper of Professor Lawrence Kaplan, "On the Boundary between Old and New: The Correspondence Between Moses Mendelssohn and R. Jacob Emden," delivered at the Jewish Thought in the Eighteenth Century conference, Harvard University (Spring 1984), and the extensive discussion in chapter seven of Jacob J. Schacter, "Rabbi Jacob Emden: Life and Major Works," (PhD dissertation, Harvard University, 1988), 661-747 ("The Emden-Mendelssohn Correspondence"), and see esp. 720n3 for citations to previous descriptions of the correspondence, and also 725n37, 726n48, 742n150, 743n165, 744n168, where he discusses Kaplan's paper. Naor adds much to this topic. After these discussions, Naor then provides insights on the various Parshiyot ha-Torah that implicate Noahide laws especially before Matan Torah. Again the topics covered and, more importantly, the manner in which they are covered are terrific in scope and depth. His command of the "Yeshivish" sources along with Kabbalah (pp.97-102) and hasidut is excellent. Although much has been written on this topic of seven Noahide commandments especially before Matan Torah including a massive sefer (in size) called Birkot Avot and a recent pamphlet Mebei Medrasha from R. K. Redisch, Naor brings many new things to the table not dealt with before.


Here to he has many great footnotes scattered throughout the sefer some strictly for the sake of a very side footnote one such example is on pp. 5-6 about the Tosafot Yom Tov which writes (Nazir 5:5):

והכוונה בודאי ממאמר מי שלא נתקיימו דבריו הוא מה שאמרנו עכ"ל. ונתקיימו דבריו. אע"פ שבגמרא לא פירשו כן. הואיל לענין דינא לא נפקא מינה ולא מידי. הרשות נתונה לפרש. שאין אני רואה הפרש בין פירוש המשנה לפירוש המקרא שהרשות נתונה לפרש במקראות כאשר עינינו הרואות חבורי הפירושים שמימות הגמ'. אלא שצריך שלא יכריע ויפרש שום דין שיהא סותר דעת בעלי הגמ':

 

He brings a few sources that a סברא is דאורייתא (p.78 n.180) Just to add one obscure source to his list see R. Avraham Grodzensky in Torat Avraham (p.264) who writes:

גם סברת האדם ושכלו הפשוט כמקרא מפורש הוא, ואדרבה כל סברא פשוטה ביותר מפורש הוא ביותר כאשר נבאר איתא בב"ק (מו:) מניין להמוציא מחבירו עליו הראיה... מתקיף לה רב אשי הא למה לי קרא סברא הוא... קושיא זו של רב אש אינה על סברא שדעת התורה והשקפתה כלולה בה, אלא על סברא פשוטה שהולה מבקש את הרופא מפני שמרגיש את כאביו ואל סברא זו מקשה...


One point of interest although this could really be nothing when Naor quotes Mendelssohn (pp.16-34) and Weisel (p. 19 n. 48, 200-203) in the text of the sefer he brings there name in abbreviation one suspects it has to do with fear for citing their names openly only in the notes (p.22 n.51) which much less people read does he quote Mendelssohn by full name.

On page 69 he deals with a Rambam who says יראה לי explaining that when ever the Rambam uses such language he is saying his own hiddush. It is surprising that although through out  this work Naor demonstrates great bekiyut in the works of the Aderet here he does not mention in the notes that he composed a work on all the Rambam's that say יראה לי recently reprinted by Ahavat sholom called Teshuvah Meyerah and more importantly he deals with this Rambam. One weakness is neither of these two works in the volume have an index which would have been rather useful as there are many many topics of interest in this sefer and one can not find them easily.   

Finally, it is worth noting that the book itself is rather nice to look at in part due to the color cover depicting a Spanish synagogue scene from the period of the Rashba. All in all this work is well worth owning and reading carefully.

The book is available in Jewish bookstores in Baltimore, Boston, New York and Pittsburgh or via the Orot website, with a special offer here.

 


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