Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sefer HaNer on Mesechet Bava Kamma

 Sefer HaNer on Mesechet Bava Kamma: A Review

 by:Rabbi Yosaif Mordechai Dubovick


          Not every important work written by a Rishon is blessed with popularity.[1] While many texts were available throughout the generations and utilized to their utmost; others were relegated to obscurity, being published as recently as this century, or even this year. Nearly a month doesn't pass without a "new" Rishon being made available to the public, and often enough in a critical edition. While each work must be evaluated on its own merit, as a whole, every commentary, every volume of Halachic rulings adds to our knowledge and Torah study.[2]

          From the Geonic era through the Rishonim, North Africa was blessed with flourishing Torah centers, Kairouan in Tunisia (800-1057),[3] Fostat (Old Cairo) in Egypt, and many smaller cities as well. Perhaps the crown jewel of "pre-Rambam" Torah study was the sefer Hilchot Alfasi by R' Yitchock Alfasi (the Rif).[4] Many Rishonim focused their novella around the study of Rif,[5] the Rambam taught Rif in lieu of Talmud,[6] and a pseudo-Rashi and Tosefot were developed to encompass the texts used and accompany its study.[7]

          In Aghmat, a little known city in Morocco, circa the Rambam's lifetime, rose up a little known Chacham whose work is invaluable in studying Rif, and by correlation, the Talmud Bavli as a whole. Yet, this Chacham was unheard of, for the most part, until the past half century. R' Zechariya b. Yehuda of Aghmat, authored a compendium of Geonim, Rishonim, and personal exegesis on Rif. Spanning a period of 200 years of Talmud commentary of the first order, this work was also unique in its approach. Various editors have justly compared it to a work of similar nature and provenance, Shittah Mikubetzet by R. Betzalel Ashkenazi.

          However, this source of Talmudic material from an almost blank period remained unknown until HaRav Prof. Simha Assaf published several leaves on Mesechet Berachot.[8] This followed by a semi-critical edition of a complete manuscript, by Meir David Ben-Shem bearing its rightful title, Sefer HaNer.[9] Later, J. Leveen published a facsimile version of a manuscript in the British Museum[10] on the three "Bavot" along with an English preface, indexes and a brief critique of Ben-Shem's edition of Berachot. Since, many articles have been written about the work[11] and the Torah world has been blessed to see several volumes in print.

          To date we are in possession of Sefer HaNer on Berachot,[12] Shabbat,[13] Eruvin, Moed Katan[14] and Mesechet Nezikin; namely the three Bavot.[15] In general, R' Zechariah complied his work from the following sources, most of which were unknown as a work, and sometimes even the author was unknown. These Pirushim include Geonim; Rav Hai in particular, Rabbeinu Chananel,[16] R' Yosef ibn Migash, R' Baruch Sefardi (RB"S),[17] R' Yitzchok Ghiyyat, Rav Natan author of Sefer ha Aruch, Rashi,[18] Rambam,[19] as well as material of unknown authorship.[20] Further, a notable portion of the material is in Judeo-Arabic of that period, including Geonic response and commentary, citations from R"Y ibn Migash, the Rambam's commentary on Mishnah, and even short remarks within other commentaries as well. Accurately translating the material is a handicap, limiting the sefer's use, and perhaps played a part in its falling into disuse at the decline of a Judeo-Arabic speaking Talmudist audience. [Much like the loss of many (non-translated) Judeo-Arabic Geonic works over time].

          Recently, a new edition of HaNer on Mesechet Bava Kamma has been published; this article will attempt a comparison between the two printed editions, focus remaining upon the newer edition. While parts of the material of the manuscript (British Museum OR 10013) have been utilized in the past,[21] never has the manuscript been published as a whole, with critical notes. In 5761, as a part of Ohel Yeshayahu, a compilation of works on B"K, R. Hillel Mann published the relevant portion of Sefer HaNer from this manuscript. While this edition was surprisingly accurate to the mss. (the facsimile published by Leveen is available on Otzar HaChochmah), his notes are exceptionally lacking, with only the barest citation to what could be best described as "yeshivishe reid"; the common knowledge on the topic as discussed in the Yeshivot of today. Certainly not the optimal choice when editing and annotating a work based on Geonic and early Rishonic material, with many variant readings in the Talmud, as well novel commentaries hitherto unutilized.

          Upon perusal of this edition, one cannot help but notice that in sharp contrast to the remaining nine chapters, the first chapter seems well edited, and the material in the footnotes is richer. The answer to this oddity is found in Mann's preface; in 5752, an article containing a critical edition of the first perek was published by R' Yehoshua Hutner of Machon Talmud Yisraeli[22]. This material had been meticulously edited by R' Dov Havlin shlit"a and R' Yosef haKohen Klien ob"m. Mann made use of the extensive notes, gleaned what he felt valuable, and ignored what he deemed he could.[23] According to Mann, R' Tzvi Rotstein[24] copied the mss., and R' Yosef Kafich translated the Arabic text.

          Several months ago, a new edition of this work graced our tables. R' Dov Havlin, the editor of the Talmud Yisraeli article, and his family[25] received permission to publish the work in its entirety.[26] Using the material previously assembled, and R' Kafich's translations, a preface was added, and the book printed. A mere glance at the first footnote to the preface shows the thoroughness and care taken when approaching a Rishon. As opposed to an "on-the-job training" attitude displayed by some authors, here the appropriate material was gathered and made use of in order to assess the task at hand.

          The preface offers the uninitiated a précis of the academic papers written on R' Zechariah, and deals with the author, his era and his works. Alongside, a chapter is devoted to R' Baruch Sefardi, if only for the sake of providing the public exposure to Abramson's pamphlet.[27] In one paragraph, the editor explains his decision to title the work "Shitta MiKubetzet Kadmon" although the author R' Zechariah named it "HaNer". I must confess I was not persuaded to concede to the change, and regret the license taken.[28]

          Another liberty taken is the exclusion of the abbreviation "Pir'", short for "Pirush". This nomenclature has been edited out and replaced with a dash, although no mention was made of this in the preface.[29] This is not the case in the original article, and it would appear that this was done solely by the new editor(s). In addition, Arabic pieces, be they ever so brief, are replaced with the translation, and while the replacement is noted the original text is lacking. Mann's edition reproduces the original, and relegates the translation to a footnote as the original article. By way of comparison, the original sports 261 footnotes on the first perek, the newer model, 98, and Mann's version contains 102. Clearly, editing has been done, and while citations previously footnoted are now in the body of the text (parenthesized and font size lowered), one wonders what else has been omitted, and at what cost.[30]

Diacritics found in the mss. are sorely lacking in all three editions, and HaShem's name, typically written as three letters "yud", is modernized to two.[31] Further, abbreviations have been expanded; Mann remained true to the text. Many of Mann's mistaken readings are especially accurate in the new edition, yet typographical errors (as is wont) remain.

As the work is based upon Rif, and collates many authorities, attempts to correlate the work to the Talmud's present pagination is daunting. Many times R' Zechariah will continue to copy a commentator, covering material spanning several folios, only to backtrack in order to begin a parallel commentary. Special attention need be given to this, and often Mann has rearranged material to fit within the parameters of one page; Havlin et al reproduce the original order.[32] The mss, while largely legible, has many additions, in different hands. Some addenda are written perpendicular to the text as marginal glossa, in a smaller hand. Mann has lost text in this fashion, as opposed to the Havlin edition wherein they are preserved.

Publishing any edition of a manuscript reverts at some point to become eclectic. The editor is forced to decide on punctuation placement, and sentence/paragraph breaks, causing differing interpretations. While I cannot agree to the many changes made in the new edition,[33] this treasure trove of valuable material has now been made available to the public, and our thanks due. The text is highly accurate to the manuscript, the notes offer useful information, cross references and variant readings. This new addition to the Talmudic bookcase is most welcome, and while the implication given by the publisher that the next two meschtot are not on the agenda, may any continuation of so worthy a project be expediently brought to light.

[1] See Zohar, Bamidbar (3:134a) "everything is dependant upon fate, even the Sefer Torah in the Heichal".

[2] See E. Soloveitchik, 'Al Pirush Kadmon lMesechet Sukkah', Tzfunot 18 (5752), pp 9-13. See also Prof. R' S. Z. Havlin, Sefer Vaad lChachomim, Yerushalayim 5763, p 13-35/

[3] Home of the Yeshiva of R' Chananel and R' Nissim Gaon, among others. See M. Ben-Sasson, Tzemichat haKehillah haYihudit bArtzot haIslam, Yerushalayim 5757.

[4] See Ta-Shma, Sifrut Ha-parshanit le-Talmud vol. 1, Yerushalayim 5760, pg 156-159.

[5] See E. Chwat, Doctoral Dissertation, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan 5750. See also S. Gottesman, Yeshurun 9 (5761) and Nitzutzei Aish, Memorial Volume, (Newhouse) Israel 2004.

[6] See E. Chwat, Yeshrun 20 (5768); M.A. Friedman, Tarbiz 62 (4) (5752).

[7] Chwat ibid. see also TaShma, 'Klitatam shel Sifrei haRif, Rach, vHalachot Gedolot bTzarfat ubAshkenaz bMaot 11 v12' (Knesset Mechkarim 1, Yerushalayim 5764, previously, Kiryat Sefer 54 (a)). See also Prof. Shamma Yehuda Freidman, 'MiTosefot Rashbam lRif', Kovetz al Yad 8 (5736).

[8] S. Assaf, 'Chelek miPirush Kadmon liMesechet Brachot liEchad miBnei Zemani shel haRambam', in 'L'Zichron R' Z' P' Chayyes, Yerushalayim 5693.

[9] Yerushalayim, 5718 [available here at hebrewbooks]

[10] A digest of commentaries on the tractates Babah kamma, Babha mesi’a and Babha bhathera of the Babylonian Talmud, compiled by Zachariah Ben Judah Aghmati; reproduced in facsimile from the unique manuscript in the British Museum OR. 10013; edited, with an introduction by Jacob Leveen, London 1961.

[11] C. Z. Hirschburg, Tarbiz 42 (5733); Ta Shma 'Sifrut Haparshanit' pg 156-159.

[12] Ben-Shem ibid.

[13] S. Eidison, Yerushalayim 5770.

[14] N. Sachs, Harry Fischel Institute, Yerushalayim 5726.

[15] B"M in Kovetz Sakosah lRoshi, Bnei Brak 5763. B"B (ch. 1-3), R' Yekutiel Cohen, Yerushalayim 5748

[16] One of the more problematic references in HaNer is to "Miktzat", see Abramson, 'Pirush Rav Baruch b"r Shmuel haSefardi lTalmud', who offers a possible theory that Miktzat means R' Chananel's pirush "brought in part", as opposed to "some [commentators]", at least in some instances.

[17] See S Abramson 'Pirush Rav Baruch b"r Shmuel haSefardi lTalmud', Bar Ilan Annual 26-27 (YD Gilat Jubilee volume) 5754.

[18] See Y. Malchi, 'R, Zechariah Aghmati, haIsh, Yitzirato, haParshanit, vYachasah lPirushei Rashi', Shanan 14 (5769) pg 65-73.

[19] See Abramson, Mechkarei Talmud 3.

[20] See Abramson 'Pirush Rav Baruch b"r Shmuel haSefardi lTalmud'.

[21] R. M.Y. Blau, Shittas HaKadmonim B"M, B"B (2 volumes) and Three Bavot. See also TaShma, Kovetz al Yad, 10.

[22] Sefer Zikaron le R' Yitzchok Yedidyah Frankel, Tel Aviv 5752.

[23] This explains the unintelligible note no. 81, citing Rav Nissim Gaon on B"K. After searching through Prof. Abramson's work on RN"G, the passage (then) existed only in a re-creation of RN"G based upon Prof. Abramson's hypothesis. Comparison to the article in the Frankel volume revels not only the true source material (Abramson), but also an additional citation to Abramson's work Inyanut (Yerushalayim 5734, p 300), wherein a fragment of RN"G is published, verifying Abramson's earlier thesis. All this is lacking in Mann's note, leaving the reader at a loss.

[24] Of Rif reknown. It was Rotstein who brought the fragment mentioned in the above note to Abramson, under the impression the material was Rif. Additionally, R' Rotstein is listed translator of the Arabic material in HaNer Bava Metziea (Sakosa lRoshi). R' Eliezer Brodt once mentioned to me in the name of R' Shmuel Ashkenazi that R' Rotstein was not fluent in the language and had others translate the Rif material for him. Assumedly, one can rely on the accuracy.

[25] I am not clear as to the involvement and responsibility of each party. The preface is unsigned, R' Havlin's daughters are credited with copying the mss. and notes, and at the close of the preface, one R' Bunim Shwartz's passing is lamented, being cited as with the acronymic usage of "father". One tends to understand that R' Havlin's son in law was instrumental in the ultimate publishing. This is corroborated by the disclaimer on the inside of the title page.

[26] The publication was done privately, and mention of the Machon is due to having used material penned under their auspices and ownership. However, the volume does not bear the logo nor name of the Machon and carries a private publisher (HaMesorah) on the title page's reverse.

[27] While the original publication was in the Gilat volume [see above note no.[17], Abramson re-published the article (privately?) as a pamphlet, with corrections and additional material. I have only a photocopy of it, and welcome any information towards procuring an original.

[28] Similarly is "Chochmat Betzalel", R' Betzalel of Rensburg, Mossad HaRav Kook. The author had titled the book "Pitchay Niddah" and the manuscript owner and publisher, R' Maimon took the liberty of changing the name.

[29] The dash has been implemented as a punctuation tool as well; I am unclear why this was done at all.

[30] From the outset, it seems notes detailing textual emendations based on the text of the Talmud have been omitted, and the reader is required to infer from the standard "[…]" that the text has been altered with some "self-evident" basis. It is noteworthy that the editors chose to revise the text of R' Chananel in this fashion, by use of parentheses. Even in the case where the mss. (Add. 27194) used by the Vilna Shas is identical with the print, variant readings of Rach are common between mss, and may be based upon provenance. See J. Rovner 'An Introduction to the Commentary of Rav Hananel ben Hushiel of Kairawan of Tractate Bava Metzia, Accompanied by a Reconstruction of the Lost Commentary to the Second Part of the Tractate based upon Cairo Genizah Fragments and Citations in the Rishonim' (1993) Ph.D.

[31] See Y. S. Spiegel, Amudim bToldot Hasefer HaIvri, vol. 2 pg 565-632.

[32] C.f. 42b. However, on 94b, Havlin transfers text as well.

[33] It escapes me the need for semi-colon usage in Talmudic text, especially enmass.



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