Monday, November 14, 2011

Comments on This and That, part 1

Comments on This and That, part 1
by Marc B. Shapiro

1. In this post I referred to R. Hayyim Hirschensohn’s Nimukei Rashi, and stated that I thought it was one of his best works. This led to some correspondence with readers regarding the commentary. I have no doubt that I could devote ten posts to Hirschensohn, but then what would happen to everything else I want to discuss? But there are people who want me to call attention to some more interesting comments from Hirschensohn. I know that among them are those who go to hebrewbooks.org and print out some of the sources I refer to and bring them to shul on Shabbat. That is fine, as long as you aren’t looking at it during the rabbi’s sermon. As it is, Hirschensohn writes a good deal about how the rabbis are not given proper respect, and how ignoramuses have all too much power. At least in one respect, however, things have gotten better since Hirschensohn’s day. In Nimukei Rashi, Bereshit, pp. 46a-46b, he speaks about how the people give more respect to the hazzan than to the rabbi. This doesn’t apply anymore because there are hardly any synagogues that still have a hazzan.

In response to requests, let me therefore mention one more very interesting passage in Hirschensohn’s Nimukei Rashi in this post (with more to come in future posts). But my real suggestion is to study it yourself, even though it might make for difficult reading at times. To paraphrase Chazal (Avot 5:22), “no pain, no gain.” Or as R. Tuvia Hanks put it: “It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”[1]

Before quoting the comment in Nimukei Rashi that I have promised, I also want to record one formulation of Hirschensohn that I think it is magnificent. While R. Soloveitchik undoubtedly would disagree with much of what Hirschensohn writes, if he would have heard the following, I know that he would have regarded it wonderful, expressing the essence of what real Torah learning is all about. In his Musagei Shav ve-Emet, Section Penei ha-Hamah, p. 64, Hirschensohn gives his definition of a lamdan. I am sure readers have their own definitions. Some will say that one who knows a few tractates is a lamdan, while other will say that one who gone through the Ketzot ha-Hoshen earns the title. Hirschensohn has his own approach:

אינני קורא למדן (שם זארגני על ת"ח גדול) רק את זה אשר רמב"ם קשה או רש"י סותרות או תוספות מופרך לא מניח לו לישון

When one can honestly say that a difficult Rambam or Rashi keeps you up at night, only then can you be called a lamdan. As I mentioned, this is a formulation that the Rav would have embraced, and he actually lived this way. I heard from Dr. David Fand, a student of the Rav from the 1940s, who studied in Boston’s Yeshivat Heichal Rabbenu Hayyim Halevi, that one night the Rav woke some students up in order to tell them a hiddush.

In Nimukei Rashi, Bereshit, p. 48b, Hirschensohn discusses the comment of Rashi, Gen. 26:8. The verse states that Abimelech looked out his window and saw that Isaac “was amusing himself with Rebekkah.” Upon this verse, Rashi, based on a Midrash, states that Abimelech saw them having marital relations. The question is, of course, obvious. How is this possible that Isaac and Rebekkah would do this in such a way that people could observe him? As Hirschensohn puts it:

ובאמת זה קשה מאד לחשוב כזאת על עולה תמימה כיצחק שיעשה דבר מגונה כזה ונגד היכל מלך

Hirschensohn therefore refuses to take this Midrash literally. He sees it as a mussar derash about how people living among those at a lower moral level can be negatively influenced by them. He offers his own example of this: elderly women in America. (By “elderly”, I think he means women over sixty.) In Europe they used to dress modestly but in America they were negatively influenced to dress in an inappropriate fashion. He continues:

ואינני חושב שחשבו חכמים שבאמת שימש יצחק מטתו ביום לפני חלון פתוח נגד היכל המלך, רק זה אחד מדרכי הדרוש המוסרי לקשור אותו לאיזה צלצול בלשון להפריז הדבר להגדיל את מוסרו.

Hirschensohn’s comment is not surprising. We have come to expect that anytime there is an unusual Midrash, or one that reflects poorly on a biblical figure, that one of the aharonim will argue that it is not meant to be taken literally. This is no different than the attempts to understand various strange Aggadot allegorically.[2] A good rule of thumb is if the Aggadah is strange, then someone will interpret it in a non-literal fashion. I opened up the Artscroll Rashi translation for the verse we are discussing and was therefore not surprised to find the following: “In truth, according to the Zohar, Isaac conducted himself modestly with Rebekkah. Abimelech did not see them in a physical sense; he understood through some astrological means that they were having relations (Maskil LeDavid).”

Regarding the character of Isaac, Hirschensohn writes:

על יצחק אשר ישב ארבעים שנה בלא אשה ולא שם עיניו על בנות הארץ וישב עשרים שנה עם אשתו בלא בנים ולא לקח אשה אחרת עליה אשר לזה הי' דבר הרגיל מאד בכל איש שם להרבות נשים ופלגשים ושפחות, אות הוא שהי' מצונן או מצדקתו משל ביצרו, ואיש כזה לא ישמש מטתו נגד חלון פתוח מול היכל מלך.

In dealing with the issue raised, Hirschensohn appears to be correct that there are only two options in describing Isaac. Either that he didn’t have a sexual drive or that he overcame it. Nevertheless, it does strike me as a bit strange to be speaking of the Patriarch in this fashion, although maybe this is just my own prudishness. Here, for example, is what R. Yehiel Michel of Glogau (died 1730) says about this episode with Isaac in his Nezer ha-Kodesh, vol. 3, p. 329a (64:5), a classic commentary on Bereshit Rabbah.

אע"ג דאמר ר"י המשמש מיטתו ביום ה"ז מגונה והיינו כמ"ש המפרשי' דמיירי אפילו בבית אפל או במאפיל טליתו דאל"ה מה מגונה דקאמר הא אפילו איסורא איכא . . . ולא שרי בכה"ג בת"ח אלא לצורך שעה בראותו שיצר תאותו מתגבר עליו הרבה כדי שלא יבא לידי הוצא' ש"ז לבטלה או הרהור רע אצ"ל דבאמת הוי נמי כה"ג ביצחק וזה רמז הכתו' באומרו והיה כי ארכו לו שם הימים כלומר שאירע לו מקר' כזה להתגבר יצר תאותו ע"י שארכו לו הימ' שלא נזדווג לאשתו משו' שמקמי הכי אפילו בצינעא בלילה לא שימש מיטתו פן תתעבר ויתפרסם הדבר לפני אבימלך ועמו אבל אז הי' צורך שעה לכך ולזה לא נזהר מלשמש אף ביום.

The author might think he is helping Isaac’s reputation with his explanation, but I actually think just the opposite, that what he says reflects negatively on Isaac. Let’s remember who we are speaking about here. We are not talking about some average guy. We are speaking about the Patriarch Isaac, whom many sources portray as the holiest of the Patriarchs. And regarding him R. Yechiel Michel says that it was צורך שעה?! Does he really expect us to believe that it was such an emergency that Isaac couldn’t have waited until the night? With all due respect to the author, who certainly knew who Isaac was, I can’t understand how he could suggest this. Hirschensohn’s description of Isaac is thus much more in line with how the Tradition encourages us to view the Patriarchs. Of course, I understand what is driving R. Yechiel Michel, namely, the reality of Isaac having sexual relations in the daytime. Unless one is prepared to read this in a non-literal fashion, as did Hirschensohn, there is a real problem and I guess the answer he offered was the best one he could come up with.

I am sure most readers are with me in not feeling comfortable engaging in speculation about the sexual life of the Patriarchs, and yet the truth is that we find such speculation among the commentators. Let me give one example. The Torah states (Gen. 29:20): “And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.” R. Hayyim Zev Rosenfeld, in his Sefer ha-Hayyim (London, 1922), p. 22, asks a very good question. If you love someone, and desperately want to be with her, then it is not seven years that will seem like a few days, but precisely the reverse. A few days would seem like seven years. So why does the Torah say that the years went by very quickly for Jacob? According to Rosenfeld, the answer is that Jacob's love for Rachel had no sexual component.

Rosenfeld brings the following support for his contention. In blessing Reuben, Jacob says (Gen. 49:3): “Reuben, thou art my first-born, my might, and the first-fruits of my strength.” As a number of talmudic and midrashic passages explain, the sperm that impregnated Leah was the first one ever to leave Jacob’s body.[3] Since the Talmud tells us that a woman cannot become pregnant from the first intercourse, [4] how is it that Leah became pregnant? The Maharsha, Yevamot 34b, deals with the problem. In what can only be described as an exercise in original Midrash, Maharsha suggests that since Jacob was able to prevent any seminal emissions for more than eight decades, one can assume that in his first intercourse with Leah he also did not ejaculate (so that the sperm not be wasted). Therefore in truth, Leah did not become pregnant from the first intercourse.

Maharsha’s explanation, which shows how far removed Jacob was from carnal pleasures, is cited by Rosenfeld as support for his assumption that Jacob’s love for Rachel was entirely non-sexual:

שפיר נוכל לומר עליו באהבתו אותה שלא היה כונתו תאות המשגל

And since his love was non-sexual, that is why the long time waiting seemed like a short time.

(As is often the case with biblical commentaries, Rosenfeld’s question is better than his answer. We can all point to plenty of examples of non-sexual love in which a short time seems much longer [e.g., a parent longing for a child]. Just because Jacob’s love was non-sexual, why should that mean that seven years seemed like a few days?)

The Rashi dealing with Abimelech, Isaac, and Rebekkah reminds me of how in high school, when we first learnt Rashi intensively, we would sometimes come across texts which created all sorts of problems, and the teachers often didn’t deal with them properly. Would it have been so hard for the rebbe to acknowledge that yes, he too finds certain Midrashim strange? I specifically remember when we learnt Rashi to Gen. 25:26, which quotes a Midrash that explains why Esau was born first even though Jacob was conceived first. At the time, we were studying biology and knew that the biological description in this Rashi was incorrect. In what was for me a prologue to the Slifkin affair, one of the students raised this point. I also recall how his question was pushed aside, as if it was unimportant.[5] (Later, I was surprised to find that even in the nineteenth century R. Akiva Eger was clueless about the anatomy of pregnant women. Here is what he writes in his comment to Berakhot 63b, quoting a medieval source:

דז' חדרים יש באשה שלשה מימין ושלשה משמאול ואחד באמצע אם תתעבר מימין יהיו זכרים ובשמאל נקבות ובאמצע טומטום או אנדרוגינוס)

Another Rashi which raised a problem, for me at least, was Gen. 24:2. Commenting on the biblical expression, שים נא ידך תחת ירכי, Rashi quotes the Midrash that Abraham asks Eliezer, in taking his oath, put his hands on Abraham’s circumcision.

לפי שהנשבע צריך שיטול בידו חפץ של מצוה, כגון ספר תורה או תפילין, והמילה היתה מצוה ראשונה לו ובאה לו על ידי צער והיתה חביבה עליו ונטלה

I remember in high school thinking that this was very strange. But I assumed that it was only since I was corrupted by modern values that I found this strange, and that those who had a pure “Torah hashkafah” would not even raise an eyebrow. I was even too embarrassed to ask the rebbe about this Rashi (which comes from Bereshit Rabbah).[6] It was only many years later that I found that the great R. Raphael Berdugo (1747-1821), known as the מלאך among Moroccan Jewry, had the same response as a fourteen-year-old American student. He does not hesitate to tell us that he finds this Midrash quite strange (Mesamhei Lev, ad loc.).

שהמילה אין בגופה קדושה אדרבה הוא מקום הבושת ואיך יקח בידו ערות חבירו ויזכיר שמו ית' . . . גם אם רבינו הקדוש לא הניח ידו למטה מחגורו ק"ו אברהם אבינו ע"ה, גם מאכילת עץ הדעת יבושו בני אדם זה מזה וזילותא הוא לאדם נכבד שיחזיק אחר במבושיו

What this shows us is that when a rebbe is asked about this Rashi by one of his students, he should not put on an act and make believe that he too doesn’t find it strange. Instead, he should be honest, just like Berdugo, and acknowledge that this is indeed an unusual Midrash. Such an honest approach will earn the respect of the students and come in handy as the class comes to other strange Midrashim.[7]

Rosenfeld, whom we just cited, also deals with this passage and has a very interesting formulation (p. 21):

שים נא ידך תחת ירכי: כאשר רמזתי לעיל שהיה כלי הולדה קדוש בעיניו, אך משה אסר זאת בתורתו להיות קדושים.

In other words, the old way of taking an oath, which was acceptable in Abraham’s day, was later rendered invalid due to the heightened moral standards of the Torah. His comment, that Abraham regarded the genitals as holy, is explained by him as follows (p. 19):

שאצל אברהם היתה המילה תיקון הדת להקדיש כלי הולדה שהוא המקור מכל מין האנושית, ולכוף את תאותיו . . . וגם המילה היא מקור הולדה והשפע בא על ידו

I will return in a future post to discuss Rosenfeld, who was very unconventional and expressed all sorts of provocative notions.[8] He was also unusual among those born in Eastern Europe in that he published many books in English. Here is his picture, which appears in his Sefer ha-Hayyim, showing that despite his unusual ideas he certainly had the rabbinic look.




2. I want to now go back to one of my earliest posts, from four years ago, in which I discussed the meaning of the word olam in the Bible and how the words Adon Olam should be translated. See here.

I received many e-mails after this post, and there were many important comments posted online. I told a number of people that I would try to mention their comments in a post. Although I can’t get to all of them, at least with regard to some, better late than never.

With regard to appearances of the word olam in the Torah where modern scholars say it means eternal (or something along those lines[9]) and traditional interpreters understand it to mean “world”, R. Nathan Kamenetsky called my attention to Gen. 21:33, where it is clear from Onkelos, Rashi, and Ramban that the word means “world.”[10] To this I will add that Maimonides also understands olam in this verse to mean “world”. See Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Avodah Zarah 1:3 (Simon Glazer, in his translation, mistakenly renders it “Everlasting God” instead of “God of the World”, “God of the Universe” or something like that. Similarly, Eliyahu Touger, in his translation of this halakhah mistakenly renders it “eternal God”.) See also the index to Pines’ translation of the Guide under Gen. 21:33 for instances in the Guide where Maimonides refers to the verse, and also Schwartz’ edition of the Guide 2:13 n. 14. We must also translate Maimonides’ opening words of each of the three sections of the Guide (and elsewhere[11]) בשם ה' א-ל עולם as “In the Name of the Lord, God of the World.”

As for what the words Adon Olam mean, in a comment to the original post, Kovner clinches the meaning, I think. He called attention to Berakhot 7b: “From the day that the Holy One, blessed be He, created the world (olam) there was no man that called the Holy One, blessed be He, Lord, until Abraham came and called Him Lord (adon). I had forgotten about this passage, and I think it is obvious that the words Adon Olam are based on this text, meaning that the passage should be translated as “Master of the Universe”, or something along those lines. A very learned reader also pointed out to me that this same point is made by R. Pinchas Zebihi in his Mi-Zahav u-mi-Paz (Jerusalem, 1993), at the end where there is a commentary on Adon Olam. See also the online discussion here.

Responding to Kovner, R. Yitzhak Oratz e-mailed me that Kovner’s very point was approved by the Vilna Gaon and repeated by none other than the Brisker Rav. See Dov Eliach, Sefer ha-Gaon, vol. 1, pp. 425-426, where it states that the Gaon was shown this point in the siddur Magid Tzedek and said that the entire siddur was worthwhile for this one point. Ad kan R. Oratz.[12]

With regard to the word olam, it is true that in rabbinic literature it means “world”, but I would be remiss in not mentioning that the older meaning is found as well. Sometimes, it is unclear which the correct meaning is. For example, Mishnah Yadayim 3:5 reads:

אין כל העולם כולו כדאי כיום שניתן בו שיר השירים לישראל

Soncino translates: “The whole world is not as worthy as the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel.” Others translate similarly. Yet A. S. Halkin renders it: “All of time is not as worthy as the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel.”[13] Halkin’s opinion is noted in a comprehensive article devoted to the very issue here being discussed.[14] Fuderman and Gruber, the authors of this article, also point to two biblical texts “of Hellenistic date” in which they claim olam means “world.” One of them is Dan. 12:7: .חי העולם They translate this as “the life/vital force of the world,” and note that this usage is found in the Jewish liturgy where it has been transformed into חי העולמים, with the same meaning.

The other example they give is Eccl. 3:11: גם את העולם נתן בלבם. They are not the first to translate olam here as “world.” The old JPS also translated it this way: “He hath set the world in their heart.” But in the Soncino edition, which uses the old JPS, the commentary rejects this translation, commenting that “the only signification” olam has in the Bible is “eternity.” The translation would therefore have to read: “He hath set eternity [i.e., a sense of the future] in their heart.” Soncino’s note might be based on Ibn Ezra’s comment to this verse, where he says flatly that in the Bible the word olam only means “eternity,” not “world.” (He says likewise in his Short Commentary to Exodus 31:17; Commentary to Psalms 66:7, 89:4.) Daat Mikra agrees with Soncino, explaining the verse as follows: את העולם: את השאיפה לחיים עולם ונצחיות ולדעת את הנעלם, מה שהיה לפנים ומה שיהיה לאחור [15]

I will leave the meaning of olam in this verse to the biblical scholars to fight over. But I want to return to the point made by Fuderman and Gruber that Ecclesiastes was composed in the Hellenistic period, many centuries after Solomon. Based on this they don’t see it as at all incongruous that the word olam means “world” in this book because we are dealing with a later development of biblical Hebrew.[16] This relates to another interesting point.

At the beginning of the standard Vilna edition of the Mishnah there is an essay on R. Judah the Prince by R. Moses Kunitz. Here is the first page.




This essay is excerpted from Kunitz’ Beit Rabbi (Vienna 1805), most of which is actually a play in six acts.[17] Kunitz is best known for his Ben Yohai which is a valiant, if unsuccessful, defense of the ancient dating of the Zohar against R. Jacob Emden’s Mitpahat Sefarim. He was a very pious man and in his lifetime was treated with great respect.

In the next issue of Milin Havivin I will have information regarding this, so there is no need to repeat it here. Here is his picture.



Kunitz is also famous as one of the rabbis whose responsum to the early Reformers is printed in Nogah ha-Tzedek. This was from a time when the Reformers made it seem that all they were looking for was a more lenient halakhic approach. They also succeeded in receiving letters from two Italian rabbis. Just as these rabbis were not Reform in any way, neither was Kunitz. Not knowing who the Reformers were, he fell into their trap, which is perhaps the best way to put it. Yet as I mentioned, this didn’t greatly affect his standing in the rabbinic world, because people assumed that his was an innocent error. In fact, in all the polemics against the Reformers, none of the great rabbis of the day even mention Kunitz.[18]

A few years ago a new edition of the classic Vilna Mishnah was reprinted, and lo and behold, Kunitz’ essay is missing. The publisher was obviously told that there was some controversy around Kunitz, and he therefore just cut out the essay. Yet if the publisher wanted to censor, he missed the real thing. (I wouldn’t be surprised if following this post, future printings of the Mishnah also cut out what I will now discuss. That is the reason why I don’t call attention to various “interesting” books that have been put up on hebrewbooks.org [including Karaite literature], at least until they are also on Google books. I know that soon after I discuss them, they will be taken down. As it is, a number of anti-hasidic and Haskalah works have already been removed from the site. Sometimes these books have come down within a day or two of being put up, after someone has informed the site that they put up a “dangerous” volume. So you have to be quick when they post the new books and download anything you think might be removed.)

Immediately following Kunitz’ essay, there is another article on the grammar of Mishnaic Hebrew by Solomon Loewisohn. In the very first note he refers to the book of Ecclesiastes, and concludes his comment with והטעם ידוע למשכילי עם Here is the page.





What he is alluding to in this note is that Ecclesiastes is a late biblical book, and thus could not have been written by Solomon. To show this he points to the word חוץ, which in its usage in Ecclesiastes 2:25 is an Aramaism, and thus post-dates the biblical Hebrew of Solomon’s day.[19] To use an expression of the Sages, we live in an olam hafukh. Kunitz’ essay was thought worthy of censorship, and at the same time this note remains in every printing of the Vilna edition of the Mishnah. Yet as I mentioned above, let’s see how long it is before this note, or even the complete essay, is also removed.

Regarding the book of Ecclesiastes, in Limits, p. 26 n. 140, I referred to a comment of R. Israel Bruna which appears to say that Ecclesiastes was not divinely inspired. R. Yonasan Rosman (one of whose seforim I mentioned in an earlier post) has taken issue with me in this. However, he also points out that this is exactly what Maharsha seems to be saying in his commentary to Shabbat 30b. I also found that R. Zvi Hirsch Chajes, in his note to Berakhot 4a and in Kol Sifrei Maharatz Chajes, vol. 2, p. 927, states explicitly that Ecclesiastes was not divinely inspired. R. Michael Broyde has noted that this is also stated by R. David Ibn Zimra in his responsa, vol. 2, no. 722.[20]

Rosman also points out that Maimonides, Hilkhot She’ar Avot ha-Tum’ot 9:6, states that Ecclesiastes (and Song of Songs) are “words of wisdom”, with the implication that these books are not divinely inspired. This expression, “words of wisdom”, comes from Tosefta Yadayim 2:14, where it is explicitly contrasted with ruah ha-kodesh.

ר' שמעון בן מנסיא אומר שיר השירים מטמא את הידים מפני שנאמרה ברוח הקדש. קהלת אינה מטמא את הידים מפני שהיא מחכמתו של שלמה.

Based on the passage just mentioned, I initially assumed that Maimonides is indeed saying that Ecclesiastes was not written with divine inspiration. I also found that the important commentator R. Masud Hai Rakah is of this opinion. Yet then there is a problem, because according to the Tosefta, Song of Songs was written with divine inspiration and yet Maimonides also refers to this book as “words of wisdom.” Rakah himself raises this problem and can offer no solution,[21] but it is likely that when Maimonides speaks of these books as being “words of wisdom” it does not mean that they are lacking in divine inspiration. We can see this from Hilkhot Talmud Torah 5:4, where he quotes Song of Songs and writes regarding it אמר שלמה בחכמתו. The same words are found in Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah 2:12 and Hilkhot Deot 3:3, 4:15, 19 and in these cases Maimonides is quoting verses from Proverbs. Maimonides believed that both Song of Songs and Proverbs were written with divine inspiration, and yet we see that he uses the term “wisdom” with regard to them. The truth is that this phraseology comes directly from the Talmud,[22] and need not have anything to do with whether the text being described is divinely inspired. This whole problem is dealt with by the brilliant R. Meshulam Roth in an article in Sinai 17 (1945) pp. 267ff. With his typical erudition, Roth shows that Maimonides indeed regarded Ecclesiastes as being divinely inspired and in fact states so explicitly in Guide 2:45. Roth also shows how in a few places he describes Solomon as a prophet.[23]

Many might find this entire discussion strange, for they assume that if a book is in the canon that means it must be regarded as having been divinely inspired. I have found such a conception in many books.[24] Yet it is incorrect, and as Shnayer Leiman has shown, the tanna R. Simeon ben Menasia, while he regarded Ecclesiastes as an uninspired book, also thought that it was canonical. Thus, while he states that Ecclesiastes does not defile the hands, he also expounded a verse from Ecclesiastes.[25]

As far as I know, the Sages never “decided” that Ecclesiastes is a divinely inspired book. It would therefore seem to be entirely acceptable for one to hold the position of R. Simeon ben Menasia, which was shared by Beit Shammai and R. Meir,[26] that the book is not a product of ruah ha-kodesh. Obviously, one who rejects the book, or any other biblical text, claiming that it was a mistake to have been included in the Canon, has to be regarded as a sectarian. However, here too I think that there is more room for personal opinions than people often think. For example, what about someone who accepts Ecclesiastes as part of the Canon but thinks that the Sages were wrong in this decision, and that they should have adopted the view that the ideas of this book are not fit to be included in the Bible? This was Samuel David Luzzatto’s early position, although he later became more sympathetic to Ecclesiastes. Yet despite this negative view, Luzzatto never rejected the canonical status of this book.[27]

Or what if someone thinks that the halakhah should have been decided in accordance with Samuel (as understood by a number of rishonim)[28] that the book of Esther should not have been included in the canon? As long as one accepts the halakhah as recorded by the Sages he is not to be regarded as a Zaken Mamre, which shows that acceptance of the halakhah in practice is what is important, but one doesn’t have to think that the Sages were correct. After all, in the story of the Oven of Akhnai (Bava Metzia 59b), while R. Eliezer was forced to accept R. Joshua’s viewpoint, I don’t think there can be any doubt that R. Eliezer still believed that he was correct. How could he not, when God Himself agreed with him? Yet the most R. Eliezer could hope for was that his decision would be adopted by a future beit din, and maybe only after the arrival of the Messianic era. Let us not forget that the Mishnah in Eduyot 1:5 explicitly tells us that minority opinions are recorded so that a later court can rely on them, meaning that there is no problem for one to argue the case of a rejected opinion, as long as one does not adopt it in practice (i.e., before a later court gives its imprimatur to do so).[29]

All this seem to be no different than someone who, after examining a talmudic dispute, thinks that the weight of the evidence shows that the halakhah should be in accordance with Abaye, and yet the Talmud decides the halakhah in accordance with Rava. Such a person accepts the practical halakhah, and this is no different than someone who thinks that the Shulhan Arukh decided the halakhah improperly, but who nevertheless follows the law as recorded. You can even argue that this is a very high level of commitment, namely, one who thinks the halakhah should be different, but nevertheless sublimates his personal feelings and accepts the law as we have it.[30]

Similarly, the assumptions of academic Talmud study lead, in theory, to the undermining of many talmudic conclusions. But the practitioners of this form of study have always insisted that since they don’t seek to change the accepted halakhic practice, there can be no religious objection to their approach.

The only reason the Song of Songs was included in the Canon is because it was interpreted in an allegorical fashion.[31] Does this mean that one must accept that this was the original meaning of the book? Jacob Barth (1851-1914) certainly didn’t think so. Barth was the son-in-law of R. Esriel Hildesheimer and one of the most brilliant Semitists of his day. In addition to teaching at the University of Berlin, he was also a long-time and revered faculty member at the Rabbinical Seminary of Berlin. Just to give one example of this, in discussing the great achievements of German Orthodoxy, R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg lists the following four men as examples of what German Orthodoxy can be proud of: Hirsch, Hildesheimer, Hoffmann, and Barth.[32]

Here is a picture of Barth.


Barth argued—and taught his students at the Rabbinical Seminary of Berlin—that the Song of Songs was not originally intended as an allegory, but this was a later interpretation of the Rabbis, and as already mentioned it was precisely this interpretation that enabled the book to be included in the Canon.[33] Barth believed that the Song of Songs was actually a collection of different songs, composed in various periods.[34] They were designed to be sung at a wedding and the days of feasting, and give expression to marital happiness and love which are basic to the Jewish family. According to Barth, just like the Psalms were originally written by the Psalmist with specific circumstances in mind, but their meaning for the Jewish people throughout history is not tied to this original intent, the same can be said for the Song of Songs. What it originally meant is different than what it later came to mean for generations of Jews.[35]

To be continued
* * * *
In my last post, available here, I wrote about the issue of lo tehanem. As far as the Modern Orthodox are concerned, based on the Meiri and others, these laws are no longer regarded as applicable in modern times. (Although as I mentioned, the Centrists are trying to bring them back.) Someone sent me a link to Dov Bear’s post available here. Dov Baer included the following text that recently appeared (and highlighted certain sections).


I have already mentioned the Slifkin controversy in this post, and regarding matters of science and Torah there definitely are differences between the Modern Orthodox and the haredim. However, I think that when it comes to matters like lo tehanem, the divide is much more significant. If the haredi/ hasidic world really accepts the outlook of the page printed above, then its understanding of what “Jewish values” are all about is far removed from that of the Modern Orthodox.[36] We can also see how secure haredi Jews in America must feel in order for them to put this sort of material in the English language, for all to see.

In two posts from now, I will discuss a dispute currently taking place in the hasidic world in America about how to relate to non-Jews. For now I will simply note that a common theme among virtually all who abandon hasidic life, in explaining what they found objectionable in their former lifestyle, is the denigration of “the other” found in the hasidic world. In the forthcoming post, I will deal with a brave voice from that world who is putting forth a different approach.



[1] See here.
[2] Here is what Louis Ginzberg wrote about the unusual aggadot (On Jewish Law and Lore [New York, 1970], p. 77 (I thank Gershon Bacon for reminding me of this passage.) There is a lot one can say about this comment.

With your permission I shall commence my lecture by recounting an incident that happened to me. It is a memory from boyhood, which means the time when I had already been liberated from the hard discipline of the master of the heder, and, though yet a child of nine, had begun to study, in the traditional phrase, “by myself.” I was then studying the tractate Baba Bathra. When I reached the tales of Rabbah bar bar Hannah, doubts began to disturb my mind; my peace was particularly troubled by those geese who were so fat that they had streams of oil flowing from them and by the bird that was so big that the waters of the sea reached only to its ankles and its head split the heavens. My joy was great when I came across a book by one of the “enlightened” of the older generation (if my memory is correct it was the Maphteah by Shatzkes), from which I learned that these geese were neither fat nor thin and that the giant bird possessed neither feet nor wings, but that the whole tale was merely a flight of the imagination, or, as the ancients used to say, it was only a parable—the moral I have forgotten. I was a child then; but when I reached maturity I realized that in truth the geese of Rabbah bar bar Hannah were real geese and the giant bird was literally a bird. When regarded as natural creations of the folk imagination, they lost their strangeness and incomprehensibility. On the contrary, it would be all the more strange if we possessed no such tales; in that case it would be extremely difficult to explain so striking a difference between our people and all others, one involving so great a triumph of reason over imagination that the latter had become completely atrophied.

[3] See Torah Shelemah, Gen. ch. 49, note 47.
[4] Do any of the readers know where the Talmud picked up this piece of folklore? I assume it was a common notion in ancient times. See Bereshit Rabbah 45:5, where the matter is disputed. Noda bi-Yehudah, Even ha-Ezer no. 22, recognizes that there are women who do become pregnant after first intercourse, and therefore claims that the Talmud was only giving a general rule, but there are exceptions. See R. Neriah Gutel, Hishtanut ha-Tevaim (Jerusalem, 1995), pp. 88ff.
[5] I assume that the rebbe’s response was due to the fact that the passage quoted by Rashi is a Midrash. If it was Rashi’s own explanation, I don’t think he would have regarded it as a disrespectful question. In general, and readers can correct me if I am wrong, I don’t think that the opponents of Slifkin assume that together with Hazal the greatest rishonim are also infallible on scientific matters (the one exception perhaps being the Lubavitchers when it comes to the Rambam). When I was in yeshiva I never came across a rebbe who thought that, although I can’t remember anyone actually spending time on one of the rishonim and explaining why what he says is not correct scientifically, or, to take a different issue, that perhaps the rishon’s view of women doesn’t reflect how we currently think. Had they done so, it would have had an enormously positive influence on some of the students who instead came to believe that the Torah was out of date and not relevant to their lives.

To give one example of many, the online elucidation of Tosafot, available here, in discussing Tosafot, Shabbat 65b. s.v. sahada, offers the following preface:

Before we approach this Tosfos we must realize that during the times of the Reeshonim, there were very few if any maps in Europe of any of the areas that are being discussed in the G’moro. All the knowledge that they had about the rivers and places was what they gleaned from the G’moro or Midrosh about these places.

What forces the translator to add this comment is that Tosafot rejects Rashi’s explanation (which I will soon come to) and incorrectly states that all rivers flow from east to west. (Among European rivers, the Danube flows west to east.) It turns out that Rashi’s explanation is also geographically incorrect. Rashi, Shabbat 65b s.v. sahada, writes about the Euphrates: שהוא יורד מארץ ישראל לבבל

In other words, Rashi thought that the Euphrates originated in the Land of Israel, and flowed from there to Babylonia. Yet this is incorrect as the Euphrates is not within the Land of Israel. Artscroll recognizes the problem and states that the Euphrates is on the northern border of “Greater Israel,” i.e., the land promised to Abraham. I believe that this is an apologetic explanation. The Euphrates will only be part of the Land of Israel in messianic days. It was never a part of Israel during the First Temple, or during the Second Temple. Yet Rashi is speaking about the river as actually part of the Land of Israel. See Isaac Samuel Reggio, Ha-Torah ve-ha-Filosofyah (Vienna, 1827), p. 63.
[6] See also the various Midrashim cited in Torah Shelemah, Gen. 47:29, where Jacob is speaking to Joseph and he too says שים נא ידך תחת ירכי.
[7] There are other ways of dealing with the Midrash. See e.g., R. Paragi Alush, Ohev Mishpat (Djerba, 1928), vol. 1, no. 3, that Eliezer only touched the organ from outside of Abraham’s clothes. R. Eliyahu Katz, Amar ve-Amarta (Beer Sheva, 1994), Gen. 24:2, finds the Midrash so strange that he can’t take it literally, and even uses the term has ve-shalom with reference to the literal meaning. He does so even though, as far as I can tell, all the standard commentaries on the Midrash and Rashi do take it literally. Here are his words:

תמוה מאד שהמילה נחשבת כחפץ של מצוה. והרי אין בזה מן הצניעות . . . אך ודאי שאין הכוונה ח"ו כפשוטו, אלא הכוונה שהזכיר את המצוה כמו שאומר שנשבע בשם ה'.

[8] For now, here is one just one example. He assumes that Gen.36:31-43 is post-Mosaic.

ואלה המלכים אשר מלכו בארץ אדום לפני מלוך מלך לבני ישראל: מזה נראה כי זמן רב נכתבה פרשה זו, כי ידע כבר את מלכי ישראל.

[9] See Sacha Stern, Time and Process in Ancient Judaism (Oxford, 2003), pp. 75 n. 43, 109ff.
[10] Mordecai Spitz called my attention to Neh. 9:5, where the traditional commentaries also understand olam to mean world.
[11] See Saul Lieberman, Hilkhot ha-Yerushalmi, p. 5 n. 7.
[12] I should also mention that there is dispute about how the word חבלי should be translated in Adon Olam. According to Salomon Speier the meaning is “my portion” and not “my pain” See his note in Journal of Jewish Studies 4 (1953), pp. 40-41. Zebihi, Mi-Zahav u-mi-Paz, at the end, also argues for this understanding. None of the many translations I have checked agree with this. [S. of On the Main Line calls my attention to David Levi's London 1794 Rosh Hashanah Machzor, where the passage is translated as "Rock of my portion in time of distress."]
[13] The meaning of olam in Avot 1:2 – על שלשה דברים העולם עומד – has also been called into question. See Judah Goldin, Studies in Midrash and Related Literature (Philadelphia, 1988), p. 34.
[14] Kirsten A. Fudeman and Mayer I. Gruber, “’Eternal King/ King of the World’: From the Bronze Age to Modern Times” A Study in Lexical Semantics.”REJ 166 (2007), pp. 209-242.
[15] R. Elijah Benamozegh translates Ps. 106:48: ברוך ה' אלקי ישראל מהעולם ועד העולם as “Blessed is the Lord, God of Israel, From World to World,” and Ps. 145:13 מלכותך מלכות כל עולמים as “Your kingship is a kingship of all worlds.” See Israel and Humanity, trans. Maxwell Luria (New York, 1995), p. 184. I wonder if Benamozegh meant these as scientific translations, or if this is to be regarded as derush.
[16] See also Robert Gordis, Koheleth—The Man and His World (New York, 1968), pp. 231-232.
[17] The version of Kunitz' essay that appears in the Vilna Mishnayot is not identical to that which appears in Beit Rabbi. In particular, a few footnotes have been added. This is not the only example where the editors of the Vilna Mishnayot (Romm) tampered with texts. See Kalman Kahana, Heker ve-Iyun (Tel Aviv, 1960), vol. 1, p. 134 (called to my attention by Eliezer Brodt).
[18] Anyone who wants to visit Kunitz’ grave can find it in the Kozma cemetery in Budapest. For people looking to visit graves, the most famous in the Kozma cemetery is R. Shimon Oppenheim, and he is easy to find. He is not that well known and yet his grave is visited more than many other gedolim who were of much greater significance. This is because R. Shimon promised, as it states on his tombstone, that whoever comes to his grave and recites the Menuhah Nekhonah, his prayers will be answered. (The E-l Male Rachamim commonly recited is an abridged version of the Menuhah Nekhonah, which is found in the kabbalistic work Maavar Yabok) . Since this is a guarantee from a holy rabbi, it is not surprising that his grave would attract people.

So how to find Kunitz’ grave? Unfortunately, the computer print-out provided by the cemetery directs people to the wrong place. If you are standing at R. Shimon’s grave, the plot to the left is that of R. Israel Wahrmann. He was the first chief rabbi of Pest. His grandson, Mor Wahrmann, was the president of the Jewish community from 1883-1892 and a member of parliament from 1869. He was a proud Jew, no question about it. He once even had a duel with an anti-Semite. Neither was killed, but Wahrmann was sentenced to eight days in prison. See Kinga Frojimovics, et al, Jewish Budapest (Budapest, 1999), pp. 214ff., 260. However, he despised the Orthodox (and they detested him). During the debate in Parliament over the Orthodox request to create separate communities, he stood up and started reading sections of the Shulhan Arukh to show how foolish the Orthodox were. All three of his children ended up converting to Catholicism. See Jewish Budapest, p. 216 and R. Leopold Greenwald, Korot ha-Torah ve-ha-Emunah be-Hungaryah (Budapest, 1921), p. 78, and in Apriyon 2 (1925), p. 130.

Two graves to the right of R. Shimon’s is that of Kunitz. Unlike R. Shimon, no one has yet stepped forward to redo Kunitz’ tombstone, which is in bad condition. In another hundred years it will probably be entirely illegible. However, a good portion of it can still be read. This left me perplexed, as it is not the same inscription as that found in Greenwald’s Mekorot le-Korot Yisrael (Humenne, 1934), p. 27. How to explain this?
[19] See R. Meir Mazuz, Kovetz Ma’amarim (Bnei Brak, 2003), p. 60. There are a number of other unusual words in Ecclesiastes, such as pardes (2:5) and pitgam (8:11; both Persian loanwords), which academic scholars have pointed to to show that the book is post-Solomonic. (Pardes is also found in Song of Songs 4:13.) See Shadal in Otzar Nehmad 3 (1860), p. 19, who discusses this and among other points notes that the words כבר and ענין do not appear in any other biblical book. See also Robert Gordis, “Koheleth: Hebrew or Aramaic?” Journal of Biblical Literature 71 (1952), pp. 93-109. In Amos Hakham’s introduction to the Daat Mikra Shir ha-Shirim, pp. 12-13, he rejects the significance of Persian loanwords in dating the text.

Incidentally, R. Moses Isaac Ashkenazi, Ho’il Moshe: Hamesh Megilot ve-Sefer Mishlei (Livorno, 1880), pp. 80-81, states that you can also find some Aramaic words and expressions in Proverbs, as well as later Hebrew forms, none of which could originate in Solomon’s era. Yet this discovery did not trouble Ashkenazi in the slightest.

אין לתמוה אם נפלו בספר זה כמה תיבות ומליצות מל' ארמי וגם איזו זרות בדקדוק הלשון כמו פעל נשתוה (סימן כ"ז ט"ו) בנין נתפעל ע"ד נשתנה נתרפא נצטרע ודומיהם בלשון חכמים . . . לפי שמפי שלמה יצאו המשלים בל' מדויק, רק בעברם מפה אל פה דור אחר דור בעוד שקרבת ארם הכניסה בשפת ב"י [בני ישראל] תיבות ומליצות נכריות, נהיה שבבוא יום ונרשמו על ספר כבר הורגלו לאמרם כמו שנמצאו אצלנו, ואם היו מחליפים בהם דברים היו נגרעים מערכם, כי כן יארע לכל משל מאיזה לשון שיהיה שצריך לאמרו כמו שהוא בפי המון העם ואין לתקן בו או להוסיף עליו או לגרוע ממנו
[20] “Defilement of the Hands, Canonization of the Bible, and the Special Status of Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs,” Judaism 44 (Winter 1995), p. 70.




[21] Ma’asah Rakah,ad loc.: לא ידעתי למה קרי שיר השירים דברי חכמה דהלא ברוח הקודש נאמר וקדש קדשים הוא He does not ask this question about Ecclesiastes, which shows that he assumes that according to Maimonides Ecclesiastes is only divrei hokhmah.
[22] See R. Zvi Hirsch Chajes, Kol Sifrei Maharatz Chajes, vol. 1, p. 439; Sid Z. Leiman, The Canonization of Hebrew Scripture (New Haven, 1991), p. 173 n. 317.
[23] For examples from the Talmud where Solomon is described in this fashion, see R. Betzalel Zev Safran, She’elot u-Teshuvot ha-Rabaz, vol. 1, Yoreh Deah no. 64 (in the note). Regarding R. Meshulam Roth, it is unfortunate that almost nothing has been written about him. The Tchebiner Rav is reported to have stated that had R. Meshulam been a member of Agudat Israel, the haredim would have crowned him gadol ha-dor. I hope to discuss him in a future segment of my Torah in Motion classes.
[24] Pretty much everyone also seems also to assume that a divinely inspired book included in the Canon had to be have been written in Hebrew. Yet Ibn Ezra, Job 2:11, thinks that the book of Job is a translation from another language, and that is why it is so difficult to understand.
[25] See Leiman, Canonization, p. 113.
[26] Megillah 7a.
[27] Shadal originally thought that Ecclesiastes taught heretical doctrines and was fraudulently attributed to King Solomon. Along these lines, I should note that there were talmudic sages who thought that Solomon had sinned so grievously that he lost his share in the World to Come. See Saul Lieberman, “Hearot le-Ferek Alef shel Kohelet Rabbah,” in Studies in Mysticism and Religion Presented to Gershom G. Scholem (Jerusalem, 1968), pp. 163ff. If someone today expressed agreement with this rabbinic position, I am certain that he would be roundly condemned.
[28] See Broyde, “Defilement of the Hands,” p. 68.
[29] By the same token, someone I know once commented that while in practice he accepts the halakhah as recorded in the Talmud and Shulhan Arukh, some of these halakhot relating to economic matters derive from a very different circumstance than what we have today. He assumes that a future Sanhedrin will revise some of these halakhot which are economically counterproductive and out of touch with how markets work.
[30] See Seridei Esh, vol. 3 no. 54 where R. Weinberg admits that a halakhah in the Shulhan Arukh causes him anguish.

ואודה על האמת, שאיסור זה גורם לי צער גדול

Weinberg was dealing with whether a woman whose father isn’t Jewish can marry a kohen. He would have liked to permit it, but the Shulhan Arukh ruled otherwise. What made the Shulhan Arukh’s ruling so frustrating to Weinberg is the fact that R. Joseph Karo went against his own principle and ruled in accordance with R. Asher, despite the fact that the Rif and Rambam ruled differently. Furthermore, the Vilna Gaon agreed with the Shulhan Arukh. So in the end, Weinberg felt that he must accept the Shulhan Arukh’s ruling. While Conservative halakhists are able, in cases like this, to fall back on conscience, which can trump even biblical law, Orthodox halakhists cannot do so. They must accept the halakhah even if they think it should have been decided differenttly.
[31] Interestingly, Daniel Boyarin has argued that the earliest rabbinic approach to the book was not allegory. He writes as follows:

According to the earliest strata of Rabbinic hermeneutics, the Song of Songs was not an allegory in the sense of paradigms projected onto the syntagmatic axis or concrete entities and events that signify abstractions. Rather it was an actual love dialogue spoken by God to Israel and Israel to God in concrete historical circumstances, or written by Solomon, as if spoken by Israel and God in those circumstances. . . . If the impulse of Origen is to spiritualize and allegorize physical love quite out of existence in the allegorical reading of the Song, the move of the midrash is to understand the love of God and Israel as an exquisite version of precisely that human erotic love. Reading the Song of Songs as a love dialogue between God and Israel is then no more allegorical than reading it as a love dialogue between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The Song is not connected with an invisible meaning but with the text of the Torah and thus with concrete moments of historical memory.


See Boyarin, “The Eye in the Torah: Ocular Desire in Midrashic Hermeneutic,” Critical Inquiry 16 (1990), pp. 543, 549. See also Gerson D. Cohen, Studies in the Variety of Rabbinic Cultures (Philadelphia, 1991), pp. 3-17.
[32] Li-Frakim (1967 edition), pp. 232-233.
[33] “Hartzaotav shel Yaakov Barth al Sefer Yishayahu ba-Beit Midrash le-Rabanim be-Berlin” in Uriel Simon and Moshe Goshen-Gottstein, eds., Iyunei Mikra u-Farshanut (Ramat Gan, 1980), pp. 83-85. (Regarding the dating of Ecclesiastes, discussed earlier in this post, see ibid. for Barth’s view that Ecclesiastes was written ca. 200 BCE.) I have elsewhere discussed the controversy that broke out when R. Raphael Breuer published a commentary to the Song of Songs that interpreted the book in a literal fashion. See Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy, p. 83, and my article on the Frankfurt rabbinate in Milin Havivin 3 (2007), available here.

This commentary was one of the issues that led people to oppose Breuer inheriting his father’s position as rabbi of the Frankfurt separatist community. I find it hard to understand why this commentary aroused such opposition. After all, why can’t the Song of Songs be understood as describing a loving Jewish marriage? Breuer was not denying the allegorical interpretation, only adding an additional level of meaning.

Incidentally, once when a cantor at a wedding sang some words from Song of Songs as the bride walked around the groom, R. Soloveitchik “was not happy. This, after all, was a passuk [verse] in Shir Hashirim which he felt should not be applied to a man and woman in a literal sense.” See Heshie Billet, “Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik (The Rov) ZT”L: Role Model Par Excellence,” in Zev Eleff, ed., Mentor of Generations (Jersey City, 2008), p. 152. The same opinion is expressed by R. Yosef Lieberman, Mishnat Yosef, vol. 7, no. 101. See also R. Moshe Feinstein, Iggerot Moshe, Yoreh Deah II, no. 142. In addition, Sanhedrin 101a states הקורא פסוק של שיר השירים ועושה אותו כמין זמר . . . מביא רעה לעולם (Avot de-Rabbi Nathan, ch. 36, states that such a person has no share in the World to Come.) However, Kallah Rabati: Baraita, ch. 1, explains this passage as follows: היכי דמי כמין זמר כגון דזמיר ביה ודעתיה על הרהור See also R. Jacob Emden’s note to Sanhedrin 101a:

הקורא פסוק של שיר השירים ועושה אותו כמין זמר נראה דהיינו שמשתמש בו לעשות ממנו זמר לחשוקה אילת אהבים ולחבר אותו לשיר עגבים

This means that there is no objection to singing a song from Shir ha-Shirim in a “kosher” fashion, such as at a wedding or if sung as praise of God. (Emden’s note was published from manuscript in the Wagschal Talmud, and does not appear in the standard editions. I learnt of this from R. David Teherani, Divrei David, vol. 2, Orah Hayyim no. 37.)

See R. Ovadiah Yosef, Yabia Omer, vol. 3, Orah Hayyim 15:5, that in Egypt the practice was to sing verses from Song of Songs in the synagogue between Passover and Shavuot. He also quotes R. Meir Abulafia, Yad Ramah, Sanhedrin 101a who writes:

ויש לפרש דהני מילי מאן דקרי ליה דרך שחוק אבל מאן דמיכוין לשבוחי ביה לקב"ה דרך ניגון שפיר דמי ומילתא צריכא עיונא

Returning to the Rav, it must be noted that he was opposed to all singing under the chupah. See Daniel Greer, “Ma’aseh Rav – V’dok,” in Eleff, ed., Mentor of Generations, p. 177, that at his wedding Rav stopped the cantor from singing Im Eshkochech Yerushalayim. (Others are opposed to all songs which use biblical verses, whether the words are taken whether the words are taken from Song of Songs or from any other biblical text. The only permission would be at a seudat mitzvah. See R. Ben Zion Abba Shaul, Or le-Tziyon, vol. 2, ch. 14 no. 35.) As for the Song of Songs, the Rav also stated that it is “forbidden” to interpret it literally. He even put this into a halakhic context:

בשיר השירים איכא הלכה שאין בו פשט אלא כפי הבנת הרמז הדרש והסוד. המקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו והדרש הופך להיות הפשט

See Reshimot Shiurim, Bava Kamma, ed. Reichman (New York, 2005), p. 494 (to Bava Kamma 83b). See also R. Hershel Schachter, Nefesh ha-Rav, pp. 289-290.
[34] אפריון and פרדס (3:9, 4:13) are among the late Hebrew words he points to show that some sections of the book were composed in the post-exilic period, many centuries after Solomon. R. Moses Isaac Ashkenazi, introduction to Ho’il Moshe: Hamesh Megilot ve-Sefer Mishlei, rejects the notion that based on a couple of individual words one can establish the book’s date. Yet while Ashkenazi defends the Solomonic authorship of Song of Songs and Proverbs (see above, n. 19), he does not believe that Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon. One of his proofs is from Eccl. 1:16: “Lo, I have gotten great wisdom, more also than all that were before me over Jerusalem.” According to Ashkenazi, since Solomon was only the second king to reign in Jerusalem, he never would have written in this fashion. See also 2:7. 9 where the author writes about how he differs “from all who were before me in Jerusalem.” Again, Jerusalem had not been in Israelite hands for that long so it is hard to see Solomon saying this. Ashkenazi also points to the numerous Aramaic words in the book as showing that it had to have post-dated Solomon.
[35] I found a difficult passage in the Netziv’s commentary on Song of Songs, (Metiv Shir). Commenting on the first verse, he writes:

וכן שיר אחות לנו קטנה נאמר בימי א"א [אברהם אבינו] כמבואר בב"ר פ' לך, ויבואר במקומו, אבל שלמה אסף השירים ברוה"ק וגם הוסיף הרבה משלו ועשאן שיר נפלא אחד.

The Netziv states that the section of Song of Songs beginning with ch. 8:8 (“We have a little sister . . .”) was written in the days of Abraham. What is his proof? Bereshit Rabbah 39:1 states: “R. Berekhiah commenced: We have a little sister (ahot; Song of Songs 8:8), this refers to Abraham, who united (ihah) the whole world for us.” R. Berekhiah continues to find allusions to Abraham in the next couple of verses as well. In other words, R. Berekhiah offers a nice Midrash about how Song of Songs homiletically refers to Abraham. But how does the Netziv possibly derive from this that the verses were written in the days of Abraham? The very next section in Bereshit Rabbi cites a verse from Ecclesiastes and states: “this refers to Abraham.” Does the Netziv assume that this too was written in the days of Abraham? Midrash is full of this type of homiletic comment, so why here does the Netziv think that we can learn something historical from R. Berekhiah’s statement?
[36] See also my post here.

10 comments:

Ben Katz said...

2 comments on Dr Shapiro's excellent and (always) informative and interesting post:
1. It is hard to argue that Jacob's attraction to Rachel was not sexual since the first thing he does when he sees her is kiss her. As Sarna pointed out, this is the only example in the Bible of a man kissing a woman that is not his wife or mother.
2. Rashi often quotes what would appear to us to be sexual material in his commentary even when it does not seem to be needed. See what he says about Rivkah that she was "a virgin who knew not a man" and see how he interprets "My father and mother abandon me, but God gathers me in" at the end of Psalm 27.

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