Sunday, November 20, 2011

Comments on This and That, part 2

Comments on This and That, part 2
by Marc B. Shapiro

Continued from here.

Barth’s opinion was shared by R. Joseph Hertz, who referred to Song of Songs as a “collection of ancient lyrics of the spring-time and youthful love.”[1] Some might regard this as a radical, even un-Orthodox opinion, but from Avot de-Rabbi Natan 1:4, we see that the early Jewish leaders did not regard the Song of Songs (and Ecclesiastes and Proverbs) as anything special.

Originally, it is said, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes were suppressed, for since they were held to be mere parables and not part of the Holy Writings [the religious authorities] arose and suppressed them. [And so they remained] until the men of Hezekiah came and interpreted them.

I already quoted a couple of times from R. Moses Isaac Ashkenazi’s Ho’il Moshe, so let me mention that in the introduction to his commentary on Song of Songs, he assumes that the book was indeed sung as part of the wedding celebrations, and as with Barth, he thinks that this was the original purpose of Song of Songs. He also suggests that perhaps שיר השירים אשר לשלמה  does not mean that Solomon wrote it, but that it was written for Solomon. He compares this to Psalm 72:1 which begins לשלמה and means “[A Psalm] for Solomon.” Interestingly, he also thinks that the Shulamite (7:1) is none other than Abishag the Shunamite.[2] Here is the title page of his book.

While Artscroll sees a literal interpretation of Song of Songs as blasphemous, Ashkenazi (together with Breuer and Barth) sees the book as teaching the values that make for a successful marriage. This viewpoint is also expressed in the introduction to the Soncino translation:

The main moral of the Book is that love, besides being the strongest emotion in the human heart, can also be the holiest. God has given the gift of love to sweeten the toil of the laborer, as in the case of Jacob to whom the fourteen years in which he toiled for Rachel appeared but a few days, for the love he had for her (Gen. xxix. 20). Love transfigures and hallows, but it's a boon that requires zealously to be guarded and sheltered from abuse. This Book pictures love as a reward enjoyed only by the pure and simple, a joy not experienced by the pleasure-seeking monarch and the indolent ladies of the court. It is a joy reserved for the loyal and the constant, and is denied to the sensual and dissolute.

Ashkenazi concludes with these strong words:

גם אם נפרשהו ע"ד הפשט, נוכל ללמוד ממנו דברים נאותים. . . . רק אנשי חונף העושים מעשה זמרי ומבקשים שכר כפנחס יטילו בו דופי, בעוד שהם בשבתם על השולחן בבית חתן וכלה יוציאו מפיהם דברי נבלה המלבינים פני כל אדם ישר השמועה; והלואי ואולי היו משוררים שיר נחמד זה בסעודת חתנים. ויופי הקולות והנגינה ישמחו הלבבות ויגדילו חשק חתן וכלה זה לזה, ויגביהו לבות הבחורים והעלמות ברחשי הכבוד הראוים והנאותים להם.

Finally, let me mention Amos Hakham’s introduction to the Daat Mikra edition of Shir ha-Shirim. While he isn’t sure if the entire book can be traced to wedding feasts, he is certain that this is so for at least one section, namely, the song that ends in 5:1:: “Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.” How could this not originate in a wedding feast? As for dance songs, Hakham points to 7:1 as an example: “Return, return, O Shulamite; Return, return, that we may look upon thee.” As with those already cited, Hakham argues that the allegory only adds a deeper level to our understanding, but it in no way discounts the peshat of the verses.[3] This is in direct opposition to Artscroll’s position that “The literal meaning of the words is so far from their meaning that it is false” (Artscroll Pesach Machzor, p. 567).

Hakham also calls attention to Va-Yikra Rabbah 9:6, where R. Yohanan understands Song of Songs on the peshat level to be referring to a real married couple. Based on two verses in Song of Songs, R. Yohanan derives “that a bridegroom should not enter the bridal chamber unless the bride gives him permission.”

Hakham states: “It is unimaginable that prophecy would use matters that are distasteful in themselves as an allegory for holy and pure matters.” Here is how he sums up his main point (pp. 8, 9):

כלומר שאמנם לפי המשמעות המילולית הפשוטה מתוארת בשיר השירים אהבה שבין דוד ורעיה שהם שניהם בשר ודם, אלא שבהיות אהבה זו תמה, זכה, טהורה וקדושה, ראויה היתה שתשמש סמל ודוגמה לאהבה נעלה יותר. . . . טעות ביד מי שחושב, שחז"ל דרשו את שיר השירים על דרך הרמז משום שבפירושו כפשוטו היה נראה בעיניהם כשיר העוסק בענינים שאינם ראויים להכלל בכתבי הקודש. לא כן הדבר. כבר העירו גדולי המפרשים שאין להעלות על הדעת, שהנבואה תקח עניינים מאוסים כשלעצמם כמשל לענינים קדושים וטהורים, אלא ודאי שכמו הנמשל כן גם המשל קודש הוא. ואם מצאנו שהנבואה ממשילה את הברית שבין כנסת ישראל ובין הקב"ה כברית שבין איש ואשתו, משמע שהברית הזאת שבין איש ואישה קדושה היא ונעלה. וכבר אמרו חז"ל: איש ואשה, זכו – שכינה ביניהן.

I would assume that if a Modern Orthodox Machzor for Passover is ever published, that Hakham’s perspective will be the one to be included rather than what we find in Artscroll.

R. Zvi Yehuda has the same perspective, writing that the literal meaning has an independent existence, and “it too is raised to the level of holiness, not just on account of the nimshal, but on its own strength.”[4] He quotes Rashi who in his introduction to Song of Songs stresses that the allegory must be attached to the peshat of the verse:

ואף על פי שדברו הנביאים דבריהם בדוגמא, צריך ליישב הדוגמא על אופניה ועל סדרה.

Yehuda brings a wonderful example of this. Song of Songs 4:1 reads: “Behold, you are fair, my beloved; behold, you are fair; your eyes are [like] doves; from within your kerchief your hair is like a flock of goats that streamed down from Mount Gilead.” Rashi explains the second part of the verse as follows: “This praise is a paradigm of the praise of a woman beloved by her bridegroom. Within your kerchief, your hair is beautiful and glistens with brilliance and whiteness like the hair of white goats descending from the mountains whose hair gleam in the distance.” The biblical text does not give any color to the goats, and Yehuda notes that the standard approach is that the goats are black, so that the hair being praised is also black. Yet Rashi speaks of light hair as being beautiful, and therefore he understands the color of the goats differently. Based on this, Yehuda concludes that “Visions of female beauty, in his [Rashi’s] time and place, influenced his commentary.”

The fact that the mashal needs to reflect reality is seen in another Rashi as well (not cited by Yehuda). Song of Songs 7:5 reads אפך כמגדל הלבנון. Rashi writes: “I cannot explain this [אפך] to mean a nose, either in reference to its simple meaning or in reference to its allegorical meaning, for what praise of beauty is there in a nose that is large and erect as a tower? I say therefore that אפך means a face.”
If the allegory is all that is important, then Rashi would not have a problem. He could translate אפך as nose, which is the literal translation,[5] and offer the allegorical explanation. Yet precisely because it is important that the peshat be coherent, Rashi is forced away from the literal meaning, for what man can praise his bride as being beautiful for having such a nose?[6]

One other interesting point that I learnt from Yehuda’s article is that the rishon, R. Avigdor Kohen Tzedek, gives the following strange explanation for why God’s name doesn’t appear in Song of Songs.[7]

ולא נכתב שם קודש בשיר השירים לפי שנאמר כל הספר בלשון חשק ואהבה ואינ' דרך כבוד להזכיר השם ב"ה על דבר חשק.

Yehuda also cites the sharp comment of R. Solomon Akriti in R. Joseph Kafih, ed., Hamesh Megilot (Jerusalem, 1962), p. 19:

ואחרי אלה ההערות אינני רואה שיסופק שום משכיל בדברי הספר לחשב בם שהם כפשוטם, ואלו היו כפשוטם לא היו חולי חולין בעולם כמותם, ולא היה נזק גדול לישראל כיום שניתן להם שיר השירים, כי פשוטו יעורר תאוה וביותר תאות המשגל אשר היא המגונה מכלם

Yet after quoting these passages, which Artscroll would be very happy with, Yehuda takes his place with the others I have referred to and insists on the validity, and holiness, of the peshat interpretation (p. 478):

שיר השירים, על כל בחינותיה ורבדי מובניה – ואף לפי פשוטה – היא "קודש קודשים". האהבה האנושית המתוארת בה – מתרוממת לגובהי קדושה.

He concludes (p. 481) that it is a mistake to think that the Sages explained Song of Songs allegorically because they had a problem with its literal meaning. According to Yehuda, the opposite is the case, and it is precisely because the Sages valued the literal meaning of the book that they explained it allegorically. It is because they saw the human love described in the book as so exalted that they were prepared to also view the book as an allegory for heavenly love.

With reference to Song of Songs, there is another reason why it is important to know the peshat. Maimonides’ Hilkhot Teshuvah 10:3, speaks about the love of God. He compares it to the love of a woman. Just as one who is in love constantly thinks about the woman, so too should be your love for God. He concludes that “The whole book, Song of Songs, is an allegory on this subject.” In other words, only one who understands what human love is all about can move to the next level and achieve love of the Divine. This is elaborated upon by R. Mordechai Gifter in his Hebrew preface to the Artscroll Shir ha-Shirim. One can only wonder why Artscroll did not see fit to translate R. Gifter’s important words into English. R. Gifter even mentions the importance, indeed centrality, of sexual desire. He does so not to speak of its great danger, as is often the case, but to stress how vital the sexual urge is even from a spiritual sense:

וכל זה מבו' בדבריו של ר' יצחק דמן עכו ז"ל שהביא בראשית חכמה – בסוף פ"ד משער האהבה – שמי שלא חשק לאשה הוא דומה לחמור ופחות ממנו והטעם כי מהמורגש צריך שיבחין העבודה האלקית.

He also writes:

שכל הלשונות שבמשל הן עצמיים ובשרשם העליון ענינם נשגב למאד, אלא שהענינים הרמים אלה משתלשלים ויורדים מעולם לעולם עד שמגיעים אלינו מצטיירים לנו צורה זו הנאותה לפי מציאות האדם בעולם הזה.

With regard to Artscroll, everyone knows that the “translation” they provide of Song of Songs is allegorical. In the Passover Machzor that is all you get, but in their separate edition of Song of Songs they do provide the literal translation in the commentary, for those who wish to look at it. Artscroll’s approach vis-à-vis the Song of Songs has been the subject of harsh criticism in the Modern Orthodox world, especially from its intellectual elite. In fact, I think when people criticize Artscroll, this is one of the things that is high on the list of what annoys them.

Yet it must also be noted that Artscroll’s method of translation is exactly what the Targum does.(See also R. Nahum Finkelstein's Yiddish "translation" of Song of Songs [Jerusalem, 1929]) So it is not like Artscroll invented this approach. In addition, there is a responsum of R. Joseph Hayyim in Rav Pealim, vol. 1, Yoreh Deah no. 56, that is relevant. Here he states that a teacher in Baghdad translated the Song of Songs into Arabic, and the children copied this translation. R. Joseph Hayyim opposed this, stating that one should not teach the children and the masses the literal meaning of the words because they are not meant to be understood literally. The literal meaning of the book, he states, is no different than a love song (he adds “has ve-shalom”),[8] and unlike the opinions we have already noted, for R. Joseph Hayyim (as with Artscroll) the literal meaning of the Song of Songs is obscene.[9] The same viewpoint is expressed by the nineteenth-century R. Elijah Schick in his Ein Eliyahu, Yadayim 3:1:

כל הכתובים יש פשטות ג"כ אבל בשיר השירים אין שום פשטות אלא הכל קאי על יראת שמים וקבלת עול מלכות שמים, כי על פי פשט היא דברי חשק וזה אי אפשר לומר וקאי הכל על דביקות בה'.

Today we have an interesting phenomenon. When the Targum was written the vernacular was Aramaic, so the typical Jew would not be able to understand Song of Songs in the original. Only the scholar could understand the actual words, and he would know that they were to be interpreted allegorically. Today, in America, the situation is the same, as the typical Jew also cannot understand the Hebrew. Artscroll’s English “translation” therefore serves the same function as the Targum did centuries ago.

Yet what about Israelis? We now have a situation where “the masses” can understand the Hebrew Bible since Hebrew is their vernacular. This is a completely new phenomenon. How are these masses to be protected from reading the text literally, for as we have seen, Artscroll tells us in the Pesach Machzor that “the literal meaning of the words is so far from their meaning that it is false”? In the Introduction to the Artscroll Shir ha-Shirim, p. lxiv, we are told that when the words שני שדיך, “your bosom” [Artscroll won’t use the word “breasts”] refer to Moses and Aaron, this is not

departing from the simple literal meaning of the phrase in the least. Song of Songs uses words in their ultimate connotations. Just as geshem, rain, means the power of stimulating growth, shodayim, the bosom, refers to the Heavenly power of nourishment. . . . They [Moses and Aaron], Israel’s sources of spiritual nourishment, are not implied allegorically or derived esoterically from the verse; the verse literally means them.

In other words, Shir ha-Shirim (in this instance, at least) is not even speaking about a woman, not even on the level of peshat. I have to admit that all this seems like a lot of double-talk to me. I can understand if you tell me that “breasts”, excuse me, “bosom”, allegorically means “Moses and Aaron.” But when you tell me that even the literal meaning of shodayim is “Moses and Aaron”, that’s when I have difficulty.

(Speaking of haredi circumlocutions, since the Agudah convention is in a few days I can't resist mention of the following. A letter was sent out to attendees inviting them to a breakfast at which they will be addressed by a psychologist and and rabbi-lawyer. You can see the letter here
. Notice that the letter speaks about how "the issue of child abuse has become a major topic in our society and children in our community have been and continue to be at risk." Of course, child abuse is not the issue at all. We are not being confronted on an almost weekly basis with stories of children in our communities being beaten or anything like that. What we have is child sexual abuse, and yet the author of this letter can't even bring himself to say the word "sexual." It's like we are all in grade school and this word is off-limits.)

One opinion in Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah 1:10 states that Solomon wrote Song of Songs in his youth. This is elaborated upon by R. Hayyim Jeremiah Flensburg, Markevot Ami (Vilna, 1910), p. 6. He explains how Solomon’s words are indeed drawn from the real world he experienced, which once again shows how important the peshat, the literal meaning of the words are:

שאף שהנמשל של שיר השירים הוא קודש קדשים, עכ"ז מתוך המשל שעשה לעטוף בו הנמשל, ניכר שהיה אז ילד, שהוא נשא משלו מחתן וכלה, ומגנים ושושנים יפים, ומכל הדרת האביב, וזמרת צפרים.

R. Yosef Ben Arzah, in his popular Yosef Da’at, Bava Kamma 97, also explains in this fashion.

וידוע, האהבה זמנה בימי הנעורים, משא"כ בימי הזקנה "ותפר האביונה". וכמו שאמרו ששלמה המלך עליו השלום, בילדותו אמר שיר השירים, שהוא תוקף האהבה.

When Ben Arzah writes that the time of love is the youth, he is clearly referring to sexual love, for he follows this by noting that this is not the case in old age when (quoting Eccl.12:5) “[sexual] desire fails.” In other words, the Midrash means that because Solomon wrote the Song of Songs in his youth, that is why it has sexual imagery, for sexual love is strongest when one is young.[10]

I don’t think anyone is going to suggest that Artscroll produce a Hebrew version of its allegorical translation and that this is what the masses should be looking at during the reading of Song of Songs. But why not? If it is religiously objectionable for English speakers to be exposed to the literal meaning of the words of Song of Songs, then it is just as objectionable (if not more so) for Hebrew speakers to read the actual words and understand them literally.

Despite my facetious comment, no one has ever assumed that the Israeli masses should be told not to look at the actual text of Song of Songs. Rather, they are provided with commentaries that explained what the allegorical meaning of the text is. If it is therefore acceptable for Israelis to first understand the text literally, and then see what the allegorical meaning is, I ask Artscroll, why can’t American Jews be given the same prerogative, namely, to have a literal translation together with a commentary that offers the allegorical interpretation?

Finally, let me mention that for Sefer Hasidim it was important to know what the Song of Songs literally meant, for he declares that all the parts of a woman’s body mentioned in the book are forbidden to be seen. See no. 110: שער באשה ערוה לגלות וכל האמור בשיר השירים כגון בטנך ערימת חטים שוקיו עמודי שש שני שדיך וכו' וכל שדרך לכסות ערוה לאשה לגלות He repeats this in no. 614 where he also adds the following, which never became normative halakhah: צריך להזהר שלא ישמע קול אשה והוא הדין לאשה שלא תשמע קול איש.

Adopting this position might be a good strategy for those who have been trying unsuccessfully to shut down the Jewish concert scene. They haven’t been able to convince the haredi masses that these are in any way problematic, especially when men and women sit separately. But perhaps the new humra that could achieve their objective is that it is forbidden for women to hear men singing. A few years of indoctrination of this view in the various Bais Yaakovs should be able to convince the younger generation, and would mean the end of the haredi concerts.[11]

* * *

Returning to my post on Adon Olam, the other point dealt with in that post was the meaning of the abbreviation ס"ט. I don’t think anyone who read the post still thinks that it means “Sephardi Tahor.” But in case there are still any doubters, let me offer the following. Here is a page from R. Joseph Shabbetai Farhi’s Tokfo shel Yosef (Livorno, 1846), p. 38b. It contains the end of a letter from none other than Jacob the Patriarch, and you can see clear as day that he also signed himself ס"ט. Now if that isn't a proof, I don't know what is. . . .

There was, in fact, one person who did refuse to change his mind, even after I presented him with the evidence. I refer to the late R. Meir Amsel, editor of Ha-Maor. Amsel is deserving of his own post, having edited Ha-Maor for over fifty years. If I were to ever write a history of Orthodox Jews in America, this journal would be an important source, together with its competitor, Ha-Pardes, because in these journals one finds most of the important issues that were part of the American Orthodox experience. Ha-Maor was the more extreme of the two journals, and all sorts of polemics were carried in its pages. But it would also contain all sorts of surprises, and Amsel’s viewpoints were not always predictable. Yet as I mentioned, he didn’t accept what I told him, and changing his mind even in the face of evidence to the contrary was not something he was prepared to do.

Imagine my surprise when after sending Amsel a letter on the topic he published his response in his journal (Jan.-Feb., 1993). Here it is.

I sent him a second letter which he published, together with his response, in the March-April 1993 issue. Notice how he subtly mocks me at the beginning of this reply.

I didn’t take offense at the mocking as this was classic Amsel. Few had such a sharp pen as he, and woe to those he turned it against. To give one example of his many polemics, readers of the journal will never forget how he targeted R. Elya Svei. Yet he wouldn’t mention him by name. Instead, and as a way to show how little he thought of Svei, he referred to him as “the melamed in Philadelphia.”[12]

The March-April 1993 issue of Ha-Maor, in which he responded to me, is of broader interest for another reason. It contains his hesped for R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who had recently passed away. In this hesped he mentions a few things, among them that the Rav told him that he wasn’t really a Zionist, and that while Yeshivat R. Yitzhak Elhanan was not in accord with his family’s philosophy, nevertheless he taught there as it provided intellectual freedom.

In the next issue (June-July, 1993), Amsel printed a letter he received from R. Norman Lamm, thanking Amsel for what he wrote about the Rav, and also criticizing him for mentioning the point about the Rav not feeling connected to RIETS. Note how Lamm specifically asked Amsel not to publish his letter, and Amsel published it anyway.

Also, look at the first paragraph on p. 35, as it shows how the Hungarian extremist Amsel was happy to point out how Lamm was head and shoulders above those in the Lithuanian yeshiva world. (I wonder, where did Amsel get the crazy figure of eight thousand students, that he mentions in the second paragraph? Even if you include the post-graduate schools you won’t get to that number. Did Amsel even realize that non-Jews attend Yeshiva University’s medical and law schools?)

* * *

In my original post on Adon Olam I dealt with Artscroll, so here is as good a time as any for some assorted Artscroll comments.

The custom on Rosh ha-Shanah is to sound additional shofar blasts towards the end of the morning prayers. Most sound these blasts after Musaf of Rosh ha-Shanah, while some sound thirty of them during the silent Amidah. There is no talmudic source for this practice. Why then do we do it? Here is how the Artscroll Machzor explains the matter, citing Eliyahu Kitov’s Sefer ha-Toda’ah as the source:

The source of this custom is the Scriptural narrative of the triumph of Deborah the Prophetess over Sisera, the Canaanite conqueror. In her song of gratitude for the victory, Deborah noted that Sisera’s mother whimpered as she worried over the fate of her dead son. Her friends comforted her that he had surely won a great victory and was apportioning spoils and captive women among his officers and troops (Judges 5:28-30). According to the Midrashic tradition she whimpered and groaned 101 times. Although one cannot help but feel sympathy for a worrying, grieving mother, one must be appalled at the cruelty of a mother who could be calmed by the assurance that her son was busy looting and persecuting innocent victims. The Jewish concept of mercy is diametrically opposed to such barbarism. By sounding the shofar one hundred times, we seek to nullify the forces of cruelty exemplified by Sisera and his mother, and bring God’s compassion upon us. Although she whimpered one time more than a hundred, we do not sound the shofar 101 times, because we, too, feel the pain of a mother who loses a child, even one as loathsome as Sisera.

The first thing to note is that for some reason, the explanation offered by the Taz is ignored. According to the Taz, the reason for the extra blasts is because people might not have properly heard the earlier kolot (Orah Hayyim 596:1). Furthermore, despite what is written, there is no source that speaks of Sisera’s mother whimpering 101 times. What we have is a story in the Arukh s.v. ערב , about Sisera’s mother (אימיה דסיסרא) and her one hundred cries or laments (פועיות This does not mean whimpers! The Arukh cites the story as coming from the Jerusalem Talmud. It is lacking in our versions of the Talmud, but the term “Yerushalmi” was also used for various Midrashim written in the Land of Israel.)

Ashkenazim, therefore, indeed sound the shofar the same amount of times as Sisera’s mother’s cries. Yemenites and Sephardim, on the other hand, blow an extra kol at the end, called Teruah Gedolah,[13] so they actually sound 101 blasts. Many explain that they do this precisely in order to be different than Sisera’s mother.

Here for example is what R. Ovadiah Yosef states, Shiurei Maran ha-Rishon le-Tziyon (Jerusalem, 2008), vol. 1, p. 75:

והנה אם סיסרא פעתה ובכתה מאה בכיות, ואנו תוקעים מאה תקיעות ועוד אחד, כדי לבטל הקטרוגים הנמשכים מהבכיות שלה . . . וזהו "הן אתם מאין ופעלם מאפע." "מאין" = 101 הן ה100 פעיות של אם סיסרא שבמאה ואחת תקיעות שלנו ה' מכפר לנו, ומתקנים אנו את הפעיות ["אפע" נוט' פעיות אם] של אם סיסרא.

The Arukh’s explanation is quoted in a number of medieval sources, Yet what is the logic here? Why would anyone have thought of connecting Sisera’s mother’s cries with how many shofar blasts we sound, as they have nothing to do with each other? Is it really possible that how we blow the shofar has anything to do with what the mother of the wicked Sisera did?

It has been suggested by R. Hayyim Yehudah Ehrenreich[14] and R. Menachem M. Kasher[15] that there is a copyist’s error in the Arukh, and instead of reading it should read אמנו שרה , or something along these lines. This suggestion is made based upon the following passage in Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer ch. 32:

When Abraham returned from Mount Moriah in peace, the anger of Samael [Satan] was kindled, for he saw that the desire of his heart to frustrate the offering of our father Abraham had not been realized. What did he do? He went and said to Sarah: “Hast thou not heard what has happened in this world?” She said to him: “No.” He said to her: “Thy husband, Abraham has taken thy son Isaac and slain him and offered him up as a burnt offering upon the altar.” She began to weep and to cry aloud three times corresponding to the three Tekiot, three howlings corresponding to the Teruot. and her soul fled, and she died.

In this text we have a connection made between the cries of Sarah and the blowing of the shofar. Here it states that she cried three times corresponding to the Tekiah and three times corresponding to Teruah. (What we call Shevarim is one possibility for how the Teruah should be sounded.) Alternate versions have Sarah crying aloud six times or ninety times.

We still have the problem: How did the name Sarah become confused with Sisera? It turns out that there is indeed a connection between the mother of Sisera and the shofar. Rosh ha-Shanah 33b states:

The length of the Teruah is equal to the length of three yevavot. But it has been taught that the length of the Teruah is equal to three Shevarim. Abaye said: Here there is really a difference of opinion. It is written, It shall be a day of Teruah unto you [Num. 29:1], and we translate [in Aramaic], a day of yabava, and it is written of the mother of Sisera, Through the window she looked forth [va-teyabav; Judges 5:28]. One authority thought that this means drawing a long sigh, and the other that it means uttering short piercing cries.

We see from here that the Sages, in attempting to figure out how the Teruah should be sounded, looked for evidence in a biblical passage dealing with Sisera’s mother. Since she is thus connected to the Shofar blowing, it is not hard to see how the other passage, which describes how Sarah cried, could have morphed into Sisera’s mother.

The problem with this suggestion, one must acknowledge, is that we have no evidence of a text that has Sarah crying one hundred times. Yet it is certainly possible that this tradition did exist, and is now lost.

Here are some more comments about Artscroll. In the original post I mentioned how in the Artscroll Siddur, p. 870, it mistakenly places R. Elaazar Kalir in the second century. R. Avrohom Lieberman pointed out to me that in the original edition of this Siddur they placed Kalir centuries later. Here is a copy of the page.

The change was obviously made in response to criticism. Yet they should have stuck with the original version, since what appears in the “corrected” edition is mistaken. I assume that Artscroll knows it is mistaken, but leaves it in anyway so as not to antagonize its critics.

Before Lekhah Dodi the Artscroll Siddur writes: “לכה דודי is recited responsively. In most congregations, the chazzan repeats each verse after the congregation. In others the procedure is reversed.” More Artscroll siddurim are sold to Modern Orthodox synagogues than to anywhere else. This is especially the case due to the RCA version of the siddur. So wouldn't one expect that the instructions would reflect reality? In my entire life I don’t think that I have ever been in a Modern Orthodox synagogue that recites Lekhah Dodi responsively. While in the previous post I wrote how the Artscroll instructions have changed how Modern Orthodox synagogues recite Hallel, as far as I know no synagogue has given up the practice of communal singing for Lekhah Dodi because of this particular instruction. As it stands, this particular instruction is a sign of how little Artscroll respects the customs of the Modern Orthodox world.

Also on Friday night, the Siddur states that each stanza of Shalom Aleikhem is recited three times. Why not mention that there is also a common practice to only recite each stanza one time?

In the Machzor for Sukkot, p. 132, in discussing the different practices when it comes to wearing tefillin on hol ha-moed, it states: “It is not proper for a congregation to follow contradictory customs. Thus, if one whose custom is not to wear tefillin during Chol haMoed prays with a tefillin-wearing minyan, he should don tefillin without a blessing. Conversely, if one whose custom is to wear tefillin prays with a non-tefillin-wearing minyan, he should not wear his tefillin while praying but may don them at home before going to the synagogue.” The source for this ruling is the Mishnah Berurah. Yet with the exception of hasidic synagogues, where I presume everyone does the same thing, this ruling is no longer applicable. In all the synagogues I have ever been in, both Modern Orthodox and non-hasidic haredi, there is no one minhag and everyone does what his family practice is. In other words, the minhag today is for everyone to follow his own personal minhag, and shuls do not have a “custom” in this regard.

Also in the Sukkot Machzor, p. 957 (as well as in the other Machzors), it writes as follows: "It is virtually a universal custom that those whose parents are still living leave the synagogue during Yizkor. This is done to avoid the 'evil eye,' i.e., the resentment that might be felt by those without parents toward those whose parents are still living." Can one conclude from this that Artscroll has a Maimonidean approach to the concept of the "evil eye"?


In past posts I have offered a quiz and given out prizes to the ones who answered the questions. People have wondered why I stopped doing this. The answer is simple: I didn’t have anything to give out. But now I have a few items so I can do some more quizzes. For the winner of this one I can give a CD of the music of R. Baruch Myers, rav of Bratislava. Rabbi Myers is a trained classical musician and his music is very different from what you think of when you think hasidic music. Unlike in the past, I will not give the prize to the one who answers the question first. This is unfair as due to the different time zones, some people won’t see the question until it has already been answered. I will give people a couple days and if more than one has answered correctly, I will randomly choose a winner. You will also have to answer two questions, in different genres. Yet even if you only know the answer to one, send it in, for if no one gets both answers, I will give it to a person who got one correct. Send answers to shapirom2 at

Question 1: The word for turkey is תרנגול הדו There is a dagesh in the dalet. Why? Bring a proof for your answer from Berakhot between page 34a and 38a.

Question 2: There is a rabbinic phrase that today is used to praise a Torah scholar, but in talmudic days was used in a negative fashion (at least according to Rashi). What am I referring to?

* * * *

Some people have asked me if I am leading a Jewish history trip to Europe this summer. Actually, I am leading two trips, one to Italy and the other to Central Europe. (The latter is a repeat of the sold-out trip from last summer). Both trips are sponsored by Torah in Motion and details will be available soon.

* * * *
Here is something I think readers will enjoy. It is a picture from Prof. Isadore (Yitzchak) Twersky’s wedding. I thank R. Aharon Rakefet for sharing the picture. According to R. Rakefet, the man second to the left, whose face is obscured by an unknown rabbi, is R. Zev Gold. (R. Rakefet claims that the hair gives it away.) Beginning with Gold, we find Dean Samuel Sar, Isadore Twersky (standing) R. Dovid Lifshitz, R. Eliezer Silver, the Rav, R. Chaim Heller, R. Meshullam Zusia Twersky, Tolner Rebbe of Boston, R. Moshe Zvi Twersky, Tolner Rebbe of Philadelphia.

[1] Authorized Daily Prayer Book, p. 790.
[2] This identification has recently been advocated by Christopher W. Mitchell in his massive work, The Song of Songs (St. Louis, 2003), pp. 130ff.
[3] Medieval commentators, notably Ibn Ezra, put a great deal of effort into explaining the peshat. See also the medieval commentary on Song of Songs written by R. Joseph Ibn Aknin, entitled Hitgalut ha-Sodot ve-Hofa’at ha-Meorot (Jerusalem, 1964). Ibn Aknin provides a three part commentary, with one section focused on peshat, and the other two on derash and sod. From more recent times, see R. Samuel Naftali Hirsch Epstein, Imrei Shefer (Vilna, 1873), and R. Eliyahu Halfon Shir ha-Shirim im Perush Ateret Shlomo (Nof Ayalon, 2003).
[4] “Shir ha-Shirim” Kedushatah shel ha-Megilah u-Farshanutah,” Sinai 100 (1987), p. 475.
[5] Soncino explains: “The comparison is between the well-proportioned nose and the beautiful projecting tower.”
[6] This point was made by R. Isaac Jacob Reines. See R. Judah Leib Maimon, ed., Sefer Rashi (Jerusalem, 1956), vol. 2, pp. 12-13. See also Rashi to Song of Songs 1:2 "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth." Rashi comments: "In some places they kiss on the back of the hand or on the shoulder, but I desire and wish that he behave toward me as he behaved toward me originally, like a bridegroom with a bride, mouth to mouth." Artscroll does not mention this Rashi. The Vilna Gaon has an interesting comment on this verse. He notes the plural "kisses," and explains: כמו שנושק הבעל לחשוקתו א' על מה שמתחברת עמו והב' על שאינה מתחברת באחר
[7] Perush Shir ha-Shirim (Jerusalem, 1971), p. 11.
[8] See also Ibn Ezra’s introduction to Song of Songs: וחלילה חלילה להיות שיר השירים בדברי חשק Despite saying this, he still feels it is important to explain the peshat.
[9] See also Rav Pealim, vol. 4, Sod Yesharim no. 11, where R. Joseph Hayyim explains why God’s name does not appear in the Song of Songs.
[10] Since we are speaking of love, I should also mention Elhanan Reiner’s provocative claim, put forward in very stylistic Hebrew, that R. Yair Haim Bachrach’s responsum, Havot Yair, no. 60, is not a real case, but simply a fictional love story that Bacharach inserted into his responsa. See here. For Raphael Binyamin Posen’s response see here, and Reiner responds to Posen here.
[11] Incidentally, the opposition of haredi gedolim to these concerts is often portrayed as if the only issue is tzeniut, and therefore, when men and women sit separately there should be no problem. This is a complete distortion of the issue, for even without tzeniut concerns, the main reason for the opposition, and I know this will be hard for American haredim to stomach, is that the Israeli haredi gedolim are opposed to all musical entertainment, and “fun” in general, when not connected to simchah shel mitzvah, such as Purim, a wedding, etc. Concerts are doubly problematic since these gedolim believe that is forbidden to listen to live music when not connected to a seudat mitzvah. Here is one proclamation that makes this clear (from Hashkafatenu [Bnei Brak, 1985], p. 77).

In R. Yaakov Yisrael Lugasi’s Mar’ot ha-Tzovaot (Jerusalem, 2009), p. 401, he states flatly: “The entire concept of entertainment is pasul. This is a condition of moshav leitzim and throwing off the yoke, and is the culture of the non-Jews and the secularists.” Interestingly, a few pages after this, Lugasi prints the herem against wearing jeans skirts. For those who never saw it, here it is.

[12] It is no secret that R. Svei was a polarizing figure in Orthodoxy, even in haredi circles. This is also seen in the book on R. Ahron Soloveitchik written by his son, R. Yosef. It was uploaded to the internet a few weeks ago and until recently was found here. Since many people downloaded the book when it was up, I think it is worthwhile to make some comments about it. I understand that it is a preliminary version of what will be published in book form. I hope the author takes the necessary time to revise it properly, because as it stands, it is an unfortunate publication. On the positive side, it includes a great deal of Torah from R. Ahron, and shows his strong insistence on honesty when it comes to dealing with non-Jews and the government. There are also wonderful tidbits of historical interest. See p. 5 that R. Baruch Ber Leibowitz used to stand up for R. Ahron when he was a child, since he was, after all, the grandson of the Rebbe (R. Hayyim).

See also p. 404 for the following incredible statement: “Rav Ahron told his son that it is not right to print his brother’s דרשה of יוסף ואחיו about the Mizrachi because his brother regretted saying this דרשה ” This is perhaps the most important derashah the Rav ever delivered and is a basic text of study for religious Zionists. It explains how the Rav could break from his family tradition and become a Zionist. It is also the derashah that R. Shakh attacked, saying that it contained דברים שאסור לשומען וכש"כ להפיצן ברבים (Mikhtavim u-Ma’amarim, vol. 4, no. 320). What are we to make of R. Ahron stating that the Rav regretted this derashah?

Among other passages that caught my eye, see e.g., p. 6, where R. Ahron tells a bubba maisah about a rabbi in Auschwitz who killed some twenty Nazis with a chair. On p. 327 R. Ahron claims that Bible Criticism “paved the road for the Nazi ideology.” On this page he also states that Catholics do not support Bible Criticism. This is incorrect. The Catholic Church accepts Bible Criticism and does not see this as harming the holiness of the Bible. In fact, there are only two religious groups that do not accept the academic approach to the Bible, namely, Christian fundamentalists and (most) Orthodox Jews. (In a future post I will explain why I use the word “most”.

Why do I say that this is an unfortunate publication? Because there is a way to write and a way not to write, and someone who is very upset about how his father was treated is not the best person to review important incidents in his life. I can’t see how anyone could believe that the book brings honor to R. Ahron. I am impressed, however, that despite the harshly polemical tone, the author included documents directed against R. Ahron, as this helps with the historical record.

I have to say that after reading the publication, I think I have a better understanding of why R. Ahron had so many difficulties. In order to be a successful leader, one must, at times, be willing to compromise. One must also recognize when the time for battle is over. R. Ahron was so guided by the truth as he saw it, that he appears to have been unable to do this. For him, it was worth fighting a battle to make a point, even if there was no chance of emerging victorious and it would cost lots of money to do so. (I refer to his attempt to cancel the sale of the Chicago Mizrachi building to Buddhists.)

When publishing the letter of the other faculty members of Hebrew Theological College stating that they do not want R. Ahron in a leadership position, the author would have been wise to explain the different perspectives of the protaganists, rather than heaping abuse on them. The same is true when it comes to how he describes the haredim. There is no question that many of his complaints are justified. This is especially the case when he deals with the support given by the haredi gedolim to Elior Chen, which makes everything else pale in comparison. Yet despite this, the language Soloveichik uses in is really over the top.

I also can’t imagine that the family of the Rav will be happy to see how he too makes appearances in the book. Is it really appropriate to quote the Rav’s harsh comment against a certain Agudah leader? And I have a more fundamental question with regard to this last example. When two people agree to take their dispute to a beit din, not a government beit din but a private beit din, don’t they have an expectation of confidentiality? This is especially the case when one of the disputants is still alive. What gives the author the right to reveal the content of a private dispute brought before a private beit din, even if one of the participants did act in a disgraceful manner?

Apropos of R. Ahron, let me mention two things he told me so as to preserve them for posterity.

1. He stated that because of what R. Moshe Stern wrote about the Rav, one should not quote Stern in halakhic discourse. In truth, as I later learnt, it is not so clear that Stern’s harsh comments (pigul, metuav) are about the Rav. It is possible that he is referring to teaching and study at Yeshiva University. (See David Berger in Tradition 27 [Winter 1993], p. 94.) I will let readers judge for themselves. The text appears in Be’er Moshe, vol. 8, no. 3.

2. R. Ahron told me, halakhah le-ma’aseh, that if you have food in the oven when Shabbat starts, that this food can be returned to the oven on Shabbat morning in order to heat it up. I have heard that the Rav gave the same pesak to NCSY, but I have not confirmed this.
[13] See Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 596:1; Sefer Zikaron Divrei Shelom Hakhamim (Jerusalem, 2003), p. 264.
[14] Otzar ha-Hayyim, Tevet 5695, pp. 87-88.
[15] Ner Maaravi 2 (1925), pp. 227-228; Divrei Menahem, vol. 4, no. 13.


HLSESQ said...

Rabbi Shapiro--I always enjoy reading your posts, articles and books, and this one is no exception. Re R Aharon and returning of food to an oven, could that be what used to be called the "Boston kula", which is actually the shitas haRan as brought down by the Rema in O.C. 253:2 (who actually says "v'chen nohagin l'hakel b'tanurim shelanu", although adding "v'tov lhachmir") See MB sk 66,67 ad loc.

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Of course, alinasi also harvested his gift, cummer fatigue pulled him to buy massager of one build ministry. "Be similar to massage helmet a bit, if what you know, he is a fellow that whats are short of, choose a gift to him so, it is a ten things that ache separately. " Laura's happy trouble is returned not merely these, "Cross him a few days to had wanted birthday again, do not know what to should send really became good... "
Nowadays, christmas has been the festival of Hesperian merely no longer, working to cross the Christmas in the foreigner when, chinese player also can have some of his Xiaoqing to wish. After 81 groups week arrives at Shanghai, wang Zhi mosts to pulling teammate heart to strap black went Pudong the cinema of 800 companion, go enjoying popular recently comedic movie " person again the peaceful Jiong of Jiong road " .
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