Monday, March 11, 2013

Torah mi-Sinai and More


Torah mi-Sinai and More
by Marc B. Shapiro

1. Some people have requested that I do more posts on theological matters, as I have done in the past. So let me begin with what I think will be a three-part series on Torah mi-Sinai.
In a previous post, available hereI mentioned R. Shlomo Fisher’s rejection of R. Moshe Feinstein’s view that R. Yehudah he-Hasid’s “biblical criticism” was not authentic. As R. Fisher put it, R. Moshe assumed that even in the past everyone had to accept Maimonides' principles, but that was not the case, and when it came to Mosaic authorship R. Yehudah he-Hasid disagreed with Maimonides. R. Uri Sharki has apparently also discussed this with R. Fisher, as he cites the latter as claiming that the issue of whether post-Mosaic additions are religiously objectionable is a dispute between the medieval Ashkenazic and Sephardic sages. See here. 
What this means is that in medieval Ashkenaz it was not regarded as heretical to posit post-Mosaic additions, while the opposite was the case in the Sephardic world (and this would explain why Ibn Ezra could only hint to his view). I am skeptical of this point, particularly because Ibn Ezra’s secrets are, in fact, explained openly by people who lived in the Sephardic world.[1] Yet Haym Soloveitchik has also recently made same point, and pointed to differences between Jews living in the Christian and Muslim worlds. His argument is that since medieval Ashkenazic Jews were not confronted with a theological challenge of the sort Jews dealt with in the Islamic world, where Jews were accused of altering the text of the Pentateuch, there was no assumption in medieval Europe that belief in what we know as Maimonides’ Eighth Principle was a binding doctrine of faith.
Here is some of what Soloveitchik wrote (the emphasis does not appear in the original):
One tanna had stated, simply and with no ado, that the last eight verses were of Divine origin but not of Mosaic authorship, and R. Yehudah he-Hasid added that there were several more verses that were not penned by Moses. Was such a position seen as being thoroughly mistaken? Most probably. Was it viewed as odd and non-conformist? Undoubtedly; though hardly more eccentric than R. Yehudah’s view that King David, to flesh out his book of Psalms, lifted from the text of the “original” Pentateuch many anonymous “psalms” that Moses had penned! Were these strange and misguided views, however, perceived as being in any way heretical or even dangerous? At that time and place, certainly not. They contained no concession to the surrounding culture, opened no Pandora’s Box of questions. Indeed, one can take the religious temperature of R. Yehudah he-Hasid’s explanation by the matter of fact way European medieval commentators (rishonim) treated the passages in Menahot and Bava Batra where the tannaitic dictum of Joshua’s authorship is brought.[2] In their world, these words did not abut any slippery slope of a “documentary hypothesis” or of “Jewish forgery”. No need, therefore, to reinterpret this passage or to forfend any untoward implications. What concerned R. Yehudah he-Hasid’s contemporaries, the Tosafists, in this statement were its practical halakhic implications for the Sabbath Torah readings, not its theological or dogmatic ones, for to them, as to R. Yehudah, there were none.[3]

Sharki, who is a leading kiruv figure in the Religious Zionist world, adds something quite amazing. From the standpoint of Ibn Ezra and R. Yehudah he-Hasid, which he sees as an acceptable approach, he writes that what is important is the belief that the Torah is true and from God.
 עיקר האמונה הוא להאמין שכל דברי התורה אמת ושהם מפי ה'
In other words, Mosaic authorship is not something people need to put such a focus on.
Sharki goes even further, stating that according to the Kuzari, post-Mosaic prophets could add to and delete material in the Torah. As support for this viewpoint, he cites an article by R. Yosef Kellner in Tzohar 22. (Kellner is a leading interpreter of R. Kook from the hardali camp.) I looked at Kellner’s article and found nothing that says this explicitly. However, I did find an interesting statement in Kellner’s article, and presumably this is what Sharki was referring to (although it still doesn’t say what Sharki claims it does):
אך לכוזרי, כמו לבה"ג, לא כל התרי"ג מצוות התגלו בסיני ההיסתורי, אם כי כולם דברי קבלה ממשה בסיני-הפנימי-נשמתי
This could be a very radical statement, depending on how it is interpreted. On the one hand, it could mean that some mitzvot in the Torah were actually established in a post-Mosaic era, but that is OK since these mitzvot arose from the spiritual wellsprings of Sinai. This is how Sharki must understand the passage. But I think it is obvious that Kellner doesn’t mean this at all, and the reference to the Halakhot Gedolot is the give-away. As is well known, the Halakhot Gedolot counts among the 613 commandments certain rabbinic laws. What the logic of this position is is not our concern at present. For our purposes what is important is that the Behag, and Kuzari, never say that  there are mitzvot in the Torah that are post-Mosaic, only that post-Mosaic mitzvot can be counted as part of the 613. There is an enormous difference between this understanding and the following, which is Sharki’s formulation:
לפי שיטת הכוזרי שגם הנביאים יכולים להוסיף או לגרוע בתורה, בניגוד לדעת הרמב"ם
David Halivni, Breaking the Tablets: Jewish Theology After the Shoah, p. 99 (called to my attention by Cemmie Green), states that according to R. Saadiah Gaon, “certain areas of the Law were originally more complete and more explicit in the Torah given by Moses to the people.” Here is the text he bases this statement on, found in Lewin’s introduction to Iggeret R. Sherira Gaon, p. X:
שבתורת משה אנו מוצאים הרבה ענינים הכתובים באריכות כמו למשל מעשה משכן, פרשת מלואים, פקודי ישראל וחנוכת המזבח. ובנגוד לזה כתובים בקצור נמרץ חוקי הזיבות, וחוקי עבור השנה נכללים רק במלת "אביב" גרידא, מה שהוא תמוה מאד אם לא נניח, שגם החוקים הללו היו כתובים באר היטיב אלא שאינם אצלינו בכתב אלא מסורים בעל פה.
It certainly does seem as if R. Saadiah is saying that some laws were removed from the Torah. Yet I also see how someone can argue that, contrary to Halivni, it does not say anything about these laws originally appearing in the Torah. It could be that he is only telling us that part of the “Oral Law” was written down in Moses’ day.
Assuming the latter explanation is what R. Saadiah means, there is good reason to assume that he was not being frank here. At a lecture at the University of Scranton, Prof. Daniel Lasker memorably stated that “all is fair in love and polemics.” If R. Saadiah issaying that part of the Oral Law was written down in Moses’ day, I believe he was twisting the truth as part of his battle with the Karaites. The Karaites were arguing that the Oral Law was not authentic, and R. Saadiah replied that not only was it authentic, but at least some of it was even written down in Moses’ day, thus precluding the sorts of errors that would arise from an oral tradition. R. Saadiah’s approach here would thus be no different than his claim that the calendar was the original way to determine the new moon, with sighting a later innovation. Already Maimonides declared that R. Saadiah did not really believe this, but found it useful to argue this way in the midst of a polemic against the Karaites.[4]
R. Yuval Sherlo was recently asked if it is acceptable to posit post-Mosaic authorship of passages of the Torah, following in the paths of R. Judah he-Hasid and Ibn Ezra.[5] Rather than reject the latter viewpoint, he claims that it is important to stress the ikkar ha-ikkarim, namely, that the authority of the Torah does not depend on who wrote it. What is crucial is that it was given by God. Even if there are verses that were written by someone else other than Moses, as was held by R. Judah he-Hasid and Ibn Ezra, this is not heresy, unless one assumes that these portions were not written through Divine Inspiration. Sherlo himself acknowledges that there is a good deal of evidence apparently pointing to the fact that some verses are post-Mosaic.
ישנם סימנים רבים בתורה שלכאורה מעידים על כך שחלק מפסוקי התורה נכתבו לאחר משה רבינו
 He concludes:
על כן, בשעה שמאמינים במוצא העליון המוחלט של כל פסוקי התורה אין איסור להרחיב את מה שאמרו חכמינו על הפסוקים האחרונים בתורה לעוד מקומות בתורה, בשל העיקרון הבסיסי הקיים בדברים אלה – התורה היא מוצא "פיו" המוחלט של ריבונו של עולם.
Needless to say, this is in direct contradiction to Maimonides’ Eighth Principle, and is an opening for Higher Biblical Criticism to enter the Orthodox world. For those who don’t read Hebrew, what Sherlo is saying is that Mosaic authorship does not matter, as long as one accepts that the Torah is divine. This is a huge theological step (a “game changer”), which for those who accept it entirely alters the playing field. This is such a break with the standard Orthodox view that I don’t know why Sherlo’s position has not received any publicity. Let me say it again, in case people haven’t been paying close attention: Sherlo’s argument permits Higher Criticism, as long as one asserts that the entire Torah is divinely inspired.
Sherlo is not some fringe figure. He is Rosh Yeshiva of the Hesder Yeshiva in Petah Tikva and a major personality in religious Zionism. (In the next installment of this series I will present further evidence that in some parts of the Modern Orthodox world the old taboo against Higher Criticism has begun to fade.)
Not surprisingly, Sherlo’s position was challenged by some commenters and he in turn defended what he wrote. Interestingly, one of the commenters writes about Ezra editing the Torah, and Sherlo does not reject this. Instead, he asserts that whoever arranged the Torah did it with prophecy that was the equal of Moses’ prophecy.
מי שסידר את התורה אף הוא עשה זאת בנבואה [!] התורה ולא בנבואה שהיא פחות מנבואת משה רבינו
In other words, Sherlo has adopted Rosenzweig’s point that “R”, instead of standing for “Redactor”, really means “Rabbenu.”[6]
When this formulation was challenged, since how could there be prophets of the level of Moses as this would contradict the Seventh Principle, Sherlo was unperturbed.
[שאלה] מה פירוש נביא שסדר את התורה עשה זאת בנבואת משה רבינו. האם היו עוד נביאים כמשה? הלא מעיקרי הדת שלא היו.
[תשובה] לפי הרמב``ם אלו עיקרי הדת. ברם, אפילו אמוראים סברו אחרת לגבי הפסוקים האחרונים בתורה
In other words, since there are amoraim who disagree with Maimonides’ Principle, it is not binding.[7]
In speaking of the Torah, Sherlo uses this provocative formulation (emphasis added):
ניסוח התורה הוא ניסוח שאנו מתייחסים אליו כולו כאילו כולו יצא מרבונו של עולם בדרגת "תורה" ולא בדרגה נמוכה ממנה.
One of the commenters asks as follows (and both of the possibilities he suggests are far from traditional):
הרב כותב כי "ניסוח התורה הוא ניסוח שאנו מתייחסים אליו כולו כאילו כולו יצא מריבונו של עולם". האם זהו רק יחס שלנו, והיינו שיש לכתוב סמכות של תורה, או שבאמת אלוקים דיבר וסיעתו של עזרא כתבה?
Sherlo replies that he simply does not know, and that we don’t know what the Torah looked like in the years after it was given (until the days when the Torah she-ba’al peh was written down, and quotations of the Torah are found there). In other words, it might be significantly different than the Torah we have today:
אנחנו לא יודעים. יש חור שחור בתולדות מסירת התורה, כי אין לנו בדיוק מושג מה היה באלף השנים שבין מתן תורה לבין כתיבת התורה שבעל פה. לכן התנסחתי בנוסח זה.
In a previous post I already called attention to a comment by the great R. Solomon David Sassoon, who wrote as follows (Natan Hokhmah li-Shelomo, p. 106 [emphasis in original; I learnt of this passage from  R. Moshe Shamah]):


אבל אם יאמר פסוקים אלה נביא אחר כתב אותם מפי הגבורה ומודה שקטע זה הוא מן השמים ומפי הגבורה, אדם שאומר כך אינו נקרא אפיקורוס, מה שהגדיר אותו כאפיקורוס אינו זה שאמר שלא משה כתב את הקטע אלא בזה שהוא אומר שדבר שזה מדעתו ומפי עצמו אמרו ושאין זה מן השמים

This too can provide a religious justification for Biblical Criticism.


Let me make one more comment relating to Biblical Criticism. (There is, of course, more to say, but this can wait until the next installment.) Those who have read my posts know that I find it very interesting when Orthodox figures attack a position as foolish or heretical not knowing that this very position was stated by a great sage. If one was dealing with a detached academic, obviously heresy wouldn’t be a concern. And as for regarding a position as foolish, even if it is pointed out to the detached academic that, for example, Aristotle held this view, he would not retract from his statement that the position he criticized was foolish. It would just be an example where the great Aristotle adopted a foolish position. But in the Torah world, this sort of attitude is improper, so people are in a bind when they learn that the position they thought was foolish was actually held by a great sage.[8] In many cases I assume the people cannot change the way they think. They still think the position is foolish, but they can’t say this publicly anymore. Let me given an example of this relating to Biblical Criticism.



As is well-known, one of the arguments of early Biblical Criticism was that the “Book of the Law”, found by Hilkiah and given to Josiah (see 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34), was actually the book of Deuteronomy, which the Critics assume to be the latest of the books of the Pentateuch.[9] They regard it as a pseudepigraphical document, attributed to Moses. In other words, it was a pious fraud created to provide the basis for Josiah’s reform. Readers can correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that this theory has many advocates in recent scholarship. In any event, what concerns me here is that when rabbis and polemicists argue against Biblical Criticism, they often tear part the claim that Deuteronomy is the subject of the Josiah story. One can find lectures online where the speaker will mention this notion, and then reject it with great contempt. The attitude expressed is that anyone with any understanding of the Torah, or even of simple peshat of the relevant verses, would realize that Josiah story must be dealing with a complete Torah, not one book of the Pentateuch. Some go so far as to make it seem that only an idiot could conclude that Josiah is dealing with the book of Deuteronomy. For a traditionalist, this would appear to make perfect sense, since who ever heard of dividing the Torah into separate scrolls?[10]         
Yet if the people arguing so strongly against the Josiah-Deuteronomy connection would look at the version of the story in 2 Chron. 34, they would find something that would shock them. While verses 14 and 15 speak of finding ספר תורת ה' ביד משה  and ספר התורה, the commentary attributed to Rashi understands this to mean משנה תורה, i.e., the book of Deuteronomy! In other words, the position of the Bible Critics as to which book was “found”,[11] and the position attacked so mercilessly by the opponents of the Biblical Critics, is in fact held by a rishon! I am not saying that this rishon is a proto-Biblical Critic, or that he denies the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy. But he does say that the book found, and which was read to Josiah and so affected him, was not the Torah itself, but only the book of Deuteronomy. I grant that this is an unusual position, but now that we have seen what this rishon holds, does this mean that this viewpoint now has to be treated with more respect, as opposed to the current treatment it gets at the hands of Orthodox polemicists?[12]
This notion, that the book Hilkiah found was Deuteronomy, is also advocated by R. Elijah Benamozegh. [13] Benamozegh states that if this viewpoint is correct, it means that from early on there was a practice to write the book of Deuteronomy separately from the rest of the Pentateuch. He also cites a rabbinic view that the Torah that the king carried was only the book of Deuteronomy.[14] Based upon this, he explains why the book found was brought to the king, since it was precisely this book that the king was obligated to write and carry with himself. Benamozegh concludes:
סוף דבר קרוב ונראה שהיו מעתיקים ס' מ"ת בפע כמו שנוכיח להבא בע"ה כי ספר תורת משה נכתבה בימי קדם חלקים ונתחים כל א' בפ"ע, ובראש כל אתוון מה שהעידו רבותינו באומרם: תורה מגלה מגלה נתנה
2. Since in the previous section I referred to Ibn Ezra’s view on post-Mosaic additions to the Torah, let me say a little bit more about this. At the beginning of his commentary to Deuteronomy chapter 34, Ibn Ezra states that the last twelve verses of the Pentateuch were written by Joshua. The Talmud only offers this possibility concerning the last eight verses. The Kol Bo, Seder Tefillat ha-Moadot (ed. Avraham [Jerusalem, 1992), vol. 3, p. 220) writes:
ושמנה פסוקים אשר בזאת הברכה שהם מויעל משה עד ויהושע בן נון, יחיד קורא אותם.
The problem with this formulation is that there are twelve verses from ויעל משה (Deut. 34:1), not eight. I presume that instead of ויעל משה  the text should read וימת משה (Deut. 34:5), which is the eighth verse from the end and what the Talmud refers to. It is also possible that instead of stating “eight verses” it should read “twelve verses,” and the Kol Bo would then be agreeing with Ibn Ezra.[15]
In The Limits of Orthodox Theology I referred to Avat Nefesh, an anonymous medieval commentary on Ibn Ezra, as one of those who understood the latter as positing post-Mosaic additions. I had access to the Genesis portion of the commentary which appeared in William Gartig’s 1994 Hebrew Union College doctoral dissertation. A typescript of the complete commentary is now available on Otzar ha-Hokhmah, and this typescript pre-dates 1994. (In the preface to the typescript, the transcriber presents evidence that the author is R. Yedayah ha-Penini [ca. 1270-1340].)[16] In his commentary to Gen. 12:6, Avat Nefesh states that according to Ibn Ezra “many verses” in the Torah were only added after Moses’ death. He also notes that this is the focus of most of Ibn Ezra’s “secrets”.
כי כונתו שזה לא כתב משה אך נכתב אחר שנכבשה הארץ וכן דעתו בהרבה פסוקים ורוב סודותיו סובבים בזה כאשר אמר בראש אלה הדברים.
With the complete commentary we can also see what he says in Deut. 1:1. Here again he explains Ibn Ezra’s secret to be referring to post-Mosaic verses. Yet he also expresses his disagreement with Ibn Ezra and defends Mosaic authorship, although it is not clear if he is disagreeing in general or only with regard to the example he is discussing, where he explains why the expression בעבר הירדן is not an anachronism.
The principle by which Ibn Ezra determined that certain verses are post-Mosaic is if they contain what he regarded as clear anachronisms. All of the examples he gives in his commentary to Deut. 1:1 fall into this category. R. Joseph Bonfils famously argues that while Ibn Ezra acknowledged post-Mosaic additions of individual words and verses, which function as explanatory glosses, Ibn Ezra did not believe that there could be entire sections that are post-Mosaic. This is how Bonfils explains why Ibn Ezra, in his commentary to Gen. 36:31, responded so sharply to Yitzhaki’s suggestion that Gen. 36:31-39 is post-Mosaic:
וחלילה חלילה שהדבר עמו . . . וספרו ראוי להשרף
The problem with these verses is that they begin with the following: “And these are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom, before there reigned any king over the children of Israel.” Some viewed it is an anachronism to speak of the Israelite monarchy when still in the desert. As mentioned in The Limits of Orthodox Theology, R. Judah he-Hasid, R. Avigdor Katz, and according to one Tosafist collection also Rashbam identified these verses as post-Mosaic. As far as I can tell, there is no evidence to support Bonfil’s supposition that Ibn Ezra, for dogmatic reasons, denied that there could be post-Mosaic additions of entire sections. In the case of Gen. 36:31-39, there are internal reasons why Ibn Ezra would not see it as problematic, as he explains in his commentary.
Returning to Avat Nefesh, there is something else noteworthy in the commentary. He mentions that Ibn Ezra believes that “many verses” are post-Mosaic. Although Ibn Ezra himself doesn’t supply us with that many verses, once we assume that Ibn Ezra was guided by what he viewed as anachronisms in pointing to post-Mosaic additions, there is no reason to conclude that the examples he gives in his commentary to Deut. 1:1 exhaust the list. In support of Avat Nefesh’s point, let me mention the following: Ibn Ezra lists Gen. 12:6, “And the Canaanite was then in the land,” as one of the post-Mosaic additions. Understood according to their simple sense, these words can be seen as anachronistic as the Canaanites were still in the Land of Israel in the days of Moses. In other words, the words are written from the perspective of one living in a generation when there were no longer Canaanites in the Land of Israel. If these words are post-Mosaic, then the second half of Gen. 13:7 must also be post-Mosaic, as it says, “And the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelt then in the land.” Just as Ibn Ezra didn’t feel it was necessary to spell out his view with regard to Gen. 13:7, so too, Avat Nefesh believes, there are other similar cases.
Avat Nefesh provides an example of this in his commentary to Num. 13:24, where he writes that according to Ibn Ezra (see his commentary, ibid.) at least some of what appears in this verse was written in the days of the Judges.
ר"ל שוירדוף עד דן נכתב לפי דעתו בימי השופטים שאז נקרא שם העיר דן כשם דן אביהם, כן כוונתו בנחל אשכול שנכתב אחרי כן בשמו שקראו הקורא
3. Let us now return to R. Shlomo Fisher, with whom we began this post. Despite coming from a very haredi background, he has close ties with the religious Zionist world. You can see many of his shiurim on www.yeshiva.org.il and here is his picture.













It is because of his ties with religious Zionists that R. Shach criticized him in conversation with R. Mordechai Elefant, late Rosh Yeshiva of the ITRI yeshiva, presumably as a way of pressuring R. Elefant to fire R. Fisher.

Here is how R. Elefant told the story, in his own words:
Rav Shlomo Fisher is a member of my faculty and one of the most brilliant talmudists of this generation. He was born and raised in the heart of Meah Shearim, but he has connections with religious Zionist institutions. I once came into Rav Shach, and he started calling Rav Shlomo a kalyekker [someone not firmly devoted to the purest Torah ideals]. I was annoyed, but I didn’t say anything. This happened a second time. I said to myself then, “If this happens again, I have to do something about it.” It happened again. So I went into Rav Shlomo’s room here in the yeshiva, and I took out a letter written by the Steipler in which he calls Rav Shlomo “pe’er ha-dor” (glory of the generation). Next time I went to Rav Shach, he said again that Rav Shlomo is a kalyekker. I said, “Rav Shach, listen to me. The Steipler is also a kalyekker.” He looked at me like I was crazy, but then I showed him the letter. I never heard any more complaints about Rav Shlomo. I told this to Rav Shlomo and it didn’t mean a thing to him. The only thing he cares about is understanding the Torah.
R. Elefant continued with the following story:
Then there was a time when a member of my own staff came to me with similar objections. He wanted me to get rid of Rav Shlomo. He quotes Bialik, Nietzsche, and all sorts of other things that are generally unacceptable in yeshivot.[17] I told him, “You’re right, but I’ve got one problem. You and me, we can teach these boys here how to understand Talmud. But there’s a lot more to education than that. Who’s going to teach these kids about purity, humility, and integrity? You? Me? That’s what we need Rav Shlomo for.” The guy chuckled and agreed with me.
I have previously mentioned that R. Fisher is, to my knowledge, the only gadol be-Yisrael who is also an expert in medieval Jewish philosophy. Many are disappointed that he does not take a public profile and express his views on issues of the day. If you are part of the group that studies with him every week, then you are fortunate to hear his views (which sometimes filter out). But what about the rest of the world?
A couple more stories R. Elefant told of his relationship with R. Shach are worth repeating. The two of them were close friends for decades, from before the time when R. Shach was recognized as the leader of the Lithuanian Torah world. That is why R. Elefant was able to speak to him in a way that others would never have dared.
Once R. Elefant was in Bnei Brak to give a shiur, and he went to visit R. Shach.
I went into Rav Shach’s room. He greeted me and asked what my lecture was about. I said, “Rav Shach, let’s be frank with each other. You don’t want to know what I lectured about, and I don’t want to know what you lectured about. I came here because you want to shoot the breeze.” His laugh was worth a million bucks to me.
The other story relates to a conflict between R. Shach and R. Yehudah Zev Segal of Manchester. R. Shach was upset with R. Segal because the latter didn’t accept R. Shach’s views which were creating great conflict between the yeshiva world and the hasidim.
Rav Shach heard that I was a friend of Rabbi Segal’s, so he told me he wanted to talk with me about him next time I was in Bnei Brak. It wasn’t too long before I was there, and Rav Shach asked me what I knew about Rabbi Segal. I told him, “I’ll tell you the truth. Rav Shach, you are the most powerful man in this world. You build governments, you break governments. What you say goes. People say about you “kocho ug’vuraso molei olam.” But Rabbi Segal is different. His opinion counts over there in the other world.Rav Shach’s attendants were dumbstruck. They couldn’t believe I had the nerve to say that to his face. But I didn’t meant to insult Rav Shach and he wasn’t fazed. He asked, “Do you really mean that?” I said I did, and after that he left Rabbi Segal alone.
Here is some of what R. Elefant said about Saul Lieberman.
When Lieberman came to Israel, the Brisker Rav acted like he was his best friend. They asked him why, and he had a one-word explanation, “mishpochoh.” They were cousins.
One of the Rav’s sons, I think it was Meir, got engaged to a girl from a family called Benedikt. I was invited to the engagement party. The Brisker Rav was sitting next to Saul Lieberman. I saw it. On Lieberman’s other side was the Mir Rosh Yeshiva, Reb Leizer Yehudah Finkel. That time Lieberman was persona non grata.
Here is another story from R. Elefant.
Lieberman was good friends with Rav Hutner. They were both students of Rav Kook, and they palled around in New York back in the fifties. They both used to go to the 42nd Street Library because there were lots of seforim there. Rav Hutner had a beard as black as coal back then. He wore a short jacket. Lieberman was once standing there in the library and who should come in but his friend, Rav Hutner. Lieberman says in Yiddish, “Here comes God’s dog.” Rav Hutner retorted, “Better to be a dog of God than to be a god to dogs.” Rav Hutner told me that one himself.

4. In a recent post on his blog, R. Daniel Eidensohn refers to my comment in this post where I suggested that the lenient attitude towards pedophilia in much of right wing Orthodoxy is due to the fact that the real trauma of sexual abuse is not something that one can learn about in traditional Jewish sources but comes to us from psychology, and as such is suspect in those circles that see psychology as a “non-Jewish” discipline. Let me offer another example that illustrates how today we take sexual abuse much more seriously than in previous years. Here is a responsum no. 378 from R. Joseph Hayyim’s Torah li-Shemah.


As you can see, the sexual abuse of a child under nine years old was not regarded by him as an earth-shattering violation (certainly not at the level of violating Shabbat or eating non-kosher food). While we regard child sexual abuse as one of the worst things imaginable, it is easy to see how someone whose only exposure to these matters would have been through traditional sources would not see it as such a terrible offense, namely, an offense that would require one turn the person into the police. In another responsum, Torah li-Shemah no. 441, R. Joseph Hayyim writes as follows regarding one who has sex with a child under nine years old:
והרי זה הבועל כמי שמשחית זרעו ע"ג עצם ואבנים
In other words, he sees this as an issue of wasting seed, without any cognizance of the terrible damage done to the child.[18] Responsa like this are important in showing how, with increased knowledge, attitudes have changed. What our generation regards as the most vile behavior was often seen in a very different light in previous generations. This is the only limud zekhut for those who in past years did not take sexual abuse seriously.
R. Ysoscher Katz also called my attention to a relevant discussion on a Yiddish site. See hereOne of the matters discussed is a responsum of R. Yair Hayyim Bacharach, Havot Yair no. 108.


I think any modern person reading it will be surprised to see that there is no emotion shown, no reflection on the difficult circumstances of the girl. Everything is examined from a halakhic standpoint. But this again shows how differently we approach these sorts of matters than was the case years ago.
If sexual abuse is treated just like another sexual transgression, then the lenient approach some rabbis have adopted towards it makes sense. After all, shouldn’t a rabbi want to give a sinner the opportunity to repent? Sexual sins have always been regarded differently than kashrut or Shabbat violations. If a rebbe was seen eating a hamburger in McDonalds or driving on Shabbat he would immediately be fired, without any opportunity to repent. But more leeway is given when it comes to sexual sins, the reason being, no doubt, that everyone understands the power of the evil inclination in this area. A good illustration of my point is seen in R. Aaron Walkin, Zekan Aharon, vol. 2, no. 30.

The responsum deals with a shochet who was seen entering the home of a “loose” woman. R. Zalman Sorotzkin didn’t know what do about it and wrote to R. Walkin. R. Walkin refuses to disqualify the shochet, and tells R. Sorotzkin that even if there were two witnesses testifying to the matter it would not change his mind, since this would only turn the shochet into a mumar le-davar ehad! It is true that not all rabbis would have been as lenient as R. Walkin,[19] but the fact that this great posek ruled the way he did is quite significant.[20]

Finally, I am curious to hear what some of the lawyers reading this post have to say about the following: Some time ago, I was contacted by a man who wanted to talk to me about being an expert witness for the defense in the appeal of a sexual abuse conviction. The case is actually one of the worst we have seen. I was told that my role would only be to answer questions about sexual mores in the hasidic world, in particular, how they understand tzeniut. While I am far from an expert on this, not being from that world, the defense team wanted an academic on the stand. (Needless to say, there are academics who would also be much better choices than me.) .


Nothing came of this discussion, and I myself decided that I would have nothing to do with the case after learning the particulars, which are indeed sickening. My question is as follows: We know that defense lawyers are not personally tainted even if they represent horrible people. We recognize that this is their job. My sense is that people would not give the same leeway to an expert witness, and he would be viewed very negatively, as one who was helping to free a sexual abuser. Yet I would like to get some feedback from the lawyers. If I would have agreed to be called to the stand to answer general questions about halakhah and tzeniut, does the fact that I was part of the defense team's strategy mean that I would be "helping" the defense? It was made clear to me that my role would be to simply to answer general questions and I would have nothing to do with the defendant per se. Another way of framing the question is, would it have been immoral for me to agree to this role if, after having examined the evidence, I was convinced that the defendant committed terrible crimes and  should remain in jail?  


5. For the runoff quiz I asked the following:
A. What is the first volume of responsa published in the lifetime of its author?
B. There is a verse in the book of Exodus which has a very strange vocalization of a word, found nowhere else in Tanach. (The word itself is also spelled in an unusual fashion, found only one other time in Tanach). The purpose of this vocalization is apparently in order to make a rhyme. What am I referring to?
Some got the answer to the first question, and others got the answer to the second question. But only one person, Peretz Mochkin, got the answers to both.
The answer to the first question is the responsa volume Binyamin Ze’ev (Venice, 1539), by R. Benjamin Ze’ev of Arta.
The answer to the second question is the word אתכה in Ex. 29:35. It is spelled and vocalized the way it is in order to rhyme with the word ככה that appears earlier in the sentence.
וְעָשִׂיתָ לְאַהֲרֹן וּלְבָנָיו, כָּכָה, כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר-צִוִּיתִי, אֹתָכָה
One of the sources that refers to this text is Zev Grossman, Darkhei ha-Melitzah be-Sefer Tehillim. This is a very interesting book on aspects of grammar in Tanach. Here is the title page, with an approbation of sorts from William Chomsky. I don’t know of any other book that puts the approbation on the title page, and in this case the approbation is in English. (William Chomsky, incidentally, is the father of Noam Chomsky.)


One of the things Grossman points out in his book is that there are many examples of verses where we find words in non-grammatical forms in order that they rhyme. Here is just one example, from Psalms 5:8:
וַאֲנִי--בְּרֹב חַסְדְּךָאָבוֹא בֵיתֶךָ;    אֶשְׁתַּחֲוֶה אֶל-הֵיכַל-קָדְשְׁךָבְּיִרְאָתֶךָ
In context, the final word, ביראתך, means “in fear of you”, even though this is not grammatically correct. This form is used to make the rhyme, because if one were applying grammatical rules it would not be spelled this way.
At the end of the Hebrew section of the book, Grossman has a page listing his published books.


As you can see, he also produced a set of gedolim cards. When I was young, in the 1970s, there were gedolim cards. I know this because I collected them.[21] But I never imagined that they existed already in the early 1950s.
6. In my post of January 13, 2013, I wrote: “R. Meir Schiff (Maharam Schiff) is unique in believing that one without arms should put the tefillin shel yad on the head, together with the tefillin shel rosh. This is the upshot of his comment to Gittin 58a.” I saw this comment of Maharam Schiff many years ago, and unfortunately did not examine it carefully before adding this note. As R. Ezra Bick has correctly pointed out, Maharam Schiff is not speaking about wearing tefillin shel yad on the head to fulfill the mitzvah, but only stating that this is a respectful way to carry the tefillin shel yad if you have to remove it from your arm. This has no relevance to what I wrote about someone without arms (unless he has to carry the tefillin shel yad).


[1] In The Limits of Orthodox Theology I listed numerous rishonim and aharonim who understood Ibn Ezra’s hints to mean that there are post-Mosaic additions the Torah. I have added to this list in various blog posts, and we are now up to around thirty-five different sources. Yet until now I overlooked an important text, namely, a comment by Tosafot. See Tosafot ha-Shalem, ed. Gellis, to Gen. 12:6 (p. 14):

זהו אמרו ואם איננו כן יש לו סוד, כי כוונתו שזה לא כתבו משה אך נכתב אחר שנכבשה, וכן דעתו בהרבה פסוקים

Tosafot rejects this opinion, stating:

 ואנחנו לא ניאות בזה הדעת שכל התורה כתבה משה מפי ה' בלא חילוק ושנוי.

It is significant that Tosafot does not refer to Ibn Ezra’s interpretation as heretical. For another source that assumes that Ibn Ezra believes that there are post-Mosaic additions in the Torah, see R. Aharon Friedman, Be-Har ha-Shem Yeraeh (Kerem be-Yavneh, 2009), p. 30.
[2] I am aware of no evidence that the rishonim in the Islamic world interpreted these passages in a fundamentally different way than the Ashkenazic rishonim. As noted in The Limits of Orthodox Theology, R. Joseph Ibn Migash openly accepted the viewpoint that Joshua wrote the last eight verses of the Torah.
[3] “Two Notes on the Commentary on the Torah of R. Yehudah he-Hasid,” in Michael A. Shmidman, ed. Turim (New York, 2008), pp. 245-246. In his just published The Intellectual History and Rabbinic Culture of Medieval Ashkenaz (Detroit, 2013), p. 32, Ephraim Kanarfogel writes: “The availability of this kind of interpretational freedom and variety also allowed Hasidei Ashkenaz to be comfortable with Ibn Ezra’s stipulation of verses that may have been added to the Torah after the revelation at Sinai.” 
[4] I deal with this in my forthcoming book, where the relevant citations will be found.
[5] See here
http://www.moreshet.co.il/web/shut/shut2.asp?id=68707
[6] Rosenzweig wrote: “We, however, take this R to stand not for Redactor but for rabbenu [our rabbi]. For whoever he was, and whatever text lay before him, he is our teacher, and his theology is our teaching.” See Dan Avnon, Martin Buber: The Hidden Dialogue (Lanham, 1998), p. 50.
[7] Sherlo’s answer is not clear. He was asked about the Seventh Principle, that Moses’ prophecy is superior to all others. Rather than replying to this, he answers that there were amoraim who did not think that Moses wrote the last verses of the Torah. This, however, relates to the Eighth Principle, not the Seventh. None of the amoraim who thought that Joshua wrote the last verses assumed that he was on Moses’ prophetic level, so Sherlo’s answer is really a non-sequitur.
[8] In recent years I have seen many examples of this. Some extreme statement or ban is attributed to a haredi gadol, and commenters on haredi news sites declare that Gadol X could never have made such a hurtful and counterproductive statement. These commenters argue that it must be the “askanim” who are responsible for this. (I specifically remember such arguments in the first few days after the ban on Making of a Godol was announced.) When a few days later it becomes clear that the statement is accurate, and was indeed made by the gadol, what then are these people to do, people who just a few days prior were so adamant in rejecting the position? 

People convincing themselves that their leaders could not really mean what they say is obviously not merely a haredi issue. Here is what Paul Veyne writes: “Under France’s Old Regime, people believed and wanted to believe in the king’s kindness and that the entire problem was the fault of his ministers. If this were not the case, all was lost, since one could not hope to expel the king the way one could remove a mere minister.” See Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths (Chicago, 1988), p. 91.
[9] Regarding the Sefer Torah found by Hilkiah, R. Jacob Emden, Birat Migdal Oz (Zhitomir, 1874), p. 152a, claims that Josiah was unable to read the old Hebrew script in this Torah, and that is why it had to be read to him. For a rejection of this view, see R. Jacob Bachrach, Ha-Yahas la-Ketav Ashuri u-le-Toldotav (Warsaw, 1854), pp. 47-48.
[10] The division of the Pentateuch into different books is itself quite ancient. See R. Hayyim Hirschensohn, Seder la-Mikra (Jerusalem, 1933), vol. 1, p. 52.
[11] As mentioned already, the Bible Critics of whom I speak don’t really believe that it was "found".
[12] There is another unusual tradition that appears in Yemenite texts according to which the entire Torah (and also the rest of the Bible) was forgotten by the Jews during the First Exile, and Ezra later reconstituted it from memory. See R. Saadiah ben David, Midrash ha-Beur, ed. Kafih, vol. 2, p. 676. See also here.
[13] Mavo le-Torah she-Baal Peh, ed. Zini (Jerusalem, 2002), pp. 25-26.
[14] See also Bezalel Naor, The Limit of Intellectual Freedom (Spring Valley, 2011), pp. 77, 253. In Deut. 17:18 it says about the king: וְהָיָה כְשִׁבְתּוֹ, עַל כִּסֵּא מַמְלַכְתּוֹ--וְכָתַב לוֹ אֶת-מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת
For a rejection of the view that the words “Mishneh Torah” refer to Deuteronomy, see Bachrach, Ha-Yahas la-Ketav Ashuri u-le-Toldotav, p. 70.
I have often heard the notion expressed, in line with Ibn Ezra to Deut. 4:14, Nahmanides to Lev. 8:38 and in his introduction toDeuteronomy, and Abarbanel in his introduction to Deuteronomy, that all of the mitzvot were given at Sinai or soon after. I don’t think this is the simple meaning of the Torah. After all, there are loads of mitzvot in the book of Deuteronomy, and this was years after the revelation at Sinai. Apparently, Nahmanides’ viewpoint was motivated by his dogmatic assumption. R. Bahya ben Asher, Commentary to Gen. 24:22, and Radbaz did not share Nahmanides’ outlook, with Radbaz writing: ודברי [הרמב"ן] תימה הם בעיני. See She’elot u-Teshuvot ha-Radbaz, no. 2143. Radbaz has a very provocative formulation in this responsum, and I am not sure what to make of it.

אין הכי נמי שצוה במצוות רבות בערבות מואב וכמה מצוות מצינו שאמרן משה לישראל ולא נאמר בהם צו את בני ישראל או דבר אל בני ישראל אלא משה יושב ודורש והכל יודעין שהכל מפי הגבורה

The words משה יושב ודורש are found in Bava Batra 119b where it means that Moses was expounding on a certain biblical law. As these words are used here, however, they appear to mean that Moses generated new mitzvot by means his יושב ודורש. This is not the same as God directly informing Moses of these new commandments, and I don’t know any earlier source that portrays mitzvot as originating in this fashion. It is also contradicted by how Maimonides describes the revelation of the Torah in his Eighth Principle.
               
Yet I am not certain about this, since the passage immediately following the one quoted above seems to offer a different perspective: 

וכל המצוות המחודשות אשר במשנה תורה הקב"ה אמר למשה בערבות מואב ומשה אמרן לישראל בכלל שבאר להם המצוות אשר כבר נאמרו וכל מה שנתחדש בהם מפי הקב"ה הוא ומשה לא דרש דבר מדעתו.
[15] See R. Eliah Shapiro, Eliah Rabbah 669:17.
[16] Avat Nefesh is discussed here.
[17] One student told me that he would often cite Kierkegaard.
[18] Both of these responsa, and others as well, are analyzed by Dr. Yitzhak Hershkowitz in a forthcoming article. I thank him for sharing his article with me prior to publication.
[19] For more stringent rulings, see R. Yekutiel Yehudah Greenwald, Ha-Shohet ve-ha-Shehitah ve-Sifrut ha-Rabbanut (New York, 1955), pp. 86ff.
[20] In Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy, p. 211 n. 172, I refer to R. Walkin as R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg’s “short lived successor to the rabbinate of Pilwishki.” Some have wondered how I know this information, and indeed there is nothing about this in Eliezer Katzman’s articles on R. Walkin in Yeshurun vols. 11 and 12. That R. Walkin was rav of Pilwishki is found in R. Weinberg’s article about the town in Kitvei R. Weinberg, vol. 2, p. 390. In a letter to R. Kook, R. Walkin asks his advice on whether he should accept the rabbinate of Pilwishki. See Iggerot la-Reiyah (Jerusalem, 1990), no. 151. The date given in R. Walkin’s letter to R. Kook is Heshvan 5684 (1923), but this can’t be correct, as by this time R. Walkin was the rav of Pinsk. The original must say תרפ"ב not  תרפ"ג.
[21] A few readers might remember my bar mitzvah party, where some of these gedolim pictures were turned into posters. Also, smaller blow-ups were placed on each table as the table identifier. While most of the posters were thrown out, I saved one. When I attended JEC in Elizabeth for high school, I brought in the poster made from this picture of R. Elchanan Wasserman, and hung it on my classroom wall..






















Everyone in the class thought this was very nice. One day I came to school and the poster was gone. Someone told me that R. Pinchas Teitz had taken it down. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why he would do that. I didn’t know then what I know now, about how many people strongly opposed R. Elchanan’s viewpoints (e.g., R. Zvi Yehudah Kook wouldn’t allow R. Elchanan’s Kovetz Ma’amarim in Merkaz ha-Rav’s library. See Hilah Wolberstein, Mashmia Yeshuah [Or Etzion, 2010], pp. 192-193, 404). But even if I knew that, this would not have been a reason for R. Teitz to take down the poster. I went to see him, first to get my poster back, and also to understand why he took it down. He explained that since we had a minyan in the classroom, it was improper to have a picture of a man on the wall, even if this man was R. Elchanan.

22 comments:

david segal said...

"R. Moshe Feinstein’s view was that R. Yehudah he-Hasid’s “biblical criticism” was not authentic

ברש"י מסכת מנחות דף מג עמוד ב:

היינו אשה - דאשה נמי שפחה לבעלה כעבד לרבו ל"א היינו אשה דלענין מצות אשה ועבד שוין דגמרינן לה לה (חגיגה דף ד ע"ב).

וכתב ר"מ פיינשטיין (אגרות משה או"ח ו, ירושלים תשע"א עמוד ג טור א אות ה):

"ועיין ברש"י שפירש בפירושו הראשון על הקושיא היינו אשה דאשה נמי שפחה לבעלה כעבד לרבו, ולולא דמסתפינא הייתי אומר שצריך למחקו דח"ו לרש"י לומר דברי הבל כזה...".

ויש לציין שבתלמוד מהדורת ארטסקרול (הערה 47) לא הוזכר פירושו הראשון של רש"י, והובא רק הפירוש השני.

וראה קובץ "אור ישראל" (מאנסי) נ (טבת תשס"ח) עמ' עג טור ב.

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