Tuesday, February 28, 2006

New CD of Talmud MSS

The newest version of the Talmud mss CD (the "Lieberman CD" or the "Sol and Evelyn Henkind Talmud Text Databank"), is now available. The newest version, using the Bar Ilan Responsa interface, includes transcriptions of all known mss of Talmud, including Cairo Genizah fragments at JTS, Cambridge and Oxford as well as scans of various mss (NOT those available via JNUL) of Talmud and Mishnah.

It normally sells for $750 but if five (5) individuals get together they can each buy it for $500 (please mention Yisrael Dubitsky's name when ordering. He does not get a cut, it's for statistical purposes only). For more information see here.

Haredi Story "borrowed" from Shai Agnon Story

Gil has a nice post on the latest mythmaking regarding the Hazon Ish. Along those same lines, there is a farily well known story that goes something like this:
An Orthodox person is sitting in the Jewish National Library and gets hungry. He takes out his lunch and then benches however, he does so in an audible tone. In his recitation he says the words שלא נכשל לעולם ועד. The librarian who is not Orthodox comes over to complain about his eating and he loud blessing. Additionally, she points out the he does not even know how to properly bless in that he used a version that doesn't appear in the blessing, namely, שלא נכשל. He is preturbed by her assertion and claims that is his custom. She then proceeds to pull out all the siddurim to show him that none have it. He goes home and comes across a siddur which does have his version and photocopies it and sends it to her. He circles in red the relevant passage - שלא נכשל.

A few years later he recieves an invitation to attend a wedding of someone he does not know. However, he decides to go anyways. Upon getting there the woman - who is the librarian - tells him that now she is marrying an Orthodox person. However, this was not always the case. In fact, she was schedualed to marry a non-Jew (in some stories an Arab). His letter with the circled words שלא נכשל reached her right before the wedding and she took it as a sign. She became Orthodox and now is marrying an Orthodox man.
Anyways this is the basic gist of the story. The story appears in a bunch of different places and in slightly differing versions. At times the "man" is identified and at times not. For instance, Ruchuma Shain in her book Reaching the Stars has this story as does the book "The Kiruv Files," Rabbi Sholom Schwadron also has a version of this story. Here is another take on it. In all these instances this story is passed off as true. However, in truth, this is actually a much earlier story written by Shai Agnon. It was published in 1937 in a slightly different format. You can read the original here.

Rabbi Yehoshua Mondshein has collected the various stories and noted the original source in a typically excellent article available here. Also there is a thread on Hyde Park about this article here.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ten Commandment Displays

Menachem Mendel has a nice post collecting a lot of the material on the Ten commandments. However, there is one point that I think is worth discussing.While 10 Commandment displays are ubiquitous in synagogues, it is far from certain this is the correct approach. Specifically, the Talmud records that public recitations of the Ten Commandments are banned because there were those who understood these readings to mean only the Ten Commandments are important to the exclusion of the rest of the Torah. R. Yom Tov Lipman Heller in his commentary Ma'adani Melekh (or Ma'adaani Yom Tov) says this reasoning should apply to Ten Commandment displays and he questions the practice of putting such displays up in synagogues. This statement is quoted in the Ma'gen Avrhom's commentary on the Shulkhan Orakh. Many others question this practice including R. Ahron Lewin, (Reischer Rav) in his commentary on Berkahot.None of this, however, stopped the Agudah, the OU, and Nathan Lewin (R. Ahron Lewin's grandson) from filing a brief in the Supreme Court advocating for Ten Commandment displays. While there is one person who permits such displays - they do so only in the context of a synagogue. That is, because in a synagogue the Ten Commandments would be part of the rest of the ornaments - Torah etc. it is clear that one is not imbuing them with any additional import. But, it is equally clear that the types of displays the Court would allow for - those totally devoid of any other Jewish context would run afoul of the Talmudic injunction.

Bibliography on Synagogues

Professor Yosef Tabori's bibliography on synagogues is available online here. As well as other bibliographical lists here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

New Book on Rabbinic Authority

A new sefer came out titled Ohron shel Chachomim. This work purports to collect the various laws and philosophy one should have for the Rabbis. The first section is just the basic law applicable to a talmid chacham, standing, not addressing by first name etc. In this section there is also a brief discussion about the "laws" of emunat chachmim. We are treated however to such laws as "not only is one obligated to follow the chachamim but also their children and their secretaries (mishamsheham) one should not question." Or this one: "When a person goes to a tzadik and discusses his problems but doesn't understand what the tzadik responds [I assume it was unintelligible] or it appears the just ignores his request - don't let this blessing be small in your eyes. Rather believe God will send your salvation." For many of these laws, the citations are to either aggadic passages in the Talmud or to Midrashim.

The second section discussion yeridat haDorot the lowering of the generations. This begins by telling the reader the concept of yeridat haDorot is not in relation to the tzadik rather it is to the generation. That is, the tzadik is of course as great as in previous generation rather it us that are unable to appreciate this. But then you may ask, it continues, why then do we hear of the great miracles these tzadikim did in previous generations, why not now? Of course, it is due to us - we have created a situation where the tzadikim can't work their miracles today.

The author then treats us to a discourse on whether the achronim can argue on the rishonim. He explains that this is prohibited. In a footnote he deals with the many achronim that seem to disagree with this. However, he writes these off by noting they are like rishonim. Of course, this then poses another problem (or not) for him as if they are truly like the rishonim then it follows that their peers couldn't argue on them as they are obviously greater. He just says that this doesn't appear to be the case and this is allowed. He extends this prohibition against arguing against earlier ones and says this is applicable to the pronouncements of the Shulhan Arukh and the Rama. He appears to be unaware that R. Hayim Volhzin says the Gra said this is not the case and that ever Rav should just do what they see fit irrelevant of the opinion of the Shulkah Orakh and the Rama. Additionally, he doesn't seem to be aware that R. Moshe Feinstein said the same thing. Or perhaps it is just a case of selective memory.

The next couple of chapters are devoted to the law of a Talmid Chacham today as well as the role of a Rebbi for Chassidim. The chapters include information on "Just Looking at the Rebbi Allows One To Gain In Torah and Avodah," "The Belief in The Tzadik" as well as lesser topics such as "The Trip to the Rebbi," "The miracles of the Rebbi" etc.

All in all, this book presents a rather interesting view into what some consider the laws and customs governing the interaction with the Rabbinic class.

I got the book at Biegeleisen in Brooklyn.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Is Tu-beshevat a Sabbatian Holiday?

There are those who claim the custom to celebrate Tu-beshevat as a holiday is based upon the book Hemdat Yamim. This book, according to many, was either written by Nathan of Gaza (Shabbati Zvi's "prophet") or one of follower of Shabbati Zvi. (This is contrary to the assertion in the Philogos that Nathan is not author, a contention which has little to no source). In Ha'aretz, an article appeared with this contention, namely the source for the Tu-beshevat custom is Sabbatian or as the headline reads "The New Year for the Trees, Isn't is Shabbati Zvi."

However, a closer look at the history reveals, that although some of the customs on Tu-beshevat can be traced to Hemdat Yamim the actual celebration dates much earlier. Avraham Ya'ari, the noted bibliographer, in an article traced the history of Tu-beshevat. He explains that much of the early mentions of Tu-beshevat were only in the negative, i.e. one can't fast or say tachanun. Obviously, the first mention is in the Mishna in Rosh Hashana which states, according to Bet Hillel, Tu-beshevat is the new year for trees. The new year does not conotate a New Years like celebration, instead, this only has implications for questions of tithing. One can't tithe fruits from one year using a different years fruits. Thus the 15th of Shevat is the cut off point.

Ya'ari, however, notes the first mention in connection to a celbration or the like is in the 16th century. Specifically, R. Issachar ibn Susan (c. 1510-1580) in Ibur Shanim, published in 1578 (the book was published earlier, in 1564, this was done without the knowledge or R. Issachar and according to R. Issachar, with numerous errors) he mentions "the Ashkenazim have the custom [on Tu-beshevat] to eat many fruits in honor of the day." Mention of this custom also appeared in a Jedeo-German Minhagim book first published in 1590. "The custom is to eat many fruits as it is the New Year of the trees."

In the community of Worms there was a rather interesting permentation of the custom. As R. Jousep Schammes in his Minhagim de Kehilah Kedosha Vermaysa, states:
On Purim and the 15 of Av and Shevat these were vacation days for the Rabbis, especially the 15ht and the 33rd day of the Omer for the students and their teachers. On these days the students did not go to school nor did the teachers go in. The teachers were required to distribute to the students as they left that morning, on the 15th and the 33rd day of the Omer whiskey and sweet cake from the teachers' own pocket, they should not charge the students, this is the custom.

He repeats this in his comments to the 15th of Shevat. "One doesn't say tehina even during the morning prayer. It is a vacation day for the students and the teachers, especailly the younger students, it is a holiday for the teachers. The custom is for the teachers to distribute whiskey to the students and make merry with them."

While we have shown there was a custom for those Ashkenazim to celebrate Tu-beshevat, amongst the Sefardim, it is correct the source is Hemdat Yamim. Hemdat Yamim, first published in 1732 anonymously has the entire seder for Tu-beshevat. This includes passages from the Bible as well as specific foods. This in turn was popularized to a greater degree when it was included in the book Pri Etz Hadar first published in 1753 and republished an additional 29 times by 1959. This book included the entire Hemdat Yamim service.

So at the end of the day, although some of the customs of Tu-beshvat may come from the Hemdat Yamim he clearly is not the only or the first source for celebrating Tu-beshevat.

For more on the Hemdat Yamim, a controversy that has recently been stirred up again with the republication by R. Moshe Tzuriel of the Hemdat Yamim with an extensive introduction. Additionally, Ya'ari has a book Talmuot Sefer which his conclusion has been disproven by Tishbi in his Nitvi Emunah U'Minut. R. Tzuriel's publication engendered the publication of a small pamphelet Hemdat Yosef as well as a bunch of articles in the journal Hechal HaBeshet. Rabbi Dr. Leiman in his latest article in Ohr haMizrach has a footnote with all the citations. [R. Dr. Leiman's article collects all of R. Y. Eybeschit's and R. Y. Emden's approbations].

Also, anyone can get a copy of Hemdat Yamim. There are two places on the web where it is available free. The first is at the Jewish National Libraries site for rare books online here. For this one you need to download their viewer. Or at SeforimOnline.org (which for some reason is not online as I write this). Who has it in PDF format?

Additionally, Ya'ari has an article on the piyutim for Tu-beshevat here.

Print post

You might also like

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...