Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Chofetz Hayyim His Death, the New York Times and Research Tools

I have gotten multiple emails (and now S. has posted it on English Hebraica) in the past couple of days regarding an obituary which appeared in the New York Times for the Chofetz Hayyim. The email explains that after hearing someone mentioning the Times covered the Chofetz Hayyim's death the person couldn't believe it and decided to investigate the matter. He then went to the New York Public Library and poured over microfiche to finally locate the story on the Chofetz Hayyim's death. The story, which did indeed appear in the Times, is merely a republication of a Jewish Telegraphic Association article.

There are two points I would like to mention about this whole email and story surrounding it. First, I am at a loss to understand why this person had to go the New York Public Library. While I am all for libraries, for this research he could have done it from the comfort of his home in under 5 seconds. All he had to do was go the New York Times website and search using the words Chofetz Chaim. He would have found the article he located as well as another one, this second one actually written by the Times describing the memorial services held in Brooklyn. This second article discusses the various eulogies held at Tifereth Israel and had Rabbis Simha Solovetchick, Israel Dushowitz and M. Somanowits in attendance and participating in various degrees. Anyone who has a Times Select subscription (if you subscribe it is free) can download the articles.

Second, according to both articles the Chofetz Hayyim was 105 years old when he died. His actual age, however, is in dispute. Some place him at a mere 94 when he died. R. Nathan Kamenetsky, in his Making of a Godol, attempts to prove how old the Chofetz Hayyim actually was. He does so in a rather ingenious manner. First, he attempts to figure out how old the Chofetz Hayyim was when his father father died during the cholera epidemic. Also, at age 70 there was a birthday celebration that R. Kahanneman (Ponivezher Rav) attended in Radin. R. Kahanneman was in Radin in 1909 thus putting the Chofetz Hayyim's birthday in 1839. Finally, R. Kamenetsky points to the recently published request of the Chofetz Hayyim's to emigrate to Israel and the birth dates used there. In the end, R. Kamenetsky concludes that in fact the Chofetz Hayyim was a spring chicken of 94 when he died. (See Making of a Godol, pp. 1106-1108).

It is also worth mentioning that America was not the only other country (outside of Radin or Europe) where there were eulogies for the Chofetz Hayyim. R. Elchonon Wasserman was in England when the Chofetz Hayyim died and participated in a service for the Chofetz Hayyim where Rabbi I. J. Unterman gave a eulogy. London Jewish Chronicle, October 6, 1933, p. 8. (Thanks to Menachem of AJHistory fame.)

Monday, October 16, 2006

The RCA "Edition" (Or Lack Thereof) Siddur

When a Yom Tov falls out on Shabbat, we add additions to the standard Yom Tov shemonei esrei that relate to Shabbat. One of these additions is found in the V'haseanu והשיאנו blessing, where we add "elokenu v'lokei avosanu retzah bemunchatanu (אלקנו ולאקי אבותנו רצה במנוחתנו)." There is very little question about this addition is Shacharit.[1] The more complex question is the Mussaf. The reason for the complexity is that in the Shaharit there is no place where the formula of elokenu v'lokei avosanu appears, so one is forced to add the entire addition. But, in Mussaf there is an elokenu v'lokei avosanu, that is, right after one says the various verses relating to the offering of the day appears "elokenu v'lokei avosanu melk rachamun rachem alenu ... (אלקנו ולאקי אבותנו מלך רחמן רחם עלינו)". Because there already the alokenu v'lokei avosunu, thereby God's name is already mentioned, R. Yitzhak Isaac Tyrnau (end of the 14th century) in his book on Minhagim (page 56 Makhon Yerushalayim edition) says to just add here the words, retzeh bmunuchatanu here. By placing this addition here one avoids mentioning God's name later on. But the R. Mordecai Jaffe (1530-1612), in his Levush (Orach Hayyim no. 488), argues and says that just as in Shacarit one mentions this addition later on right next to "kadeshanu" therefore it is not proper to mention it here after the passages of the offerings as there is no mention of kadeshanu. Additionally, R. Jaffe argues we should be consistent between Mussaf, Shacharit, and Mincha/Ma’ariv. Just as in those prayers, this addition appears in v’haseanu so we should do the same for Mussaf. Therefore, according to the Levush, one has to say the entire formulation later on, including the elokenu v'lokei avosanu, a repetition of God's name, because though God's name appears earlier it is just not the right place to add this.[2]

What emerges from this is that there are two distinct customs, either one adds just the words "retzah bemunuchatun" right after the verses for the offerings and does not add anything later on, as that would defeat the whole purpose - avoiding repeating God's name. Or one does not add anything different after the recitation of the offerings, instead just as in the Morning Prayer, one adds the entire formula at the end of the blessing. Both of these customs have support in older siddurim. What has NO support and makes no sense is what appears in the Artscroll siddurim. In the Artscroll siddurim, BOTH additions appear.[3] That is, Artscroll advocates saying both the retzah bemuchutanu after the offerings and including the entire formulation later on. It would appear that they are unconcerned with the unnecessary repetition of God's name or custom. It seems that in an effort to conform to all the customs, they have conformed to none. What is rather bizarre, is that in the first edition of the Artscroll Siddur, only the second appears, it seems they altered it to include both?!

But, to be fair to Artscroll there is perhaps a bigger problem. Artscroll, while they print some nice books, are not a Rabbinic organization. The RCA (Rabbinical Council of America), as the name implies, is a Rabbinic organization. One assumes a Rabbinic organization would be tasked with getting something like this correct. Historically, the RCA did get it right. The original RCA commissioned siddur is edited by R. David de Sola Pool. In this siddur they only have the second mention (like the Levush). But, now the RCA has moved to a new siddur. This – the RCA edition of the Artscroll siddur – contains both (incorrect) mentions. In the introduction, the (then) president of the RCA states that part of the reason the RCA commissed a siddur at all was due to the many errors which had crept into the siddur. But, with this edition that does nothing other than slapping on an introduction by then-RCA president R. Saul Berman and adding the teffilah l’medinah, is the type that the RCA was claiming it was fixing.


[1] Though there is some controversy about this, that is, R. Jacob Emden says that the elokenu v'lokei avosnu should always be recited even when it is not Shabbat. He claims that these words were bracketed by mistake and in early siddurim they are not bracketed. I have found that in the Prague, 1516 Siddur they are not bracketed. See Siddur R. Shabbetai Sofer, vol. 1, appendix. On the other extreme the Vilna Gaon who says that one never recites these words even when it is Shabbat.

[2] The Eliyahu Rabbah defends R. Tirna from the Levush and also asserts that all the older siddurim follow R. Tyrnau. In truth, the old siddurim are split between these two customs; see Additions to Siddur R. Shabbetai Sofer for page 522.

[3] In the new Artscroll Hebrew-only siddurim they say "Yesh Mosifim" (there are those that add) by the first one, i.e. the one following the recitation of the offerings. But they still fail to recognize that those Yesh Mosifim also don't add the later one.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Artscroll = Pornography?!

I recently received a sample of the new Artscroll work "A Daily Dose of Torah." This work, which is more or less a modern-day Hok l'Yisrael, parcels out 18 minute learning sections covering Gemara, Siddur, Mussur, etc. But setting aside the content, in the introduction there is a very curious quote.

In the introduction the editors thank Reb Sheah Brander for his "graphics genius." They explain "As someone once said in a different context, 'I can't put it into words, but I know it when I see it.'" They then apply the quote as "It is hard to define good taste and graphics beauty in words, but when one sees Reb Sheah's work, one knows it."

Now, the quote they have "I can't put it into words, but I know it when I see it" doesn't actually appear anywhere exactly as that. It is obvious, however, this quote is most likely taken from a well known Supreme Court concurrence authored by Justice Potter Stewart. The case, Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964), is about whether a movie was pornographic, or more correctly obscene. Justice Stewart said that although it was difficult to define or articulate what exactly fit the definition of pornography "I know it when I see it." (Id. at 197.)

So, they are absolutely correct that "someone once said in a different context" but I am unsure if they knew exactly what context that was.

Tussle Over Horowitz's Book

As I mentioned before, Elliott Horowitz wrote an excellent book on Purim and its connection with violence. But, as some are wont to do, instead of reading a book objectively they come into a book with all sorts of preconceived notions. This was typified by Hillel Halkin's review of Horowitz's book. In the June 2006 issue of Commentary Magazine, Halkin reviewed Horowitz's book. I did not bother to mention this, solely because it was painfully obvious Halkin did not read the first half of the book, or chose to ignore it (as Horowitz points out in his response), and that Halkin was only interested in finding fault. Halkin takes issue with the very notion that Jews could be violent and thus can not believe (or address) most of Horwitz's points. In fact, much of Horowitz's thesis had already been published years ago in his articles on the topics. (Perhaps Halkin doesn't read academic journals? Although he feels it fine to review an academic work).

Well in the October 2006 issue of Commentary Magazine, Elliott Horowitz responses as does Halkin. Halkin's response, however, is so juvenile and void of content, he does more to undermine his position than anything Horowitz could have done. Halkin to buttress his position resorts to name calling and a general ad hominem attack. So, for example, Halkin starts by noting
As I stated in my review, Elliot Horowitz wrote an interesting but not entirely honest book. How he has written an uninteresting and thoroughly dishonest letter.
Setting aside Halkin's vitriolics, Horowitz, as he is wont to do, uses the terrific image of the Godfather movies to prove his point. He notes that there is a distinction between the Godfather and Bonnie and Clyde, one which just has violence and the other which explores it. Horowitz, thus illuminates his purpose of exploring the sources and theological underpinnings of his thesis. [Now, there are not that many Jewish academics who cite to movies (or as he does in another of his articles compares the imagery in a haggadah to Bugs Bunny) so this somewhat is refreshing.] Halkin, of course, fails to note this (apparently he is not one for subtleties) and instead turns the movie quote into a childish retort of
If Horowitz wanted to write a Jewish version of The Godfather . . . he should have done a movie script.
Additionally, Halkin fails to address most of Horowitz's most salient points. So, Halkin still ignores the entire first half of Howowitz's book and fails to explain the rampent use of the term Amalek to this day. It is disappointing that Commentary publishes such drivel, but does demonstrate that one should not judge a book by its cover nor a review (or reviewer) by its inclusion in Commentary.

You can read the full exchange here for yourself until the end of October 2006.

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