Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ofeq Institute and the New (English) Version of the Messilat Yesharim

Ofeq Institute and the New (English) Version of the Messilat Yesharim
by Eliezer Brodt

The Messilat Yesharim, by R. Moshe Chaim Luzzato (Ramchal), is one of the foundational works of mussar. [1] The Gra, among others, praise the Messilat Yesharim.[2] As such, any addition to its oeuvre is important in its own right. The Ofeq Institute* has recently published an English translation of an alternative version of the Messilat Yesharim. This version is fundamentally different than the standard edition of Messilat Yesharim. The standard edition is divided into chapters based upon various character traits. The second, this new version, eschews the chapter divisions and instead is arranged in a conversation or dialogue format. Specifically, a dialogue between a "wise man" and a "pious person" is the format of this version. This second version comes from a manuscript in the Baron Ginzburg collection in the St. Petersberg Library. The manuscript is in the Ramchal's own hand and is substantially larger than the other version. Although the Hebrew edition of the dialogue version has been available for a bit (also from Ofeq),[3] this version has now been published in an English edition and this edition will be the focus of this post.

First a word about the Ofeq Institute. Over the past twenty years Mechon Ofeq has released many editions of the works of the geonim, rishonim and achronim covering all genres of Jewish literature. All these works are critical editions with extensive notes and introductions. Almost all their editions include extensive footnotes. (One of the only complaints some have is that there's simply too much information in the footnotes). Much like the novel version of Ofeq's Messilat Yesharim, many of the works are based on manuscripts from the Ginzburg collection, a collection that was only recently released to the public.

To highlight but a few of their other titles. A work on Iyov from the bet midrash of Rashi and a commentary on Yecheskel from R. Yosef Heyun. They begun to publish a critical edition of the rishonim on Torat Kohanim as well as a commentary on Tosefta. They have printed works from geonim like R. Natronai Goan. Many works of rishonim on shas, most well-known being the Tosafas HaRosh on Pesachim and Haggigah, and Tosafos Yeshanim on Yevomos. A facsimile edition of Rambam on Madda and Ahava in the Rambam's own hand. They have printed hagadahs from rishonim an excellent critical edition of the Seder Hakabalah of the Meriei. Another work of note is Meah Shaearim a two volume edition on hilchos kibud av v'em.

Ofeq, run by R. Avraham Shoshana and based in Cleavland Ohio utilizes not only Torah scholars (read products of Yeshiva education) but experts who are academics as well. For their editon of the R. Natronai Goan they used Professor Brody a leading expert of the geonim period. For other works of rishonim they have used Professors Emanuel, Hevlin and Speigel all experts in their respective fields. Or, in the case of the Messilat Yesharim, Professor Septimus was involved. That is, Ofeq ensures that the works they put out are of a high caliber. To some, this is an anathema. They view the inclusion of non-Torah scholars to be unconscionable. Most recently objections of this nature were expressed by R. Yehuda Liba ben Dovid in Bes HaVaad (see post here ). As I pointed out, however, R. ben Dovid's position is in the minority.

Aside from Ofeq's Hebrew publications they also have published some books in English. The Messilat Yesharim, however, is their most ambitious English translation to-date.

This English translation includes an introduction discussing the Messilat Yesharim, the two versions, and the English translation employed. The translation does not skimp in the sense that it is annotated with English notes - something that does not appear in all English translation. Instead, many English translations provide the footnotes in Hebrew. While this seems counter-intuitive as if the person wants to read the work in English, they would like to read the whole work including the footnotes. This edition does not suffer from that and instead, almost everything is in English. Additionally, although Ofeq has published the "dialogue" edition, they also include the original version in translation as well. There are, however, two parts that remain in Hebrew. The first are citations to verses, talmudic passages and the like, the second is the final work included which compares the dialogue version with the standard chapter version. This last section, titled Bein HaMesilot, is in Hebrew.

When it comes to English translations, there are typically two options. The first are academic presses which are typically expensive and not aimed at a popular audience. The second, are the traditional Orthodox presses, while these are typically more readable, they (although not always) don't provide some of the scholarly detail. Ofeq's translation of the Messilat Yesharim
strikes a nice balance between these two - they have produced a highly readable yet include the scholarly detail as well.

As mentioned above, what is unique about this copy of the Mesilat Yesharim is that is is written in a completely different style than the current Mesilat Yesharim. This new version is written in a debate form. The Ramchal wrote other works in debate form as well. For example, his work on defending kabbala. For whatever reason, he chose to print the other, standard, version and the debate version remained in manuscript. It's unclear, however, why the Ramchal chose to do so. Many feel that a debate version is much better for 2 reasons: One, it keeps the reader much more interested and two, it brings out the various points much better as is always in a debate form.

For many years, the sefer Messilat Yesharim was learned as a mussar sefer, becoming one of the classics. Many people used to take it into a dark room and learn it in special tunes saying the words again and again until they penetrated. However, many people have a fear of mussar, having bad memories from yeshiva, forcing themselves to read mussar sefarim during mussar seder that they felt did not talk to them. I would like to suggest a new way to read this sefer. Read it as a regular sefer. Concentrate on the ideas discussed in it, not only focused on the mussar, but rather on the pshatim, aggada and statements throughout the sefer. Just to list a few of these lesser appreciate portions of the Messilat Yesharim:

והנה ודאי שיעזרהו לזה רוב התמדה והעיון במזמורי דוד המלך והתבונוות בם במאמריהם וענינים כי בהיותם כולם מלאים אהבה ויראה וכל מיני חסידות. הבנה בהתבוננו בם. לא ימנע מהתעורר בו התעוררות גדול לצאת בעקבותיו וללכתב בדרכיו. (פרק כא)

Or highlighting the value of reading gedolim books or at least the aggadic section of the gemarah

וכן תועיל הקריאה בסיפור מעשה החסידים באגדות אשר באו שם. כי כל אלה מעוררים את השכל להתיעץ ולעשות כמעשיהם הנחמדים... (פרק כא)

In this passage, the Ramchal takes a positive view vis-a-vis working at least if learning remains a main focus

כי הנה העסק מוכרח הוא לאדם לצרוך פרנסתו, אך ריבו העסק אינו מוכרח שיהיה כל כך גדול עד שלא יניח לו מקום אל עבודותו. על כן נצטוינו לקבוע עתים לתורה. (פרק ה וראה פרק כא)

And, on keeping chumros he has an intresting point

הוא להחמיר בהם תמיד לחוש אפילו לדברי יחיד במחלקות אם טעמו נראה אפילו שאין הלכה כמותו(פרק יד)

Elsewhere he expands on this thought a bit more

באשר כבר יחשבו שהחסידות תלוי בדברי הבל או דברים נגד השכל והדיעה הנכונה. ויאמינו היות כל החסידות תלוי רק באמירת בקשות רבות ווידוים גדולים ובכיות והשתחויות גדולות ובסיגופים הזרים שימית בהם אדם את עצמו כטיבלת הקרא והשלג וכיוצא בדברים אלה... אך מציאות החסידות עצמו הוא דבר עמוק... כי הנה המצות המוטלת על כל ישראל כבר ידועות הן וחובתן ידועה עד היכן היא מגעת. אמנם מי שאוהב את הבוראית"ש אהבה אמתית לא ישתדל ויכון לפטור עצמו במה שכבר מפורסם מן החובה אשר על כל ישראל בכלל... אלא אדרבא... יהיה לי לעינים להרבות בזה הענין ולהרחיב אותו בכל הצדדין שאוכל לדון שרצונו יתברך חפץ בו... נמצא כלל החסידות הרחבת קיום כל המצות בכל הצדדין והתנאים שראוי ושאפשר... (פרק יח)

In the introduction the Ramchal has a puzzling remark, that many have taken issue with, but, in reality, the Ramchal was following in the path of Chovos haLevovvos

היתכן שיגע ויעמול שכלנו בחקירות אשר לא נתחייבו בם, בפלפולים אשר לא יצא לנו שום פרי מהם, ודינים אשר אינם שייכם לנו.

Here R Shoshanah has a nice comment (p. 18) of sources discussing this point.

When he wrote this work the Ramchal wrote a puzzling remark in the beginning showing his humility he writes

אמר המחבר החיבור הזה לא חיברתיו ללמוד לבני אדם את אשר לא ידעו אלא להזכירם את הידוע להם כבר ומפורסם אצלם פרסום גדול

R. Sarna writes in his notes on Messilat Yesharim that this statement is the most puzzling statement in the entire sefer to him.

One more nice piece from Messilat Yesharim is:

והפרישות... הוא התבודדות וההבדל מן החברה המדינית לפנות לבו אל העבודה והתבוננות בה כראוי ובתנאי שלא יטה גם בזה אל הקצה האחר שכבר אמר ז"ל לעולם תהא דעתו של אדם מעורב עם הבריות... (פרק יד)

Turning back to the Ofeq edition in particular, it is important to highlight the footnotes included. While much has been written on the Messilat Yesharim before this edition, especially worthy of mention is the edition of R Sarna. This edition that includes notes by R. Shoshana has included that aside from explaining the text and the concepts therein and providing sources that the Ramchal's comments are based on in Hazel and the rishonim (as R. Shoshana notes that he has spent many years learning this sefer very carefully) also offers historical info such as on page 6 when dealing with learning pilpul or on page 127 about a custom in those days in Italy where there were large plays and comics played before Jewish audiences.

The end section, Bein HaMessilot, is a great section discussing at length a few topics of the Messilat Yesharim and comparing and contrasting how the two different versions with them. This shows, that at times, the debate version is much lengthier than the current version we have. Another thing that was done in this edition is that they fixed up the original version of Messilat Yesharim from all the mistakes that crept in since its printing. This sefer, which the author was subject to much opposition in his lifetime by many great gedolim, as is documented in the Iggeres Ramchal, was zoche that one of his works became a classic until today.

The only criticism I can think of on this edition is that they should have included all their appendices and introductions that they printed in the Hebrew edition previously printed by them. But, with this new edition it should be much easier to learn And I am sure one will enjoy this all time classic even today.

As Ofeq has extensively utilized manuscripts in both this edition of the Messilat Yesharim as well as in the rest of their publications. We should highlight another book, published by Ofeq, that is on the topic of Hebrew manuscripts. Benjamin Richler's book, Hebrew Manuscripts: a Treasured Legacy, (this is available to readers of the Seforim blog for a special price of $24.95 including postage - please contact Ofeq their information is provided below) is a great introduction to the world of manuscripts for anyone. The book contains a lot of information and pictures of all types of handwriting. The book traces and describes briefly many manuscript collections, both private and public including the Ginzburg collection - the collection where the dialogue version of MessilatYesharim as well as other important manuscripts were found. It even lists the numbers that some of these seforim have in the very big collections. Besides for this, the book contains some nice descriptions with pictures of many manuscripts. Of interest is on page 50, a picture of a manuscript of a machzor from 1290 that has pictures of malachim with faces of dogs. The book also includes a bit of a history of the various catalogs of manuscripts that have been written until today. Interestingly enough, Richler writes that the JTS and Hebrew University collections are not completely cataloged. (maybe by now, they are - for an update on the JNUL collection see Richler's post here). He has a chapter discussing the importance of manuscripts besides for ones not printed, which there are many. It also is to check the accuracy of previous editions. This book was written before the Ginzburg collection was released (p. 110). In addition, there's a excellent chapter on the Cairo Geniza from one of the biggest experts on the geonic era, Professor Robert Brody. Here too, Brody discusses many of the basic questions one has about this topic, such as why all this is in the geniza in the first place. He also discusses where all the documents are location today and the progress of the study of these documents.


[1] In an earlier post discussing the content and censorship of the sefer Menuchah u-Kedushah, and I note that according to the author of Menucah u-Kedushah, the Messilat Yesharim was written with ruach ha-kodesh.

[2] For a discussion about the Gra and his views towards R. Moshe Hayyim Luzzato and the Messilat Yesharim, see Y. Eliach, HaGra, vol. 1 pp. 240-45, where Eliach devotes a chapter to this issue. There is even a statement attributed to the Gra that there are no extra words in the sefer Messilat Yesharim, until chapter 11. This statement sparked a discussion as to exactly which word in chapter 11 is the extra one that the Gra was referring to. Additionally, it seems that the Gra even had some of the Ramchal's works in manuscript.

[3] The Hebrew edition includes an extensive introduction enumerating all the differences between the versions by R. Yosef Avivi, an expert on kaballah and especially the Ramchal's writings.

*As Ofeq's website is a bit dated, those wishing to obtain a catalogue of Ofeq's publications should contact them at: Ofeq Institute, 27801 Euclid Ave., Suite 430, Euclid, OH 44132, fax (216) 731-5567; email

Their contact information in Israel is 02-653-5920, or e-mail:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mayim Hayyim, the Baal Shem Tov, and R. Meir the son of R. Jacob Emden

Sources contemporary to the Baal Shem Tov that attest to his deeds, or that even discuss him at all, are sparse. Although some secular sources, including tax records and other documents, have recently been unearthed by academic researchers, there is a paucity of Jewish texts. Most of the "historical" record regarding the Baal Shem Tov comes from a collection of stories, Shivhei Ha-Besht.[1] That work, however, was collected much later and is less reliable than others when assessing the Baal Shem Tov. [2] One important text regarding the Baal Shem Tov, however, appears in the Teshuvot Mayim Hayyim.

Mayim Hayyim was published in Zhitomer by Shapira press. The Shapira press is well-known for publishing hassidic works, and the press was originally in Slavita. As a result of dubious circumstances, the press moved to Zhitomer and in 1857 the Mayim Hayyim was published.[2a] While the publication of that book took place long after the Baal Shem Tov's death in 1760, Mayim Hayyim consists of responsa both from the time of the Baal Shem Tov and later. Mayim Hayyim mainly consists of the responsa of R. Hayyim HaKohen Rapoport (1772-1839), was published by R. Hayyim's son, R. Yaakov HaKohen Rapoport. R. Yaakov HaKohen Rapoport included material from other relatives as well (i.e., aside from his father, R. Hayyim). One such responsum is from R. Meir, son of R. Jacob Emden, who we shall return to later.

This undated responsum begins with a technical question regarding a lesion found in the lungs of an animal after shechitah. The slaughterer could not remove the lesion and took it to the local rabbi in Medzhybizh, a Rabbi Falk, who appeared to be unsure of the status of the animal. Based upon the remainder of the responsum, however, R. Falk eventually permitted the animal. It appears that some disagreed with the decision of R. Falk and thus sent the question to R. Meir to see if the local rabbi got it right. In an effort to ensure that R. Meir would get the whole story, it was recorded and signed by R. Mordechai, the ne'eman (literally, the trustee; but in this context, probably the secretary); the following appears after the question:

In our presence, the court signed below, our teacher, the aforementioned Mordecai, related all that is written above as testimony and then wrote all of this in his own handwriting and signed it with his very own signature. Therefore we have confirmed it and substantiated it as proper
Signed Israel BA"Sh [Ba'al Shem] of Tluste [this was the city the Baal Shem Tov lived prior to moving to Medzhybizh]
Signed Moshe Joseph Maggid Mesharim of Medzhybizh [3]

Thus, one of the three signatories was R. Israel Baal Shem Tov. The questioners then continue to flesh out their question as to whether or not Rabbi Falk paskened correctly. As Moshe Rosman notes, this question places the Baal Shem Tov as an important figure within Medzhybizh. That is, the Baal Shem Tov involved himself in this controversy, a controversy that may have resulted in the dismissal of their local rabbi. Furthermore, this episode illustrates how the Baal Shem Tov was important enough to be one of the three persons picked to sign on this letter. As Rosman states: "this incident presents a dimension of the Besht not usually emphasized by the interpreters of the hagiographic stories about him in Shivhei Ha-Beshet. It makes it difficult to portray him - as has often been done - as an unalloyed populist figure, alienated from the rabbinic or political establishment" (118).

Aside from the above value of the letter, there is the additional importance of how R. Meir treated the Baal Shem Tov, thus providing a contemporary account on how others viewed the Baal Shem Tov. Although the letter was from three people, R. Mordechai, R. Moshe Joseph and the Baal Shem Tov, R. Meir in his response only addresses himself to the Baal Shem Tov. Moreover, the honorifics R. Meir uses demonstrates that he surely held the Baal Shem Tov in the highest regard. R. Meir addressed the Baal Shem Tov as:

Champion in Yehuda and Israel! He who succeeds there at the small and the great. He provides balm and medicament to the persons without strength. He is great in Bavel and famous in Teveriah and has prevailed in all things. The great sage, the eminent rabbi, famous for his good name, our teacher Israel, may God protect and bless him. And all of his colleagues, all of them beloved rabbis, the great and eminent sage, our teacher Gershon, may God protect and bless him; and those who I don't know [by name] I greet; may they all be granted the highest blessing.

As is apparent from the titles provided, "champion in Yehuda and Israel" and with the use of the terms "the great sage, the eminent rabbi" that R. Meir held the Baal Shem Tov in very high regard. Additionally, from both the Baal Shem Tov's own use of "Baal Shem" to describe himself and R. Meir's mention that the Baal Shem Tov "provides balm and medicament to persons without strength," the term "Baal Shem" as used here refers to a medicine man. That is, aside from whatever else the Baal Shem Tov was known for, he was known for being a healer - thus Baal Shem means healer. This understanding is confirmed by tax records that refer to the Baal Shem Tov as a "Doctor." From all this is should be apparent that the Baal Shem Tov was respected by his peers and was known outside of Medzhybizh while he was there.[4]

Teshuvot Mayim Hayyim

There is a question, however, regarding when the foregoing letter was written. Most place it sometime around 1744, but, at the latest, 1747. They do so based on the mention of "our teacher Gershon." They understand that the Gershon referenced here is Avraham Gershon of Kutower, the Baal Shem Tov's brother-in-law. As R. Gershon moved to Israel in 1747, and the letter mentions R. Gershon, it must have been while he was still in Medzhybizh.[5] Personally, I think that that conclusion assumes that R. Meir was intimately familiar with R. Gershon’s whereabouts. While there is no doubt that R. Meir heard of R. Gershon, it does not automatically follow that he was informed regarding when R. Gershon moved to Israel. It could very well be the letter was written after R. Gershon left for Israel and R. Meir then merely assumed that R. Gershon was still living in Medzhybizh - it is not as if there was an announcement in the Międzybórz Times or at that R. Gershon had made Aliyah! Either way, this letter was written while the Baal Shem Tov was alive, and provides a virtually unimpeachable source for his participation in the community-at-large and about how others viewed him. I don't think Rosman is exaggerating when he says that "[t]his responsum, then, would seem to be an excellent starting point for attempting to gauge the Besht's position in his community and his relationship to the political and religious establishment" (119).

Aside from the above points that can be gleaned from this responsum, R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin, in an article that originally appeared in Sinai and has now been reprinted in the nice, new edition of his le-Ohr Halakhah uses this responsum for a different purpose. R. Zevin wants to disprove the notion that "the Hassidim and their Rebbes don't care about studying the revealed Torah and thus they did not spend much time on studying talmud and poskim." R. Zevin notes, as well, that this attitude towards Hassidim was prevalent right from the start of the Hassidic movement. That is, "even today, those who are not hassidim allege that the founder of the Hassidic movement, the Baal Shem Tov, was not a ben torah, heaven forbid." R. Zevin totally rejects this notion as "false and incorrect." As proof the Baal Shem Tov was indeed learned R. Zevin cites to the above responsum. R. Zevin explains:

In the Shu"t Mayim Hayyim from R. Hayyim Kohen Rapoport from Austria, printed there is a responsum from Medzhybizh regarding a lesion in the lung, from the Baal Shem Tov to the gaon R. Meir, the son of R. Jacob Emden, who was the chief rabbi in Constantine, and the response from the goan [R. Meir] to him [the Baal Shem Tov]. As is common knowledge, the Baal Shem Tov was not the Rabbi of Medzhybizh, even so the Baal Shem Tov is one of the signatories to the letter, singing it "Yisrael Baal Shem of Tluste" - "and the Maggid Mesharim of Medzhybizh." [6] The response of R. Meir is a long one. R. Meir was not a hassid. It is important to note the honorifics R. Meir uses at the beginning of his response: "Champion in Yehuda and Israel! He who succeeds there at the small and the great. He provides balm and medicament to the persons without strength. He is great in Bavel and famous in Teveriah and has prevailed in all thins. The great sage, the eminent rabbi, famous for his good name, our teacher Israel, may God protect and bless him. And all of his colleagues, all of them beloved rabbis . . ." And would a goan [R. Meir] who is not a hassid uses such language on someone who is not a godal b'torah?

Therefore, R. Zevin, with this responsum, demonstrates that the notion that the Baal Shem Tov was not learned and not respected is utterly false.

Until now, we have been focusing on the Baal Shem Tov, but there is another important person in this responsum, the author - R. Meir (1717-1795)[7], the first born son of R. Jacob Emden.[8] R. Meir was the rabbi in Constantine in the Ukraine. R. Meir was highly respected in the area, as is demonstrated by this responsum. This is so, as you will recall, in that the purpose of the responsum was to settle a controversy in the town of Medzhybizh - a controversy between the local rabbi and some of the persons in the town. This was a serious controversy -- indeed the petitioners describe it as "a fire burning in the community" -- and, especially in light of R. Meir's response, where he notes that the rabbi was wrong and if the rabbi refuses to admit that he is wrong, he is to be dealt with as a zakan maamrei as the rabbi, according to R. Meir, is denying a portion of the torah. This was no small matter. As the three persons picked R. Meir to adjudicate the matter, they must have respected him and thought that his answer, what ever it would be, would settle the issue.

Unfortunately, until now, we only had a tiny amount of written material from R. Meir, the bulk of which appears in Mayim Hayyim. Specifically, of the six extant responsa from R. Meir, four can be found in Mayim Hayyim. Now the reason they are included in Mayim Hayyim is because R. Meir is related to R. Hayyim HaKohen Rapoport.[9] What is shocking is that in his introduction to the Mayim Hayyim, R. Yaakov HaKohen Rapoport, publisher of the Mayim Hayyim, uses his relationship to R. Meir as the sole reason for publishing R. Meir's responsa. That is, although the Mayim Hayyim was published by the Shapira hassidic publishing house in Zhitomer, and done so in the mid-19th century, R. Yaakov HaKohen Rapoport never mentions that he includes a responsum -- the only one of its kind -- from the Baal Shem Tov. Instead, the reason for the inclusion of the responsum is R. Meir.

As mentioned previously, today, Shmuel Dovid Friedman has attempted to fill the void of R. Meir's works in publishing the first volume of R. Meir's hiddushim. These hiddushim are on Mishnayot Seder Nashim and on the Rambam's Mishneh Torah. The title of the book is taken from the above responsum. As R. Meir was referred to as "HaMeor HaGodol" thus the title of this new work is HaMeor HaGodol. See Meir Konstantine, HaMeor HaGodol, ed. R. Shmuel Dovid Friedman (Brooklyn, NY, 2007), [30], 352. [6]

While the publication of the Hiddushei Torah of R. Meir is indeed welcome, this particular work is plagued with numerous deficiencies. Firstand foremost is the problem with the manuscript itself. It does not appear that the Meor HaGodol was published from R. Meir's actual manuscript. Instead, R. Meir's manuscripts were copied over time by the Bick family and it is from these copies that the Meor HaGodol is comprised. Thus, there is no independent method of verifying that this material actually came from R. Meir. Aside from the manuscript, the introduction is rather bizarre. The introduction includes various stories about R. Meir, most of which focus on his relationship to hassidim. The bulk of the stories are then shown to be false, but only in the footnotes. So, the body of the text are the stories and then a careful reader will see that most of the stories likely never occurred. For instance, there is a story that R. Meir's daughter -- when R. Meir was sick and unbeknownst to him-- sent a request to the Baal Shem Tov to ask him to heal R. Meir. The editors of Meor HaGodol, in note 49, then say it is hard to reconcile the story with the facts known about R. Meir. Or, another example is that the introduction includes a story that after R. Meir became a hassid -- there is no evidence that he ever did so, but the story assumes so -- his father, R. Jacob Emden, disowned R. Meir. Again, the editors, in note 59, state that "there are many difficulties with this story" and then proceed to enumerate them. Why a story for which there is no support would be included to begin with is left unexplained. Perhaps the reason is that the editors are unduly interested in demonstrating that R. Meir was a full hassid (indeed, the main chapter in the introduction is entitled "[R. Meir's] Connection with the Baal Shem Tov"). It is particularly ironic that they present such shaky evidence in light of the fact the responsum in Mayim Hayyim from R. Meir is the only objective contemporaneous evidence of the Ba'al Shem from a Jewish source.

Moreover, the introduction seems to have missed and, in fact purposely left out, some material. Specifically, in note 3, the editors of HaMeor HaGodol note that R. Jacob Emden at some point added the name Yisrael. In the introduction they then attempt to understand what precipitated this change. They cite the following from R. Jacob Emden's Hitavkut, (p. 112,a)

מבטן אמי קראני יעקב, אליו פי קראתי ורומם תחת לשוני, והוא יתברך שלחני בשמי קראני, וכעת הראני לקרוא שמי ישראל וכו', ע"כ

"from birth I was called Yaakov, this is what I was called and my name elevated, and then God sent [a message] to me that I should be called in God’s name, and thus I will now be called Yisrael."

Although we can see from that quote that R. Emden added his name, the introduction does not tell us exactly why. What is astounding is that the editors ought to know why R. Emden added his name. The reason is because the above quote from Sefer Hitavkut continues beyond the portion quoted and explains that the name Yisrael was added because it was a testament that R. Jacob Emden was correct in his battle with R. Jonathan Eybeschütz. Instead, the editors cut off the quote right before R. Emden explains precisely that. Therefore, I assume that the omission is because they would rather not bring up that R. Emden had a fight with R. Eybeschütz, or that R. Emden viewed himself as having been correct. It is worth noting that the Sefer Hitavkut is not the only place R. Emden offers his victory as the reason for the name change. Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, on page 754 (n.11) of his dissertation about Rabbi Jacob Emden (Harvard, 1988), refers to a passage in Mitpachat Sefarim (p. 118 in the Lemberg, 1871 ed. and p. 171 in the most recent 1995 ed. - provided below) where R. Emden says "that after he battled with IS"H [R. J. Eybeschütz] a name was added" -- a play on the verse in Genesis 32:24, 28. So it is incorrect to assert, as the editors of HaMeor HaGodol do, that "why and when R. Emden's name was changed is unclear." Rabbi Schacter also notes that Emden's earliest reference "to himself as 'Yaakov Yisrael' is in a responsum SY [She'elat Yaavetz] II:24) dated February 22, 1765. In another responsum dated just six days later (SY II:144), Emden was addressed as 'Yaakov Yisrael.' For other references to this name, see SY II:25, 71, 72, 73, 112, [and] 146" (p. 754, n.11 - special thanks to Rabbi Schacter for his discussions with Menachem Butler about this aspect about Rabbi Jacob Emden).

Thus, in the editors’ effort to highlight the connection of R. Meir to hassidim, they downplay any opposition R. Meir's father, R. Jacob Emden, had to hassidism (see n.59). They apparently were unaware (?) that an additional important statement from R. Jacob Emden has recently been published. (see here )

One final note. It is particularly disappointing today to find a sefer that does not contain an index. With technology as it is today, publishers easily should be able to provide a decent index to a book; it is quite surprising, then, that Meor HaGodol, does not contain an index.

[1] There are other sources as well, including letters. Many of the letters are highly controversial as to their authenticity. See Moshe Rosman, Founder of Hasidism: A Quest for the Historical Ba'al Shem Tov (University of California Press, 1996), 99-113, 119-126; Nahum Karlinsky, Historia SheKeneged (Jerusalem, 1998); and Immanuel Etkes, The Besht: Magician, Mystic and Leader (UPNE/Brandeis University Press, 2005), chapter six, "The Historicity of Shivhei Habesht," 203-248, among many other sources.
[2] See Rosman, Founder of Hasidism, 143-155 and 162-8 (lending credence to some of the stories in Shivhei Ha-Besht based on governmental records), as well as his earlier article, "The History of a Historical Source: On the Editing of Shivhei Ha-Besht," Zion 58 (1993): 175-214, and in his recently published monograph, Stories That Changed History: The Unique Career of Shivhei Ha-Besht (=The B.G. Rudolph Lectures in Judaic Studies, new series, 5) (Syracuse University Press, 2007), Rosman notes how through this text of some two hundred stories, one can "explore such themes as the Besht's miraculous birth and childhood, his initiation into the mystical secrets, his revelations, his prayers, his dreams, his travels, his encounters with noblemen and priests, his contests with doctors, his attraction of various associates, and, most of all, the miracles, large and small, that he performs" (1). Rosman notes, as well, that over the past sixty years alone, "there have been five new Hebrew editions, some printed more than once; one Yiddish and two Hebrew reworkings; a German translation and critical edition, and an English translation printed four times. All this was in addition to various adaptations in fiction and in educational materials used by all types of Jewish schools, from Israeli secular to American Reform and Brooklyn Ultra-Orthodox" (24), and Rosman notes quite humorously how "Shivhei Ha-Besht has been analyzed as inspirational literature, political tract, holy writ, silly stories, historical source, and theological doctrine. It has entertained, inspired, embarrassed, inspired repentance, and formed the basis for doctoral dissertations. For nearly two hundred years it has been read with passion and diligence by people of many approaches and predilections. In search for the wellsprings of modern Jewish culture, it surely represents a unique source" (20).
[2a] For a discussion of the Shapira press see Ch. B. Friedberg, History of Hebrew Typography in Poland (Tel Aviv, 1950), 104-09 (discussing the Slavita period) and 135 (discussing the Shapira press in Zhitomer). For what precipitated the move, see Saul Moiseyevich Ginsburg, The Drama of Slavuta, trans. by Ephraim H. Prombaum (Lanham, Maryland, 1991).
[3] I have essentially used Rosman's translation of this responsum.
[4] See Rosman, Founder of Hasidism, at 168.
[5] Dinur, B'Mifaneh HaDorot, vol. 1, pp. 205-6, cited in Rosman, Founder of Hasidism, 119 n.29.
[6] This is actually incorrect. The Baal Shem Tov does not sign himself as the Maggid of Medzhybizh, rather the final signatory, R. Moshe Yosef signs himself as the Maggid.
[7] 1795 is the death date given in HaMeor HaGadol, (there are no page numbers provided in the introduction thus I will use the footnote numbers to attempt to give a rough citation) at n.60. The source given is "a letter from R. Mordechai Blechman z"l the chief rabbi of Constantine to R. Hayyim Bick the chief rabbi of Medzhybizh." The editors of HaMeor HaGodol, however, fail to provide where this source is located, i.e. is it in their possession, is it in some library or perhaps somewhere else. Moreover, they do not provide the context of the letter - was R. Meir's death date mentioned in passing or was that the focus of the letter. Nor do they mention how R. Blechman knows this date. Did he pull it off of R. Meir's tombstone or was it simply a legend? This sort of lack of information plagues the entire introduction of the Meor HaGodol.
This same death date, however, is given by Abraham Bick, Rebi Yaakov Emden (Jerusalem, 1974), 17, 182. Bick doesn't either provide a source for this date. See also id. at 17-8, citing to where R. Jacob Emden and others quote R. Meir. About Bick's 1974 biography, Schacter writes in his dissertation, that this work "is uncritical, incomplete and simply sloppy. it is barely more useful than an earlier historical novel in yiddish about emden by the general author with the same title published in New York, 1946. In general, all of Bick's work is shoddy and irresponsible and cannot be taken seriously." See Jacob J. Schacter, "Rabbi Jacob Emden: Life and Works," (PhD dissertation, Harvard, 1988), 17.
The editors of HaMeor HaGodol explain that most of the biographical information on R. Meir comes from Kitvei HaGeonim (Pietrokov, 1928), 127-30, n.3. Additionally, R. Meir is mentioned a few times in his father's autobiography, Megilat Sefer, Kahana ed., (Warsaw, 1896), 104 and 110. R. Jacob Emden mentions that he was unable to attend R. Meir's wedding in 1732 even as his wife attended, though as Schacter notes in his dissertation, R. Emden had "travel[ed] to Amsterdam during this period" (152, n. 126).
[8] R. Meir was related to R. Rapoport through the marriage of R. Meir's daughter to R. Hayyim HaKohen Rapoport's grandson, Dov Bear. See R. Jonathan Eybeschütz, Luchot Edut (Altona, 1755), 62a. Additionally, R. Meir was the brother-in-law of R. Shlomo Chelm, author of the Merkevet HaMishna. One of the responsum in Mayim Hayyim, no. 28, from R. Meir is to R. Shlomo.
[9] In fact, this is the only reason why the responsum that includes the mention of the Ba'al Shem Tov appears in Mayim Hayyim. As mentioned above, when the Mayim Hayyim was published, it was done so not by R. Hayyim HaKohen Rapoport, the author of the bulk of the teshuvot, but instead by his son R. Yaakov. R. Hayyim had died prior to publishing his own works. Thus, R. Yaakov decided to include not only his father's responsa but those from other relatives, as well. Thus, the Mayim Hayyim contains two title pages. After the first title page, the approbations that R. Hayyim received for his responsa are included (one additional later approbation is included but the main are addressed to R. Hayyim). R. Yaakov then included a second title page after which two additional approbations are included. These approbations were collected by R. Yaakov and mention not only R. Hayyim's responsa but the inclusion of other luminaries including R. Meir. The second title page is used a division between the two types of approbations, those directed at R. Hayyim and those at the book Mayim Hayyim. It is worthwhile noting that in the electronic editions they have removed the second title page. For instance, only includes the first. This is but one example of the need to actually obtain a hard copy of a book and not solely rely on such databases. See Anthony Grafton, "Future Reading, Digitization and its Discontents," The New Yorker (Nov. 5, 2007) and his New Yorker web-supplement, "Adventures in Wonderland," for other limitations of digitization.

Friday, January 25, 2008

"Derashot Shel Maran: A Little Studied Aspect of Maran Ovadiah Yosef's Weltanschauung" at the Michtavim blog

In a recent post at the Michtavim blog entitled "Derashot Shel Maran: A Little Studied Aspect of Maran Ovadiah Yosef's Weltanschauung," I discuss a shift within the research and writings of Dr. Kimmy Caplan from the area of sermons of historical American rabbis to the contemporary haredi community and contemporary Orthodox historiography (the latter which will be the subject of an upcoming post at the Michtavim blog). I believe that his varied areas of research have reunited in his recent article, "Studying Haredi Mizrahim in Israel: Trends, Achievements, and Challenges," in Peter Y. Medding, ed., Studies in Contemporary Jewry, vol. 22 (Sephardic Jewry and Mizrahi Jews) (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 169-192, specifically as he discusses the differences in the Friday night and Motzei Shabbat sermons of Maran Ovadiah Yosef, in the selection quoted at the Michtavim blog.

See the post here.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Pini Dunner -- Mercaz Agudat Ha-Rabbanim Be-Lita, Kovno, 1931

Pini Dunner B.A (Hons), formerly rabbi of London's Saatchi Synagogue, is an avid collector of polemical and controversial Hebraica, with a very large, diverse private collection of such material. Many items in his collection are unknown and unrecorded, and relate to long forgotten, obscure controversies.

This is his first post at the Seforim blog in a series about rare polemical pieces from his personal collection.
Mercaz Agudat Ha-Rabbanim Be-Lita, Kovno, 1931
Pini Dunner
(London, England)

In the mid-1920s the rabbi and rosh yeshiva of Slabodka, R. Moshe Mordechai Epstein (1866-1934), left Lithuania to lead the newly established branch of his yeshiva in Chevron. In his place as rabbi of the Slabodka community he left his son-in-law, R. Yosef Zusmanowitz (1894-1942), renowned in the Lithuanian yeshiva world as the 'Yerushalmi Illuy'. R. Zusmanowitz was a scholar of repute and a great communicator. The heads of the yeshiva, R. Boruch Horowitz (R. Epstein's brother-in-law) and R. Yitzchak Isaac Sher (1875-1952; son-in-law of the Alter of Slabodka), were concerned that the young R. Zusmanowitz would also try and take over the yeshiva. They were totally opposed to his involvement in the yeshiva, especially as he was not enamoured with the strong concentration on mussar. Instead they appointed R. Zalman Osofsky as the rabbi of the town.

A fierce controversy erupted between the 2 factions. R. Zusmanowitz's most vociferous supporter was R. Nota Lipshitz, son of the famous secretary to R. Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, R. Yaakov Lipshitz. The fight became so personal that R. Lipschitz's nephew was effectively expelled from Slabodka yeshiva simply because of his uncle's support for R. Zusmanowitz. As a result, the nephew, and others, began to learn together with R. Zusmanowitz, thereby starting a rival Slabodka yeshiva. At its height the yeshiva had 50 students. Frightened of the competition, and of the fundraising confusion that was impacting on their income (Zusmanowitz fundraisers included the 2 Teitz boys from America), R. Horowitz and R. Sher arranged for the Agudat Ha-Rabbanim (R. Horowitz was chairman) to issue a psak that R. Zusmanowitz had to close his yeshiva. This decision was met with anger and derision by its supporters, but the yeshiva closed. None of the 50 students were allowed back into Slabodka yeshiva – except for R. Ephraim Oshry (1914-2003), and he was subsequently suspected of being a spy who had been planted by the Slabodka yeshiva in R. Zusmanowitz's yeshiva.

In this stencilled poster, the Agudat Ha-Rabbanim vigourously deny that they had reported R. Zusmanowitz to the authorities as a subversive, as he and his supporters were claiming in posters, pamphlets and correspondence. They also explain that as R. Zusmanowitz refused to sign that he would not open a yeshiva if he won the elections that had been scheduled as a way to resolve the dispute, he had effectively ruled himself out of the election. The status-quo that established itself during this time was that R. Osofsky was the rabbi for the Slabodka yeshiva community and R. Zusmanowitz was the rabbi for the rest of the town. The whole controversy was viewed very negatively by those not involved, and particularly because R. Zusmanowitz's opponents - who used a variety of nefarious tactics to get their way - were meant to represent the mussar movement and its ethical ideals.

R. Zusmanowitz later became the rabbi of Wilkomir – a position for which R. Yaakov Kamenetsky had been vying, and thought he had secured – when the previous rabbi, R. Arye Leib Rubin, father-in-law of the Ponevezher Rov, died in 1937. It was as a result of this that R. Kamenetsky came to America. He would later say that what had at the time seemed like a tragic failure had in fact saved his life and the lives of his family as he was spared from the Holocaust as a result. R. Zusmanowitz was not so lucky. He was killed in 1942. (With thanks to Rabbi Eliezer Katzman for much of the information concerning this controversy).

Sunday, January 20, 2008

About Rabbi Avraham Korman

In his recent post at the Seforim blog, Prof. Marc B. Shapiro mentioned Rabbi Avraham Korman [at note 33] and as some readers have requested additional information on the latter, please see below:

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Marc B. Shapiro - Clarifications of Previous Posts

Clarifications of Previous Posts

by Marc B. Shapiro

[The footnote numbers reflects the fact this is a continuation of this earlier post.]

1. I was asked to expand a bit on how I know that R. Barukh Epstein’s story with Rayna Batya is contrived. In this story we see her great love of Torah study and her difficulty in accepting a woman’s role in Judaism. Certainly, she must have been a very special woman, and I assume that she was, for a woman, quite learned. When Mekor Barukh was published there were still plenty of people alive who had known her and it would have been impossible to entirely fabricate her personality. The same can be said about Epstein’s report of the Netziv reading newspapers on Shabbat. This is not the sort of thing that could be made up. Let’s not forget that the Netziv’s widow, son (R. Meir Bar-Ilan) and many other family members and close students were alive, and Epstein knew that they would not have permitted any improper portrayal. It is when recording private conversations that one must always be wary of what Epstein reports.

A good deal has been written about the Rayna Batya story, and Dr. Don Seeman has referred to it as “the only record which has been preserved of a woman’s daily interactions with her male interlocutor over several months.”[15] When challenged about the historical accuracy of Epstein’s recollections, Seeman replied “that there is no evidence to indicate that R. Epstein invented these episodes out of whole cloth.”[16]

I will therefore explain how I concluded that the story is fictional. Let’s begin with the well-attested fact that Epstein was a plagiarizer. My assumption is that when dealing with someone who is not a reputable scholar, one must be very suspicious of what he or she writes when there is no outside evidence to back it up. In fact, when the Torah Temimah first appeared, the editor of this work published a booklet, Sihah Temimah, accusing Epstein of fraudulent behavior.[17] Here are the first few pages of this booklet.

A central feature of his dialogue with Rayna Batya is her producing the book Ma’ayan Ganim by R. Samuel Archivolti. Here it states that mature women who have a desire to study Torah are to be encouraged (Mekor Barukh, p. 1962). Epstein, a young teenager, then attempts to refute her by arguing that the passage from Ma’ayan Ganim is not halakhic, but rather divrei melitzah. The whole dialogue, and in particular the part about her discovering the winning passage in Archivolti, is contrived and designed to lead the reader to sympathize with the fate of the poor woman.

In his Torah Temimah (Deut. ch. 11 n. 68) he cites the passage from Ma’ayan Ganim that as a teenager he supposedly argued against. Anyone reading Torah Temimah would assume that Ma’ayan Ganim is a regular halakhic work, as Epstein refers to it as She’elot u-Teshuvot.[18]

Although at the end of the passage he says that he doesn’t know who the author is, and that Tosafot Yom Tov calls him a grammarian, I believe that this is all part of the literary game he is playing. In other words, he wants to publicize Archivolti’s view, and then to “cover” himself cites Tosafot Yom Tov. In Mekor Barukh, after telling his story, he points out that Archivolti was also a great talmudist and that the only reason the Tosafot Yom Tov refers to him as a medakdek was because he was referring to him in his youth.[19]

Dan Rabinowitz, in his discussion of the issue, writes:

The entire famous Rayna Batya incident must now be called into serious question. Was Rayna Batya so ignorant as to confuse Ma’ayan Gannim with a legitimate book of halakha? How, then, do we reconcile this with her supposed profound learning? It cannot be that R. Epstein was unable to recognize the Ma’ayan Gannim for what it was, for he himself writes that he told his aunt of the true nature of Ma’ayan Gannim. But if he did know what it was, how is it that in his Torah Temima he refers to Ma’ayan Gannim as responsa—and yet in the same paragraph in the Torah Temima he seems to backtrack and wonder how it is that the Ma’ayan Gannim could innovate “new laws about women with reason alone?” The entire Rayna Batya episode is a highly problematic one, raising one perplexing question after another.[20]

As far as the first few questions are concerned, I can only say that the entire report of Rayna Batya discovering the relevant text in Ma’ayan Ganim was made up by Epstein. This book, which was published in Venice in 1553, is an extremely rare volume. There would have only been a few copies of this book in all of Lithuania. (In Torah Temimah Epstein also says that it is a rare book.) It is therefore impossible to imagine that the rebbetzin, sitting in Volozhin, would just so happen to come across this volume on her husband’s bookshelf. Of this, there can be no doubt, and I assumed that Epstein, who was a great bibliophile, later in life came across the book and in his desire to publicize its contents, created the dialogue with Rayna Batya.

Yet thanks to R. Yehoshua Mondshine’s recent article,[21] I see that I was mistaken in my assumption. The truth is that Epstein never even saw the book and thus did not know the true nature of Ma’ayan Ganim. He learnt of the relevant passage, which he places in Rayna Batya’s mouth, from an article that appeared in Ha-Tzefirah in 1894. We see this from the fact that the Ha-Tzefirah quotation mistakenly omits some words, and the same words are omitted in Mekor Barukh. This shows that his knowledge of this book came in 1894 and that he never discussed it with Rayna Batya, who died many years prior to this.

Now that we know where Epstein copied the text from, we can see another element of the literary game he played. He cites Ma’ayan Ganim as follows:

ומאמר חכמינו כל המלמד את בתו תורה כאלו מלמדה תפלות אולי נאמר כשהאב מלמדה בקטנותה.

Yet in Ha-Tzefirah it states:

מאמר רבותינו ז"ל כל המלמד בתו תורה כאלו מלמדה תפלות אינה צריכה לפנים דאיתתא חזינא ותיובתא לא חזינא כי אפשר לחלק שחכמים ז"ל לא דברו אלא כשהאב מלמדה בקטנותה.

Leaving aside the words Epstein omits, he has substituted אולי for אפשר לחלק. In doing so he softened Archivolti’s point. Whereas Archivolti was stating that one can distinguish between teaching a grown woman and a small girl, Epstein has Archivolti prefacing this idea with “perhaps”. I think this is part of Epstein’s confusing game. He wants to bring this view to the public’s attention, but he doesn’t want to come off as too radical. In fact, this אולי, which is his own creation, assumes a life of its own. Thus, in his letter to R. Hayyim Hirschensohn (Malki ba-Kodesh, vol. 6, p. 47), criticizing the latter’s view of teaching women Torah, Epstein writes:

צר לי כי לא אוכל להסכים עמו בזה הן הוא (הרש"ק בעל המכתב הידוע) אינו בטוח בעצמו בדבריו אלה, כנראה מלשונו שכתב "ומאמר חכמינו כל המלמד את בתו תורה וכו' 'אולי' נאמר כשהאב מלמדה בקטנותה" וכו' ועתה הגע עצמך האם בסברא "פן ואולי" אפשר להתיר מה שנאמר בגמרא מפורש לאיסור. כך דעתי בזה.

In other words, Epstein invents the word אולי and inserts it into Archivolti’s letter, and then he uses this to criticize Hirschensohn! The chutzpah on Epstein’s part is astonishing, but as I see it this is all part of his game.

No one who has discussed Epstein and Rayna Batya was aware of his letter to Hirschensohn, so they could not point out the following obvious fact: When one looks at Mekor Barukh, which was published after his letter to Hirschensohn, one finds him telling Rayna Batya the exact same thing. It is obvious that he uses the language in his letter to Hirschensohn to create the following reply to Rayna Batya, that supposedly occurred some fifty years prior.

והן המחבר בעצמו כמו 'מודה במקצת' בזה, באמרו: 'ומאמר חכמינו' כל המלמד את בתו תורה כאלו מלמדה תפלות 'אולי נאמר כשמלמדה בקטנותה'; הרי שבעצמו אינו בטוח בדבריו, וכהוראת הלשון 'אולי' ולא ב"אולי" ולא ב"פן" מתירים מה שנאמר מפורש בתלמוד.

(It is possible that I am wrong in assuming that it was his positive view towards women studying Torah which explains why he created the story and cited Ma’ayan Ganim. Perhaps he was simply attempting to create a good story, or even some controversy, and that explains why he seems to be on both sides of the issue, as Dan Rabinowitz points out in the passage cited above.)

Here are the relevant pages in Ma’ayan Ganim, Ha-Tzefirah, Mekor Barukh, and Torah Temimah.

I know that there are people who are very upset at me, believing that I have given ammunition to those who chose to censor and withdraw My Uncle the Netziv. I make no apologies. We must combat falsehoods and plagiarism no matter where they emanate from. If, in the process, some of our own sacred cows are slaughtered, that is the price we must pay.

Returning to Mondshine, he is most concerned with the supposed dialogue between Epstein’s father, R. Yehiel Michel (the author of the Arukh ha-Shulhan), and the Tzemach Tzedek, R. Menachem Mendel Schneersohn. He sees it as an opportunity for Epstein to put all sorts of ideas, including criticisms of Hasidism, into the mouth of the great hasidic leader, something that if he did on his own would have brought down storms of criticism upon him. For example, he has the Tzemach Tzedek say that the hasidim have to be grateful for the opposition of the Vilna Gaon. Had it not been for the great dispute about Hasidism, and the Gaon’s strident opposition, the new movement might have led its followers out of the ranks of halakhic Judaism. (p. 1237). This idea was expressed by R. Kook (Ma’amrei ha-Re’iyah, p. 7) and was probably a common non-hasidic notion. But it is impossible to think that the Tzemach Tzedek would have ever expressed himself this way.

At the time that R. Yehiel Michel is said to have had his conversations with the Tzemach Tzedek, he was the rav of the Habad town Novozypkov.[22] In later years R. Abraham Chen and R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin served as rabbis of the town.[23] I know about this place because my grandmother’s second husband (who was like a grandfather to me) was from there. In fact, during World War One word came to the town that a certain group of Jews was being moved and would be passing through, and that among them was an outstanding young scholar named Shlomo Yosef Zevin. The townspeople came up with the necessary money to remove him from the group. He was chosen as the town’s rabbi and lived in my step-grandfather’s house for about six months. I read somewhere that the townspeople were followers of Kopys/Bobruisk, rather than Lubavitch. As R. Zevin was himself a Bobruisker, this would make sense. R. Yehiel Michel was himself born in Bobruisk, as was his son R. Baruch.

I always tell this story to Habad people in order to impress them with my yichus, that the great R. Zevin lived in my family’s house. Yet on two separate occasions after I told the story to young Habad shluchim, they replied, “Who is Rav Zevin?” It is also very rare to find a young Habadnik who has even heard of Kopust/Bobruisk. Yet without knowing about this it is impossible to understand how R. Zevin could have been a Zionist when the Lubavitcher rebbes were all anti-Zionist. After all, who ever heard of a hasid not following his Rebbe? The answer is that all Lubavitchers were Habad, but not all adherents of Habad were Lubavitch. The ignorance among some in Habad of their own movement probably shouldn’t surprise me, as I have met many hasidim who don’t have a clue about the history of the hasidic movement. And of course, how many Modern Orthodox know the first thing about Hirsch and Hildesheimer?

Mondshine assumes that one of the purposes of Epstein’s stories about his father and the Tzemach Tzedek is to build up his father’s halakhic reputation. His pesakim were subject to attack as being too liberal, and certainly in the hasidic world he was not accepted. In the Lithuanian world he was a much more important posek, and R. Joseph Elijah Henkin stated that in a dispute between the Mishneh Berurah and the Arukh ha-Shulhan, the Arukh ha-Shulhan is to be preferred.[24]

Yet many did not share R. Henkin’s viewpoint. A number of years ago I saw in one of R. Yitzhak Ratsaby’s books that he heard from some gedolim that one should not rely on the Arukh ha-Shulhan. I wrote to him objecting to this lack of respect for the Arukh ha-Shulhan, and also expressing my near certainty that the gedolim he referred to must have been Hungarian, for the Hungarian poskim never accepted the Arukh ha-Shulhan as an authoritative work. On Nov. 22, 1990, Ratsaby wrote to me:

בענין הגאון בעל ערוך השולחן, דוקא הדברים נובעים מליטא, והנני מפרש, הגר"י כהנמן זצ"ל מפוניביז' (כמדומני שלמד בעצמו יחד עם הערוה"ש) והגר"ח גרינמן שליט"א בן אחותו של החזו"א. זכורני אמנם באגרות משה במקום אחד כתב על ערוה"ש כבר הורה זקן, ובמקום אחר דוחה דבריו. נראה לענ"ד אמנם שבעל ערוה"ש מחדש הרבה סברות ובזה כחו גדול, מאידך בעל משנ"ב מעמיק בעיון היטב הדק. והאמת ניתנה להיאמר שבהרבה מקומות בערוה"ש ראיתי דברים מתמיהים והיפך כוונת הדברים, וכבר הערתי עליו בדרך כלל במקומות שעסקתי בהם בחבורי הנדפסים. ופוק חזי שבישיבות לומדים בקביעות ההלכה מספר משנ"ב, וגם כמעט אין בית היום אשר אין שם משנ"ב. והחזו"א אעפ"י שחולק בהרבה מקומות על המשנ"ב, מ"מ החשיב אותו כהוראה מפי הסנהדרין ומנה אותו בנשימה אחת עם מרן הב"י והמג"א.

(Ratsaby’s recollection is correct. In Iggerot Moshe, Orah Hayyim vol. 1 no. 39, which is his famous responsum on the proper height of a mehitzah, R. Moshe quotes the Arukh ha-Shulhan and uses the expression כבר הורה זקן. Regarding R. Joseph Kahaneman, he actually received semikhah from R. Yehiel Michel.)

The reputation of the Arukh ha-Shulhan has today fallen to such an extent that in a recent publication of the work the rulings of the Mishneh Berurah are included as well. The message of this is that while the Arukh ha-Shulhan is a Torah volume that should be studied, in terms of practical pesak it is the Mishnah Berurah that must be followed. See here for an earlier discussion at the Seforim blog of the recent reprint of the Arukh ha-Shulhan.

2. I was asked if there are any medieval poems in which there is explicit homosexuality. I am unaware of any, and it is precisely because they are ambiguous that there has been controversy about their meanings. This poem by Moses Ibn Ezra is as explicit as I could find

תאות לבבי ומחמד עיני

עופר לצדי וכוס בימיני

רבו מריבי ולא אשמעם

בוא הצבי, ואני אכניעם

וזמן יכלם ומות ירעם

בוא, הצבי, קום והבריאני

מצוף שפתך והשביעני

למה יניאון לבבי, למה

אם בעבור חטא ובגלל אשמה

אשגה ביפיך אד-ני שמה

אל יט לבבך בניב מענני

איש מעקשים, ובוא נסני

נפתה, וקמנו אלי בית אמו

ויט לעול סבלי את שכמו

לילה ויומם אני רק עמו

אפשט בגדיו ויפשיטני

אינק שפתיו וייניקני

כאשר לבבי בעיניו נפקד

גם עול פשעי בידו נשקד

דרש תנואות ואפו פקד

צעק באף, רב לך, עזבני

אל תהדפני ואל תתעני

אל תנף בי, צבי, עד כלה

הפלא רצונך, ידידי, הפלא

ונשק ידידך וחפצו מלא

אם יש בנפשך חיות, חיני

או חפצך להרג, הרגני

Desire of my heart and delight of my eyes –

A fawn beside me and a cup in my hand!

Many admonish me, but I do not heed;

Come, O gazelle, and I will subdue them.

Time will destroy them and death shepherd them.

Come, O gazelle, rise and feed me

With the honey of your lips, and satisfy me.

Why do they hold back my heart, why?

If because of sin and guilt,

I will be ravished by your beauty – God is there!

Pay no attention to the words of my oppressor,

A perverse man – come and try me!

He was enticed and we went up to his mother’s house,

And he gave his shoulder to my burden.

Night and day I was only with him.

I undressed him, and he undressed me;

I sucked his lips and he sucked mine.

When I left my heart as a pledge in his eyes,

The burden of my guilt was also weighted in his hand.

He sought enmity, and inflicted his anger,

And angrily cried, “Enough; leave me!

Do not force me, and do not entice me.”

Do not be angry with me, gazelle, to destruction –

Extraordinary is your will, my dear, extraordinary!

Kiss your beloved and fulfill his desire.

If it is in your soul to give life, revive me –

Or if your desire is to kill, kill me![25]

3. When dealing with problematic texts of recent times, the preferred approach is simply to censor them. But with the medievals, there is a simpler method: Say that the text was written by a mistaken student, or even worse, by someone interested in undermining Judaism. In a previous post I mentioned that R. Joseph Zvi Duenner even stated so with regard to the Talmud itself.[26]

Since in modern times we don’t generally have students copying their master’s handwritten texts, the first approach doesn’t make much sense. Yet in a previous post at the Seforim blog,[27] I noted that R. Menasheh Klein used this very argument with regard to R. Moshe Feinstein, even though he was dealing with a responsum published in R. Moshe’s own lifetime. I found another example where Klein uses this exact same approach. He saw something in one of the Steipler’s books, but since it didn’t make sense to him, Klein wrote to the Steipler as follows (Mishneh Halakhot, vol. 7, p. 142a):

היות כי אני מכיר את מעכ"ק וצדקתו נגמר בדעתי שבודאי לא יצאו דברים מפי כ"ק או שיש שם איזה טעות בדפוס מהבחור הזעצער וטעה מעתיק ולא שם על לב כ"ק.

However, here I don’t think Klein should be taken literally. I believe this was just his respectful way of saying that the Steipler was wrong. This is not the case with regard to R. Ovadiah Yosef when he writes that one cannot rely on the responsa in R. Ben Zion Abba Shaul’s Or le-Tziyon, vol. 2.[28] Even though R. Ben Zion was alive, R. Ovadiah claimed that he was powerless to stop his students from taking liberties with the book: הוסיפו וגרעו כפי שעלה בדעתם, וסברו שכן דעת רבם. Not surprisingly, one of R. Ben Zion’s students responded very strongly to this statement.[29]

Prof. Yaakov Spiegel, in his book Amudim be-Toldot ha-Sefer ha-Ivri: Ketivah ve-Ha'atakah, pp. 244ff., discusses the phenomenon of denying the authenticity of responsa. Sometimes the strategy used to reject a responsum is to attribute it to an “erring student.” While on occasion there are scholarly
reasons for this assumption, it is almost always the case that the author simply cannot accept that an earlier authority said something. Usually this has to do with halakhah, but there are plenty of examples in theology. For example, R. Issachar Baer Eylenburg assumes that while resurrection is a principle of faith, one is not obligated to believe that this doctrine is found in the Torah. As he puts it (Be’er Sheva to Sanhedrin 90a).

מי שמודה ומאמין על פי הקבלה בתחית המתים אע"פ שהוא אומר דלא רמיזא באורייתא אין ראוי לקראו כופר חלילה ויש לו חלק לעוה"ב.

Although the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 10:1, includes the point that one must believe that resurrection is found in the Torah, Eylenburg assumes that this is a textual error, and indeed, Rambam never mentions this. However, Rashi had this text and explains:

שכופר במדרשים דדרשינן בגמרא לקמן מנין לתחיית המתים מן התורה ואפילו יהא מודה ומאמין שיחיו המתים אלא דלא רמיזא באורייתא כופר הוא הואיל ועוקר שיש תחיית המתים מן התורה מה לנו ולאמונתו וכי מהיכן הוא יודע שכן הוא הלכך כופר גמור הוא.

Eylenberg didn’t like what Rashi said, i.e., it didn’t make sense to him, so he concluded:

לפי דעתי לא יצאו דברים אלו מפה קדוש רש"י אלא איזה תלמיד טועה פירש כן בגליון ונכתב בפנים.

Eylenberg would have been happy to learn what we now know, namely, that the commentary to Perek Helek is, in large measure, not really by Rashi.

I found another example of this in a book that just appeared, R. Menasheh Matloub Sutton’s Mateh Menasheh. (Sutton, who died in 1876, was the rav of Safed.) The second part of the book is a reprint of Sutton’s earlier published Kenesiah le-Shem Shamayim. This work is devoted to a superstitious practice whereby women would burn incense to demons and this was thought to be a help to people who were in various states of distress (e.g., sick, barren, etc.) He includes letters from many great rabbis who agree with him that this is a form of avodah zarah. The problem he has, which he confronts in ch. 2, is that one of the rishonim, R. Isaiah ben Elijah of Trani, is quoted by R. Hayyim Benveniste as follows:

ונראה בעיני המתוק שעושים הנשים מדבש וחלב לרפואה, וכן העישון שמעשנים מותר, שלא חייבה תורה בבעל אוב אע"פ שמקטר לשד אלא מפני שמעלה המת, וכן מעשה כשפים לא נאסרו אלא כשעושים מעשה או כשאוחזים את העיניים כמ"ש, אבל בעישון ומתוק אין בהם כל אלה, וגם אין בהם משום חובר חבר שאינם מתכונים לחבר השדים אלא לרצותם על רפואת החולה ושלא יזיקוהו.

Now it is certainly possible for Sutton to reject R. Isaiah, but it becomes very hard to label the practice as nothing less than idolatry when an outstanding rishon justified it and this rishon is also quoted by Benveniste and the Shiltei Giborim. What to do in such a case? Sutton adopts the tried and true method of declaring that since the position is (in his mind) so objectionable, R. Isaiah could never have said such a thing. It must originate with the “mistaken student” who often makes his appearance when a strange opinion is confronted.

אמינא בקושטא דמלתא כד ניים ושכיב רב אמרה להא שמעתא ועל הרוב שלא יצאו דברים הללו מתחת ידו וקולמוסו אלא שאיזה תלמיד טועה כתבם בגליון קונטריסו והרב שלטי הגבורים אגב ריהטא העתיקם בשמו ובחושבו דתורה דיליה היא מוצאת מעמו ולא פנה לעיין בעיקר הדין נמוקו וטעמו.

Sutton’s book was put out by one of his descendants, Rabbi Harold Sutton, who was a student in the late and much lamented Beit Midrash le-Torah (BMT) together with me. He later went on to become a student of R. Ovadiah Yosef, whose haskamah (together with that of R. Meir Mazuz) adorns the book.

Harold Sutton should not be confused with another young Syrian rabbi, David Sutton. The latter is the author of the ArtScroll book Aleppo: City of Scholars (and from the introduction I learned that he is a son-in-law of R. Nosson Scherman). Zvi Zohar has recently written a very sharp critique of this book. See here

David Sutton is also the one who delivered the much-talked about lecture “We Believe in Midrashim.” This lecture is the subject of a very harsh attack by Roni Choueka in Hakirah 4 (2007). Choueka sees Sutton’s lecture as a bizayon ha-Torah of the worst sort. When listening to it I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. How else is one to respond when one hears a rabbi claim that the fossils are remnants of the giant pets that belonged to Og, who was 800 feet tall and lifted up a stone the size of Manhattan, or that the polar bears came to Egypt complete with their blocks of snow in order to devour the Egyptian children?

Incidentally, in speaking of the Aggadah which describes the great height of Og, the Rashba (commentary to Berakhot 54b) notes that although there is a deep meaning conveyed in this Aggadah, the form in which it is expressed also had a very practical application:

לעתים היו החכמים דורשים ברבים ומאריכים בדברי תועלת והיו העם ישנים, וכדי לעוררם היו אומרים להם דברים זרים לבהלם ושיתעוררו משנתם.

In other words, in order to prevent people from dozing off, the Aggadist would convey his message with outlandish statements. R. Zvi Hirsch Chajes elaborates on this in his Introduction to the Talmud, ch. 26.

4. I have to thank those who have written to me calling my attention to things I did not know. I hope to acknowledge all of you at the proper time. However, many people who send me things have misinterpreted the sources (or the sources they send have been in error).

In the forward of H. Norman Strickman and Arthur M. Silver’s translation of Ibn Ezra to Deuteronomy, p. xiv, the following appears:

It should also be noted that I.E. [Ibn Ezra] was not the only medieval rabbi who believed that there are some glosses or slight changes in the text of the Torah. Thus Rabbi David Kimchi (c. 1160-1235) notes that the word Dan in Gen. 14:14 is post-Mosaic. He argues that the original reading of Gen. 14:14 was “and pursued as far as Leshem.” Rabbi Kimchi maintains that after the tribe of Dan conquered the city of Leshem and changed its name to Dan (Josh. 19:47), the reading of Gen. 14:14 was changed to read “and pursued as far as Dan” as in our texts of Scripture (Radak on Gen. 14:14).

The mention of “Dan” in Gen. 14:14 is used by all critical biblical scholars to prove that the verse must be post-Mosaic. The reason is that since the city would only be conquered in the days of Joshua, and only then be given the name Dan, how could the Torah refer to it this way? Even M. H. Segal, the strong defender of Mosaic authorship, acknowledges the problem. Unlike other scholars he assumes that the verse as a whole is Mosaic. But he also believes that the name “Dan” is a “modernized substitute for the antiquated names Laish or Leshem (Jud. viii, 29, Jos. xix, 47) which stood in the original.”[30]

Yet I was skeptical of what Strickman and Silver wrote as I was aware of Radak’s introduction to his Torah commentary where he is emphatic that the entire Torah is of Mosaic authorship.[31] I looked up Radak to Gen. 14:14 and saw that my skepticism was warranted. Here are Radak’s words:

וירדף עד דן: על שם סופו, כי כשכתב משה רבינו זה לא נקרא עדיין כן, אלא לשם היה נקרא וכשכבשוהו בני דן קראו לו דן בשם דן אביהם.

All Radak says is that the Torah refers to the place as Dan in anticipation of what it will be called in the future. Radak says nothing about the original reading of the Torah being “Leshem” and nothing about the text being changed after Leshem was conquered. As such, Radak cannot be added to the list of those who believe that there are post-Mosaic additions in the Torah.

5. In response to my earlier post at the Seforim blog discussing the meaning of
ס"ט, Rabbi Yitzhak Oratz called my attention to Kitvei Ha-Arukh ha-Shulhan, pp. 50-51. In an 1892 letter from R. Yehiel Michel Epstein to R. Hayyim Hezekiah Medini, the author of the Sedei Hemed, we see that R. Yehiel Michel doesn’t know what the acronym stands for, as he writes חכם חיים חזקיאו [!] ס"ט הי"ו. Since the last two acronyms basically mean the same thing one would not put them next to each other, and he must have assumed that the first one meant sefaradi tahor. Yet by 1896 he had learned what it meant and he addresses the Sedei Hemed as מוהר"ר חכם חיים חזקיאו מודיני סופ"י טב טבא הוא וטבא ליהוי.

This is a rare example of an Ashkenazi who knows what the acronym means. For those who have not yet been convinced there is not much more I can say other than that there is a living tradition among the Sephardic scholars for hundreds of years now as to the proper meaning. This is certainly authoritative. Let me also call attention to the end of the introduction of the Peri Hadash on Yoreh Deah (found in the new Machon Yerushalayim edition). He signs his name as follows:

חזקיה בן לא"א איש צדיק תמים היה בדורותיו דוד די סילוה נ"ע סופיה טב טבא הוא וטבא להוי אמן.

Also, see R. Yehudah ben Attar’s haskamah to R. Hayyim Ben Attar’s Hefetz Hashem (Amsterdam, 1732). R. Yehudah signs his own name סיל"ט. It is obvious that this is an alteration of ס"ט and means סופיה יהא לטב.

6. Some want to know if any of the letters Chaim Bloch published in Dovev Siftei Yeshenim are authentic. I haven’t carefully investigated every letter, so it is possible that a couple of them are also found in other books. If that is the case, then Bloch included them simply to give the work as a whole a sense of authenticity. There is, however, no doubt that everything that appears for the first time in the work is, in its entirety, a creation of Bloch. Interestingly, when Bloch sent the first volume to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe immediately recognized that the letters from the Rogochover were forged. He wrote to Bloch (Iggerot Kodesh, vol. 19, p. 69):

כן מאשר הנני קבלת הס' "דובב שפתי ישנים". ולאחרי בקשת סליחתו נצטערתי על שצויין על כמה מכ' שהם להגאון הרגצובי – וכל הרגיל בסגנונו יראה תיכף שאינו . . .

The three dots are from the publisher, and I would be very interested to know what was taken out.

Bloch wrote to the Rebbe to defend his publication and the Rebbe responded very strongly. He tells Bloch that originally he thought that it was an innocent error or perhaps someone had misled Bloch as to the Rogochover’s letters. It now surprises him that Bloch continues to earnestly defend their authenticity. The Rebbe is so convinced that they are forgeries that he writes (Iggerot Kodesh, vol. 19, p. 159):

שבאם היתה מציאות, שיבוא הרגצובי ויעיד שהוא כתב המכתבים לא יאמינו לו ולא ישמעו לקולו

I assume that the Rebbe didn’t know that Bloch forged the letters himself, or that the rest of the collection was also forged. If he did know this, then I don’t think he would have been so polite to Bloch. He either wouldn’t have engaged in correspondence with him, or he would have told him that he is a liar and a scoundrel. Instead, after explaining why the Rogochover couldn’t have written the letters, the Rebbe concludes:

ואתו הסליחה על ביטוים אלו, שאולי אינם דיפלומטים ביותר.

One certainly doesn’t need to speak “diplomatically” to frauds, so I would assume that the Rebbe wasn’t aware of the extent of Bloch’s deception.

While on the topic of Bloch (who was previously mentioned at
the Seforim blog [32]) I should note that his last Hebrew publication was Ve-Hayah Mahanekha Kadosh (New York 1965), which is directed against R. Moshe Feinstein’s permission for a married woman to be artificially inseminated from a non-Jewish donor. Bloch also wrote to R. Moshe about this, harshly rebuking him for this ruling. R. Moshe’s response (Iggerot Moshe, Even ha-Ezer vol. 2 no. 11) includes the following, which became one of the most famous passages in the Iggerot Moshe:

הנה קבלתי מכתבו הארוך מאד המלא דברי תוכחה על כל גדותיו על מה שלפי דעתו נדמה לו שתשובותי סימן י' וסימן ע"א מספרי אגרות משה על אה"ע יגרמו איזה פרצה בטהרת וקדושת יחוס כלל ישראל. וניכר ממכתב כתר"ה שהיה סבור שיהיה לי קפידא על דברי התוכחה שלו, ואני אדרבה אני נרגש מזה שאני רואה שנמצאים אנשים בעלי רוח שאינם יראים ולא מתביישים מלומר תוכחה. אבל האמת שאין בדברים שכתבתי ושהוריתי שום דבר שיגרום ח"ו איזה חלול בטהרת וקדושת ישראל אלא תורת אמת מדברי רבותינו הראשונים, והערעור של כתר"ה על זה בא מהשקפות שבאים מידיעת דעות חיצוניות שמבלי משים משפיעים אף על גדולים בחכמה להבין מצות השי"ת בתוה"ק לפי אותן הדעות הנכזבות אשר מזה מתהפכים ח"ו האסור למותר והמותר לאסור וכמגלה פנים בתורה שלא כהלכה הוא, שיש בזה קפידא גדולה אף בדברים שהוא להחמיר כידוע מהדברים שהצדוקים מחמירים שעשו כמה תקנות להוציא מלבן. ואני ב"ה שאיני לא מהם ולא מהמונם וכל השקפתי הוא רק מידיעת התורה בלי שום תערובות מידיעות חיצוניות, שמשפטיה אמת בין שהוא להחמיר בין שהוא להקל. ואין הטעמים מהשקפות חיצוניות וסברות בדויות מהלב כלום אף אם להחמיר ולדמיון שהוא ליותר טהרה וקדושה.

7. Since I mentioned some stories from Halakhic Man that show that the Rav did not have a Modern Orthodox ethos, I will also say something about the following story, which some have wondered about.

Once my father entered the synagogue on Rosh Ha-Shanah, late in the afternoon, after the regular prayers were over, and found me reciting Psalms with the congregation. He took away my Psalm book and handed me a copy of the tractate Rosh Ha-Shanah. “If you wish to serve the Creator at this moment, better study the laws pertaining to the Festival.”

I understand that some people are very troubled by this story, as it bespeaks a real intellectual elitism. Yet, to use an expression popular among the younger generation, I can only say “get over it” (or become an adherent of one of the non-intellectual branches of Hasidism). For better or worse, traditional Judaism has always been a fundamentally elitist religion, dividing the haves (i.e., those who have knowledge) from the have-nots. (Although today we are accustomed to think in terms of bringing Torah study to all, in a future post at the Seforim blog I hope to mention some sources that speak of the danger of allowing the ignorant access to Torah knowledge.) Precisely because we have a notion of ein am ha-aretz hasid we can understand why, in contrast to Christianity, we don’t have women “saints” in our history. Since women have (until recent times) been kept ignorant of Talmud and halakhah, there was no way they could achieve any renown in the area of saintliness.

Regarding the passage from Halakhic Man quoted above, the Rav himself makes reference to R. Chaim of Volozhin’s Nefesh ha-Hayyim, and the ideology of that book is the basis for the Soloveitchik approach. In Nefesh ha-Hayyim 4:2 R. Chaim writes

הרי שהעסק בהלכות הש"ס בעיון ויגיעה הוא ענין יותר נעלה ואהוב לפניו יתברך מאמירת תהלים.

Yet I must also note that one needn’t be a Litvak to have this approach. Here is what R. Eliezer Papo writes (Pele Yoetz, s. v. yediah):

וכבר כתבו הפוסקים שמי שיוכל לפלפל בחכמה ולקנות ידיעה חדשה ומוציא הזמן בלימוד תהלים וזוהר וכדומה לגבי דידיה חשיב בטול תורה.

8. Many people have written to me about Ibn Ezra and post-Mosaic verses, a subject I dealt with in The Limits of Orthodox Theology. Let me therefore point out something in this regard that appears in One People, Two Worlds by Yosef Reinman and Ammiel Hirsch. As I am sure everyone recalls, this was the joint work by the Orthodox Reinman and the Reform Hirsch. What made this so significant is that Reinman is from Lakewood and never before had anyone from that community engaged in such a religious dialogue. The response was fast and furious, and here are the first three pages and the last page of an anonymous attack on him that appeared in Lakewood.

In fact, One People, Two Worlds is much worse – or much better, depending on your outlook – than anything done in this area by the Modern Orthodox. The Modern Orthodox who were part of organizations like the Synagogue Council of America and the N.Y. Board of Rabbis never engaged in interdenominational theological dialogue on an equal footing the way Reinman does. Furthermore, it is shocking that a haredi would have co-authored this book for another reason: What will happen if someone reads the book and is more convinced by the Reform rabbi? One would think that this would make the book a possible stumbling block.

I have not read the book cover-to-cover, yet the word on the street is that the debate is pretty one-sided as the Reform rabbi is out of his league. But in glancing through the book I found that in one area it is actually the Reform rabbi who is correct. On p. 16 Hirsch refers to Ibn Ezra’s commentary to Gen. 12:6 and states that Ibn Ezra’s “secret” is a hint to his belief that the verse is post-Mosaic. On pp. 23-24 Reinman writes:

I do not understand how you can represent Ibn Ezra, the illustrious Orthodox commentator, as a closet Reformer. I personally have no idea of the nature of Ibn Ezra’s secret; he has successfully concealed it from me. But be that as it may, how can you ascribe non-Orthodox beliefs to Ibn Ezra? What about all the thousands of pages of solid Orthodox commentary he wrote? Don’t they stand for anything? You obviously need to connect to the time-hallowed texts, but you are grasping at the wind.

They go over this issue a couple of more times and Reinman’s responses are similarly dogmatic. Had Hirsch read my article on the Thirteen Principles (my book hadn’t yet appeared) he could have pointed out that plenty of “Orthodox” commentators and scholars have read Ibn Ezra exactly as Hirsch explained. In other words, it was incorrect for Reinman to respond as if Hirsch was asserting an outrageous canard against an “illustrious Orthodox commentator.”

When I saw this I asked a friend, who studied in Lakewood for many years, if is it possible that Reinman, who has been learning Torah for many decades, is completely ignorant about something that every YU student who takes Intro. to Bible learns in the first few weeks. His reply was that this is exactly the case, and that until he started reading works outside of the typical yeshiva curriculum he too never heard about an issue with Ibn Ezra and post-Mosaic additions. In fact, I would assume that R. Moshe Feinstein also never heard of it, and in his attack on the commentary of R. Yehudah he-Hasid he ironically cites Ibn Ezra condemnation of Yitzchaki’s biblical criticism. (Why Ibn Ezra would condemn Yitzchaki for suggesting that some verses are post-Mosaic, when he does that himself, is explained by R. Joseph Bonfils in his Tzafnat Paneah: Ibn Ezra was willing to accept individual verses as being post-Mosaic but not entire sections, which is what Yitzchaki is referring to. Thus, there is no Documentary Hypothesis in Ibn Ezra’s writings.)

This phenomenon, of great scholars not being aware of things that most people reading the Seforim blog learned years ago, should not surprise us. The traditional yeshiva curriculum is very narrow, and you can spend your life in a yeshiva and unless motivated to expand your horizons, will have no knowledge of entire areas of Jewish thought and history. A good example[33] is seen in this announcement by Agudas ha-Rabbonim, which appeared in Ha-Pardes, November 1975.

Yet the beautiful thought which the learned rabbis assume was stated by Hazal was actually stated by Ahad ha-Am, and is perhaps his most famous saying.[34] However, for one whose only Jewish knowledge comes from the yeshiva, this information would be unknown, and it is easy to see how such a statement (“more than the Jews have kept the Sabbath the Sabbath has kept the Jews”) could “infiltrate” this closed world and become just another ma’amar hazal.[35] It reminds me of how when I was a kid and my friends and I went to Boro Park for Shabbatons we would have been able to hum niggunim which came from popular songs and commercials, and our hosts wouldn’t have known a thing. At the Rutgers Chabad house in the 1980’s they even had a niggun to the tune of the theme song for Bumble Bee tuna. For those too young to remember it, see it here.

Of course, Ahad ha-Am’s statement is sound Jewish doctrine, as should be expected from one who had a hasidic upbringing (he was born in Skvira). I don’t even think that the saying was original to him. Rather, he was repeating a hasidic idea that he heard in his youth. I say this because Rabbi Uri Topolosky – who is currently rebuilding Orthodox life in New Orleans[36] – called my attention to the following passage in the Sefat Emet to parashat Ki Tisa (from 1873; p. 198 in the standard edition):

ואך את שבתותי כו' פי' שלא להיות רצון ותשוקה לדבר אחר בעולם, רק להשי"ת שהוא שורש חיות האדם שתתדבק בו בשבת קודש . . . גם מה שמירה שייך לשבת אדרבה שבת שומר אותנו.

[15] “The Silence of Rayna Batya: Torah, Suffering, and Rabbi Barukh Epstein's 'Wisdom of Women.'" Torah u-Madda Journal 6 (1996): 127, n. 62.
[16] Torah u-Madda Journal 7 (1997): 197. Since I mention the fine scholar Don Seeman, let me also call attention to his article “Ethnographers, Rabbis, and Jewish Epistemology: The Case of the Ethiopian Jews,” Tradition 25 (1991): 13-29. In this article he deals with the issue I touched on in two earlier posts, namely, does “halakhic truth” need to correspond to what academics regard as “scholarly truth.”

[17] I thank Eliezer Brodt for calling it to my attention (it is not mentioned in Beit Eked Sefarim). Subsequently, I saw that it is mentioned by Yaakov Bazak, “Al Derekh Ketivat ‘Torah Temimah,’” Sinai 66 (1969): 97.

[18] Thus, R. Moshe Meiselman could write: “In the volume of responsa, Maayan Ganim, the author not only permits motivated women to study the Torah but praises them and urges his audience to encourage them in their work.” See Jewish Woman in Jewsh Law (New York, 1978), 38.

[19] R. Menahem Kirschbaum, Tziyun li-Menahem (New York, 1968), 263, points out that contrary to what Epstein states, Tosafot Tom Tov referred to him as a grammarian when Archivolti was quite old.

Rayna Batya and other Learned Women: A Reevaluation of Rabbi Barukh Halevi Epstein’s Sources,” Tradition 35 (2001): 61.
[21] See here

[22] See Kitvei ha-Arukh ha-Shulhan, part 2, p. 142, where he addresses someone as
נכד איש אלקים גדול בעל התניא זי"ע ועל כל ישראל אמן.

[23] See ibid., p. 154, for R Yehiel Michel’s 1906 letter of recommendation for R. Zevin.

[24] See R. Yehudah Herzl Henkin, Beni Vanim, vol. 2, no. 8. In the introduction to Kitvei ha-Arukh ha-Shulhan one finds the following:

על מעמדו של הערוך השולחן כרבן של ישראל ופוסק הדור [שיש הסוברים שהוא הראשון במעלה ואחרון בזמן והלכה כמותו בכל מקום. עי' בני בנים] אין כאן המקום להרחיב.

What kind of reference is this? Most readers won’t even know what Bnei Vanim is. Why is the author, the volume, and page number not given? Why is R. Joseph Elijah Henkin’s name not mentioned? Furthermore, R. Henkin never said that the halakhah is always in accord with the Arukh ha-Shulhan. (Let’s not forget, the Arukh ha-Shulhan thought you could use electricity on Yom Tov.). His comment dealt only with the Arukh ha-Shulhan vs. the Mishneh Berurah.

For Eliezer Brodt’s review of this work, see here.

I have only skimmed part 2 of this important volume, but since it will probably be reprinted, let me make a few corrections and one addition.
The transcription of R. Yehiel Michel’s handwriting on the first page is incorrect.

P. 79 s. v. והנה: The word הארוך should be האריך.

P. 146 s.v. גי"ק. The sentence reads: ורבות נצטערתי והמו מעי לו שירדפו גאון מובהק כמו"ב.

The abbreviation should be כמי"ב – כמותו ירבו בישראל. See p. 152, top line.

P. 173 no. 137: R. Aryeh Jacob Katznelson was the son-in-law of R. Yehiel Michel’s brother-in-law.

P. 193 n. 17: The quotation does not appear in no. 39.

According to Glick, Kuntres ha-Teshuvot he-Hadash, vol. 1 (Jerusalem and Ramat Gan, 2007), 582 (no. 2186), material from R. Yehiel Michel appears in R. Moses Spivak, Mateh Moshe (Warsaw, 1935).
[25] Hayyim Schirmann, Ha-Shirah ha-Ivrit bi-Sefarad u-ve-Provence (Jerusalem, 1954), vol. 1, no. 143; translation in Norman Roth, “‘Deal Gently with the Young Man’: Love of Boys in Medieval Hebrew Poetry of Spain,” Speculum 57:1 (1982): 45.
[26] See here.
[27] see my "Obituary: Professor Mordechai Breuer zt"l," the Seforim blog (Monday, 11 June 2007), available here.
[28] See Yabia Omer, vol. 9, Orah Hayyim no. 108 (p. 269).
[29] See Shmuel Glick, Kuntres ha-Teshuvot he-Hadash, vol. 1 (Jerusalem and Ramat Gan, 2006), 57.
[30] The Pentateuch: Its Composition and Its Authorship (Jerusalem, 1967), 33.

[31] ואומר בתחלה כי משה רבינו כתב כל התורה כלה מפי הגבורה, מ"בראשית" עד "לעיני כל ישראל" . . . וכן צריך להאמין, כי הכל נאמר ברוח הקודש ומפי הנבואה למשה רבינו עליו השלום

[32] See here.
[33] See Avraham Korman, Ha-Tahor ve-ha-Mutar (Tel Aviv, 2000), 99.
[34] See Al Parashat ha-Derakhim, ch. 51, available here. The actual quote is

יותר משישראל שמרו את השבת שמרה השבת אותם.
[35] R. Herzog was well aware of whose saying he was adapting when, in an article on Taharat ha-Mishpahah published in Ha-Pardes (September 1947, p. 15), he wrote:

לצערנו העמוק והמחריד נפרצו בימינו פרצות גדולות, ואף בארץ הקודש, בחומה זו של טהרת המשפחה, שאפשר להגיד עליה, שיותר ממה ששמרו ישראל עליה שמרה היא על ישראל

[36] See here.

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