Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Concerning the Zohar and Other Matters

Concerning the Zohar and Other Matters
Marc B. Shapiro

1. In the last issue of Milin Havivin I published an article dealing with the Zohar and the supposed obligation to accept that it was written by R. Shimon ben Yohai. You can see it here. In the article I mentioned authorities who pointed to passages that in their minds were certainly post-Rashbi interpolations.[1] At the end of the article I also published a letter from R. Isaac Herzog in which he briefly deals with the issue of non-literal interpretation of the Torah. We see that he was uncertain as to what the boundaries are in this matter, and thought that this was an issue that needed to be worked out. That is, he did not believe that the last word on this issue had been stated.

Subsequent to publication I found some more interesting material and I also received a number of emails making various points, so now is as good a time as ever to return to the topic.

First, let me mention what David Farkas wrote to me in an email. In the article I cited Bruriah Hutner-David who brings the following proof that R. Zvi Hirsch Chajes rejected the traditional authorship of the Zohar: In order to show that the Targum to Ecclesiastes should be dated to the geonic period, Chajes notes that while the angel Raziel is mentioned in this Targum, he is not mentioned in talmudic literature. Hutner-David notes that Raziel is mentioned in the Zohar, a fact that Chajes was presumably aware of, meaning that he was hinting that the Zohar is also a late work.

Chaim Landerer called my attention to the fact that in a talmudic era Aramaic incantation bowl the name Raziel does appear, and I cited this to show that Chajes was incorrect in his assumption that the name Raziel post-dates the rabbinic period. However, Farkas has correctly noted that the name Raziel in the bowl refers to God, while Chajes was specifically referring to Raziel as a name of an angel. In other words, there is no refutation of Chajes. Yet I still think that Chajes assumed that the name Raziel itself was post-talmudic. Once we see that the name existed in the rabbinic period, even if so far the only evidence of its use is for God, it is certainly possible that it was also used for angels as well. If that is the case, there is no evidence that the use of the word Raziel as an angel’s name points to a post-rabbinic date.

I also found that Saul Berlin notes, in the introduction to his Kasa de-Harsana (his commentary to Besamim Rosh), that unlike all other ancient Jewish books, the Zohar has an introduction. Because of this, he writes that when it comes to the authorship of the Zohar he inclines to the view of his great-uncle, R. Jacob Emden.
A few years ago the outstanding scholar, R. Yaakov Yisrael Stoll, published the anonymous Sefer Kushyot. Here are pages 123-124.

I ask readers to look at note 887. He discusses a mistake made by many in assuming that an expression is a biblical verse. He then notes that the Zohar also makes the same mistake, and refers to other such mistakes made by בעל הזוהר. He doesn’t say so explicitly, but I think the way he formulates the note lets the reader, who is attuned to these things, know that in his mind בעל הזוהר is not R. Shimon ben Yohai.

Someone called my attention to this video

I have no idea who the speaker is, and if he has ever even read a page of the Zohar, but he does seem very sure of himself. I have no objection to discussing the authorship of the Zohar and the ideas found there, or Kabbalah as a whole. However, I would think that a little humility is called for when discussing a discipline that was a basic part of the religious worldview of so many central figures. Do the names Nahmanides, R. Joseph Karo, or the Vilna Gaon mean anything to this speaker?

In my article, I cited all sorts of texts by Orthodox figures dealing with the authorship of the Zohar. Yet I overlooked the following by R. Joseph Hertz.

The question of the authorship of the Zohar, like that of Sefer Yetzirah, is one of the cruces of Jewish literature. The authorship by Simeon ben Yochai, or by his immediate disciples, though this is still an article of faith with millions of Jews in Eastern Europe, has from internal evidence long proved to be untenable. The Zohar explains Spanish words, contains quotations from Gabirol, and mentions the Crusades.[2]

As noted, in my article cited a number of sources that point to additions to the Zohar. Rabbi Akiva Males commented to me that I neglected to mention R. Isaac Haver, Magen ve-Tzinah, ch. 21. This book was written in response to R. Leon Modena’s Ari Nohem, a work aimed at disproving the antiquity of the Zohar. Unless one’s head is totally in the sand, it is impossible to deny that there are passages in the Zohar that post-date the tannaitic era. For Modena, this was proof that the Zohar could not have been written by Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai. Haver, who wants to hold onto the ancient dating, adopts the only path open to him, arguing that there are indeed many post-tannaitic additions, but the core of the book is ancient.

ובאמת ספר הזוהר נכתב כמה דורות אחר רשב"י מה שנכתב ונתקבל משמו ומשאר חבריו ותלמידו שהיו בימיו, וגם זה נעשה בו הוספות רבות עד מאוד מן אחרוני האחרונים אחר שבאו בכתב וניתנו להעתיק ושלטו בו ידי רבים כל אחד מה שנראה בדעתו ומה שנתחדש לו וכתב בגליון על ספר הזוה"ק מן הצד ואח"ז בא ריעהו מעתיק מן המעתיק ומצא בגליון דברים רבים ובמעט התבוננות חשב שזה היה חסרון בגוף ספר והכניסם בפנים.

Haver points out that is how we can explain the obviously late passages, where we see that the Zohar includes material that comes from Rashi and R. Tam. Among kabbalists, it was not unheard of to say that Rashi actually knew the Zohar and was influenced by it.[3] But Haver will have none of this and recognizes that the influence is in the reverse direction, i.e., Rashi influencing the Zohar. He states that anyone who understands the Zohar will recognize these additions.

What does Haver mean when he mentions that there is material from R. Tam in the Zohar? I am aware of one obvious example. It says in Kiddushin 30b that “one should always divide his years into three: [devoting] a third to Mikra, a third to Mishnah, and a third to Talmud.” R. Tam explains why the practice in his day was not in accord with what the Talmud states, an explanation that became very influential and served as a justification for the widespread ignoring of the study of Tanakh in the Ashkenazic world[4]

בלולה במקרא ובמשנה וכו': פירש רבינו תם דבתלמוד שלנו אנו פוטרין עצמנו ממה שאמרו חכמים לעולם ישלש אדם שנותיו שליש במקרא שליש במשנה שליש בתלמוד.

What he says is that since the Talmud itself contains Bible and Mishnah, there is no need to divide one’s time among the three categories. Rather, by studying Talmud one combines all three areas. I always found this a difficult explanation, for if the Talmud agreed with this perspective, it would have said so, instead of stating that one is to divide one’s time. The intention of the talmudic instruction in Kiddushin was that people become well acquainted with all three subjects, and if they only devote themselves to Talmud, there is a great deal of Bible and Mishnah[5] they will never encounter. (According to Maimonides, Hilkhot Talmud Torah 1:12, once one is already a scholar, he does not need to divide his time between the three areas, but can focus almost entirely on Talmud.)

Despite what R. Tam says, R. Samson Raphael Hirsch claims that it was due to a misunderstanding of this opinion that people were led to stop studying Tanakh.[6] Not mentioned by Hirsch is that even before R. Tam some scholars ignored Tanakh. There were even talmudic Sages who were not expert in Bible. Bava Kamma 54b-55a states:

R. Hanina b. Agil asked R. Hiyya b. Abba: Why in the first Decalogue is there no mention of wellbeing [טוב], whereas in the second Decalogue there is a mention of wellbeing?[7] He replied: While you are asking me why wellbeing is mentioned there, ask me whether wellbeing is in fact mentioned or not, as I do not know whether wellbeing is mentioned there or not.

Tosafot, Bava Batra 113a, s.v. travayhu, cites this text to support its contention about the amoraim: .פעמים  היו שלא היו בקיאין בפסוקין After referring to this strange passage in Tosafot (concerning which there is an entire literature), R. Moses Salmon sarcastically declares[8]: ועל זה סומכים הלומדים עמי הארץ וד"ל

Unlike Salmon, R. Samuel Strashun, in his note to Bava Batra 8a, defended those talmudists who were deficient in knowledge of Bible.

משמע דאפשר שיהיו בעלי משנה או בעלי גמרא ולא בעלי מקרא . . . ודלא כאותן ששופכין בוז על מקצת גדולי זמנינו בש"ס ופוסקים ואין להם יד כ"כ במקרא.

So returning to my question, what does Haver mean when he says that there is material from R. Tam in the Zohar? Well it turns out that R. Tam’s explanation, which we have just been discussing, is also found in the Zohar Hadash (ed. Margaliyot), Tikunim p. 107b:

תקינו רבנן לשלש שנותינו במקרא בתלמוד . . . ואוקמוה דמאן דמתעסק (במשנה) [בתלמוד] כאלו התעסק בכלא בגין דאיהי בלילא במקרא במשנה בתלמוד.

There is no question that this passage is adopted from R. Tam, who lived a millennium after R. Shimon ben Yohai.

Incidentally, regarding R. Tam’s view, here is a page of an article by R. Yehudah Aryeh Schwartz that appeared in the Agudah journal Kol ha-Torah, Adar 5765 [2005], p. 102 (second pagination).

The following page comes from R. Yehiel Michel Stern’s Ha-Torah ha-Temimah on the Book of Joshua, p. 84 no. 3, which appeared in 2009.

As you can see, Stern’s comment is lifted word for word from Schwartz’s article. I am not sure what to make of this. That is, are dealing with a simple plagiarism? Perhaps one of the readers has some insight. (Stern may be the world's most prolific writer of Torah publications.)

In my article I referred to passages in the Zohar which traditional authorities had claimed were really later interpolations. There are examples of the opposite phenomenon as well, namely, attributing things to the Zohar that are not found there. The most famous instance of this that I know of is found in the Bah, Orah Hayyim 4 (and quoted from there in Be’er Heitev, Orah Hayyim 1:2) that upon waking up if you walk four amot without washing your hands you are subject to the death penalty![9]  This Zoharic text is quoted in the name of the work Tola’at Yaakov, authored by R. Meir Ibn Gabai (1480-ca. 1543). The passage is cited over and over again by aharonim in trying to show the importance of the morning washing. Yalkut Meam Loez, Deut. 4:9, doesn’t even mention the Zohar, stating simply:

ואמרו חז"ל כל המהלך ד' אמות בלי נטילת ידים חייב מיתה

A few scholars actually point out that this passage is not to be found in the Zohar.[10] One of those who realized this is R. Eleazar Fleckeles, Teshuvah me-Ahavah, vol. 1 no. 14, whom we will come back to later in this post. He writes that he looked in the Zohar and didn’t find the passage referred to. With reference to the Tola’at Yaakov, whom he (falsely) thinks cited the Zohar (since that is what it says in the Bah), Fleckeles writes:

ושארי לי' מארי' שעשה רוב ישראל לחייבי מיתות

Because very few of the aharonim actually had the sefer Tola’at Yaakov (which is itself a little strange as the book was printed a number of times), they were unable to see that the Tola’at Yaakov never quotes the Zohar!  Here is p. 9a from the Cracow 1581 edition.

If you look in the second paragraph you will see that Ibn Gabai does state that one who doesn’t wash his hands is חייב מיתה, but he doesn’t attribute this to the Zohar. How he derives this idea is worthy of investigation at a different time. For now, it is important to just note that what we have here is an independent idea of a sixteenth-century Kabbalist which for some reason was misquoted by the Bah as if Ibn Gabai was citing the Zohar. This misquotation was to be repeated again and again, down to the present day.

The supposed Zohar text has led to additional stringencies. For example, the hasidic master R. Meshulam Zusha of Anapole stated that that one should not even to put one’s legs on the ground before washing one’s hands.[11]

Here is an interesting story that relates to the false Zohar quotation: A very learned and rich student came to study with R. Simhah Bunim of Peshischa.[12] The problem was that this young man was a bit of an independent thinker, and the Kotzker, who was also there, didn’t think that the young man belonged with them. The story explains how the Kotzker was able to convince the young man to leave. What was it about this man that turned the Kotzker against him? We are told the following:

הוא הגיה בזוה"ק שכתב "ההולך ד' אמות בלי נטילת ידים חייב מיתה", והוא הגיה: "והוא שהרג את הנפש", וזה נגד חז"ל.

So here we have a story of an emendation of a non-existent Zoharic text. And even if we assume that the man was emending the text as it appears in the Bah, we see from the story that the Kotzker thought that the quote was authentic.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this passage. I therefore consulted a learned friend who said that the problem was that the young man who emended the text to read והוא שהרג את הנפש was making a joke at the expense of the (supposed) Zoharic passage. He was saying that you are only deserving of the death penalty if you kill someone while walking the four amot. I then sent him a page from R. Zvi Yavrov, Ma’aseh Ish, vol. 4, p. 113, where it appears that the Hazon Ish took the emendation-explanation just mentioned as an authentic understanding of the passage. The text in Yavrov reads as follows:

על מה שהביא ה"באר היטב" (או"ח סימן א' סק"ב) שההולך ד' אמות בלי נטילת ידים שחרית חייב מיתה, אמר רבינו להגאון ר' שמריהו גריינימן זצ"ל, שמישהו כתב בגליון הספר "והוא שהרג את הנפש" (מבנו הג"ר ברוך שליט"א).

My friend replied by referring me to a discussion on Hyde Park here where the text from Yavrov is also mentioned. One of the commenters there claims that the Hazon Ish was also joking in his remark, and the one who heard this (who was hardly a tyro), or the person who passed on the information to Yavrov, didn’t realize that it was a joke. The commenter also assumes that despite what appears in the Bah and Be’er Heitev, the Hazon Ish would have known that that it wasn’t an authentic quote from the Zohar. I find this very unlikely, as the Hazon Ish is not known to have been an expert in the Zohar, and what reason would there be for him to doubt that which is quoted in numerous earlier sources? 

The one point that the commenter has going for him is that he is correct that there are many examples in this book, and others like it, from which we see that the author does not know how to distinguish between what should and should not be included in a book. The commenter gives an example to illustrate this. In vol. 5, p. 141, Yavrov gives us the following important information about the Hazon Ish, recorded by one of his students: They never saw the Hazon Ish picking his nose! I kid you not.

העיד אחד מגדולי תלמידי רבינו: מעולם לא ראו את הרבי עם אצבע באף (מהרב מרדכי ויספיש)

Regarding this issue, R. Eliezer Melamed – who really is a great halakhic scholar – writes that picking one’s nose in public is forbidden.[13]

ויש מעשים שכשאדם עושה אותם בסתר, אין בכך פגם, אבל בפני אנשים אחרים הם נחשבים למגעילים ואסורים משום 'בל תשקצו' ומשום המצוות שבין אדם לחבירו. למשל, המחטט באף או מגרד פצעונים שבפניו, עובר באיסורים אלו. וכן אמרו חכמים (חגיגה ה, א): "כִּי אֶת כָּל מַעֲשֶׂה הָאֱלוֹהִים יָבִא בְמִשְׁפָּט עַל כָּל נֶעְלָם. אמר רב: זה ההורג כינה בפני חבירו ונמאס בה. ושמואל אמר: זה הרק (היורק) בפני חבירו ונמאס בה". ובמיוחד בעת שאוכלים, צריך להיזהר בכך יותר, כי מעשים מאוסים, וכן דיבורים מגעילים, מבטלים את התיאבון ומעוררים בחילה בקרב הסועדים.

Getting back to the supposed Zoharic passage, R. Yitzhak Abadi discusses this in Or Yitzhak, vol. 1, no. 1. He begins his responsum by pointing out that despite the fact that the Mishnah Berurah records how one is not to walk four amot before washing one’s hands, R. Aaron Kotler did not concern himself with this. Abadi then explains that the words of the Zohar are not intended for everyone,[14] and none of the rishonim write that it is forbidden to walk four amot before washing. He concludes by stating that he is inclined to rule – ולולי דמסתפינא הייתי אומר להלכה למעשה – that the entire practice of negel vasser is no longer relevant to us because ruah ra’ah is no longer a concern.[15] Here again we see that the author of a responsum assumes that the issue he is discussing, of not walking four amot before hand washing, is based on the Zohar, when in fact the Zohar doesn’t mention this at all.

Finally, I must mention that R. Hayyim Joseph David Azulai, Birkei Yosef, Orah Hayyim 1:1, recognizes that there is nothing in the Zohar about being subject to the death penalty for walking four amot. However, he notes that both he and his forefather, R. Abraham Azulai, saw an alternate version which indeed states that one who walks four amot אתחייב מיתא לשמיא. Based on this alternate text, the Hida declares that the Tola’at Yaakov is correct in how he quoted the Zohar, and the criticism of him for the inaccurate quotation is therefore misplaced. Even the Hida didn’t have access to the Tola’at Yaakov, and based on the Bah assumed that the Tola’at Yaakov quoted the Zohar and must indeed have had the alternate text. Yet as we have already seen, the Tola’at Yaakov does not quote the Zohar, and there is no actual alternate version of the text such as quoted by the Hida.

What happened was that someone saw the Bah quoting the Tola’at Yaakov as quoting the Zohar that one who walks four amot is subject to the death penalty. Not finding this passage in the Zohar, this individual inserted it into his text of the Zohar in the section that deals with hand washing in the morning (Zohar, vol. 1 p. 10b). I don’t think this was intended as a forgery. Rather, whoever put it in assumed that it was an authentic Zoharic teaching, found in an alternate text, and he was inserting it where it should be. He thought that it was an authentic Zoharic teaching because the Tola’at Yaakov had testified to it. But as we have already seen, Tola’at Yaakov said nothing of the sort. This alternate girsa can therefore be traced back to the Bah’s misquotation of the Tola’at Yaakov.

How can we explain the Bah? I think the answer is simple. When the Bah cited the Tola’at Yaakov he did not have the book in front of him, and was relying on his memory, the sort of mistake that is found among all of our great sages. That is how this error crept in which has had a great influence on Jewish religious texts and practice for hundreds of years, and yet it all goes back to a simple mistaken quotation.

Returning to my article on the Zohar, Rabbi Akiva Males called my attention to the following paragraphs that appear in an essay by R. Aryeh Kaplan.[16] It would be great if a reader has examined the manuscript and can testify to the accuracy of what Kaplan reported.

Rabbi Yitzchok deMin Acco is known for a number of things. Most questions regarding the authenticity of the Zohar were raised by him, since he investigated its authorship. He was a personal friend of Rabbi Moshe de Leon, who published the Zohar. When questions came up regarding the Zohar’s authenticity, he was the one who investigated, going to the home town of Rabbi Moshe de Leon. The whole story is cited in Sefer HaYuchasin, who abruptly breaks off the story just before Rabbi Yitzchok reaches his final conclusion. Most historians maintain that we do not know Rabbi Yitzchok’s final opinion – but they are wrong.

Around three years ago, someone came to me and asked me to translate parts of a manuscript of Rabbi Yitzchok deMin Acco, known as Otzar HaChaim. There is only one complete copy of this manuscript in the world, and this is in the Guenzberg Collection in the Lenin Library in Moscow. This person got me a complete photocopy of the manuscript and asked me to translate certain sections. I stated that the only condition I would translate the manuscript is if I get to keep the copy. This is how I got my hands on this very rare and important manuscript.

Of course, like every other sefer in my house, it had to be read. It took a while to decipher the handwriting, since it is an ancient script. One of the first things I discovered was that it was written some 20 years after Rabbi Yitzchok investigated the Zohar. He openly, and clearly and unambiguously states that the Zohar was written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. This is something not known to historians, and this is the first time I am discussing it in a public forum. But the fact is that the one person who is historically known to have investigated the authenticity of the Zohar at the time it was first published, unambiguously came to the conclusion that it was an ancient work written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Leaving aside for now the important information recorded by Kaplan, there is a good deal that can be said about R. Moses de Leon and the creation of the Zohar, and it is questionable if one can even speak of a single author. One essential point that must be recognized by all who investigate this matter is that De Leon himself was involved in other forgeries, in particular forgeries of geonic responsa.[17] As such, he obviously is not the most reliable source when he announces to the world that he is in possession of a text of mystical lore dating from the tannaitic period.

Regarding the Zohar and forgery, I think readers will also find the following interesting.  (Many already know some of the story, but it is worth repeating for those who don’t.) In the journal Or Torah, Tevet 5772, p. 362, a reader, whose knowledge of Jewish bibliography is not that great, had a question. He saw the following page in R. Yudel Rosenberg’s Hebrew translation of the Zohar to Va-Yikra.

This is important information, as Emden confesses that his attack against the Zohar was only designed to pull the wool out from under the Sabbatians, whose ideology was linked to the Zohar. The man who wrote to Or Torah, not knowing anything about Rosenberg, asked for help from the readers. He tried to locate the book Tzur Devash quoted by Rosenberg, but was unable.

In Or Torah, Adar 5772, pp. 555-557, two individuals let the first writer in on the “not-so-secret” that there is no book Tzur Devash, and that Rosenberg had a long history of making up texts; see here. This is so even though Rosenberg was a respected rabbi and posek. Here, incidentally, is the picture of Rosenberg that appears at the beginning of his Zohar translation.

With some of Rosenberg’s “forgeries”, it seems that what he was doing was creating a form of literature, and anyone who takes the story literally has only himself to blame (much like anyone who thinks that Animal Farm is really about animals has no one to complain to but himself). At times, Rosenberg would even hint to the reader what he was doing, as in Hoshen ha-Mishpat shel ha-Kohen ha-Gadol, where in the preface he mentions that part of the story also appeared in a work of Arthur Conan Doyle. If any reader would have taken the time to find out who this was, he would have realized that we are dealing with a fictional account. At other times, however, Rosenberg offers no such hint, at least none that I am aware of, and what we have appears to be a simple forgery. That would seem to be the case here, with the phony letter from Emden.

The second correspondent in Or Torah also calls attention to R. Yaakov Hayyim Sofer’s discussion in Etz Hayyim 7 (5769), pp. 267-268. While for a long time everyone has known that the Emden letter was a forgery, Sofer identifies another forgery. Rosenberg’s translation (second edition) vol. 1, contains a letter of approbation from R. Hayyim Hezekiah Medini, the Sedei Hemed.[18] Sofer claims, and I think he is correct, that this approbation is a forgery. His prime proof is that in the approbation Medini refers to the Hida as האזולאי. There are many hundreds, if not thousands, of references to the Hida in Medini’s work, and not once does he refer to the Hida as האזולאי, which is a form only used by Ashkenazic rabbis. What Sofer didn’t realize, and further supports his point, is that Rosenberg himself, in his introduction, p. 5a, refers to Hida as האזולאי.

In Or Torah, Iyar 5772, p. 744, another writer called attention to Sedei Hemed, Peat ha-Sadeh, kelalim, mah’arekhet bet, no. 47, where Medini states that it is disrespectful to use this sort of language, referring specifically to the expression האלגאזי.[19] This is another proof, if any was needed, that Medini would never have referred to the Hida as האזולאי. Let me also add that the way Medini (=Rosenberg) concludes the forged haskamah is not like any of his other letters, which are included in Iggerot Sedei Hemed (Bnei Brak, 2006). In the authentic letters, before his name Medini always adds הצב"י or הצעיר , which he does not do in the forged haskamah.. In his authentic letters, he also never closes them by adding to his name רב ומו"ץ בעיר הקדש חברון. Therefore, there can be no doubt that the letter of approbation sent by Medini to Rosenberg is simply another one of the latter’s forgeries.

Now let us turn to the incredible recent publication of a derashah by R. Yehezkel Landau, the Noda bi-Yehudah.[20] But before doing so, it is necessary to say a few words about R. Eleazar Fleckeles, the outstanding student of the Noda bi-Yehudah. (Fleckeles’ grave, entirely ignored by tourists, stands right near that of his teacher.) Ever since the publication over two hundred years ago of the strong comments of Fleckeles downplaying the authority of the Zohar, people have wondered where this came from. It just seemed strange that an 18th-19th century traditional Torah scholar would express himself this way. We now have the answer. Fleckeles was following in his teacher’s footsteps. Thanks to the publication of the Noda bi-Yehudah’s derashah by Michael Silber and Maoz Kahana, a derashah that had previously only appeared in a censored form, we now know that that the Noda bi-Yehudah had a skeptical view of the Zohar, at least in the form that it has come down to us. The issue that the Noda bi-Yehudah was concerned with was the same thing that bothered Emden and Fleckeles, namely, distinguishing the authentic ancient Jewish mysticism from the many later additions that found their way into the Zohar.

What caused the Noda bi-Yehudah in his later years to adopt a skeptical position, one so much at odds with his earlier outlook, is of course worthy of investigation and something for the scholars to fight over (and they already have!).

Regarding Fleckeles, his negative comments about the Zohar that appear in Teshuvah me-Ahavah are well known and have often been cited. In my article I also referred to Fleckeles’ citation of Wessely who quoted R. Jonathan Eibschuetz as supposedly stating that one need not believe in Kabbalah. (Needless to say, it is very difficult to believe that Eibschuetz could have ever expressed himself this way.) In preparing for my Torah in Motion talks on R. Moses Kunitz,[21] I found another relevant text from Fleckeles that as far as I know has gone unnoticed among those who have discussed the matter. It appears in Kunitz’s responsa Ha-Metzaref,[22] which happens to be one of the strangest responsa works ever published. It is also noteworthy in that it contains something extremely rare, namely, a responsum from R. Nathan Adler, the Hatam Sofer’s teacher. Knowing that some people might doubt that the teshuvah could really have been authored by R. Nathan, he also included a letter from the Hatam Sofer testifying to the responsum’s authenticity. 

In Ha-Metzaref, vol. 1 no. 11, Fleckeles again focuses on additions to the Zohar that are not part of the authentic work, but here he adds a new point which is important for an accurate description of Fleckeles’ position. He says that if a Zoharic text is quoted by R. Isaac Luria, R. Moses Cordovero, or R. Menahem Azariah of Fano then you can assume that it is part of the original Zohar, authored by R. Shimon ben Yohai.

One final comment regarding the Noda bi-Yehudah’s derashah: Yehoshua Mondshine somehow got hold of it before it was published by Silber and Kahana. Here is the relevant page, from Or Yisrael, Nisan 5766, p. 202.

Notice how Mondshine doesn’t reveal where this text comes from, something not expected from a careful scholar. Since this is such an amazing passage, and Mondshine’s article was the first time it appeared in print, you can be sure that loads of people must have turned to Mondshine asking him for its source. Presumably, when he was given the text he gave his word not to reveal its source. He might not have even known the source, and was only given the small passage.

2. Due to correspondence with a couple of people, I realized that I forgot to include something about the word מחיה in my last post. So here it is now.

In the Amidah we say מחיה מתים אתה. There is a tzeirei under the yod meaning that this is not a verb. Artscroll correctly translates “Resuscitator of the dead.” Sacks,[23] on the other hand, gives the mistaken translation “You give life to the dead”. The next line reads

מכלכל חיים בחסד, מחיה מתים ברחמים רבים

Is מחיה in this verse a verb? Ifמכלכל  is translated as a verb, then מחיה will also have to be translated this way. The Tehilat ha-Shem siddur has a segol under the yod of מחיה, and with this vocalization it is correct to translate it as a verb. However, for siddurim with a tzeirei the only accurate translation is a noun. Metsudah, which we have seen is consistent in this matter, translates: “Sustainer of the living with Kindliness, Resurrector of the dead with great mercy.” Both Artscroll and Sacks, however, translate מחיה as a verb which is incorrect. But why is it incorrect? It is only incorrect because of the vocalization (tzeirei), but I think that in the sentence מחיה is indeed a verb. This means that it is the vocalization that is incorrect, and that instead of a tzeirei under the yod, there should be a segol, as in the Tehilat ha-Shem siddur[24]. So my recommendation to Artscroll and Sacks would not be to change the translation, but only to change the vocalization.

After reading my last post, Ben Katz sent me an example where of all the translations, only Artscroll gets it right. The last lines of Adon Olam read:
בידו אפקיד רוחי בעת אישן ואעירה
ועם רוחי גויתי ה' לי ולא אירא

Sacks translates as follows (and Metsudah is similar):

Into His hand my soul I place,
when I awake and when I sleep.
God[25] is with me, I shall not fear;
Body and soul from harm will He keep.

What this means is that God has my soul at all times, when I am awake and when I sleep, and  that that is why I have no fear.

Artscroll translates as follows:

            Into His hand I shall entrust my spirit
            When I go to sleep – and I shall awaken!
            With my spirit shall my body remain.
            Hashem is with me, I shall not fear.

Before getting to what I think is the significant  part of the translation, let us look at the last line: ועם רוחי גויתי, ה' לי ולא אירא. In his translation, Sacks has turned the order of the sentence around. That is OK as it was done so that the rhyme works (and Sacks deserves enormous credit for having most of the song rhyme in English). The real problem is Sacks’ rendering of the words  ועם רוחי גויתי. There is no way this can be translated as “Body and soul from harm will He keep.” The words imply nothing about keeping from harm. The typical translation sees ועם as referring to God, meaning that God is with my soul and body and therefore I will have no fear.

However, Artscroll gets it right, I think, by translating these words literally: “With my spirit shall my body remain.” To see how Artscroll gets to this translation, we have to look at the previous verse, and that is where we see Artscroll’s brilliance. בידו אפקיד רוחי בעת אישן ואעירה. The other translations understand this to mean that I place my spirit (or soul) in God’s hands when I sleep and when I am awake. The problem with this rendering is that if my spirit is always in God’s hands, then what sense does it make to say that I place it there? If it is always there, during the day and at night, there is nothing for me to place.

Artscroll translates: “Into His hand I shall entrust my spirit when I go to sleep – and I shall awaken!” This is an allusion to the famous Midrash that we are all taught in school, that when you go to sleep your spirit returns to God, and is given back to you in the morning.[26] This isn’t just some random Midrash, but is derived from Psalm 31:6, which states: בידך אפקיד רוחי.[27] In other words, the Midrash is commenting on the exact words used by Adon Olam. This shows that Artscroll’s translation has indeed beautifully captured the correct meaning.

We now can properly understand the next verse. Since my spirit has returned and joined with my body, I know that God is with me and I shall not fear.

3. There is a relatively new publication for all who are interested in Jewish intellectual life. I refer to the Jewish Review of Books, expertly edited by Abraham Socher. Modeled after the New York Review of Books, each issue is full of great material. In the latest issue I published a translation of part of an essay by R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg on Berdyczewski. Only subscribers can access the essay, but everyone can see the artwork that went along with it. See here. (Due to copyright restrictions, I can't reproduce the artwork in the post.)

If you examine the picture of Weinberg produced by the artist, you will see that it was modeled after this picture that appears in my book on Weinberg, and also on the front cover of the soft-cover edition.

The original photograph was part of a faculty picture taken when Weinberg taught at the University of Giessen. However, the artistic reproduction adds something that is not found in the original, something that the artist assumed no rabbi should be without; see here.

4. Those outside of the United States who want to post (or read) comments, please access the Seforim Blog site by going to  Only by doing this will you be taken to the main site (and not have a country code in the URL). Readers outside the United States do not have access to the comments posted in the U.S. We don't know why this is, or how to fix it yet, but the above instruction fixes the matter.

* * * *

I have an extra copy of one of the volumes of R. Hayyim Hirschensohn's commentary on Rashi. The person who answers the following question will receive it. Send answers to me at shapirom2 at

1. Tell me the only place in the Shulhan Arukh where R. Joseph Karo mentions a kabbalistic concept? I am referring to an actual concept e.g., Adam Kadmon, Ein Sof, etc.

2. If more than one person answers the above question correctly, the one who answers the following (not related to seforim) will win: Which is the only United States embassy that has a kosher kitchen?

If no one can answer question no. 2, I will do a lottery with the names of those who answer no. 1 correctly.

[1] R. Moshe Zuriel kindly sent me the following additional sources that should be added to my list.

[א] ספר "אור החמה", ביאור בשלשה כרכים על הזוהר, נלקט ע"י הרב אברהם אזולאי, מביא דברי ר' אברהם גלאנטי שם על זהר ח"א קסח, והוא בנדפס דף קנט ע"א ראש טור שמאל, "הם דברי מחבר הספר בימי הגאונים או חכמים אחרים שחברו כל המימרות יחד שכתב ר' אבא, שהיה סופר של רשב"י והם חלקום לפרשיות כל פסוק בפרשה שלו, והם אמרו משלהם".

[ב] בפירוש ר' יוסף חיים מבבל (בן איש חי) בשם "בניהו" (דף ד ע"ב בנדפס) פירוש על תיקוני זהר, בתחילת ההקדמה לתקו"ז (ב ע"ב) מזכיר "ועל האי ציפור רמיזו רבנן בהגדה דבתרא דרבה בר בר חנה" כותב הרב: "נראה פשוט בספר בתקונים הראשון אשר הועתק מכתיבת יד חכמי הזוהר כך כתוב 'קא רמיזו רבנן' וכו' אך חכם אחרון שראה דבר זה כתוב בגמרא דבתרא במאמרי רבב"ח הוסיף על הגליון תיבות אלו בהגדה דבתרא דרבב"ח וכו' ואחר כמה שנים המדפיסים הכניסו בפנים מה שראו כתוב בגליון. ועל חינם הגאון יעב"ץ הרעיש העולם לערער בדבר זה וכיוצא בו".

[ג] אדמו"ר ר' יצחק אייזיק קומרנא בספרו "נתיב מצותיך" שביל התורה אלף, מהד' שנת תש"ל עמ' קא  כתב: "ור' אבא היה כותב כל מה ששמע, הן ממנו הן מהחברים וכו' בסוף ימי רבנן סבוראי תחילת הגאונים היה איש קדוש אאחד שהיה בו נשמת משה רבנו ממש וכו' וכו' והוא חיבר ספר רעיא מהימנא וקרא לזוהר חיבורא קדמאה".

[ד] ר' צבי אלימלך (מחבר בני יששכר) בספרו "הגהות מהרצ"א" (נמצא בתוכנת אוצר החכמה) על פרשת בא לח ע"א (בנדפס בספר שם דף קכו) כותב: "לפי גירסא הזו ע"כ [על כרחך] צ"ל דהזהר נתחבר בג"ע [בגן עדן] בזמן הגאונים, דהרי רב חסדא אמורא היה בזמן האמוראים" עכ"ל.

[ה] הרב אברהם יצחק קוק, מאמרי הראי"ה, עמ' 519: מתוך מכתב להרב קאפח: "אפילו אם נשתלשלו דורות רבים והיו בהם הוספות והערות מחכמים שונים, ואם אפילו נתערבו בהם איזה דברים שראויים לביקורת, כמו שעשה הגאון יעב"ץ במטפחתו, אין העיקר בטל בכך".
[2] Sermons, Addresses and Studies, vol. 3 p. 308. I learnt of this passage from Ben Elton, Britain’s Chief Rabbis and the Religious Character of Anglo-Jewry, 1880-1970, p. 176.
[3] See Studies in Maimonides and his Interpreters, p. 89 n. 376, where I mention that R. Abraham ben ha-Gra, who (for his time) had a critical sense, was among those who thought that Rashi knew the Zohar.
[4] Tosafot, Sanhedrin 24a s.v. belulah. The uncensored text, found in the Venice edition, reads בתלמוד, but the Vilna edition has בש"ס.
[5] Since the Daf Yomi siyum is just about upon us as I write these words, let me add the following: While I don’t think that R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik can be called an opponent of Daf Yomi, I was present at a shiur in the summer of 1985 where he expressed his dismay that due to the growing popularity of Daf Yomi, people were no longer studying all six orders of the Mishnah, much of which has no Talmud and is thus not included in the Daf Yomi cycle. (Due to how the Talmud was printed, Kinnim and Middot are the only tractates of Mishnah included in Daf Yomi. )
[6] Nineteen Letters, Letter Eighteen.
[7] See Deut. 5:15: כבד את אביך ואת אמך כאשר צוה ה' אלקיך למען יאריכן ימיך ולמען ייטב לך על האדמה אשר ה' אלקיך נתן לך

R. Samuel Schonblum offers an explanation of the talmudic passage that many will no doubt claim attributes a heretical assumption to one of the Sages. See his edition of R. Isaac Ibn Latif, Rav Pealim (Lemberg, 1885), p. 54:

כפי השקפה הראשונה נוכל לומר כי השנוים שבדברות האחרונות משה אמרן מדעת עצמו כמ"ש הראב"ע ז"ל כמוסיף וגורע ואפשר לומר כי לא נאמר טוב בסיני כלל ע"כ כאשר שאל לו מ"מ [מפני מה] בראשונות לא נאמר טוב ובאחרונות נאמר טוב השיב לו שאלני אם נאמר טוב אם לאו, שאפשר שגם באחרונות לא נאמר טוב כך משה הוסיף או גורע עד שבא לר' תנחום בר חנילאי ואמר לו כי באמת נאמרו כך בסיני ע"י משה וזה שלא נכתבו על הלוחות הראשונות יען כי היו עתידין להשתבר ע"כ לא נאמר ע"י הדיבור הנעלם רק ע"י משה, ה' יראני מתורתו נפלאות.

In Limits of Orthodox Theology, I did not discuss the commentary of Ibn Ezra (Ex 20:1) referred to by Schonblum. That is because I assumed that he agreed with the standard medieval view that even though Moses may have written things on his own accord, when these texts were later included as part of the Torah given to the Children of Israel, this was done at God’s direction and that is what sanctified the text. I am no longer convinced of this. All Ibn Ezra says in his commentary to Ex. 20:1 is that minor variations in wording are due to Moses changing God’s original words. Nowhere in his commentary does Ibn Ezra state that Moses’ changes were ever given divine sanction.
[8] Netiv Shalom (Budapest, 1898), p. 33.
[9] I wonder if this exaggeration is related to the seeming exaggerations found in Sotah 4b regarding those who are not careful with netilat yadayim:  כל האוכל לחם בלא נטילת ידים כאילו בא על אשה זונה . . . כל המזלזל בנטילת ידים נעקר מן העולם  See also Yalkut Shimoni, Ki Tisa, no. 386:  כל האוכל בלא נטילת ידים כבא על אשת איש (I say “seeming” exaggerations, because maybe these are not exaggerations. See the story with R. Akiva in Eruvin 21b.) Why were the Sages so strident in this matter? After citing the two rabbinic passages just mentioned, R. Zvi Hirsch Chajes points to an anti-Christian motivation. See Kol Sifrei Maharatz Chajes, p. 1003:

והטעם שהחמירו חז"ל בזה, דענין נטילת ידים הוא הענין הראשון אשר זלזל בו המחוקק לנוצרים, כמבואר בספריהם דשאלו אותו מדוע תלמידיו אוכלים בלי נטילת ידים והשיב מה שיצא מן הפה הוא טמא ומה שהולך לפה הוא טהור, ומפני זה למען לא יהיה לנו השתוות עמהם, החמירו בנטילת ידים, דהמזלזל בזה הוי כמודה להם.

See R. Mordechai Fogelman, Beit Mordechai, part 2, no. 15:2 (p. 224), who uses the Christian angle to explain another talmudic passage dealing with washing of hands. (Those who have read R. Israel Meir Lau’s wonderful autobiography will recognize Fogelman’s name.) See also Abraham Buechler, Am ha-Aretz ha-Gellili, ch. 4.
[10] See e.g., R. Pinchas of Koretz, Imrei Pinhas ha-Shalem (Bnei Brak, 2003), p. 209:

מה שכתב הבאר היטב (או"ח א, ס"ק ב) בשם תולעת יעקב בשם הזוהר, ההולך ארבע אמות בלי נטילת ידים חייב מיתה, הקפיד מאד הרב ז"ל על זה, שאינו בזוהר כלל, וגם במגן אברהם (או"ח ד, א) ובתולעת יעקב עצמו לא כתב בשם הזוהר רק דעת עצמו.

[11] See R. Zvi Elimelech of Dinov, Igra de-Firka, no. 9.
[12] See Menachem Yehudah Baum, Ha-Rabbi Rabbi Bunim mi-Peshischa (Bnei Brak, 1997), vol. 1, p. 212.
[13] See here.

See also R. Shmuel Eliyahu’s responsum on the topic here, R. Yaakov Peretz, Emet le-Yaakov (Jerusalem, 1979), p. 29, and R. Moshe Zuriel, Tziyon be-Mishpat Tipadeh (Bnei Brak, 2007), pp. 107-108. The section in Zuriel's book is entitled
 בענין הנוהג הנפסד של חיטוט באף ובאוזן, בעת לימוד תורה והתפילה

There might even be enough material for a booklet dealing with the halakhot related to picking one’s nose. I know some of you are laughing right now, but I am entirely serious. See also R. Israel Pesah Feinhandler, Avnei Yoshpeh, vol. 5, Orah Hayyim no. 71, who discusses if it is permissible to pick one’s nose on Shabbat.

See also R. Ovadiah Yosef, Yabia Omer, vol. 5, Orah Hayyim no. 30:

ואתה תחזה שע"פ האמור יש להעיר עמ"ש הגאון מהר"ח פלאג'י בס' רוח חיים (סי' שכא סק"ב וסי' שמ סק"א), ובס' כף החיים (סי' ל אות קה), שיש להזהיר לאלה שמקנחים צואת החוטם (ובפרט כשהיא יבשה), שתולשים עי"ז כמה שערות, ואע"ג דדבר שאינו מתכוין מותר, היכא דפסיק רישיה יש להחמיר

There is also the issue of phlegm and hatzitzah that has been dealt with by many. It is interesting that halakhic sources regard putting one’s finger in one’s ear the same way as in one’s nose (e.g., in discussing if you have to wash your hands after this), while contemporary mores sees the latter as being in much poorer taste.

While on the topic of unusual halakhic subjects, let me call attention to a new book by the young scholar R. Yissachar Hoffman, from whom I have learnt a great deal. It focuses on sneezing. In his approbation, R. Gavriel Zinner writes: ראינו חשיבות התורה שיכולים מכל ענין לעשות ספר שלם

Here is the title page.

[14] I heard from a former student of the Lakewood yeshiva that someone once challenged one of R. Abadi’s pesakim by pointing out that the Mishnah Berurah stated that a “ba’al nefesh” should be stringent in the matter. Abadi replied that in the entire yeshiva, of which he was the official posek, maybe there were four people who would fall into the category of what the Mishnah Berurah designates a “ba’al nefesh”.
[15] I asked R. Yehudah Herzl Henkin the following question: Would you have any hesitation telling someone who didn't believe in demons that it's OK to only wash one time in the morning, in accordance with the Rambam's opinion?

He replied:

“I don't think ruach ra'ah has any operative role nowadays, either, but I hesitate to encourage the abandonment of accepted practices particularly when they are innocuous (as opposed, say, to doing kaparot with a live chicken). There is something to be said for doing what klal Yisrael does even if one doesn't believe in the activity. That being said, yes, certainly, if the person is bothered about it to that extent, tell him to follow the Rambam.”

Another posek wrote to me: "These are in my view simply matters of minhag yisrael, and not subject to psak in the classical sense of the word. There are questions of minhag ha'avot and the like – but in the end, I do not sense that one would be sinning if one washed only once."
[16] “The Age of the Universe:  A Torah True Perspective,” pp. 17-18, available here.
[17] See Elliot R. Wolfson, “Hai Gaon’s Letter and Commentary on Aleynu: Further Evidence of Moses de León’s Pseudepigraphic Activity,” JQR 81 (1991), pp. 365-409; and the sources cited by Shmuel Glick, Eshnav le-Sifrut ha-Teshuvot (New York, 2012), pp. 237-238. Meir Bar-Ilan sugests that the Zohar is the first example of what would later become a common practice: the creation of a forgery by attributing one's own work to an ancient manuscript. In earlier times, pseudepigraphical works made no such claims. See "Niflaot Rabbi Yehudah Yudel Rosenberg," Alei Sefer 19 (2001), available here
[18] Sofer didn’t realize that the Medini approbation is also found in the first edition, published in 1906.
[19] Medini also says that he will not mention the name of the rabbi who used this expression. Regarding whom he had in mind, see R. Yaakov Hayyim Sofer in Moriah, Av 5769, pp. 143-144. Despite Medini’s feeling, the expression האלגאזי does appear in numerous rabbinic texts.
[20] All bibliographical information for sources cited in this paragraph is found in my article.
[21] Torah in Motion how has a great deal. For only $10.99 you can get a silver membership (good for one month) that allows unlimited access to recorded lectures. See here.
[22] Some have mistakenly transliterated the title as Ha-Matzref. On the title page itself it is spelled in Latin letters Hamzaref; see here.
[23] Regarding the Sacks siddur, I recommend that all listen to the wonderful dialogue between Rabbi Sacks and Leon Wieseltier available here.

I have to say, however, that I was surprised to hear Sacks say at minute 49: “There is no doubt that the actual construction of the Temple was an extraordinarily disastrous moment for the Jewish people.” He then discusses how Solomon, in order to build the Temple, used force labor and thus “turned Israel into Egypt.” What surprises me is that I know of no other Orthodox thinker who sees the building of the Temple as a negative development in Jewish history. Nor, for that matter, have I ever seen an Orthodox thinker read the Bible as criticizing Solomon for this endeavor. If the construction of the Temple was such a negative event, then why on Tisha be-Av are we supposed to mourn its absence?

[24] On my recent trip to Italy, I learnt that the Italian nusah also always puts a segol under the yod of מחיה.
[25] Sacks does not consistently translate ה' as “Lord”. Metsudah actually translates it as “A-donay”, which I have never seen before.
[26] This is also the meaning of the blessing המחזיר נשמות לפגרים מתים . A similar concept is found among Christians. I am sure many are aware of the Christian prayer recited by children

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I shall die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.

[27] Midrash Tehillim (ed. Buber), 252::

זהו שאמר הכתוב: 'בידך אפקיד רוחי' . . . וכשהוא ישן הוא יגע, ומשלים [ומשליש?] נפשו ונפקדת ביד הקב"ה, ולשחרית היא חוזרת לגופו בריאה חדשה, שנאמר 'חדשים לבקרים רבה אמונתך'.

See also Devarim Rabbah 5:14

והן ישנים וכל הנפשות עולות אצלו, מנין, שנאמר 'אשר בידו נפש כל כי', ובבקר הוא מחזיר לכאו"א נשמתו, מנין, שנאמר 'נותן נשמה לעם עליה'.

Bereshit Rabbah 78:1 (parallel text in Eikhah Rabbah 3:21) states:

על שאתה מחדשנו בכל בקר ובקר אנו יודעין שאמונתך רבה להחיות לנו את המתים.

See also Tosafot, Berakhot 12a s.v. le-hagid.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Emek ha-Netziv : The Manuscript

Emek ha-Netziv : The Manuscript

by Gil S. Perl

Rabbi Dr. Gil S. Perl is dean of the Margolin Hebrew Academy/Feinstone Yeshiva of the South in Memphis. The following selection comes from his new book, The Pillar of Volozhin: Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin and the World of Nineteenth-Century Lithuanian Torah Scholarship.

The manuscript of ‘Emek ha-Netziv remains in the possession of the Shapira family and there are no additional extant copies. The family are prominent members of a staunchly traditionalist Ḥaredi community in the Geulah neighborhood of Jerusalem. Members of this community generally oppose sustained contact with Western culture and its representative institutions, including universities of any type. The Shapira family seems to harbor additional skepticism toward those researching Netziv , due to the fact that his relative openness to certain aspects of non-traditional culture has made him a controversial figure in some ultra-Orthodox communities.[1]These facts, combined with the sheer value of their manuscript collection,[2] make the family understandably guarded about allowing access to thematerials they possess. However, with the assistance of Rabbi Zevulun Charlop, Dean of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in New York City and a cousin of the Shapira family,[3] I was able to secure brief and accompanied access to the manuscript from which ‘Emek ha-Netziv was taken.[4]

The manuscript is handwritten in three volumes, corresponding to the three volumes of the printed text. The first two volumes were bound, but the binding has completely deteriorated and sections of each volume easily separate from one another. The third volume seems never to have been bound. The pages of all three volumes are severely frayed at the edges.

As suspected, the manuscript contains a core text with countless interlinear and marginal additions as well as words and entire lines that have been crossed out:


It is important to note that the brackets and parenthesis which appear throughout the printed text do not correspond to these additions. Rather, they correspond to places in which Netziv placed parenthesis or brackets around his own words both in the core text and in the additions. The additions and the notes he appended to the end of the manuscript (referred to by the Netziv as hashmatot )[5] were incorporated without indication into the printed text.

The script of the core text through the first two volumes and half of the third is a fairly consistent narrowly-spaced brown cursive[6] written with a fairly wide-tipped pen. In the second half of the third volume the script of the core text changes to a blacker, wider-spaced cursive seemingly done with a thinner-tipped pen. The script of the later marginal additions varies.

The notes which appear scattered throughout the printed text (referred to by the Netziv as hagahot) were written at the same time as the core text,[7] as evidenced by the identical script used and the intentional indentations left in the text of the core commentary in order to create space for the hagahot. The hagahotalso contain marginal additions. A typical page in the manuscript containing hagahot, then, is represented in the following diagram:

The reference to the newly printed book ‛Emek Halakhah mentioned above appears as an interlinear addition to the core text, thus implying that for that particular section of the commentary on Naso, the core text was written prior to 1845 and the addition was included after 1845. The references to Reb ‘Iẓele are also found in the core text with the word “she-yiḥyeh,” which dates those passages of the core text to the years prior to 1849 as well.[8]

The orderly progression of chapters in the core text, which begin at varying places on the physical page of the manuscript, indicates that Netziv wrote down his comments in this manuscript in proper sequence, following the order of Sifre. [9]That is, one can safely assume that in this particular copy of the manuscript, the core text of Netziv’s comments on Parashat Bamidbar were committed to writing before those of Parashat Naso, and his comments on pesikta’ aleph were committed to writing prior to those of pesikta’ bet.[10] If the core text of the manuscript was written sequentially, and the core text of EH Naso 49 (I:181) was necessarily written prior to the publication of Zev Wolf ben Yehudah Ha-Levi’s 1845 publication of ‘Emek Halakhah, one can deduce that, at the very least, the entire core text until that point was also committed to writing prior to 1845. Likewise, from the appearance of the word “she-yiḥyeh” in the core text of Be-ha‛alotekha andShelaḥ[11] one can assume that the text up to that point was written prior to Reb ’Iẓele’s death in 1849. If we then add that the handwriting remains rather constant in the core text until the second half of the third volume, we have reason to believe that all of the core text until that shift in appearance was committed to writing prior to 1849.

Thus, one can safely conclude that a good portion of the printed edition of‘Emek ha-Netziv was indeed written while Netziv was a young man in his twenties and thirties. As such, the general character and main attributes of the work must be seen as a product of the cultural and intellectual atmosphere of Lithuanian Jewish society in the 1830s and 1840s. At the same time, given the large number of later additions and the lack of any demarcation in the printed text, one can not firmly ascribe a date to any specific passage found in it, with the exception of those which contain explicit or implicit references to the time of composition.


The process of preparing ‘Emek ha-Netziv  for publication was painstakingly performed by the Shapira family over the course of many years, and thus the printed text seems to be relatively free of printing errors. However, there are two hints in the printed text which suggest the possibility of editorial censorship.

As noted above, Netziv’s relative openness to sources of information beyond the pale of the current traditionalist canon is a character trait which is at odds with the values of the contemporary ultra-Orthodox community. As we will describe at length in the pages that follow, Emek ha-Netziv  is filled with citations and references to such sources of information. On two such occasions the reference found in the printed text appears to be intentionally altered so as to prevent proper identification of the source. In his comments on ‘Ekev, Netziv writes that for further study one should consult the book called “thirty-two Middot of [sic] in Vilna.”[12] In all probability Netziv is referring to the book published in 1822 called Netivot Olam: Beraita de-32 Middot with the commentary of Ẓvi Hirsch Katzenellenbogen. Katzenellenbogen is known to have been a member of Vilna’s more “enlightened” circles.[13] As such, the possibility exists that the publisher intentionally left out Katzenellenbogen’s name. This prospect is bolstered by the fact that the manuscript contains a name in the standard acronymic form where the printed edition has a blank space. When I asked to look at this reference in the manuscript, it was reviewed by two members of the Shapira family and I was denied permission to look at it. Nonetheless, I did manage to see what seemed like a legible acronym ending in the letter qof.[14] Although it is possible that the editor could not discern the letters of the acronym, if such had been the case one would expect a bracketed editorial note, such as those which appear on several occasions in the printed text where the manuscript is illegible due to stains or frayed edges.[15]

The second possible instance of editorial censorship concerns a passage in Netziv’s commentary on Shoftim which refers the reader to “hakdamat ḥumash besau[16] ve-‘tav’’alef’.[17] The most common referent for the initials tav”alef in the context of Torah commentary is Targum Onkelos, the ancient Aramaic translation of the Bible. However, if the bet of the word “besau” is replaced with adaled so as to read “desau” we might suggest that the tav"alef stands for targum Ashkenaz, German translation, rather than Targum Onkelos. As such, the citation would be of the well-known introduction to Moses Mendelssohn’s Torah commentary, which was printed in Dessau and contains a German translation of the biblical text. The fact that the subject matter under discussion in this passage of Netziv’s commentary correlates to subject matter discussed by Mendelssohn in the introduction to his Bible commentary supports the latter suggestion.

We might raise the question, then, as to whether the printed text was intentionally manipulated so as to prevent easy identification of Mendelssohn’s work or whether the daled of Dessau was simply mistaken as a bet by the printsetter.[18]The fact that this particular citation was underlined in pink pencil in the manuscript bolsters the suspicion that the publishers of ‘Emek ha-Netziv were sensitive to the potential controversy the citation of Mendelssohn might have caused in the ultra-Orthodox community and that they therefore intentionally altered the printed text.[19]

Both of the above instances of possible censorship beg the question as to why the references were included altogether if the printers wished them to remain unidentified. Furthermore, as will be discussed below, the printed text of ‘Emek ha-Netziv contains references to numerous other works that lie well beyond the traditional contemporary ultra-Orthodox canon which were not censored. As such, the evidence for editorial censorship cannot be considered conclusive. Nonetheless, these two passages do raise the possibility that other parts of the text were more cleverly censored or that other citations were completely deleted.

The End of ‘Emek ha-Netziv

The end of Netziv’s commentary on Sifre, as it appears in the printed edition of ‘Emek ha-Netziv , is also an issue of concern to the critical reader. The commentary in both the printed edition and the manuscript comes to an abrupt halt halfway through the parashah of Ki Teẓeh[20] and well before the end of the text of Sifre itself. One is therefore led to question whether Netziv truly ended his commentary there, or whether there was more to the commentary that does not appear in the printed text.

Several factors indicate that Netziv’s commentary did, in fact, extend beyondpiska’ 27 of Parashat Ki Teẓeh.[21] To begin, Netziv starts his commentary at the beginning of Sifre with an introductory double couplet, and thus one would expect a similar poetic composition at the end of the work, but none appears in the printed text or in the manuscript. Furthermore, a statement of completion marks the close of each parashah throughout the text, but none appears at the end of Parashat Ki Teẓeh. Likewise, the completion of the Book of Numbers is marked by two rhyming stanzas of nine lines each,[22] while Deuteronomy, and the commentary as a whole, has no formal conclusion at all.

One must entertain the possibility that the abrupt ending of the work suggests not that the final portion of the commentary is missing from the printed text but that Netziv never completed the commentary. This theory might be supported by the fact that the statements of conclusion which follow everyparashah are in poetic form in the first two volumes, whereas in the third volume, which consists of the Book of Deuteronomy, the statements consist of nothing more than “Piska’ 8 is complete and [so too] the entire portion of ve-’Etḥ anan.”[23] One might interpret this phenomenon as suggesting that the final touches, such as the transformation of abrupt closing statements into clever couplets, were never applied to the third volume of the work.

Such a conclusion seems unlikely, however, when one considers the numerous revisions and recensions to which Netziv subjected the rest of the commentary. One generally does not spend the time editing, expanding, and re-copying a work that one has yet to complete. Furthermore, in his introduction toHa‘amek She’elah Netziv regrets that he has not yet brought his commentary onSifre to press, but he makes no mention of not having completed writing the text. Similarly, in a comment found in his Harḥev Davar, published along with his Ha‛amek Davar in 1878, Netziv writes that while he has not elaborated on a particular point in this work, he will do so at length when God grants him the merit of “publishing the commentary on Sifre.[24] Here too, Netziv does not ask for God’s help in finishing the work, but in bringing it to press. Likewise, Avraham Yiẓḥak Kook, one of the outstanding students of Netziv , publically called upon his teacher to publish his Sifrecommentary in a footnote to a biographical article on Netziv published in 1888.[25]He too seems to suggest that the work was complete.

The physical form of the third volume of the manuscript makes the possibility of missing material rather plausible as well. The printed text contains commentary to every piska’ in Sifre up until piska’ 27 of Parashat Ki Teẓeh.[26] There is no commentary on piska’ot 27-54, but the text resumes with brief comments on piska’54[27] and then ends completely. In the manuscript, piska’ 27 ends at the bottom of a page, which raises the possibility that further commentary followed on subsequent pages which are now lost. The brief comments to piska’ 54 appear on the reverse side of comments labeled as hashmatot; therefore, they may well represent hashmatot to a core commentary, now lost, on the end of Deuteronomy.[28] When one considers the fact that, unlike the first two volumes, the third volume of the manuscript is not bound and does not appear to ever have been bound, the notion that pages from the end of the commentary were lost must be seriously considered.[29]


The conclusion one must draw from the above investigation of the text of‘Emek ha-Netziv is that a historical analysis of the content found in the printed text must be made with caution. The possibility of the text being incomplete must always be considered both in regard to possible editorial censorship and in regard to the possibility that the text originally contained additional chapters that are currently lost. Whereas the core text of the commentary prior to Shelaḥ [30] can be rather definitively dated prior to 1849, the printed text makes no distinction between the core text and later additions. As such, with the exception of a few passages which include embedded historical evidence, no single passage in the printed text can conclusively be dated to the 1830s or 1840s. Nonetheless, there is sufficient evidence, both in Netziv’s own testimony with which this chapter began and in the clues offered by the text and corroborated by the manuscript, to conclude that the bulk of the commentary does indeed reflect a project with which Netziv was engrossed in his early years. Thus, trends which can be identified throughout the printed text and which comprise its general character must indeed be seen as reflective of the intellectual currents of Lithuanian Jewish culture in the 1830s and 1840s.

[1] In recent years, certain circles in the ultra-Orthodox community recommended that Moshe Dombey and N.T. Erline’s adaptation of Barukh Ha-Levi Epstein’s Mekor Barukh, entitled My Uncle the Neẓiv (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Mesorah Publications, 1988), not be read due to its portrayal of Neẓiv as one who did not share all of the values of the contemporary ultra-Orthodox community. See Jacob J. Schacter, “Haskalah, Secular Studies, and the Close of the Yeshiva in Volozhin in 1892,” Torah u-Madda Journal 1 (1989): 76-133; Don Seeman, “The Silence of Rayna Batya: Torah, Suffering, and Rabbi Barukh Epstein’s Wisdom of Women’,” Torah u-Madda Journal 6 (1995-1996): 91-128; Don Seeman and Rebecca Kobrin, “'Like One of the Whole Men': Learning, Gender and Autobiography in R. Barukh Epstein's Mekor Barukh,”Nashim 2 (1999): 52-94; Brenda Bacon, “Reflections on the Suffering of Rayna Batya and the Success of the Daughters of Zelophehad,” Nashim 3 (2000): 249-256; Dan Rabinowitz, “Rayna Batya and Other Learned Women: A Reevaluation of Rabbi Barukh Halevi Epstein’s Sources,” Tradition 35: 1 (Summer 2001): 55-69. This position toward Neẓiv, however, was already espoused a century earlier when a series of articles appeared in the Galician newspaper Maḥzike Ha-Da’at (volumes 16, 17, and 18) warning traditionalist Jews to stay away from Netziv’s Bible commentary,Ha‛amek Davar, due to its modern stance toward the authority of the Talmudic Sages. A similar sentiment is reflected in the fact that many ultra-Orthodox houses of study have refused, and continue to refuse, to include Ha‛amek Davar in their libraries.
[2] A value which stands in stark contrast to the overwhelming poverty of most of Geulah’s inhabitants.
[3] See Neil Rosenstein, The Unbroken Chain. (New York: CIS Publishers, 1990) 433-440.
[4] My examination of the manuscript took place in July of 2004 with the assistance of a Summer Travel Grant awarded by the Center for Jewish Studies at Harvard University.
[5] The hashmatot probably represent additions to the text which Neẓiv could not fit in the margins of the page of the core text due to lack of space.
[6] The letters are in cursive form, but Neẓiv generally did not attach his letters to each other. The brown color was probably black when originally applied but has lost its vibrance with the passage of time.
[7] The hagahot seem to have been intended as tangential footnotes to the main commentary in a manner similar to the way in which Netziv’s Harḥev Davar was intended to supplement his Ha‛amek Davar on the Bible. This format was typical of Lithuanian Torah commentary, for reasons which will be explained in Chapter Three below.
[8] I had hoped to demarcate the beginning and end of each addition in my own printed text along with a description of the script used in each addition. The Shapira family, however, was not willing to grant me the sustained access to the manuscript required for such an endeavor.
[9] If it had not been written in order, one would expect to find empty spaces on the bottom of a page where a particular chapter or section ended and new sections beginning on the top of new pages. Instead the end of each section in the manuscript is followed immediately by the beginning of the next section, indicating that they were written sequentially.
[10] There is reason to believe that this manuscript itself is a later recension of an earlier edition. The family showed me what they said were the few extant leaves of an earlier version of the commentary written by Neẓiv which predates the manuscript used for the printed text, but I was not allowed to study them at length. As such, the above analysis does not suggest that Neẓiv actually composed his commentary according to the sequence of the Sifre text, but simply that the transcription of the core text of the commentary into the manuscript at hand was done in sequential order.
[11] See note 14 above.
[12] EH ‘Ekev 4 (III: 52).
[13] See Chapter Two below.
[14] My access to the manuscript was always limited to sitting next to a member of the Shapira family, who would turn to the page I wished to check and look at the specific textual anomaly before deciding whether to let me look as well. In this case I was able to peer over his shoulder and attempt to decipher the acronym. The exact answer this member of the Shapira family gave me was, “Suffice it to say, it is not a siman in Shulḥan Arukh.”
[15] E.g., EH Naso 42 (I: 162); EH Naso 44 (I: 173); EH Matot 1 (II: 279); EHMatot ‛Ekev (III: 45); EH Re’eh 9 (III: 92).
[16] Bet-ayyin-sameh-vav.
[17] EH Shoftim 16 (III: 189).
[18] In cursive Hebrew writing the bet and daled look quite similar.
[19] A glaring example of this type of censorship recently appeared in a photo-offset of the 1926 Frankfurt edition of David Ẓvi Hoffmann’s responsa, Melamed le-Ho‛il, published by the Lebovitz-Kest foundation. In Responsa #56 in the original printing (II: 50), Hoffmann gives his approval, in exigent cases, for an Orthodox Jew to swear before a civil court without a head covering. In the context of his piece, Hoffmann also attests to the fact that Samson Raphael Hirsch instructed the students in the Frankfurt Orthodox school which he founded to cover their heads only for Judaic studies and allowed them to remain bare-headed for their secular studies. The recent photo-offset contains an introduction by a grandson of Hoffmann, David Ẓvi ben Natan Naftali Hoffmann, which gives the reader the impression that the grandson belongs to the ultra-Orthodox community of Jerusalem. Responsa #56, however, permits a practice clearly anathema to that community. Hence, when one turns to page fifty in the off-set, in place of what was earlier Responsa #56, one finds a blank space. I thank Rabbi Moshe Schapiro, librarian at the Mendel Gottesman Library of Yeshiva University, for bringing this example to my attention.
[20] EH Teẓeh (III: 296).
[21] Note that the piska‘ot of Neẓiv do not correspond to those of the Sifre text with which the commentary is printed. In the text of Sifre the last piska’ for which there is continuous commentary is 43, and it then resumes in 54. See Chapter 5.
[22] EH Mas‛ai (II: 334).
[23] EH Ve-’Etḥanan (III: 43).
[24] HrD Num. 6: 19.
[25] Avraham Yizhak Kook, “Rosh Yeshivat Eẓ Ḥayyim,” Kenesset Yisrael, ed. S.J Finn (Warsaw, 1888), 138-147. Also in Ma'amarei HaRe'iyah (Jerusalem, 1984), 123-126.
[26] EH Teẓeh (III: 296). Piska’ot here are according to Netziv’s division. For more on Netziv’s method of dividing piska’ot see Chapter Three below.
[27] EH Teẓeh (III: 299). In the absence of Netziv’s commentary, piska’ot here refer to the division found in the standard Sulzbach edition.
[28] When I asked the Shapira family about the strange ending of work, they too suggested that there might have been more that was lost. When I asked them who had possession of the manuscript prior to them, they declined to give me any names and replied instead, “Suffice it say, it has been handed down, son after son.”
[29] The existence of commentary on the latter parts of Deuteronomy could have been conclusively proven had Neẓiv included a reference to it in his other writings. I have found no such reference, but no conclusions can be drawn from silence.
[30] EH Shelaḥ 1 (II: 10)

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