Friday, September 30, 2005
As it turns out, my wife (W) had to go to the boys yeshiva to speak to the Menahel about a matter concerning my son (unrelated to the hamster). While she was there, she also mentioned the fact that his hamster had died and that he may be "out of sorts" for a day or so.It goes without saying that if the first paragraph had described Wolf's son as loving learning and aspiring to be a Rosh Yeshiva then he would also have normal interests and aspirations (okay, I lied--it didn't go without saying or else I wouldn't have said it). But the point is that there are other normal goals for children besides being a Rosh Yeshiva!
Now, this Menahel is a very fine gentleman, one for whom I have respect. In all the years that our kids have been in the yeshiva, he has always shown to have our children's best interests at heart. While other officials in the yeshiva are seemingly ready to knock the kids down (figuratively) whenever possible, he always looks to build them up. Of course, he is very Chareidi and has one view of the world, as was again illustrated to us this day.
So, W told the Menahel about the hamster and S1's attachment to it. She explained to him that he *really* loves animals and that he has aspirations to be a zoologist one day.
He looked at her and said "We had hopes that he'd aspire to be a Rosh Yeshiva."
Allowing that the principal wasn't trying to make any kind of radical statement, and certainly taking into account that Wolf writes that he is a fine person, worthy of respect, one who seeks to build children up etc.--still, this is almost the kind of stale thinking that Eliezer Berkovitz deplored, particularly in his history of Halakhah, Lo Bashamayim Hi: The Nature and Function of Halakhah. He points out that in a real society there simply must--must!--be doctors as well as sanitation workers as well as scholars as well as even artists and poets--and zoologists too. The Torah envisions us as having a real society. Sadly, too many in communal leadership positions don't get that.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
But I recently came across something interesting that I had to share.
Mishna Avos 5:32 is a good example of a 'famous' Mishna, one that quotes Ben Bag Bag saying that one should investigate Torah from every perspective, hafokh ba ve-hapekh bah.
The reason for doing so can be found in essentially three textual versions:
1) The most common one, found in most manuscripts and printed edition, the one usually cited is: de-kolah bah, "because everything is in it".
2) A second version found in manuscripts is de-kolah bah ve-kolakh bah, "because everything is in it, and all of you is in it."
3) A third, more rare version is de-kolah bakh ve-kolakh bah, "because all of it is in you, and all of you is in it."
As you can see, these are quite different. Why did Ben Bag Bag say "hafokh ba ve-hapekh bah"? I don't know exactly, but there are at least two possibilities besides that which we normally ascribe to him.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
R. Kamenetzky calls those that instigated the ban "yinglakh".
R. Elyashiv is "non-English-reading Rabbi Elyashiv".
Great line: "I am gratified that people in the Modern Orthodox world have become my fans". LOL!
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
From the Jewish Encylopedia of 1906:
The Kol Nidre has been one of the means used by Jewish apostates and by enemies of the Jews to cast suspicion on the trustworthiness of an oath taken by a Jew. This charge was leveled so much that many non-Jewish legislators considered it necessary to have a special form of oath administered to Jews ("Jew's oath"), and many judges refused to allow them to take a supplementary oath, basing their objections chiefly on this prayer. As early as 1240 Jehiel of Paris was obliged to defend the "Kol Nidre" against these charges. It can not be denied that, according to the usual wording of the formula, someome might think that it offers a means of escape from the obligations and promises which he had assumed and made in regard to others.
From Artscroll's biography of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (of the same name):
There was one instance where Rabbi Hirsch did omit a traditional prayer. In 1839, Rabbi Hirsch deleted the recitation of Kol Nidrei in Oldenberg....Rabbi Hirsch explained it in writing to the correspondent of the liberal Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums: "Although last year the Kol Nidrei was deleted for halachic reasons, neverthless I came to the conclusion that this change, although halachically grounded, would better not be instituted by an individual rabbi. Therefore I requested that the congregation recite it, but only once, not three times." In any event, he reinstated Kol Nidrei the following year.An interesting cultural artifact is the centrality of the Kol Nidrei in the alleged first talking picture, Al Jolson's The Jazz Singer from 1927. To me, that seems to indicate a refreshing lack of prejudice against Jews in the United States, this despite the more benign country club variety antisemitism that was quite prevalent. Surely it would have been unthinkable for such a film to be produced overseas at that time.
More importantly, today many Jews are completely unaware that there ever was a controversy. While it says something about their own Jewish education, it also says something about the society in which we now live (David Duke notwithstanding).
Read the rest:
*It was exactly as wordy in that 19th century Germanic way that I expected.
*It was far less boring and technical then I expected.
*Wellhausen is as antisemitic as expected, but it doesn't overwhelm the work.
*It is competely true that many of his observations were well noted by classical Jewish sources.
*It is no mere apologetic to point out that a great deal of the contradictions, anachronisms and doublets which he noted were also noted by Chazal and our commentators (as well as the nature of Elokim and YHVH).
*However, much the way in which R. Aharon Feldman noted that the world really does appear to be billions of years old, by looking at the stars, Wellhausen's notes these problems (and others) and they need not be inherently antisemitic. If they were obvious to Chazal, why shouldn't they be obvious to Wellhausen--and more importantly, not based on dishonest reading?
*He indeed conjectures many things for which he has no basis conjecturing.
*His views kohanim as nothing but papal priests, which I needn't point out is an anachronism.
*Wellahusen looks exactly as you'd imagine he would:
Close to fifty years ago Herman Wouk wrote in his majestic This Is My God (one of my favorite books):
[Wellahusen's Prolegomena] is a museum piece now....Serious Bible scholarship has dropped it...
Some well-meaning Orthodox defenders of the faith delight in repeating the canard that through the heroic efforts of Rabbis David Hoffman and Hayyim Heller, the death knell was sounded for the documentary hypothesis decades ago--and it need no longer be taken seriously. Nothing could be further from the truth.(Response to Rabbi Breuer by Shnayer Z. Leiman in Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah: Contributions and Limitations) Since Wellhausen's documentary hypothesis isn't dead and has not been definitively rebutted, despite what we might wish, I plan to post more about it*; on problems with it and problems without it. After all, I didn't plow through the Prolegomena because it was fun, believe me.
And this is the order in which they sit. The Head of the Academy stands [var.: sits] at the head, and before him are ten men [comprising] what is called the "first row," all facing the Head of the Academy. Of the ten who sit before him, seven of them are "Heads of the Kallah" and three are associates....(translation by David Goodblatt in Rabbinic Instruction in Sasanian Babylonia. Leiden: Brill 1975.)
...And the seventy [comprising] the Sanhedrin are the seven rows. The first row sits as we mentioned. In back of them are [another] ten [and so on] until [there are] seven rows, all of them facing the Head of the Academy. All the disciples sit behind them without any fixed places. But in the seven rows each one has a fixed place, and no one sits in the place of his colleague....
When the Head of the Academy wants to test them in their studies, they all meet with him during the four Sabbaths of Adar. He sits and the first row recite before him while the remaining rows listen in silence. When they reach a section requiring comment, they discuss it among themselves while the Head of the Academy listens and considers their words. Then he reads and they are silent, for they know that he has already discerned the matter of their disagreement. When he finishes reading, he expounds the tractate which they studied during the winter, each one at home, and in the process he explains what the disciples had disagreed over. Sometimes he asks them the interpretation of laws. They defer to one another and then to the Head of the Academy, asking him the answer. And no one can speak to him until he gives permission. And [then] each one of them speaks according to his wisdom....
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Nachum Lamm recalls R. Scherman's speech at the opening of the YU Museum's Printing the Talmud exhibit:
He spoke at the opening of the YU Museum exhibit on the Talmud, and contributed an essay to the catalog. Hearing him correct himself- "Shabbos" became "Shabbat"- to a largely non-Orthodox audience was interesting.
A black hat is a Jewish ritual item.
I feel like I should say something about group identity blah blah blah or rabbinical garb blah blah blah, or the Mishna Berura.
I remember getting one (two, actually) before my bar mitzvah. It was definitely considered a rite of passage, and probably was for a generation or two before me. The hat separates the men from the 12 year olds.
Have you got one? Do you wear one? When? Why? Why did you? Why don't you? Why do you sometimes?
Imagine that for some reason someone has enough money to publish a Talmud without any commentaries whatsoever, just the text.Yes, it isn't practical. Yes, only five people would even want to buy it, but imagine anyway that it was printed and distributed.
What would the reaction to a Gemara like that be, if you can imagine that it gets detected on the radar screens?
Great photos, including one of their version of a sukka (theirs are indoors):
Jameel says it smelled amazing, with all those fruit on the ceiling, including many esrogim.
All I could think when I saw the picture is that I bet they don't pay what I do for an esrog!
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
There's an amazing story about Shaul Lieberman, which made his reputation. He took a really corrupt and incomprehensible section of the Jerusalem Talmud and reconstructed it by suggesting some 30 radical changes (e.g. the opinions of authorities X and Y are reversed, this word "not" should be deleted, the phrase Z should be inserted here, section 3 should precede section 1 etc.). All the difficulties were resolved, and it made perfect sense and had continuity with what came before and after. It was a tour-de-force and widely admired, but considered extremely speculative. Many years later, an old manuscript was discovered which had all 30 of his changes.For all I know this is true. For all I know. But it certainly seems like this is a wildly exaggerated version of what might have occurred, if it did at all. I mean, thirty changes?
Its striking because this is exactly parallel to the type of "feats of the mind" gedolim stories routinely traded and recounted in the oilam ha-yeshiva.
Here we see a chart that shows the ancient Hebrew alphabet from R. Azariah de' Rossi's 16th century opus Me'or Enayim.
In fact, while clearly there is something to de' Rossi's rendering, this isn't actually the ancient ketav ivri script. De' Rossi's best available source, like the Ramban before him, was the script used by the Samaritans. The script was presumed to be identical to ketav ivri, while it's actually a descendent of it, but not the same. That de' Rossi's illustration comes from Samaritan can be shown by a comparison of his chart with the Samaritan alphabet:
When the Ramban was 'oleh he discovered that to truly understand much of Tanakh requires actually being in the land of Israel. Some of his prior held views, mainly relating to geography, were debunked simply by his being able to actually see and experience what until then were only words. Another interesting consequence of his move to Eretz Yisrael was his revised understanding of the shiur of the Biblical shekel ha-kodesh. There was an ancient shekel possessed by Jews in Acco, with ancient Hebrew writing on it. With the help of Samaritans, he was told that the writing confirmed that it was indeed a shekel. After weighing it, the Ramban concluded that Rashi's view of the shekel's weight (in Shemos 21:32) was correct, while his own view (in Shemos 30:13) was inccorect.
Here is de' Rossi's rendering of the shekel:
Interestingly, the Ramban's opinion was quoted a number of times by Christian writers in the 18th century in studies regarding the antiquity of the Hebrew alphabets. Here is an example, from Robert Spearman's "Letters to a friend, concerning the Septuagint translation, and the heathen mythology" (1759):
and another discussion in"Sketches of Hebrew and Egyptian antiquity, intended as an introduction to the Pentateuch" by John Walsh, Vicar of Cloncurry and Kilcock (1793)
On the Main Line, now with tags: Hebrew
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Analysis of a Google map led to the discovery of a Roman villa like this one in Parma, Italy.
"Using satellite images from Google Maps and Google Earth, an Italian computer programmer has stumbled upon the remains of an ancient villa. Luca Mori was studying maps of the region around his town of Sorbolo, near Parma, when he noticed a prominent, oval, shaded form more than 500 metres long. It was the meander of an ancient river, visible because former watercourses absorb different amounts of moisture from the air than their surroundings do."
edit: I tip my black hat to Mis-nagid.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Thursday, September 15, 2005
In this mid-19th century Romm edition of the Tzenarena Adam and Eve are dressed in fig leafs and hands. How could the venerable Romm printing press, creator of the inspired Vilna Shas print an illustration of Chava with her pupik visible? It's disillusioning, really.
I remind myself, I had an encounter quite a number of years ago with a representative of the so-called Hokhmat Yisrael [Wissenschaft des Judentums]. He was a very outstanding scholar. (At this point, a footnote tells us that "the scholar whom the Rav was referring to was Professor Saul Lieberman (1898-1983) of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The Rav and Professor Lieberman, who were related by marriage, met at a brit milah. Professor Lieberman was married to Judith Berlin, the granddaughter of the Netziv.") He told me that lately they had discovered a parchment, a megillah, in which it was stated unequivocally that a kohen is enjoined from defiling himself with a sheretz*.*The halakhah is that a kohen is permitted to have contact with a sheretz.
So I said to him: "Do you take it seriously?"
"Of course," he answered, "very seriously." You know, they [the devotees of Hokhmat Yisrael] have the answer right away. It is a different kabbalah, a different tradition. They operate with "traditions" in the plural.
So I mentioned a name to him. The name was known to him, and I knew that he did not like the person. I asked him: "Do you know him?"
"Yes," he answered.
"Is he a scholar?" I asked.
"No, he is a boor and an am ha-aretz mide-oraita," he answered.
I said to him: "So only we have a monopoly on boors and amei ha-aretz mideo-oraita? Fifteen hundred years ago there were also boors and amei ha-aretz. Since there was no paper, the boor had to write on parchment. So you found a nice hiddushei Torah, so what!"
Paranthetically, I wish I knew more about Prof. Lieberman. Of those who know, is it fair to say that if he'd chosen to become a rebbe in a traditional yeshiva environment (if I am not mistaken, he considered teaching at Chaim Berlin) that ultimately he'd have been considered in the yeshiva world another one of those idiosyncratic rabbis like R. Chaim Heller (he of the Peshitta obsession)? Or is that impossible? I've read his classic "...In Jewish Palestine" books.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
53,500 learning in KollelPutting aside politics and everyting, 117,000 people learning Torah is phenomenal.
41,000 learning in Yeshiva
23,000 learning in Yeshiva Ketana
Monday, September 12, 2005
The New York Metropolitan Area Chapter of the Association of JewishI plan to be there!
Libraries (AJL/NYMA) will hold its Fall 2005 Conference on Monday,
September 19, 1-4 pm, at The New York Public Library's South Court
Auditorium. Use the staff entrance on 40th Street between Fifth Avenue and
Bryant Park. *Bring picture ID.*
CENSORSHIP AND SELF-CENSORSHIP: DRAWING THE RED LINES
Intra-Jewish Dialogue: Problems and Perspectives - Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch,
Rabbi, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue
Orthodoxy and Censorship - Professor Marc B. Shapiro, Weinberg Chair of
Judaic Studies, University of Scranton
For further information, contact Marlene Schiffman: E-mail Protected; (212)
Ammiel Hirsch, is of course, co-author of One People, Two Worlds with Yosef Reinman.
Regarding Marc Shapiro (R. Jacob Jehiel Weinberg biography, the Limits of Orthodox Theology, many papers etc) I thoroughly enjoyed his books, but am I the only one who gets the impression that he can't figure out why no one will ban his books?
Karen Armstrong's "The Battle For God" is a good example. The book treats the rise of fundamentalism in Christianity, Judaism and Islam worldwide over the past 50 years, a phenomenon that virtually no one predicted. It's a pretty good book. She is a thorough scholar. According to Amazon.com she cited 175 works. The bibliography is 17 pages long, each one containing about 36 entried. Thats more than 612 sources, plenty of them good ones. But on page 101, discussing the beginning of Chassidus, she writes of
"....a powerful figure: Elijah ben Solomon Zalman (1720-97), head (gaon) of the Academy of Vilna."I'm not sure its an exaggeration to say that any twelve year old kid in yeshiva knows that this is nonsense. The Vilna Gaon most certainly was not the head of the Academy of Vilna (nor was there an 'Academy of Vilna').
Now I'm not saying this is an unreasonable screw-up. Armstrong probably read a hundred and one times over the years that a gaon was an academy head. She probably didn't even realize that she was making the Vilna Gaon a rosh yeshiva without having read it in any source. But a mistake it is, and not a minor one in that to understand the Vilna Gaon is to know first of all that he was an independent, secluded scholar. Even his having disciples meant something completely different than having disciples normally does.
It's understandable how Armstrong got this wrong, but of course it means that she probably has no concept of the Vilna Gaon apart from some dry facts, namely that he was reputedly a genius, extremely influential and an opposer of Chassidus.
So what else does she misunderstand and what else does she get wrong, especially in the parts of the book that deal with Christianity and Islam, which I have less intimate knowledge of? This is a problem native to any work of this kind, al achas kamma ve-kamma, articles in the daily newspapers or popular magazine.
Its pretty obvious that one can cherry-pick through a vast corpus like the Talmud and rabbinic literature to find nearly any opinion, or something that resembles it. Yes, I do it sometimes too--but I'm not sure the response to this unfortunate phenomenon is to arm yet more people with more talking points, more "famous" Talmudic sayings they can use to support any position, political or otherwise.
Friday, September 09, 2005
Reb Yudel says its this:
In the main, most of this info is from The Phonology of Ashkenaz by Dovid Katz.
On the Main Line, now with tags: Hebrew
Thursday, September 08, 2005
That's a famous obscure Gemara.
One commentator said on it the following:
Hillel, may he rest in peace, saw Pharaoh's skull floating on the water. It was Pharaoh who used to take one hundred and fifty young children of Israel very morning, and another hundred and fifty every evening and cast them into the sea. That is why the Lord slew him and drowned him. And the ancients tell us that the Hillel referred to in the Mishna is really Moses our master, may he rest in peace....And he said to the skull, "Because you slew human beings and threw them into the water, the Lord has slain you and cast you into the water"....The is the hidden [mystical] meaning of this statement.What's really interesting is that the above commentator was R. David Ha-Nagid, a grandson of the Rambam. (Midrash David of R. David Ha-Nagid, trans B.Z. Krynfiss (Jerusalem, 5704), p. 34)
Far be it for me to judge whether the Rambam would have liked this peshat, but suffice it to say that it is of the sort that is entirely different from the rationalist approach of the Rambam, that's for sure.
[James Henry] Breasted, when asked by a student, How does one become an Egyptologist? replied, "First, he must marry a rich woman."Goldin Judah, Several Sidelights of a Torah Education (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1988), pp.203 in Studies in Midrash and Related Literature
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
We live in a strange world, don't we? As expected, there are strange things that really defy explanation.
In 1976 an excavation of an ancient Israelite village uncovered written on a piece of pottery what is now called the 'Izbet Sartah abecedary (an abecedary is a list of the alphabet in order). The inscription was dated to 1200-1000 BCE and it looks like the above image.
Actually, only the bottom line is the abecedary. What is unusual about this (aside from its existence in and of itself!) is that it is written from left-to-right (that's an 'aleph all the way to the left, and the crossy looking thing at the right is the tav). That itself isn't so unusual in ancient writing. The ancient Greeks sometimes wrote using boustrophedon, which means that the text alternates in direction depending on the line.
For example you would start writing from left-to-right
enil txen eht ni tfel-ot-thgir eunitnoc dna
and then reverse on the next line, etc.
Of course that was how the early Greeks did it, but this is the only example of such Israelite writing.
The zayin and hes are reversed, as are the 'ayin and peh. And then it seems to repeat kuf twice, while omitting resh. If written in modern Hebrew it would look like this: תשקקצעפסנמלכיטזחוהדגבא
Interestingly, the first four peraqim of Eicha are acrostics; each verse or group of verses begins with a letter of the aleph-bet and the chapter is 22 verses long. The second through fourths pereqs actually reverse the פ and the ע for no apparent reason (while the first doesn't). Perhaps taken with the 'Izbet Sartah abecedary we can postulate that the order of the alphabet simply wasn't fully stable until a later date. Of course that's not a very complete answer.
Another puzzle is that the first four lines above the abecedary are gibberish, or at least it seems like it thus far. Some have said that it may be a student's practice, the ordering may be simple error. But of course there's no evidence for that. Wanna solve an ancient mystery that has experts baffled? What's the deal?
On the Main Line, now with tags: Hebrew, Alphabet
Friday, September 02, 2005
have assimilated as part of the divine revelation the exhilarating insight which these recent generations have given to us, that development is God’s way of working out his will. They see that the most desirable elements in human life have come through the method of development. Man’s music has developed from the rhythmic noise of beaten sticks until we have in melody and harmony possibilities once undreamed. Man’s painting has developed from the crude outlines of the cavemen until in line and color we have achieved unforeseen results and possess latent beauties yet unfolded. Man’s architecture has developed from the crude huts of primitive men until our cathedrals and business buildings reveal alike an incalculable advance and an unimaginable future. Development does seem to be the way in which God works.There is much to pick apart, to be sure. Ancient forms of music still extant, such as Indian sitar music is hardly primitive. There is much to be commended from the past as well as in the present and future. But Fosdick worded a good point well.