Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Masoretic text: the other side of the story

I enjoy hearing the other perspective on issues. Well, not always, but I do when I barely even knew there was another perspective. For example, I would probably find an ancient Philistine chronicle fascinating. What was their version of events? We have something of that nature in the Mesha Stele.

Blogger a Goy for Jesus has a couple of posts about textual criticism of the Bible (see here and here.) In the first one he links to two audio clips of short lectures on textual criticism and the masoretic transmission by a preacher named Fred Butler. I listened to the second clip (the masoretic one). Butler is an engaging speaker and it isn't a bad overview (and I don't mean to knock him, but I was amused by some mispronunciations; an amusing one was Jacob ben Tschaim)--don't get me wrong, I'd probably do the same if I was saying aloud Greek or Arabic words which I only learned from books--if anything it's just an object lesson in the limitations of the Latin alphabet for portraying the sounds of Hebrew). An Evangelical Christian, a major focus of these lectures seems to be to combat King James Onlyism (and indirectly "the" masoretic text, which it was based on), hence his interest in textual criticism. (Or at least that's my take.)

In any case, after discussing why and how there is a uniform text for the Hebrew Bible he turned to the why and how there are so many texts of the Versions with many thousands of differences. As many of my readers will knows, this fact is thought to impugn the integrity of the Christian Bible by many non-Christians. You will find this remarked upon at Aish seminars and also by Muslims. Although we can argue how meaningful this really is, it's somewhat irrelevant from a Christian perspective, since Christians relate to their Bible in a different way from Jews and Muslims. Jews and Muslims expect a basically uniform text, because they have basically uniform texts. Christians don't, because they don't. Furthermore, although there is some sense that a particular language version has special sanctity (ie, Latin Vulgate for Catholics, Syriac Peshittha for some eastern churches, King James for many Anglo Christians, etc) it is my understanding that many Christians expect Bibles in dozens of versions, in as many languages as possible. So there simply cannot be the same sense of "this text is THE Bible" in the same way Jews can have it or Muslims can have it. Everyone who places the Vulgate at the top is aware that it is a translation.

In any case, what of all the differences? Isn't it clear and obvious that a perfect text with no differences is better and has more integrity? You might think that. But Mr Butler has another viewpoint and it is specifically directed at King James Onlyists, who wish to invest all their eggs in one basket, with one version. Using the Qur'an as a foil, he says that it originally had a multiplicty of texts, but under the auspices of the third khaliph one version emerged, all others being confiscated and destroyed (he makes an error in saying that the Sunni and Shi'a Muslims have two texts which don't agree).

Here's the argument: there is a pitfall to having ONE text and it is the following. If you have one text of sacred scriptures there is always the danger that some heretic could alter the text (!). Obviously he would have to be a despot with great power (he'd also have to, I suppose, destroy the internet).

"A multiplicty of copies helps prevent any one heretic from gathering them all up and inserting error into it. Because if you get one little group of that, and you do mess up the text--if he was to do that, well you'd have three or four other families [of texts]...that would witness against this guy's corruption that he put together. You see that with the New Testament as well....There are so many copies that there is no way a heretic could gather them all up to changedGod's word. You don't have that with the Qur'an. There's only one copy of it now."

I haven't had the chance to turn this argument over in my mind much, but one thing is for sure: it's a new perspective and I was glad to hear it.

Purim is coming

Posted at Mail-Jewish in 2005 by the talented Martin Stern (via Manuscript Boy):

Classic line, in my opinion:

Ibn Shakhran notes that, throughout the Torah, the name of Noach is
spelled chaser, yet in the Megillah, we find it spelled malei in three
places, a hint to be livesumei bePurya ad delo yada, in that one should
be as malei yayin as Noach (Gen. 9,21).


Book Review

Shorshei Kerem Rosh Nevolim by Mordekhai ibn Shakhran
edited with introduction and notes by Rabbi Alter Brandwein
(240 + xii pages, $100)

reviewed by Shimmy Benkish,
Emeritus Professor of Palaeooinology, University of Weinburg

As has been reported widely, the Sefer Shorshei Kerem Rosh Nevalim
by the 10th century exegete, Ibn Shakhran, was found recently in the
wine cellars of the Vatican where its folios had been used as stoppers
in ancient amphorae. Until now he was only known from scattered
quotations but now we can appreciate his deep understanding of the
Tenakh in all its brilliance.

The author obviously chose this name for his sefer as an acrostic of
his name. It is also a reference to his home town, Gibraltar, which had
been known, previous to the Arab conquest, as Nebelberg from the
Visigothic word meaning 'foggy mountain', because of the clouds that
often envelope its summit, or el Pe'on, the Rock, as it is still called
by its residents, HaTsur in mediaeval Jewish works. The Arabs renamed it
Gebal Tariq, the mountain of Tariq, after their leader. In defiance, the
indigenous population called it 'el Pe'on del cabecilla', literally the
rock of 'the head of the gang of scoundrels', rosh nevolim.

It seems that his idea that Hebrew words were derived from four letter
roots from which one letter was removed to give different nuances of
meaning, drew the ire of his contemporary, Dunash Ibn Labrat, who wrote
of him "Ben Kaf keVen Quf ", implying that, with such opinions, his name
should have been with a quf rather than a kaf. This may also be the
earliest reference to the colony of Barbary apes which still live in
Gibraltar. Ibn Ezra was moved to defend our author against this calumny
in his comment on Tehillim (81,17) "umitsur devash asbi'eka - kemo
hamefaresh hagadol Ibn Shakhran me'ir Tsur shemidevarov anu sevei'im
devash." This may itself be an allusion to Ibn Shakhran's introductory
comment to the Megillah "Why is Shushan always referred to as 'HaBirah'
- because it was the centre of beer production in Achashverosh's
empire." In Biblical usage devash invariably refers to date honey, the
raw material for beer manufacture in Bavel, barley beer being peculiar
to the land of Madai ('Beer Production in the Bible and Talmud' by
Professor Yehoiyada Felix, Beer Sheker University Press, 5715*)

To give the readers a better idea of his approach, we quote some
further insights on the Megillah which will whet their appetite for

Noach and the Megillah

Ibn Shakhran notes that, throughout the Torah, the name of Noach is
spelled chaser, yet in the Megillah, we find it spelled malei in three
places, a hint to be livesumei bePurya ad delo yada, in that one should
be as malei yayin as Noach (Gen. 9,21).

He notes (Esth. 9,17) that this must be the source of the beraisa
brought in the Avos deRabbi Natlan (Schlechter edition, 1,1-3, Van
De'Stijl Brothers' Press, Weinheim, Baden, 5526*):

"HaBakbuk kibel haYayin meKerem umesarah leNoach (Gen. 9, 20-21),
veNoach liVnos Lot (19, 31-36), uVenos Lot leOved Edom haGitti (2
Sam. 6, 10), veOved Edom haGitti leNaval haKarmeli (1 Sam. 25, 36)
[There seems to be a chronological inaccuracy here since Naval was prior
to Oved Edom, but perhaps this is a case of ein me'uchar umukdam
beshikhrus - when drunk one has no perception of time - S.B], veNaval
haKarmeli leBelshatsar (Dan. 5), uVelshatsar leAchashverosh,
veAchashverosh asah mishteh lekhol sarav ve'avadav (Esth. 1, 3) " Noach
hayah omer 'Al sheloshah devarim haOlam omed, al haYayyin ve'al
haShekhar ve'al haSaraf' " Hu hayah omer 'Im ein kerem ein yayin ve'im
ein yayin ein shikhrus' ''

Its repetition (9,18), supports Rav Yeina Saba's memra in Massekhes
Shikurim. (Falsher edition 7,12, Tokayer Press, Martha's Vineyard,
Mass., 5716*) that 'livesumei applies to both days of Purim, umeshum
sefeika deyoma machmirin bazeh"!

In his comment on "ya'asu eits gevoah chamishim amah" (5,14), Ibn
Shakhran brings Midrash Shekhar Tov which explains that Haman obtained
this piece of timber from Noach who had used it as one of the cross
beams of the ark (Gen. 6,15):

"How is it that Noach was drawn into the Megillah? Our Sages teach
that when Zeresh told Haman to hang Mordekhai on a gallows fifty amos
high, he asked her where such an enormous piece of timber might be
found. To this she replied 'Did not your ancestor Noach build his ark
with such mighty beams? Go to him and ask for one!' This advice greatly
pleased Haman and he did so. When he came to Noach with his request
Noach refused, so Haman grabbed one end and tried to make off with
it. At this, Noach grabbed the other end to prevent its loss but, being
an extremely elderly man, could not stop Haman who thereby dragged him
with the beam into the Megillah."

Since it says (Esth. 9,16) "veNoach mei'oyeveihem", which he
translates as "and Noach from among their enemies", Ibn Shakhran points
out that Haman's hatred of Jews must have come from Noach together with
the rest of his junk

The mothers-in-law of Achashverosh

It seems that surrogate motherhood was still known in his days since
he comments on the verse "Gam Vashti haMalkah asesah mishteh nashim"
(1,9) "HaKesiv 'mishteh' im hei, vekakri 'mishtei' im yud, vezeh sod
gadol - achas lezera' veachas le'ibbur" and notes that both are named in
the Megillah, "Bo'arah" (1,12) and "Keshokh" (2,1). The former was
obviously the biological mother as he explains "venikreis al shem zeh
mipnei shehe'erah bah ba'alah", so the latter must have been the
surrogate. He notes that it is clear that these two must be the mothers
of Vashti since they are brought in connection with her downfall.

He comments "al tikri 'kam bechamaso' (7,7) ela 'beKam chamoso'
vezeh shemah shel imah shel Esther " she was also known as "Shokhakhah"
(7,10) and this is no contradiction to the verse 'she had no father or
mother' (2,7) because her mother's name had been forgotten. Though some
say Esther had two mothers like Vashti, this is a mistake: her mother's
name was 'Kam', and 'Shokhakhah' was rak kinnui be'alma".

There are many further insights brought by Ibn Shakhran for which
the reader is recommended to obtain a copy and intoxicate himself with
its wisdom, "halo hem kesuvim al sefer (10, 2)".

*Note that hashtus, hashikor and hashasui have gematrias 5715, 5526 and
5716 respectively. Also this year 5765 is the gematria of hashetuim
(with two yuds from the shem hameshulav of course!)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Some quaint 17th century English definitions of Hebrew words

1. From John Florio's Italian-English dictionary, "Queen Anna's New World of Words," 1611, הושענה:

Osánna signifies in Hebrew, saue or quicken vs now we pray thee our viuification. The Iewes called so the willow branches, which they bare in their hands at the feast of Tabernacles. Some vnderstand it for inexpressible ioy.

2. Another from Florio, תיו:

Tháu an Hebrew letter vsed often misteriously for the crosse of Christ, as also for the number of 400.

(See "X and Th," appendix to R. Saul Lieberman's Greek in Jewish Palestine which discusses the relationship between the paleo-Hebrew form of ת (which resembled an X) and the Greek letter Chi (also resembling an X) , remarked in several obscure midrashim. The Christians, of course, interpreted both ת and Chi for the sign of the cross. See also Ezekiel 9:4)

3. Edmund Bolton's "The Elements of Armories," 1610, מצרים:

MIZRAIM. The Hebrew, or MOSAICAL name of the ÆGYPTIANS, which I vse, the rather to signifie thereby those ÆGYPTIANS that were of the oldest times. HEB.

4. Randle Cotgrave's "Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues," 1611, שקל:

Cicle; m. A Sheicle; an Hebrew coyne, or weight of two drammes, worth about foureteene pence ster­ ling. Cicle du Sanctuaire. Was twice as much as the ordi­narie one; foure drammes in weight; in value, two shil­ lings foure pence sterl.

5. Edward Phillips' "The New World of English Words," 1658, קבלה:

Cabala, an Hebrew word, signifying receiving, also a science among the Jews, comprehending the secret wayes of expounding the Law, which were revealed by God to Moses.

6. Phillips, אלישבע:

Elizabeth, the proper name of a woman, from the Hebrew words Eli, and Shavang, i. e. the Oath of God.

This one is interesting, because he uses the /ng/ pronunciation for `ayin i.e. Western Sephardic.

7. Phillips, again, ממון:

Mammon, the God of wealth, the word signifying in the Syriack tongue riches, or wealth, and is derived from the Hebrew word Hamon, i. plenty, having M. Hemantick added at the beginning.

Interesting etymology!

George Bush @ English Hebraica (alsos something for the pedants)

1. Learn about Professor George Bush and download a very interesting review of his 1835 Hebrew grammar at English Hebraica.

2. For the pedants and dictionary readers: quaint 17th century definitions of Hebrew words at English Hebraica.

NYU's Hebrew Professor George Bush (1796-1859)

George Bush (1796-1859), an ordained minister, was professor of Hebrew and oriental literature at NYU from 1832-1846. He would have been long forgotten if not for the fact that he was a George Bush. He is indeed a relative of the president; not an ancestor, but a cousin five times removed.* Indeed, the very existence of a Wikipedia page on him would have been exceedingly unlikely, in my opinion, if not for his name.

Although specialists in the field of Christian Hebraism knew of him, no one else would have had not Shalom Goldman brought it to wider attention after "discovering" him in 1988. Intrigued to discover the president's name in an article by Raphael Loewe's in the Encyclopedia Judaica ("European Christian Hebraists") that mentioned "George Bush (USA)," Goldman was spurned to investigate. In 1989 Newsweek reported the existence of this long forgotten professor, quoting Goldman.

With the publication of a 1991 article in the American Jewish Archives called "Professor George Bush: American Hebraist and Pro-Zionist," the White House noticed. "It" sent a letter to Goldman, "artfully written," connecting it with the adminstration's "search for peace in the Middle East".

Also of note is that he wrote a book called The Life of Muhammad, a fact which has been noted in the Islamic world today.

Of interest--and, in fact, this is why I wrote this post--is a 27 page review from 1835 of a 298 page Hebrew grammar he wrote, from the Princeton Theological Review. I uploaded a copy which can be downloaded here.

The review is basically favorable, with some qualms. I was very amused by this part of the review, where Bush is taken to task for a couple of decisions he made:

[The grammar] sort of [takes] for granted that the reader knows what he cannot know if he is a beginner....Thus, for example, when Professor Bush talks of letters being sounded theoretically one way and practically another, the terms are in themselves perspicuous enough, and any one who had a previous smattering of the language, would at once perceive their meaning. But what idea can a novice form of a theoretical sound as distinguished from a practical one?

...Another circumstance which strikes us very early is the author's adoption of Professor Stuart's [method of transliteration] of certain Hebrew letters. [Stuart] represents the aspirated Daleth by dh, which was long since pointed out by Sir William Jones as a proper symbol of the natural relation between the soft th and the ordinary d. Professor Bush denoted it by th, and assigns as a reason that "its sound is practically that of th in though."....he carries it so far as to use the form Begath-kephath, where the very object of employing the word at all is to keep its elements distinctly in the memory, which design is thus defeated by repeating the th....This sort of very apt to fascinate grammarians, but a little thought will show its mere inanity.

...In relation to the aspirates, Professor B. is not sufficiently explicit. He states that the letter Beth has the sound of "bh i.e. v." Now, perspicuous as this may be to philologians, might not a beginner very reasonably ask, what connexion there can be between these letters, and how the insertion of a point can transform one consonant into another?
*Although Goldman writes that he is an ancestor of Presidents George Bush (pg. 10, God's Sacred Tongue: Hebrew & the American Imagination), on a Department of State web site meant to counter misinformation about the US government--in this case to effectively provide hasbarah to enhance the US's reputation among Muslims--the government clarified that Professor George Bush is not a descendant:

"Two independent genealogies show Reverend Bush was the cousin of Obadiah Bush, who was the great-great-great grandfather of the current president. This makes the Reverend Bush a distant relative of the current president, five generations removed, but NOT his direct ancestor"

Monday, February 26, 2007

Yated Neeman's text of Mishna Avot

On the whole Yated/ YCT brouhaha J-blog newcomer Rejewvenate asks "how they can [publish] a piece like this and then get the one piece of actual Torah [it] cite[s] wrong."

From the Yated article:

Nevertheless, after watching YCT develop and spread with barely a peep of public outcry from the Modern / Centrist Orthodox establishment we felt compelled by the injunction of our sages, that state, “Bemakom she’ein ish, hishtadel lihiyos ish: In a place where there are no leaders; strive to be a leader (Avos 2-6).”

As Rejewvenate notes the Mishna in Avot says במקום שאין אנשים השתדל להיות איש and not במקום שאין איש השתדל להיות איש.

Come on! Get the basics right! How are you not ashamed! How dare you disrespect your audience like that? What a failure! Do you take us for fools? Exactly how many people laid eyes on this article before it was published? How serious could your reservations truly have been if you let such a glaring error through? The Yated isn’t a blog, and its making a serious charge. Is it too much to ask that you at least quote correctly from Pirkei Avot?

Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd ed. Post I: Heidenheim and Baer

Having access to the new version of Encyclopedia Judaica through Spertus' wonderful Feinberg e-collection (see here), I thought it might be interesting to do some occasional posts on what I find in it, for better or for worse.

Even though I am beginning with a mistake, I have not yet formed an opinion on this new edition, though I will say that it is very aesthetically displeasing, especially in comparison to the first edition. But the real issue is content and perhaps it will show itself to be an improvement in that regard, even though many photos are missing from the new edition.

In its entry on BAER, SELIGMAN ISAAC it says "(1825–1897), Hebrew grammarian, masorah scholar, and liturgist. Born at Mosbach (Baden, Germany), Baer was a pupil of Wolf Heidenheim, who left him many of his manuscripts. "

The trouble is that it also has "HEIDENHEIM, WOLF (Benjamin Ze'ev; 1757–1832)"--Heidenheim died in 1832. Was Seligman Baer actually "a pupil of Wolf Heidenheim," despite being 6 or 7 when the latter died? As far as I know, Reb Wolf was not a heder melamed and Baer was not the Mozart of the Masorah.

In Dotan's prologemena to Wickes (referred to in the post directly below) he writes (pg XIII):

Seligman Baer might be regarded as the direct follower of Heidenheim, thought it seems the two never met.24

24 Baer was only 7 years old when Heidenheim died so it is astonishing that Kahle could say: "Seligman Baer (1825-97) in his early youth seems to have been in contact with Wolf Heidenheim (1757-1832)" (The Cairo Geniza2, Oxford, 1959, p. 113).

And yet, the Encyclopedia Judaica entry on Baer, written by Isaak Dov Ber Markon*, does not cite Kahle and furthermore says far more than that they seem[ed] to have been in contact. He says that he was a pupil and that Heidenheim left him many manuscripts.

Where did this come from? I suppose that, perhaps, Baer did eventually possess many of Heidenheim's manuscripts. Could that be how this yarn was spun? I have no idea.

Does anyone know how these articles were written? Did Markon write it in Hebrew and someone translated it? Did the article originally written mean to say just what Dotan says, that Baer "might be regarded as a direct follower" of Heidenheim? Alas, it is a mystery to me.

*This is not, I assume, a revised article.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Rabbi Mordechai Breuer (1921-2007)

ADDeRabbi notes the passing of a giant of scholarship, Rabbi Mordechai Breuer z"l.

edit: Also Lamed, Mar Gavriel, Ari Kinsberg and Seforim.

I put up this post yesterday when I had about two seconds, so I decided to edit it a little. Other blogs have already said much about Rabbi Breuer, so little more needs to be said on my part. Mar Gavriel called him "the greatest Massorete * of our day," and that was something that crossed my mind, along the lines of what Aron Dotan wrote in his prologemena to the 1970 edition of Wicke's Two treatises on the accentuation of the Old Testament about Wolf Heidenheim and Seligmann Baer:

"they both continue the work of the ancient Masoretes who edited Biblical manuscripts and who labored with the subtleties of the vocalization, the accentuation, and the Masora of the Bible. The line of Masoretes never ceased to exist even after the printing of "the Masora," that random compilation published by Ya`qov ben Hayyim ibn Adonijah in the Second Rabbinic Bible (Venice, 1524-1525), a complilation which today, unfortunately, represents to many the Masora in general. On the face of it, it might have been expected that after the "codification" of the Masora there would be no further Masoretes. But this is not the case, as testify, for instance, Menahem di Lonzano, אור תורה (first published in 1618), Solomon Jedidiah of Norzi, מנחת שי, and other important works of the same kind. Heidenheim and Baer should be regarded as additional links in this chain of Masoretes, their main interest also being the exact transmission of the Bible text."

Add to this Menachem Breuer (and this was only one aspect of his work).

*Evidently Mar Gavriel takes a side in the debate about the proper spelling of מסורת/ מסורה--does the ס recieve a daghesh or not? In days of olden the overwhelming consensus was that it did, hence massorah. Today the convention mostly favors dropping one s. See A Contribution to the History of the Term "Massorah" by Wilhelm Bacher, JQR, Vol. 3, No. 4 (Jul., 1891), pp. 785-790

(I am pleased to say, by the way, that I created the Wikipedia page on Rabbi Breuer).

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Chassidishe textual criticism and emendation

This tendency of the Hasidim to encourage gladness and enjoyment is well illustrated by the view taken by R. Zebi Hirsch of Zhidachow (Zydaczow) (d. 1831) of the custom of the firstborn fasting on the eve of Pesah. According to him this is based on a mistake in the spelling in the treatise Sopherim, which should read הבכורות מתענגין בערב פסח (the firstborn should enjoy themselves on the eve of Pesah), instead of הבכורות מתענין בערב פסח as we have it in our texts.

Pg. 245 Ashkenazim and Sephardim: Their Relations, Differences and Problems as Reflected in the Rabbinical Responsa by HJ Zimmels.

Dinim de Sehita y Bedica

I'm not sure what audience there is for something like this, but it definitely is of antiquarian interest.

You can download a small booklet (48 pages) printed in London in 1733, called Dinim de Sehita y Bedica, authorized by del Señor Haham and (I think) written by one Aaron Mendoza. It is a guide to shehita in Spanish, based on the Shulhan Arukh (I think).

Includes illustrations like this one:

Monday, February 19, 2007

Did Elias Levita become a Christian? Also, teaching Torah to non-Jews.

R. Eliyahu Bachur (but known by many names: "R. Eliyahu Ha-medakdek" "R. Eliyahu Ashkenazi" "Elias Levita" "Elia Levita," and today, "Elijah Levita") (1469-1549) was an interesting character. Known chiefly in some circles for authoring the Yiddish Bobe-Buch (which eventually gave birth to the name "Bubbe mayseh" for tall-tale), but in others for his work on Hebrew grammar and the massorah. He was the author of an Aramaic dictionary, a detailed introduction to the massorah called Massores Ha-massorah, served as editor and proofreader in the famed Bomberg press in Venice (much more info).

In addition, he became, for Christian Hebraists the great authority in all matters Hebrew and, particularly, the masorah of the Hebrew Bible.

In a book by Richard Mayo (1631?-1695) called "A conference betwixt a Protestant and a Jevv, or, A second letter from a merchant in London to his correspondent in Amsterdam," London, 1678. A fictional account of a conversation between "Mr B" and "Rabbi J." we find the following:

On what grounds did a 17th century writer say that he became a Christian? Did he, in fact, become a Christian in his seventies? (To say nothing of "bringing some 30 Jews more with him to be baptiz'd, about the year 1547")

I believe the answer is no, that this is but a rumor. The source of the rumor may have come from any combination of two facts. One, better known, that Elias Levita resided with a Catholic Cardinal for ten years, during which time he taught him Hebrew (and the Cardinal in tutored him in Greek). The second is that two of his grandsons became Christians (but both after he died). The Jewish Encyclopedia notes that Vittorio Eliano, a Catholic censor, was his grandson. After he converted, his brother traveled to him with the aim of convincing him to return, but apparently he himself became converted and became a Jesuit called Giovanni Salomo Romano Eliano Baptista. This great guy, along with two other converts, denounced the Talmud as blasphemous to Pope Julius III. I was able to find a reference to him as Levita's grandson in a snippet in a 1722 publication, provided by Google Books: Elias Levita was his Grandfather by the Mother's Side, and took care of his Education. This younger Elias, who went by the Name of Joannes (and that's all Google will give up!)

In short, Elias Levita was a celebrity among Christian scholars. His works were translated into Latin, German and English and were studied in the original Hebrew as well. He had a close working relationship with a Cardinal, was mistrusted because of it by his fellow Jews (more of that below) and two of his grandson's did convert. Perhaps the convergence of all these created the story that he did become a Christian, such that a 17th century writer would mention it in a polemic against Jews, in which a list of Jewish converts was being recounted.

In the rhyming introduction to Massores Ha-massores, Elias Levita discusses his relationship with the Cardinal, that other Jews criticized him for teaching Torah to non-Jews and how he understood the prohibition not to apply to what he was doing. The relevant passages from the Ginsburg edition are reproduced below.

Perhaps of some importance is a particular line in this piece, where he writes the following, in his own defense:

והנה הכלל העולה
הנני מודה בפה מלא
כמודה בפני בית דין חשוב
דבר ולא ישוב
כי מלמד לגוים הייתי
אך דעו כי אפילו הכי
תהלה לאל עברי אנכי
ואת האלהים אנכי ירא
שמים וארץ בורא
וחלילה לי מרשע
וזך אני בלי פשע

and Ginsburg's loose translation

"In conclusion, I fully acknowledge it, as one confesses before a solemn tribunal, and shall not withdraw it, that I have been a teacher to Christians; yea, I have assuredly been; but nevertheless, know that I am a Hebrew, praise the Lord, and revere the Lord, who made heaven and earth; I have not sinned, and am innocent and guiltless."

Is this an acknowledgment and rebuttal of the rumor that he had become a Christian? And also, did Ginsburg translate correctly? Did he meant to say "I am a Hebrew, praise the Lord" or did he say "I pray to a Hebrew God"? And if the latter--is there some room for ambiguity? (If I am not mistaken I may have seen this alternate translation noted in something by Jordan Penkower--or perhaps I remember incorrectly)

But I digress.

(click below to enlarge and read, or see here, pp. 96-101.

--I know my own habits and it's quite possible that I wouldn't take the time to read those five pages if it were suggested to me on someone else's blog--but I highly recommend reading these pages. They are extremely interesting, especially his defense as to why he believed he was not violating halakhah by teaching Torah to non-Jews)

Finally, a sample of his handwriting I found somewhere.

Edit: I have since come across some more relevant sources.

1. Joshua William Brooks writes, in 1841, in his "history of the Hebrew nation: From its first origin to the present time":

"There were however numerous instances of conversion from among the Jews, arising from the attention drawn to the nature of real Christianity by the proceedings of the Reformers. Among the more eminent was Rabbi Elias Levita, commonly called the Grammarian, with thirty of his followers.

2. John Kitto's "Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature" (1862-66) references "Alsted's strong assertion that he died a Christian, see Wolfii Bibl. Hebr. i. 161, and for Bartolocci's strong regret that he continued in Judaism, see his Bibl. Rabbin. i. 137.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007



I thought it might be interesting to review an article in the fourth volume of the Hakirah journal, which I was given an advance copy of. The article is called Are Our Children Too Worldly? by Aharon Hersh Fried. But first I want to say a few words about the journal itself.

Frankly--I think it's great; a great idea, great in execution, and getting better with each volume. It describes itself as 'The Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought,' and I must say, while Flatbush does not produce it, Flatbush can be proud that this work emanates from it. I don't think I'd be shocking anyone if I note that Flatbush does not enjoy the best reputation, whether there is some basis for it or not, not as a bastion of thought and not as a bastion of the thoughtful. But this journal is produced by thoughtful people, people who think, people of Flatbush.

Enough with the platitudes (which I hope were not condescending). The journal itself is unique in that, apparently, it is not bound by an ideology.* What do I mean by that? Well, there is ideology in the Torah U-Madda Journal, in Tradition, in Edah (newly reborn as Meorot), in the Jewish Observer, in Judaism--not that there is something wrong per se with some overall ideology. For example, why shouldn't the Jewish Observer basically advocate a yeshivish point of view? Why shouldn't TUM Journal publish articles strictly in a Torah U-Madda vein? We would expect a Zionist oriented journal to basically publish articles with a Zionist orientation; all these are fine. Furthermore, I realize that these journals aren't totally monochromatic. However, these journals suffer from a certain predictability that the ideological constraints impose upon it. Hakirah says that in looking for articles it wants "original, interesting, well-researched and well-organized" submissions "that provide new or more profound insights into areas of Jewish halakhah and hashkafah." Certainly all these other journals want that as well.

But in Hakirah we can expect articles that reflect a bit of variety. In one issue there might be an article about Metzitzah Be-feh, meant essentially to prove that it is not an essential component of bris milah. In the next issue there might be an article attempting to debunk academic (and Torah U-Maddish) efforts to portray the Chasam Sofer in a nuanced way as relating to modernity, Haskalah, Mendelssohn etc. (nuanced = 'inconsistent,' in the words of Nosson Dovid Rabinowich, present volume).**

In addition to the open-mindedness of the editors, a unique feature of this journal is designed to encourage a number of viewpoints: rather than asking contributors to adhere to one style of Hebrew transliteration, all it asks for is consistency. Thus writers who would typically write according to the rules set by the Encyclopedia Judaica (which is a fairly common requirement of Jewish journals) are free to do so; writers who prefer to write using an Ashkenazic dialect can do so as well. This might seem trivial, but I believe it is not. There are differences between people who would write "sepharad," "s'fard," or "seforad." All convey the same meaning, but all three represent different styles and possibly different types of people. People who feel comfortable writing about "hashkofo" may not be involved in a project in which they must write about "hashkafah." This is simply reality (okay; it's simply my impression).

I want to stress, however, that when I talk about them lacking ideology I don't mean to say that they are scattered or not coherent. No; I believe they genuinely are interested in truth-seeking, and that is the common denominator, and a powerful one. This is also not to say that ideological journals are not interested in searching for truth, only that ideology sometimes gets in truth's way, or at least stifles debate.

Random thought: I initially thought it was, well, dumb to name a journal something that requires an H with a dot under it. But after a couple years to mull it over I have reversed myself. It isn't dumb. The very name is a challenge. As I said, Hakirah does not ask its authors to bend their personality, only to be consistent. Thus, I would not be in the least shocked to find an author write "chakira" in an article itself, if he or she meant to use the word itself. But it puts 'hakirah' people together with "chakira" people and that's a good thing!

To the article: in general the article is a critical appraisal of the extreme insular approach to educating frum children. It is clear that the author is quite sympathetic to and shares the same goals as those who espouse the insular approach, but what the author objects to is that it is both ineffective in truly insulating people but also that some of the fruits borne of insularity are, well, rotten. The author says that the insular approach is only "half successful" and that we are "are reaping the wrong half." On history, neglect of, the author notes "when we take a totally ahistorical perspective..."

The article deplores the widespread lack of proficiency in the vernacular (which, by the way, I constantly note my own faults in this regard, including spelling. I do not assign blame, but I realize that in many respects my own problems in this area are partly due to receiving a similar education to the kind he asks for revision of). He notes an "anti-intellectual atmosphere," that children (who grow into adults) develop a monochromatic hashkafah, incapable of processing challenges to it from within the tradition; are served by teachers who discourage or disapprove of curious students.

I think this article is written by a "critic," in the words of Prof. B. Barry Levy (in Text and Context: Torah and Historical Truth in Edah Journal 2:1). In that article Levy defines three categories, believers, critics and heretics, and notes that sometimes believers write or say critical or heretical sounding things. Critics sometimes sound like believers and so forth. In this sense, it is clear that the author is a believer and a critic.

Interestingly enough, much of the article takes the tone of a classic Maskilic complaint about the state of Jewish education. The article even quotes an early-modern traditional Jewish source, Mor Uktzioh on SA OH 307:16, about concern for appearing boorish to goyim. I would not be surprised if the author would reject my analysis, perhaps arguing that the issues and battles of two-hundred years ago are different from today. That may be true, but nevertheless, the complaint and the method (ie, citing such a source) is simply classic. Furthermore, it is certainly possible that Avakesh's analysis, that there are many right-wing Maskilim among as is correct

"There are many frum Jews who are maskilim, in the sense that the values of Haskala are their values. We must remember that while Chareidi ideology barely survived, the Haskalah won. Haskalah had a right wing, fully Orthodox G-d fearing scholars who would never compromise one iota of religious observance. That is who we are now - right wing maskilim. We speak English, dress in the modern fashion and study secular subjects, at least through high school. The divide between the right wing of Haskala and its Chareidi detractors had never been bridged; it is just that the opponents of Haskala renamed the situations that they were willing to tolerate, so that they may survive."

Now, it is important to note a difference. The author bookends the article with the approach of R. Yaakov Kamenetzky to Jewish education (who, come to think of it, some would say inclined toward right-wing Haskalah). Obviously Reb Yaakov is very important to him. In general the maskilim did not try to root themselves in present and very recent authorities. Rather, they presented themselves as authorities in their own right, rooting their views in authorities of the distant and sometimes less distant past. I believe that citing R. Kamenetzky whom the author clearly sees as an authority, rather than a peg to hang his view onto, is behavior of a kind that is different from classic Haskalah. But I digress.

The author notes that our Sages say "chokhma ba-goyim ta'amin," ("if someone tells you the nations have 'wisdom, believe him.") but "Torah ba-goyim al ta'amin," ("if someone tells you the nations have torah, don't believe him.") Decrying the belief that there isn't 'wisdom' in the nations, he says that we must not delude ourselves, we must not allow children to delude themselves and go against common sense and divrei Chazal. At the same time, he writes, we must not believe "torah ba-goyim." In this vain, he explains 'wisdom' to mean 'facts' and 'torah' to mean 'theories' for life--which are to be rejected. If you think that the word 'theory' conjures up some things--you are correct. Read the article. Whether or not I think that it is possible to differentiate between "facts" and "theories" in this way is immaterial.

In any event, it is an interesting article which continues a consistent theme throughout the various volumes of Hakirah: the first issue featured an article by the aforementioned R. Rabinowich called "Are We Teaching Chumash Correctly to our Children?" which deplored the lack of interest and attention paid to matters like geography. The second, an analysis and critique of Daf Yomi by Heshey Zelcer called "Does Daf Yomi Exemplify Talmud Torah?" and the third, an article by R. Abe Kelman called "The Requirement of Peshat and the Challenge of Derash." (All of which can be downloaded at their web site)

Finally, and paranthetically, I must mention the amazing articles by Dan Rabinowitz of Seforim. In the second issue he wrote about the issue concerning the origin of the nekkudot, the challenge to tradition the debate provoked. In the present issue he writes about yarmulkes. I had seen an early version of the article awhile back, and I haven't seen the new article. But I think it is safe for me to quote from the early version now. Note that the article is not in any way a polemic against head covering--it is about the history of head covering:

"Those promoting the view that a head covering must be worn at all times have, in their erroneous depiction of history, inadvertently created situations that would, under the circumstances, cause the wearer of a head covering to be violating other halakhic requirements. The Mishna in Tractate Yoma records that a daily lottery took place in the Temple in Jerusalem. This lottery determined which priests would perform certain daily tasks. The priest in charge would choose a random number, and would keep that number secret. Each of the priests vying for a slot would then hold out their fingers. The priest in charge would start counting fingers; when he reached the predetermined number, that priest whose finger was counted would get a job. The priests stood in a circle, and in order to track where the counting started, the first counted priest would remove his hat. Thus, the first counted priest remained bareheaded while the counting continued. On this, Tosefot commented, "it is disgraceful to stand bareheaded in the courtyard of the Temple." Tosefot therefore concluded that the lottery took place outside of the courtyard. According to both a simple reading of the text and Tosefot, however, the priest remained bareheaded. "

"Publishers of a new illustrated Mishna ignored this understanding of the lottery. In the illustrated edition, the depiction of the lottery indeed showed the priest removing his hat. However, underneath the hat is a yarmulke. Thus the priest always had his head covered. Not only does this depiction run counter to Tosefot's understanding, it leads to a major halakhic transgression. The priest wearing the yarmulke underneath his hat is guilty of a capital crime: adding on to the priestly garments! Although being bareheaded did not pose a great problem for the Talmud or the major commentaries, it seems that for present-day audiences, the image of a bareheaded priest would be cause for concern."

Good luck to Hakirah, may it continue to illumine and enlighten and enrich.

* I wonder if there are any plans to include the word "Orthodox" somewhere, which is presently lacking.
** Currently I have only read the two page excerpt of this article posted at; it is not enough to truly discuss the article, but I believe it is enough for me to correctly characterize that article's intention.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A conversation between Lawrence Schiffman and a Samaritan

Here is a very interesting interview of Prof. Lawrence H. Schiffman and a Samaritan Israelite for the A.B. Samaritan News publication.

Recommended reading by Schiffman:
The Samaritans in Tannaitic Halakhah
, JQR 75 (1985), pp. 323-50
Who Was a Jew? Rabbinic and Halakhic Perspectives on the Jewish-Christian Schism, Hoboken: Ktav, 1985, pp. xii + 131.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Red Sea, Reed Sea, Jewish Sages with Greek and Persian names and Aristeas's letter

Hirhurim posts about the identification of the yam suph, which literally means something like reed sea but entered Western consciousness as the Red Sea, because that is what the Septuagint called it (ερυθραν θαλασσαν, erythra thalassa). Incidentally, from poking around a bit I learned that while erythra thalassa literally means "red" "sea", and there is a Red Sea, the Greeks also used that term for the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea or any combination (see). It's quite possible that any perplexity at this translation is entirely misplaced: the translators believed that yam suph was a mighty sea, the erythra thalassa.

Since we're on the topic of the Septuagint, I thought it might be interesting to note that the Letter of Aristeas, which is a pseudepigraphal work explaining the origin of the Septuagint--purportedly written by a Greek gentile named Aristeas, but probably written by a Jew in the Hellenistic period, names the 72 translators!*

47 The following are the names of the elders: Of the first tribe, Joseph, Ezekiah, Zachariah, John, Ezekiah, Elisha. Of the second tribe, Judas, Simon, Samuel, Adaeus, Mattathias, Eschlemias. Of 48 the third tribe, Nehemiah, Joseph, Theodosius, Baseas, Ornias, Dakis. Of the fourth tribe, Jonathan, Abraeus, Elisha, Ananias, Chabrias.... Of the fifth tribe, Isaac, Jacob, Jesus, 49 Sabbataeus, Simon, Levi. Of the sixth tribe, Judas, Joseph, Simon, Zacharias, Samuel, Selemias. Of the seventh tribe, Sabbataeus, Zedekiah, Jacob, Isaac, Jesias, Natthaeus. Of the eighth tribe Theodosius, Jason, Jesus, Theodotus, John, Jonathan. Of the ninth tribe, Theophilus, Abraham 50 Arsamos, Jason, Endemias, Daniel. Of the tenth tribe, Jeremiah, Eleazar, Zachariah, Baneas, Elisha, Dathaeus. Of the eleventh tribe, Samuel, Joseph, Judas, Jonathes, Chabu, Dositheus. Of the twelfth tribe, Isaelus, John, Theodosius, Arsamos, Abietes, Ezekiel. They were seventy-two in all. Such was the answer which Eleazar and his friends gave to the king's letter.

The interesting thing about this list is---the names! It contains a mix of classical Hebrew, Persian, Aramaic and Greek names. As you can see, many of them are easy to identify, others less so. There are three elders named אלישע; three יוחנן; fully four named יוסף. Other popular names include שמואל, זכריה and שמעון. There are two each of יצחק ,יעקב and Jason. Perhaps surprising is that the name אברהם appears. Not only is אברהם entirely absent as a personal name in the Bible (apart from the obvious אברהם) it also does not occur as a personal name in Talmudic literature, unlike יעקב or יצחק. I took the liberty of alphabetizing the list.

There is an interesting article called by Naomi G. Cohen (Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period, 15 (1984) p.32-64) called The Names of the Translators in the Letter of Aristeas: A Study in the Dynamics of Cultural Transition which analyzes this onomasticon, which she notes is a list of "authentic names of the third century."**

She says that some 10-15% of this list is Persian in origin; some are "obvious," such as Arsames, which appears twice. While what I have called יצחק appears twice, once it is spelled Isakos and once Isaxos. She notes that the k-x transposition probably reflects an Iranian influence.

Turning to the Greek names, she notes that there is not a single instance of several of the extremely popular Greek names later used by Jews, like Aristobolos, Nikanor or Nikodemos (נקדימון)--and that there isn't any instance of Alexander. But at least one of the names, Chabrias (Xabpias), is a very 4th century Greek name.

She then discusses several names which seem to be Semitic rather than Jewish per se, such as Adaios, which she identifies as עדיה (see ii Kings 22:1, where it is given as the name of Josiah's maternal grandfather). There are Jewish and non-Jewish attestations of this name, such as an Aramaic inscription on a tablet representing a funeral scene from Memphis (two miles down the road from Graceland) dated 482 BCE.

She then contends that Simon doesn't represent שמעון, which was not a name in use at the time; the current equivalents were שמעי ,שמעיה. Thus, in her view, what this is is a "translation" of a name like שמעיה into its Greek equivalent, Simon (Eiuwv), and was probably done to invoke its biblical שמעון.

There is much more of interest in her article, but this post is long enough.

*I am not implying that this can be used as a real historical source per se--but it does nevertheless tell us things; for example, Kahle (pg. 135-137 in Cairo Geniza) was me-dayyek and showed that the Letter of Aristeas is not talking about the first translation of the Bible into Greek, but a revised translation, as evidenced by the fact that the letter says that the translation was presented to and acclaimed by the Jews before being presented to the king. Since it would hardly have been presented to the people before the king who ordered it, Kahle takes it as evidence that even though this letter is about the first and famous translation, purportedly ordered by the king, it seems to mix another occasion, a revision, in with the legend of the translation's origins.
**In Albright's words.

Why didn't Rabbis Nathan Adler and Samson Raphael Hirsch not find it necessary to become reformers?

In the 1891 issue of the Year Book of the Central Conference of American Rabbis Dr Aaron Hahn, rabbi of Cleveland's Temple Anshe Chesed (from 1874-1892) asks a question that was surely on the mind of many American Reform rabbis of the day:

But, actually, this isn't the entire passage. The rest of it, which is his answer, is basically an ode to conviction: "Respect is due to every honest worker whether in the field of orthodoxy of reform. Let a man always be true to his conviction, be he a Sadducee or a Pharisee. Shame only upon the money-servers, the time-servers and man-servers."

This entire bit comes up in the context of these questions: ""...why do rabbis so often change their principle? Why have nearly all rabbis that come over from Europe so very orthodox, more or less changed?...Why do the rabbis not come out right at the start with the color and say this and that are our principles?"

All this is from a section called The Rabbi and Consistency; read it here. It is a unique artifact of the time.

Another quote, from Disseminating Darwinism: The Role of Place, Race, Religion, and Gender by Ronald L. Numbers and John Stenhouse:

In 1881, Rabbi Aaron Hahn joined the ranks of Reform opponents of evolution. Hahn...argued that if scientists proved evolution true, then "Jewish theology will bow its head before the majesty of truth and adopt it without further delay."....Nevertheless, Hahn firmly believed that the evolution of species was improbable, drawing support from [Isaac Mayer] Wise's The Cosmic God. He quoted passages from The Cosmic God that argued for a distinction in kind between animal and human minds and concluded that they "contain more common sense and more true philosophy than all the defenses of Darwinism together."

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Did the Samaritans "always have the Torah + Joshua," as per R. Avigdor Miller?

On pg. 38 of R. Avigdor Miller's Torah Nation we find

Because of their hostility towards Israel, the Samaritans are one of the many testimonials to the truth of Israel's traditions. The fact that they have always had the Five Books of the Torah and the book of Joshua testifies to the age of these view of the fact that Solomon erected the Sanctuary a mere 440 years after Moses (much closer to them than Columbus to us), we may therefore consider ourselves as standing in the days of Solomon holding in our hands the books of Moses and Joshua which are only 440 years old and less...*

It is a common error that the Samaritans possess the book of Joshua (and that it forms the sixth and final book of their Bible). I noticed the same error in Wikipedia's article on the biblical canon, which read "The small community of the remnants of the Samaritans in Palestine includes only their version of the Torah and the book of Joshua in their canon. This grouping is sometimes referred to as the Hexateuch," until I corrected it.

While it certainly is romantic and appealing to think of the Samaritans as possessing a bible containing the Torah and Joshua, it isn't true. The Samaritans do possess a chronicle book called Joshua, but it is medieval, originally written in Arabic and it is not in any way canonical to them.

Moshe Florentin writes, pg. 357-58, in his Late Samaritan Hebrew: A Linguistic Analysis of Its Different Types

In 1908 M. Gaster published a Hebrew version of the Book of Joshua. Because of the impression of (imagined) antiquity, and because of the similarity to the contents of the Book of Joshua in the Masoretic version, Gaster felt that this Hebrew version was the original from which the Arabic Book of Joshua resulted.

But in reality the Hebrew version was translated from the Arabic in the late 19th--or early 20th century!

In fact, why not read an English translation of this book and see for yourself that it is not Sepher Yehoshua at all.

The mistake is understandable in the sense that it is one of those things that gets repeated often, seems more or less plausible, and who would think to check it, unless one happens to be interested in Samaritans (as opposed to, say, using them for polemics).

*Actually, this excerpt is part of a larger passage, as you can see by the .... I feel that this excerpt makes the point I want to address, however I don't want it to seem as if I distorted his words, so I scanned the entire passage which you can view here.

100 year old gossip: Louis Ginzberg on C.D. Ginsburg

From a letter from Ginzberg to Henrietta Szold, sent from Amsterdam on 9/15/08

By the way, I think Dr. Bloomfield has changed his good opinion of me. One evening he introduced me to my namesake, the meshumod Ginsberg and that old fool had nothing better to say to me than "Dear Dr., you have changed your name, you ought to spell it Guinsberg with an s and not with z" to which I replied: "There is no harm in changing a name as in my case a single letter only but I would not like to change myself for any consideration." Dr. Bloomfield reproached me later to say that he never would have believed me to be such a fanatic.

(pg. 169 in Lost Love: The Untold Story of Henrietta Szold : Unpublished Diary and Letters by Baila Round Shargel.)


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