Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Beards and beardlessness in Italian Jewish history - is Rabbi Reisman correct that "all great tzaddikim" had a full beard?

On pg. 416 of Rabbi Yisroel Reisman's Pathways of the Prophets1, in the section titled Imponderables, in the paragraph called 'A Clean-Shaven Shimshon?' we read the following:
I have no doubt that Shimshon, as all great tzaddikim, had a full beard.2
This is a surprising assertion.

This is not a merely academic, old debate. Only a year ago Vos iz Neias published an interview with a[n apparently] well regarded Israeli kabbalist named Rabbi Chaim Ezra Fatchia (link). He is not merely a kabbalist, but also a maggid shiur, and mashgiach in a yeshiva. He is clean shaven.

In the comments, the fact that he is beardless was immediately noted. Readers shot back that Ramchal was beardless, and there is/was an Italian kabbalistic tradition going back to R. Menachem Azariah of Fano to be beardless outside of Israel (this is a complex discussion; it became a major issue in the 19th and 20th century; in truth it seems that he wore a beard, but it was neatly trimmed).

As I said, this is a surprising assertion on Rabbi Reisman's part. Fully realizing that he didn't mean to say that really wonderful, kind, generous, pious, righteous individuals without full beards aren't tzadikim, I think he meant "great tzadikim" in the sense that it is commonly used - exceptional, famous saints and sages. Still, it does seem somewhat surprising that he doesn't seem to be aware that most Italian Jews did not wear a beard, and surely this included many tzadikim among them - not only Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (where for him the issue seems to be that he was criticized for not growing his beard because he was - or claimed to be - a Kabbalist).

The beardlessness of the Italians was well known, and for the most part accepted. Still it should not surprise anyone that this wasn't always the case. There were many Italian merchants living abroad in various Mediterranean cities. They were known by the native Jews as Francos. As it happens, European travelers in the Middle East and Muslim countries tended to grow their beard because in those countries beardlessness was perceived as very shameful. Still, as Europeans they didn't necessarily want to wear full beards, so unless they were trying to blend in as natives they would wear a trimmed beard. Apparently this achieved the effect they were going for. On the one hand they didn't appear feminine and shameful, but they could still appear European. In all likelihood these Francos also wore trimmed beards, rather than closely trimmed to the skin with scissors, or removal by depilatory cream.

With this background in mind, on at least one occasion, apparently the native Jews of Salonica were scandalized by the closely trimmed beards of the Francos who lived among them. They demanded that they grow them or be expelled. The situation of the ex-pat Italians came to the attention of the Italian rabbis, including one of the foremost ones, Rabbi Samson Morpurgo -

Here is what he looked like:


- and he replied (שמש צדקה YD #61 pg. 102 [Venice 1743]). He calls the Francos אנשי איטליאה של יון, Italian Jews in Greece, who are being compelled by the חכמי שאלוניקי, the Salonican rabbis, to grow their beards. The question was, what happens if the rabbis carry out their threat? That is, these men will have been excommunicated, so would it be valid? He begins by saying that he will not personally address the specifics of this case, as he does not want to multiply machlokes, disharmony. However, he will address the general rabbinic audience and also the issue of rabbinic authority, and whether in this day and age any bet din has the right to compel stringencies and special pious behaviors. He discusses many laws which are no longer practices, yet the rabbis in their wisdom don't try to force people to obey, which would then result in their sinning out of rebellion. An example he gives is wearing tzitzis altogether, or to have them showing outside. He then points out that we have a reliable tradition that the term "destruction" in the verse about beard-removal refers to a single blade razor. Anyone who says otherwise is arguing on the truth and it is almost as if he is saying אין תורה מן השמים! He then deals with possible objections one may raise from the the language of the Tur, which the Beit Yosef clarifies. He also deals with a Terumas ha-Deshen (#295) which seems to say that there is a hint of sin with removing it with scissors, and therefore one should be strict. Morpurgo notes that we see from the Terumas ha-Deshen's own words at the end of the responsum what he meant to say; he writes that using scissors which are too sharp is problematic, since then there is a concern that only one blade is removing the beard, and that is prohibited. Thus he meant to say that removing it with especially sharp scissors is almost sinful, therefore it is a reasonable chumra, to be strict. He then discusses two other halachic sources, which while opposed to removing the beard, consider it a measure of piety, not law.

He gets into a lengthy discussion about piety and Kabbalah, and ultimately he hopes that the rabbis of Salonica will chill.

Not surprisingly this wasn't the only possible response to the situation, even from other Italian rabbis. Rabbi Joseph Ergas, who was one of those who had question Ramchal's lack of a beard, had reached a different conclusion - not because he was a fanatic, but because he is sympathetic to the rabbis there who desired that all residents of the city follow local custom - בין בקולות בין בחמורות - both stringencies and leniencies. Unfortunately I don't know for sure if he himself had a beard, although he must have, as a Kabbalist and, as I said, was critical of Luzzatto on this point. His responsum is quite interesting for its analysis of residency and local minhag.

Some other pictures of Italian rabbis. Below is Haham Raphael Meldola, who was rabbi of the Sephardic Jews of London. A native of Leghorn, he was ordained by the Chida (on him see here):


Here is the rabbi with the best name of any who ever lived - Rabbi Yishmael Kohen of Modena (1730-1811) who was also known by the name Laudadio Sacerdoti, which is a direct translation of "Yishmael Kohen" into Italian.


In fairness, I can't tell if he is clean-shaven or has a very closely trimmed, small beard. But he sure does have a wig on, and that is his kippah too. He was the author of excellent responsa called זרע אמת, which are cited numerous times by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in Iggeros Moshe and many other posekim. In fact, a search of it turns up many hundreds of results besides for responsa of R. Ovadya Yosef. Although I can't say that the average yeshiva bochur looks at זרע אמת too often, I've seen that they are a normal part of the otzar (library) of many, many yeshivos. I imagine many people would be surprised if they saw what he looked like. I don't know if he was a "great tzaddik," but I'm sure he was pretty good, or at least better than average.

Interestingly enough, when Wessely wrote Divre Shalom ve-Emes, and rattled the Europe rabbinate in 1782 with his advocacy of educational reform3 he appealed to the Italian rabbis for support. Since he had mostly only been saying that Western European Jews should do what the Italian Jews had done for generations, he assumed they would support him, and he mostly assumed right. While they took pains to point out where they did not agree entirely with him, and some rabbis did so only grudgingly, they could not oppose things like a graded curriculum or secular education. Presumably they were proud of their traditional Jewish culture, and they indeed wrote words in support.

However, one of the Italian rabbis who did not support Wessely was Rabbi Laudadio Sacerdoti. His view is printed in responsum #107 in volume 2. He was concerned that Wessely's plan in effect turned the order of priorities upside down - Torah secondary, but humanistic education primary. However, he too agreed that a graded curriculum was only proper and that it is necessary to know languages. Lois Dubin pointed out that his own poetic compositions included references to mythological figures like Ulysses, which Shadal, who refers to his status as a posek by noting that he was "profondo ritualista," frankly found surprising.


Next we have the author-collaborator of a well-respected, often quoted sefer called Toldos Gedolei Yisrael by Rabbi Mordechai Marco Ghirondi, av beis din of Padua (1799-1852).


Obviously somewhat modern, yet in Rebbetzin Bruriah Hutner-David's haskalathon phd thesis, she grudgingly concludes that he was "squarely on the side of traditionalism," noting for example that in one letter he chides a correspondent for reading Karaite literature.

Interestingly, the tide in Italy appeared to have changed mid-19th century - probably on fashion grounds. Here is the young son of Shadal, Ohev Ger Luzzatto:


Of course I have to acknowledge an article which made a big impact on me - Elliot Horowitz's The Early Eighteenth Century Confronts the Beard: Kabbalah and Jewish Self-Fashioning (Jewish History 8.1-2 1994) which I read I don't know how many years ago, and in some ways was a revelation of an article for me - where some of these things are discussed in much greater detail.

And for the record, here is the much-discussed portrait of R. Menachem Azariah of Fano, who was also known as Immanuel - oddly enough, because this great Kabbalist's secular name was Manuel. Working backward, this gave him a Hebrew nickname. To the Chida this was something everyone knew - וידוע דהרמ"ע קרו ליה הרב עמנואל לפי שמנחם בלשון גוים קורין לו מנואל. Evidently it is for this reason that he sometimes signed his name מנחם עזריה עמנואל. A contemporary, Rabbi Shabbetai Sofer refers to him this way:


Which in plain Hebrew reads הגאון המקובל האלהי החסיד מהר"ר מנחם עזרי' הנקרא עמנואל. This is at the end of the third section of the general introduction to his siddur. Yes, the manuscript is online, although not very useful. Incidentally this little passage refers to a teshuva of the Maharam of Lublin, which his family censored from publication because he retracts a position in the face of Rabbi Shabbetai's arguments.


Also see this post about the rabbi depicted below's stringent stance against shaving on chol ha-moed:


1 In my opinion this book is, in certain ways, a ground-breaking and important book.

2 Interested readers will want to know that context of this line. Rabbi Reisman begins by noting that many older Bibles show woodcuts of Samson with long hair, but clean-shaven. This seems ridiculous, since he was a Nazir. (And, "all great tzaddikim" have full beards.) However, Rabbi Reisman highlights a Teshuvas Ha-rashba (1:407) in which the Rashba opines that the Nazirite prohibition of cutting hair only applies to the head, but not the beard. Regarding the beard, his prohibition is no more and no less than everyone else's.

3 Reading a headline in the Matzav.com blog yesterday made me smile: Agudath Israel of New Jersey Applauds Governor Christie for His Stance on Educational Reform. No, he is not opposed to educational reform. Apparently "educational reform" is okay sometimes.

78 comments:

  1. Just a Point with the Italian Jews in General they are an Interesting group as they encouraged brothels in Yeshiva as noted in the Akedas Yitzchok I am not sure we aspire to their ethical Judgments.

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  2. Let the fun Begin( ;

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  3. When "we" hold Rabbi Yaakov Emden to the same standard then we can decide not to aspire to their ethical judgment. And yeah, there wasn't any Jewish prostitution in eastern Europe. Sure.

    The Italians were a small group, not faultless, but without beards and without knowing nothing about the world they knew how to learn and certainly had qualities and people worth emulating.

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  4. I did not say otherwise. I am just saying you cant apply there behaviors as Universally accepted also I am hoping The Baal hablog runs with it and makes a post about that Akiedas Yitchok

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  5. No one denied them the right to do their thing. Today we all live together, so we feel compelled to see the next group as encroaching on how we do things, so we do the equivalent of telling the Italians in Italy what to do. For example, in Toronto one faction is opposed to Torah In Motion, despite the fact the Toronto is as much the TIM crowd's turf as it is those against it. This proximity is the root of much disharmony.

    (I am the Baal ha-blog in case you didn't realize. Do I know you?)

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  6. Does a painting of the Ramchal exist? It would be great fun to show the Hasidim.

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  7. I'm pretty sure it doesn't, and believe me, I've tried to find one. Also he is such a larger than life personality that it a picture did exist of him I'm pretty sure it would be famous already.

    To a certain degree I think Chasidim may be able to take it more than others. Chasidim are already used to Jews not dressing like them, and they know he wasn't Chasidish and he wasn't east European. As far as I know there is no evidence concerning his appearance when he emigrated to the holy land. Horowitz cites a contemporary of Ramchal, an Italian youth, who grew his beard when he went to visit EY, so it's not impossible - and maybe even likely - that in the last stage of his life he wore a beard. Something tells me that if this is so that is all that would matter to those for whom such a thing may matter.

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  8. The closest I could get (so far) is a picture of one of Ramchal's own teachers. Have a look link.

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  9. The reference is
    http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14342&st=&pgnum=331

    is in fact fascinating.It is a attitude which is still with us.
    Of course the fact that people in certain places were doing stupid things does not possul the whole group.
    But wasn't he in Spain. I would recommend any number of teshuvos of the Nodeh Beyuhada and others on what went on in other places.

    Midwest

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  10. Minor correction: "Laudadio" means "praise God," so it's not exactly a literal translation of Yishmael.

    Re Shadal's statement about R. Laudadio's poetry: it's not so much that he was surprised that any frum poet would refer to Ulysses. Rather, he was saying that R. Laudadio, although his poetry was "passable," was not known as a poet, nor is it probable that he was familiar with Ulysses. In his letter, Shadal suggests that whatever poem that his correspondent (one of his favorite students, Abraham Mainster) had referred to, it might have been by some other person named "Ismael Coen," but that if there was a family tradition to the contrary, he (Shadal) would "bend my head" to it.

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  11. One troubling attitude, of course, is that anyone in Tanach is a "tzadik." Shimshon clearly wasn't. A hero, sure, although the "Moetzes" of his time didn't think so either. I doubt the Moetzes of today would think so either.

    Let me clear: I have nothing but admiration for him. But he wasn't a tzadik as usually understood by R' Reisman's crowd, and was probably not at all a leader.

    Why do you say the book is ground-breaking, by the way?

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  12. Nachum - if he wasnt a leader, in what sense do you understand Judges 15:20 : "And Sampson led Israel 20 years", etc. How do you understand the word "shofet"?

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  13. DF:

    Jewish prostitution was a big problem in turn-of-the-century america as well

    NACHUM:

    i don't know why Fred thinks it's a groundbreaking book, but i was surprised that it includes material that i don't think appeals to his audience (in my stereotypical view). e.g., his chapters on segulos and on dikduk. (and he also brings down intersting sources on the contemporary machloket whether or not soferim should rely on the keser aram tzova, a subject that is almost completely ignore in the academic literature on the history of the keser)

    FRED:

    i'm not quite so sure why agudah is so exciteed about the education reform bill. it has *zero* applicability for jewish schools. maybe they think it's a step in the right direction, but i think they're dreaming that the government will ever pass any law that will bring real financial relief to agudah-type schools.

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  14. 1. My immediate reaction was what you already anticipated and wrote: plenty of tzaddikim dont have beards. In fact, I would guess the majority dont have beards. Some of my good buddies in various professions I consider to be tzaddikim, and they are beardless. Rabbi Reisman was referring to professional rabbis, some of whom are tzaddikim and some not, and should have spoken with more precision. [I like RR a lot, for the record.]

    2. The bit about the salonican rabbis is yet another example of what a healthy thing it is for everyone that the cherem is no longer effective.

    3. Re Eeastern European prostitution - Have you ever read about the Zwi Migdal prostitution ring in Argentenia? I was blown away when I found out about it. People have no idea how heavily the Jews were involved in this business, and sadly, mislead Jewish girls. People think bronfin and diamonds are Jewish geshefts. At one point in time, so was prostituion.

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  15. Dan

    >Minor correction: "Laudadio" means "praise God," so it's not exactly a literal translation of Yishmael.

    Good point. Thanks.

    >Re Shadal's statement about R. Laudadio's poetry: it's not so much that he was surprised that any frum poet would refer to Ulysses. Rather, he was saying that R. Laudadio, although his poetry was "passable," was not known as a poet, nor is it probable that he was familiar with Ulysses. In his letter, Shadal suggests that whatever poem that his correspondent (one of his favorite students, Abraham Mainster) had referred to, it might have been by some other person named "Ismael Coen," but that if there was a family tradition to the contrary, he (Shadal) would "bend my head" to it.

    Thanks. I'm an Italianically challenged, and only understood this passage with the imperfect help of Google Translate and - most importantly - being misled by Chaim Schirman's Hebrew paraphrase of this passage. I did get the bit about the family tradition (not mentioned by Schirman) and kind of interpreted the whole in light of that, namely Shadal was surprised but accepted the family tradition.

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  16. Nachum

    >One troubling attitude, of course, is that anyone in Tanach is a "tzadik." Shimshon clearly wasn't. A hero, sure, although the "Moetzes" of his time didn't think so either. I doubt the Moetzes of today would think so either.

    IIRC this is exactly one of the issue that got Steinsaltz in trouble - literally. His portrayal of Samson.

    >Let me clear: I have nothing but admiration for him. But he wasn't a tzadik as usually understood by R' Reisman's crowd, and was probably not at all a leader.

    I have great admiration for Rabbi Reisman, but my impression is that he probably assumes that Shimshon was not only a tzaddik but a talmid chacham. I think our respective historical conceptions are not identical.

    >Why do you say the book is ground-breaking, by the way?

    I'm glad someone asked. I intended to do a post about it at some point. As far as I can tell the book is the first extensive English treatment of issues like the Aleppo Codex, dikduk, siddur lore, etc. in a book for a Chareidi audience. It's treatment of these things is very good, although I do have certain hasagos and observations.

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  17. Abba

    >i'm not quite so sure why agudah is so exciteed about the education reform bill. it has *zero* applicability for jewish schools. maybe they think it's a step in the right direction, but i think they're dreaming that the government will ever pass any law that will bring real financial relief to agudah-type schools

    I'm sure it's a step-in-the-right-direction thing, but frankly I think it is more than a pipe dream that there will *ever* be any government financial relief for parents who send kids to yeshivas. It is not only a matter of time before the courts reverse decades or more understanding of the 1st Amendment. Only the Catholics could support it. The Evangelicals are content to fight for teaching religion in public schools.

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  18. 21st century Hasidim are not able to process the concept of Rabbi without beard. R' Dovid Tevele Schiff's picture is agood conversation starter. On the other side pictures of the Netziv and the Aruch Hashulkhan ( the farkerter Shilchen Urech per the Satmarer Rebbe) throws them off.
    By the way why does Dovid Tzvi become Tevele?

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  19. "Only the Catholics could support it."

    sort of. catholic schools want govt aid and are better positioned than yeshivos to argue for it because they, unlike yeshivos, have a mission to accept kids regardless of religious background (some inner-city catholic schools have few catholics altogether). also, it can be argued that it makes sense to support catholic schools because it is financially prudent from the government's perspective.

    on the other hand, i doubt catholics would support a bill that would let schools discriminate on religious grounds (as yeshivos want), as this would negatively affect many catholics. (indeed, as i recall in the 19th c. jews and catholics in america were on the same page in opposing the protestant nature of the nascent public schools.)

    "The Evangelicals are content to fight for teaching religion in public schools."

    interesting point.

    an acquaintance was recently debating with me the likelihood of government support for yeshivos. i said i don't think it's likely because there is no broad public support for dismantling the legal obstacles. she refused to accept this and argued that americans as a group would prefer to send their kids private schools representing their respective religions. i don't think so.

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  20. To keep it on biblical figures, the biggest "tzadik" we have is Yosef. He was clean-shaven (Gen 41).

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  21. Eastman

    >21st century Hasidim are not able to process the concept of Rabbi without beard. R' Dovid Tevele Schiff's picture is agood conversation starter. On the other side pictures of the Netziv and the Aruch Hashulkhan ( the farkerter Shilchen Urech per the Satmarer Rebbe) throws them off.
    By the way why does Dovid Tzvi become Tevele?

    I guess it depends, since Chasidim come in all flavors. Although I know that some literally do not know what's going on, I guess they're the country kind, whom I don't know, rather than the city kind whom I do.

    R. Dovid Tevele Schiff has a beard. Do you mean the way he dressed? To me the bigger chiddush is his recitation of prayers in English. He was Rav Nosson Adler's rebbe, for crying out loud. But I really don't know what you mean about how he looked.

    It's not Dovid Tzvi that becomes Tevele, but Dovid. T and D are almost the same consonant, and they easily switch from one to the other. Tevele is really Dovele, with the consonant and the first vowel shifted. Tevele is a kinnui for Dovid, not Tzvi.

    Why does the Netziv throw people off? The peyos?

    Abba,

    Ultimately if they support Catholic schools it will be hard to make a distinction, despite the composition of the student body.

    Re the conversation with your acquaintance, I believe she is unfortunately suffering from delusion. I've heard that whole "real Americans" shpiel (you know, as opposed to elitist New Yorkers), but as many-most of these "real Americans" are Evangelicals who feel they are the majority in their own domiciles, why would they want to pay for private schooling? They can pray before footballs games anyway, and in many cases it seems they are simply not teaching evolution and so forth. This suffices for them. In fact those who simply refuse to send their kid to public school tend to home school rather than send to parochial school with tuition costs. These are the majority who might support it - but won't. The rest are Catholics and Orthodox Jews, and maybe Muslims. I think that traditionally, state support of religion gives Americans the heebee jeebees.

    In any case, talking tachlis: I bet that if it ever happened the money would be used to close the budget gaps in yeshivas (best scenario), but would not be tuition relief. Maybe no one would be worse off then and education-wise it could help, but we also wouldn't be better off in our own pockets. No manna is going to come down from the government for the frum parent.

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  22. 1. Doesn't the case of Zecharia Padova of 1777 show that beard was also in Italy connected with higher level of religious devotion or learning.

    2. Italia shel Yavan describing Francos in Greece? Was is a pun?

    3. Isn't "your" Menachem Azariah's portrait identical with that of Aaron Chorin?

    4. It is almost certain that Ramchal grew a beard in EY. I would also bet $20 that he wore a white robe. Those times were surely not boring.

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  23. >1. Doesn't the case of Zecharia Padova of 1777 show that beard was also in Italy connected with higher level of religious devotion or learning.

    Sure, R. Morpurgo's teshuva also accepts that it's a midas chassidus. They weren't stupid, they knew that Jews have long had an affinity for being bearded. In the case of Ramchal it was connected with Kabbalah. Since even the great Italian poskim didn't have beards, perhaps the idea with Padova was that he had pretensions of looking not kodesh, but kodesh kedoshim and that was unseemly for someone who they felt was rotten.

    >2. Italia shel Yavan describing Francos in Greece? Was is a pun?

    It was taling about Italians in Salonica, which is in Greece.

    >3. Isn't "your" Menachem Azariah's portrait identical with that of Aaron Chorin?

    No. That was a flash of stupidity on my part. Actually, at the time I didn't know the source of the portrait. I thought it was just published by someone who may or may not have known where it came from, but actually it was published by David Kaufmann in the Revue des Etudes Juives a few years earlier. It is the authentic portrait of the Rema. I still think he has a passing resemblance to Chorin, but that's just ironic (or not even that).

    >4. It is almost certain that Ramchal grew a beard in EY. I would also bet $20 that he wore a white robe. Those times were surely not boring

    I agree, he probably did, but who knows. It should be borne in mind that some defenders of him suggested that the reason he didn't have a beard was because he couldn't grow one (he was still a kid after all). I don't think this was the case, but rather a weak defense. Still, let's say he couldn't - then maybe he never had one in EY either. Of course he almost certainly didn't have one in Amsterdam. Bottom line, most of his natural life he didn't have a beard. He must have looked very much like all these modernishe West/ Central European Jews of the time. I sure would like to have seen a portrait though.

    When Eliezer Ben Yehuda moved to Jerusalem he also dressed like a Chareidi. Clothing are the easiest thing in the world to put on and take off.

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  24. "It was taling about Italians in Salonica, which is in Greece."

    I know. But the term Italia shel Yavan is traditionally used to describe the Two Sicilies (south of Italy). Using it in this context made me think it was a pun.

    BTW while Fatchia might be questionable, one of the leading chareidi experts on kabbala today is Rav Seraya Deblitzky shlita of Bnei Brak. Google out his pictures...

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  25. >I know. But the term Italia shel Yavan is traditionally used to describe the Two Sicilies (south of Italy). Using it in this context made me think it was a pun

    I didn't know that. I guess it might be, although I don't get the pun then.

    >BTW while Fatchia might be questionable, one of the leading chareidi experts on kabbala today is Rav Seraya Deblitzky shlita of Bnei Brak. Google out his pictures

    Cool. I only knew him by name, and I confess that I did not imagine he looked like that! - which says a lot about early ingrained biases, does it not?

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  26. "I think that traditionally, state support of religion gives Americans the heebee jeebees."

    well to keep the thread historically relevant :) . . .

    one of the reasons jews have had it so good in america is because there are so many different religious denominations and there isn't one that is a majority (catholics used to be the plurality, maybe still are). so many americans are supportive of the separation of church and state (albeit with definitions of how high the wall should be) not because they care about the jews (or others), but because they recognize that they themselves are a "minority."

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  27. To keep it historically relevant :) one of the wisest observations about religion in America I have seen made the point that the reason why religion thrives in America is because there is no pressure for any orthodoxy. The reason why orthodoxy thrives is also the reason that non-orthodoxy thrives. Look at Europe - the masses had the last laugh. The established churches wer a pain in the rear for centuries, today they are empty (okay, not really). America is seen as the most religious Western country, and its probably because there is so much less baggage. Free to open up your own shul and stay or leave as you like it.

    This point was made beautifully in the introduction to the translation of Drei Jahre in Amerika by Oscar Handlin, pg. 27 - link, beginning with "What Benjamin could not understand."

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  28. Eastman
    >Does a painting of the Ramchal exist? It would be great fun to show the Hasidim.

    Most Chassidim look at the Ramchal as a kofer anyways, so if anything it would be counterproductive.

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  29. Is that a fact? Interesting. I honestly thought der Luzzatto was a kosher guy.

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  30. In אהל רח"ל Chaim Leiberman has an article on Chabad's opinion. All the other Chassidim, it's doubtful if they heard of him.

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  31. Thanks for the reference. That said, "Most Chassidim look at the Ramchal as a kofer anyways" seems like an exaggeration then, unless we're speaking Chabad English, I guess.

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  32. Fotheringay-Phipps1:22 PM, January 20, 2011

    A few comments:

    How does anyone know that the Ramchal had no beard? (There seems to have been some confusion over the term "gilu'ach" being used to describe both shaving and trimming of the beard, as seems to have been the case with the Rema.) I'm not denying it, to be clear, but I'd like to see what the evidence is.

    In any event, I would imagine he would have grown one in EY, since the kabbalistic justification for shaving in Italy was that the kabbalistic aspects to beards only applied in EY.

    [BTW, I suspect that yitzchok (12:58 PM) is confusing the Ramchal and Shadal.]

    It's hard to say whether Shimshon was a tzadik, but I agree with Nachum that he was not what we would consider a godol. The Mishne calls him of the three "kalei olam". OTOH, the Gemara says his wife knew he was saying the truth because "osoh Tzadik" would not lie when he used God's name. I would imagine he was one of the simple decent-at-heart people so beloved to the Besht & Shlomo Carlebach.

    "Rabbi Laudadio Sacerdoti" is a recurring theme for S., but I'm unclear on what the significance is of the mere existance of this name. How about Rabbi Moses Feinstein? Or Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum? Both of these names appeared on stationary used by these rabbis. The question is what their friends and relatives called them. Unless there's some evidence that the author of Zera Emes was known to his family and friends as Laudadio I think it's misleading to keep bringing it up as if it was his name.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Let me rephrase that: most Chassidim who have heard of him, do not look at him very respectfully.
    Fotheringay-Phipps:
    I am not confusing them as evidenced by my reference to Chaim Leiberman.

    ReplyDelete
  34. >How does anyone know that the Ramchal had no beard? (There seems to have been some confusion over the term "gilu'ach" being used to describe both shaving and trimming of the beard, as seems to have been the case with the Rema.) I'm not denying it, to be clear, but I'd like to see what the evidence is.

    From the polemical literature about it (which are printed in Shimon Ginzburg's Ramchal U-venei Doro, Osef Iggeros U-teudos). The one thing no one says is "But he has one!" In fact one of those who had raised the issue decided to defend him and chose to assume that he couldn't grow one, so presumably he didn't look like he had one. Why would he hover between opinions, the Italians had a beard or they didn't have a beard. I don't think he sported a Ulysses S. Grant.

    In my opinion there is literally no reason to suspect that Ramchal was any different from all the other Italian bochurim, in that he had a trimmed beard. The whole point of the polemic was that he was ignoring the kabbalah on beards and looked like everyone else, so how could he be recieving a maggid and so forth. It's hard to see why we're supposed to consider the possibility that he really had one.

    By the way, the issue was really coupled with his being a bachelor, and a third issue, that he didn't go to the mikva - unbearded and unmarried. I guess you're going to also ask how we know he wasn't married at the time, or that he really did go to the mikva.

    >In any event, I would imagine he would have grown one in EY, since the kabbalistic justification for shaving in Italy was that the kabbalistic aspects to beards only applied in EY.

    I don't think the kabbalistic justification was ever invoked in the polemic about his lack of beard - which is very interesting. The Italian mekubalim themselves didn't seem to know or care about this supposedly Italian kabbalistic tradition - which of course makes sense given that it was meant to attack/ undermine Ramchal. Lots of convenient facts and/ or justifications can be overlooked when on the attack. Of course ultimately Rema seems to have had a beard (albeit trimmed), so it also may be phony tradition.

    That said, I accept your point that we can't necessarily know exactly what they are referring to. After all, some people would look at, let's say, a picture of Mendelssohn and see him as not having a beard, while others will see that he did have one. What we can do is look at the descriptions and correlate them with what we know about how people looked in that society. As I have shown with a small sampling, the beard removal of the great Italian rabbis was what we would think of as "clean shaven," even if I suspect that in reality if you met them in real life on any given average day there was 5 o'clock shadow, since the halachic options of removing facial hair was more difficult. Scissors are not a Braun. Indeed, the author of Emunas Chachomim is quoted by the Pachad Yitzchak as saying that he would use a depilatory, but it bothered him.

    >[BTW, I suspect that yitzchok (12:58 PM) is confusing the Ramchal and Shadal.]

    Not I. There's nothing on Ohel Rache"l about Shadal. Hey, there's plenty of reason to look at the Ramchal askance. It all depends what you focus on and how you interpret things. I can easily imagine a parallel universe where the yeshivishe olam ignored his existence and/ or considered him a rasha, a lunatic or a maskil. History paskened otherwise, but apparently not in Chabad.

    ReplyDelete
  35. >"Rabbi Laudadio Sacerdoti" is a recurring theme for S., but I'm unclear on what the significance is of the mere existance of this name.

    I love how it sounds.

    >How about Rabbi Moses Feinstein?

    I don't love how it sounds.

    >Or Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum?

    Ditto.

    >The question is what their friends and relatives called them. Unless there's some evidence that the author of Zera Emes was known to his family and friends as Laudadio I think it's misleading to keep bringing it up as if it was his name.

    I've never seen a clear answer (and I've tried to work it out) but my *impression* is that the Italian Jews did not mix Italian (the language) and Hebrew to anywhere near the same degree that other European Jews did. Since their spoken vernacular was Italian my strong hunch, although I may be wrong, is that they used their shem chol (no different from Hershele) in speech and their shem kodesh when called up to the Torah, in documents, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Yitzchok, are you talking about יחס חב"ד לספר "חוקר ומקובל" של רמח"ל?

    It seems to me that the quotes are only talking about חוקר ומקובל. If this is spun into wholesale delegitimization of the man that is beyond ridiculous. From googling around I see that this is indeed how at least some in Chabad chose to take it, digging up the beard, mikva, etc. This is being frummer than the Tzemach Tzedek, who only had like 10 negative, but not exactly passionate, words against one work. A very shaky edifice for considering him a kofer.

    ReplyDelete
  37. There's a 14th or 15th century Spanish painting of a rabbi disputing with priests, and he is beardless. Does anyone know what I am referring to? When I saw it years ago I was surprised, since when you think pre-expulsion Spain you still remember the Ramban and so forth, and of course the Bes Yosef, etc. Yes, the Sephardim turned up in Italy and Holland and they often shaved - but I never thought to connect them with the pre-expulsion ones, although of course it was logical to do so. Anyone know which painting?

    ReplyDelete
  38. yes, I guess I got a little carried away.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Didn't Ramchal marry at the age 22/23 Tzipporah Finzi?

    ReplyDelete
  40. If I'm not mistaken that was not the only case when the Zera Emet was against reform. Years later, when Napoleon called his Sanhedrin, he was called to join (as he was considered the leading rabbi in the Empire). Due to health reasons, he was unable to attend, but sent his responsa. It was published in the 40s in Talpiyot (I don't remember which volume, but it was the same with R' Moshe Feinstein's response on mechitzot). He basically rejected all the reforms.

    It is a very interesting read; at least the way I read it, it seemed that he was lamenting the loss of respect of Da'as Torah of the "current" generation (without using the phrase of course; though he does use the abbreviation ד"ת, which probably mean divrei torah).

    ReplyDelete
  41. Russell, thanks for that wonderful reference. For those who are interested, the article is תשובות ר' ישמעאל ב"ר אברהם יצחק הכהן רבה של מודינא על י"ב השאלות של הקיסר נאפוליאון by Yehuda Rosenthal in Talpiot 4 3-4 Kislev 5710 pg. 565. Can't wait to read it over shabbos. It may be the same volume as the R. Moshe teshuva, but not the issue.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Do Chasidim learn Mesillas Yeshorim?
    So Davel would be today's equivalent of Tevel.
    You are acquainted with very urbanized Hasidim.
    The shtreimlech of Lita throw them off. The Netziv peyos are an added shocker. A zelche shyneh lockes.
    Tevele Schiff's clothing is quite different than what the average Hareidi kid would imagine the Rebbe of R' Nosson Adler would wear. Haman's hat? Are you kidding?
    Does anyone out there have pictures of litvishe Rabbonim in their finery?

    ReplyDelete
  43. Specifically 19th century Litvishe Rabbonim.

    ReplyDelete
  44. I wish someone could get Rabbi Reisman to respond to this post.

    I can imagine him saying, "when I said "like all great tzaddikim," I meant it the way all, err, almost all people use the word all in casual conversation, and that is "almost all."

    -Phil

    ReplyDelete
  45. It's not just that "Laudadio Sacerdoti" sounds better than Joel or Moses. It's that unlike the latter two, it is an actual (rough) translation of the Hebrew name, not a mere transcription into the local alphabet. (Again, roughly)

    ReplyDelete
  46. DF: Yeah, that was the sticking point for me as well. But a few possibilities:

    1. He was a loner at first, but when he actually won his battles, he became recognized. Menachem Begin springs to mind.

    2. "Shofet" can mean a lot of things. Here it could simply mean "active."

    3. This could be a post-facto "kashering" by the author of Shoftim.

    And more, I think.

    ReplyDelete
  47. Ramchal was always looked upon negatively in Chabad which is what prompted Chaim Lieberman in the first place to write an article about how he found a reference to him in the Tzemach Tzedek's writings.
    Parenthetically, a quick search on chabadlibrary.org brought up this reference from the Rebbe Maharash in a talk from 1873 which was still in a handwritten manuscript when Chaim Lieberman printed his article:
    נקדים מ"ש בספר חוקר ומקובל ואע"פ שאין דבריו מכוונים לגמרי ע"פ חסידות רק קצת דבריו אמת

    ReplyDelete
  48. NACHUM:

    "Menachem Begin springs to mind."

    actually he was jabotinsky's hero

    ReplyDelete
  49. The Ben Ish Chai was not a fan of the RAMCHAL either too say the least. I think him and the Chassidim share the Issue with his Understandings of Kabbalan I think Rabbi Treibits talks about it in his intro to kabbalah by the Leshem on Haskafah circle

    ReplyDelete
  50. The idea of a beard is obviously interesting. But only Chassidim make a major deal of this. In Lita in the period of about 1880-1939 most unmarried men did not have beards and most young evreichem who were part of the yeshiva world did not grow beards until they reached a"certain" age. and entered rabbinical professions. All of the above is certainly true of the talmidim and schools of Reb Israel Salanter and the Alter of Slobodka.
    Thus almost none of the talmidim of any of the major Litvishe yeshivas had beards (certainly not in the 20th century) and we have pictures of greats like rabbonim Shach, Hutner, Gifter , Schwab etc etc without beards as young men.
    When Tomche Tmimim was founded(1896) by the Rashab he had the bachurim sport beards and that was unusual in that part of the world (Lita-White russia).Of course that was based on Kabbalisitic reasons and the psak of the the 3rd Rebbe the Zemach Zedek concerning beards.
    Of course there seems to have been some exceptions to the rule like Navaradok and those Orthodox Litaaiim who were not yeshiva people like the Chazon Ish(and his family) and Rav Moshe Feinstein .
    In the USA Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz Principal of the Mesifta expelled the small group of M'lochim from the Beth Medrash and yeshiva (mid 1930's) for various reasons among them the fact that they as bachurim sported beards !
    In the USA there were many Lithuanian rabbis who sported goatees (Rabbi Israel Rosenberg and rabbi Moshe Don Sheinkopf for example) or were clean shaven altogether. My late father upon his arrival in the US in 1950 was taken to the so called chasidic shul in New Haven, Ct and noted that the rav ( a Lithuanian lamdan)was clean shaven !
    When i attended YU in the mid 1960's all the American rebbeim in MTA were clean shaven and the only men with beards were the Litvishe rabbonim like the Geonim Lessin, Cyperstein, Gorelik, LIpshitz, Rav Zaks. Even the rav himself did not ahve a full beard !And other Litvishe rabbonim in YU also did not have beards like my rebbe rav Romm and rav Burack.
    How things have changed its hard to find anybody teaching talmud at YU RIETS, MTA etc who does not sport a full beard.
    In Israel the Chevroner bachurim did not have beards which made them suspect in the eyes oft he Yishuv hayoshen. Here again if they occupied a position of klei kodesh they grew a beard.
    If you note photograhs of the talmidim of the yeshiva of Pressburg in the 20th century few if any had beards and only when they became rabbis or got married did they grow beards.
    Few Oberlander Orthodox Jews had full beards many were sporting goatees , other were clean shaven and all this can be seen in the various memorial books from those towns in Ashkenazi Hungary.In these Oberlander places only the klei kodesh had full beards and they usually were transplanted Unterlander Yidden.
    In Germany even fewer Orthodox Jews had beards and even the most famous rabbis (for example rabbi Munk of Berlin)there only had goatees which meant they shaved their faces one way or another.
    After World War 2 and especially after 1967 beards became an important part of the Orthodox costume as Chassiduth took over all of Ultra orthodox Hungarian Jewry, Chassidim were regarded as the gold standard for all of Orthodoxy in the USA , so Yeshiva people tended to copy them( growing beards , sporting Brisker peoth and wearing hats while down brim with brims much larger than most Chassidim wore !).In our own quest to recover our past fed by nostalgia beards have become an important indicator of authenticity.
    Of course real east European jews who survived the Holocaust in many cases had no need for beards , black hats , black rain coats, peyos, and dangling zizith , as outside indicators of their authenticity as Jews. These people knew they were authentic Jews inside and had no need to advertise this.
    As many of these people"s children reached marriageable age the fathers needed to conform and suddenly beards sprouted, and kapotes were purchased.

    ReplyDelete
  51. >But only Chassidim make a major deal of this.

    Yes and no. Non-Chassidim _for the most part_ do not make halachic or kabbalistic or even hashkafic issues out of it, but the sentiment expressed by Rabbi Reisman (all great tzaddikim had full beards) is common today, especially as people are too young to remember rabbis and formidable talmidei chachomim who were beardless (e.g. R. Y.M. Shurkin). As you said, it is usually expected that bochurim grow up into Avreichim who will grow beards, which in a way elevates beards. Oftentimes beards are considered something requiring permission to grow, or shave, in yeshivos.

    Also, you have to discount history today. The yeshiva world forgets its history. They don't fetishize the way bochurim in Telz or Slobodka dressed. They explain it (away). And of course all these things are entirely separate from the phenomenon of Italians or Western Sephardic rabbis in the early modern period (which was really the focus of this post). Furthermore, today anti-electric shaver shittos are widely accepted and spreading in the yeshiva world. There are even yeshiva bochurim now who are machmir and only use Nair, or clippers. Like you said, things changed.

    Agav, here are talmidim in Pressburg, 1907

    http://digital.cjh.org/R/?func=dbin-jump-full&object_id=348688&local_base=GEN01

    and most in this picture have beards.

    I see we don't really disagree. Thanks for sharing that great info.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Fotheringay-Phipps1:03 PM, January 24, 2011

    You're confusing yeshiva guys and rabbis. Most yeshiva guys don't have beards to this day. Sons of the biggest roshei yeshiva etc. That doesn't seem to have changed. What changed is whether rabbis didn't have beards. That was largely an American phenomenon. (Plus the yekkes had goatees.) In yeshiva circles in Europe the rabbis always had beards, and this too in unchanged.

    I think attitudes to beards may have changed in yeshiva circles in EY because of the influence of both the Chazon Ish and the Briskers, both of whom did not believe in bochurim shaving.

    ReplyDelete
  53. While IMHO the question od whether Shimshon had a beard is akin to the color of Rashi's shirt, I would suggest that he did based upon the fact that there were about 52 years from his death until Dovid Hamelech. When they cut half of his shluchims beards shaving the rest of their beards did not seem to be an option. While customs may have changed it would seem that being beardless was not not a popular option.

    Midwest

    ReplyDelete
  54. Zalman:

    RIETS' website shows 34 "Roshei Yeshiva." (Some strictly speaking aren't, and some that are called such aren't on the list, but let's go with this.) Ten have no beards at all, about seven clearly shave part of their faces, and a few others clearly trim their beards. About ten seem to never touch theirs. Interestingly, it seems to be the *younger* Roshei Yeshiva who shave.

    Zalman and Fred: R' Leiman once translated a memoir by R' Julius Greenwald in which he's attacked by a bunch of yeshiva students on a train for being an apikores since he's on his way to the Pressburg Yeshiva. Who would those yeshiva students have been? Did Pressburg have anything to do with the Chatam Sofer?

    ReplyDelete
  55. IIRC, the phrase "Italia shel Yavan" appears in Rashi al haTorah, Toldot, in the bracha for Eisav.

    ReplyDelete
  56. Nachum, the Pressburg Yeshiva was founded by the Chasam Sofer - and it has a halfway decent claim to the first modern yeshiva, no less than Volozhin.

    Re the incident, I'm not sure why it had that reputation, but many "apikorsim" learned in Pressburg, which is not suprising for the same reason that many "apikorsim" learned in Volozhin - yeshivos attracted intellectually minded Jews, and often this was the early part of their education. Perhaps this is why Hungarians who were even more extreme may have looked down on Pressburg, fully 60 years after the Chasam Sofer's death.

    ReplyDelete
  57. It was rabbi Leopold Greenwald and the Pressburg yeshiva was held in low esteem by the orthodox chassdim from marmorash and the munkatch Chust Ungevar areas.

    ReplyDelete
  58. Were is the picture of the Zere Emes from ?

    ReplyDelete
  59. >Were is the picture of the Zere Emes from ?

    This picture was printed in an article about him, by Rabbi Giuseppe Cammeo of Modena called "Per il centenario della morte di Ribbi Ismanhèl Coen Zedeck," in the Corriere Israelitico in 1911.

    ReplyDelete
  60. Thanks !
    and the picture of the שמש צדקה ?
    also is there a link to that book anywere ?

    ReplyDelete
  61. The other picture was reproduced in the original Encyclopedia Judaica.

    "Per il centenario della morte di Ribbi Ismanhèl Coen Zedeck" is not online anywhere (at least not yet).

    Are you looking for a high res image? Email me.

    ReplyDelete
  62. I'm happy to see that the article in JH made such an impact on you. You may want to see the article on "Beard" in the online YIVO Encyclopedia.

    ReplyDelete
  63. Zalman: You're right, my mistake.

    Thanks for the info, Fred and Zalman. That question's been percolating in the back of my head for a while. I guess the frummest icons still have to look over their shoulders. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  64. Do you have any idea how people like Rav Hirsch, R. Marcus Lehman and others had such nicely trimmed beards? Did they use cream on parts of their faces and cover up the strip of facial hair they wanted to keep with some cloth or something when applying the cream? It seems quite complicated/tedious.

    ReplyDelete
  65. A couple of comments and things to point out in this very interesting post.

    1.
    Rabbi Samson Morpurgo in his responsa
    (שמש צדקה YD #61 pg. 102 [Venice 1743])
    discusses many laws which are no longer practices, yet the rabbis in their wisdom don't try to force people to obey, which would then result in their sinning out of rebellion. An example he gives is wearing tzitzis altogether

    INTERESTING. IS HE SAYING THAT WEARING SISIT WAS THROWN BY THE WAYSIDE, WHERE HE LIVED?

    2.
    Next we have the author-collaborator of a well-respected, often quoted sefer called Toldos Gedolei Yisrael by Rabbi Mordechai Marco Ghirondi, av beis din of Padua (1799-1852).
    in Rebbetzin Bruriah Hutner-David's haskalathon phd thesis, she grudgingly concludes that he was "squarely on the side of traditionalism," noting for example that in one letter he chides a correspondent for reading Karaite literature

    SO MUCH FOR THE LIBERALISM OF THE ITALIAN RABBIS..


    3.

    And for the record, here is the much-discussed portrait of R. Menachem Azariah of Fano, who was also known as Immanuel - oddly enough, because this great Kabbalist's secular name was Manuel. Working backward, this gave him a Hebrew nickname. To the Chida this was something everyone knew - וידוע דהרמ"ע קרו ליה הרב עמנואל לפי שמנחם בלשון גוים קורין לו מנואל. Evidently it is for this reason that he sometimes signed his name מנחם עזריה עמנואל. A contemporary, Rabbi Shabbetai Sofer refers to him this way:
    הגאון המקובל האלהי החסיד מהר"ר מנחם עזרי' הנקרא עמנואל

    HOW DID MENACHEM BECOME CONFLATED WITH EMMANUEL IN THE CATHOLIC MIND? HERE IS MY THEORY: MENACHEM IN TALMUDIC LITERATURE IS SAID TO BE THE NAME OF THE MESSIAH. WHILE CHRISTIANS BELIEVE THE VERSES IN ISAIAH THAT REFERS TO THE VIRGIN BIRTH AND HER OFFSPRING THERE NAMED 'EMANUEL' IS REFERRING TO THEIR MESSSIAH: JESUS

    3

    SOME CONTEMPORARY KABALISTS (eretz yisrael ones, no less) MAKE IT A POINT NOT TO WEAR A BEARD, CITING KABBALISTIC REASONS. HERE ARE TWO EXAMPLES:

    http://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%A9%D7%A8%D7%99%D7%94_%D7%93%D7%91%D7%9C%D7%99%D7%A6%D7%A7%D7%99

    http://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%94%D7%97%D7%9C%D7%91%D7%9F

    ReplyDelete
  66. "INTERESTING. IS HE SAYING THAT WEARING SISIT WAS THROWN BY THE WAYSIDE, WHERE HE LIVED?"

    Yes (tallit kattan, obviously).

    "SO MUCH FOR THE LIBERALISM OF THE ITALIAN RABBIS.."

    I don't think you can draw such a conclusion from a single line by a single rabbi in a single letter.

    "HOW DID MENACHEM BECOME CONFLATED WITH EMMANUEL IN THE CATHOLIC MIND? HERE IS MY THEORY: MENACHEM IN TALMUDIC LITERATURE IS SAID TO BE THE NAME OF THE MESSIAH. WHILE CHRISTIANS BELIEVE THE VERSES IN ISAIAH THAT REFERS TO THE VIRGIN BIRTH AND HER OFFSPRING THERE NAMED 'EMANUEL' IS REFERRING TO THEIR MESSSIAH: JESUS"

    Not a bad suggestion. Certainly worth looking into.

    Thanks for the examples. I had no idea that R. Deblitzki gave any reason for not wearing one. I thought he just never decided to grow one. As for the other rabbi, he is referred to in the beginning of the post!

    ReplyDelete
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