Thursday, November 03, 2011

The controversial acronym "akum." Also, how censored texts play with the meaning of the Gemara.

Having recently posted about the Dikduke Soferim, the first great collection of variant Talmudic readings based on an important complete Talmud manuscript, I thought I'd discuss how these variants can make a difference in our understanding of the text, even if only in a minor way.

People who study Talmud, whether they learn it or read it (wink, wink) will notice occasionally that suddenly a Samaritan (a Kuthi) shows up, or a Sadducee, or a min, and many other such terms. It isn't always clear why so-and-so is identified the way they are, and sometimes it seems to make little sense and seems arbitrary. As a point of fact, many of these terms are arbitrary and they were changed by Christian censors. Other examples are changing the names of nationalities, Bavel for Edom and so forth. Does it always really make a difference? No. But let's look at one passage, Shabbos 88a - 88b.

ההוא צדוקי דחזייה לרבא דקא מעיין בשמעתא ויתבה אצבעתא דידיה תותי כרעא וקא מייץ בהו וקא מבען אצבעתיה דמא א"ל עמא פזיזא דקדמיתו פומייכו לאודנייכו אכתי בפחזותייכו קיימיתו ברישא איבעי' לכו למשמע אי מציתו קבליתו ואי לא לא קבליתו א"ל אנן דסגינן דסגינן בשלימותא כתיב בן תומת ישרים תנחם הנך אינשי דסגן בעלילותא כתיב בהו וסלף בוגדים ישדם

The text was taken from the Shas on, which uses Moznaim - Vaghsal, a very standard text. Here is how Soncino translated it:
There was a certain Sadducee who saw Raba engrossed in his studies while the finger[s] of his hand were under his feet, and he ground them down, so that his fingers spurted blood. ‘Ye rash people,’ he exclaimed, ‘who gave precedence to your mouth over your ears: ye still persist in your rashness. first ye should have listened, if within your powers, accept; if not, ye should not have accepted.’ Said he to him, ‘We who walked in integrity, of us it is written, The integrity of the upright shall guide them. But of others, who walked in perversity, it is written, but the perverseness of the treacherous shall destroy them.
So what happened was, a Sadducee saw Raba (=Rava) shteiging intensely, so engaged in his Torah study that he drew blood from his own hands. The Sadducee believed that this was wild behavior, and chastised Rava, saying that "You people (i.e., the Jews) are impulsive; just as you spoke before you heard (a reference to na'aseh ve-nishma [Exodus 24.7], 'we will perform the Torahs laws and we will hear', which had just been discussed) you are still impulsive. You should have listened first and only then agreed to accept the Torah. Rava, of course, has a ready reply.

It should instantly be wondered why it was a Sadducee. Where there actually Sadducees in the generation of Rava, a Babylonian Amora born 200 years after the Temple's destruction (link)? Even if this could be explained away, that 'Sadducee' was a generic term for a heretic, as it was during the time of the Karaites and - in fact - during the rise of Reform Judaism, the next question must be how could a Sadducee refer to the Jews as "Ye people?" The Sadducees were Jews. In fact, there own ancestors also said na'aseh ve-nishma. The first explanation could be sufficient for some references to Sadducees in the Talmud, but not where it is evident that he isn't Jewish, as in this case.

This is so obvious, that I once heard a talmid chochom quote this Gemara and he derived a didactic point from it: See how far heretics stray? This Tzedoki, a Jew, refers to the Jews who are on the proper path as "You people." This explanation is something along the lines of how in the Haggadah the Wicked Son refers to "you" doing mitzvos, and excludes himself.

To me it was clear that this is not what is going on. Since I well knew that these sorts of terms are all mixed up in the Talmud, I decided to call this to the rabbi's attention. But first I wanted some kind of proof backing me up. Fortunately there was an Ein Ya'akov on hand, and I found the passage, and in no time I could see that in the Ein Ya'akov it says ההוא מינא, a certain min, not ההוא צדוקי, a certain Sadducee. I felt that I had backed up my point fairly well in a preliminary sort of way.

Here is the Ein Ya'akov inside (link):

I later checked the Soncino and here is what it footnotes:
"(33) There were no Sadducces in Raba's time, and the word is probably a censor's substitute for Gentile. In J.E. X, 633 bottom it is suggested that he was probably a Manichean. [MS.M: Min (v. Glos.)]."
Artscroll ignores it altogether, not even acknowledging the difficulty.

I also checked the Dikduke Sofrim, and naturally it also says hahu mina:

Thus there is no difficulty whatever, it was not a Jew. And from this there is no jibe at heretics who are so far gone that they don't even include themselves as Jews and taunt other Jews for accepting the yoke of the Torah. (Paranthetically, if this had been the correct, original reading, then it could comport well with the the Doros Ha-rishonim's view of the Tzedokim as opportunists and not even a real religious sect.)

Then I heard him the rabbi say it again a few weeks later.

Is this a really huge deal? Not at all. But (1) knowing that these sort of terms are to be suspected in the first place and (2) recognizing the difficulty, we could correctly understand the Gemara, or at least avoid understanding it incorrectly. Speaking of such textual issues, there is a story which exists in two versions, about Rabbi David Zvi Hoffmann. In Dr. Eliezer Berkovits's appreciation for "Rabbi Yechiel Yakob Weinberg זצ"ל My Teacher and Master" (Tradition 8:2 (Summer 1966) we see the following:
I doubt there was anyone among theTalmudical authorities of his generation who spent so much effort in establishing a correct reading, and who was able to solve as many problems by ascertaining the right Girsa. Characteristic of his attitude was a story about the Gaon and great scholar, Professor David Hofman זצ"ל. I heard it first from Dr. Wohlgemuth זצ"ל, but again and again from the lips of Rabbi Weinberg זצ"ל himself. Professor Hofman was spending a summer vacation in one of the resort in Germany which was also frequented by numerous Rabbis from eastern Europe, among them many Gedolei Torah (Torah authorities). One morning he was asked for the explanation of a difficult passage in Rashi. Professor Hofman looked at it and answered simply that there was a misprint in the text which caused all the difficulty. The questioner remained unconvinced. He did not feel that it was proper to explain a diffculty by a misprint. He called on one of the Gedolei Hatorah from eastern Europe who-interpreting the difficulty-proceeded to construct a proposition of the Gag-al-Gag type and thus solved the problem. The questioner, however, could not withstand the temptation of telling that eastern European Gadol the answer which Professor Hofman gave him. When the two happened to meet, Professor Hofman listened with respect to the Gadol's interpretation. When the latter finished, Professor Hofman said to him: "Do you know what the difference is between you and me? In one-hundred twenty years we shall both come to the Olam Ha'emet. When I enter and they announce that I have arrived, the saintly Rashi will come to greet me. The printers distorted his meaning; I have restored it. Out of gratitude, Rashi will bid me welcome. But when you arrive and will be announced, who will come to greet you? The printers! You have explained and justified them extremely well." Rabbi Weinberg relished this story. It illustrated his own attitude to both Pilpul and the fundamental importance which he attached to the correct Girsa.
Let it only be noted that in Rabbi Weinberg's own version of the story, which he himself printed, in Seride Esh v. 1 pg. 364, he says it was an explanation of the Bertinoro, as well as more details. I give this from memory, as I don't have a copy handy. I haven't had the chance to look up the page number, which was supplied to me by someone who did, and I will name him if he wants.

Also see David Zilberberg's excellent post at the Seforim Blog about the way a censored Talmud text changes it's meaning of (link).

Getting back to the topic at hand, it makes sense to discuss "akum" now. The acronymous and, as well shall see, acrimonious, term עכו"ם is not native to rabbinic learning at all. Standing for עובדי כוכבים ומזלות, Star -and Constellation Idolaters, the term frequently appears in rabbinic literature. It is entirely absent in early manuscripts and printed editions. If it does appear in an old manuscript, it is evident that what was originally written was erased and the term added. It appears to have been an invention of Christian censors of Jewish literature. This was certainly known to later Church censors, who considered the term acceptable, as they should have given that they themselves had invented it. For example, Domenico 'Yerushalmi,' the author of the censorship manual Sefer Ha-zikuk (see here) gives to this term as an acceptable replacement for 'goy.' As you can see in the guidelines sketched in that post, that Yerushalmi actually took care to instruct censors to not be wanton with this term, for sometimes the texts are clearly referring to contemporary gentiles, and it would ruin the whole point by calling contemporary Christians "akum."

It should surprise no one that despite the origin of this acronym, specifically designed by Christians to differentiate Christians from ancient pagans, people with an uncharitable attitude toward the Jews accused the Jews of meaning by this term not עובדי כוכבים ומזלות, but עובדי כריסטוס ומרים, Worshippers of Christ and Mary (in some versions ומריא). For example, here is Wagenseil in Tela ignea Satanae (1681; p. 120), disagreeing with Buxtorf who explained it as Star Worshippers:

Whether it could be argued, as I'm sure it was, that Jews reinterpreted the acronym this way I cannot say. But this understanding on the part of scholars hostile to the Jews ended up having dangerous practical application. In his old age the famed scholar and printer Rabbi Shabbetai Bass (author of Sifsei Chachamim on Rashi and the Sifsei Yeshenim bibliography) was actually arrested in Prague because of a book which he had printed, which the Jesuits claimed was full of blasphemies, including the use of the term akum, and he was required to answer the charges. He was acquitted and released, both because of his own testimony and Christian experts on rabbinic literature. The entire matter is discussed in Ludwig Oelsner's R. Sabbathai Bassista und sein Prozess (Leipzig 1858), and the transcripts from the testimony is printed.

But first, a little about the specific charge. What had happened was, Bass had reprinted שערי ציון (Prague 1692) by R. Nathan Nata Hanover, which contained the tikkun chatzos service. This book, in fact, was how tikkun chatzos spread from Italy to the rest of Europe.

Inside was the poem Dodi Yerad Legano, written by Rabbi Chaim Cohen, a disciple of Rabbi Chaim Vital:

Among other things, the following problem was noted:

This means:
I will dress in vengeance [with] the flame of God,
and I will burn the house of akum, and those who afflict.
I will repay half the blood of those killed and captured,
and this will be my consolation.
Not surprisingly this was seen to be an attack on Christians. If not them, it surely meant the Muslims in the Holy Land. (I'm not sure, and here I'm speculating, but it could be that this is indeed what is meant. "Beis ha-Mitzris," which means "those who afflict" could be a pun meaning the Muslims, since "Mitzris" also means an Egyptian. Thus it means the churches and mosques.

So R. Shabbetai found himself arrested (along with his son), the books impounded, and compelled to defend himself. The first charge, as mentioned, was that akum is an acronym for "ovdei christos u-miram." He of course argued that it stood for "ovdei kokhavim u-mazalos." The other two charges were, in the second line of the Aleph stanza, the words "אשת זנונים" appear. The accusation was that the poem compares the church to a harlot. The defense, as amazing as this seems, is that the term refers to a wife. That this is a quote from Hosea 1:2, where it means "wife of harlotry," should be obvious. Genesis 16 was also cited, to show that the term אשת always means wife. How this answered anything I don't know, but I must stress that the charges were dropped. The other charge was that it compared the church to "ass flesh" (see the Kaph stanza). Here is was pointed out that since it is a Jerusalem song, how could it be talking about the church?

Note that the testimony was given to two experts, not the judges, because how could they rule on something they didn't understand? Gottfried Pahl, the Christian Hebraist who took the testimony, ruled that there was no reference to Christianity in the book whatsoever. He too argued that Turks, not Christians, controlled Jerusalem, and that akum doesn't mean ovdei kristos u-miriam, and if it did it would be spelled with a quf, not a kaf, עקו"ם, not עכו"ם! Furthermore, the acronym was used in the Frankfurt edition of the Talmud, which was approved by the Emperor himself - who had commanded the investigation in the first place. Note that it is possible that Pahl didn't really think it was so completely free of invective against Christianity. Even though this was 1712, there were certainly people who would find such a proceeding to be unjust, and Pahl may have been a man like that.

The matter hardly ended in the first decade of the 18th century (1712, actually, when the event just described occurred). So we find the following in a lexicon by Joseph Jacobs included in his 1897 Jewish Year Book:

He didn't appear to know that it isn't even an authentic rabbinic term in the first place.

It's also worth pointing out that later there were those who said that for all the accusers knew the Jews meant "עובדי כוראן ומוחמד." August Rohling, in his famous attacks on the Talmud, actually refuted this using Pahl's argument! It can't stand for "Koran," otherwise it would be spelled with a quf. And כריסטוס?

Before I return to akum, I also want to point out that the censors were also allergic to the term avodah zara (idolatry) and under their influence an entire Talmudic tractate was renamed. There are many examples, but here are two. The first is from a Tikkun Leil Shavuos printed in 1727, called Yad Kol Bo:

The second is R. Yisrael Lipschuetz's Mishnayos Tiferes Yisrael (Danzig 1845):

As you can see, Masseches Avodah Zara became Masseches Avodas Kokhavim (Star Worshippers).

In 1855 Yitzchak Baer Levinsohn printed the second edition of his Te'udah Be-yisrael, with some additions (see here where I posted about his addition of a footnote in the 2nd ed. of his Beis Yehuda [1859]), which tackled the contention that the Torah was written by Ezra and not Moses). One such newly added footnote is the following:

Here he notes that in the Slavuta edition of the Talmud contains many absurdities due the overzealousness of a foolish censor who didn't understand the material. He gives some examples. I didn't find an actual Slavita Talmud to show these examples, but here is one of them from the Warsaw 1864 edition. The background is a very interesting pair of statements on language, which incidentally was cited many times in the controversies over Yiddish and German (or Russian, Polish, etc.). A Beraisa is quoted, "Rabbi said, why speak Syriac in Eretz Yisrael? Speak Hebrew or Greek! Rabbi Yose said, why speak Aramaic in Babylon? Speak Hebrew or Persian!"

Here is how it appears in that 1864 Talmud:

So sensitive were the censors about any perceived slight against Russian (Greek) Orthodoxy, that instead of saying "Speak Hebrew or speak Greek," it says "Speak Hebrew or speak the Akum language." You couldn't even say the word "Greek." And here is it unquestionably a positive connotation!

A very interesting comment of Rashi should be pointed out. In the parallel passage, Sota 49b, Rashi writes explains what "לשון סורסי" means:

קרוב הוא ללשון ארמי ואומר אני שזה לשון גמרת ירושלמי ואומות העולם קורין אותו לינג"א שוריי"א
"Similar to Aramaic. I say that this is the dialect with which the Jerusalem Talmud is written. The Gentiles call it lingua syria."
Note that Tosafos here here (Bava Kamma 49a) also explains Syriac to be Aramaic, albeit an altered form, according to Rabbenu Tam, since Onkelos translated the famous two Aramaic words in the Torah into dialectically different Aramaic. So Rabbenu Tam gives his opinion that the words spoken by Lavan were Syriac! Interested readers will surely want to know that the Syriac Peshitta renders יגר שהדותא as יגרא דסהדותא.

Back to akum. As we saw, Yitzchak Bar Levinsohn was the first to call attention to these absurdities in the Slavuta Talmud. Many later writers have done so as well, but they are all repeating one another. A second source bringing this information is Shafan Ha-sofer (Shmuel Shraga Feigensohn), editor and general manager of the Romm Printing Press in Vilna. In his Elbona Shel Torah (Vilna 1929) pg. 11 he wrote the following, concerning the Vilna Talmud of 1840-5:

He actually names the censor, an apostate named Rosen. In his additions to the Essay on the Printed Talmud in an updated edition of the Dikukei Soferim, A. M. Haberman added a parenthetical remark concerning this Talmud, quoting Shafan Ha-sofer. He in turn was quoted by R. Dovid Cohen in Avraham Yagel Yitzchak Yeranen (p. 102 - 3), only he doesn't cite where he read this, and he decided that the apostate was actually a "maskil." Yes, I know, they all look alike.

Interestingly enough, it is possible that Levinsohn was not the first to publicize these things. (I say publicize, since plainly many people noticed them. Here we are discussing who first called them to the attention of the public.) I saw that "akum kitniyos" (instead of "min kitniyos") and a few others are supposed to be mentioned by Steinschneider in his catalog of the printed Hebrew books in the Bodleian Library. I haven't seen it. But it was issued in parts from 1852 to 1860. If this entry came before 1855, then Steinschneider gets the prize. If not, then Levinsohn does. In either case, there is a possibility that the one got it from the other. I see that Levinsohn doesn't mention Steinschneider. It remains to be seen if S. mentioned L., if he indeed came in second.

When a post reaches this length, it's best to stop.


  1. As always, your post was informative and interesting. Keep up the good work!

  2. Fotheringay-Phipps2:17 PM, November 03, 2011

    I don't get your point about the "mina". A min is a heretic. My understanding is that "min" generally refers to a Jew.

  3. That's true for later rabbinic literature, but not the Talmud. Many instances seem to be referring to Christians, not necessarily Jewish.

    I'm making this up right now, but at first thought it's possible that the term was used to distinguish them (and others) from actual pagans.

  4. There is indeed an understanding that a 'min' is another 'type' of Jew, probably a Christian. On the other hand, it can refer to other religions as well.

    BTW, great post. When a post gets this long, it's time to break it up into smaller posts, or farkeirt, turn it into a book.

  5. There are topics I'd write a book on, but this one is not one of them. :-)

  6. Small nit, in the poem "Dodi Yarad leGano" the word is "mitzriyah"

    Look closely at the rhyme scheme.

  7. I have seen "min" translated as "sectarian". Kinda awkward, but I guess it gets the point across.

  8. It's not necessarily clear how the word should be translated, and it could mean different things in different contexts. It could help if we were sure what the derivation of it was.

  9. Rabbi Dovid Cohen in אברהם יגל יצחק ירנן is actually reprinting what he wrote in the introduction to his book ספר העקוב למישור - טעויות הדפוס לש"ס וילנא

  10. I know. Would you believe me if I said that I almost wrote that, but thought the nitty gritty details were getting to be a bit much. I think he revised it a little, actually.

  11. "whether they learn it or read it (wink, wink)"

    Who is the "read it (wink, wink)" directed towards?

    I only read part of the post, but great so far. Thanks for point out the issue of Tzaduki/min. A good friend and very big talmud chocham always enjoyed point this out to people "How can a Tzaduki be speaking to an amorah!?"

  12. No one in particular. It was just a joke about how some people prefer one term or the other, and the implications that people read into it.

  13. I also forgot to mention in the post that the text Shas on Mechon Mamre reads "hahu mina."

  14. "He in turn was quoted by R. Dovid Cohen in Avraham Yagel Yitzchak Yeranen (p. 102 - 3), only he doesn't cite where he read this, and he decided that the apostate was actually a "maskil." Yes, I know, they all look alike."

    He seems to be referring to Yitzchak Baer Levinsohn with the term "maskil" and is calling him to task for his harsh words regarding the editor of the Slavuta edition of the Talmud and other similar printers. He is saying that Yitzchak Baer Levinsohn has no right to judge.
    R. Dovid Cohen does not refer to any censor, neither does Levinsohn. They speak of printers and editors making changes.

  15. You're right - I misread it. But he's obviously not talking about Levinsohn, who well understood the fear, being from the period himself. He means Feigensohn.

  16. I hope someone can correct all the mistakes I'm about to make, but let me just tell it like I remember hearing it:

    The Talmud says that one should not sell his land to an akum during the Shemitta year. The haredi rabbis take it to mean "non-Jew", but Rabbi Kook, on whom the famous heter is based, understood it literally, inferring that selling the land to monotheistic Arabs is OK.


  17. I think I recall the Maharal explaining in Beer ha-Gola that a min is not just a follower of another religion but an active missionnary.

    Another famous overcorrection due to censorship is the blotting out of the very word תלמוד. You can publish it, but not name it... Thus even when it really reads "tilmod" and not "Talmud" the word is replaced by "Shas". See inter alia the Ran about דבר שיש לו מתירין in Nedarim (ר"ק הנודר מן הבשר)

  18. "This explanation is something along the lines of how in the Haggadah the Wicked Son refers to "you" doing mitzvos, and excludes himself."

    Funny example, considering that all the vertlach developed to explain why the chacham wasn't chastised for his similar choice of word are also cases of mistaking a textual variant for deep meaning unintended by the original author.

  19. But he's obviously not talking about Levinsohn, who well understood the fear, being from the period himself. He means Feigensohn.

    No, you're wrong. Feigensohn blames the censor, Rosen, while Levinsohn blames the printer himself, who made these changes preemptively for fear of the censor. Look at Levinsohn's note, which you continue to misread. He is not criticising the censor but the baal magiah, i.e. the printer at Slavita, i.e. the famous brothers who were kedoshei elyon. Levinsohn accuses the printer of sichlus and calls him bur godol. He also writes that the printer's foolishness protects him from the more serious charge of minus (which is interesting in light of this post). R Dovid Cohen quite properly criticises Levinsohn for this insensitivity to the printer's fear; Levinsohn assumes that the censor is learned enough to recognise that such expressions as min kitniyos are not insults to Christians, but the Slavita printer may not have been so confident.

    I'd add the possibility that the Slavita printer deliberately made these absurd changes in order to signal to the reader that wherever akum appears it's a substitute for another word. I'm reminded of the Aruch Hashulchan's chapter title for Hilchos Gerus, in which the truckling to the censor is laid on so thick so that the reader can't possibly miss it, and will thus understand the true meaning.

  20. Also, the notion that "Christos" would be spelt with a ק seems bizarre. Of course it's spelt with a כ; the original Greek is spelt not with a qoppa but with a chi, which in Hebrew is called כי יוונית.

  21. Phil, can you give us a source in Rav Kook that that was his thinking? I don't think it appears in the halachic rationales in the introduction to Shabbat HaAretz. The closest thing I recall in there is his analysis of Rambam and Tosafot regarding whether or not a non-Jew even has a kinyan in Eretz Yisrael, and whether it could be permitted to sell them land without violating lo tehanem. That seems to require that the non-Jew be a ger toshav, which the Rambam holds doesn't exist these days as a halachic reality. Since being a ger toshav requires repudiation of avodah zarah, maybe that's what you heard; but I don't recall that Rav Kook ever relates to such a thing in his written rationales. See the mevo to Shabbat HaAretz.

  22. I'm sorry Mordechai, but I'm unable to answer your question. I hope someone else can. -- Phil



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