Thursday, August 31, 2006

Only Nixon can go to China, or, it Takes a Hassid to Attribute Post-Mosaic Authorship in the Torah

In this Hirhurim thread an interesting discussion ensued about the case of post-Mosaic attribution to bits of the Torah by a prophet in a manuscript of R. Yehuda Ha-hassid (let it be mentioned that R. Moshe Feinstein's view was that this was an interpolation by an erring student).

Naturally this discussion also dealt with the question of 'Ibn 'Ezra and post-Mosaic authorship and the possibility that R. Yehuda Ha-assid was influenced by him. Be that as it may, one distinguished commenter noticed that the Abenezra felt this idea needed to be kept secret while hakhmei Ashkenaz did not and asked why not.

I mused that, according to the stereotype, there was far more piety and orthodoxy in Ashkenaz and its environs than Sepharad (not to mention more Karaism). Is it possible that, paradoxically, this "frummer" environment made it possible to say some seemingly radical things?

Let me explain: we know of tales like the Berditchiver "suing" God due to persecution of Jews. Whatever Litvaks think of such a story, I would bet that people who don't bat an eyelash by it would be pretty upset if Eric Yoffie sued God.

Sort of a medieval version of "only Nixon can go to China.

Fleshing out this thought further, maybe somehow the quote-unquote more orthodox environment of Ashkenaz lent itself to occasional lapses into unorthodoxy that went unnoticed, maybe because there was a perception that "everyone is 'frum,'" certainly someone called a Hasid!

I will say that in my experience in very Orthodox environments there isn't always the self awareness to notice departures from what should, in theory, be orthodoxy (and in other environments too!). For example, I once heard a shiur by a very popular rabbi about Metatron and how he was Enoch turned into an angel and so holy is he that one cannot even say his name; you have to say Metat!

It seemed to me, even being somewhat aware of the pedigree of the Metatron idea in Judaism, that something should have struck people as funny about a person becoming an angel and you can't even say his name, even though it is "in seforim." Is there anyone besides God whose name one doesn't say? You'd think it would strike people as odd, including the maggid shiur, but evidently it didn't, or didn't seem to raise such questions.

Maybe this is a similar phenomenon: in Ashkenaz such lapses may not have always been noticed, strange as that would seem. Of course I'm also positing that R. Yehuda Ha-hasid himself would not have been aware that what he was saying was really radical and would probably get you tarred and feathered if 1) someone else had said it and certainly 2) said it in Sepharad. Maybe.

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