Thursday, November 30, 2006

Good press: credit where credit is due

haredi rabbis deserve credit for doing the right thing, and it should be publically pointed out in atmosphere where criticism of them runs rampant, the reason this is written in white letters is so that Google will index this post, but I think the image spoke for itself

Menachem Kellner caves on Daas Torah*; also, who wrote the Zohar?

Hirhurim calls attention to a new journal called Covenant. Menachem Kellner has an article called Maimonides Agonist: Disenchantment and Reenchantment in Modern Judaism.

In it he raises an issue which is not new, but he raises it well.

For traditionally oriented Jews, an important religious issue rests upon a bibliographical question: who wrote the Zohar?

I will get back to that.

Meanwhile, he also makes a notable concession

For years I have been convinced that the notion of da'at torah was a haredi innovation, a politically expedient if Jewishly questionable response to the challenges of modernity. However, I have been forced to change some of my cherished opinions. While it is clear that the term da'at torah is a late nineteenth-century innovation, the notion actually reflects forces that existed earlier in Judaism.

As far as I can tell this is basically all that proponents of Daas Torah have been saying all along. "We didn't make this up. It's how Jews were governed by their spiritual leaders." The difference, of course, is that Kellner isn't saying that this is how Jews were always governed and that its definitely the 'Torah opinion.' So let us say that Kellner is now a Daas Torah minimalist in that he recognizes a central claim of proponents of Daas Torah: it isn't new.

My own take on Daas Torah is to essentially agree with the notion that Jews were long governed by their spiritual leaders. However I disagree as to the import of this fact. In pre-modern Jewish society the spiritual leaders were also secular leaders (along with leading laymen). This was so not because knowledge of hilkhot treifot imbues one with 'Torah opinion,' but because the spiritual leaders were educated and they were worldly. Spiritual leaders didn't only decide religious questions, but that is a descriptive phenomenon.

One of the leading theoreticians of the Daas Torah ideology made the case that spiritual leaders have more Daas Torah the more Torah learning they possess and the less worldy knowledge. In other words, a saintly ascetic will have more 'Torah opinion' at his disposal than a scholar of equal Torah knowledge who is more worldly. Practical experience, personal knowledge, 'street smarts'--all of it lessens Daas Torah.

As far as I can tell that is the innovation of Daas Torah as a prescriptive ideology: the idea that a rabbi who spends the bulk of his time teaching Torah to 20 year bachelors is inherently better suited to practical leadership of the wider community than a rabbi who has street smarts, even if their Torah scholarship is otherwise equal.

A few months ago it was shown that a leading chareidi godol, viewed as an exemplar of Daas Torah didn't know how a credit card worked until it was explained to him. Putting aside whether this is true or not--the publication which made the claim is known to spread tall tales, but the import is that it firmly believes that his prior lack of knowledge of what a credit card is is not embarassing, but awesome--a rabbi who didn't know basic worldy information 400 years ago could have been many things; a tzadik, a hasid--but he would not have been the one making political decisions.

So this is new. My take.


Getting back to the Zohar, Kellner continues

Many of Maimonides' writings are best understood not only as an attempt to harmonize Torah and what he considered to be science, but also as an attempt to counteract the influence of what I have called "proto-kabbalistic" elements in pre-Maimonidean Judaism. In this, I believe (but cannot prove), Maimonides followed in the footsteps of those editors of the normative rabbinic writings who kept certain texts and allied literature out of the canon of Judaism. But the widespread acceptance of the Zohar as the work of the second-century CE Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai doomed this millennium-long attempt limiting the mystical elements of Judaism to failure. The Zohar is the central problem.

For traditionally oriented Jews, an important religious issue rests upon a bibliographical question: who wrote the Zohar? If the Zohar represents the work of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai and a circle of colleagues and students, then the teachings of the Zohar must be seen as part of the body of normative rabbinic Judaism, carrying at least as much authority as other midrashic compilations such as the Mishna and the Talmud. No Jew today, believer or scholar, would think of claiming that the ideas and values of, say, midrashic compilations do not represent ideas and values at the heart of rabbinic Judaism. There may be questions about how to express these ideas and values in a modern idiom, how to understand them, and, for the most traditional, how to apply them, but there can be no doubt that they constitute an integral part of "classical Judaism."

If the Zohar, on the other hand, is the brilliant work of the Spanish kabbalist Moses de Leon (c. 1240--1305) and his friends, if the anonymous mystical work Sefer bahir, attributed to first century sage Nehunya Ben Ha-Kanah, is in fact a clumsy forgery, then the ideas and values embodied in these works have much less normative import for subsequent Judaism. Moses de Leon did indeed live during the period of the "rishonim" (early authorities), but had no particular credentials as halakhist or exegete that we know of.

So, putting the question rather tendentiously, is Judaism the sort of religion found in the Bible, Mishna, Talmud, and Maimonides, or is Judaism the sort of religion found in the Bible, Mishna, Talmud, and Zohar? These are very different sorts of religions and the answer to the question depends on the answers to the question, who wrote the Zohar and when?

To all intents and purposes the question has been settled in Jewish history if not by Jewish scholarship. Scholars such as Gershon Scholem accept that these works are the invention of Moses de Leon, but in Orthodox circles, the Zohar is almost universally seen as the work of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai, with all that implies. That being the case, it is no surprise that what might be called, anachronistically, Maimonides' anti-Zoharic reform had little chance of success. In the rest of this paper I want to indicate how very little of Maimonidean Judaism can be found in the contemporary Orthodox world.

The question of how a work without a tradition can appear and be considered authoritative is one that should concern Orthodox Jews given that they place a premium on tradition. If the Yerushalmi Kodashim wasn't met with skepticism then would it not have been incorporated into the Shas? Of course the obvious response is that the Zohar was met with skepticism, but unlike the Yerushalmi Kodshim, investigation authenticated it. Nu, nu. You say Zoyhar Haqodoysh, I say Book of Enoch.

*My personal apologies to him for using a sensationalist title, but I couldn't resist. If it is brought to my attention that this is unappreciated by the author, the title can be changed in advance of Google indexing.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Download Dickdook Leshon Gnebreet - דקדוק לשון עברית

All the explanation is at On the Main Line but in this clean post you can download Judah Monis' Dickdook Leshon Gnebreet: A Grammar of the Hebrew Tongue (Boston, 1735) (דקדוק לשון עברית).

Download Dickdook Leshon Gnebreet - דקדוק לשון עברית

I once posted a bit about Harvard's first instructor of Hebrew in the 18th century, Judah Monis. link

At English Hebraica I posted an image of his tombstone. link

Monis was sort of a pathetic figure. Of Italian or North African birth, after (possibly) serving for a short time as a rabbi in a Long Island congregation he accepted a post teaching Hebrew at Harvard in 1722 and converted to Christianity (a necessary precondition to the appointment). There is some difference of opinion as to what the evidence shows about the sincerity of his conversion, but there is no doubt that he was never fully accepted by his peers and students (who couldn't stand him, his 100 page book which they had to copy by hand or the course he taught).

His book is unusual and a very interesting historical document. I don't think you can easily acquire a copy, so here is one I uploaded of Dickdook Leshon Gnebreet: A Grammar of the Hebrew Tongue (Boston, 1735) (דקדוק לשון עברית). (to download: click, not right click, the link. A new page loads and you'll need to wait a few seconds to download)

Re: Gnebreet/ עברית; although the learned readers fully understand his unusual transliteration of the letter ע in עברית, and although this point has been discussed on my blogs before, it would not be inappropriate to mention that Western Sepharadim and Italian Jews pronounced the ע as /ng/ (or sometimes /gn/, as in signor...I think). Although this pronunciation seems uncommon today, to the English speaking Jews of the 18th century this was ubiquitous. A charming remnant from the early 20th century remains at the end of the Hertz Chumash where the transliteration scheme is spelled out (pg 1053 in the edition I have). In explaining why the Chumash eschews various possible transliterations of Hebrew words it says

"In the transliteration of Hebrew words into English (Shema, tzedakah, and haftorah, and not Shema` or Shemang, sedaqah and haphtarah), the aim is not to bewilder the ordinary lay reader, for whom this work is primarily intended."

Monis' grammar ends with a most unusual page (click to enlarge):

For more info about Monis see

George Alexander Kohut "Judah Monis, M.A., the First Instructor in Hebrew at Harvard University (1683-1764)" American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 14, No. 4 (Jul., 1898), pp. 217-226

God's Sacred Tongue: Hebrew and the American Imagination by Shalom Goldman

Monday, November 27, 2006

Spaghetti Westernizing the Esav traditions

Search For Emes writes
Another week of passion plays in shul as we make our way through Breishis. The rabbi just won't let up. Just a little while ago it was Ishmael, and this week it is Esav. This really feels like I am watching a medieval passion play. Here comes the good guy - Yaacov. He is perfect. Here comes the bad guy - Esav. He is evil. Boo, hiss...
If I understand him correctly, it is not that Esav is viewed as a bad guy per se that bothers him--there are bad guys--but that he is made into the bad guy to the point that it would be parody, except that its not parody.

A couple of months ago the following letter and response appeared in one of those free ad-heavy Jewish magazine you find in New York:

I hope it can be read clearly. The letter is about a previous writer's portrayal of Lavan as akin to Stalin or Hitler! I believe the same letter could have been written about Yishmael and Esav. The point is that it is true that these three are "bad guys" in the midrash, to a certain extent Yishmael and Lavan are "bad guys" in the text of the Torah itself. But Hitler and Stalin-esque?

The rabbi correctly noted in response that the Haggadah cites a rabbinic interpretation of Deut. 26:4 אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, 'the Aramean [ie, Lavan] sought to destroy my father [ie, Yaakov]' as opposed to the peshat which might read 'a wandering Aramean [ie, Yaakov] was my father.'

That the former is not the literal translation needs very little to establish. One can simply quote the Artscroll Stone Chumash note on the words they translate 'An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather'--"The translation is that of Rashi, who follows the Midrashic interpretation of Sifre, which is also the version found in the Haggadah. Accordingly, the Aramean is the deceitful Laban, who tried to deceive Jacob at every turn, and finally pursued him with the intention of killing him, and would have done so had not God warned him not to dare harm Jacob (see Genesis 31:29-30). In the plain sense, the term is rendered my forefather [i.e., Jacob] was a lost [i.e., homeless or penniless] Aramean, meaning that Jacob lived in Aram for twenty years of his life (Ibn Ezra)."

Lest we get stuck on the discussion about the tension between the דרש and the פשט it should suffice to note that there really isn't the official midrashic portrayal of any of these characters. Yishmael is viewed in a negative light at times; in others he is truly penitent. The same can be said for the others as well.

The point is that both the rabbi and the letter writer are correct in pointing to opposing sources and opinions regarding these figures, and that only highlights the fact that there is a complex reality to their treatment in the rabbinic tradition, even if it is true that the weight of opinion would seem to be with the rabbi; albeit it is a long leap from that to treating Lavan as the proto-Hitler.

The rabbi's response ends with a postscript:

By the way, Esav and Yishmael were also related to Avrohom Avinu. Will you take up their cause as well?

I imagine the writer of the letter didn't see himself as taking up Lavan's cause so much as opposing the Spaghetti Westernization of the Torah tradition.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Why didn't Shadal want to change the Kedusha? Text emendations in theory and in practice.

A correspondent asked me my opinion as to why Shadal defended the wording of the Kedusha barukh kevod versus his emendation berum kevod (as discussed here).

Thinking about it, this was my reply: Shadal was personally very conservative. Even though if we look at him in the light of the past it is clear that in many ways he wasn't traditional, he was totally unaware of that. It was he who came up with the quip, upon hearing of the removal of the yikum purkan by Reformers, that they fulfilled va-yimah et kol ha-yequm (Gen. 7:23). On the other hand, in 1821 the Austrian Emperor required that the Italian Jews under his dominion produce a siddur with translation according to the Italian minhag, and as the editor and translator he was keenly aware of the fluidity of tephillah itself (as well as its rigidity).

In addition, although he believed that text criticism of Nakh was totally permissible and even desirable, like pretty much all traditionalists who took this attitude, it stopped when it came to changing the texts themselves, as opposed to just noting the emendation for the sake of knowledge and truth. His ability to recognize the corruptness of the transmission of (some of) the texts and his need to suggest emendations was driven by his notion of truth, as was his desire to seek out the meaning of the texts according to how they were understood by the original audience. If that didn't mean that how the original audience understood it needs to inform how we understand it, this was so long as we know the difference and do not confuse the two kinds of understandings. Also, this particular emendation was only conjectural. To this day there are no ancient versions, no Dead Sea Scroll fragment which attests to this emendation (berum instead of barukh).

So, to round up, Kedusha might have come from the Navi, but it is not the Navi: it is liturgy. I would not be surprised if he had sensed a corruption in the liturgy on its own terms then he would have advocated emending it; this calls to mind something R. Saul Lieberman said: "There may be one historical truth, but the truth of a text is the truth peculiar to its one literary or oral tradition." (quoted by Dov Zlotnick in his introduction to Greek In Jewish Palestine/ Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, New York: 1994).

In other words, it is the right wording in Kedusha, even if it is not what the Navi said!

PS if you think I'm overdoing the Shadal, you ain't seen nothing yet. Shadalian: coming soon.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Is the Agudah upset about "good" blogs too?

I wasn't sure if I was planning to post about the topic at the upcoming Agudah convention about blogging. As many people pointed out, the Agudah really isn't the pulse of any community anymore. The convention really is as much or more about networking and shidduchim as it is social responsibility. It isn't the momentous gathering of and about the community many presume it represents. I say that not as a dig at the Agudah, but rather to point out simply that the community it is thought it speaks for, American chareidim, are not accurately reflected by one entity.

It has already been covered here, here, here and here to mention only a few places. Orthomom was the first to post the title of the talk, as printed in a Hamodia ad: ...Have bloggers declared open season on Torah Authority?

But then Wolf posted on the topic and pointed out that its ludicrous to speak of "blogs" as a single entity anymore than to speak of books as an entity. There are good books and bad books. Good blogs and bad blogs.

While I agree, his post caused me to think more about what is objectionable about blogging. I think that unlike books which do not necessarily share a relationship, blogs do. For one thing, they are interactive. Even if the content is highly controlled (and approved) doesn't the blog link to other blogs? Even if all of them are approved, doesn't at least some of them link to ones which aren't? Even if none of them do, what prevents commenters from linking to their own blogs, which may not be approved? What about the fact that many people access new posts through aggregators like Jrants or Jblogosphere or JewishBlogging? Or through Google blog search? And if you click that last link, you'll see I had searched for the word "Torah." The first result as of this posting is called "Reading the Torah as Wisdom, Not Law." The second result is "Replacing Secular Values with Torah Values" on a different blog. It is very possible that the second post is something which, what I shall term Agudists for convenience, would love, maybe even print out and leave a pile in their shul. But the one right before it? Ay yi yi yi yi. And I haven't even mentioned content.

That is the point: the mixture. Even that which they'd generally consider good contains admixtures that would and does shock them. Everyone thinks Hirhurim is great, right? But even there in the comments you'll find people saying things that would literally make some people nauseous. (Putting aside the issue of a young man independently publishing his "musings" as he sees fit, which is simply an issue for Agudists.)

I can recall reading a book about peshat and derash which really didn't contain anything that untraditional. It was just in erudite English and by a person with a fancy, untraditional name who had a resume I would have considered suspect at the time. But I felt illicit. I felt lightheaded, even guilty and was sure I shouldn't be reading it. (It was a while ago.) To someone who is not used to things they have developed a sensitivity about even slight deviations, to say nothing about major ones, are shocking beyond belief.

Not that this is the Agudah attitude per se, but remember that there are people who wouldn't learn Torah from a sefer printed by specific publishing houses! Hypersensitive or not, even that which seems prima facie unobjectionable in the blogosphere is positively laced with what they think is hemlock. The best of it is still the worst of it.

In a way this is similar to the objection to `Torah U-Madda.' Yesterday Hirhurim posted a thought by R. Elhanan Wasserman. Now, R. Wasserman was known as one of the greatest critics of Yeshiva University. He repeatedly refused invitation from R. Dr. Bernard Revel to give a shiur at RIETS. Yet according to Hirhurim the thought in his post was given at the Hildesheimer Rabbinerseminar in Berlin, where students needed to get PhDs as a condition for receiving rabbinic ordination, where source criticism of rabbinic literature and philology were part of the curriculum, where even the Deutero-Isaiah position was taught by one instructor. This same seminary was actually looked down upon by Lithuanian rabbis. Why would R. Wasserman oppose RIETS more than that institution? Someone pointed out to me the simple explanation that I should not have overlooked: he objected to the idea of a Yeshiva University; to the fact that the same institution which granted academic degrees also granted rabbinic ordination. In other words, the mixture. Of course.

Agree or not, you can't just make them realize that some are good and some are bad. That would be projection onto them.

If I may borrow a graphic, here is Greg of the wonderful Presence's banner.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Agnlicizing names; "Godlive" vs "Yechiel"; Heilman et cetera

In one of my very first posts, The Prophet Milton (PBUH) I registered my puzzlement at the convention of Anglicizing Jewish of names in English works, or really the lack of uniform convention for it. Why, asked I, should the Maharal of Prague be called Judah, something he never was called even one time in his life? (Even if it could be shown that he had a shem hol, a secular equivalent of Yehuda, like Loeb or even a direct Czech equivalent, the point is that /Joo-dah/ he never went by).

So I was perusing Dr Sam Heilman's book Sliding to the Right: The Contest for the Future of American Jewish Orthodoxy and wondered why, on pg 131 we find Joseph Caro and Solomon Ganzfried as well as Israel Kagan and Yechiel Michl Espstein.

Granted, there is no good way to Anglicize "Yechiel." But that leads to another question: why is the Hafetz Hayyim called "Israel," when he went by Yisrael Meir (so it should be written Israel Meir) and the author of the Arukh Ha-shulhan gets both his first and second name (Yechiel Michl Espstein)? If there is any rhyme or reason I don't see one, although it is noteworthy--maybe--that Dr Heilman seems to prefer R. Epstein's halakhic work to R. Kagan's.

Speaking of Anglicizing Yechiel, perhaps authors should pull a page from Rennaissance-era R Azaryah dei Rossi's Me'or 'Enayim who gave the Greek-named Philo a Hebrew name, its equivalent Yedidya. Why not "R. Godlive Michl Epstein"? I guess that would be too weird.

In any case, thinking about it, many of these persons didn't really use their Hebrew names either. Thus, Ha-Netziv, R. Naphtali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, was known as R. Hirsch Leib (and that doesn't even take into account how "Hirsch Leib" was actually pronounced in his native Lithuanian Yiddishe). I guess it would not be so precise to write "Moshe Feinstein" rather than "Moyshe" (or "Meyseh"), so Moses suffices!

The problem with modern Orthodoxy is

that topics of interest to it are

1. Is Orthodox Judaism open to new ways of studying the Bible?

2. Is Orthodox Judaism open to critical study of the history of halakhah?

3. Is Orthodox Judasim open to new approaches to women's ritual roles?

per Freelance Kiruv Maniac.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Et tu The Midrash Says?

It's amazing what we don't notice when we are children.

The Midrash Says was and remains an extremely popular five-voume compendium of midrashic material on the Torah; sort of like Louis Ginzberg's Legends of the Jews. As far as I can see, children today mainly read The Little Midrash Says, which wasn't available when I was a kid, so The Midrash Says it was. It was enriching Shabbos reading; weekday reading too.

But it is more than just what the Midrash says. It is also what its compiler says the midrash means.

Equates and attacks Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodoxy:

Attacks pizza shops:

Attacks support for Israel's irrigation needs:

Against 'indiscriminate' Aliya:

Zionism contravenes Torah-opinion (Daas Torah):

Interesting. It goes without saying, or should, that this post is not about anyone's right to hold these views or to publish them, neither of which I contest!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Rabbi David Zvi Hoffmann's yahrzeit

It is (or will be, in a matter of hours) Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman's 85th yahrzeit.

19 Marheshvan 5682/ November 20, 1921.

1863 Hebrew account of the Aleppo Codex, כתר ארם צובה

In Moshe H. Goshen-Gottstein's important article "The Authenticity of the Aleppo Codex" in Textus: Annual of the Hebrew University Bible Project, Vol. 1 (1961) he notes (pg. 3, note 5) that this famous codex was first publicized by R. Jacob Berlin in the first volume of the Hebrew periodical Libanon (הלבנון) f1863. pg. 23. Goshen-Gottstein noted that copies of this periodical were "extremely rare," but luckily the Early Hebrew Newspapers project is available, via the JNUL.

And here it is, or some of it at any rate (also cf. pp. 31 and 76 of the first volume from 1863).

Goshen-Gottstein wrote that "No manuscript of the Hebrew Bible, apart from those discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls, has been the subject of so heated a discussion as our Codex. Ever since information about it was published" above.

The controvery itself (What exactly is the codex? Who wrote it? What is its signifigance? Was it the text used by the Rambam? Is it really a Ben Asher text? The Ben Asher text?) has since been mostly settled since 1961, in no small measure to Goshen-Gottstein himself.

Incidentally, Ha-levanon was the first Hebrew newspaper in Jerusalem; its editor was Yehiel Brill.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Reasonable revisited

Appropos Reb Gil's revival* of an issue I discussed in May, here are links to my two posts on R. Shmuel Waldman's Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Covincing Evidence of the Truths of Judaism.

Unreasonable content in Beyond A Reasonable Doubt I

E.A. Speiser on the historicity of Avraham--add it to the next edition of Beyond A Reasonable Doubt II

*I'm only kidding. I am not accusing him of being influenced by my post.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Shadal's most famous biblical emendation

One of the cornerstones of our daily prayer is the קדושה. While familiar, it is worth showing one version of it (from

Our piece here concerns the sixth line (in that image). It is a quote from Ezekiel 3:12; the red is in the qedusha, the rest is to include the whole verse:

וַתִּשָּׂאֵנִי רוּחַ--וָאֶשְׁמַע אַחֲרַי, קוֹל רַעַשׁ גָּדוֹל: בָּרוּךְ כְּבוֹד יְה' מִמְּקוֹמוֹ

Then a spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great rushing: 'Blessed be the glory of the LORD from His place'

Now, if we are used to thinking of the Bible as full of strange things we can chalk it up to yet another. As the spirit lifted the prophet up, he heard a great noise (angels, as it turns out) and the noise was them saying "Blessed be the glory of the Lord from His place." (Artscroll adds the explanatory word "saying" in brackets; that is to say, the noise was the saying of the blessing) The passage then contains to describe more great noise, the wing movements of the hayot and the noise of the ofanim. Okay, if that's what it says.

But exegetes are sensitive to strangeness, and R. Samuel David Luzzatto, Shadal, conjectured that בָּרוּךְ כְּבוֹד יְה' מִמְּקוֹמוֹ contains a scribal error. According to him the verse originally read בְּרוּם כְּבוֹד יְה' מִמְּקוֹמוֹ, and so it read "Then a spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great rushing when the glory of the Lord rose from His place," rather than "Then a spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great rushing: 'Blessed be the glory of the LORD from His place."

The error is a plausible scribal error, as the כ and מ looked very similar in the paleo-Hebrew script. Below is an illustration of what ברוך כבוד looked like in paleo-Hebrew (using a font modeled on the script of the Siloam inscription); directly below it is ברום כבוד.

In July Codex noted that the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translates Ezekiel 3:12 as per this emendation, "As the glory of YHWH arose from its place."

It must now be noted that

- Shadal is supposedly the first Jew to suggest emendations to the Bible (although he never countenances making them in the text, it must be noted--the above did not lead him to suggest 'correcting' Ezekiel or the Qedusha).

- In addition he vehemently--and irrationally--was opposed to any conjectural emendation of the Torah, but not Nakh.

- Paranthetically, he really felt that almost no one was technically qualified to suggest emendations.

- On that note, it is said that he came to regret making (or perhaps making known his) emendations because it unwittingly undermined that which he upheld with every fiber of his being; the authority and integrity of the Bible and tradition. (sources: Graetz 'History of the Jews,' Shalom Spiegel 'Hebrew Reborn')

- Along those lines, however, it should also be noted that he 'sat' on his Sefer Vikuah al Hokhmat ha-Kabbalah for 25 years because even though he was completely convinced he was right (that the Kabbalah was antithetical to Judaism and that the Zohar was pseudepigrephal), he didn't want to undermine the simple faith of those Jews who were mystically inclined ("It was characteristic of Shadal that he held back the publication of this work because he felt that it might do harm to the strong religious feelings of Polish Jewry, for whom the Kabbalah was a great source of solace").

However--he did publish it, in 1851. "As a result of a conversation he had with a pupil of his, who had returned from a visit to Poland, Luzzatto was persuaded that the evils of the Kabbalah's mystic cult outweighed its benefits as a bulwark of piety." (source: Margolies "Traditionalist Scholar")

EDIT: A reader says "I imagine that if the [Masoretic Text] had read ברום, some clever fellow would have come along suggesting that it be emended to ברוך. And how would we know whether he was right or wrong?

To this I say ברום reads well and wouldn't have raised a question.

In any case, he is right. All sorts of unqualified persons engaged (and to a much lesser extent engage) in conjectural emendations. Note the past tense, because today the uncontrolled excesses of the past has been checked. In fact, as I noted in my post, Shadal apparently was uncomfortable if he was to be used as a vehicle through which the masoretic text would be attacked.

But it needs to be realized that *he* was not unqualified. He was a living concordance of Tanakh and possibly the world's greatest expert on Hebrew of his day. He still holds up well. In addition, his exegesis was very rigorous. He didn't make such suggestions lightly. In fact, he was fully cognizant of an important rule in textual criticism lectio difficilior potior, "the more difficult reading is the stronger," a rule which was widely disregarded for a very long time, but as I said, is more adhered to now. The intent of that rule is to highlight the fact that in copying texts the tendency is to smooth over errors and therefore if an APPARENT error remains in the text there is a good chance that it isn't an error at all, but it only remains to be shown why the difficult spelling or reading is actually the original.

Shadal was mindful of this. If he came across a difficult reading he exhausted his mental resources AND the large manuscript and witness evidence available to him first and only then did he put forth a conjectural emendation. He spent decades on his perushim, refusing to publish them until they were worked over and over again.

In short, he wasn't full of it. It can't be proven if this truly was the original reading, but without a doubt he could not resolve the difficulty with any satisfaction any other way.


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