Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A positive-historical chumra?

There is a halakhic puzzler. Halakhah requires married women to cover their hair and it is considered a biblical requirement. BT Berakoth 24a: "R. Shesheth said: A woman's hair is a sexual incitement, as it says, Thy hair is as a flock of goats." אמר רב ששת שער באשה ערוה שנא' (שיר השירים ד) שערך כעדר העזים
There is near unanymity that this refers to a married woman. Thus, married woman have to cover their hair, unmarried women--whether 13 33 or 99--don't (never been married, really). I say near unanymity, because there've been communities which required unmarried women to cover their hair as well.

This leads to some puzzlement. If female hair is ערוה, sexual incitement how can it possibly be that this is dependent upon marriage? Clearly this is not a typical sort of ערוה; it obviously isn't like the breasts. So what gives?

The best answers are all apologetic. They amount to some variation that seeing the hair is supposed to be "private for the husband" or perhaps that allowing unmarried women to go bare headed is a concession of sorts (to snare a husband?).

But suppose one takes a positive-historical approach--paranthetically, the 19th century European interpretation of Judaism (or movement) called Positive-Historical Judaism, a term coined by R. Zecharias Frankel, has nothing to do with a positive outlook (as Wikipedia, R. Berel Wein and others understand it (quote to be supplied later). It is true that "positive-historical" sounds like "we like this Judaism thing, but we're going to be historical about it," but it doesn't mean "we like this Judaism thing." It refers to Positivism, a 19th century theory which promotes the belief that only knowledge gained through the application of scientific method is true (or proved true). Okay, I know little about Positivism and hope I didn't botch that up. But that is indeed what Frankel meant. He meant that the kind of Judaism he promoted was to employ the scientific method in the study of its sacred texts, laws and customs. Not "I like Judaism; I feel positive toward it," which of course he did.

In any case, taking a positive-historical approach one might wish to know what באשה in שער באשה ערוה meant at the time it was said by R. Shesheth. In other words, is an "isha" only a married woman? Whether the answer is yes or no, one also would wish to know when were women getting married in R. Shesheth's time? Could it be that then, before the age of delayed adulthood, girls got married at about the onset of adolescence? If so, the passage is explained fairly well. There is no problem of how a 20 year old woman's hair is not ערוה so long as she is not yet married, but once she marries then--overnight--that same hair becomes ערוה. Rather, R. Shesheth is basically saying that much like obviously sexual parts of a woman, hair is also ערוה. By "woman" he may well have meant "married woman," but that might have simply been exactly the same thing as a sexually developing young girl. Which is to say, hair covering is to begin with puberty, more or less.

I know that it will be objected on historical grounds that the Talmud very precisely defines puberty in relation to physical development. If so, then how could "the onset of adolescence" or "the time when girls get married" be meant? Well, I need to think about that. :) In any case, it seems to me that using a positive-historical approach (assuming that the historical evidence bears out my tentative assumption that the time girls got married was at the time of physical development) the halakhic requirement actually called for no discrepancy between women of all ages who didn't marry and those who did. Hair would not "become" ערוה with marriage so much as with physical maturation. Realize also that such young marriage was certainly practiced in medieval Ashkenaz, and even as late as the 19th century in parts of the Jewish world.

It is not unfortunate, I suppose, that if this was the "original intent" that it became forgotten in time until the gap between the onset of when women actually begin covering their hair and when girls actually begin to become women widened. This only meant that now that we delay adulthood (and marriage) our young ladies are not burdened with a burdensome practice that even many adult women find challenging.

(Of course this whole pilpul can probably be undone from a positive-historical perspective by noting that "minhag Lita" was not to cover the hair for about a hundred years. ;)

When Yiddish is not really your native tongue

Fotheringay-Phipps comments (on this post):

I once had an argument with a Yiddish speaker from Lugano (whose other native language was Italian) as to how one described that one feels cold. I said "ich bin kalt" (I am cold) and he insisted that it was "ich hub kalt" (I have cold). We asked an Israeli Yiddish speaker who said it was "es iz mir kalt" (it is cold to me). Of course, all three of us were using the Yiddish translations of the proper expression in our native languages.

No besamim in this rosh

One of the great scandals of the rabbinic scene in the late 18th century was the publication by R. Saul Berlin of the work he titled Besamim Rosh. The work was described as a collection of teshuvot from an unpublished manuscript, the bulk of which were authored by the 13th-14th century rishon R. Asher ben Yehiel, known as the Rosh. If it were so, it would have been a very important work indeed, as the Rosh was one of the greatest halakhic decisors of all. Included with the teshuvot was a commentary by Berlin himself, called Kasa De-harsena (much Besamim Rosh information at the Seforim Blog).

Something was fishy about the work, namely that it discussed the most absurd questions one could think of--indeed, it read like a parody of she-'elot u-teshuvot--and its conclusions were often permissive to the point of suspicion.

For example: within its pages was the claim (#200) that a shohet needs to test the sharpness of his knife by running it across his tongue (interestingly enough, to give a sample of how it has influenced and penetrated what might be called popular Orthodox culture--as a child I heard that a shohet indeed must check the knife by running it [carefully, one guesses] over his tongue!]). But this is nothing. Within its pages the question of whether guests are to feast at a wedding held on Tisha B'Av due to extenuating circumstances, namely, if the bride is in immanent danger of being abducted by a nobleman (#174) or whether a one-armed man should wear tephillin shel yad along with the shel rosh on his forehead (#100). One teshuvah has the Rosh--a proud, staunch opponent of secular learning--lauding it to the sky.

Needless to say it was suspected as a forgery right away; Berlin being accused of forging it. Indeed, although the work was defended by his father--a distinguished rabbi--it sealed Berlin's already sullied reputation (having previously published an anonymous work scathingly attacking R. Rephael Cohen of Altona, Hamburg and Wandsbeck who had led the attack on Mendelssohn's Bi'ur). For his part, Berlin maintained that he most certainly did not forge it! However, with no name to his name he died shortly after the affair in London.

Assuming he did in fact forge it, the question is, why? At the time it was widely assumed that he intended the work as a sort of Trojan Horse within the rabbinic camp. Berlin, it was thought, simply meant to critique the supposed casuistry of halakhah by slipping such a work into its canon (even though a lately discovered work by a rishon would hardly be likely to become authoritative). Berlin was an early closet Reformer. A more charitable reading can be found in Talya Fishman's essay "Forging Jewish Memory: Besamim Rosh and the invention of preemancipation Jewish culture" in the Yosef Hayyim Yerushalmi festschrift. While agreeing that he intended it is a kind of critique of rabbinic culture, she suggests that his intent may not have been as radical as it seems, because there was an accepted practice of inventing hypothetical questions in order to author teshuvot, perhaps because "real" shu"t requires a timely response. Theoretical ones can be researched in much greater depth and with more leisure. In other words, perhaps the "Trojan Horse" model was not true; he never intended the work to compromise actual halakhah deciding. Indeed, the wording of the stranger teshuvot is vague and elusive.

Be that as it may, the work seems to have been cited as a normal halakhic source in subsequent shu"t literature--unaccountably so, many would say. (No one ever accused R. Saul Berlin of not "knowing how to learn.") It isn't as if criticism of it went away. Indeed, the author of Avnei Nezer claims that the only thing to do with the Besamim Rosh is to burn it--on Yom Kippur which is on shabbos! But, as Fishman notes, learned rabbis such as R. Ovadya Yosef quote from it, seemingly treating it as a halakhic work. R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin wrote that it was certainly a forgery, but one may learn from the work--but not the man [Berlin]. R. Kook too quoted the Besamim Rosh, being well aware that it was a forgery (see Rabbi Kook's View of the "Besamim Rosh").

Indeed, it was most surpising (interesting? alarming? amusing?) to find the following in R. J. David Bleich's Contemporary Halakhic Problems Vol. I see here ("A related question is discussed by Teshuvot Besamim Rosh, a work of questionable authenticity commonly attributed to Rabbenu Asher. Besamim Rosh, no. 340, questions..." -- and then devotes two pages discussing it).

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Joshua bin nun (also Paul Kahle, the Qur'an, the Masorah, Israel and Sri Lanka).

When I was a child I came home from yeshiva with a question my rebbe had asked us. Why is Joshua the son of Nun* (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן-נוּן, typically) called "bin Nun" rather then "ben Nun"? If we gave a good answer we could get a prize.

Dutifully I asked my father and he said he didn't know, but would check. He found that the Ramban (Ex. 33:11) suggested that the name is to be read together as "binnun" (as indicated by the masoretic hyphen) in the sense of בינון, Joshua, "the one with understanding."

My rebbe liked that answer, even though I doubt he believed I looked up the Ramban myself (being perhaps 9 years old).

For more than two decades I have thought about this enigmatic vocalization. Over the years I have collected other suggestions. The Chasam Sofer suggested that when Joshua's name was changed from Hoshea to Yehoshua there were no nekkudot for the yud, (which had been previously part of the name Sarai before a yud was removed and replaced with a heh, making Sarah [BT Sanhedrin 107a]) so two dots were "borrowed" from the segol under the "ben," leaving it with one dot, that is, a hirik. (What about Num. 13: 8 הוֹשֵׁעַ בִּן-נוּן?) Indeed, when I asked a great talmid chochom about the unusual vocalization he began his reply by saying "There is much Torah on this, but it is mostly derush."**

In fact, Joshua is not the only "bin" in Tanakh. Other examples include Deut. 25:2 (וְהָיָה אִם-בִּן הַכּוֹת הָרָשָׁע), Jonah 4:10 (שֶׁבִּן-לַיְלָה הָיָה וּבִן-לַיְלָה אָבָד), and a personal name: Proverbs 30:1 (אָגוּר בִּן-יָקֶה). Furthermore, another talmid chochom pointed out to me that it is possible that Benjamin, בִּנְיָמִין, is another example. Indeed, Rashi (Gen. 35:18) says that the meaning of the name is "son of the south," as in the expression צָפוֹן וְיָמִין, "north and south" (Psalm 89:13) which is to say that it is a contraction of two words. Given the vocalization וְיָמִין, evidently "ben" changes to "bin" in "Binyamin" for ease of pronunciation.

Paranthetically, a note about "ease of pronunciation" is in order. It's important to recognize that languages do funny things for the ease of pronunciation of its native speakers. Not being a native speaker is an impediment to understanding why this occurs. For example, in Hebrew the surrounding vowels determine whether the בגדכפת letters are hard or soft. Thus, you would say "Bereishit" but if you introduce the conjuctive "and," (ו) you would have to say "u-vereishit." This is correct Tiberian Hebrew. If you know the rules then you make the change. But am I wrong in suggesting that almost all of us would have no trouble at all saying "u-bereishit"? That's because the change does not occur to ease our own pronunciation. As non-native speakers of Tiberian Hebrew there is nothing difficult to our own ears and mouths that prevents us from reading it either way. Not so to native speakers who did have this difficulty.

To give a practical example in English. South of India there is a country called Sri Lanka. North of the Sinai desert there is a country called Israel. Americans pronounce "sri" like "shri." Americans pronounce "Israel" like "Izreal." Natives of Sri Lanka pronounce it "ssri," and Israelis pronounce it "Yissrael." Why don't Americans call Sri Lank "Ssri" Lanka? Why don't they call Israel "Issrael?" The answer is because those are too difficult for Americans to pull off. There is no "ss" followed by an "r" in English (which is why all you Srulis out there have to endure "Shruli"). Americans just can't say "Ssri," so they say "Shri." In American English the consonant /s/ is often voiced as if it were a z, depending on the vowels around it. It is difficult for Americans to say "Iss," but not "Iz." As for "ra-el," fuggedaboutit. Are you kidding me? These two syllables go together like oil and water in English (not so Hebrew) so Americans say "real." "Izreal."

But I digress. My point was that evidently--at least it is possible--there is something about the conjunction "Ben-Yamin," Bnymyn, which required "Binyamin" instead of "Benyamin" (seems like we do it fine in English, don't we?). Perhaps this is somehow the case with יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן-נוּן and the other examples.

The aforementioned first talmid chochom who pointed out that most of the "Torah" on the subject is derush noted that "Grammar may be more useful here":

Shen (tooth) and ben (son) are pronounced with a tzere in the absolute state, yet appear as shen (with a segol) and ben (with a segol) in the construct state. In the plural construct, we find shinnei (also: 'et [time] and 'ittei), with a dagesh in the second root letter. One suspects that the double nun in bin-nun acts exacly like the double nun in shinnei.

Awhile ago Steg said something similar. He pointed out that "bin Nun" works as a unit, that is, a geminated (double) nun. He gave an example based on the Hebrew word lêv (heart). In semikhut it is lev and with suffix it becomes libb-. Perhaps it is the same thing with "son." Bên, Ben and Binn-.

Indeed, the masorah combines bin and Nun: bin-Nun (the hyphen indicates that it is to be regarded as one word).

Bottom line: one has to explain the oddity of this and the few other examples. It would be easier to explain if not for the others, particularly the personal name אָגוּר בִּן-יָקֶה in Proverbs!

All this leads one to suspect that one is dealing with an old oral tradition. The question as to what the Tiberian massoretes were doing has been much discussed. Although one is tempted at the outset to assume that they were merely recording traditions, one wonders how indeed there were millions of minute traditions regarding the Biblical text. Furthermore, earlier evidence whether from the Talmud or elsewhere shows that Hebrew was pronounced differently at different times. It is clear that at the same time the Jews of Babylon pronounced Hebrew differently. Thus, it is practically impossible to say that the Tiberians recorded the way the Bible was read from time immemorial in all its exactitude. If so, what were they doing? Were the Tiberians recording their own pronunciation (using old traditions [kri u-kesiv, small letters, etc.]), of course)?

That might seem compelling. Indeed, one of the great Bible scholars of last century, Paul Kahle, believed that the Tiberians were compiling an idealized way of reading the Bible, perhaps modeled on (or at least parallel with) a similar effort for the vocalization of the Qur'an at roughly the same time. Kahle believed that he had proof that the Qur'an was originally consonantal and at a certain point in time it was vocalized according to one way of reading Arabic: the way that the Quraysh tribe of Mecca spoke Arabic (Muhammad was a Qurayshi). This tribe's pronunciation was romanticized as the ideal Arabic, and the consonants of the Qur'an were made to conform with this pronunciation.

An interesting excerpt from Paul Kahle's great (but not infallible) The Cairo Genizah on precisely this subject can be had here: link

Of particular relevance is his view, as follows:

Kahle's view has been justly criticized on the grounds that is is plainly difficult--if not ludicrous--to suggest that the massoretes consciously changed anything. Indeed, they must have done nothing but record what they believed to be the tradition. In cases of doubt they had recourse to solutions, like the halakhic principle of following the majority, of chasing down more authentic (it would seem) traditions, etc. But in the main it would seem difficult to posit an intentional language revolution, as Kahle suggests.

What of the Muslims who, too, should have venerated their Qur'an? If so, how could they have subjected it to modification to conform with the Quraysh pronunciation of Arabic--if indeed this was something more than a minor modification? I would suggest two things. One is that the Muslims did not believe they were dealing with an extremely ancient text with an extremely ancient tradition of pronunciation. Their's was only a couple of centuries old. In contrast, the Jews believed they were dealing with sacred texts that were as much as 2000 years old! Furthermore, at the time the Muslims were in a period marked byijtihad, a sort of interpretive renaissance in which all sorts of Islamic practices, beliefs and traditions were subjected to a process of scrutiny with the aim of establishing authenticity. Such a project would have been par for the course in such a time (believed to have ended at the end of the 10th century). At least as far as we know, no specific parallel occurred among the Jews. Although this period, the time of the Ge'onim, was marked by creativity and even renewal, it was also a period of consolidation, a period where the Talmud was fixed on a pedestal, where the idea of sof hora'ah was fixed. It seems unlikely that in this period the Jews, even an elite in Tiberias, were tinkering with the pronunciation of Hebrew as opposed to recording it, or at least believing that is all they were doing.

In any event, what I think is most plausible is that these fine listeners, these men with sensitive ears, definitely heard "bin Nun (or "binnun") and most certainly not "ben Nun!" That is how it was pronounced. Why did they hear this? What is it's origin? I am still looking...

* The "u" of "Nun" is to be pronounced like the short "oo" in "wood;" "noon," except rhymes with wood and not "afternoon."

** Homiletics.

Monday, May 21, 2007

On the Pinner Talmud: Chasam Sofer, the Czar, Shadal and little known Big Ideas.

Part of the story of the Pinner Talmud is here.

This edition, from 1842, was a translation project undertaken by Dr. Ephraim Moses Pinner (1800-1880), intending to translate the entire Talmud (both Bavli and Yerushalmi) into German. Pinner had been a student of R. Ya'akov of Lissa. He garnered some rabbinic support, and financing from Czar Nicholas I.

Only one volume appeared, Berakhot: "Talmud Babli; Babylonischer Talmud. Tractat Berachoth Segensprüche. Mit deutscher Ubersetzung und den Commentaren Raschi und Tosephoth nebst den verschiedenen Verbesserungen aller früheren Ausgaben. Hinzugefügt sind: Neue Lesarten und Parallelstellen in allen Theilen dieses Tractates und der Commentare, Vokalisation der Mischnah, Interpunktion der Mischnah und Gemara, Raschi und Tosephoth, Etymologie und Uebertragung der fremden Wörter, Erklärungen des Meharschal und Meharscha, R. Ascher mit Erläuterung der Halachah und den abweichenden Lesarten, R. Moscheh's Sohnes R. Maimon's, Commentar zur Mischnah mit Berichtigungen, Einleitung in den Talmud, enthaltend Grundprincipien der Methodologie und Exegetik des Talmud."

In the introduction to this volume he wrote:

"[Nowadays many Jews are unable to study Talmud in the original; those who know it can't teach it] Up to now no one has undertaken to translate the Talmud into the vernacular, and there are even some who have distorted the Talmud and accused the rabbis of saying things they never would have said. Therefore, I have taken upon myself to translate the Talmud into German."

That is, there are two reasons: 1) to open the Talmud to Jews and 2) to counter hostile non-Jewish mis-impressions about the Talmud.

What of the Czar's support? According to Adam Mintz (from whom much of this information was drawn) he supported the translation for two reasons: 1) at the time he was trying to Russify Russia's Jews via cultural and religious restrictions on the Jews. This included the discouragement of the use of Yiddish and the encouragement of the use of European languages, like German, which was close to Yiddish and therefore a practical replacement. 2) As a real antisemite, Nicholas commissioned a report to understand what's wrong with the Jews. The report issued found that the Talmud was the cause of the refusal of the Jews to assimilate into Russian society. Nicholas felt that exposing the Talmud would ameliorate this problem, and to do so would require translating it into European languages, and he was prepared to pay handsomely for such translations.

Thus, Pinner planned to use Nicholas and Nicholas planned to use Pinner. Nicholas purchased 100 volumes of Pinner's translation, and so when it was printed, it was dedicated to him! In addition to Nicholas, there were about a thousand subscribers, including Kings Frederick Wilhelm IV of Prussia, Wilhelm I of Holland, Leopold of Belgium and Frederick IV of Denmark.

At the beginning of the volume were 18 haskamot from both traditional rabbis and maskilim. The volume itself was evidently aesthetically pleasing. It included the traditional layout with German translation on the facing pages. In addition, punctuation was supplied for Rashi and Tosafos. At the bottom of each page he included a translation and etymology of selected difficult words.

When Pinner tried to acquire a haskamah from the Chasam Sofer, the latter was incredulous on the grounds that a vernacular translation is basically impossible given that the plain understanding of Rashi alone is subject to many disagreements, so how could anyone think they could manage such a translation? Pinner assured him that he didn't mean that he would do the whole thing himself, rather he would have a team and he would be the editor. One of the rabbis who would serve as translators was R. Nathan Adler (then rabbi of Hanover; later Chief Rabbi of Great Britain). Pinner claimed that he had lined up R. Adler to translate Eruvin and Yevamos. The Chasam Sofer accepted this, and wrote a haskamah.

As it turned out, Pinner had been playing loose with the truth. Pinner used R. Adler's name to receive this haskamah, and then used the Chasam Sofer's haskamah to get more. Apparently R. Adler denied any involvement at all. When the Chasam Sofer found out, he retracted his haskamah. Not only that, when it became known that Pinner continued to use the haskamah, Chasam Sofer issues a kol koreh asking rabbis to ban the printing, buying and reading of the work.

Shadal too did not offer a haskamah on similar grounds (his letter on the matter was printed in Keren Hemed 2 (1836) pp. 174-182. In addition to highlighting certain errors he felt Pinner had made he questioned whether one man could indeed translate the entire Talmud, noting that even Rashi could not complete his commentary on the Talmud.

Interestingly enough, another objection to the work arose in some quarters, best exemplified by a letter written to the Chasam Sofer by a Dutch rabbi, Tzvi Hirsch Lehrin. In it he noted that if there had been so much opposition to Mendelssohn's Bible, which was only a translation into German with Hebrew letters, how much more so must there be something faulty with a Talmud translated into German with German letters! In addition, argued R. Lehrer, although Pinner might have been motivated le-shem shamayim, to defend the honor of the Talmud before detractors, the opposite would occur once its contents were accessible: opponents would use it to denigrate the Sages, noting that a classic denigration of Talmudic Judaism by wayward Jews is the case of the egg laid on a holiday, deemed irrelevant. How much more so would non-Jewish opponents of the Talmud use this translation against it!

Interesting as well is that this was not the Chasam Sofer's objection.

Ultimately the Czar discovered his true motive and support was withdrawn, which was why only Berakhot ever appeared.

So on what basis can this post, about an aborted German Talmud be an English Hebraica post?

On this basis: I discovered a very interesting review of this edition from 1848, by one William Ayerst (1803-1883), in a book called The Jews of the Nineteenth Century: A Collection of Essays, Reviews, and Historical Notices.

Here it is:

Much of the information in this post was gleaned from "The Talmud in Translation," by Adam Mintz in "Printing the Talmud: From Bomberg to Schottenstein" and the Encylopedia Judaica article, "Pinner, Moses Ephraim."

What do the Chasam Sofer, Shadal and Czar Nicholas I have in common?

My latest post at English Hebraica.

To write a rabbinical biography:

From Joseph Davis's Yom-Tov Lipman Heller: Portrait of a Seventeenth-Century Rabbi:

"A rabbinical biography should not be merely a summary of a few talmudic decisions supplemented by a small assortment of biographical facts. It must present a balanced and rounded view of the subject's life, placing him in the context of a time, a place, and a community. It should follow the subject's development from youth to age, presenting his ambitions and his failures as well as his accomplishments. It should seek to explain the motives of his major decisions--his unconscious motives, if possible, as well as his conscious justifications. It should attempt to see the events of the subject's life from his own point of view, as well as from the author's. The lives of most of the great rabbis of the past, on account of the limitations of existing records, cannot be written in such an extensive and satisfactory way, but Heller's, as I have suggested, can be, and that has been my aim."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Using Artscroll as a historical source

Learn about the קָמַץ kamatz at What's Bothering Artscroll?

No ifs, ands or buts: Valuable witness to American Hebrew pronunciation in the Schottenstein shas, concering the קָמַץ kamatz.

There is an interesting series of notes in the commentary to the Schottenstein Edition of Nedarim vol. I (37b3) concerning matters of vocalization and cantillation.

Note 27 discusses the function of the matres lectiones, the Hebrew consonants which double as long vowels (א, ה, ו, י). An example given is how a ו shows the חולם is to be pronounced in a word (חוֹלָם; with an"o" as in "home"), for without it the word חם is ambiguous.

Artscroll gives a delicious example of American Ashkenazic Hebrew (I don't know if the term exists, but the concept surely does). It's explanation of how a קָמַץ (qomats) sounds is '"u" as in "but."'

This is completely correct in that it is precisely how many (by no means all) American Ashkenazim pronounce the קָמַץ. But this is not exactly the way this vowel was pronounced by the various Ashkenazic ethnic groups. Putting aside what has survived as the Chassidic pronunciation (oo as in boot; a normal sound shift), this "u" as in "but" most closely resembles--but is not identical with--the German "o." Other pronunciations of the were קָמַץ essentially variations on this theme, some more pronounced, some less, some closer to "o" as in "home" and some almost like "aw" (as in "shucks!"). Then there is, of course, the Temani pronunciation of the קָמַץ which famously resembles the Ashkenazic, each being me'id on the other. And last but not least, the affectation of some yeshivishe pronunciations which simply can't be produced in any notation I am familiar with.

In short, probably most קָמַץ-pronouncers today do say it like "but," myself included. בָּט this is under the influence of American English phonemes, just as the German Jews sounded theirs under the influence of the German "o."

It is noteworthy, by the way, that in Artscroll's serious scholarly work like the Schottenstein it eschews nonsense like it's constructed Hebrew pronunciation.

Surely a historian of 20th-21st century American Jewry will one day use this valuable footnote to reconstruct the Ashkenazic Hebrew, although he or she will obviously have to be sure about how precisely "but" was pronounced in American English.

Punic points: Did a Punic inscription tell of the flight of Canaanites in advance of Joshua bn Nun?

One of my best commenters, R Berel "The Yerushalmi (Sheviis 6:1, 36c) records a tradition that when Yehoshua came to conquer the land he gave the inhabitants the choice of war or leaving and one nation (Girgashi) "believed in Hashem" and left for Afriki."

"I wonder if this in some way reflects a tradition about the Punics.

This called to mind Tosefta Shabbos 8, 12:

י[ר"ש בן גמליאל] אומר אין לך בכל עממין מתון יותר מאמוריים וכן מצינו שהאמינו במקום [דגלו] לאפריקי ונתן להם המקום ארץ שיפה כארצם והיתה א"י [נקרית] על שמן:י

(I am not a textual expert, so I am not going to try to make sense of the brackets!)

This in turn called to mind a future post I was planning, about an alleged Punic inscription mentioned by the 6th century Byzantine historian Procopius which was said to have been made by Phoenicians who had fled Canaan long before and, he said, could be seen in his time.

We have it in Greek translation, and it read: ημεις εσμεν οι φευγοντες απο προσωπου Ιησου του ληστου υιου Ναυη. Which does indeed means something like "We are those who fled before the face of Joshua, the robber, the son of Nun."

Not that I need to tell you, but it's good for posterity, in the Latin alphabet ληστου is listoi--ליסטא.

Of course a testimonial from the 6th century doesn't tell us if this inscription is authentic. Indeed, by the 6th century Christianity had spread the story of the Bible far and wide, and the inscription--if it existed--could have been a fraud intended to corroborate the Bible (or it is authentic and ancient). But what it does tell us is that this idea, found in our rabbinic sources, was not only in Jewish sources but was widespread.

It seems the Canaanite provenance of the Punics was not only widely known but an issue vis a vis relations with Jews.

Was Punic a sister of Hebrew? Cousin? Lost neighbor? Punic prose preserved in Plautus's play.

A comedy written by the Latin playwright Plautus (254-184 BCE) called Poenulus survives. The title means something like "Little Punic Guy."

The Punics were a people who dwelled in Carthage (קרת חדשת), North Africa who originated in Pheonicia (Northern Canaan). References to מדינת אפריקי, "the country" (or people, or language) "of Afriqi" in the Talmud usually* refers to them, but the Talmud also calls the place קרטיגני--Carthage. As former Canaanites, they spoke Punic, that is, a dialect of Semitic that is cognate with Hebrew and the other Semitic languages. Their leaders were called ΣΠΘΜ; שופטים; perhaps pronounced suphethim. The name of the most famous Punic, Hannibal, is something like חן בעל (with the case ending). The language may have survived as late as Augustine (5th century CE, North Africa) who writes that he translates his Punic sayings into Latin so that a wider audience could understand them. A theory has it that Punic never truly died, but evolved into the North African Maghrebi dialect of Arabic, but I don't know about that. In addition, their writing system was awfully close to what I prefer to call the paleo-Hebrew (naturally). So if you could read the one, you could basically read the other.

The play. So, in Poenulus the Punic character Hanno delivers ten lines--in Punic (Act V).

They are:

1 Yth alonim ualonuth sicorathi symacom syth
2 chy mlachthi in ythmum ysthyalm ych-ibarcu mysehi
3 li pho caneth yth bynuthi uad edin byn ui
4 bymarob syllohom alonim ubymysyrthohom
5 byth limmoth ynnocho thuulech-antidamas chon
6 ys sidobrim chi fel yth chyl is chon chen liful
7 yth binim ys dybur ch-innocho-tnu agorastocles
8 yth emanethi hy chirs aelichot sithi nasot
9 bynu yid ch-illuch ily gubulim lasibithim
10 bodi aly thera ynnynu yslym min cho-th iusim

What does this mean? Well, the first line reads thus (as reconstructed by Cyrus H. Gordon):

syth symacom sicorathi ualonuth alonim yth
את אלונים ואלונות זכרתי שמקום זאת
"I call to mind the gods and goddesses of this place."

the sixth:

liful chen chon is chyl yth fel chi sidobrim ys
יש שדוברים כי פעל את כל אש כָּן כֵּן לפעל
"there are those who say that he has done all what was right to do"

As for Hanno, his full name is Anno byn mytthymballe, that is חנא בן מַתַּנבעל.

Finally, at one point Hanno greets with the word "avo," that is חַוֹו! "Live!"

You figure out the rest.

*I only say usually since I have heard that in at least one case Afriqi might refer to a place in the land of Israel rather than Carthage (but named after Carthage). But certainly in the famous Gemara about the lawsuit brought before Alexander the Great by people of Afriqi it refers to Carthaginians:

BT Sanhedrin 91a

ת"ר בעשרים וארבעה בניסן איתנטילו דימוסנאי מיהודה ומירושלים כשבאו בני אפריקיא לדון עם ישראל לפני אלכסנדרוס מוקדון אמרו לו ארץ כנען שלנו היא דכתיב (במדבר לד) ארץ כנען לגבולותיה וכנען אבוהון דהנהו אינשי הוה אמר להו גביהא בן פסיסא לחכמים תנו לי רשות ואלך ואדון עמהן לפני אלכסנדרוס מוקדון אם ינצחוני אמרו הדיוט שבנו נצחתם ואם אני אנצח אותם אמרו להם תורת משה נצחתכם נתנו לו רשות והלך ודן עמהם אמר להם מהיכן אתם מביאים ראייה אמרו לו מן התורה אמר להן אף אני לא אביא לכם ראייה אלא מן התורה שנאמר (בראשית ט) ויאמר ארור כנען עבד עבדים יהיה לאחיו עבד שקנה נכסים עבד למי ונכסים למי ולא עוד אלא שהרי כמה שנים שלא עבדתונו אמר להם אלכסנדרוס מלכא החזירו לו תשובה אמרו לו תנו לנו זמן שלשה ימים נתן להם זמן בדקו ולא מצאו תשובה מיד ברחו והניחו שדותיהן כשהן זרועות וכרמיהן כשהן נטועות ואותה שנה שביעית היתה

Our Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fourth of Nisan the revenue farmers were removed from Judah and Jerusalem. For when the Africans came to plead against the Jews before Alexander of Macedon, they said, 'Canaan belongs to us, as it is written, The land of Canaan with the coasts thereof; and Canaan was the ancestor of these people [i.e., ourselves].' Thereupon Gebiha b. Pesisa said to the Sages, 'Authorise me to go and plead against them before Alexander of Macedon: should they defeat me, then say, "ye have defeated but an ignorant man of us;" whilst if I defeat them, then say to them thus: "The Law of Moses has defeated you." 'So they authorised him, and he went and pleaded against them. 'Whence do ye adduce your proof?' asked he. 'From the Torah,' they replied. 'I too,' said he, 'will bring you proof only from the Torah, for it is written, And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. Now if a slave acquires property, to whom does he belong, and whose is the property? Moreover, it is now many years that ye have not served us.' Then Alexander said to them, 'Answer him!' 'Give us three days' time,' they pleaded. So he gave them a respite; they sought but found no answer. Immediately thereon they fled, leaving behind their sown fields and their planted vineyards. And that year was a Sabbatical year.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Unexpected Recanati quote in a 17th century English Hebraica publication.

This little booklet from 1647 is basically a compendium of Biblical Hebrew synoyms transliterated into Latin characters, with the occasional definition given in Latin (authored by John Beaton).

What's quite interesting is the Hebrew motto on this frontspiece, which reads

:אין בתורה אפילו אות אחת שאין הררים גדולים תלויים בה

"There isn't even a single letter in the Torah which doesn't support great mountains."

This is a quote from the Kabbalistic Torah commentary by R. Menachem Recanati (a 13th century rabbi from Recanati, Italy) on Deut. 10:17.

Here is the entire passage in context:

(יז) כי יי' אלהיכם וגו' [שם יז]. כבר הודעתיך כמה פעמים כי אין בתורה אפילו אות אחת שאין הררין גדולים תלויים בה, והבן כי הזכיר כאן כי השם המיוחד תחלה, ואחריו אלהי האלהים, ואחריו אדוני האדונים. וכן במזמור הודו ליי' כי טוב [תהלים קלו, א] אחריו הודו לאלהי האלהים, ואחריו הודו לאדני האדונים. והרמז בהם לג' הויות הראשונות, ועל הראשון הזכיר לעושה נפלאות גדולות לבדו כענין הנאמר בספר יצירה [פ"א מ"א] בל"ב נתיבות פליאות חכמה, ועל השני אמר לעושה השמים בתבונה, ועל השלישי לרוקע הארץ על המים וגו

Interestingly, the English book "corrects" one word, exchanging הררים for הררין, for the latter is a Mishnaic Hebrew form (with it's ן ending)--although it is possible that the Recanati text Beaton saw had הררים. In addition, the text is pointed, almost certainly not the case in the edition the editor of this work read, as it is not the practice among Jews to point texts which aren't biblical (and today, also prayer books, poetry and children's books). I suppose the pointing was meant to display erudition, as an aid the reader but also ideologically driven (see footnote 4 to this post, as well as this post).

There is this nifty poem on the second page, a plea to learn Hebrew and spread Hebrew

At Babels building tongues confounded were,
The gift of tongues doth new-Hierus'lem reare,
By language lost Japhet was forc't to stray
From tents of blessed Sem, the ready way
Of his reduction is for every man
To learne anew the tongue of Canaan.
Lo here, a Scholar of great Broughton brings
Some stones and timber-work, free-offerings
To help the building, if that every one
By his example would but bring a stone,
One single beame, or plank, few yeares would show
Hierusalem high-builded, Babel low.
Few yeares would bring that day when Nations all
Will Hallelu-jah sing at Babel's fall.

(typed out so that Google can index it)

Here is a sample of the work itself

As you can see, these are the 12 stones from Aaron's breastplate (Ex 28:17).

Two more examples. Names of God:

and this one, under the entry that begins with גו, a definition from Ibn Ezra

Yes, "vagina"did mean "sheath" or "scabbard" in Latin.

Unexpected Recanati quote at English Hebraica

If this teaser doesn't pique your curiosity

At Babels building tongues confounded were,
The gift of tongues doth new-Hierus'lem reare,
By language lost Japhet was forc't to stray
From tents of blessed Sem, the ready way
Of his reduction is for every man
To learne anew the tongue of Canaan.
Lo here, a Scholar of great Broughton brings
Some stones and timber-work, free-offerings
To help the building, if that every one
By his example would but bring a stone,
One single beame, or plank, few yeares would show
Hierusalem high-builded, Babel low.
Few yeares would bring that day when Nations all
Will Hallelu-jah sing at Babel's fall.

to have a look at the unexpected Recanati quote at English Hebraica, then nothing will.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bamidbar vs Bemidbar

Some of us pedants are always amused/ angry that folks call the forthcoming sidra/ sepher Bamidbar (בַּמִדְבָּר) instead of the pedantically accurate Bemidbar (בְּמִדְבַּר).

Since you can prove anything with Google:

Bamidbar: an impressive 218,000 results!
Bamidbor (alt.): 665 results.


Bemidbar: Only 49, 600.
Bemidbor (alt.): just 7.

Of course there are a few oddballs, eg, B'midbar with 9,250 and B'midbor, with 3.

And yet, oftentimes instinct makes a great deal of sense, and it would seem that people's instinct is to prefer the technically incorrect. Why?

Well, how about this for a guess? Although the book is named for the word במדבר which appears in the first verse (Numbers 1:1) the word in that context cannot really stand alone. בְּמִדְבַּר means "in the wilderness of," so it needs the following word, Sinai. However בַּמִדְבָּר means "in the wilderness." No, בַּמִדְבָּר / "in the wilderness" is not actually part of the first verse. But "in the wilderness" doesn't hang like "in the wilderness of" does.

Masses 1 Pedants 0

edit: Looks like I was scooped by Philo "Hillel Halkin" Logos. But I think I was funnier.

There are two new gedolim


All kidding aside, perhaps Agudath Israel would consider explaining what is meant by מועצת גדולי התורה so that cynical or gently mocking comments like this post can't be made.

A threat to Tehillim? Dead Sea Scrolls in the Jewish Tribune.

A friend sent me a clipping of the following letter from last week's Jewish Tribune (a London Agudist newspaper), regarding "Tehillim and the Dead Sea Scrolls":

(click to enlarge)

It contains the following assertion: "Secular and non-Jewish scholars have to admit that the Tenach scrolls are word-for-word identical with our texts and not with those of Samaritans (Kusim) and early translators (Septuagint - Greek, Targumim in various Aramaic dialects, et al)." However, there are differences in spelling, differences in the use of vavs, yuds and alephs, etc.

I found this assertion astonishing! But then I remember that I'd heard it before...

In any case, although the letter writer actually subscribes to some non-traditional, modern scholarly positions (e.g., that the graphic symbols of the nekkudot are post-Talmudic, that the canon of the Bible was not fixed until Jamnia [1] (יבנה), etc.) there is no traditional position on the Dead Sea Scrolls. But perhaps his view is widely shared in the Orthodox community; roughly that the texts match our massoretic text. On the other hand, divergences are meaningless because either they are sectarian or they are simply passul [2] texts that were placed in the desert as shemos [3] (our letter writer adopts the latter position).

Putting aside the question of who wrote the texts and why, the assertion that word for word these texts are massoretic is simply not true. It is false; so false that it crazy that anyone could believe it who has seen the evidence! And if one hasn't seen the evidence, what business does one have saying such a thing? And where does it even come from, so far from the actual picture is it.

In fact three or four kinds of Hebrew texts were found at Qumran (depending on how you divide it). The first are Bible texts that are much like the masoretic text (and comprise about 60% of the material), the second seems to be a type of Hebrew text that the Septuagint was translated from (only about 5%), the third is like the Samaritan Pentateuch, lacking only the ideological changes that are present in the Samaritan version (also about 5%). A fourth type are texts that can't be placed into any of these categories (about 105), and finally there are non-Biblical Hebrew texts which are unique to Qumran, comprising about 20% of the total. In other words, exactly the opposite of what the writer claimed.

As it happens. in a backward sort of way the Dead Sea Scrolls was a gift to the massoretic text. It is true that its authenticity as an ancient (much less the ancient) Hebrew text had long been doubted or denied, at least since the Samaritan Pentateuch was discovered and brought to Europe by Pietro della Valle in the 17th century. Furthermore, it was also thought that the Septuagint reflected a different, more original Hebrew text for the following reason: the oldest existing Hebrew Bibles were from about the year 1000 CE. The oldest Septuagint texts were hundreds and hundreds of years older than that. It seemed fairly evident that the Septuagint had been translated from a Hebrew text that had different readings from the masoretic Hebrew. So what conclusion was there besides that the assumed Hebrew vorlage of the Septuagint was the older? [4] The reasoning was reasonable, but as it turned out, incorrect. The Dead Sea Scrolls introduced Bible texts more than a thousand years older than what had previously been known into the discussion. And the Dead Sea Scrolls proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the massoretic text is not late, it is at least as old as the Samaritan and the Hebrew Septuagint. Conversely, it also proves that 2000 years ago "the Bible" was not exclusively massoretic.

That's the good news, if indeed this is good news. But its important to understand that these massoretic Dead Sea texts are actually massoretic-like, not identical with our own text. This means that many words as spelled differently in ways that don't matter, as the letter writer notes, but also that many words are not the same at all.

Here is a small sample of examples. The first is our massoretic reading, the second the Qumran reading. The text being compared is an Isaiah scroll (1QIsaa):

Is 46:11
M: והמתי ברעב שרשך ושאריתך יהרג
1QIsaa: והמתי ברעב שרשך ושאריתך אהרג

the former reads "it shall slay" and the latter "I shall slay."

Another example will compare the massoretic with a Qumran Samuel:

1 Sam 1:23
M: אך יקם יהוה את דברו
4QSama: אך יקם יהוה היוצא מפיך

the latter, by the way, seems to be the Hebrew which the Septuagint used (in translation: "may the Lord establish that which comes out of thy mouth," as opposed to the massoretic "only the Lord establish His word.")

Are these the only two examples? No, they are only two examples. [5]

[1] Sid Leiman wrote his doctorate on the Talmudic and Midrashic evidence regarding the canonization of Tanakh. He concluded that from the evidence--and he collected essentially every piece of rabbinic writing that had some bearing on the canon--it is completely baseless to conclude that the Bible was canonized at Jamnia; it must have been canonical earlier. Given that this scholarly trope is based entirely on rabbinic writings, it seems to me that he has a point.
[2] Unfit for ritual use, eg, reading from it in a synagogue.
[3] Hebrew writings made sacred because of the presence of a name of God. Such writings are to be respectfully stored away rather than thrown into garbage.
[4] Would it surprise anyone that ideology was also a factor? Although going strictly by the evidence this was a logical conclusion--that the Septuagint reflected an older Hebrew Bible--the matter can not be separated from internal disputes then raging in Christendom. The Protestants eschewed the Latin and Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible as a mediating presence between them and God's pure word in its original tongue. The Roman Catholics had an interest in discrediting the Hebrew text, to show that true Biblical authority lay with the text canonized by the Church (the Latin) and that, in fact, the Hebrew was a corrupt text compromised by its Jewish custodians and thus useless in interpreting God's word.
[5] Pages 111, 114 in 'Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible," Emanuel Tov, Minneapolis, 1992.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Don't ask good questions if you don't have a good answer? Or maybe the questions aren't good? Dead Sea Scrolls, Karaism, Tradition (got that, Google?)

I was perusing the very first issue of Tradition (1.1, Fall 1958) and in doing so read a very interesting and very dated article called Halakchic Implications of the Dead Sea Scrolls by Sidney B. Hoenig (the article's byline says he was then Director of the Yeshiva University Department of Adult Education, as well as a professor of Jewish History--here's a no doubt partial bibliography of his scholarly writings).

In any event, after a brief overview of what the scrolls are, what non-Jewish scholars and theologians were then making of them, Hoenig asks many questions about them as they might pertain to Judaism. Assuming that many of the finds are older than the Mishna and the earliest rabbinic literature--they are as follows:

1) What to make of the presence of 23 biblical books and the apparent absence of one (Esther)? This leads to certain questions, such as: "Are we to conclude that Jews did not observe Purim in the Second Commonwealth, and that only "the Day of Nikanor," recorded in the Second Book of Maccabess was observed? Was Purim as a religious festival instituted only after Yabneh and Usha? Is the first actual reference to the reading of the Megillah that of R. Meir who wrote his own Megillah when in Asia Minor? We know it was R. Joshua ben Levi (3rd century) who prescribed that the Megillah be read at night. Was it practised before?" Since Esther does not include God's name, does its absence from the Qumran canon corroberate its singularity? Did Esther have no sanctity and was it included in the canon only due to popular request--כתבני לדורות (Megillah 7a)?

2) What of the order of parshiyot in our Tefillin as compared with tefillin found among the scrolls in the Judean Desert?

3) What of the non-massoretic biblical readings?

4) What of the scribal rules apparently violated by these scrolls, eg, crossing out mistakes rather than erasing them?

5) What of the calendar, which is found in the Jubilees Scroll? "Was the calendrical system now rediscovered...the authentic one...and our system only the result of R. Joshua and Rabban Gamaliel...?"

6) What about theology? For example, the Pesher Habbakuk speaks of a moreh tsedek who is to supplant the kohanim in the Temple.

7) If the Qumran scrolls are siphrei minim, are they worse than the apocryphal books, such as Ben Sira, which was revered by amoraim? Or ought they be destroyed (theoretically)?

In short, what are the implications of these scrolls?

Then, Hoenig shlugs up[1] all the kashyas[2] in one fell swoop:

Following the unique, ahem, eccentric view of Solomon Zeitlin at the time (which, come to think of it, was also endorsed by William Chomsky in his marvelous Hebrew language history "Hebrew: The Eternal Language") Hoenig says that the documents are not ancient, they are medieval, they are Karaite and they say nothing about Judaism.

"One recognizes that the Karaites were devoted to the Torah. חפישו באורייתא שפיר was their slogan. But they often copied biblical texts as they saw fit, sometimes agreeing with the masoretic text and at times introducing their own readings.* Carelessness and ignorance were also some of the outstanding qualities of these Karaitic scribes.** Purim, being a festival ordained by rabbinic dictum, not unlike Chanukah, may have been rejected by these biblically minded sectarians.*** The Tefillin, being מדאורייתא, on the other hand, may not have been different from those used by the Gaonim.**** All the discrepancies in the scrolls can be explained by this defection of the predecessors and followers of Anan, who hated Hillel and the Rabbanites and considered themselves followers of Shammai. Indeed, the pecularities of Halakhah among them, too, can be seen in their out-Shammaing Shammai.

"What we really possess in these scrolls are early Karaitic writings....The Torahs found in the Dead Sea Scrolls have no sanctity; we need not, therefore, be disturbed by any conclusions of halakhic import, for there are none..."

He then dismisses the option that a pre-rabbinic Judaism existed in Second Temple times.

"Maimonides' Ninth Principle remains true: "This Torah will not be changed nor will there be another Torah revealed by the Creator."

Needless to say I well understand how in 1958 Zeitlin's outsider view (that the scrolls were medieval and Karaitic) was seen as another valid scholarly point of view. So naturally there is nothing to be complained about Prof. Hoenig's adopting that view; he was persuaded by the evidence for that position, which we now know is entirely fantasy.

[1] Shlug means "beat" or "hit" in Yiddish and shlugs up is a yeshivish idiom for really trouncing an argument with good answers.
[2] Kashyas, questions.
* No.
** No.
*** No. Purim is biblical and that is important. Karaites indeed never celebrated Chanukah, since it is not from one of the 24 Bible books. But from the Karaitic point of view Purim isn't "מדרבנן," it's מדאורייתא--biblical--as it indeed is.
*** Hoenig means that tefillin matching Rabbenu Tam's order were found at Qumran. According to him this order is found in a responsum of Rav Hai Ge'on, meaning that Rashi supported the Eretz Yisrael order and Rabbenu Tam, the Ge'onic, or Babylonian order. But as Prof. Moshe Bernstein notes, tefillin of types in addition to Rashi and Rabbenu Tam were found. (Perhaps Hoenig did not know this, or the discoveries hadn't yet been made publich--he also doesn't mention Rashi tefillin.) In any case, Karaites do not and never did wear tefillin. It's דאורייתא status, noted by Hoenig involves accepting the rabbinic דרשה of the relevant verses which the Karaites do not do. Not impossible, if non-rabbinic groups at one point agreed with that דרשה, but in fact the Karaites never did.

Jihad in the Rosh Hashanah Machzor

at What's Bothering Artscroll?

al tiqreh "skirmish," "battle" or struggle," elah "jihad."

Jihad in the Rosh Hashanah Machzor

XGH posts about the Sufi Islamic influences on R. Bahya ibn Paquda's חובת הלבבות Chovas Ha-levavos (Duties of the Heart).

XGH reports that every time his "chavrutah tells me that everytime the Choyvos Halevovos brings down a story of a 'chasid' (which he does many times), he's actually talking about a Sufi pious man, and not a Jew."

Every Rosh Hashana as I recite Tashlich I notice anew a passage in Artscroll's Tashlich commentary (of course, if I learned Chovas Ha-levavos more then it wouldn't take Tashlich for me to notice it):

Chovas HaLevovos (Shaar Yichud HaMa'aseh 5) tells of the pious man who went out to greet the troops returning from the battlefront. He said to them, 'You are returning from a minor skirmish to enter into the major battle--man's lifelong struggle with his Evil Inclination.

And I think, al tiqreh "skirmish," "battle" or struggle," elah "jihad."

Two versions of a hadith (of three possible kinds: marfu`, a Prophetic saying, mawquf, a Companion-saying or maqtu`, a Tabi`i, or later-saying):

  1. Some troops came back from an expedition and went to see the Messenger of Allah MHMD sallallahu `alayhi wa-Sallam. He said: "You have come for the best, from the smaller jihad (al-jihad al-asghar) to the greater jihad (al-jihad al-akbar)." Someone said, "What is the greater jihad?" He said: "The servant's struggle against his lust"(mujahadat al-`abdi hawah).
  2. The Prophet MHMD upon him and his Family and Companions blessings and peace returned from one his expeditions and said: "You have come for the best. You have come from the smaller jihad to the greater jihad." They said, "What is the greater jihad, Messenger of Allah?" He said: "The servant's struggle against his lust.


Nu, so Was hat dem Judentume aus Mohammed aufgenommen? Wink, wink.

Hm. This is a Chovas Ha-levavos post and not really an Artscroll post.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Legends of Louis Ginzberg

An anecdote concerning Louis Ginzberg and his close friend Alexander Marx (who was the disciple and son-in-law of R. David Zvi Hoffmann, in addition to being the world class librarian that he was):

From the age of twenty-one when he earned Semikhah-the right to judge under Jewish law--until his death at the age of eighty, Louis Ginzberg devoted considerable time and effort to this task. He never held a position in the Jewish community which would have required him to decide matters of law, as was the duty of an active rabbi or a member of the law courts; Louis Ginzberg's concern with law had a different origin and motivation.

As knowledge of his reputation as a talmudist spread, those who wanted to know the law on any difficult issue sought his opinion. His major decisions were in the nature of advisory opinions, although he was drawn into a few cases where active conflicts raged, usually between an individual or group of individuals and the rabbi or the board of directors of a congregation.

His legal opinions covered a wide range of subjects, including those on which he could bring his sense of humor to bear. He was fond of telling the story of being asked by his colleague Dr. Marx, shortly after the latter's arrival in this country, whether one was permitted to use an elevator on the Sabbath. My father replied that it was not permitted, and Marx started his climb of six stories. My father, always restive when confronted with the rigidities of German orthodoxy, awaited the return of the elevator to the ground floor, stepped in, and rode up. Marx, astonished, reminded him that he had just stated that using an elevator was not permitted. He replied: "I didn't ask for an opinion!"

Eli Ginzberg (his son) published the text of a letter his father received while on vacation in 1948, a letter which greatly disturbed him.

Levi of Neistadt:

Your life has been a failure. Not only have you made the Torah a Kardom Lachpor Bo, and you glory in the designation of Professor of Talmud and great authority on "Halakhah," when you know that there are scores of men superior to you in Talmud in this city; not only have you helped produce "Rabbis" who are in almost every single case Boale Niddot and Chot'im and Machti'im et Harabim; not only are you a Poresh Min Hatzibur of the real Talmidei Chachamin who toil for the welfare of Klal Yisroel; but you have cast aspersion on the Talmud and supported the Kofrim: you declared at least twice (once in your Legends and once in your Students, etc.) that the Rabbis of the Talmud uttered their Hagadic statements on the spur of the moment (May the Almighty forgive you), and you support Weiss in his denial of the authenticity of a great part of Torah Shebdal Peh. Your works are full of echoes of the Kofrim. Remember your childhood hopes, and now see yourself not only as an associate of M. Kaplan (Yimach Sh'mo) but also in part responsible for him and for others like him. For you, the authority, have undermined the faith of these Am Ha'aretz. May the Almighty open your eyes and help you to recant, to recall the harmful books, to repudiate your associates the Kofrim, and to return to the Tzibbur of Talmide-Chachamim.

Yours sincerely,
A Friend.

Eli Ginzberg relates that this letter greatly upset his father and "within twenty-four hours he had a severe case of herpes zoster (shingles), and although the acute infection subsided after a time, he was left with an aggravated neuralgia which plagued him every day and night until he died."

Eli Ginzberg, Keeper of the Law : Louis Ginzberg, 1st ed. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1966) pp. 214-215 & 265-266


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